I knocked on the door.
I knew he would be in bad shape and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing him like that, but when the door swung open I almost gasped. He looked even worse than I had imagined. Pale, red-eyed, gaunt. His long hair was a tousled, oily mess and his clothes hung from him like used tea-towels off the back of a spindly chair.
“Jesus Christ,” I whispered. He’d told me what had happened. He hadn’t told me how bad it was.
He looked at me from under his lashes with his shoulders curved forward, fearful, like a dog that knows it’s about to get kicked, but when his eyes met mine they opened and melted, brimming with sorrow. He was the same age as me, a grown man by common standards, but all I could see was a lost little boy.
I opened my arms and he flung himself between them. To anybody looking it would have seemed like an awkward embrace – me, short, blond and round, and him, tall and dark and now impossibly skinny – but it felt right. He curled up against my chest and I thought there was so little of him. All I could feel were his cheekbones digging in the crook of my neck.
I swept his hair off his face and pressed my cheek to his. “How long has it been?” I murmured to his ear.
“A month,” he said. His voice was croaky.
“A month?” I pulled back, feeling shocked somewhat outraged. “Damn you Chris, why didn’t you call me earlier?”
He didn’t speak. He just shook his head, burrowing deeper into my shoulder.
I tightened my arms around him and inhaled deeply, thinking of what to do. “Okay,” I said in the end, more to myself than to him. “Okay. I’m here.”
I knew he would not want to talk right away, so I got him back to the couch, kissed his forehead and told him I would make some tea.
It took me an eternity to find my way in the kitchen; the place was an abandoned battlefield of dirty glasses and empty bottles. I opened the fridge without thinking, looking for some milk, and recoiled in horror at the sight and the smell of its forgotten contents. I finally managed to find two mugs and fill them with teabags and boiling water from the kettle.
When I got back to the lounge I had to use my foot to clear the coffee table of more bottles, scrunched up journal pages, and other pieces of waste and debris just to be able to set the mugs down. Chris was still lying where I’d left him, except his eyes were now closed and the lines of his face were soft. For the first time in God only knew how long, he was sleeping. His lips, slightly parted and pouting a little to the side where his cheek met the cushion, were whitish dry and marred by deep crimson cracks.
I stood and looked at him feeling my heart shrink in my chest.
This, I thought, shaking my head, this is what love does to you.