The red brick building with the slight air of decay loomed above the man as he exited the taxi. Justin retrieved his portfolio, his messenger bag and one smallish cardboard box from the rear seat of the cab, paid the fare and then turned to contemplate his new home. He tentatively smiled at the thought of finally moving into his own place. He really loved the feel of this building, too. The old warehouse converted into lofts and apartments appealed to his artistic senses. It wasn't like those new high-rise apartments he had looked at closer to school. This building had character. It was almost like he could feel the echos of its former inhabitants and the workers that had walked its halls and climbed its stairs. Yes, Justin thought he just might be able to be happy here.
Clutching his box of possessions to his chest and juggling his bags, he pulled out his keys, opened the front door and headed towards his new life.
When the rickety old service elevator reached the top floor, Justin pulled up the gate and hauled his stuff towards the rustic grey metal door of the loft. Unlocking the door and rolling it open, he kicked his messenger bag and the moving box through the entryway while more carefully setting down his portfolio. Then he just stood in front of the open door and looked around the space, amazed once again that this magnificent loft was now his home. 'And all it took was getting bashed in the head,' he thought to himself bitterly while unconsciously flexing his right hand.
He picked up the box with the few remaining personal items he had not already brought to the loft, and set it on the kitchen counter. His mother and sister had helped him earlier in the week to move most all of his other stuff. His clothes, his school books and art supplies and random household supplies were already neatly put away. Luckily the loft had been rented pre-furnished, so he hadn't had to buy and move any furniture. All he had left to tote today were the odds and ends in the little box, his toiletries and a few other personal items. He grabbed his messenger bag and proceeded towards the bathroom to finish the official unpacking.
In the ultra-modern and elegant bathroom, he quickly pulled out his toothbrush, hairbrush and other toiletries and stowed them in the medicine cabinet. As he shut the cabinet door he glimpsed himself in the mirror and stood contemplating his reflection for a moment. The man looking back at him from the mirror almost didn't seem real to him. Yes, this man looked like him; he had the same blue eyes, the same bright blond hair, the same features and expressions, but Justin didn't feel like that almost innocent looking boy anymore. He leaned forward and pushed his hair back from his right temple to examine the fading red scar there. It had been more than a year since the disasterous night when he got that scar, but Justin still felt the horror of it all hanging over him every day. He let his hair fall back, almost hiding the scar, and tried valiantly to push those memories out of his mind.
He was starting a fresh new life, he thought to himself. He had his own apartment. He was finally starting at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts, a dream he had treasured for many years. He was doing better - maybe not completely healed yet, but definitely better. He was going to be okay. He WAS going to be okay. He WAS going to be OKAY.
Fuck, he wasn't going to be okay, he thought, as he felt the sense of powerlessness rising inside him and his vision begin to get ragged. Justin closed his eyes and took several slow deep breaths, hoping that it would stave off the impending panic attack that was coming on at breakneck speed. His vision had narrowed to a small tunnel with blackness all around. He could feel his breathing become rapid and uneven. His legs and hands were trembling and he didn't think he could stand up much longer, so he backed up till he felt the tiled wall behind him and sank down to the floor.
'Just breathe', he repeated to himself. He could feel the migraine headache which almost always accompanied these panic attacks begining to throb in his temples. He pulled his knees in towards his body and tightly wrapped his arms around them. This was going to be a bad one, he knew. He felt dizzy from lack of oxygen and let his body list slowly to the right until he was lying on his side on the cool tile floor, curled into a tight little ball next to the bathroom vanity.
With the last of his vision he saw something white glimmering from under the edge of the vanity cabinet. He reached out a shaking hand and grabbed at the object. As his hand closed around the hard, cool object, Justin felt a strange sense of peace welling up inside him and overcoming the cold fear in his gut with a gush of warmth. As the panic rapidly receeded, he sighed loudly and felt his body relax. He still felt exhausted; he always did after one of these episodes. At least this time the attack had been brief and, for some unknown reason, less debilitating than usual. He somehow crawled out of the bathroom and into his bed and then let himself drift off to sleep.
'Thank you', Justin thought right before he lost all consciousness. Who exactly he was thanking, though, he didn't know.