The first shower is a lie. He stands under the bursting showerhead with his back to the door, so no one can see his tears. He usually doesn’t let it get this far, but sometimes things snap, and this is the only solution he knows. The water is cool on his back, a contrast to the knotted pain in his chest. The chill almost serves to freeze over the pain when he’s finished, letting it sit before it eventually thaws again.
The cold was something he only meant to use once, but he’s come back one time to many to go back.
The second shower is an escape. The temperature is practically scalding, but it relaxes every tense muscle in his body, every tightly clenched fist. It ends too soon, it always does. But that’s just how things work, and so before waking back downstairs, he flashes his reflection in the bathroom mirror a perfect grin.
He’s proud of it. It’s there for every family photograph, and nobody suspects a damn thing.
The third shower is a routine. This time, he rinses and lathers, even though his body is clean, because it just might wash away the feeling of being a dog in a steel cage. He thinks back to being whistled at, pointed to where he ought to be without a word. His throat jumps, but he’s gotten good, and the feeling subsides as quickly as it came.
Immediately after, he’s hit with an intertwined sense of pride and shame and it’s all he can do without collapsing on the hard tile floor.
There’s a fourth shower, and fifth, and so on in the years after that he gives up bothering to count. The various reasons for each bleed into each other, old piling on new, solidifying until all of them have him thinking in his mind, and planning. Now, when he opens the shower door, there’s newly born hope sprouting from the pain.
The last shower is the truth. He rinses and lathers, because for once, he wants to be clean for the day. He exists, takes a deep breath, and rises. His things have all been sorted, and the last of it he carries by his side. He’s terrified, always has been, but he’s older now, and the resolving answer burns in his heart, brighter than it’s ever been before.
He explains in his best calm and measured tone, I’m leaving, steps out the door, and flies.