***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Fortunately for my scrambled psyche, a couple more people exited before I got to the automatic sliding doors, so I didn’t have to unnecessarily panic had they closed. I barreled into the lobby and came to an abrupt halt, realizing I had no idea what part of the hospital Danny was in by now, and it was a big hospital.
I asked where someone with Danny’s injuries would be brought and was directed to Trauma by a receptionist who eyed my bloody shirt as she pointed the way; I guess a sight like that wasn't too uncommon in the ER. On the way to Trauma, I found Tyson, Dave and his mom, all looking frustrated. The trio informed me that they wouldn’t let us in to see Danny or tell us anything about his condition. After introducing me to Dave’s mom, we all huddled together and decided to go see if we could find Danny anyway, to hell with their rules.
We followed the signs and tried to act casual-- me with my bloody shirt, Tyson’s torn shirt, and all our visible bruises-- finally finding the waiting room in Trauma, and Ben and Lydia.
They looked drained and very worried, eyes red from tears, and my heart just sank to my feet. I realized just how much I loved them already. I had never in my life felt this kind of emotional pain for anyone, besides Danny, in sympathy and empathy for them. To see the agony in their eyes, knowing it was all because of me, brought on a kind of hurting that I had never experienced. It was SO hard for me to look either of them in the eye.
Tyson ran to Lydia, almost knocking her over as he hugged her. Dave stepped up and hugged Ben, who hugged him back. They buried their faces in one another’s shoulders and I felt all kinds of guilty. Dave’s mom stood quietly off to the side, almost mixed in with the other people waiting for word of a loved one.
I shuffled over by them and timidly asked as I eyed the floor, glancing up guiltily, “How is he?”
Lydia spoke around Tyson’s shoulder, “He’s having another CAT scan right now, but they’re saying it looks like he’s going to be ok. He’s conscious and alert. They sewed his wound up with twenty-six stitches.”
“So he’s gonna be… alright?” I asked cautiously.
Lydia looked unfocused for a moment, like she was trying to gather up all the things she’d heard to this point and put them in perspective, then she said, “Well, they think so, but it’s too early to tell a lot of things… like any long term things…”
Dave spoke my thoughts, “I can’t believe this all happened.”
She released Tyson and stepped back a bit to get us all in her vision. She ran her thumb over Ty’s bruised cheek, sounding more hurt than mad as she said, “Well, nobody ever expects anything bad to happen when they sneak around. I’m so very upset with all of you! You all lied to us, and look what happened. Any one of you could have been killed and Danny could have-- if...” she choked on the words, bringing the back of her hand to her lips to stifle a sob.
Dave, Tyson and I all hung our heads, so ashamed of ourselves. I stammered, “I’m so sorry! God, I’m so sorry! I’ll never forgive myself for letting…”
Dave cut me off, blurting out, “It was all my fault, Mom!” He probably didn’t even realize he called Lydia ‘Mom’ in front of his real mother; she was behind me, so I didn’t see her reaction to this. “I’m the one who talked Jerry into it. He didn’t wanna lie to you, but me ‘n Danny kept pushing him to. And, and, Tyson didn’t even know we were gonna do it like this, and-- I’m SO SORRY!” he cried, then added, “I didn’t think anything like this could happen!”
Lydia’s tears rolled down her face as her features softened. She stepped over to me and opened her arms. I grabbed her in a hug, almost breaking down with relief that she was still willing to hug me back. “And you… I’m so upset with you. Going after those boys when you didn’t even know if they had a gun, or any… I’m just so…” She sounded exasperated as she stepped back a little, with her hands on my arms. “You should have let the police take care of them. That was so stupid and so dangerous!”
Ben spoke up for the first time. He spat out in quiet, seething anger, “Dangerous for those punks.” He eyed the blood on my shirt and flexed his fists.
His words and attitude really surprised me. At this moment, he seemed to be going more with his reaction of wanting to hurt the bastards who had hurt his son than the reaction I expected from him, maybe thinking how he would have reacted if he had been there. He still had an arm around Dave’s shoulder as he looked at me and subtly nodded. There was a bond there that acknowledged a natural protective reaction to a vicious attack on someone we loved; we can say won’t give in to it, that we’ll let the ‘authorities’ take care of it like we’re supposed to… but when something actually happens, we also know that we would do whatever it takes to protect our own. But he couldn’t say any more in front of Lydia that would appear to condone our actions.
Lydia either didn’t hear him or she didn’t catch his inflection. She had stepped back and was looking at the blood on my shirt again, maybe trying to picture the events or something.
Ben furrowed his brow and continued, “Those other boys… You really did some damage, Jerry.”
“I know.” I saw the disapproval in Lydia’s eyes and my stomach clenched. I said contritely, “I… honestly, Mom, I want those guys to recover, and I’m sorry I lost control, but… I would do it all ov-- I mean, they tried to kill him, Mom!” I pleaded. Seeing the look in her eyes, I gave up that argument, shook my head and sighed, “I know I should’ve just let the cops take care of them, but… I just freaked out. I was so scared Danny was gonna die, and I just had to do something.”
Lydia held my eyes and stroked my arm as she spoke, “Jerry, hon, we all hope a situation like this never happens again, but if it does, try to remember this: your reaction didn’t help anything. God forbid, a boy may die-- and if that happens, you may have ruined your own life… and Danny’s both.”
“I can tell you that Danny wouldn’t have wanted you to go after them. He really hates violence, just like I do. And since they’d already gone, you didn’t prevent any more harm to Danny. There could have been just one person in the hospital instead of five-- well four; the one with just a broken nose was released. And instead of getting justice, you made those stupid, confused boys worthy of pity in some people’s eyes.” She looked at me and asked, “Was all that worth it?”
I looked at Ben, Dave and Tyson, all looking expectantly at me. Dave’s mom had quietly moved closer and closer to us and now stood just a few feet behind Ben and Dave. My shoulders sagged and I hung my head. I said, just above a whisper, “No.”
Leave it to Lydia to put it in proper perspective. She was totally right, of course. What I did to them had nothing to do with protecting Danny-- it was simple revenge, nothing noble or brave about it. All I had done was complicate everything exponentially for everyone. Adam had already given the police the license number before I took out after them, so sooner or later they would have been caught and charged. She was right.
Now I felt even worse. “You’re right, Mom. I didn’t think. I just lost control. I was so… scared and mad. I was so scared Danny was dying, I just lost it. I’m sorry, Mom, I really am.”
Lydia gave me a hug and said, “I know you love him with all your heart, Jerry, and you’d do anything to protect him. Just try to remember from now on: think before you act.” She paused, and there seemed to be a suggestion of a leer on her face when she said, “And really, most of those boys are adults. How well do you think spoiled little brats like them would handle a nice long jail term?” We all snickered at that.
Then I snapped back to the real world and asked, “Um, when can I see him?”
Lydia looked up at me. “I’m not sure. They’re doing a second CAT scan, which should be through by now, but I don’t know if that’s the end of the tests for now or not. Dr. Reitberg said he would give us an update as soon as the CAT scan is done. All we can do is wait now.”
My voice quivered a little, “So, you’ve talked to him? He was able to talk ok? Does he remember what happened?”
She stepped back to turn and talk to all of us. “Well…” She choked back tears, “He was awake, but couldn’t see anything when we got here-- but, but the doctors said that wasn’t unusual at all and almost certainly temporary.”
My heart fell into my stomach again as I staggered back a step and grabbed the back of a chair for balance. “Oh God! Oh shit!”
Lydia stepped over, grabbed my arm and placed her other hand reassuringly on my chest. “Jerry, they said this is not uncommon with head trauma, and vision comes back within a day or two almost all the time.”
“ALMOST?!” I was freaking out and she was trying to calm me. My stomach was flip-flopping at the thought of Danny being blind and tears slid down my cheeks.
Ben said, “He’s had a serious concussion, Jerry, but it could have been so much worse. It didn’t breach or fracture his skull-- well, that’s what the second CAT scan is for. They said they couldn’t be absolutely sure from the first one whether there was a hairline fracture at one point that the imaging wasn’t as good as it needed to be. Dr. Reitberg said he is not one to give false hope, but that he is virtually certain that the loss of vision is temporary. He said his vision will probably be back even today. Danny is alert. He’s scared at not being able to see, but he understands that it will return. He’s in pain, but they can’t give him any drugs for it at least until after the CAT scan.”
He fixed me with his eyes and tried to sound positive while being firm, “When you see him, we need you to remain calm and not add to his stress, ok? He needs you to be calm and supportive, Jerry. The first word out of his mouth when he woke up was ‘Jerry’, asking for you. We didn’t want to tell him you were in jail because that would have made him panic and worry about you, so we told him you were down at the station identifying the boys who did this, ok? We, and Dr. Reitberg, all think it’s best we don’t tell him what happened after they hit him with the bottle, yet. It would just stress him out unnecessarily.” He looked at all of us one at a time as he spoke to get our agreement. We all nodded yes.
I nodded and said, “I understand.”
As if on cue, further discussion was cut short by a tall, skinny doctor approaching. Everyone looked expectantly at him as Ben asked, “Well, Dr. Reitberg?”
“He’s doing fine. The new scan showed conclusively that there are no hairline fractures like we thought we saw in the first one. There’s only a minimal amount of excess fluid and pressure in the brain that are perfectly natural with a forceful blow to the skull like this. His eyesight is still not back yet, but he reports seeing some light and his pupils are beginning to react slightly to stimuli now, so that’s a sure sign it’s coming back. Motor skills are responding well.”
He said some more technical things, and when he seemed to be finished, I asked, “Can we see him now?”
“Umm,” Dr. Reitberg turned and went to the reception desk, talked to a woman for a minute and came back to us. He spoke to Ben, “He’s in room 324, now. He hasn’t been medicated yet and can’t be until after two more tests, which we won’t be able to do for about two hours. So, you can see him, but he will probably be a little out of it with a severe headache, as would be expected. He should be stimulated as little as possible.” He glanced at us guys and back to Ben. “Only immediate family can visit at this time.” And he turned to leave.
I had a spaz attack. I mean, my body just kind of twitched around in a panic and I tried to speak but couldn’t. Lydia reached over and grabbed my arm to calm me down as she declared, “Jerry will go with us. Danny needs to see him.”
The doctor, obviously not used to being challenged, stopped and turned back to us. Keeping his eyes on me but addressing Lydia as if I weren’t present, he asked, “Is he his brother, or otherwise related?”
Lydia seemed insulted by that question and her eyes narrowed as her voice took on an icy tone that I'd never heard her use, and that caused Dr. Reitberg to look directly at her, “No.” Even I winced a little. I knew in that moment that I never wanted to get Lydia Dresden really mad at me. After letting that single word reply soak in with a pause, she continued in a flat and deliberate tone, “He’s going in. Danny needs him there.”
The doctor gave me a look that I thought was just short of a sneer and my anger flared instantly. I felt myself go red and my temples throbbed as I drilled holes in his head with my enraged eyes. I wanted to get in this man’s face and shout at the top of my lungs that I had the goddamn right to see him-- he’s MINE, goddammit! He’s MY lover! Who the hell do you think you are to tell me I can’t see my other half?! I realized I needed to calm down. I was so tired and had dealt with so many different and extreme emotions in the last thirteen hours, I was very on edge to say the least. If he'd been in range, I realized with a start that I probably would have popped him one on the jaw before even thinking about it, just for that fucking ‘look’ he gave me. I told myself to ‘Calm down, let it go. Just let it go. Just let it go. I can’t expect him to understand or accept us. Don’t cause any problems.’ The doctor nodded as he threw another, more perplexed than hostile look this time and walked away.
I let out an audible sigh of relief. I hadn’t expected Lydia to dispute the doctor’s order like that, but was extremely relieved that she had, because I would have had no right, no say at all in the matter. If she or Ben hadn’t intervened, I would have been shut completely out-- and I would have lost control of myself entirely had that happened. I shuddered to think what I would have done if they had tried to stop me from seeing Danny. I consciously tried to release the anger, to clear my mind the way my instructors had taught me. I needed to calm down, find a peaceful place in my mind and go there, for mine and everyone else’s sakes. Lydia squeezed my arm reassuringly, as she could see the anger and frustration in my eyes.
As I brought my breathing under control, which was the key to calming down, Ben flashed me a look that told me not to worry, that they would make sure I was not closed out of any of this. He hand’t needed to intervene just then because Lydia handled it quite well. He turned and looked thoughtfully at Dave and Tyson through his bloodshot eyes, “Ummm… I don’t want to buck the system totally, but what the hell.” He ducked his head slightly to signal plotting and said just loud enough for us to hear, “After we get through, if, and only if, it seems like he’s handling things ok, then you two can go in too, just for a couple of minutes.” Dave and Tyson both nodded gratefully. Ben then looked at Dave’s mom with a question in his eyes.
Dave snapped his head around and I could see he had forgotten his mom was with us. He kinda yelped, “Oh! Uhhh…” He stepped over and pulled his mom into the circle. He introduced the moms first, “Mom, this is… Mom.” He blushed and grinned. His mom apparently didn’t take any offense. She smiled and shook hands with Lydia.
“Hi, I’m Darlene Hansard. It’s nice to meet you.” She had a strong southern accent, her ‘nice’ sounding like ‘nahs’. She was pretty thin and wiry. She was still pretty good-looking, but also looked like she could probably kick some ass if you pissed her off. I thought when I met her downstairs that she looked like she worked in a honky tonk bar, with that pretty-but-tough Texas woman look to her, but she seemed nice enough. She said, “Davey’s been spendin’ all of his time at y’alls’ house lately, so I’d been wantin’ to meet you. I hope he’s not botherin’ y’all.”
“I’m Lydia Dresden. It’s nice to meet you too, Darlene. Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. I’ve wanted to meet you for a while now.” She nodded towards Dave and smiled. “David is a fine young man, and never a bother at all. We enjoy having him over. He and Danny have become very close friends.” They seemed to be getting friendly first impressions of each other.
Dave introduced Ben, then Darlene kinda ‘shooed’ them eagerly, “Well y’all go ahead and go see him! I’ll sit out here and wait with Davey and Tyson.”
I saw Tyson snicker as we walked away. He raised his eyebrows at Dave. “Davey?”
Dave shook his head emphatically, but with a grin on his face. “No, it’s Dave. Don’t you dare call me Davey!”
Mom hooked her arm in mine and Ben rested his hand on my shoulder as we three headed to Danny’s room. I was really, really on edge at finally getting to seeing Danny, but I also found myself thinking, ‘THIS is my family. These two are my parents. At least, that’s how it should have been. That’s how it is now. They’ve known me what, a month? And after all the grief I’ve caused them, they still love me. They love me. I feel it. I KNOW it. I know they would do anything they could to help me, and I damn sure know I would do anything I could to help them if they ever needed anything at all. Thank God they don’t hate me for all this. Danny is lying in a room somewhere here, blind and in pain and it’s all my fault, and yet they forgive me. Thank you, God.’
I had listened very carefully to what the doctor said, and even though I didn’t understand some of the terms, I gathered that Danny was going to be ok. But… I was still so worried and nervous as we walked down the hall to his room. The train wreck of my reactions from last night washed over me again. As I had sat on the pavement holding him in my arms, I really thought he was dying right then. He was so limp and lifeless, and his body was cool to the touch. There were these cold chills that just kept racing all through my body, while I kept getting powerful electric jolts through my system, like my own body was malfunctioning, short-circuiting, shutting down. That had been about when my brain seemed to switch into some other mode, not thinking of anything but my loss, or impending loss. My sorrow gave vent to my rage and just exploded out of me. I hated them all, the whole world that had caused this to happen to Danny, everyone except the few specific people I love now.
When they laid him out on the grass last night, it just made it seem that much more like he was gone. Nobody can even begin to imagine the depth and magnitude of despair that I felt if they haven’t been in a similar situation. I really didn’t think that kind of pain was possible. I didn’t think it could be as physical as it was emotional. I didn’t think any human could ever have felt what I was feeling as deeply and powerfully as I was feeling it.
As I walked toward Danny’s room, I thought of the tragic love stories I’d read in class, like Romeo and Juliet. I remembered how, when I read it, I couldn’t relate. I couldn’t see why Romeo would kill himself because he thought Juliet had died. At the time, I had thought, ‘Well, sure it would hurt a lot, but dude, do your grieving, then go on with your life and find someone new. You’re young, got your whole life ahead of you.’
Remembering looking down at Danny lying in the grass in the dark, thinking he was dying… I got it. I totally got it.
***** ***** *****
I followed Ben and Lydia through the door and around the white curtain. I couldn’t see Danny through them as they both gently hugged and kissed him on the cheek and spoke at the same time as he asked, “Where’s Jerry? What time is it? Is he still at the police station?”
Lydia moved away with a smile and a nod my way as Ben moved to the foot of the bed and held Danny’s toes. He was halfway sitting up on pillows. The instant he came into view I felt an emotional avalanche. I tried to fight it. I clenched my jaw, my throat and even my ass, trying to physically keep from breaking down. ‘Don’t cry! DON’T CRY! Be calm, be strong, don’t cry, dammit! Remember what Ben said. DON’T CRY!’
Oh maaaan, the tingles and surges that just flooded my body and my mind, like a million little nerve twitches of emotional eruption. My heart pounded and the tears welled in my eyes and the sob forced its way through my constricted throat despite all my efforts. I was just overcome with emotions I couldn’t control the moment I saw him. I yelled at myself to get control! But I just sobbed and tears poured out of my eyes, my knees were weak and I stumbled, practically falling on his bed, banging my hip bone hard on the stainless steel side rail. I threw my arms around him and cried and hugged him too tight, I’m sure. I just had to touch him and kiss him. I mean, he was my lifeline. Everything was about him now.
I couldn’t get an intelligible word out through my uncontrollable sobbing, knowing Lydia and Ben were right there and there was some other patient in the bed on the other side of the curtain and the door to the hallway was still open, with people walking by, and I just cried with relief at finally seeing him, with fear at how he looked and the possibility he might not see again.
All I could manage to mumble, unintelligibly, was, “I love you, baby, I love you…” over and over into his neck.
I was too torn up to be embarrassed that Ben and Lydia were right there watching me lose it, and probably everyone for a good ways down the corridor could plainly hear me. I was so relieved to see him, to confirm in my mind that he was alive, ‘cause no matter how many people had told me he was, I couldn’t just rely on their word; I had to see for myself.
But as happy as I was to see him, I was also terrified that he wouldn’t recover his sight. He looked so… frail and damaged. His skull was completely wrapped in gauze bandages, with wires sprouting out of the layers, going to all these ominous looking machines and monitors with colored lights and jagged lines, emitting little beeps and tones. He had an IV in his left arm, and he had ‘racoon eyes’; these big black circles that went over the bridge of his nose and around his beautiful but unseeing hazel eyes like a mask of Zorro. His cheeks were sunken and he was pale. It was scary and it just tore me to pieces to see it. The only thing I felt good about was the huge relieved smile that took over his face the instant he heard my voice when I lost the fight against crying as I had stumbled over to the bed.
It hurt-- I mean it physically hurt to see him and know he couldn’t see me. My stomach was knotted up and I was finding it hard to breathe, very hard. I was having to fight the need to pick him up and squeeze him against me and kiss him while spinning us around in circles, ‘cause I needed to do something physical right then or I’d just fucking explode.
He threw his arms around my neck and hugged me just as fiercely, yanking his IV pole almost off its tri-wheel base but not pulling it out of his arm, thank God. Ben lunged for the other side of the bed to stabilize it. Danny cried too, of course; he’s Danny, heh heh, whatta you expect? I love him. God, I love him.
“I love you too, Stud,” he replied to my babblings.
I chuckled through my sobs. We all chuckled. The woman in the bed behind the curtain chuckled. I was embarrassed that he used his private term for me in front of his parents and a stranger, but the laugh relaxed everyone a little. I just didn’t know what to do. I finally realized I needed to loosen my hold on him or I might hurt him.
I relaxed my grip and sat myself up from lying practically on top of his upper half, propping my weight on one hand on the other side of him. I was able to stop my pitiful sobbing, but my tears kept falling onto his chest as I held his hand and tried to come up with something positive to say.
Danny cocked his head with a smile as he ran his free hand up and down my arm, “Hmmmm, this ‘not seeing’ isn’t so bad, really. I feel you… and hear you, and even smell you… differently.”
I smiled back even though he couldn’t see it. I just squeezed his hand and raised it to my lips, kissing it over and over. I still couldn’t think of anything to say besides I love you, and I figured everyone else might get tired of hearing it, so I just watched him as he tried to focus in my direction. But then I managed to croak out, “I probably smell like hell.”
Danny grinned and shook his head slightly. “No Jerry, you always smell good to me. I’m so glad you’re here.” He scowled and said, “I was so worried about you.”
My eyes bulged and I made some kind of ‘ack’ in my throat. I half choked and half laughed as I blurted, “You were worried about ME?!” Ben, Mom and I all laughed some more tension off and Danny joined us. I leaned down carefully and kissed him again, just a little kiss on the lips, aware of Ben and Lydia standing on either side of us. I wasn’t about to hold back in front of them at this point, no way. He raised his head to follow my lips as I sat back up. I touched his chest to prompt him to lie back, pulled his hand up again and kissed each of his knuckles. I spoke with a crackling voice, “I kinda lost my mind when it happened. I’ve been like… shut down ‘til now. I’ve been so sca--“ I caught myself and tried to get upbeat again, “I’m so glad you didn’t have any fractures or anything. Are you seeing anything yet?” I was aware that one of his monitors had increased its rate of beeps and the jagged lines were spiking more since he realized I was there. I hoped I wasn’t stimulating him too much or the wrong way.
Danny looked around, looking up toward the fluorescent lights he knew would be there. “Uhhh, yeah, I see some kind of, like, formless light, like, everything’s not as pitch black as it was when I woke up.”
I choked out, “Good.” I squeezed his hand, kissing it again.
“Just don’t make me laugh anymore right now,” he smiled. “They said they can’t give me anything for my headache until after a couple more tests, but man, this must be what migraine headaches are like. It hurts like hell just to turn my useless eyes to the side.”
I almost began sobbing again, but kept myself under control. “Oh baby, your tests are coming up in just a while, so they’ll give you something as soon as they finish. I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait ‘til they can give me something. As long as I don’t move much, it’s not too bad.” He searched out my cheek and ran his fingernails backward across my stubble. He smiled, “I’m so glad you’re here and you’re ok. What about Tyson and Dave? Where are they? Are they ok?”
“Yeah, they’re fine. They’re waiting in the lobby right now. They’re gonna come see you in a minute if you’re ok with that. They wouldn’t let us all come in at one time.”
“Oh good. I can’t wait to see, uh, talk to them.” He grinned. I couldn’t believe he seemed to be taking his blindness so lightly. I figure I would have been hysterical.
He asked with a slight dread in his tone, “What… What happened after they hit me? Did they do anything else, hit anyone else?”
I winced and sat up a little, still supporting myself on my fist over his left side. In a way at that moment, I was glad he couldn’t see my eyes. The thought of lying to him, even for a good reason, just tore me up. If he could have seen my eyes, he would have instantly known I was lying.
“Ummmm… Uhhh, well…” I glanced back over my shoulder at Ben and he re-affirmed with his eyes what he’d requested of me. I tried to think of what to say, in the least deceitful way. “No, they drove away, but there was a car behind them and they saw it happen. They stopped to help with you and one of them went and called 911. The ambulance came and the cops, uh, found the guys who did it and took them away.”
Danny nodded slightly, staring unseeing at me, which un-nerved me as it soaked in more fully that he was blind-- and that he could probably tell I was lying even without seeing my eyes, but he didn’t dig. “Oh. Good. I hope they caught them before they got to do that to anyone else.” He put his hand on my arm and ran it up and down again as he asked, “Why’d they do it? Why d’you think they did that to me? I didn’t do or say anything to them.”
I started crying again, silently at least. I choked out, “I don’t know, Danny. They’re just… They’re just stupid and… I don’t know.” Thinking about them and seeing the results of what they’d done to him made my heart race and my rage surge again. Even with how Lydia had made me realize that my actions were wrong, in this moment, I again wanted them all to pay severely for what they’d done to this beautiful, loving person who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Those guys didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as Daniel Dresden.
“Well, at least the cops got ‘em.” He kept running his hand up and down my arm as he spoke, feeling me to make up for not being able to see me. Then he took on a kind of worried look. “Ummm, will you be able to stay here with me today, at least? I mean, since it’s the weekend and all, maybe you can stay, at least today? Have you called your parents and…?”
I leaned down and kissed his lips then nuzzled cheek to cheek as I whispered in his ear, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere, baby. I’ll be here with you as long as you’re here. No one, nothing on earth, could make me leave you here alone.” I squeezed his hand and kissed his earlobe, adding, “I love you, baby, and I won’t leave your side, ever.” Danny threw his arms around my neck and held me tightly, his tears of relief and love mingling with mine between our cheeks. I heard him moan a little at his head pounding from the sudden movement and I tried to remain still while I kept holding him gently.
He whispered in my ear, “Good, ‘cause I don’t think I could handle this without you. I’m kinda scared.”
Chill bumps burst out on my body and I whispered back, “I’m here, baby. I’ll stay here in the room every minute they’ll let me, and when they won’t, I’ll be as close as I can get. Everything’s gonna be alright. I love you.”
Ben had been watching the monitors and decided Danny had had enough stimulation for now, so it was time to let Tyson and Dave come in. After assuring Danny that I would be back very soon, Lydia and I went to get them. They visited for a few minutes and came back out. They were both upset in the same ways we all were about his condition, but also happy to have been able to see him. I could see it had been an emotional meeting for them and I realized how much I cared for-- well, loved them. Yes, I loved Tyson too. He was growing on me.
Danny had expanded my capacity for love and taught me that I could actually love a friend too. I had always been so guarded with my friends, and too hung up on macho shit to let myself get close and feel much emotion for them. But lately, I guess it was because we talked a lot about all kinds of things like that, and talked about Dave and Tyson, I was able to see how much Danny cherished his friendships-- they weren’t that easy to find-- and I had started feeling my friendships deeper. I appreciated them more. I was enjoying letting myself feel friendship love with Dave, and since last night, with Tyson as well. What had struck me last night-- and I realized this even at the time, as addled as my brain was-- was that he was of course most concerned about Danny, but he had felt my pain too. I mean, when we were on our knees by Danny and I was losing it, he had comforted me with a compassion that showed that he felt my pain at what I thought was my loss. And that had had an impact on me, overshadowed as it was by all the rest of the drama. But I hadn’t forgotten it; would never forget it.
When I went back in, Stanley, the nurse on duty, said Danny needed to rest quietly until his tests, so I sat silently and held his hand as he drifted in and out of sleep. Everyone else stayed out in the waiting room. At around 4pm they wheeled him out for more tests, and Stanley promised to let us know when he was finished and brought back to his room. Dave’s mom had to get back to Friendswood in time for her Saturday night shift at the bar, so Dave and Tyson went with her to get Dave’s car from the hotel, eat, get cleaned up, and come back. Since we’d missed checkout time by a long shot, the rooms were automatically charged for another night to my credit card. They promised to bring me a change of clothes. I gave them some cash for food and told them to go and sleep there tonight; they hadn't had any more sleep than I had, and it showed in the dark circles around all our eyes. After they left, Ben, Lydia and I sat and waited.
When Danny was brought back after the last test of the day, he reported that he was seeing a lot more light and some form in it, though the forms he was seeing didn’t match what he was looking at. The doctor checked the machines, made notes and talked with him for a bit, then they medicated him and he fell asleep immediately. The doctor said everything looked good, but that they wouldn’t have all the results back until morning. He said Danny would sleep all night and told Ben and Lydia they should go home and get some rest. He never acknowledged me at all.
Ben and Lydia weren’t about to go home, of course, but they went down to the cafeteria to eat dinner while I sat with Danny. The woman in the next bed had been wheeled out for surgery about a half hour before, so we were alone in the cold room. I lay my head over the side of the bed up next to his shoulder, running my hand lightly up and down his stomach and chest, just needing to touch him. I thought about everything that had happened since I met him. So much had happened so fast. For eighteen years, I’d lived my life in a fairly normal way, cruising along a course that seemed set, peaceful, somewhat predictable, then WHAM, practically overnight, my world had changed completely… because I needed tutoring.
I nuzzled into his shoulder, looking up over it at his profile, the bandages framing his face with the monitors beyond. Even knowing he was drugged and wouldn’t wake up, I still spoke softly, kissing his shoulder lightly after every few words as my heart swelled and my emotions surged, “I love you so much, Danny. I knew that already. I really did, but… I guess it really hit me when I… the way it hurt-- I mean, it physically hurt me to see you in pain. I guess that’s how love works, huh.”
I whispered, “I hope you know I’m never gonna let you go. I ain’t lettin’ you go until I die-- and even then, I’ll find a way to hold onto you.”
***** ***** *****
The door squeaking open woke me from my nap. I hadn't even been aware I was dozing. My neck and shoulders ached from lying my head at the odd angle over the edge of the bed and up against Danny’s arm. Lydia smiled down warmly at me as I sat up and worked my head slowly around in a circle to stretch my muscles back out. I felt like shit. I was sore and tired and just felt completely drained and foggy.
Lydia grasped my hand in hers and prompted me to stand. I struggled to comply as she helped. She grinned at me and said, “As my daddy used to say, you look like you’ve been rode hard and put away wet.” She reached up and brushed at the stubble on my cheek like Danny had, smiling her concern. “You need to eat something, at least. Have you eaten anything at all today?” I shook my head no and she scowled at me. “You’ve got to eat something, hon. You’ve got to keep your strength up. We don’t want you getting sick. C’mon, let’s go get you something to eat.” She pulled me by the hand toward the door just as Ben came in.
Lydia led me to the cafeteria, where I got a plate of crappy looking food that I struggled to make myself eat. She sat with me and made some small talk, purposely not talking about Danny’s condition. When I finished what I could force myself to chew and she was satisfied that it was enough nutrition to sustain me, she walked me outside to get some fresh air. We happened upon a nice little landscaped sitting area between wings of the hospital. No one was around and it seemed almost too tranquil, in the middle of all the suffering behind the windows some thirty feet away. We sat down in the comfortable night air and I felt a little better after eating, but still so tired, sweaty and sticky. I yawned and Lydia asked me if I had called my parents and told them where I was.
I reddened, slumped and clasped my hands between my knees, staring at the ground. I had been pretty successful at keeping all of that out of my mind since I saw Danny. Her casual question hit me like a bucket of cold water in the face. I felt ashamed that I had been rejected and kicked out. I didn’t want to tell her about it. She was wondering why I didn’t answer, and she could tell something was wrong. I just couldn’t tell her. I didn’t want to distract her from being focused on Danny, for one thing, and I didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was. I didn’t want her to worry about me, when Danny was lying blind in his room.
“Jerry? What’s wrong?”
I looked away and tried to stop myself from trembling. “N-n-nothing. I talked to them already.” I unconsciously rocked back and forth a little as I mumbled, “They know I’m here.” I looked back at my knees and could see Lydia studying me out of the corner of my eye.
“Jerry,” She used the tone of voice that said she knew I was holding something back from her. “What happened?” I was about to say ‘nothing’ again, when she sat up straight with a start and said, “Oh my! They came and got you out of jail, didn’t they. Of course! So they know what happened and everything, huh. I hadn't stopped and thought about it, about how they might react to…” She tugged on my chin with her finger to get me to look at her. When I did, she saw my expression and the tears welling in my eyes. She immediately wrapped her arms around me, pulling my face down into her shoulder as she murmured, “What happened, honey. Tell me what happened.”
I clung to her as the weight of all I had lost caved in on me, and the dam burst. I cried like that lost five year old in the Sears store, just as lost, but with a sadness I couldn’t have known then. She rocked me in her arms and tried to soothe me by stroking my back. “Let it all out, honey, let it all out,” she cooed in my ear.
As I felt her warmth and love infusing me, I cried even harder. I cried from even deeper in my soul because I realized that here was this woman, this wonderful woman who gave love to everyone without even trying, never ever considering what it would do for her or get her in return, while my biological mother used her love-- if you could call it love-- as a weapon, a tool of control, yanking it away if you didn’t tow the line. But seeing all that didn’t make it hurt any less. She was my mother, and she hated me now. I felt so crushed and I didn’t think even Lydia’s love could overcome all of this loss and sadness.
It wasn’t just my mother, it was also my dad and everyone in my life outside of the Dresdens and my new friends. I had lost the approval and acceptance of everyone I’d known my whole life and I just felt so naked and vulnerable. And I felt guilty as hell for unloading my problems on Lydia when she already had so much to deal with.
The emotions raging through me were telling me I was the problem, the cause. I was to blame for my mother hating me. If I wasn’t queer, defective, perverted, I would be at home right now, or at least still welcome in ‘my home’.
Lydia comforted me and let me cry for a while. I didn’t even try to talk; I wasn’t capable. The sadness ran so deep I didn’t think I could find the bottom of it. I definitely had not expected it to feel like this, to hit me this hard. I tried to tell myself that Danny’s love was all I needed, along with Ben and Lydia’s love, but I just couldn’t shake the despair of feeling I had caused my own mother to hate me, to be disgusted with me. Knowing I disgusted my mother made me feel so dirty, unworthy of love from anyone. Even as I clung to Lydia and soaked up her love, I felt like I didn’t deserve it, like I was stealing it from her, leeching it from her, and I was desperately hoping she wouldn’t realize that and push me away.
At the same time, I felt like running away, from everyone, even Danny. Just get in my car and drive, anywhere, nowhere, just keep driving. In my despair, I felt like I didn’t deserve Danny either. Even though he was just like me, I couldn’t reconcile that in my mind at this point, because I didn’t think of him as dirty or unworthy in any way-- just me.
I felt hopeless. I realized that most of the guys I knew were just like the guys who attacked Danny, and that my ‘friends’, given the chance, would probably want to do the same kind of violence to me once they found out. I knew my coaches and probably most of my teachers, except Mr. Janke of course, would all be repulsed and hate me now too… probably most everyone I knew from my old life, really. And even those who accepted me… I knew they would always see me differently, would know there was something important about me that they simply could not relate to. Just that, knowing that everyone would forever see me with different eyes, was actually scarier than the thought of violence towards me. And they would all know everything now after watching the news. They wouldn’t want to be near me, in the same room with me-- whether it was because I was gay or because they were afraid I was a psycho who could go off at any moment on them. My teammates would shun me and probably refuse to change or shower with me in the locker room. The girls would sneer and laugh at the sicko behind my back and whisper loud enough to hear. I didn’t think I could face any of them.
After a while, my sobbing died down but I kept my face buried in her neck. She gave me some more time, just petting down my back, calming me. Eventually, I raised my head off her shoulder and sat on my own, head hanging low. Lydia kept rubbing my back as she said again, “Tell me what happened, Jerry. Please. You need to talk about it.”
I managed to croak out, “She doesn’t l-l-love me anymore. She said…” I gulped and wiped tears from my eyes with the backs of my hands then looked Lydia in the eye. “She told me to get out. Sh-sh-she said I’m no longer a member of this family.”
Tears instantly poured out of her eyes and I watched her heart break at hearing this. She grabbed me back into a tight hug. “Oh Jerry! I’m so sorry! Oh honey, that’s so… that’s just… I can’t believe it. I can’t understand it. Oh I'm so sorry, honey.” She patted my back and squeezed me in her arms. She was surprisingly strong. “I’m so sorry, Jerry, you poor baby.”
Of course, this started me right back up and I cried again as if I hadn't already cried my eyes out. I sobbed out, “I knew she was gonna do it when I told her I was gay, but I didn’t think it would make me feel like this!”
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry. How… How is it making you feel? What are you thinking, Jerry? Tell me what this is making you feel like.”
I sobbed into her neck again and it took me a minute to organize my thoughts. I didn’t want to talk about it. I dreaded talking about it, but I needed to at the same time. At least I knew that Lydia was the one person besides Danny who I could honestly talk about my feelings with and not feel as embarrassed, or like I was weak. I released her and sat with my hands clasped between my knees again, staring at the cobblestone pathway that meandered through the little garden.
“It’s just… I-I-I don’t know how to describe it. I knew it was gonna happen. I mean, I knew she would kick me out when I told her for sure.” I sniffled and shook my head. “And I thought I’d kinda prepared myself, y’know? I guess I was stupid. For some reason, I thought she would tell me to get out of the house, but that… but that we would still talk and, you know, work it out over time or something-- I mean, that’s what she’s supposed to do! That’s what she does for a living… work it out! When… when she said I’m no longer a member of this family… I didn’t…” I started crying again. “I didn’t expect… It hurt so much more than I thought it would!”
Lydia kept running her hand up and down my back and I was so grateful for her comfort. But she was also drawing all these deep and painful feelings out of me, right out in the open, and it stung like salt in an open wound.
“And now I… feel… I dunno, kinda…” I shook my head and swallowed, wiped my face on my sleeve and stared at the ground, unable to put it into words.
She soothed me and asked just above a whisper, “What do you feel, Jerry?”
It took me by surprise when a deep, very loud wail of agony, a primal swell, rose from my gut, from my center, and just ripped through my throat in a long strangled sob. It even sounded to me like it was nearly a death cry or something. It hurt in several strange ways, but it felt… like, it was releasing this big tight knot inside me, too.
Lydia grasped me to her forcefully and ran her fingers through my hair as she cooed, “Get it out, hon, let it out. Tell me what you feel, Jerry. Get it out…”
When I caught my breath, I sobbed, “I feel, so… I feel so… worthless.” It felt strange to say that word, to use it to describe myself. I had felt a lot of different things about myself over my life, but I had never felt worthless. “I feel like I’m wrong, bad… broken. I made her hate me, Mom! I made her hate me and, and… I feel like I don’t deserve, you know…” I shook my head against her shoulder. “Like I don’t deserve to be loved or something. I mean, logically, I know I shouldn’t feel this way; I know I’m not a bad person, but that’s what I feel like.” I thought of how Danny had said he felt unworthy for so long, and how I could never see how he could feel that way about himself. Now I understood.
I sniffled into her shoulder and wondered if my tears would stain her blouse. It struck me as weird that I would think of something like that in the middle of these painful revelations. I shook my head slightly as I mumbled, “I made my own mother hate me…”
Lydia was crying too as she said, “No, no, no, Jerry. No! You didn’t make your mother hate you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You were just honest with her. You let her know who you are. It was something you needed to do. She is the one who has the problem, not you. She is the one who is holding back her love from you. You, are, NOT, worthless, Jerry Loring! You are a wonderful young man who is one of the most loving, giving, sincere people I know. And Jerry, hon, you are sovery worthy of love, and respect and admiration. You are a fine young man whom I would hold up as an example to anyone.”
I listened to her and felt lifted a little more out of my despair word by word, but I still mumbled, “Yeah, last night I sure set a good example.”
She sat back again and kept her hand on my arm, lightly squeezing it to emphasize some of her words. “Hon, that was a mistake that you have already learned from. There will be a string of consequences that you’ll have to work through, and you will learn from each one of them. And you’ll come out of this a better person. They call this a ‘life-lesson’, Jerry. Last night, and this morning with your mother, were major events in your life, and I think you will be dealing with the repercussions for a long time to come. How you deal with it all will be a big test of your character. I expect that you’ll accept responsibility for your actions last night and you’ll do whatever you can to make it right. I just know this about you, Jerry. You’re an honorable young man, and that is just one of the things we love about you.”
She made me look her in the eye again and said, “You do know that Ben and I love you and totally accept you? I hope you know that, Jerry. We love you like a son-- and we consider you a son-in-law, really. Just don’t ever forget that we love you, Jerry, not to mention how much Danny loves you.” We were silent for a minute as she comforted me, then she said, wistfully, “The sun rises and sets in your eyes for Danny, you know.” She smiled warmly at me and continued, “We worried that things got so heavy and so intense so fast between you two, but… but we’ve talked a whole lot about it and we came down to the basic reality that what you two have really is true love.”
I took her hand and tried to tell her how much her saying all this meant to me, but words failed me as I blinked the tears out of my eyes, chills running up and down my spine continually.
Lydia smiled warmly through her tears at me and held both my hands in hers. She added, “We looked back and remembered how I was your age and Ben was just three years older when we met. My mom tried to tell me I was too young to know love, that I should wait, but I wouldn’t listen. I knew that something that powerful had to be real.” She smiled a smile that no angel could outshine. “And it was. Now, I very clearly see the love in your eyes and in Danny’s. I couldn’t be happier for both of you. I don’t think I’ve told you that, but I should have, and Ben feels the same way. He has truly come to accept everything-- faster than I ever thought he could or would. He’s crazy about you, Jerry, really. He talks about your future just like he does Danny’s now.” She smiled and nodded her head to reassure me.
I broke our eye lock and mumbled, “I was so afraid you’d hate me after last night, after lying to you and getting Danny almost ki--“ I cut the word in half, afraid to say it aloud. “And what I did to those guys…”
She shook her head and made me look at her again. “No, Jerry. We wouldn’t hate you for a… an emotionally charged mistake. When I told you I felt like wringing those boys’ necks? I meant it literally. My first reaction to something like that against my son is to kill! But I was raised to always try hard to think about my reactions a moment before I have to act or react. I haven’t always been successful in that, either.” She gave me a quirky grin, then continued, “We may get upset, or even angry when you or Danny do something stupid, but we get over it. Everyone does stupid things. Lord knows we’ve made some stupid mistakes. That’s life, Jerry. We learn from these things. You’re young, so you’re given more leeway for mistakes,” she winked at me and made me smile. “I think I’d almost be a little worried if you didn’t make mistakes once in a while.”
She got a far away look in her eyes when she continued, “I was worried that Danny wouldn’t find someone who loved him for years, that he would go through a lot more loneliness before he found someone. He was always so shy and… as we know now, he had this secret, this barrier, that made him even more withdrawn. I wasn’t sure, even after I came to suspect he was gay, but even so, I didn’t know what to do. Now I feel so guilty ‘cause I didn’t see it or understand it sooner and let him know that it didn’t matter, that I would love him no matter what. Danny would have been so much happier, years ago, if I had caught on and showed him my love and acceptance. I’ll never be able to erase his pain and loneliness and his fear all those years. It happened. I made a huge mistake that I’ll never be able to undo. I saw his fear and the sadness he felt from thinking we would reject him, but I didn’t know what it was or how to…” She sniffed and hung her head and repeated softly, “I didn’t know.”
I was glad to be able to comfort her, for once, by pulling her into my shoulder. I said, “You tried. He told me you tried to get him to open up. It’s not like this is something you’re even expected to know how to deal with, Mom.”
“I could’ve tried harder, been more persuasive, dug a little deeper…”
She reached up and held my cheeks firmly in her hands and looked me in the eyes. I shuddered at the intensity of her gaze. “But then you came into his life. I should say, you brought him to life, Jerry. You opened him up and let the real Danny come out and live. Seeing him so happy, practically walking on air since you came back to him has been so…” she shook her head in wonder. “What you’ve done for him… I would love you for that alone, but then when you add in all the other things about you that make you who you are, you’re just irresistible!” She jiggled my cheeks playfully and her eyes twinkled. I tingled some more as I smiled back pathetically.
Then she got serious again, and her voice showed her sadness, “Your mother made the biggest mistake of her life today when she turned such a wonderful son, such a beautiful person as you, away. I just can’t imagine how… screwed up she must be to have rejected one of the most genuine, loving, caring young men I’ve ever met.” She shook her head in disbelief and sadness for me, then she increased her hold on my cheeks and said with some force, “Just know that you are very much loved, Jerry Loring. You can count on our love. It has no strings attached. Even if you and Danny didn’t work out in the long run-- and I do not think that is likely-- we would still love you like a son. Ben and I have talked about it all, and this is just how we feel about you. You’ve made Danny so very happy and you make us happy too. Remember what Ron Green said about Danny? That he was a very special and beautiful person and how lucky they were he had come into their lives? Well that’s exactly what I would say to everyone about you.”
The tears never stopped running down my cheeks as she spoke. Rushes and tingles kept running all over my body. I just couldn’t find words to express how much what she was saying meant to me, what it did for me, but I spoke my gratitude with my eyes and my tears and she saw it.
She continued, “I can’t imagine how you must feel, Jerry, but I want you to know that she is the one who is wrong. She is the one who really lost out here.” She cocked her head and asked, “What about your father? How does he feel about it?”
I shook my head sadly and mumbled, “He just… He just goes along with whatever she says. I don’t think… He didn’t, like, act like he hated me. He even tried at the last to get her to keep talking with me, but…” I shook my head in resignation and mumbled, “He won’t go against her on this. They drove away and left me here in the parking lot… Told me I was not welcome in their home.” I hung my head again and more tears leaked out.
Lydia rubbed my knee and said, “Well you know you have a home with us. Our house is your house, Jerry.”
I started, “I couldn’t barge in on your…”
She cut me off, “Nonsense! I will NOT let you wander out alone just before you graduate from high school, for god’s sakes! You’ve got to have a stable home to concentrate on finishing up school. Don’t give me any flak, Jerry. You’re coming home with us.” Then she added, as if she thought I might even be thinking that far into it, “And don’t worry, we won’t make you sleep in separate rooms. You’re both legal adults now. You can make your own decisions-- and your own mistakes-- but you shouldn’t have to sneak around; you’re definitely a couple. We understand and accept that.”
I looked down and blushed, though it probably didn’t show through my already reddened, wet cheeks in the soft light of the garden. I wasn’t at all comfortable talking about mine and Danny’s sex life with an older adult, let alone his mother. But at the same time, Lydia wasn’t like most mothers, certainly not like my former mother in any way.
I finally said, “I don’t know what to say, except thank you. I…” It still wasn’t that easy for me to actually tell people, aside from Danny, honestly how I felt about them, but I forged on, “When Danny and me got back together, I told myself I was gonna make a point of telling people I love the truth about how I feel, so… I need to tell you, I love you too. You have no idea how much you and Ben mean to me. I can’t tell you how badly I wished today that you were my parents-- and it wasn’t just today. I’ve felt like that pretty much since I met y’all, but especially more today.” I looked her in the eye again and said, “You’ll probably never know how much everything you’ve said tonight meant to me, how much it did for me.” I looked down in regret, then back into her eyes, “And I swear, Mom, I will never lie to you or deceive you again in any way.” I took her hands in mine and pleaded, “I know you forgave me already, but… I have to know, I mean, I need to know you trust me, that you believe me when I say I’ll never, ever lie to you again.”
She nodded her head and said, “I believe you, and I trust you, Jerry.” Nothing more needed to be said at this time.
There was silence for a while as we both got lost in our thoughts. Eventually I started to stand, feeling the need to check on Danny, and feeling the exhaustion setting in again. We walked slowly, arm in arm, back to Danny’s room, finding Dave and Tyson sitting in the waiting room talking quietly. They’d just returned with my overnight bag and a change of clothes for me. They asked how Danny was, so we filled them in on his status.
They told us they’d seen news teasers on TV in the hotel room but had gone to eat and missed the six o’clock news. Dave said, “They’re bein’ pretty cool about it so far. I mean, the way they put it, it’s like they’re bein’ neutral about who’s the good or bad guy. They’re just making it sound like the biggest story of the year or somethin’-- but hell, they do that with every story.”
Lydia said, “Thank God Danny’s in a ‘no TV room’, so the patients don’t get over-stimulated. And Dr. Reitberg has instructed the staff not to talk about any of it with him.”
At 9pm, Dr. Reitberg approached Ben and Lydia, saying there was media in front of the hospital-- the original building, so we couldn’t see anything out the windows-- wanting to know Danny’s and the other boys’ progress. Ben and Lydia were a bit shaken about the press. They hadn’t known the press showed up at the scene and made this a big story until Dave and Tyson talked about the news trailers. Ben mumbled something about how all of Danny’s school would know about him and me now. I loved this man. With all the angles I would expect most fathers to be focused in right now, his first thought was what Danny-- and I-- would have to go through because of all of this.
Exchanging looks of agreement with Lydia, he declined to talk to the press tonight. “Maybe tomorrow… after I know more about Danny’s prognosis. Is that ok?”
Dr. Reitberg seemed to understand, and said he and the doctors treating the other boys would choose a spokesman and give updates, but as little other information as possible. I figured out that he hadn’t known the whole story earlier this afternoon. He probably didn’t know then that I was the one who put the others in the hospital and why. Apparently he had heard all of it by now, because he looked at me differently. I couldn’t say it was a positive look he gave me now, but it had none of the contempt he had shown earlier. I kinda sensed a curiosity in his look now, an analytical curiosity or something. I tried to drop the automatic hostile expression from my face. I wanted the man who was caring for my Danny to not dislike me, at least. He didn’t have to like me, but at least don’t hate me.
After a while, I saw Dave nodding off in his chair. I said he and Tyson should go back to the hotel and rest up. Danny would be asleep all night, so there was no need to sit here. They tried to get me to come with them, as both rooms were paid for, but I wouldn’t even consider leaving. I eyed the chairs in the waiting room and figured I could stretch out on some of them. There were two other families and a few lone husbands or wives waiting for news of their loved one, but there were a few empty seats.
I showered, shaved and changed in the shared bathroom attached to Danny’s room. I didn’t know if that was acceptable or not, but I was so worn down I didn’t even have the ability to think to ask for permission; I just did it and felt a lot better getting clean and out of those dirty, bloody clothes. I sloppily folded and stacked them, shirt on top. I looked at the bloodstains and shuddered all the way to my cold bare toes. I looked in the mirror and shook my head at myself. I simply could not put the last twenty-four hours into perspective. My mind and emotions were long past overloaded.
As I stared at my naked reflection in the mirror, I thought, ‘I am someone different now, a completely different person than I was before I met Danny.’ I smiled at the thought of the love that had transformed me, but then I lost that smile when I thought of what I did last night. ‘Was that part of this new Jerry, or was it left over from the old Jerry?’
***** ***** *****
I left Danny’s room to get a drink and let Lydia have some time alone with him. As I walked, voices caught my attention and I looked into a room where doctors and nurses were huddled around a patient. I ran into an abandoned supply cart, knocking a couple of bottles of some cleaning stuff over in the compartment on top. I reached down to stand them back up and saw a clipboard with a list of patients and the articles they needed changed and stocked. My eyes zeroed in on the fifth line: Castilar, Steven J., CCU, room 412. There was more information, but I just turned and started walking toward the elevators, almost in a daze, on autopilot.
It was a single occupant room or, well, alcove, since none of the rooms along this corridor had a fourth wall, only curtains to separate them from the corridor. All the alcoves were visible from the long nurse’s station in the center, which was empty at the moment. I could see and hear doctors and nurses working frantically on someone in the last alcove. The curtains were drawn across the front of Steven’s though, so I peeked through the small gap and saw him from the foot of his bed. He was asleep. His head was almost all bandaged over; only his right cheek and eyes were unbandaged. The left eye was swollen shut and dark black and blue. He had breathing tubes coming out of his mouth, I guess because his nose was sealed over with bandages, and the breathing assistance was raspy sounding, but the room seemed deathly still anyway.
I moved silently closer to his side, being careful to step as soundlessly as possible. I looked down and stared at the face of one of the guys who’d paid dearly for hurting my Danny. The tubes and apparatus flowing from his mouth forced a frozen, contorted, almost maniacal looking smile in his sleep.
I felt the urge to hate him… but it wouldn’t quite take hold of me. Lydia’s words, the underlying meaning of them, seemed to get… brighter in my mind. I stared at Steven Castilar for a long time. He moved not a muscle, except for the regulated rise and fall of his chest.
I didn’t really want to; I didn’t try to focus anywhere on it, but… I began to imagine what his life was like, what his thoughts and attitudes were. Many guys I knew at school were just like him; pretty good looking, fit jock-- football, judging by his build-- cocky, part of the ‘in’ crowd, needing to get a sports scholarship as the only hope of getting into college. I knew his overall attitude very well. I knew how his friends, teammates and coaches continually pumped his ego up to keep him a ‘fighting machine’, to be tougher than everyone else, to bring home the glory. I knew how their mindset made it easy to and very much ok to hate and to make people into your enemy in your mind. I knew how easy it was to hate-- or as Danny had pointed out, fear-- people, or types of people that you thought were a threat of some kind, a threat to your views, to your status, a threat to your masculinity… a threat to your secret curiosities. At other times, the objects of their derision were the little guys like Danny, who were just easy to intimidate. Picking on them made guys like him feel superior, like it somehow diminished his own weaknesses and shortcomings. I had resisted vilifying others mostly, but realized that I had gotten caught up in the frenzy many times-- it was an adrenaline rush. Hate-- hostility-- is a rush almost as powerful as love-- and I guess for people who can’t or don’t know how to love, even more so.
I knew Steven Castilar. I knew lots of Steven Castilars. I had been Steven Castilar not long ago.
I resisted feeling empathy with him. This guy would have gladly taken the place of the one who did hit Danny. It would have been something to brag about to everyone at school, takin’ down a faggot. It would have been an achievement, something to be proud of, something that made him appear strong and confident in the eyes of his peers-- when their opinion mattered more than anything else in the world, even more than your parents at this age, as you got ready to break away from them, trying to convince yourself you understand what it all means.
Tears came to my eyes as I hated and pitied and had some kind of sympathy for Steven Castilar, for all the Steven Castilars. And I was sorry that I had beaten up this stupid, scared, unsure boy who thought his physical strength and attitude were what made him a man.
I bent down close to his face and whispered, “I hope you fully recover. I hope you someday get over your anger and fear and learn to love. Please don’t hurt anyone else. I’m sorry for what I did to you, Steven Castilar.” And I softly kissed his cheek. I shook my head at having done that as I straightened up, but then nodded to myself in satisfaction. I decided that I would try and get to see him and the others when they were awake so I could apologize when they could hear me. It was just something I felt I needed to do.
I slipped out of the alcove and made my way back down a floor to our visitor’s lounge. Ben was sitting, staring blankly straight ahead. It almost seemed like he was asleep with his eyes open. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I didn’t say anything. I looked back in on Danny, went and kissed him softly, kissed Lydia on the cheek and told her I would take her place whenever she was ready, then returned to the lounge. I lay across three interlocked thinly padded seats by pulling my knees up so I wouldn’t take up five.
I lay there and wished I could take back all of my actions, wished I had never taken out after those guys, or at least that they wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital. I felt so heavy as it sunk in that I would have to live with my actions for the rest of my life. One more thing to regret.
I thought, ‘Have I made one fucking bit of progress since I almost killed Danny the first time? Fuck! What kind of person AM I? How can he love such a fucking monster?’ I lay there staring out at the floor, thinking back on Lydia’s words, wondering if I could ever possibly live up to her estimation of me, let alone Danny’s.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
As exhausted as I was, I lay there awake for a long time, my mind gradually becoming a blank. Around 10:30pm, Stanley came by and assured me again that Danny would not wake up tonight. He brought me a small pillow and a thermal blanket-- which he had done for others as well-- as the hospital was downright cold. He promised to wake me if there was any change in Danny’s condition during the rest of his double shift, which would last until 4am.
Stanley was thirty-something, a nice looking guy, even with the bags under his eyes from working too many hours all the time. He had a really good ‘bedside manner’ that set people at ease in the middle of all the stress and worry this place was all about.
People in the waiting room were drifting in and out, leaving to go have a cigarette or get something to eat, but most of them were beginning to fall asleep, like Ben, like I was so ready to but couldn’t quite get there.
Stanley sat on the next chair down from my feet and tucked the blanket around them, in the habit of giving a little comfort to people. He looked over at my face and smiled warmly as he said thoughtfully, weighing his words, “I think I would have done the same thing if I were you and I loved him so much.” My eyes went wide and I snapped that he had seen the news. “When that guy, Jim, the guy who helped Danny and you… When he described how devastated you were when they tried to kill Danny-- and that’s exactly how he put it, that they tried to kill him-- it hurt me to hear it. And…” He tried to make it not sound like he was eavesdropping, “I was tending a patient across the corridor this afternoon, so I heard you when you got to see him.”
He hesitated a little, then continued, “See… I understand. Two years ago, my lover, Eric, was riding with his dad to go visit his uncle up by New Braunfels and…” he looked away; I saw the sadness in his profile and it saturated his words, “Five AM on Hempstead Highway, not even out of town yet, a guy fell asleep at the wheel and hit them head on. His dad died instantly, but Eric was in a coma for three days-- the worst three days of my life-- and then he passed on.”
Suddenly, he shook his head like he was startled and looked apologetic as he rushed to say, “I’m sorry I told you that! That was depressing! Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Loring. That was very unprofessional of me!” He put his hand back on my calf when he saw the sympathy in my eyes. He guiltily tried to explain, “I only told you that to let you know I understand what it’s like for someone so in love… to be afraid for them… of losing them.”
I reached down and patted his hand. “I’m sorry you lost Eric and his dad, Stanley. I bet he was a great guy.”
He nodded solemnly, then smiled sadly and said, “Yeah, Eric was a beautiful man, beautiful heart. I’ll never find anyone like him again. He was everything to me.” He sighed. “It’s so rare… love like that, people like him, like you.” He held his hand up and said, “Not that I condone your actions on those boys, but… Steven Castilar has turned the corner. He is going to make it. He’ll recover just fine if there are no complications. But…” He looked around to make sure no one could hear, speaking softly, feeling like he shouldn’t say this aloud, “You just hardly ever hear of any of us… fighting back, y’know? I don’t like violence, but sometimes, I feel it in my heart, y’know? I think you’re like…” He grinned like he was being naughty. “Like… a conflicted hero.”
I blushed and looked down at my elbow sticking out from under the edge of the blanket. I little more than mumbled, “What I did was not heroic, Stanley. It didn’t help Danny in any way. It didn’t protect him at all. It wasn’t right. And, in fact, when he finds out about it all, he’s gonna… probably gonna… I dunno.” I shook my head, dreading the disappointment in me that I feared would show in Danny’s eyes, even if he tried not to show it when he finally found out.
Stanley shook his head and said, “He’s gonna understand, because he loves you and he knows you love him so much. I mean, c’mon, guy, if I can see it as plainly as I do, he’s gotta know you did it out of love!” He swatted my knee playfully and grinned.
I shook my head and said, “That’s the thing, Stanley, it was out of rage, not love.” I paused, then asked, pretty much rhetorically, since I had heard it was, “So it’s all over the news?”
He snapped his head back and exclaimed, “You don’t know about all that’s happening, do you? It’s the lead story on all the Houston channels!” He looked at his watch. “Oh, you just missed the ten o’clock news. There are TV’s in the main lobbies if you wanna catch it in the morning. All the staff here-- the ‘family’, that is,” He wagged his eyebrows, “and most of the straight ones too-- that’s all we’re talkin’ about! You have a lot of sympathy and a lot of admirers in the gay community, Jerry Loring! And the Mayor’s even talking about it!”
I flushed pale as it sunk in. I whispered, “Oh shit.” My dinner was riding up my esophagus and my pulse raced as I propped myself up on one elbow.
He saw my reaction and put his hand comfortingly on my calf again. “But that’s the great thing about it! The mayor and others I’ve seen on the news are being more sympathetic to y’all!” He nodded vigorously. “Every witness was on your side, and most of them talked about seeing this kind of thing all the damn time in the Montrose and how the cops mostly just harass us instead of protecting us-- just that usually, the only people hurt are the gay ones. So this is different. John Gladstone, from the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, rattled off a bunch of recent incidents from a long list and the Mayor is having to respond to that, now. Maybe something will change.”
Stanley wasn’t particularly effeminate-- or ‘campy’ would be the better word, maybe-- until he got going. Anyway, he all but squealed as he bounced in his seat excitedly, “One witness called you “The gay Bruce Lee!!!”” He realized he’d gotten loud and quickly scanned the room to see if he’d woke anyone up.
I groaned and covered my face in embarrassment, and a healthy dose of shame for what I’d done. “Ohhhh god.”
He tapped my knee to get me to look at him as he stood up and said, “Come with me.”
I was confused. “Huh?”
He tried to assure me as he held out his hand to help me up, “I know you’re very tired, but you obviously don’t know about it. You’ve gotta see this, Jerry. I think it’ll be over soon, so we’ve gotta go now. It won’t take but a few minutes.”
I was so ready to sleep, but Stanley was so nice I didn’t argue with him. I followed him down the corridor and into the original section of the hospital. We went down to the main lobby and Stanley pulled me by the arm through the front doors out into the night air.
I didn’t understand. There were about forty people standing in a group just off the main sidewalk, holding candles, talking quietly among themselves. Several handmade signs that I couldn’t read were laying in the grass and some people were leaving. I was confused. “What’s goin’ on? What’re they doing?”
Stanley beamed at me and squeezed my hand in his. “They’re here for Danny, and you.” He explained like he was telling a little kid, “It’s a candlelight vigil, for Danny, by the gay community. They showed this on the news and Dr. Reitberg gave an update on Danny and the others.”
Chills went all over my body as I looked at the people, men and women, young and old… regular looking people. They didn’t even ‘look’ gay to me from here-- but then I didn’t have a real clear image of what gay people should look like, after the variety I’d seen in all the bars I’d been to last night and at the Kon Tiki. I was still kind of confused. “They’re holding a vigil… for Danny? They don’t even know him.” I was so dense and foggy from lack of sleep.
He shook his head and smiled warmly at me. “They know he’s one of us, and they know he’s a victim of what all of us face the threat of every single day of our lives. I know you live way out in Friendswood and you’re so young you probably aren’t aware that there IS a community here. It’s not all just about a bunch of bars, bookstores and bathhouses. We care about each other-- not always enough, but when something like this happens, when one of us is struck down by hate, we come together around him and support him… and we support you, Jerry-- not what you did to those boys, but… we understand why you did it.”
I was trembling, waves of emotion rolling over me as I looked at the crowd. My eyes watered up as I felt somewhat overwhelmed that all these people would spend the evening standing in front of a hospital, holding candles, saying prayers for Danny. The more it sank in, the more the tears fell. These people cared, actually cared, for a boy they didn’t even know, had never seen.
Stanley squeezed my hand as he watched the tears slide down my cheeks. After a moment, he quietly asked, “Would you like to say something to them? It would mean a lot to them. The reporters and cameras are all gone for the night. It would just be you… saying thank you, or whatever you feel. It would comfort them.”
I looked at him in a kind of panic. “I-I-I don’t know what to say. I’m scared of…” I didn’t know what I was scared of, just that I was scared. My adrenaline had gotten a lot of extreme workouts in the last twenty-four hours, and here it went again.
Stanley squeezed my hand again and leaned in close to whisper, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Jerry. This is ‘family’, our extended family. I know Danny’s family loves and supports him. I don’t know how it is with your family, but… lots of us-- too many-- don’t have the love and support of our biological families. Many, many of us have been rejected by them. We’ve gotta be each others’ family. We’ve gotta stick up for each other when the world sends so much hate and bad Karma, and even violence our way. These people love you and Danny. They’re taking time out of their lives to show you and the rest of the world that they care.”
Chills were still rolling up and down my limbs as I nodded ‘ok’ to him. He led me over to the group and as we got closer, someone in the crowd pointed and said, “That’s Jerry Loring!”
Of course, everybody turned to us and I blushed fiercely, lowering my eyes, embarrassment mingling with the other strong emotions. Stanley started to say something, but stopped his words as a couple of people started clapping and the crowd picked up on it ‘til they were all clapping and cheering, slinging hot wax all over themselves as the candles danced and some blew out.
That was just too much for me to handle. Stanley could tell I was folding and waved them to stop clapping and listen. As the crowd quieted, he whispered in my ear, “Just thank them for coming out, for showing their support for Danny. Just let them know you appreciate them. That’s all you need to say.”
I didn’t know if I could bring myself to speak or not. I shuffled around on my feet and tried to figure out what to do with my hands as I tried to think of what to say. Finally, I shoved my hands in my pockets and basically repeated what he’d said, “Ummm… Uh,” I managed to look up at the faces of these caring strangers, some still lit from under their chins by candles. “I want to…” God, this was so hard! “I uh, want to thank you all for… for doing this, for coming here and… supporting Danny.” Tears started running down my cheeks again and I don’t think I’d stopped blushing since we got out the door. “It means a lot to me. I don’t know what to say, except, thank you. I’m kinda… kinda overwhelmed. Thank you.”
Suddenly the crowd surged around us and people were reaching out and touching me, shaking my hands, hugging me, asking me questions, telling me they loved us and were praying for us. A thin and wiry young Latina woman in a black tank top with tattoos on her shoulders stepped in and hugged me tightly. I didn’t know what to do. I kinda returned the hug. Then she pulled back and had tears in her eyes too.
She said, “We’re praying for Danny and you, mijo, and David and Tyson. We’re praying for the others, too. But we want you to know we love you and care about y’all.” She shook her head as she still held me in an arms’ length embrace. “What you did… The way you went after them after they tried to kill your lover… That guy Jim had tears in his eyes when he told the reporter how you reacted when they hit Danny.” She shook her head some more with a twinkle in her teary eyes and a smile on her face. “It’s so… so romantic, and brave and…”
I shook my head in a negative and looked in her eyes. “No. No.” I looked around to speak to the whole crowd, “No. What I did was not brave, or right. I’m ashamed of myself for doing it. It didn’t help or protect Danny in any way. All I did was beat three guys up in anger. All I’ve learned about… In all my training, the one most important thing I was supposed to learn was control, to think clearly in tense situations. I lost control. It wasn’t brave or honorable. Beating them up did nothing good.”
An older bearded man behind the woman holding me spoke up, “That’s right. Violence in return for violence will not help. But… I think what she’s trying to say, is that we all understand. A lot of us know the panic and the automatic reaction to someone trying to hurt or kill our lover. Many of us have been victims, or our loved ones have been, and that’s why we’re here. We know what it feels like to not be able to stop it, to be helpless in the face of hatred and violence when they almost always outnumber us. I’ve been a victim more than once. I don’t think she’s praising your violent reaction so much as just the idea of you fighting back, of being able to fight back when your lover was attacked.” A chorus of agreement rippled through the crowd.
A skinny little guy said, “I bet those Spring Branch punks think twice about driving over to the Montrose to bash us from now on!” There was another murmur of agreement through the crowd.
That comment caught me. I pondered that for a moment, thinking maybe at least something good may have come from this if that proved to be true-- but then I thought: it could have the opposite effect, and more of them could get worked up and come there looking for revenge, or just to prove they were bigger badasses.
Everyone waited for me to respond. Finally, I looked him in the eye and said, “Let’s hope that’s how it goes. There’s just so much violence in the world…” I trailed off. Everything I could think to say seemed so clichéd and lame. Maybe it wasn't; maybe people needed to hear these things even though they'd been said many times, many ways. But I was fading fast. I looked at Stanley and he nodded, a signal that I had said what I needed to say, so I rubbed my brow tiredly and said, “Well look, I haven’t slept in two days. I’m gonna go get some sleep. I just wanna thank y’all for being here. It really, really means a lot to me, and I know it does to Danny, too. Thank you. Oh, and, ummm, we haven’t told Danny what I did to them. We don’t want to upset him, at least until he can see again.”
A shocked chorus of ‘ooh’s and ‘what?’s went through the crowd and I looked again to Stanley. He said, “The doc didn’t tell about that part in his statement.” He turned to the crowd and started to explain, “It’s not uncommon with head trauma like Danny’s to have a temporary loss of vision.” He realized what he was kind of doing and said, “Now, I’m not saying what Danny’s condition is; I am NOT giving you a status report. That’s not my job, and I’m glad the media is gone, ‘cause I could get in a lot of trouble for saying any of this.” He grinned nervously. “I’m just saying that temporary loss of vision is not uncommon for head trauma patients and that it always returns within a day or two. Now, I’m taking Jerry back inside to get some rest. I just wanted him to see the love and support we’re all giving Danny and him. He didn’t even know ya’ll were here. Thank you and good night.”
Everyone said goodnight, and many of them hugged me or shook my hand again. One guy hugged me, then stepped back, squeezed my bicep appreciatively as he looked me up and down and said, “Mmm-mm, Danny’s so lucky.” I blushed again. They gave me encouragement and told me how much they loved us, that they would be back tomorrow night and they would continue to pray for Danny through the night. I thanked them all again and we went back inside.
I was kinda coasting on the energy they had given me. I kept feeling it surge through me. But I was so exhausted I couldn’t think much. I just let the sincere and caring faces of the people as they hugged me or shook my hand parade in front of my mind’s eye. I’d seen news reports of candlelight vigils a time or two over the years for different things, but never really stopped to think about what it would mean to the people they were doing it for. I kept getting chills up and down my spine. It gave me a wonderful sense of ‘connectedness’ to humanity, to real people beyond my little sphere. I really needed this evidence that not everyone out there was hateful and violent. Along with all that Lydia had said earlier this evening, I was feeling a lot better about myself.
We got back to the waiting room and Stanley said, “Listen, I gotta get back on my rounds. I guess I took my break early.” He grinned. He could get people in severe pain to smile with that grin of his. “Get some sleep, and I promise I’ll come get you if anything at all changes with Danny, ok?”
I gave him a hug, a tight one, and said, “Thank you, Stanley. Thank you so much for taking me out there. I had no idea. That really blew me away. Wow.”
He patted my back as he released me and said, “Get some sleep… Bruce Loring.” He laughed and I blushed furiously.
I looked at Ben, half lying over in his seat under a blanket. I wished he and Lydia could have seen and heard the people outside. This would have really made them feel good to know all these people cared about Danny. Many in the group had said they would be back tomorrow night. I would take Ben and Lydia out there and let them talk to them if they wanted to. Just to see the crowd with their candles would make them feel good, even if they didn’t talk to anyone. I wrapped the blanket around myself in the cold hospital air, lay my head on the little pillow and was asleep in probably less than thirty seconds.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Tell me what you think of this chapter and the whole story at: firstname.lastname@example.org and visit my website at www.geocities.com/desertmac2000/
As always, thank you to Drew for hosting this story on his excellent site!
This chapter is dedicated to Kevin, who, as a former EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) wrote an extensively detailed guide for me to use in my descriptions of the various injuries incurred by the boys, so I can keep it true to life. I won’t be getting all technical and using much medical jargon in this story, but the details I will give on their injuries will be realistic. This chapter will see little in the way of descriptions, but the next one will include more details. Thank you very much Kevin, for taking the time to write that up for me, as well as for your consultations on all of this as it has progressed!
Thank you Bill, as always, for your editing! Thank you Jonathan for your input! Thank you to all who’ve written me. I am definitely answering all emails again!