"Mom, dad...I have something I need to tell you," I said quietly, my voice wavering slightly with a mixture of fear and anticipation.
My dad glanced over the top of the morning newspaper and my mom turned from the stove where she was finishing up our breakfast, both with expectant looks on their faces.
"I...I'm..." I couldn't bring myself to actually say it. A thousand thousand times I had played this scene out in my head, in my dreams, but now that it was actually happening, I couldn't say it. My mind was a swirling mix of emotions: fear, doubt, uncertainty and a feeble feeling that I knew was hope. Hope that everything would turn out all right, that my parents would still be my parents and that I would still be their son.
"Brandon, I have a busy day ahead of me, so will you please get to the point already?" My dad was always busy, even when he wasn't working.
"Sorry, sir...it's just that...well, I'm..." Come on, you can do this...a deep breath, in and out. "I'm gay."
Not many people are familiar with what absolute silence actually sounds like. It is almost palpable in the air. It presses down on anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it, stealing the breath right out of their lungs. When a sound finally does break through, it is the loudest noise ever heard. Like the bang from a frying pan falling from the hand of a gasping woman to crash on the floor, egg and oil spraying out onto the ground. Or the scrape of a chair on the floor as a man stands up suddenly. I looked up at the intrusions upon our moment of silence. My mother was now kneeling on the floor, trying to pick up the pieces of egg, but they were too hot and she was just dropping the pieces right back where she had found them. My father had left the room, his newspaper now lying on the table, orange juice soaking through from underneath from the glass he had knocked over.
"Mom...I'm...I'm sorry." I wasn't sure that she had actually heard me, because she continued trying to clean up the mess on the floor. As I was about to repeat what I said, she looked up at me, a look of disbelief on her face. I tried to smile, to show that I was all right, but my face refused to be twisted into what seemed such an obscene gesture at this time.
Her eyes widened suddenly, moving to look behind me, and she let out a small gasp. "Harold, what...what are you..."
I spun around on the spot to see my dad standing at the foot of the stairs, tears rimming his eyes. My eyes traveled down his face to his shoulder and down his shaking arm to finally rest on the black 9mm handgun that he was pointing at my chest. I froze. No...no...this isn't happening, it can't be, he wouldn't...
Pain like I had never before felt in my 16 years exploded from the right side of my chest. Darkness began to steal over my vision. I felt my knees growing weak, my legs giving out and my body crumpling to the floor. I knew all of this was happening, but my mind didn't give it more than cursory attention. All of my attention was focused still on the gun. I watched it rise slowly upward, and tilt inwards until it was pointed against the right temple of Harold Thomas Oswald, president of Logistix, Inc., one of the premier software development companies in the entire southeast, member of the advisory board of First Baptist Church of Greenville. All of what he was and what he did ran through my head in the briefest of moments. Only one of his many roles remained in my mind as my head struck the ground and the darkness took over completely: My father.
My eyes fluttered open slowly, squinting against the bright white light emanating from large glass rods set into the ceiling. I felt...weak, much like I imagine being hit by a car would feel. It hurt just to move my eyes around in their sockets, trying to determine where I was. Bright lights on the ceiling, white walls, a door. What is that beeping sound? All of this entered my mind through my eyes and ears, and like a sort of neural key, unlocked something. An explosion...no, a gunshot...and then - pain, blinding pain. My father. Everything rushed back to me. I shut my eyes, trying to block it out, but it was no use. Tears began to roll freely down my face.
"Brandon...are you awake?" The voice sounded friendly, coming from the direction of the door to the room. I opened my eyes slowly, and turned to look in her direction. She was wearing purple scrubs and carried a metal clipboard which she had flipped open. A hospital. I shut my eyes again and turned my head away from her. I couldn't believe what had happened. I needed outside proof, someone to tell me that I was dreaming, that none of this had actually happened, that everything was going to be ok. The nurse was moving closer, I could hear her the faint tap-tap of her shoes on the tiled floor. I sighed to myself, turned to face her and opened my eyes again. Damn, still there.
"Brandon, how are you feeling?" She had a nice smile. It was comforting. Probably why she got the job.
"Like I've been run over by a train...twice." She smiled again, a different kind of smile this time. Probably thinks it's good that I'm joking. I wish it were.
"Do you know why you're here, Brandon?"
"I was shot." She nodded slowly. "By my..." I closed my eyes, unable to actually say it out loud, hoping she would tell me that I was crazy, that everything was fine. I opened my eyes again, hoping to see a look of shock on her face, anything to tell me I was wrong. I didn't find what I was looking for.
"What's going to happen now?" I asked, not totally sure I wanted to hear the answer. Maybe it would be best just to lie here in this bed forever.
"There are a few people I want you to meet, Brandon. I'll be back in a few minutes." She stood up, did something to one of the machines next to my bed, turned and walked out of the room. I lay there on the bed, trying my best to think of nothing at all and managing to succeed pretty well at it. I began tapping my left hand to the beat of the heart monitor.
The door opened once more and the nurse walked back in, this time with two men following her. One of them was obviously a doctor; the other was a man in a suit carrying a briefcase who seemed nervous about being here.
"Ah, Brandon...I'm glad to see that you're finally awake. We were pretty worried about you. How are you feeling?" The doctor also had a pretty soothing voice. I suppose you had to sound like that in this field of work. Yelling and screaming at a patient probably produced results opposite of what the hospital wanted.
"Fantastic, doctor. Just fantastic." My mother always told me I was too sarcastic for my own good.
"Yes, well...you were out for the count for a little over three days. We were beginning to won-"
"Wait...three DAYS!? What the hell happened to me?" This didn't sound good at all.
"Well, the bullet missed your right lung by less than an inch. It glanced off one of your ribs on entry but made a clean exit, just below your right shoulder blade. You lost a good deal of blood, which is why you feel a little weak right now."
"Honestly, we're not really sure why you were asleep for as long as you were, but it seems to have done you some good. Brandon, this is Mr. Chase. He's with child services for the state. He has some things he would like to talk to you about. If you'll excuse us." He motioned to the nurse and the two of them slipped out of the room. Oh, but this will be fun.
"Brandon, as Dr. Carter said I'm Mr. Chase. I work for child services. I understand that what you've been through is something you probably don't want to even think about."
"Gee, whatever gave you that idea?" He sighed. I figured I'd join him.
"Brandon, I'm just trying to help you. You don't need to hide behind the tough guy attitude with me." Okay, he's good. "Now, what you do need to think about is what is going to happen to you in the future." He set his briefcase down on the floor next to him and sat in the chair next to my bed.
"Where's my mom?" With everything going on, I had completely forgotten about her. I assumed my dad was dead. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that yet. I pushed those thoughts aside, needing to concentrate on what was going on now.
"We have attempted to contact your only other living relatives, your grandparents on your father's side. However, they refused to speak with us after we told them why we were calling. I'm very sorry, Brandon. It is generally the rule that a minor is placed with a foster family if their biological family is no longer able to care for them."
"Foster...no way. Where the hell is my mom?"
"Your mother..." he began. He sighed again. "She wasn't at the house when the paramedics arrived, and one of the cars was missing from the garage. We haven't been able to find her yet. We're, uh, not sure where she is right now."
Oh this is just getting better and better. It's amazing how one little thing can so completely destroy life as you know it. One little word is all it takes. And then before you know it, your father is shooting at you with a gun and your mother has skipped town. Family, huh?
"As I was saying, we generally try to place minors with a foster family, one that the child is able to choose so that the situation is acceptable to them. Do you understand what I'm telling you, Brandon?"
"Yeah, I understand Mr. Chase. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to be alone."
"Of course. I'll be back tomorrow and we can talk some more."
"Looking forward to it." I hope the sarcasm wasn't too much that time. He gave a little half smile and stepped out of the room, the door gliding closed behind him.
So, a foster family. Probably not in this area. They wouldn't want to keep me near what happened. So, a new town as well. New friends, a new school, maybe even a new dog. Oh, who am I kidding? Nothing is going to change. I'm still who I am and that is what has gotten me where I am. No one at school will talk to me, my dad tried to kill me and my mom took off. What the hell is the point?
I sighed and drifted back into a sleep riddled with dreams I was lucky to have forgotten by the time I woke up the next day. When I opened my eyes, I realized I felt a lot better. I wasn't nearly as weak as I was the day before. Everything seemed to be in working order. There was a dull pain in my chest, but it too had started to fade. I started to sit up and gasped as pain shot through my chest. No, it most certainly had not faded. It was just waiting for me to do something stupid. I lay back down as slowly as I could, trying to calm my breathing. I heard the door to the room open. Ah, Mr. Chase.
"Oh, it's you. Got some more good news for me? Yesterday just wasn't enough."
"Good afternoon to you too, Brandon." That half smile again. "We need to get some things determined. I've compiled a list of eligible families that I'd like you to take a look at for me, ok?" He pulled a stack of about a dozen folders out of his briefcase and placed them on the table next to my bed. "Just take a look through them for me and tell me what you think. No pressure." He looked as if he wanted to say something a little more endearing. Apparently he decided against it and instead headed for the door.
"No pressure...just some people you don't even know who will probably hate you anyways. Yeah sure, what the hell. Not like I have anything else to do." I tend to mutter to myself at times, another of my faults. I picked up the stack of folders, wincing a bit at the pain that came from the twisting movement. I began to rifle through them, discarding the first 4 almost immediately. The fifth one, however...Jack and Susan Kinney, of Little Rock, Arkansas. Oh, and look...a son, one Meric Kinney, age 15. Green eyes, black hair, great face. He's hot. No...no, he is NOT hot. He is a guy and guy's are not hot, nor are they sexy or anything else. I was determined not to let what was wrong with me destroy everything for a second time. I glanced through the rest of their file and knew that if I had to do this, and apparently I did, that this was where I wanted to go. Well, now I just have to wait for Mr. Chase to come back and...whoa, this man has good timing.
"How's it going, Brandon? See anything you like yet?"
"Well, actually...the Kinneys seem nice." I waved the file a bit to accentuate my decision. Mr. Chase smiled.
"Okay, Brandon. Dr. Carter says that you should be out of here in just a few more days. The Kinneys will be coming up in a couple days to meet you. You're not obligated or anything, so if you find out you don't like them you don't have to go with them. Like I said yesterday, I'm just trying to make sure that you're happy." He nodded once and turned to leave.
"Mr. Chase." He paused and turned around. "Thanks."
"You're very welcome Brandon."
The next few days were almost a blur for me. Nurses checking on me, the sounds of the hospital intruding into my room whenever the door was opened, that weird smell that wasn't quite good or bad. Dr. Carter was in every now and then to see how I was doing. I told him I was doing well, that I felt better every day. The pain in my chest was fading for real this time. He told me that the area would be sore for a good while longer, but no permanent damage had been done. I was supposed to avoid any activity that would cause the area to be stretched or put "undue pressure" on the area for at least 3 weeks. Sounded easy. The hard thing for me to deal with, of course, was how I had come to need to do those things.
I guess that I've always been the type of person to keep my emotions to myself; to keep them bottled up inside and not let anyone in. They were mine, after all. It was very difficult for me over those couple days to try to face what had happened. Every time I tried my mind seemed to just shut down. The trauma was still too near. Each beep of the heart monitor was like a signal that reminded me why I was here. I couldn't think straight. I gave up, pushed it all aside and decided right then and there to move on. What had happened was in the past and was too painful for me to even contemplate thinking about. It was easier to bury it. And bury it I did, right along with the little three-letter word that had gotten me into this mess. G-a-y. I wasn't gay, that was a mistake...a horrible mistake that had destroyed everything I had known. It wouldn't again. Whatever had caused this to happen to me, something wrong that I did, I would find out and fix it so that I would be right, be normal, again.
I woke up on the day that the Kinneys would arrive feeling extremely nervous. Dozens of questions fluttered around in my head, constantly pounding me with self-doubt. What if they didn't like me? What if they thought I was "damaged goods?" Who would want someone whose own parents had gotten rid of them? It was easy to slip into a state of despair just lying there on that bed.
Around 11AM, Mr. Chase came in the room. His usual half smile played across his lips and his eyes seemed to sparkle a little more than normal.
"Hey Brandon. How are you?"
"Feeling much better, Mr. Chase. Are...well, have you heard from the Kinneys?" I couldn't believe how nervous I was about this. I wondered if Meric had come up with them.
"Yes, Brandon. They're waiting just outside right now." My heart skipped a beat. Was I ready for this? "Brandon, I need to talk with you for a minute." He sat down in the chair next to the bed. "I wanted to let you know what we have told the Kinneys about your situation."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we weren't sure that you would want them to know exactly what had happened between you and your father. We've told them that your family was in a car accident. Your mother and father were both killed. You were injured during the accident. You are being placed with a foster family because you no longer have any living relatives. Now, it is entirely up to you when and if you wish to tell them the truth of what happened. They are good people; I think you'll see that." He stood up. "Well, are you ready to meet them?"
"I guess so...yeah, I am." I tried to sit up a little more in the bed, and reached up to try to make sure my hair didn't look too bad. Mr. Chase just chuckled a bit before going over to the door and opening it. He said something to someone outside and then pushed the door all the way open and held it there.
A woman with shoulder length brown hair stepped in timidly, immediately looking towards me. She smiled nervously. I smiled back, hoping it looked like a good smile. Behind her, a man with black hair that was just starting to gray a little stepped into the room. He put his hands on her shoulders and seemed to steer her towards the side of my bed. Oh well, no Meric it seemed. He probably didn't want to miss school or something. The Kinneys sat down and an uncomfortable silence settled over the room. I glanced towards the door to see that Mr. Chase had silently let himself out after the Kinneys had entered. So, I was here all alone...with the people I would probably be living with. Well, no time like the present, they say.
"Hi. You must be the Kinneys." God, I sounded like such an idiot. Of course they were the Kinneys.
"Yes. And you must be Brandon. How are you feeling?" Mrs. Kinney had a nice voice and her smile seemed to be getting braver by the second.
"Much better. Dr. Carter says I'll be able to leave here tomorrow. I'm really ready to get out of this hospital." I grinned a bit as I said the last part, trying to make them and myself feel at ease with what was going on.
"That's great to hear, Brandon." The Kinneys looked at each other and smiled. They turned to face me again. "So, ever been to Arkansas, Brandon?"
"No, Mr. Kinney. The only time I've been out of the state was when I went to Washington DC in 5th grade for a field trip."
"Well, I think you'll like the area. We've been living there for about 4 years and really love it." As he finished saying that, there was a light knock on the door. The door opened a little and a teenage face poked in. Unruly black hair draped down a little in front of startling green eyes. Meric had come after all. He opened the door a little more so that his whole body was framed in the doorway. He was wearing a light blue button down shirt and a pair of jeans that obviously had been worn many times. He was holding an unopened can of Vanilla Coke in his hand. He immediately looked at me, seeming a little nervous.
"Oh, uh...sorry, but I was just look - Oh, mom, dad," he said, noticing them sitting next to my bed. He had a great voice.
"Come on in Meric and have a seat. This is Brandon," Mr. Kinney said, gesturing first at a chair and then at me. Meric did.
"Cool," he said before popping the top on his coke and taking a sip. He offered the can to me. I accepted, took a sip, and handed it back to him. Vanilla Coke was my favorite.
"Ah, much better than IV," I joked. They all laughed.
"Brandon, would you like to spend the day with us here in town tomorrow? You can show us around, we can get something to eat, get to know each other a little better. What do you say?" Mr. Kinney smiled as he finished. I decided that I liked these people, they seemed very nice. I just wish that I didn't have to wait a whole 'nother day before getting out of here.
"Sure...there isn't much to see here in Greenville, but it sounds like fun." I smiled back, at all of them.
"Great, well...we'll be by tomorrow then." The three of them stood up. Mr. and Mrs. Kinney headed for the door, but Meric took a step closer to the bed. He reached over and put the coke can down on the table beside my bed, winked at me and turned to follow his parents out. I could see Mr. Chase standing in the hallway when they opened the door. He glanced past them to me, raising his eyebrows. I gave him a thumbs up as the door swung closed behind them. I leaned back in my bed, closed my eyes and genuinely smiled for the first time in several days. Maybe things were going to be all right after all.