Ok, here's the all the stuff you need to know before you get to the story:

Whew! Hate that required stuff, but it's there for a reason.

But, here's my last comment before you go to the story: I'm like you and the other 98% of the readers here—I'm a lurker. I read the stories, find story lines I like, and check back regularly (ok, daily, I admit it!) for the next chapter. I'd never seriously thought about what it takes for a site like this to operate. Understand, there are damn few sites like this that regularly publish—without charge—and encourage writing. I'm making a commitment here and now to regularly support Nifty. It's not cheap to keep the site running, maintain archives, etc.! Help 'em out, huh? Toss 'em a few bucks occasionally. Your brain and libido will thank you for it! Credit/Debit cards, money orders, and checks all work. Go here: http://donate.nifty.org/donate.html, then come back to read the story!

Now, on to the story....this is a little darker, and may not be what you expect. Hang in there with me---the characters have taken a life of their own!

Joe the Welder

Chapter 6

3:14 am. Saturday morning.

Damn these sleepless nights! They didn't happen often, but when they did no point in fighting to get back to sleep. I got up, pissed, pulled on a pair of boxers, and headed to the kitchen to make coffee. At least I'd make it to the office early, with plenty of time to get organized, and enjoy the rest of the weekend. And time to think.

Joe and I have been seeing each other for nearly 6 months. Some of the best times of my life. Sexually, anything I wanted to do, Joe was up for; me the top/dom, him the bottom sub. But it was far more than sex—with either of us. There was always a connection between us, no matter how vanilla or kinky the sex. I genuinely enjoyed his company, and knew what a great guy he was. And I was as much possessed by him as he was by me.

At Christmas Joe made a big effort to go all out for his niece and nephews. We packed a big box of presents for the kids, left it on the front doorstep at Brandon's place, beat shit out of the door, shouted “Merry Christmas” then ran like hell a block or so back to Joe's van. Joe watched through binoculars as the kids spilled out the door, shrieking in joy at the presents from “Santa”. That was as close as he could get—bastard Brandon still wouldn't let him see the kids. Joe cried as he watched. I think there was a dust speck in my eye too. Pulled him close and held him.

My mom and siblings loved him when we went over to Mom's for Christmas dinner later that day. Mom held off on her usual southern woman's sneakier-than-the- FBI interrogation. My sisters combined to give him a nice sweater and dress shirt, and my brother gave him one of the Leatherman multi-tools. (You know the ones—the heavy-duty Swiss army knife things that do everything but wash the dishes.) My mom gave him a pair of welding gloves. “You can use these, hate gifts you can't use.” He looked like a little boy, beaming with surprise and pride, eyes glistening, but adult enough to appreciate the acceptance. He'd apologized about not getting gifts—I'd told him not to—but Mom “shussed” that away.

Now smoking a cig on the front porch. Light rain falling. Pleasantly cool. Waiting for the coffee to finish.

Joe had proved over and over that underneath the gruff bear exterior was a heart of gold. A little old lady neighbor had the washer dump water all over the floor in her townhouse. Joe went over, discovered the drain line popped loose between the washer and the drain, reconnected it, and helped clean up the floor. When Mrs. Sheldon offered to pay him, he just smiled at her, told her he was glad to help, and headed back to his place. I didn't find out about it till a couple of weeks later when I was at Joe's. She told me about it as she carried in her single bag of groceries. Joe never mentioned it.

Or the kid a couple of doors down who'd popped the chain on his bike. Joe got it fixed, sent the kid (Andy) on his way, never said anything. The kid's single mom told me about it when I was waiting for Joe to get home from work one day. He took the little guy a Nerf basketball set for Christmas, too, and although he had a sore throat and couldn't see him, mom reassured Joe that'd he love it.

Good guy. Check. Big heart. Check. Hot sex—best ever. Fucking check on that. And I know he really cares for me even if he can't say it. He's come close though. Check.

I finished my smoke, and went back in. Coffee was ready. I poured in cream, poured the hot coffee, and then sugar. First sip was great!

Suddenly my “spidey sense” was ringing/gonging loudly enough I couldn't think straight. Migraine? The knock at the door startled me, but the spidey sense was still fire-engine-siren-next-to-the-ear loud. I glanced at the clock in the kitchen.

3:33 am. The half-evil time of night.

Opened the door, and there stands Chuck Edmundson, in his cop uniform, wet from the drizzle. I sold Chuck and his wife their first house, and we'd started building a friendship. As their family grew, sold 'em a 2nd house a few years later. We'd maintained a friendship, he'd figured out I was gay and we still stayed friends, with occasional weekend barbeques, and swims in the pool at his new place.

Chuck, what are you doing here? Come on in!” Chuck stood there stiffly, formally.

Rex, do you know Joe Howard?”

Yeah, we've been dating.'

You need to come with me—now.” No mistaking the emphasis on “now”. “There's been a bad accident, Joe's at St. Francis Hospital. You were his ICE contact.”

Wait....what?” I shook my head trying to focus. “Ice contact? What's that?”

It stands for 'In Case of Emergency'. Lots of people set up 'ICE' in their cell phone contacts, and Joe set you up there. If there's an accident, cops and EMS check the phone first.” He looked me over. “You need to pull on some clothes now. I'll escort you to the hospital.” No mistaking the “now” emphasis, again. Didn't give a shit that I was in my underwear.

I threw on some jeans, t-shirt, and deck shoes, grabbed my cell phone, keys, and wallet off the dresser, dumped the coffee from the mug into a travel cup, and raced to the door, to follow Chuck in my van.

Even with Chuck's high speed escort, it was 20 minutes to the hospital. St. Francis was sparkling new, built on the far outskirts of town to allow for growth, but right now, almost in the middle of nowhere. It was already accredited as a level 2 trauma center, and with the level of medical talent they were pulling in, it'd soon be level 1. The white marble, stainless trim, and glass design of the building sparked with the lighting and the mist.

Chuck pulled up to the emergency entrance, parked his car, and directed me into one of the nearby “staff” parking spots. “Parking there is ok, Rex, come on NOW,” he yelled. There's that word again. “Now!” Even more emphasis. It's gotta be bad.

We both ran into the emergency area. I looked around for staff, but no one was behind the admissions desk at the moment. Looking around, I saw Sam Jackson. I occasionally saw Sam out when having a drink and he'd gotten off his 12 hour shifts; he had been working ER as long as I could remember, and had just moved to this new hospital.


Rex. You're here about Joe Howard, right?” How'd he know? “Sit down. Now. Lemme fill you in.” If I hear “now” like that one more fuckin' time........

Joe had been rushed into surgery, losing blood with major internal bleeding. It was bad. Left thigh badly cut—it'd hit an artery. Left knee crushed. Left arm broken in 3 places. 3 broken ribs, left lung punctured. Shoulder dislocated. Severe concussion, potential neck damage. Cuts from glass everywhere.

I looked at Sam, and he knew my question. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed.

Rex, we don't know....it's touch and go right now. They're trying to stop the bleeding and save the leg. We'd done everything we could in ER. He's bleeding faster than we could pump blood in him. He's already had 17 pints. Everything else, we'll take care of, but those are the priorities at the moment. I'll let the staff know you're here, and they'll keep you updated. Surgery waiting room is on 2nd floor. You go on—I'll make sure you're in the loop.” And with that Sam was gone. Guess I was in shock enough, I didn't even say thanks for the update.

What happened?”

Chuck was still there, didn't even realize he was holding my hand while Sam filled me in. Never letting go of my hand, he knelt on one knee in front of me and looked me squarely in the eyes.

Joe's cousin, Brandon, stopped by and tried to pick a fight after work at Joe's shop. Joe knocked Brandon down, got in his van, and left. He took the back way out, apparently thinking he'd dodge seeing Brandon. Brandon was speeding, drunk, and deliberately rammed his truck into Joe's van on the driver's side. Ambulance picked him up, Brandon spilled his guts about everything he'd done in front of the cops.”

Rex, they had to cut Joe out of the van. The sheetmetal embedded in his thigh had to be pulled out for him to be moved—and that's when the bleeding really took off. He's damn lucky to be alive. Brandon is being treated, and is under arrest for DUI, driving without a license or insurance, and attempted murder. He's at City Hospital. His injuries weren't bad. He'll be in jail within the hour.”

Long pause. “Keep your chin up....Brandon told us that you and Joe were together. I know you must mean a lot to Joe to have that son-of-a-bitch go off like that. You gotta believe that Joe's gonna be all right. And don't worry, we're gonna throw the book at Brandon.”

Chuck stood up, and I slowly got to my feet. Shocked, I guess. Chuck grabbed me, hugged me, and pulled back. “It's gonna be ok, Rex. And, if you need anything, call me, and he gave me his card, circling his cell number.

And with that, I stood alone in the ER waiting room. Had to clear my head. Went out, moved the van, finished off the now cold coffee. Had a smoke. And, must admit, had a good cry. Nerves, I guess.

Gathering myself back up, I headed to the hospital cafeteria, grabbed more coffee and went up to the 2nd floor surgery waiting room

Nothing to do but sit and wait, you grab a magazine. Amazing. In a new facility, how do they manage to have 3 and 4 year old “Ladies Home Journal”, “Vogue”, and “Mechanics Illustrated” magazines?

I tried to form an action plan. I needed to notify Joe's mom, but didn't have her number. I needed to notify Joe's boss, but didn't have that number, either. Joe was gonna be here a while, but didn't need to worry about personal care items or clothing at this point. So, really, no action plan needed.

I tried to read. Mechanics Illustrated had a great review of mid-sized cars----from 3 years ago. Woodworking projects (“Build these custom shelves with built-in desk in a weekend!”) New technology used on the new Boeing Dreamliner.

None of it was working. I wanted to pace the floor. I needed another smoke—hell, I'd be chain smoking if I were my call; the hospital was a total non-smoking zone, I'd hafta leave the grounds or go back out to my car just to light up. Bastards.

I'd need to make some changes to my work schedule. Joe was gonna be here for a while, and he wouldn't be alone. I started thinking about my clients, and deciding which other agents I could farm the business to. I'd still get a referral fee, not a full commission on a sale, but it'd let me keep my focus on Joe.

Family of Joe Howard here?” A doc in bloody scrubs stood looking at me. Since I was the only one in the waiting room, he had a safe assumption.

It's 6:50 am. Sun is starting to come up outside.

I'm his ICE contact. I'm Robert Rex, call me Rex,” as I started to shake his hand. He was still in gloves so I stopped myself.

Ok, here's where we are. We've finally stopped the bleeding. He'd ruptured quite a few blood vessels internally, so got those cleaned up, but took a while. Had to remove his spleen. His left kidney is badly bruised and was leaking blood, so we're gonna have to watch it to see if it resumes function. We got his lung inflated, but he's on a ventilator to help it stay up. The broken ribs will heal fine. Not a lot to do with them.”

We think we've saved the leg. Apparently some of the vehicle's sheet metal cut him across the thigh lengthwise, and severed the main artery of the leg.” He drew a line maybe a foot long down his thigh from groin toward knee. “The paramedics saved his life and his leg by their quick action to get the blood somewhat restrained after the metal was removed to get him out of the car. We've now got blood flow in the leg, so that'll heal. Orthopedic guys are working now to install a new knee. They got his shoulder back in place, so he'll be sore as hell there. The arm we just reset.”

He appears to have cracked several vertebrae in his neck. We know there's gonna be swelling, and maybe some temporary paralysis. We don't know the extent of that damage yet, but IF there's paralysis, it'll only be temporary. His concussion was sizeable, so he'll have some headaches, perhaps minor memory loss. We'll be watching that, too.”


IF everything goes well, he'll be a few days, like maybe a week or so, assuming no infections or complications from the leg, neck, kidney, or the concussion. He'll have therapy for the new knee for a month or so. Should be back to almost normal in maybe 6 weeks or so.”

Can I see him?” Something I want to do—scratch that, HAVE to do. My boy needs me.

Yeah, he's be in recovery shortly. Let us get him moved to a room. Maybe an hour or so, ok? We'll come get ya when that happens.” The surgeon removed a glove, put his hand on my shoulder. “He's been hurt badly—but he'll come out of it. You hang in there. Maybe get ya some coffee or breakfast while ya wait. We'll find ya when you can see him.”

Thanks, doc—I appreciate all y'all have done.” Trying not to cry again, this time with relief. When I'd cleared my eyes, he was gone.

How the fuck do people move so fast in here? Here one minute, gone the next.

Went down, got a coffee, went to the car for a smoke after chomping on a bagel and cream cheese I'd snagged in the cafeteria. Back inside for more waiting.

8:15 am. A nurse came and got me.

We've got him in intensive care. He's bandaged up—a lot—and on a ventilator. He's still unconscious, but he's alive. We've got him restrained to keep him from moving and maybe damaging his neck. Don't panic when ya see him, he's doing great, all things considered.” Not aware we were walking, but with that, we were at the door to his room. “We can only give ya a few minutes right now.”

Deep breath. Pushing the door open, I walked into the dark room. Heart monitor quietly beeping, rhythmic pumping of the ventilator.

Joe lay in bed, splayed out like a bizarre version of the Michelin man. The right side of his body appeared almost normal. The left side was ballooned up with bandages as far up and down as I could see, even underneath a blanket that ran from waist down. Bandages on his face and jaw. A plastic collar around his neck. Bandages from the breastbone going all the way around to his back, underneath his arm, and wrapping all the way down his left torso to his leg, some of them still bloody. Left arm in a fiberglass cast. His left leg in a balloon cuff from crotch down to ankle. Tube from his mouth to his ventilator, IV lines running to a christmas tree of bags overhead. A cather line running from underneath the sheet to a bag attached to the bed frame. Thick leather straps with buckles running from his wrist and ankles to the bedframe, stretched tight. The whiteness of his skin damn near matched the sheets.

Another deep breath—hadn't realized I'd been holding it.

Walking over, I grabbed his right foot beneath the blanket and squeezed. Moved up to stand beside him, grabbed his right hand, squeezed it, held it, and rubbed it with my free hand. Cleared my throat of the lump in it.

Joe, you're here at the hospital, you've been in a bad accident, the docs had to do a lot of work on you. You're gonna be ok.” No spidey-sense telling me I was right.

I love you, Joe Howard. We got it too good to stay here. Now wake the fuck up....we need to get your ass out of here and get you home.”

No response.

(Chapter 7 next week)