Michael was true to his word and arrived the next day around half an hour before they released me. He brought a change of clothes.
I just looked at him stupidly when he handed the bag to me.
"I still have a key to your place," he said with a lopsided grin. "You never asked for it back. I'm surprised you haven't changed the locks."
"Hey, if you intend to steal anything, go ahead. Feel free." I drew out an old, soft, oversized shirt, perfect for putting on over my cast. "Far as I'm concerned, I owe you my damned life."
I had spent most of the morning on the phone to my insurance company and the shop my truck had been towed into yesterday afternoon. After translating mechanic doublespeak I figured out that the truck was a write off. That fit with what my doctor had told me - if I'd been going even twenty kilometers an hour faster I'd probably be dead, or living out my life as a vegetable.
The insurance people weren't happy, and the money I'd eventually get wasn't going to cover the cost of a new vehicle, but the bottom line was I was going to be in the market for a new truck. I intended to get one built in this century, that had a nodding acquaintance with the concept of airbags.
What it also meant, though in the short term, is that I was temporarily wheelless. I'd have to remedy that and soon. I had a job to finish, and that job required reliable transportation that could handle back roads. Until I had time to get into the buying mode, that meant a rental. Fortunately it looked like my insurance company might be on the hook for that. Which is what we'd been arguing about all morning.
Michael helped me get dressed. It was awkward, getting the shirt on over the lightweight cast they had put on my dislocated elbow. Thank God it was my left arm. I could still function in basic mode.
"Come on, lover," Michael said. "Let's get you home."
He had brought a wheelchair in with him and now he helped me into the thing and guided me down the hall toward the main entrance.
I hate the smell of hospitals. I don't know if it's the type of disinfectant they use, or what, but all hospitals smell the same and it's always bad. Same with the color schemes they use, the same guy must paint all the hospitals in the world. They're all puke green, or stool brown. Neither one is very inspiring.
I closed my eyes while Michael wheeled me out into the sunlight. Shards of blinding light shot off the gleaming hoods of nearby cars and brought tears to my eyes. I blinked away the pain and hunched over in the chair to keep my face averted.
Michael helped me into his Mazda and after returning the wheelchair, slid his lithe young body behind the wheel and sped away.
He chattered all the way to my place.
"I'll get you settled, then I have to run and do some errands. I'll be back later to see if you need anything. Now you remember what the doctor said, no showers, don't get the cast wet and for God's sake, don't try to use that arm. Not for a few days at least."
Michael ignored my sarcasm. "Any requests for dinner? Put 'em in now, or take what I bring. Don't worry, I'll stick with stuff that's easy to eat one handed, that doesn't need much slicing or dicing."
I tried to think about eating. I figured there were still drugs in my system; I found I had little appetite. Still, I had to eat something.
"I don't know. Something light. My appetite's still in the toilet."
"Charming. Well, I'll find something to tempt you. We have to get you eating again. You look downright haggard."
It wasn't until I got to my place that I realized what an understatement that was. In the house Michael followed me up to the third floor.
Before he could stop me I was in the bathroom, standing in front of the vanity mirror. I stood staring at my ruined face. According to the doctors I had hit my face on the steering wheel on the first impact. I had followed that with a blow to the side of my head off the door panel. I was lucky not to have a concussion. I did have a set of black eyes that made me look like a bearded racoon. My mouth looked swollen too.
"Jesus," I muttered.
I heard Michael curse, then he was beside me dragging me away.
"What the hell are you doing? How you look right now isn't important."
"Oh?" I asked grimly. "Because there's no one to see me?"
"No," he snapped. "Because you're alive, and that's more important than bruises that will fade."
Michael was right. It was still hard to look at the mess of my face and think it would ever heal.
He got me undressed and helped me into a short silk robe and boxers that meant I could lie down or sit around the house without having to dress or undress. He put a bottle of water by the bed, told me not to be traipsing up and down the stairs and reminded me again to take it easy. Then he left.
I sat back on the bed, propped against the head board with the TV remote near my good hand. I flicked the tube on and drank some of the water while I watched some inane game show that made absolutely no sense but seemed to have everybody on it very excited. I could barely pay attention. I left the TV on, as much for company as to see what might be next.
I must have dozed off. The phone startled me awake.
I grabbed it and snapped, "Yes?"
Donna was on the other end. "Tyler? You are home. That must mean you're better. Thank God --"
"How'd you know what happened?"
"Your friend, what's his name - Michael? He called. Said he got my number out of your day planner and thought we'd like to know what's going on. Sounds like you had a rough few days."
"Yeah, well... I've had better." I watched the TV game host being bounced around in the arms of an overweight contestant. "How are things at the site? Was there any lingering storm damage?"
"Nothing to worry about. The site held up very well actually. You'd have been proud. I know Mr. Thurlow was calling every five minutes when we didn't know where you were, asking about the status of the project. I think he finally understood what we'd been telling him all along - that you'd done such a good job in the design that the we hadn't been set back a single day by the storm. Now he thinks you're some kind of genius."
"You mean you didn't know that already? I thought employees were supposed to know these kinds of things about their bosses."
"Ha. Any idea when you'll be back onsite?"
"Not till next Monday." I grimaced. "I've been ordered by the doctor to rest for a week."
"So if I see you around here before Monday I can boot your ass out of the place? Cool."
"Not if you value your job."
She laughed and soon after told me to take care of myself and hung up. The really bad game show had been replaced by an equally deplorable teenage angst show. Too many deadly serious teenagers tackling some major life issue was more than I could handle right now. I started channel surfing.
Michael showed up around six o'clock. He had take-out Szechuan, which always used to be one of our favorite lazy day, in bed meals. It proved surprisingly tasty given my lack of appetite. I finished a whole plateful and lay back on the bed, sipping green tea.
He dumped all the leftovers into the paper sack the restaurant had given him. "I'll put this in the fridge. It'll be easy to heat up for lunch tomorrow. I'll bring something over for supper."
"You're too damned good to me, Michael," I growled.
He leaned into me and I put my good arm around his slender shoulders. His head came down on my chest.
We sat like that for a while then he raised his head and kissed me. It wasn't an erotic kiss. If it had been I'm not sure how I would have responded. Part of me wouldn't have any trouble going to bed with Michael. It remembered how damned good he was. But the thinking part knew it wouldn't be a good idea. Michael would only end up feeling bad for cheating on Donny. And I'd just feel bad.
Fortunately Michael's thinking part was in tune with mine and he pulled away before the kiss could change to something more.
He patted my shoulder awkwardly.
"I'll see myself out. You have a good night, Ty. And --"
"I know, I know. No shower. No physical activity. No nothing."
"Oh, self-pity becomes you, sugar." Michael grinned at my discomfort. "You'll live through this. I'll see you tomorrow."
I managed to stay awake until nearly nine o'clock then boredom and a strange lethargy that probably came from inactivity overcame me and I fell asleep. I woke wit the glow of the TV still playing across my bare legs. I killed the TV and clumsily maneuvered around to get under the covers. Once I got comfortable it wasn't long before I fell asleep again.
I slept in. I didn't wake up until the phone once again jerked me out of a dream I was loathe to leave. I snatched the handset off its cradle and snarled, "What?"
"My, my, grumpy bear." Michael sounded so disgustingly cheerful I would have throttled him if he'd been in the room with me. But then he had a reason to be cheerful. He spent the night with the man he loved. I spent it in wistful erotic dreams that left my damned sheets stained and my heart heavy.
I rubbed my raspy face and grimaced. "Sorry. I was in the middle of a dream and you startled me."
"Ohhh, a juicy one I hope."
"Yeah," I muttered. "And now I have to change the fucking sheets."
Michael hooted with laughter and after a while I had to join in.
"There," he said in obvious satisfaction. "That's what I want to hear."
"Will you be over later?" I was surprised at how eager I was to hear him say yes. I examined my feelings for Michael and knew I didn't love him. Not like that. But he was turning out to be wonderful company now that the complications of sex were removed from the equation.
"Donny and I will drop by, but we can't stay long. We have tickets for La Boheme."
"Since when have you been an opera fan?"
"Donny's teaching me. It's actually interesting once you get past the language and the dreadful costumes."
"What else is there?"
"The stories!" Michael enthused. "The music, too. It's so... powerful."
"Nah, that's just acoustics."
"You're laughing at me." Michael ruined his outraged pose by giggling. "It is fun."
"You say so. I'll stick to jazz."
"Anyway, we will come by for supper. Something quick again, maybe pizza?"
"Pizza sounds good."
We made small talk for a few more minutes then he had to go. I face the prospect of an endless day with nothing but TV and my fish to keep me company.
Which is probably why I did what I did.
I emailed Charlie again.
Maybe you've already written off what we had. Maybe I'm wrong to intrude on your life unasked for. But I sit here and think about what we had and I can't let that go without a fight. At least I thought we had something. Something good. Incredible, even. All my life I've waited for a man like you, without even knowing it. You make me laugh, you make me cry, most of all you make me so hot I can't think straight when I'm around you. Even when I'm not around you I dream of your perfect body.
I guess what I'm trying to say is I love you Charlie. I will always love you. But I have come to realize that I can't live as a shadow man, hiding from people who can't tolerate anyone who is different than they are. If I turn into a liar to placate these people then my whole life becomes a lie. I'm not sure even my love for you can survive that.
So this becomes the hardest letter I have ever written. I love you. I want you to know that. But I have to move on. I hope some day you can come to terms with who you are and be happy. That means more to me than anything else.
I love you man. Take care of yourself.
I finished the email and abruptly got up from the computer. I paced the length of my bedroom, pausing by the aquarium then moving to the front of the room where I looked down on Broadview. A street car rumbled down the middle of the street, pausing only to discharge and pick up new passengers. Then it moved on, out of my view.
I came back to stand in front of the computer, staring at the screen. The words blurred in my vision. But I didn't need to see them to know what they said.
"Good-bye, Charlie," I whispered as I hit send.
The week passed in a blur. My arm healed. So did my face, the nasty purple and blue bruises, fading to a sickly green and yellow. My arm ached and it itched and I knew I'd have my own weather barometer from now on. I wrested a rental vehicle from the insurance company but would have to upgrade at my own expense to get a 4-wheel drive if that's what I wanted.
I had to think about that. Did I want it? Once I was hooked up with serious wheels again it would mean going back to the project site. Something I should have been eager to do, but for some reason felt strangely reluctant about. Cold feet from the accident?
I made a point to check my email only once a day or less. There was the usual spam waiting to be deleted, some emails from old clients who liked to keep in touch, an occasional email from someone who knew my work. Potential clients, I suppose. I ignored them all. Feeling depression settle over me everytime I closed my email program down, refusing to acknowledge why.
Michael came by. Sometimes with Donny, sometimes alone. I let him drag me out to clubs where I went through the motions of having a good time. We even went by the Tangerine Dream where Kat fell into my arms and declared he had pined away to a shadow without me. Then he asked slyly where the hunk was.
I knew damned well who he meant but played dumb. "What hunk? I'm surrounded by them, sweetheart."
"Hah, not like that one. You know who I mean, you're just playing cute."
"I told you he was just here on business."
"And you let him get away --"
"Can it, Johnny," Michael used Kat's real name. "Just leave it alone, okay?"
Kat looked from Michael to me then a look of dawning awareness lit his long face. "Ah, it's like that, is it. Sorry, Ty. So, how's your arm, anyway?"
Other people came up to me that night. People I knew only vaguely but who seemed to know me well enough to ask after my health and, in many cases, even my business. Apparently I wasn't quite as isolated as I had thought.
By the time Michael and Donny deposited me home again I was feeling pretty good about myself. Which is why I decided to stop hiding out on my third floor and decided it was time to go back to work.
I drove out to the project site the next day.
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything. You can also read all my stories at Archerland