This Magic Place -- Chapter 10

Dac's Narrative:

    I just drove, not thinking or even caring where I was going. My mind was running amuck. A jumble of pain, anger, cusswords, all directed at David. Why did he do it? And the anger flashed through me again. I felt cheap, used. And then my mind did some kind of flip-flop. The piano. Oh, God, and I groaned out loud. It was so beautiful. I had touched it and I ached with the wanting, the yearning to fly and soar as I once had.

    The wind was blowing in my face, my eyes tearing up. My mind wouldn't stop. The beauty of the piano and the hurt on David's face. Above all, the hurt on David's face. The visions were tearing me apart. I loved him so much, so much. And the litany started again.

    I couldn't see where I was going and pulled off to the side of the road and suddenly it was more than I could handle and my head flopped down on the steering wheel and I cried and I just couldn't stop. Something so beautiful and rare between us and I busted it. I didn't want to, but I busted it. Oh, God, why does my life always have to turn to shit? What am I doing wrong? Why am I being punished? And again, the litany.

    Finally I ran out of tears and just sat there taking short little gasps and hiccuping and gradually I began to get control of myself. My face was a mess of tears and snot. I searched around in the glove box for some Kleenex or a rag or something. I finally found some napkins I'd saved from a local take-out place and got myself more or less cleaned up. I sat there trying to figure out what to do. Where do you go from here, shithead? The Jeep's motor was quietly running, an insidious reminder that at least one of us had it together. My head hurt and my eyes burned.

    I finally decided that I would spend the night at the apartment and then see if I could face things in the morning. I pulled back onto the road and headed into town. Then I remembered, I don't have an apartment anymore. I don't even have the key. Everything had been turned over to the landlord when I moved out. I don't have a home anymore. I practically started bawling again and started swerving on the road. I pulled off the side of the road again.

    Jesus, I thought, get a grip. It's not the end of the world. That seemed to help and I finally headed back to the only home I had. The home with David. David's home. I'd sleep on the divan in the library and then try and get things straightened out in -- but things hadn't changed, I thought. I can't accept the piano, I hadn't changed my mind about that. But still, I had to go somewhere.

    The house was dark when I drove up. I parked and let myself in the front door and walked down the hallway to the library. The piano was outlined in shadows and shards of moonlight streaming in the windows. I wouldn't turn on the lights because if I did, I knew I would look at the piano and I knew I would lose it for sure. Not now.

    I laid down on the divan, kicked my shoes off and finally found a cushion and shoved it under my head. I lay there with my face against the rough fabric of the pillow. The first night that David and I made love I had went to sleep in the crook of his shoulder with his arms around me, feeling the warmth of our bodies, listening to the beating of his heart, and the little snory sounds he made when he was asleep. I felt so loved, secure, so happy and so at peace with everything. The tears were running down my face. Finally, I fell asleep.

    I woke up the next morning feeling like a chunk of roadkill that the cat had somehow retrieved and drug in and realized it had made a serious mistake. I sat up and put on my shoes and sat there, my head in my hands, wondering what to do, what to say. Is it over, finished? Should I just get up and walk out and not come back?

    A noise. I looked up as the door opened and Dulce came in, shut it, came over, handed me a cup of coffee and sat down on the divan and looked at me. I could see the sympathy in her eyes and smell the clean fragrance of the perfume she wore.

    "Dac, are you all right?," she asked.

    I sat there shaking my head, "No," I croaked.

    "What's going on between you and David? What happened?"

    I swallowed a couple of times and finally managed to get it out, "I can't accept that piano, Dulce. It's too much. I just can't accept it."

    "Do you know what this is doing to David? What it's going to do to him?"

    "Yes, I know what it's doing to him, 'cause it's tearing me apart. But I can't figure out any way to get around it. I can't accept it."

    "Why can't you accept it?

    "I just can't."

    "Dac, that is not an answer. Now tell me why."

    "Because I can't give him anything of equal value, that's why," looking at her, willing her to understand. "He pays for everything. He practically owns my skivvies and I contribute nothing. I just don't have it to give to him. I can't meet him on equal terms."

    "What has equal value have to do with anything? This isn't a bank, or some kind of lending institution. He gave that to you because he loves you. He wanted to give you something that he knew would make you happy."

    "It does. Oh, God, Dulce, it's so beautiful, but I . . ." I shook my head.

    "Then why can't you accept it?"

    "Because I have nothing to give him, I told you. I can't give him anything in return. I have nothing."

    "You have yourself don't you? You give of you; don't you? You give your love to him; don't you? Don't you know how priceless your love is?"

    "It's not the same."

    "It is the same. Dac, when you give of yourself, you give from the heart, you give from love. Don't make no difference what it is. Doesn't have to be material. No strings. I'll bet that David felt so loved by you that he just had to do something in return and the piano happened to be the first thing he thought of. So what if you don't have something material to give him? Maybe later in your life you will and then you can. Just tuck it in the back of your head as a little special gift for later on."

    "I guess, I don't know. I'm confused." I sat there shaking my head.

    "I don't think you are. What do you think the two of you have? A roommate arrangement, you pay for half the phone bill, he pays for half the food, and you trade off doing the laundry with bedroom privileges? Is that what you think you've got going? Dac, you and David have something between the two of you that is beautiful. It's precious and rare. God's given you a piece of magic. It's worth working and fighting for, it's worth sacrificing for, it's worth trying your damndest to make the other person smile or laugh every day, to help them to know that they are cared for and loved.

    "Don't wreck this, Dac. Because if you do, you may never get another chance."

    I was practically bawling and I hollered at her, "I don't want to wreck anything, Dulce. But how can I accept that piano?"

    "I just told you how. Dac, the only problem here is not David, it's not the piano, and it's not even you, really, for that matter. The problem is your pride. The macho male syndrome, all balls and no brains! I hope I'm wrong in thinking you might fall into that category.

    I just sat there looking at her with my tear streaked face and looking dumb and shaking my head.

    "Do you remember when you were little and you bought your first gift for your mother for her birthday or mothers' day or whatever? You went out and bought it or made it or whatever, but it was all your effort and your money and on that special day you took it and gave it to her and you were so proud to be able to do that and so happy when you saw how happy it made her. Do you remember a time like that?


    "And you didn't worry about whether it was enough or too much, you just gave what you had to give; didn't you?"


    "Did you worry about whether your mother was going to be able to give you something of equal value in return?"

    "No, of course not."

    "Then why do you think this situation between you and David is any different? Love doesn't have boundaries, Dac, it doesn't have some sort of heavenly rules that have to be adhered to in order for it to be real, or strings attached, certain conditions. It's freely given and freely accepted. Love comes from God, God is love. What else is there that's more important than that?

    "I know about the men in your crew and the times when you have helped them when they were short of money. And I know they didn't all pay you back, either. And I know that you have helped some of the families in town at various times. You helped Craig and me find a good job and a home. A place where we belong. Dac, you have given of yourself to others most of your adult life. But you know something? You don't know diddly squat about receiving a gift. You act like accepting something from someone diminishes you as a man unless you can give back in equal value. And quite frankly, it's pure bull shit! That's the pride I was talking about earlier. And that's what you need to work on.

    "You sit here and think about what we've just talked about and if and when you get things straight in your head, I want you to go and work things out with David.

    "Dac, I love and care for both of you very much," and she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "Besides, I'm in the mood for some piano music," and she got up and left.

    And I sat there thinking about everything and started bawling again. Christ, I thought, I've cried so much I won't have to piss for a week. I finally got things shut down and started thinking about what Dulce had said and I really couldn't argue with anything she had said to me. But still.

    And then I got to thinking what if the situation were reversed, would I have given to David as he had to me? And then things started to become clear. I would have given him anything I thought he wanted and not given a second thought to the money. The answer was yes. Oh, of course, yes. Hell, I would have handed him my dick and a bag of chips if I thought he wanted it. I could feel the tension in my body beginning to ease and I breathed a sigh of relief.

    And then, feeling that I had earned it, I looked at the piano. The stillness of its black gleaming belying the gamut of emotions it was capable of voicing. It was so beautiful, I can't even. . . Hell, I can't even begin to describe it. The black and white keys seemed to be smiling at me as though they were just tickled shitless to see me and could hardly wait to get busy. And I smiled as I sat there looking and hearing in my mind the wonderful sounds I knew was locked inside the case. It would fill the library, resonating off the walls, running down the hallway and into the kitchen and filling the whole house, leaking out the windows and into the field and forest. I wanted to begin playing the beautiful pieces I knew so well and had struggled so hard to get back. To play all these things for David, for Dulce, for Craig and Kevin and Jerry. To let them hear and know the love and beauty that was locked inside me.

    But first, I literally forced myself to leave.

    I stepped into the bathroom across the hall and got myself cleaned up, again, and went upstairs to our room.

    David was asleep on the bed, papers littered about him, fully clothed, his hair messed up, an arm thrown out to one side.

    I reached over and brushed the hair from his forehead. He opened his eyes, unfocused, not quite awake, not asleep. Then suddenly focusing as all systems clicked in and he sat up.

    And the pain in his face as he looked at me, "Dac? Are you back? Are you really back?"

    I tried to speak but I was so choked up I couldn't and just nodded my head and smiled as best I could.

    His eyes filled with tears and he started to say something and then suddenly we were both holding each other, our arms desperately locked around each other and, and relief flooded over me. Oh, God, I was back where I belonged, in his arms. I was home.

    I could feel him shaking as I held him and knew he was crying. And that hurt worse than anything else. I was beside myself with shame as I kissed his face, stroked his hair, and held him all the tighter knowing that I did this to him.

    "Oh, David, I'm so sorry. I was so wrong and I wrecked everything. Please, oh, please, David, forgive me. I'm sorry I was so dumb."

    "You're not dumb," in a squeaky, shaky voice. "How could I fall in love with someone dumb? You're not dumb!"

    "I did a dumb thing," I managed to choke out.

    "Yeah? Well, so did I."

    We continued holding each other and gradually we began to calm down.

    David pulled back, looked at me, "We need to talk, Dac."

    "I know what I did wrong and I won't make that kind of mistake again," I said.

    "What did you do wrong?"

    And I looked at him, at the love and caring in his eyes, the tears still streaking his face, his messed up hair, "Oh, God, David, I'm so ashamed."

    He reached up and held my face in his hands, "Dac, you don't ever have to be ashamed in front of me."

   "It was my stupid pride," I began.. "Dulce came and talked to me this morning. I knew I couldn't give you anything like the grand in return and so I thought I couldn't accept it. And she told me I was wrong and explained why and said I didn't know how to accept a gift. Said I didn't know diddly squat about it. I started thinking about what she said. And I knew if things were reversed, I'd give you anything you wanted and I knew I wouldn't give a shit about the god-damned money. Then I began to understand what Dulce was trying to tell me. It was what came from the heart, your heart, and the money didn't mean a damned thing. Just a means to an end."

    David glanced at me momentarily as he began recounting last night, "After you left, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what was wrong. What I'd done wrong. I sat there on the divan for a while and then I finally got up and went in the kitchen and told Dulce I wasn't feeling well and was going to bed. She started to ask me about you and then decided not to. I came on upstairs and I sat here on the edge of the bed and well, pretty much fell apart. Eventually, I got calmed down and started thinking and that's when I realized what I had done to you. What I did was for all the right reasons but wrong nevertheless.

    "I knew if there was something I thought you might like or I knew you wanted, I would get it for you in heartbeat and not even think about the money. And I did just that. And in so doing, I overlooked the most important thing, your sense of self worth.

    "When you were living alone and paying your own way, you were fine. The money you earned went to pay for your upkeep and all the extras. Everything in your world was healthy and as it should be -- at least in that regard. Then we fell in love, you moved out here, I paid for everything. It's no wonder that sooner or later you would begin to feel like some kind of ornament, bought and paid for, as you put it. And you, being the type of person that you are, would eventually rebel, which you did. You've been bottling these feelings up for some time; haven't you?"


    "I thought so. Well, so, after I got things figured out, I started thinking if there was some way to fix it. That's the reason all these papers are up here.

    "I have a plan and I think it will work. Do you want to hear it now or do you want to wait and grab a nap and tackle it when you're fresh?"

    I was shaking my head before he finished, "No, now. If you've got a solution, let's hear it. I want to get this over with so we can be together again."

    "Okay. What I want to do is call the attorney for that appointment and to get one as soon as possible -- like this afternoon if possible. Oh, well, today is Sunday, isn't it? Okay, then first thing tomorrow definitely.

    "Once we get with the attorney, we'll get started on the commitment papers. Now, part of those papers that we will need to execute to protect ourselves is joint ownership.

    "So what I propose to do is to take everything we have between us and split it right down the middle, 50-50. That would be the house and everything in it, the land and all improvements, checking accounts, investment accounts, savings accounts, the construction business you own and all accounts connected with it. You'll own half and I'll own half of everything, you and me. I think that will help to solve part of the problem you're having.

    "And Dac, any way you slice it, it's going to be a gift and I know you have some problems with that but there's no way to get around it if we're going to set this up as a joint ownership thing unless we put it in a will but that won't take care of the hear and now."

    "No," I said, "I don't want to put it in a will. Let's do it the way you suggested."

    "I agree. I would rather see you with access to the various funds that are available now.

    "You said the gift of the piano made you feel like you were bought and paid for and I can understand the feeling, but you got to remember that the money I won in the lottery was, in a sense, a gift, also. Call it a gift of chance, luck, from God, whatever but a gift nevertheless. So the piano, in reality, was a gift to you bought with a gift.

    "And insofar as immediate funds available. I had been doing business with a broker before I won the lottery. I had inherited money from my parents ' estate plus money I have saved over the years. I transferred that money from my savings account and invested it with a broker and the returns have been very good. Then when I won the lottery, I invested some of that with the broker. The returns are now considerable. I haven't touched any of that money, its simply been going into an interest bearing account. So that would solve the immediate funds problem for you."

    "I realize it's not a gift," I said. "Well, it is, but it has to be done one way or the other for the commitment papers. And it's going to take some getting used to, but I'll handle it. The decisions about the house and property are joint decisions?"

    "As far as selling it, yes; other than that, I think it will be easier to just keep things as simple as possible and continue as we have been."

    "So, then, if I get an idea about adding this or changing that, we would first have to discuss it and agree on it?," I asked.

    "Well, I guess I would hope that you would let me in on what you were planning but even if you were planning some kind of surprise, I would certainly trust your judgment, Dac. I know the quality of work you put out.

    "Dac, I know this doesn't entirely answer the problem but I think it helps."

    "It does," I said. "I can live with this. Who knows, perhaps there may be some money come my way later on."

    David was picking at the covers on the bed, then quietly, as he looked at me, "Do I send the piano back?"

    "No," I managed to get it out, as all the memories of last night and this morning and the hurt came flooding back. I was so choked up trying not to break down, as I looked at him, knowing that he could see what was going through my mind, how I felt about him, and the shame.

    Tears were running down his face, "Dac," he whispered, "do you still love me?"

    And I started to tell him, and lost it completely. I dove into the circle of his arms as he held me, rocking us back and forth, "Oh, David, so much, so much. You give and give and give and I can't give things to you the way I want to. And I want to so much, David, but all I can do is love you, and I do. I love you, David."

    "You've given me your heart. What more could I possibly ask for or want, Dac? Is there anything more precious than that?," and I cried as he held me, and he kissed the side of my face and his scent, the roughness of his shirt and the heat from his body gave me comfort. No one else could do that or ever would. Truly, I was home.

    But like a child, I had to know, I had to hear it. I hid in the circle of his arms, "David, do you still love me?"

    He hesitated only for a moment, "Dac do you remember 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13 where it says 'Love is patient, love is kind, love endures all things, hopes all things.' I love you, Dac. I have from the very beginning and I always will. No matter what happens. I couldn't stop even if I wanted to."

    And we lay down and I moved into the curve of his neck and shoulder, still hanging onto him, afraid to let go. He was my peace, my security. The magic of my life. It filled me with loving warmth and peace and I was beginning to fall asleep. He whispered to me, "do you think when you wake up you could give me one of your sweet smiles?"

    "Oh, yes," I muttered and I fell asleep already smiling.

David's Narrative:

    Dac went to sleep almost immediately, relaxed, seemingly at peace with himself. It had been a hard time for both of us. Worse for him than me, I thought. I was having a lot of guilt feelings for having put him through all this. Even though I knew it was not intentional on my part, still the emotional conflict of loving me and the jeopardizing of his self-esteem had caused damage to the point where, in a last ditch effort, he had rebelled. It had hurt us both.

    I kept thinking what else can I do to help and I couldn't think of anything. I prayed.

    I woke up and Dac was sitting, Indian style, looking at me. He smiled when he saw that I was awake. It wasn't his best, but a smile for all that.   

    "I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat."

    My stomach growled in response.

    He smiled, "You too, huh?"

    "Yeah, I guess so. Food sounds good. Let's raid the fridge."

    We headed downstairs. I hoped the guys wouldn't be there. I knew that Dac was still pretty sensitive about everything that had happened.

    Dulce was stirring something on the stove and looked up as we came in. "Well, you two, it's about time."

    She looked at Dac and laid the stirring spoon on the stove and walked over to him, and gave him a big hug. "You get things worked out, nino?"

    Dac nodded, "Yeah, we did. Thanks, Dulce."

   "I'm glad. For you both," as she glanced in my direction.

    She stepped back and Dac just stood there with tears in his eyes and nodded his head.

    "C'mon, both of you sit down," she said. "I saved some lunch for you. Figured you'd be down before too long."

    She sat plates in front of us and we began eating, Dac smiling as best he could. Dulce kept talking all the while. I think she could pretty much tell how Dac was feeling and was trying to get his mind on other things.

    "Craig and Kevin are out in the orchard working on some sort of project of Craig's and they won't tell me what it is and Jerry decided to do some sightseeing and took the pickup. Left about an hour or so ago. Not much else has been happening. Sure is a nice day out. No one has called."

    Dac looked up, "What about the computer? Your nephew and his roommate were supposed to deliver it today."

    "Well, if they were driving up today from Albuquerque, it'll probably be later this afternoon," Dulce said.

    "Oh," Dac said. He picked up his empty plate and started to get up and Dulce reached over his shoulder.

    "Here, Dac, I'll get it," as she reached over his shoulder and retrieved the plate and silverware. "How about some dessert?"

    Dac smiled up at her, "Maybe later, Dulce. I think I'll pass for now."

    Dac got up and looked at me, and I could see from the expression on his face that something was bothering him, "Let's go for a walk."

    "Sure." I got up and followed him out the door.

    We started walking north towards the forest, not saying anything. I glanced over at Dac several times and got no response. Finally, not looking up, "I just needed to get out of the house, David. I just needed to get away for a bit before I face everybody."

    "I think I understand." I looked at him, walking along, head down, the same expression on his face. "Dac, everybody is pulling for you -- for us, actually. I know Dulce is just from the way she acted in the kitchen, and you said she came and talked with you this morning in the library. And I know Jerry is a hundred percent for us and I think I know Craig and Kev well enough to say the same about them. Besides, no one knows what was said between us or why you left."

    "It's not the embarrassment, if that's what you're thinking," as Dac glanced over at me.

    "Then what is it?," I looked at him.

    "It's the shame. What I did, David. To you," as he looked at me. "It's like it's written all over my face."

    I stopped and took both his hands in mine. "Dac, you remember one time I told you that I had read something about love and the author said it basically was understanding the other person? You remember me saying that?"

    "Yes, but I don't see what --"

    "Dac, first and foremost, I love you and I think I understand you pretty well. I know some of your faults and shortcomings, even though I probably don't know all of them. Hell, I don't know all the good things about you, either. But the point is, Dac, I love all of you, good and bad. I love you from the top of your pointy head clear down to the bottoms of your fat little feet and all the bits and pieces in between. And let me tell you, you've got some really nice bits and pieces," and managed to get a smile out of him. "All of you. And because I do understand, there isn't really anything to forgive. And besides, I did something pretty stupid, too. I'm not innocent, either. And now the most important thing we can do, Dac, is for both of us to forgive ourselves and get on with it. You understand me?"

    He didn't say anything, just wrapped his arms around me. "You always know what to say," he whispered in my ear.

    "I hope I always will and I just thought of something else I want to say," I said.

    "What?," his face rubbing against mine.

    "I really need a hard male tonight. You interested?"

    He squeezed me even tighter. "Man," he growled. "It's gonna be a night we'll never forget!," neither of us knowing that it was about to begin.

    We continued walking, and a feeling of euphoria washed over me as I suddenly realized that things were getting straight between us again. I was so happy I was practically bouncing up and down. I wanted to sing and dance. I grabbed Dac in my arms and we spun around in circles and he started laughing and I laughed with him. God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.

    We separated and continued walking and he looked at me and the sweetness in his smile was back. I smiled in return.

    "Oh, wait," as I kneeled down, "my shoelace's come untied."

    Dac walked a few steps ahead. I knelt there getting the problem taken care of. Everything was so beautiful. Sunlight spilling in sheets through the branches overhead, birds singing, the ever-present scent of pines in the still, warm air. I could hear the cry of a hawk in the distance, the backfire of a car, the crunching sound my feet made in the pine needles as I got up and started towards Dac.

    I had almost got even with Dac when he jerked and stumbled, caught himself and stood still, waiting for me to catch up. I reached out to touch him on the shoulder as he turned.

    The face that looked at me was an etchwork of agony as he looked into my eyes and tried to take a step toward me and fell into my arms.

    "David, help me, help me," he managed to gasp out as we both fell to the ground -- well, actually, I sort of stumbled and lowered him to the ground, not knowing what was wrong with him. And then I saw it, the blood, all over his shirt, coming out of him, coming out of my Dac. My mind went into some sort of mental fibrillation, Dac is bleeding, Dac is bleeding and I couldn't seem to get beyond that.

    And then again, the backfire of a car and pine needles and leaves erupted in an angry explosion next to Dac's shoulder. And suddenly my head started working. GUNSHOT!

    Oh, God, what to do? It was though I was suddenly divorced from feeling, from emotions. It was though I was some sort of automaton. I remember picking Dac up and started toward the house. Another gunshot, I started running. I was alternately yelling, DULCE, DULCE at the top of my lungs and alternately praying, oh, please don't let him die, Dac, please don't die, I love you. Another gunshot and I jerked, feeling a stinging in my right shoulder; I kept going.

    I came out of the forest with him in my arms and I saw Craig and Kevin coming up the path from the orchard with hoes and rakes over their shoulders. I hollered at them as loud as I could. Try as hard as I could, I just couldn't seem to run fast enough. Dac was a dead weight in my arms and as I looked down at him, the blood just kept coming out of him, his one arm flopping back and forth as I tried to cover the distance to the house. I was running out of breath and I knew I wasn't going to make it in time. It was like trying to run under water. I just couldn't take big enough steps to get there fast enough. I tried, and I tried and I tried.

    Craig and Kevin had seen me and had dropped everything and were coming at me at a dead run. "What happened?," Craig asked as he ran up beside me.

    "Gunshot," I managed to gasp out. "Hospital. NOW!"

    "Gimme," Craig said, as he got hold of Dac and tried taking him out of my arms. I wouldn't let go. I couldn't let go. How could I possibly let go of him?

    "I can run faster than you, David. Now, Gimme. GOD DAMMIT, LET GO!," he yelled at me as he finally wrenched Dac from me.

   "Kevin," Craig yelled over his shoulder, already running, "get the Cruiser opened up and running."

    "Keys, where're the keys?," Kevin asked me as both of us kept running, almost at the house, almost.

    Somehow, I managed to keep going and get them out of my pocket and Kevin grabbed them and took off.

    Kevin and Craig reached the Cruiser at the same time. Kevin managed to get the back door opened and I got there just as Craig was backing out from laying Dac on the back seat. I jumped in the back with Dac and Craig ran around to the driver's door.

    "Move over, Kev, I'm driving," Craig said.

    Kevin got in the passenger seat and rolled down the window as Dulce came running out the front door.

    "Dulce," he yelled, as Craig got the Cruiser started and floor boarded it. "Call the hospital. Dac. Gunshot wound. Abdomen. Emergency." She disappeared into the house.

    Trees were flying by in a blur of green as we topped the small hills and were literally airborne for a few seconds. I had my hand pressed against Dac's abdomen but there was so much blood I didn't know where to press. He was breathing in gasps and then I finally realized that it was me that was gasping. I looked at his chest and he was hardly breathing at all. I finally remembered the roll of towels in the back and reached over to get them. I turned around and opened up Dac's shirt and started wiping him off, finally seeing the wound, gaping wide open and ugly, the blood pulsing out of it.

    "Where's the button for the access gate?," Craig hollered at me.

    I had grabbed a wad of paper towels and pressed them against the wound, trying to stop the blood.

    I was alternately praying and talking and whispering. "Oh, Dac, just hang in there. We're getting you to the hospital as fast as we can. Hang in there, Bud, you'll make it, you're going to be okay. Oh, please, Dac, don't leave me. I love you so much. Please don't take him away from me."

    "DAVID!," Craig yelled. "The button for the outside gate? Where? DAMMIT, DAVID, answer me."

    It finally got through, "silver button, underneath the light switch, left side" I hollered at him.

    We clipped the side of the slowly opening gate as we flew through and out onto the highway. Craig hit the gas as soon as we got halfway through the turn and we were flying down the highway.

    "Kevin," Craig said. "Get on the cell phone and call the sheriff and tell them what happened."

    Kevin grabbed for the cell phone in the glove box and started punching numbers. Moments later, I heard him talking. Then I heard him telling Craig they were coming right out.

    "Are we there yet?" I kept changing the wad of towels but the blood just kept coming. I turned towards Craig and hollered, "Oh, God, Craig, HURRY! He's bleeding to death, I can't stop it. DAMMIT IT, CRAIG, HURRY!"  

    "One more mile," Craig said. As I turned back to Dac, my mind registered in isolated shock sights and sounds: The bright red of the blood on Craig's hands as he gripped the steering wheel in a death grip, seeing the spotted shirt he was wearing and then realizing the spots were blood, hearing Kevin talking to Dulce and telling her to do something or other, cattle and horses in a pasture, the outskirts of the town beginning to flash by. I glanced up again and saw the blur of the police station, a filling station.

    Craig hit the brakes just enough to get us around the corner, almost colliding with an oncoming car, then stepped on the gas as the guy at the intersection honked at us and drove half a block and skidded into the emergency entrance of the hospital.

    "We're here," as he slammed on the brakes, jumped out and opened the back door.

    And suddenly emergency personnel were all over the place. A doctor pushed his way through and stuck his head in and pulled the shirt open further and removed the wad of paper towels.

   "Get him straight to surgery, as fast as you can," as he and the two orderlies got Dac onto the Gurney. A nurse and orderly were already moving out with him and one orderly ran along side and finished buckling him in.

    The doctor was dictating orders to a nurse as they walked back towards the emergency room.

    Another nurse turned and faced us, "You can go upstairs and wait in the surgical waiting room, although," as she looked us over, "I think you better get yourself cleaned up first. You can wear some scrubs -- wait a minute," as she looked at my shoulder more closely, "you've been shot, too."

    And at that point, all of it, the night before, the morning, the shooting, the fear, the blood, the race to the hospital, and then realizing that I had been hit, too. All of a sudden, I just sort of short-circuited. Everything in front of me began to fade and started turning black.

    I woke up in a bed in layers of weakness. It was like someone had opened a great big can of weakness and poured it all over me. It was an effort to breathe. To move was practically unthinkable. The head of the bed was elevated as I looked from side to side and then quickly stopped because my head was pounding so hard that images in front of me were almost moving of their own accord. I eyeballed around as best I could. It was a large room, an old room with bile green walls and linoleum covering the floor. Probably a semi-private at one time as there was a privacy curtain strung on a trellis on the other side of the room where another bed would be. There were three or four chairs against the wall. I tried, despite my weakness, to move onto my right side and the pain was sudden and excruciating.

    "Son-of-a-bitch," I managed to get out.

   A nurse came into the room, petite, blond, somewhere in her thirties. "I see you've discovered your shoulder," as she smiled at me. "My name is Laura and the doctor wants you to have a shot for pain," as she rolled up my sleeve and began scrubbing on my arm with an alcohol sponge.

    Doctor? Shot? Pain? And then with ugly vengeance, all the memories came back to me. "Dac, where is Dac? Is he okay? Where's Dac?," in a much louder voice.

    "Hey, hey," she said. "Try and calm down. He's in surgery. That's all I know. That's all I can tell you at the moment. In the meantime, we need to get this pain eased up. Now hold still," as she gave me a steely glance and plunged the needle into my arm and gradually depressed the plunger.

    I lay there thinking all I could do was pray and hope. And then I finally remembered, "What about the other two guys?"

    "They're in the waiting room," she said, as she picked up her meds tray.

    "Can they come in?," I asked.

    "You need to rest," as she looked at me, then smiled, "Oh, all right, but just for a few minutes, then they're out of here. You understand?"

    I nodded. She turned and left, closing the door behind her.

    I could hear voices outside the door. It finally opened and Kevin poked his head in and he and Craig came into the room looking ill at ease. Craig had changed into green scrubs and I could see the concern in their faces as they approached the bed.

    Needless to say, I jumped to all the wrong conclusions, thinking the worst, practically coming out of the bed, "What happened to Dac? Where is he?," I managed to get out.

    "He's in surgery," Craig said, as they stood beside the bed. "That's all we know."

    I lay back and Kevin reached over and took my hand, "The doctor is supposed to come and talk with you as soon as they finish in surgery, I guess. At least that's what the nurse said."

    I looked up at their faces, seeing how haggard and drawn they were. "I couldn't have done it without you two," I managed to get out. Tears began running down my face.

    Craig reached over and put his hand against the side of my face, "It's gonna be all right, David. He's gonna make it. I just know he is. Just hang in there. It's gonna be all right. Just keep that thought."

   "All right, you two, time to leave," as the nurse came into the room smiling. "This man needs rest and quiet."

    "Oh, sure," as Craig smiled at the nurse. "Well, okay. Guess we gotta go. Goodbye, David. Remember, hang onto that thought."

    "We'll be up tonight," Kevin said, as they left.

    "Now what special thought are you supposed to hang onto?," as she stuck a plastic covered probe in my ear, taking my temperature with one of those electronic things. It suddenly went Beep and she recorded the results in my chart.

    "To keep the thought that Dac is going to make it through surgery and be okay," I said.

    "I agree. That's a good positive thought," she said, as she reached for my wrist and began taking my pulse. "This Dac, he is a good friend of yours?," as she finished recording my pulse and began straightening the bed.

    "We're domestic partners," I said. I left it at that. I just didn't feel like getting into a discussion or argument with anybody.

    "I see," she said slowly as she gazed at me. "This must have been a very horrible day for you."

    "It's not over yet. Not until he's out of surgery and the doctor tells me he's going to make it."

    "Well, the doctor will be down to talk with you as soon as he's out of surgery. Keep that thought in your head that your friend suggested. And in the meantime," as she began lowering the head of the bed, "I want you to get some rest."

    I started to protest.

    "The doctor will wake you if you're asleep when he comes down. So don't worry about that. Let's get you on your left side and see if that'll help you to relax better."

    She helped me to turn over which was a rather slow, touchy process, then stuffed a pillow under my right arm and shoulder. She shut the blinds at the window, smiled at me and closed the door as she left the room. I lay there thinking and worrying. Finally, I remembered what Craig had said and tried to hold that thought in my mind. I started praying. I slept.

    I woke up to the clatter of something in the hall and several voices speaking in Spanish. I lay there getting my head together and wondering what all the noise was about, when the door suddenly opened and the room was flooded with light. The doctor had arrived.

    "Hi, I'm Dr. Salazar, how are you feeling?," as he came striding into the room. He was big, easily six feet and then some, big smile, a huge beak of a nose, kind brown eyes, and a shock of unruly brown hair sticking up at all angles. And loud. I wondered if the patient in the next room was trying to sleep.

    "Not one of my better days."

    "I bet not. That was a fair sized bullet and then you took that wild ride into town. I'm surprised it didn't do more damage than it did. Didn't hit any bones or blood vessels, went straight through. Wasn't too much tissue damage, other than ventilating you a bit. There weren't any rooms available in surgery, so the ER doctor irrigated it and sutured it front and back. You're going to be good and sore while it granulates and closes up. He put a drainage tube in and gave you a bunch of antibiotics and had the nurse give you a shot for pain. Is it working?" Lord, they must have been able to hear him clear down the hall. I was certainly awake now.

    "Yeah, it is, I slept for a bit," I said. "How's Dac?"

    "He's in ICU." He went over and closed the door and pulled up a chair. "I understand from the nurse that you and Dac are domestic partners. Is that right?"

    "Yes, we are. How's Dac?"

    "Not so good. He's lost a lot of blood. We almost lost him during surgery. The bullet hit a small arterial bleeder on its way in, which is where some of the blood was coming from that you saw. But then it nicked a larger artery and then hit the smaller lobe of the liver and finally lodged next to the spinal column and fortunately it didn't penetrate. I'm frankly surprised that the artery didn't rupture when you picked him up and ran with him in your arms across a field and then that wild trip into town."

    "I shouldn't have picked him up?," I asked, waves of guilt assailing me from all directions. And then defensively, "I couldn't just leave him, we were still being shot at."

    He held up his hand to stop my babbling, "No, no, you did the right thing. By the time you would have made it to the house and called and got an ambulance out there and back to the hospital with him, I think he probably would have died in the ambulance. Perhaps even your holding him in your arms and then in the car pressing against his abdomen trying to stop the bleeding on the way into town provided a form of compression that slowed the hemorrhaging. I don't know. But under the circumstances, you did the right thing. Besides, if you had left him in the field and ran to the house, you would have given the shooter an opportunity to improve his aim.

    "At any rate, we got the bullet out of him and the damage to the liver and artery repaired and he's in ICU on his way to waking up. So, now, if he gets through the next 24 hours without problems, then he's on his way."

    "Can I see him?"

    "Absolutely not. You're in no condition to be up yet. Not until you are ambulatory and that's going to take another day. Perhaps then. Besides, he's hooked up to a bunch of IVs and several monitors and you could hardly get to his bedside while you're standing, much less in a wheelchair which you would have to be in if you were to go up there now. No, it's going to have to wait until you are up and walking around."

    And with the persistence of a child, "Then can I get up and start walking around now?"

    "Boy, you are determined; aren't you?," he smiled at me.

    "I love him," I stated in a matter of fact tone.

    He looked at me for a moment, "I understand. Okay, I'll have the nurse come in and help you walk around but just in the room and then back to bed. You got that?"

    I nodded my head as he looked at me.

   "One other thing," as he headed toward the door, "does he have relatives around here?"

    "He's got a couple of cousins but no other family. Why?"

    "His blood type is AB negative which is pretty rare. The blood bank doesn't keep that much on hand. I'd like to have some on hand in case we need it. Of course, he could receive a different blood type if it becomes necessary but I'd rather stay with his own type."

    "His cousin is coming up tonight. I can ask him then."

    "Good. If he's the right type," and he gave me a small grin, "we'll drain him while he's here.

    "By the way," as he turned and came back toward the bed, "who shot at you? Was it an accident?"

    "It was no accident," I said. "He took a second shot at Dac while he was laying on the ground and then winged me while I was running with him. It was intentional."

    "Who was it; do you know?"

    "No, but I got a damned good idea."

    "Uh-huh. Well, I imagine the sheriff will be up to get your statement tonight or tomorrow. Okay," as he stood up and headed out the door, "I'll leave you to your devices. The nurse will be in to get you up in a while." The door closed behind him.

    And I lay there wanting to go to him and I couldn't. I wanted to see him, to hold his hand, to tell him how much I loved him, to be there when he woke up. What if he got worse, what if . . . and my mind was doing its usual number on me.

    The door opened and a young, very good looking Hispanic guy I hadn't seen before stepped in with a tray and a big smile, "Hi, time for supper. You hungry?"

    "Yeah, I guess," as it dawned on me what the noises were that I had heard earlier in the hallway.

    "Well, this isn't as good as what you'd get from Swilars, but it will get you by." He raised the tray-table and moved it over the bed and put the tray on it.

    I looked at the contents of the tray, wondering what some of the menu items were. I glanced up and he was looking at me with a quizzical expression on his face.

    "What?," I said.

    He smiled at me, "Could you tell me how Dac is doing? Nobody will tell me anything."

    "Well, he's in pretty serious condition. They just took him to ICU from surgery. He hasn't woke up yet."

    "Is he going to live?," he asked.

    I was getting the sense that this was more than just a casual question, "Yes, he is going to make it." And it was probably more of a prayer than an answer. "Is he a friend of yours?"

    He hesitated for a moment, then, "Mama says he's an angel."

    I looked at him with, I'm sure, a surprised look on my face. "I don't understand."

    He hesitated for a moment and then, "Last year, Papa lost his job and Mama couldn't find any work in town. My brothers and sister, we went all over town trying to find work but nobody would hire us. The church had given us what they had but it wasn't enough and we were out of food. We were all sitting around the table trying to think of what we could do and we heard a car drive up and a horn honk and then Dac came walking in the front door with two big sacks of groceries in his arms and put them on the table. Then he asked Papa to step out on the front porch with him and then when Papa came back in, he had a big smile on his face. He never would tell us what they talked about but I think he loaned Papa some money.

    "A couple weeks later, Papa got a call from a guy at the lumber yard saying they needed some help and would he be interested. So Papa got a job in the lumber yard. Then I graduated from highschool that year so I could work full time and I got this job here at the hospital."

    "Are things better now for you and your family?"

    "Oh, yes, much better. But Mama was so upset she started crying when she heard Dac had been hurt and was in the hospital." He leaned closer to the bed, "Did someone really shoot him?"



    "We don't know yet. But we will." I looked back at him   "What's your name, son?"

    "Lorenzo Cervantes but most everybody calls me Renzo."

    "Okay, Renzo, you tell your Mama that God looks after his Angels and this one is going to get well again. Tell her David told you. Okay?"

    "Okay," with a big smile. "I better get back to work. Thanks for telling me," and left.

    I looked at the food on the tray and tried to be optimistic about it. I took a bite of the main menu item and immediately wished I hadn't. I took it out of my mouth and put it back on the plate and took a drink of water. I ate the vegetables and bread and butter and finished with a glass of water.

    I lay there for a while and then heard the door opening and looked up and there was Jerry followed by Kevin and Craig. Jerry came over to the bed, the concern in his eyes contrasting with the smile on his face.

    "I'm going to be all right, Jer. Just a bullet hole. It didn't hit anything important."

    The relief was shining in his eyes as he took my hand in his. He grinned at me, "I was afraid it was serious and I wouldn't be able to come out and mooch off you and pester for weeks at a time."

    I gave him a dirty look, "You're safe, brother sponge."

    He laughed, "Good. Now, how's Dac?," and Craig and Kevin moved closer to the bed.

    "The doctor said if he can make it through the next 24 hours without any problems, then he's on his way," I said and explained his injuries. Then I remembered what the doctor had asked me.

    "Kevin, what's your blood type?"

    "Uh, it's a rare blood type, I know that. I'm not sure but I think it's AB Negative or something like that. Why?"

    "Because the doctor wants another unit of blood on hand just in case something goes wrong. Would you be willing to donate if the type and cross-match are okay?"

    "Yeah, sure, of course I will. Where do I go?"

    "I'll tell the nurse as soon as she comes in," I said. "By the way, how's Dulce doing?"

    "She's here, in the waiting room," Craig said. "The nurse wouldn't let all of us in here at once. You want me to step out so she can come in?"

    "Well," Kevin said, "Why don't you stay, Craig, and I'll go out to the nurse's station and tell them I'm ready to be drained and they can get started with whatever they have to do."

    "Oh, good idea, Kev," I said. "Send Dulce in, will you?"

    "You bet," as he walked out the door.

    The door hadn't anymore than closed when it opened again and Dulce came through, all smiles, and brown curls bobbing. "Loafing in bed again, David?"

    "You know me, Dulce. King of the loafers here."

    She came over by the bedside, "Well, you look pretty good. Have you had supper?"

    "Oh, yuck, I think they should have given it a proper burial rather than serving it."

    Dulce laughed, "Yeah, I've heard about the food here." She was rummaging around in this huge purse she had with her. "I've often wondered what they do down there in that kitchen. I figured you'd be starving to death up here so I brought you a snack. How about a couple of burritos?," as she gave me a big smile and held out a large package.

    "Oh, you just saved my life," as I reached for them and the door opened and the nurse, Laura, came back in.

    She smiled at everyone, "I'm sorry to have to break this up, but I'm going to have to ask you to step outside for a few moments. I have to get this guy up and walk him around the room for a bit."

    "Can't they stay?," I asked. "They're friends."

    She chuckled as she came over to the bedside, "Well, normally, I would say yes, but the thing is you don't have anything on underneath that gown and it's open in the back."

    "I don't? It is?," as Craig and Jerry started laughing. I glared at the two of them. "Well, who took my clothes, where are they?"

    Laura laughed, "I did and they're in the closet."

    "Oh, well, did you," and then stopped.

    "Yep, undressed you and put you to bed."

    Dulce laughed, "She knows all your secrets, David."

    "Oh." I could feel my face getting red. "Well maybe you guys better step out for a bit. Come back, though."

    Everybody left and Laura moved the tray table out of the way and took the pillow out from under my shoulder and helped me to sit up. "Did Dulce bring you something to eat?"

    "Yeah," I said. "A couple of burritos. She's a fantastic cook."

    "We have a microwave in the break room. Do you want me to warm them up for you?"

    "Oh, that would be great. Thanks."

    "No problem. Now," as she got me seated on the side of the bed, "just sit there for a minute. I don't want you standing up too quick and blacking out on me."

    She stood there watching me. "I feel okay," as I eased off the edge of the bed.

    We started walking back and forth several times. I was surprised how weak I was.

    "How's Kevin doing with the blood donation?"

    "He's waiting in the treatment room for the lab personnel to finish the typing and cross match. If it's okay, they'll go ahead and get it right there."

    "Okay, let's get you back," as she got me back in bed and covered up. "I'll tell your friends they can come back in," as she got the burritos and went out the door.

    Craig and Jerry walked up to the bed as Dulce pulled up a chair "Kevin and I cleaned out the inside of the Cruiser after we got back to the house," Craig said.

    "Thanks, Craig. I appreciate it. I know there was quite a bit of blood on the back seat. Was it hard to get off?"

    "Oh, no problem," Craig said. "David, there's something you don't know about," looking at me.

    "What?," wondering if they had been in a wreck.

    "We found a bullet hole in the back window on the passenger side. It lodged in the upholstery on the other side."

    I just looked at him, "When did that--"

    "He must have shot at us right after we pulled onto the county road before we got beyond the edge of the property. He was aiming at you -- that's the only thing that makes sense, it was you and Dac he was trying to take out. I think it must have been a distance shot because he didn't compensate enough for the speed and acceleration of the Cruiser. If he'd have been at the roadside when he fired, I don't think he would have missed."

    Just thinking about it was making me half sick and it must have shown on my face.

    "Are you all right?," Craig said.

    "Yeah, give me a minute to calm down," I said. I kept thinking, it's over and done with, it's over and done with. Finally, "What about the cops? Did they ever show up?"

    "Yeah," Craig said with a disgusted look on his face, "after we had the Cruiser cleaned up. He came driving up."

    "After you got back? What took so long?," I asked. "Kevin called the police from the cell phone in the car. I thought he said they were sending someone right out."

    "Yeah, I know," Craig said. "But nobody showed until we got finished with the Cruiser. Then this so-called deputy comes driving up. Boy, what a prick. Just stood around with this smirk on his face. Didn't even ask any questions after we told him the whole story. Just said he'd write up a report and got in his car and drove off. He kept looking at Kev and me like he wanted to laugh about something. It was all I could do to keep from putting my fist in that cute little smirk of his and see if I could wipe it off. He didn't do nothing, no questions, no investigation, didn't take a statement from Dulce or Jerry or me or Kevin. He didn't go in the woods and look around. Nothing. Just got in his shiny little cop car and buzzed off."

    I could see how angry the retelling was making Craig. "Well, the Sheriff is supposed to come up either tonight or tomorrow to take my statement and Dac's too as soon as he's able. So, I'm definitely going to have some things to talk to the Sheriff about. What was this deputy's name by the way?"

    "Patrick McKelvey," Craig said.

    Dulce spoke up, "Oh, I know him. He goes to that same church that Malcolm does."

    "I see. Well, that answers a number of questions," I said. "What about the Sheriff? What church does he attend?"

    "He's Catholic," Dulce said.

    "Did he take pictures of the bullet hole or get the slug?," I asked.

    Craig looked kind of guilty, "I didn't tell him. He was such an ass hole, I just didn't--"

    "It's okay, I understand, Craig, I'll handle it with the sheriff. I'll just tell him you forgot, what with all the excitement and so forth."

    Craig continued, "I didn't even tell him that Dulce and Jerry were in the house. It wouldn't have made any difference."

    I nodded my head.

    "Do you know who shot at you?," Jerry asked.

    "No, but I got a pretty good idea," I said.

    "Me, too," Dulce added.

    "You are going to tell the sheriff; aren't you?," Jerry asked.

    "Yes, loudly, in capital letters, and underscored," I said.

    "Oh, Angelo delivered the computer," Jerry said.. "I got it all set up and running. Got a few more programs to load but other than that, it's all finished. Really nice computer."

    "Oh, that's what I was going to ask about. What about Angelo and his roommate? They're not staying at the house are they? Oh, and thanks, Jer, for setting it up."

    "No," Dulce said. "I told them what had happened and said it would be better if they stayed at the motel in town. They said they'd try and come see you tomorrow morning before they started back to Albuquerque. I just didn't think it was a good idea for them to stay at the house until all this is settled."

    "I agree," I said. "I hope they do come up tomorrow morning, though. I'd like to see them and thank them for bringing the computer."

    The door opened and Kevin made his melodramatic entrance, "I don't have any blood left," as he slowly walked into the room. "I think they took every bit of it," as he came over to the bed, and leaned against the bed rail and whispered, "How you doing? Feeling better?"

    Kevin looked a little pale but other than that, okay. "I'm doing okay. Got up and walked around the room for a bit," I said.

    "Yeah, he doesn't have anything on under that gown. Bet the nurse got a thrill," Jerry smirked.

    I gave him a brotherly dirty look, thinking that an only child certainly had benefits.

    "I'd laugh if I had more blood in me and weren't so weak," Kevin said dramatically.

    "Oh, cut the cornball drama; would you?," Craig grinned at him. "I suppose the next thing you'll want me to put you to bed and feed you soup tonight?"

    "Oh, would you?" as Kevin turned and grinned at Craig, "chicken noodle and tell me a story?"

    "Oh, you're going to get a story all right," Craig muttered.

    The nurse came through the door with a package in her hands. "Here's the burritos, all warmed up."

    "Oh, thanks. They really smell good."

    "I know. I almost sampled one myself," Laura said.

    "You want some?," as I unwrapped the package, relishing the first bite especially after the hospital fare. "I doubt that I'll finish both of them," I said with my mouth full.

    "Oh, no, no," she said. "I'd like to but I'm trying to maintain my youthful figure. I'm afraid it's a losing battle, though."

    "Looks like a pretty good figure from where I stand," brother big mouth said.

    "Oh, please," and blushed. Everybody started laughing.

    She turned toward Dulce, "Dulce, I really would like to learn how to make burritos as well as you do. I had one at the last church bazaar and it was excellent."

    "Oh, well, just give me a call. I'll be glad to come over and show you. It's pretty simple, really," Dulce said. "I work for David, so just call out at the house. Either David or I will answer and we can set up a date and time."

    "I'll do that. And thank you, Dulce," Laura smiled as she started for the door.

    "Any news on Dac?," I asked, munching away.

    "Not really," as she turned toward me. "He's starting to wake up but he's pretty groggy and confused. It's going to take a day or so before all the anesthetic washes out of his system." And she looked at our select little group, smiling, "And visiting hours are almost over. Okay?," as she left the room.

    "What's her last name?" Jerry asked. Jerry is very subtle.

    "Laura McDermott," Dulce said with a smile on her face. "Should I get her phone number for you?"

    "I think I can manage," Jerry said, coloring slightly.

    "Well, David," Dulce said, "I guess we better get the troops home and let you get some rest. When are they dismissing you?"

    I swallowed a mouthful of burrito, "I think tomorrow. But I'm not leaving here until I see Dac, I know that for sure."

    "Well, I imagine that the doctor will let you see him after he's a bit more awake which I'm sure he will be by tomorrow. Then too, you'll be up walking by then." She turned and faced the guys, "well, gang, everybody ready to head out?"

    "I am," Kevin said. "I need soup and rest," smiling at Craig.

    Craig just looked at me, smiling, and shaking his head. He reached over and cupped my face, "Remember those positive thoughts, David. Okay?"

    I reached up and held his hand for a moment, "I will, Craig. And thanks. We wouldn't have made it without you and Kev, you know?"

    "I know. We were glad to help."

    Kevin came over, "Goodnight, David. I'm glad you're feeling better and Dac is getting better. Is there anything you want us to do for you?"

    "No, I'm fine until I get dismissed, then I'll need a ride home but other than that, no."

    "You got it," he said and stepped back as Dulce and Jerry came up.

    Dulce leaned over with a devilish look in her eyes and gave me a kiss, "You keep your hands off the orderlies, you hear?"

    I laughed. "I'll try but there are a couple of really cute ones running around here."

    Jerry grabbed hold of my face and gave me a big kiss, "Goodnight, little brother. I'm glad you're going to be okay. I'll say a prayer for you. Sleep tight and we'll be up tomorrow. You want me to bring you anything?"

    "Oh, yeah," I said, "a set of clothes, underwear, socks, pants, shirt and so forth. I can't wear the other stuff."

    "Sure, I'll bring it," he said, and amidst a chorus of goodbyes they headed out the door.

    And I was alone with my thoughts and a half-eaten burrito thinking about what all had happened today, Dac and I trying and eventually getting things straightened out between us, then the walk in the field and me grabbing Dac and swinging him around and his laughter and suddenly things were okay again and I was so happy. Then the gunshot and Dac turning and collapsing, running with him in my arms to the house, my getting shot, Craig and Kevin helping, the wild ride to the hospital and the bullet meant for me and then the waiting and waiting, not knowing, praying and hoping. And now laying here alone wanting to go to him, just to hold his hand, to be near him.

    Then finally, my thinking coming full circle, who was the shooter? I thought I knew but wasn't sure. I wondered what kind of person could have such unbridled hatred for another person that he would take a gun and premeditatedly stalk and try to kill them, knowing that he was attempting murder? How did he get that way? Did he honestly think that he was doing Jesus some kind of favor by killing off a few gay people? Perhaps he saw himself as one of God's warriors taking part in some sort of holy war. I didn't know. I couldn't imagine what motivated him and probably never would. I remember someone telling me once that ignorance knows no age. I guess it's true.

    I could only hope that sometime in his life there would come a change of heart and with it understanding. I even tried to say a prayer for his understanding but I don't think my heart was really in it. Hell, I know it wasn't but I said it nevertheless. Maybe some day I would be able to say it and mean it.

    I prayed for Dac and me and felt better. Finally, I slept.

    I awoke to the clatter of dishes and trays in the hallway. Angelo came in wearing good looks, a smile, an expanse of white teeth and breakfast from hell on a tray. I said good morning, glanced at the tray and decided that things had not changed in the kitchen overnight.

    A greasy, hard fried egg looked up in rubbery greeting, accompanied by two lethargic pieces of what I assumed to be bacon. There was also a piece of toast, some watery cereal -- I think -- juice, and fruit compote. My Dad used to call it fruit compost and my Mom would give him a dirty look and then smile and we kids would laugh.

    I ate the juice and fruit and decided it was a standoff and left it at that.

    Angelo came in to pick up the tray just as I was easing out of the bed to go take a leak. We talked for a few minutes and he left and I made it to the bathroom.

    The next thing I heard was, "David, are you in there?," Laura's voice called out.

    "Yeah, you need the bathroom? I'll be out in a second," as I flushed the stool and opened the door.

    She was doing her best to look very stern. "No, I don't. You are not supposed to be up walking around without supervision."

    "Oh, I feel fine as long as I don't move my shoulder too much. I'm a little weak but it's getting better."

    "Well, I suppose it's okay. The doctor left orders for your dismissal. He'll be in to tell you in a few minutes. Well, since you're up, let's walk you around for a bit and then back in bed with you until he gets here. I'll put it in your chart that you walked with supervision and I won't mention that you were up by yourself before then." We walked around for a few minutes and then I got back in bed. It would only be a few minutes as I could hear him down the hall shouting at one of his patients.

    "Why are you working this morning? I thought you worked the evening shift."

    "I do but they needed someone to fill in for one of the nurses that called in sick, so I'm working a double. Besides, I can use the money."

   At that moment, Dr. Salazar came in the room. "Well, how are you feeling this morning?," as my ears curled. "Have you been getting up and moving around?"

    "Yes, several times. When am I getting out of here?"

    "Any time you want to go. I want to see you in about a week or so and I'll take those stitches out and get rid of that drainage tube. And one of the nurses will be in shortly to change your dressings. And speaking of dressings, when you go to take a shower, have someone wrap your shoulder with Saran Wrap so it won't get wet. Okay?," as he looked around smiling. "So, check at the nurses' station before you go and they'll give you the appointment time." He looked at the chart that Laura had handed him. "It says here that they want you to stop in Admissions before you leave. Probably want to drain you of some money."

    "Oh, well, I can run down there now before my brother comes to pick me up. Now, when can I see Dac?"

    "Well, his blood count is down somewhat and just to be on the safe side, I've started another unit of blood on him. He's going to be running around with a pint of his cousin's blood in him. It's a good thing your cousin was a match."

    "Is he going to make it?"

    "I think so, yes, but let's see how the rest of the day goes and I can give you a definite answer by then."

    "So can I see him?," I persisted.

    He let out a sigh, looking at me. "Okay, let's get admissions taken care of and you checked out and then you can go from here to ICU. But you're only going to be in there about ten minutes and I'll put a note in the chart to that effect. You understand?"

    "I guess." I wasn't happy about it.

    "Once he turns the corner and we're sure everything is working the way it should be and he's healing, then we'll move him out to the surgical ward and you can spend more time with him. Deal?"

    "Yeah, okay. Deal," I grumbled.

    "Good." He smiled at Laura, "I always win my arguments," as they started out of the room.    

    "I'll bet you do," I muttered.

    "What?," as he turned around.

    "Oh, just clearing my throat," I said and I know he didn't believe a word of it.

    "Oh, I see." He was smiling as they left the room.

    I punched the call button pinned to the sheet next to my pillow. Finally, a nurse's aide came in the room and I asked where a phone was so I could call home.

    "Oh," she said. "I'll get one for you. There's an outlet here in the room, as she headed out of the room. A few minutes later she returned with phone in hand, plugged it in and told me to dial nine before calling my number. I did and Dulce came on the line. "Hi, it's me, I've been dismissed. Can you have Jerry come get me with some clothes?"

    "Sure, David. How's Dac doing?"

    "Well, the doctor said his blood count is down and they started another unit of blood on him. They're using the blood that Kevin gave last night."

    "Oh, I'll tell Kevin that. They've both back at the house a couple of times this morning wanting to know if you had called and how Dac is doing."

    "Well, the doctor said if he makes it through the day without any problems he'll be on his way. So send Jerry on up and I got to go, Dulce. I have to go to Admissions and give them a bunch of money. I'll talk with you later." We said goodbye and I hung up the phone.

    Another nurse came in that I hadn't seen before and changed my dressings and I punched the call button after she left and the nurse's aide stuck her head in the door. "Do you have some kind of bathrobe I could wear while I go down to Admissions?"

    "Oh, yes, I'll get a bathrobe and a wheelchair and take you down to Admissions," and out the door she went only to return a few moments later with wheelchair and a bathrobe and we were on our way to Admissions.

    The lady in Admissions had a thin, narrow face, grey hair pulled back tightly in a bun and a thin, disapproving mouth. I think she had a sour stomach or hemorrhoids or both. She sure didn't seem happy to see me and mentioned that most of the hospital patients came to Admissions first before they were admitted to their rooms, leaving the sentence hanging. I decided to not offer an explanation. From the sound of her, she would probably find something wrong with it anyway. She wasn't satisfied with any of the answers I gave her concerning financial responsibility and kept wanting to know where I worked, and what bank I did business with and on and on. I finally started running out of patience and decided to cut to the bottom of it and told her I also would be responsible for Dac's bill as well and what was the total and I would pay it right now. Then she really got upset.

    "Mr. Rinehardt, I cannot discuss another patient's financial responsibility with you. You're not related and I could hardly release those figures to you. We do, after all, have an obligation to our patients' right to privacy."

    And then I lost it, "Lady, I don't know what your problem is. Maybe you just need a stiff drink and a couple of beers or maybe a big boyfriend and a night on the town, but the fact of the matter is that Dac and I are domestic partners which means that he and I are married to one another and I am responsible for his debts and I do have a right to know what the bill is. I will pay both bills in full right now and when Dac is released from the hospital, I'll pay the balance at that time. Now total them up and give me the figures; otherwise, I'm walking out of here and calling the Administrator of the Hospital."

    I don't know whether the shocked look on her face was the remarks I made about her needing a drink, boyfriend, Dac and I being married or the threat I made about the Hospital Administrator or a bit of everything. She made some remark about having to talk to her supervisor and stomped out of the room. I sat there thinking that I would invite her to our commitment ceremony out of nastiness. Probably give her a heart attack.

    She never came back. Her supervisor came in, a short blond-haired lady in her fifties with a motherly face and a pleasant smile. "Hi, Mr. Rinehardt. Sorry about the problems. Here's the total statement amount for you and the amount for Dac as it stands today. And here's what the two total out."

    "Fine. If you have a phone I can use, I'll call the bank and have them cut a draft in that amount and have one of their delivery boys bring it over. When he does, would you stamp both of these bills paid and have them sent up to my room, please?"

    "I'll be happy to," she said. "Sorry for the problems. And you can use the phone right there."

    "Oh, don't worry about it. I'll live," as I smiled and dialed the number for the bank. That part taken care of, I left Admissions and found the nurse's aide still waiting for me with wheelchair. I got in and we made it back to my room only to find the Sheriff and a deputy waiting for me.

    I got into a chair facing the Sheriff and his deputy and waited while the nurse's aide got the wheelchair and left the room.

    "What can I do for you, Sheriff?," I asked.

    "Mr. Rinehardt, I'm Sheriff Collins and this is Deputy Hansen," indicating the deputy. "I'm here to get your statement as to what happened yesterday. I understand there was a shooting and that your friend and yourself were shot; is that correct?"

    "Yes, that's correct," I said.

    "If you could start at the beginning and tell me what all took place, try and recount everything that you can remember, thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds, everything you can think of, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Sometimes, something seemingly unimportant can become quite important in an investigation. And if you don't mind," as he nodded at the deputy who took out a small recorder and placed it on the tray table, "I'd like to record this. We'll have it transcribed and ready for your signature later this afternoon."

    "That'd be fine, Sheriff," I said, " and then there are some things I want to talk with you about, but let's get the statement taken care of first."

    The Sheriff nodded at the Deputy who spoke into the recorder stating the time, date, location, and person interviewed. Then nodded at me to go ahead.

    I started at the beginning and told the whole story, beginning with the fact that Dac and I were domestic partners and leaving nothing out, telling about the horror of it, the blood and trying to stop the bleeding, running through the field, myself getting shot, Craig and Kevin helping, the wild ride to the hospital, the bullet hole in the back window and the waiting and waiting and finally ending up at the present.

    "Did you see who shot at you?," the Sheriff asked.

    "No, I did not."

    "Do you have any knowledge as to who it was?," he asked.

    "I think I know who it was, but I don't know positively," I said.

    The Sheriff leaned forward in his chair, "Who?"

    "Malcolm Hodges."

    "One of those," the Sheriff muttered.

    "What?," I said.

    He looked up at me, "Nothing. Did Dac see anybody or tell you that he knew who it was that shot him?," the Sheriff asked.

    "He said five words to me and collapsed in my arms," I said.

    "What did he say?"

    "David, help me, help me," I said.

    The Sheriff nodded at the Deputy who made some remarks into the recorder about this concluding the statement of David Rinehardt and so forth and then switched off the recorder.

    "Now, Mr. Rinehardt, you said you wanted to talk to me about something else?"

    "Yes, I do. As I told you in the recorded statement, Kevin called the Sheriff's Office and reported this shooting on our way to the hospital and was told then that they would send someone right out. Craig and Kevin were probably in the hospital a good three hours from the time Dac was admitted, then myself, until they finally came to my room and we talked for a while and the nurse made them leave and they came back to the house. They were cleaning out the Cruiser when the deputy finally showed.

    "I suppose I could overlook the fact that no one showed up out there until almost four hours later if he had made even the slightest attempt at an investigation. But he didn't. According to what Craig and Kevin told me he simply stood there with a smirk on his face like he was on the verge of laughing at them while they told him the story of what had happened. He didn't ask any questions, didn't interview anybody, did no investigation of the forest from where the shot came, took no pictures. Nothing. He said he'd write up a report and got in his car and left.

    "To say that I am angry about this kind of slipshod police work has got to be the understatement of the year. I will say this, however: If I find, further on down the road that this so-called deputy has, in any way, hampered or compromised the investigation insofar as the apprehension of whoever it was that made this murder attempt on Dac and myself, believe me, I will take this straight to an attorney and follow up on whatever legal recourse is available to me. And that's not a threat, Sheriff, that is an absolute promise."

    The Sheriff and I sat there looking at each other for a moment, "I certainly am not going to insult your intelligence by attempting to downplay or minimize what that deputy did not do. I didn't check the log to see who the dispatcher sent out to the house, but he certainly will be disciplined. Do you know the name of the deputy?"

    "Yes, Patrick McKelvey."

    The Sheriff's face suddenly took on a darker hue and his mouth compressed into a thin tight line. "That's one problem that's going to be taken care of once and for all," he said grimly as he and his deputy stood up. "Mr. Rinehardt, there will be a deputy out at your house at 4 o'clock this afternoon -- you'll be home by then, I take it?"

    "Yes," I said.

    "Good. He'll bring the statement with him for your signature and I can assure you he will do a complete investigation and he'll want to talk to everybody and take pictures of the vehicle. Is the slug still embedded in the upholstery?"

    "Yes, it is."

    "He'll take that and send it through to ballistics in Albuquerque.. Do they have the slug they took out of Dac, by the way?," he asked.

    "I'm sure they do, but you'd have to ask Dr. Salazar about that," I said.

    "I will. Mr. Rinehardt, thank you for your time and your candidness."

    "You're welcome," I said, and with that, they left the room.

    I sat there trying to get my anger under control. Jerry noticed it immediately as he and Craig and Kevin came into the room. "What's wrong, David?," he asked.

    "I'm all right. Just the retelling of the whole thing for that statement stirred up a lot of emotions. That and what that ass hole deputy did, or rather, did not do."

    "Yeah, I felt the same way," Craig said.

    "Are they going to send somebody else out to do a proper investigation?," Kevin asked.

    "Yes, this afternoon at 4," I said. I glanced up at him and smiled, "Did Dulce tell you that Dac now has a pint of your blood in him?"

    "Yeah, she did. He's definitely going to get better. That's good stuff I gave him."

    "I think he will, too. Jerry, did you bring me some clothes, I hope?"

    "You bet. I even threw in a pair of sneakers. Didn't know what kind of shape the others were in."

    "Oh, good. Will you give me a hand getting dressed?"

    "Sure," he said, as Craig and Kevin started for the door.

    "You guys don't have to leave," I said. "I don't have anything new and unique."

    With the help of Jerry we got me dressed and buttoned and zipped up and we were finally ready to go.

    "I'm all checked out but I need to stop at the nurses' station and pick up my appointment time with Dr. Salazar. Then we're going to ICU. I get to see Dac for ten minutes."

    "I was wondering if the doctor was going to let you see him," Craig said. "Can we all go in?"

    "No, just me. But as soon as they get him out of ICU and into a room, he'll be able to have visitors."

    We stopped at the nurses' station and I got my appointment and a package of dressings and instructions from Laura on how to change the dressings. "Have Dulce change the dressings," she said. "You wouldn't be able to reach back to do it. I wrote out the instructions for her."

    "Thanks, Laura. We're going to ICU now to see Dac before we leave."

    "Yes, I know," she said. "David, try and prepare yourself. He's going to look pretty bad. Just remember that he is getting better. He may not be awake, he's been in and out of it most of the day."

    I nodded and we started down the hall towards ICU. I wanted to see him but there was a part of me that was dreading it at the same time. I just hoped that I could manage to keep control of myself.

    There was a plate mounted in the wall next to the ICU door with a buzzer on it. I figured it was for visitors. Anyway, I pushed it and waited. The door swung open and a nurse stepped out. I told her who I was and that I was here to see Dac. She smiled and said she was expecting me and had me follow her into the room. There were probably eight or ten occupied beds across one side of the room each numbered and with all kinds of monitors and a variety of electronic equipment. The nurses' station was opposite.

    "He's in bed number four," she said in a quite voice, pointing towards the bed. "There's a chair you can sit on next to the bed. You can only be in here for ten minutes as I'm sure the doctor told you. I will come and get you when the time is up. He's asleep at the moment so don't try to wake him.

    I walked over to the bed, seeing the nest of IV bottles and the bag of Kevin's blood still dripping into the timing tube then on down into his arm. I looked at all the monitors and equipment he was plugged into. It seemed like there were tubes running every which way. I looked at everything but not at Dac. I was afraid. Afraid of what I might see -- what, I don't know but afraid. Finally, I looked at him. And the shock was not as much as I had anticipated. He was very pale, almost white in the face. He looked so small and fragile amidst all the tubes, IV bottles and electronics. He was asleep, and there was pain in the expression on his face. His hair had fallen across his forehead and his hands were still and lifeless by his side.

    I reached over and brushed the hair away from his forehead. I sat down in the chair and took one of his hands in both of mine and held it, feeling his warmth, and as I gazed upon his face my whole body flooded with the love I felt for him and unnoticed tears started down my face. And hardly being aware of it, the lyrics of a melody that would always be Dac played in my mind.

You are so beautiful to me

You are so beautiful to me

Can't you see?

You're everything I hoped for

and you're everything I need

You are so beautiful to me

. . .

Okay, guys, that's it for this chapter. Needless to say, feedback causes me to start and/or continue on the next chapter, and big long letters causes even more incentive, so let's hear from you. DacAndDavid@Hotmail.Com. Harlequin, April 20, 2002.