Storyville 3
By Julien Gregg
Chapter Sixteen

I couldn't see anything at first. All I knew was pain in my head. There was so much smoke and for a moment I couldn't move. It was hard to breathe and I was in a panic. What had happened? Where were my friends? Well one of those questions was all too easy to answer. A bomb had happened. I'd heard the sound before. This one was a considerable amount larger than the last one but it was still a bomb.

My friends. That was the question that scared the hell out of me. My friends were my world and if anything had happened to any of them I didn't know what I would do. Then I heard the screaming. I didn't know who it was or where they were but I could hear the pitiful, anguished sounds of voices calling out for friends and help. I started to cry then. Fear really set in when I heard those voices. It was real. Someone had bombed the university and it was probably the same person who had bombed the lockers at the high school.

"Tommy!" I could hear Nick scream. "Don't try to move, Tommy. There's a beam across your stomach."

I looked up into his soot covered face and just knew that I was dreaming. He wasn't there. I was dead and this was my hell. There was no way that anyone could have survived that explosion. My mind knew this was the truth. My brain was playing tricks on me. It was just that last electric synapse firing to fuel one last feeble fantasy.

I turned my head and all the proof that I needed to know that I really was in hell was the sight of Maria's bloody face lying not so far from me. Her mouth was twisted into a horror filled silent scream and her eyes were closed. She had to be dead. There was so much blood that I just knew she couldn't be alive.

Greg was on my other side. He looked better than Maria but he didn't look alive either. I sobbed with the anguish that washed over me and as I took in air I started to cough again. The smoke was so thick that I was surprised that I could see anyone. My coughing quickly turned to choking and hen finally darkness came again. Was it possible to die once more after you'd already died?

I was ripped back to consciousness by rough hands pulling on my arms. I opened my eyes to look up into a masked face. My first instinct was to scream in fear but my mind at least registered the fact that this was a fireman or a paramedic. I was being saved. But how could you save a dead person? The more he pushed and pulled at me the less convinced of my own death I became. The pain in my mid section made me start to believe that I was very much alive. Then it was like an enormous weight was lifted from my body that I hadn't noticed until it was gone and darkness claimed me again.

When I opened my eyes again I saw the night sky above me. There were huge white clouds obscuring the black night. Fat, wet snowflakes were falling from those clouds, hitting my face and I swear I heard them sizzle. It kept me conscious, those little pricks of pain in my face and neck. I was alive all right, but I nearly wished I wasn't as the pain continued to coarse through my body.

Where was everyone? Were they all dead? A hard sob escaped me, making my ribs scream in agony as that thought ran through my head. Nick! Nick was alive. I'd heard him talking to me. I'd seen his face. Where was Nick? I tried to look around for him but I couldn't move my head. More fear pumped through me as I thought of the ramifications of not being able to move my head. As more fear spread over me so did darkness once again and I welcomed it.

It was the sound of my own voice that woke me again. I guess I was already awake but it was like a fog had lifted from my mind when I heard myself asking about my friends. I was in an ambulance and there were paramedics looking me over. They wouldn't answer my questions about my friends though. That made me angry but I was too tired to argue further. I just kept asking about my friends all the way to the hospital.

At the hospital I was put on oxygen and left alone in a room with another patient. He had dark hair and was sleeping peacefully in the bed near the windows. I was trying hard to fight the darkness that kept teasing the corners of my vision but I wasn't successful. It enveloped me like a warm blanket and I drifted again.

When I opened my eyes again the sun had come up. I had no idea how long I had been asleep that time but I suspected that I had been sedated. My room mate was not in his bed when I looked over so I assumed he'd either been released or was having some sort of test done. At that point I didn't really care. I had just noticed that the oxygen mask had been removed and I was starving.

A pang of guilt washed over me as I thought of food. I still didn't know anything about my friends and I was thinking about food. I wished that someone would come into my room and tell me what was going on. Were they all dead? The explosion had been so powerful that I was starting to fear that they were. Who had done this? I couldn't believe that it had happened. Was it the same person that had bombed the lockers at the high school? If it was how would we ever find out who was behind this?

Then the door to my room opened and Brian walked into the room. The tears in his eyes told me all I needed to know and then I was crying with him. He walked over and pulled the folding chair close to my bed to sit beside me. He reached for my hand and just laid his head on my chest and cried silently. I put my other hand on his head and tried hard not to lose it completely.

"Ian's dead, Tommy," he moaned, and I lost my battle. "He was right next to where the bomb went off. They said he was killed instantly. His mother and brothers are on their way to Storyville."

"I'm so sorry, Brian," I sobbed.

"I just can't believe this happened, Tommy," he said, lifting up to sit upright. The pain in his face was unbearable. "So many people are dead. Who could have done this?"

"Who . . . who else?" I asked, not really sure that I wanted to know the answer.

"From what I've been told and overheard, Thad and Phillip are both dead," he said through his tears. "Charlie Granger died twenty minutes ago."

"Oh my God," I cried though it came out more like a cracked moan.

"Nick is in the waiting room with Greg," he said. "They wouldn't let any one else in here but me."

"I'm glad you're here," I said. "But I just can't believe it."

"I know," he said, wiping his eyes. "Tyler called an hour ago. His plane will be in the air soon. He's coming back."

"But is it safe for anyone to come here?" I asked.

"Tommy, we can't worry about that right now," he said. "We have to find out about the others. The one's I told you about are the only ones I've heard about. I heard about Thad and Phillip from Nick but that was all he knew. The only reason I know about Ian is because he was brought here."

"Where is everyone else?" I asked. Surely they'd all come to Mercy General. It was the closest hospital to the university.

Before he could answer a doctor came into my room. He was younger than any doctor I'd ever seen before but what he had to say made me feel slightly better. His name was Doctor Daniels and he was releasing me from the hospital. He told me that I had suffered some smoke inhalation and a few bumps and scrapes. In other words, I looked much worse than I was.

I got dressed and Brian and I went to the waiting room to sit with Nick. I was happy to see that Greg was with him. His left arm was in a cast and he looked like he'd been on the receiving end of about thirty punches to his face but he was alive.

"Tommy," he said, trying to smile when he saw us. "I was worried."

"I've been worried about you, too," I said as we took seats next to them. "Any word on anyone else?"

"I've told him about Ian, Phillip, Charlie and Thad," said Brian. "Those were the only ones I knew about."

"Well I know that Wendy is about to be released," said Nick. "Ben and Steve were taken to surgery last night. I haven't heard anything more about them. I do know that Vince is in critical condition. Maria is in surgery as well."

"What about Andy and Leo?" I asked.

"Andy is fine," said Nick. "He's upstairs with his parents in the surgery waiting room. The last I knew Leo was with my mom and dad."

"Where are you parents?" Greg asked.

"With the Meyers family upstairs," he said. "I stayed down here to wait for Tommy. One of the nurses told me that you were being released."

We went up to the surgery waiting room after that. I was so happy to see Wendy already there. Leo and Noah were sitting with Mike and Sharon. I walked right over to Tom and Shirley only to be crushed in a hug by Shirley. She was crying and she nearly cut off my oxygen supply.

"Oh, Tommy," she said as she clutched me. "They wouldn't let us in to see you now that you're eighteen. We told them that we had been your guardians but they wouldn't listen."

"It's ok, Shirley," I said, trying to pull myself out of her embrace. "How's Ben?"

"There's been no word yet," said Tom as he hugged me as well. "Both Vince and Steve are also in surgery."

"This is unbelievable," I said as I started to cry again. Shirley moved right in to hug me again.

"Don't think about it right now, Tommy," she said. "Just know that they're all going to make it. We have to believe that."

"Who besides Phillip, Charlie, Thad and Ian didn't make it?" I demanded when Shirley let go of me again.

"A boy named Loren Miller was killed," said Tom. "The RA from your dorm was killed as well."

"Mike?" I asked in confusion. "What was he doing there to begin with?"

"We don't know," said Shirley. "There's a lot about what happened that we don't know."

"The press is everywhere," said Tom. "It's hindering the investigation. All we know for sure is that the gymnasium and auditorium buildings are in ruin."

"Oh my God," I said, covering my mouth and sinking into a chair. This was so much worse than the bombs in the lockers. Someone had really tried to kill everyone this time.

"Now Tommy don't," said Mike. "This isn't going to help you right now. Let's try to be strong for Ben."

"Why did this happen?" I asked. "Why can't people just stop trying to kill all of us?"

"Tommy," moaned Shirley, crushing me in another hug. "Oh, Tommy."

I was too stunned to say anything else. I couldn't believe this was happening. It felt like a horrible nightmare that I just couldn't wake up from. I didn't understand why anyone would hate us enough to do this. We weren't hurting anyone. Our sexuality wasn't hurting anyone. We had just as much right to live as everyone else, but someone didn't agree.

We sat there in pained silence for another hour before a surgeon came out to tell us that Ben had come through surgery just fine. He was in recovery and someone would let the Meyers know when they could see him. Then someone came to tell us about Dustin. He was out of surgery but it was touch and go. I couldn't believe it.

Finally Greg and Nick convinced me to go home. I was so exhausted and upset that I didn't argue much. They weren't going to let me in to see anyone anyway. We headed for the parking lot where Greg's car was. Evidently he'd returned to the house at some point. I didn't have time to think much about the fact that he had his car because as soon as we got outside the press surrounded us.

They were everywhere. News trucks from networks that I remembered from the coverage of the Hartman trial along with some that I didn't recognize lined the street in front of the hospital. None were blocking entrances to the lots in front of the hospital but the reporters and cameramen were. Questions were screamed at us and almost all of them called me by name.

"Get me out of here," I said to Nick, and he and Greg took me by the arm and pulled me through the throng of reporters to Greg's car. The reporters followed us but we got to the car safely. After Greg pulled out of the parking space he drove slowly, pushing the throng back.

We were silent as we drove to the house. I started to think about my friends that were now dead and started to cry again. Nick must have noticed because he put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed lightly. I just couldn't believe it had happened. Who would do this? I couldn't think of anyone that wasn't currently in prison that would want us dead.

Then I wondered why again. Why did this happen? I was starting to think that all of it was my fault. Maybe violence and death were my destiny. Was I destined to live through one violent event after another and lose people I cared about each time? How much more of this could I take?

"Tommy, are you all right?" Greg asked without even taking his eyes off the road.

"No," I replied. "I just don't know how much more of this I can take."

"This isn't going to get any easier any time soon," Nick said softly. "With the media here it won't be easy to get over any of this."

"But what's next?" I asked. "First the lockers at the high school and then this. What's next? When is this freak ever going to just leave us alone?"

Neither of them had an answer for me. The truth was that I didn't expect them to have an answer. There was no answer to that question because we didn't know who was doing this or why he or she was doing it. I couldn't even think of a viable suspect. I didn't know of anyone that hated any of us enough to try to kill so many people.

When we got to the house the reporters were already there. Greg pulled into the driveway and we ran into the house without talking to the press at all. I wished they'd just go away and let us deal with this. It wasn't like it was going to be easy for any of us to deal with this under normal circumstances let alone with cameras and microphones thrust in our faces everywhere we went.

The television was no escape from it either. It was on all of the major networks. Even the local channels were running stories about the explosion and the deaths. We learned from the television that fifteen people were dead. We knew some of the people on that list, but I didn't think we knew all of them. A local anchor informed us that there would be a candlelight vigil at the bomb site the very next evening. He said that a construction crew was already working on clearing debris and getting the area cleaned up a bit.

I couldn't believe how fast they were doing it. A vigil wasn't a bad idea but I didn't know if I wanted to be there or not. I just wanted to go to bed and cry. Instead I let Greg make hot chocolate for each of us and sat in the living room with them to watch the coverage. I could still see the group of reporters through the living room window. From the looks of the crowd it was getting bigger. They would probably never leave me alone now. What they didn't understand was that this time it wasn't just about me. There were others involved now.

Then I saw a live report from Meg's front yard. It was then that I knew that the media also knew that this wasn't just about me. They would be invading everyone's lives until they got their story. It was sick and I hated it. Seeing Meg's devastated face as she talked about Phillip made me cry again. I wished the media would just go away. Then I them ask her something that made me sit up and pay close attention to the television.

"Ms. Conners, when did you first learn that your ex-husband was the bomber?" asked a female reporter. I couldn't tell which one because the camera was pointed at Meg.

"Leave us alone!" cried Meg. "My son is dead and you people want to talk about my ex-husband? He's a mass murderer! Go to the police and ask them about Paul!"

"Paul Conners did this?" I asked, turning to look at the stunned faces of my friends.

"That's the first time I heard that," said Nick with wide eyes.

"Me too," added Greg.

Then the front door burst open and I could hear reporters screaming questions at whoever it was that had entered the house. I bolted off the couch and was in the hall way in seconds. Then I was lost in Tyler's crushing embrace as Greg rushed to close the door and keep the reporters from coming inside.

"Tommy, I was so scared that you were killed in the explosion," he said as he gripped me. "Even after I talked to Nick I just couldn't get it out of my head."

"I'm fine," I said, clutching him just as tightly as he clutched me.

"It's so awful, Tommy," he said.

We made our way back the living room where Tyler and I continued to at least touch each other continuously. I hadn't realized it until I saw him but it seemed like I would never see him again. I guess from the way he was clutching my hand he had felt a similar sentiment about me.

Andy, Shirley and Tom came to the house as the sun began to set. I got hugs from each of them before they told me that Ben was awake and doing fine. Wendy came after we had all attempted to eat supper without much success. She hugged all of us and we all had another cry as we sort of celebrated being alive. By the time Tyler and I crawled into bed that night I was hugged out. I wasn't too hugged out to clutch him all night. I believe the sun was about to come up when my eyes finally closed and I drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Seventeen

The light came in through the window and I was instantly awake. At first I didn't even remember what had happened. Tyler's presence in the bed with me and his tight embrace reminded me of the reality of the situation and made me want to cry all over again. Why would Paul Conners want to kill us all? I knew that he wasn't exactly thrilled about his son's sexuality but I didn't think for a minute that he hated homosexuals enough to do what he'd done.

He'd killed his own son with that bomb. Phillip, Charlie, Ian, Thad and Loren were dead. I couldn't figure out why Mike Mallory had even been there. He wasn't a member of the GSA and he certainly disliked homosexuals. There was no point in trying to wrap my mind around his attendance at that point. It had cost him his life and now he was another name on a list of casualties.

Fifteen people had been killed by one man's twisted hatred. It was sick and horrifying to not find it unbelievable that something like this could happen. I lived in the world after all. I'd seen one news story after another about senseless violence, school shootings, bombs, suicide pilots and just about every other atrocity. What was so unbelievable is that it had happened in Storyville; that it had happened to people I knew and loved. What was even more unbelievable was that someone I had at least a passing acquaintance with was the man responsible for fifteen deaths and the destruction of so many lives.

Tyler's stirring in the bed beside me broke my train of thought. I looked at him to find that he was looking back at me. I didn't like the haunted look in his eyes, but I imagined that my own look wasn't much better. I leaned closer and kissed him lightly. I held him just a little tighter for a moment and just reveled in the feel of his heart beating under mine.

"Morning," he said softly after a moment of cuddling.

"Morning, Cutie," I replied.

"Think we should get out of bed?" he asked.

"Probably," I sighed. "I don't want to though."

"Well we can't be selfish today," he said. "There are other people here that need us to be with them."

"Right," I sighed again. "Let's get up and get ready for the day."

As I stepped into the shower it occurred to me that this was the time that Tyler and I were supposed to be really getting to know each other. We were supposed to be having fun discovering all the little quirks in each other and figuring out how to live with each other. It wasn't fair that we were robbed of this time. I hadn't wanted our relationship to begin with tragedy.

Once we were both showered and dressed we went downstairs to find Leo and Brian in the living room. I walked straight to my brother and hugged him when he stood up. I held him tight and felt him shudder in my embrace. He didn't say anything and I knew that nothing I could say would make him feel better. He'd lost his life partner and nothing I could say would take away the pain from that.

"I couldn't go to the apartment without him, Tommy," he said when we let go of each other. "I just couldn't do it."

"It's all right," I said, sitting down beside him. "You'll stay here for as long as you need. We're family, Brian. We'll stick together."

"Andy and Gage have breakfast ready," said Greg as he came into the living room. "They're setting it up in the dining room."

We all went to the dining room and sat down silently. Nothing was said as we passed the plate of pancakes around the table and then the plate of sausage. Gage walked around the table filling glasses with juice while Andy followed with coffee. It just felt unreal to me to be sitting at the dining room table letting the smell of the food entice my stomach.

We ate silently. No one really knew what to say. At least I knew that I didn't know what to say. Each person in that room had been affected by the bombing. We'd all lost someone be it family or friend. What was there to say to each other that wouldn't sound silly or forced? I suppose I could have talked about how guilty it made me feel to be enjoying pancakes and sausage when my friends were dead. That really wouldn't have been a great table conversation at that time though.

After breakfast Greg and I cleared the table and washed the dishes. We did that silently as well. We actually made a good team in the clean up department. I washed the dishes and he dried them and put them away. He didn't ask where anything went. He just kept going until he found the right places for everything. When we were done I cleaned out the sink while he wiped off the stove and counter.

We drove back to the hospital in three cars. The press was still outside when we left the house but we paid no attention to them. We just made our silent journey back to the place were the people we cared about were fighting for their lives.

We each got a hug from Shirley when we got there. Wendy was there with her parents and everyone hugged us or shook our hands. Ben was doing much better and I was allowed to see him for the first time. He was propped up in his bed watching the coverage of the bombing on television. He didn't smile when I came into the room and I noticed the wet tracks on his face from the tears he'd shed.

"Glad you're all right, Tommy," he said without looking at me as I sat down in the chair beside his bed. "I was worried about you when I finally woke up."

"They were only letting family in to see you at that point," I said. "But I'm glad that you're going to be all right, too."

"They told me about Phillip this morning," he said as fresh tears fell from his eyes. "And about Paul."

"Yeah," I said, because I couldn't think of anything better to say.

"I want to leave Storyville and never come back, Tommy," he said. "I don't think I can stand to be here anymore."

"I know what you mean," I said. "I just don't know where to go."

"Well I know that I can't wait to get out of here and go back to school," he said. "That will at least get me out of Storyville for a while."

"Yeah," I said. My heart was breaking just hearing him say these things. It would mean that we would be farther apart than ever before. He hadn't said it but I could hear the truth in his voice. He wanted away from all of it. That included me.

"Where will you go?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Like I said there isn't anywhere for me to go."

"You know that you could just go to Chicago with me," he said softly. "I really wish you would."

I started to cry then. I'd misread what he'd been saying at the beginning. He didn't want away from me. I was so happy to know that but at the same time I knew that I couldn't go to school in Chicago. He would be leaving as soon as he was released from the hospital but I had to stay here for a while yet. There were things I had to do before I could leave. I just knew that Chicago wasn't far enough away for me.

"You don't have to," he said. "I just want you to be safe, Tommy. I know that this had nothing to do with you or Steve, but . . ."

"I know," I sighed. "I have to admit that I thought it did at first."

"Paul said that he was trying to kill Dustin," he said bitterly. "He said that on television. He was trying to kill Dustin."

"I know," I sighed again.

"Pretty hateful don't you think?" he asked.

"It is," I replied.

"And he went and killed his own son just because he's a bastard with a narrow mind and a grudge," he said.

"Ben, this isn't going to get us anywhere," I cautioned.

"No, but if I don't talk about it I'm going to go nuts," he said. "I heard about Charlie, too. They told me about Charlie and Phillip at the same time. I guess they thought that it would soften the blow if they told me about them both instead of waiting to tell me about one of them later."

"How much do you know?" I asked cautiously.

"I know it all," he said. "What they haven't told me I get from CNN."

"Yeah," I said lamely.

"Fifteen people," he said with a shaking voice. "He killed fifteen people."

"Hatred is an awful thing," I said.

"Hatred killed my friends," he said, and then we were both crying.

We didn't say anything for a while. Wendy came in a few minutes later and I took my leave. I loved them both but I just couldn't talk about it anymore. I didn't want to talk about it. There was no point. It had happened and there was nothing we could do to undo the damage.

Back in the waiting room everyone was talking about the vigil. I still didn't want to go, but Tyler seemed to want to. I knew that if he wanted to go then I would go too. Everyone in the waiting room was planning to go so if I didn't go it wouldn't look right. I just didn't know if I was ready for another group of people. It just seemed so soon to me.

I also knew that the press would cover the vigil. I didn't want to be interviewed again. The last time I was interviewed I'd lost Steve. I didn't want to lose Tyler for the same reason. I knew that they were two different people with very different personalities but I was still nervous about it.

Then I caught my own image on the television. I turned and watched as a reporter talked about the trial of Reverend Hartman, the stoning and the bombs in the lockers at Storyville High. Clips of different interviews I had given at the time were played and I could do nothing but stare at the screen. I felt Tyler's hand on my shoulder as I watched but it did nothing to calm me down. When it was over I dared to look at Leo and Noah. They both looked haunted and guilty.

Every hour the national news programs ran clips of the old interviews. They were calling all of that Storyville's first brush with hatred, and I was the star. I hated it. I finally just stopped paying attention to the screen. When I couldn't stand listening to the television anymore I got up and walked out of the waiting room.

Tyler and Brian followed me to the little coffee shop on the first floor. We sat there in silence for a few minutes just staring at our coffee cups. This bombing had nothing to do with me at all, but the press was making it seem like it had everything to do with me. The world would believe whatever the press wanted them to believe and once again I would be thrust into the limelight over a tragedy that should have been left alone.

"This isn't going to quiet down any time soon is it?" Brian asked, looking directly at me.

"It doesn't look like it," I said. "With my face on the screen and so much talk about what happened a year ago I think this story sill be the main event on the news programs for a while."

"They need to just leave you alone," said Tyler, and I loved him for it immediately.

"They aren't going to leave me alone though," I said. "I'm connected to this tragedy and they're going to make the world know it."

"But it wasn't about you," said Brian.

"Does that matter?" I asked. "I was big news last year. It wasn't just about me then either. They sure didn't focus on Steve, Mark and Rick for long though did they? No, it was me. They wanted to talk to me. They wanted me to tell them the story of what happened. They wanted me to tell them how it felt to be hated by a group of people. Now they'll just continue to drag it all out again."

"This sucks," said Brian. "It's wrong."

"Of course it's wrong," said Tyler. "It's the news. Being wrong is what makes the news so popular."

"Let's not talk about it anymore," I sighed. "I want to talk to both of you about something that Ben said. It got me thinking."

"What did he say?" Brian asked.

"He said he wants to leave Storyville and never come back," I said. "I have to admit that it sounds wonderful. He wanted me to come with him to school in Chicago, but I don't think that's far enough for my taste. I want to leave but I want both of you to come with me."

"Where would we go?" Tyler asked. "I'm not even a citizen yet."

"We'll go to Florida," said Brian. "Tommy and I are both originally from there. I was born there at least. It's far enough away. Isn't it?"

I thought about that one for a moment. Florida was far enough away. It would be a good chance to start over. I liked the idea actually. The fact that Brian and Tyler would come with me made it even better. I liked it more and more as I continued to think about it.

"Florida sounds good," I said finally. "As long as we're all in."

"Well as long as I can go to school there I'm in," said Tyler. "My staying in America depends on me being in school. I have a Student Visa."

"Oh we'll go to school in Florida all right," Brian said. "In fact I'll start looking into it tonight."

"Well we'd probably better get back," said Tyler. "They'll come looking for us if we don't."

"Yeah," I said, draining my coffee cup. "Let's go."

"Are we all going to the vigil tonight?" Brian asked as we walked back to the elevators.

"I think we have to," I said. "If we're not there what will people say?"

"Who cares what they say?" Tyler asked. "I want to go, though."

"We're going," I said as the elevator doors closed.

Back in the waiting room I saw that the news had moved on to coverage of the actual bombing. The sight of the Gymnasium Building and Auditorium in ruin made my breath catch in my throat. From the looks of the destruction it was a miracle that any of us survived it. It made my knees weak just looking at it. That was where they wanted to hold the vigil. Could they have that cleaned up by night fall?

They talked about the vigil next. I found out from the news that we would all meet in the parking lot of the Student Services building and make our way over to the bomb site. We would carry our candles with us as we walked. It sounded like an orchestrated event to me but I knew there was no way I couldn't go.

Mike and Sharon arrived with lunch for everyone. Sharon had made what looked like a thousand sandwiches. Mike had bought bags of chips and there was soda and tea for everyone. I ate a sandwich and drank a soda but I didn't actually taste any of it. I was too busy thinking about the vigil.

"Tommy, I made sure that you can get in to see Steve if you want," Sharon said when she walked over to where I was sitting with Tyler and Brian. "I know that the two of you haven't exactly been speaking to each other but I thought . . ."

"Thank you, Sharon," I said, cutting her off. I actually wanted to see Steve. I didn't know what condition he was in but I felt like I had to see him. I didn't understand why it had taken so long for me to even think about it. I just hoped that Tyler would understand.

Sharon led me down the hall to Steve's room. She didn't go inside with me, but she hugged me before I went in. It felt strange to be in her arms. I'd been angry with her for so long. Maybe now was the time to set aside my anger and just get on with life without being so angry with anyone.

I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I got inside Steve's room. He wasn't conscious for one thing. There were burns on his arms. I knew what they were even with the bandages. His face was black and blue and his legs were in casts. I let go of a shaky breath that I hadn't even been aware that I was holding as I sat down in the chair next to his bed.

Even after everything that had happened between us the sight of him like this hurt. I took his hand in mine and just sat there. I thought of all of the really great times we'd had together and just held his hand. I wondered why he'd left me the way he did. It had hurt like nothing else had hurt in my life at the time. I didn't understand then and I certainly hadn't come to any sort of understanding since.

My taking his hand must have woke him up because the next thing I knew he was looking at me through blood shot eyes. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at me. It was almost too much for me to take but I looked him in the eye without faltering.

"Bud," he said with a hoarse voice.

"Hello, Steve," I said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like a building fell on me," he said. "What are you doing here?"

"Sharon made sure that I could get in to see you," I said.


"I don't know why she did it," I replied.

"No," he said, blinking back his tears. "Why are you here?"

"I wanted to see you," I said. "I guess I just wanted to make sure that you were alive."

It was a surreal conversation. It was almost like a dream as I sat there looking into his eyes. Why had I come in to see him? There wasn't anything to gain from it for either of us. I guess my initial answer was the correct one. I really did just want to make sure that he was alive.

"I'm so sorry, Bud," he said. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

"Don't," I said quickly. "That doesn't matter anymore."

"It does to me," he said. "I was stupid and I'm sorry."

"I accept your apology," I said.

"I love you, Tommy," he said, and then he was crying. "I never stopped. I just got scared and I couldn't stay with you. I know that I hurt you and you probably hate me for it. I wish I could go back and do things differently but I can't."

"I don't hate you, Steve," I said slowly. "You were a huge part of my life. We had great times together and you helped me through one of the most difficult times of my life. How could I hate you?"

"But you don't love me anymore," he said softly.

"I'll always love you, Steve," I said honestly. "I don't know of anything that could make me not love you anymore. I just don't love you the same way I did."

"Can we stop being angry at each other?" he asked. "Can we try to be friends?"

"I'll do my best, Steve," I said. "It might be difficult for a while, but I'll do my best."

"Thank you, Bud," he said and then his eyes slowly closed and he was sleeping again.

I sat there with his hand in mine for a few more minutes just thinking about everything we'd been through together. No I didn't hate him. He'd hurt me but no one is perfect. I could accept that he'd been scared. I could even accept that he was sorry. Our relationship was just another casualty of hatred. Could I be his friend? I wasn't sure about that but I was going to make good on my promise. I would try.

"How is he?" Tyler asked as I came back into the waiting room. He had a worried look in his eyes so I wrapped my arms around him.

"Steve is going to be all right," I replied. "You have nothing to worry about, Cutie. I'm with you. You're not going to lose me."

"I needed to hear that," he said, holding me tighter.

"I just need you to understand that Steve and I are still a big part of each other's lives," I said quietly. "We're going to try to be friends instead of being angry at each other. He knows that things will never be like they were but I promised to try to be his friend."

"I understand," he said.

"Are you guys ready to head over to the school?" Brian asked. "It's almost time for the vigil to start."

"I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be," I said, letting go of Tyler.

We made our way down to Brian's car in silence. Greg joined us as well and I saw that Wendy, Leo and Noah were going together. When we got to the school we saw a mob of cars. Brian parked six blocks from the parking lot and we walked.

They had a bunch of tables set up in front of the building with candles and flashlights. Each of us were given a candle and a holder that looked like a regular paper cup with a candlestick inserted in from the bottom. We put our candles in the holders and lit them. Each of us took a flashlight that hung around our necks. I guess we were supposed to use these if the candles went out.

We walked in a line toward the recently cleaned up bomb site. There were fifteen poster sized pictures of those that had died in the bombing. The sight of Thad's football picture caused me to lose the fractional hold on my tears. Phillip's smiling face looked back at me from one of those posters with Charlie's face in the one beside it. This was too much for me. I didn't think I could take this.

We came to a stop in front of the posters. I saw Meg and her sons as well as Dustin's mother and Keith. There were so many people there and some were leaving flowers, teddy bears and balloons in front of the poster of their fallen loved one. I just stood there and cried.

The dean of students was standing at a portable podium with a candle in his hand as he looked out at the sea of people who had shown up. Cameras flashed everywhere, but the press kept silent. No questions were screamed at us or anything like that. The scene was completely silent save for the occasional sigh or sob from the crowd of mourners. The sun set on us and our candles glowed.

"I stand here today to help say goodbye to fifteen young men and women," said Mr. Stratton, the dean. "It chills my heart to know that the hatred of one person has destroyed the lives of so many. There are no real words that can comfort the hearts that are broken because of this tragedy. I stand before you saddened and humble."

His speech was stopped cold by the sound of gun fire. Pandemonium broke loose at the sound of the first shot. I screamed in horror as Tyler slumped against me. I caught him before he fell and we sank to the ground, dropping our candles. He'd been shot. The front of his shirt was covered with blood, and I held him as I sobbed. More and more shots rang out in the darkness as people tried to flee. The hellish hatred wasn't over.

Chapter Eighteen

People were screaming and running in every direction as I sat there with Tyler in my arms. A closer look at him told me that the wound was in his shoulder, but I still worried about the amount of blood loss. When I looked around I saw two things that made my heart feel cold and heavy. Leo was lying in a pool of blood. I could see that he'd been shot in the back of the head. He was lying there dead while people were running around, stepping over his body as they went. The other thing that caused a horrible moan to escape me was the site of Noah. He was lying on his stomach, face down on the ground. There was an awful hole in the back of his neck, and I knew that he was dead as well.

Wendy's screams drew my attention away from the Hartman brothers. She was sitting on the ground not far from where we were. Her left leg was bloody and I knew from the way she was screaming for help that she'd been shot as well. I just couldn't believe it was happening. Four people that were important to me had been shot, and each of them had been standing very close to me. There was no way anyone would be able to tell me that this had nothing to do with me.

Police and paramedics began to arrive and I started to scream for them to come and help Tyler and Wendy. I knew there was no use in trying to get help for Leo or Noah. The very fact sickened me but it was true. Then there were paramedics taking Tyler out of my arms. He wasn't conscious but I heard him moan as they lifted him onto a stretcher. I tried not to get too hysterical. Instead I looked over at Wendy. They were helping her as well but she was still screaming. I looked around for the rest of my friends but I didn't see anyone that I knew. They had all fled.

I couldn't blame them really. I would have if I hadn't been so focused on Tyler. I would have given anything if my friends and I were not there to begin with. I would have given anything to have never come to Storyville in the first place. My friends were dying and it was all because of me.

The next thing I knew a paramedic was looking me over. He ignored my repeated insistence that I was not shot. It was really starting to annoy me until he started to dress a wound I didn't even know I had. I hadn't been shot but a bullet had grazed the side of my face it seemed. I hadn't even noticed but as soon as he started to clean the wound it made its presence known.

I was walked to an ambulance and helped inside. I was about to protest until I saw that I was in the same ambulance as Tyler. He looked pail and small. My heart twisted as I thought of how close that bullet had come to his heart. He could have been killed. I had to shut my eyes and force my mind to clear to keep from going down that road.

Then we were back at the hospital and they were taking Tyler into the Trauma Center. I climbed down off the ambulance and tried to follow them, but a nurse informed me that I couldn't enter through that entrance. I had already been treated by the paramedic and she had been assured that I was in no need of further medical treatment. That meant I was brushed off. I didn't mind. I wanted them to focus on Tyler.

I walked around to the main entrance and made my way up to the waiting room where I knew I'd find people. I stopped at the Trauma desk to ask that they notify us in the waiting room when there was any information about Tyler Beckett. The nurse told me that information would only be given to family. I then had to tell her that Tyler's family lived in Canada. She asked me for a number but all I had was Tyler's cell phone number. In the end they contacted the school and got his home address and phone number.

"Tommy!" cried Shirley as I came into the waiting room. She ran over to me and wrapped her arms around me so tight that I thought I would pass out from lack of oxygen. "My God we were so worried!"

"Wendy and Tyler were shot," I said when she let go. "Leo and Noah are dead."

It was like all of my limbs had gone numb after I'd said that. I made it to a chair and just sank into it. Then I couldn't even speak. All I could do was cry. Shirley and Meg were seated next to me in a flash. Both had an arm around me as I continued to sob. I couldn't control myself.

"Why?" I moaned through a sob, and then Shirley applied another bone crushing embrace.

I don't even know what happened after that. It was like my mind shut down for a while. I did notice that Brian and Greg came into the waiting room and were treated to the same bone crushing hug from both Shirley and Meg. Then they both sat on either side of me.

It was nearly midnight when Wendy got out of surgery. She'd been shot in the thigh as she tried to run away. They'd gotten the bullet out of her leg and said that she would recover fine. She would have a small scar but there was very little damage to the muscle in her leg. We heard that Tyler had come out of surgery and would be just fine. I silently thanked the very nurse who said that she couldn't tell us anything unless we were family when I'd asked her to alert the waiting room.

Police came to ask questions around the same time. None of us had any answers that could help them. I told them that someone started firing at us during the dean's speech. I didn't see who the shooter was and I didn't know which direction the shots were coming from. The policemen didn't look happy with my answer but that was all I could tell them. Brian and Greg told them the same thing that I did.

The night wore on as we waited for word that they might know who the shooter was. There was something nagging at the back of my mind but every time I tried to think about it I lost whatever it was. I'd seen someone or something and I couldn't remember what or who it was. I didn't even know if it was important but it felt like it was.

Dean and David Halliwell came to the hospital to check on everyone and told me that my shifts for the next week were covered. I thanked them for coming and told them about Leo. Dean was upset to hear about his death, and we shared a silent embrace after I'd told him. Then they were gone and it was quiet in the waiting room again.

Greg said that we should go home, but I refused to leave the hospital. I didn't know why I was being so bull headed about it. There wasn't anything we could do there and there was no one hanging in the balance. Even Vince had been upgraded to stable condition during the day. Maria was awake and ready for release. The only one still in danger was Dustin, but we were assured that he was improving.

We did go home to change clothes and shower before Charlie's funeral the next morning. Charlie's was in the morning while Phillip's was in the afternoon. I promised Ben that I'd come back to the hospital to see him after Phillip's funeral. He just cried silently and nodded his head.

Andy and Gage drove us to the funeral home. We were all silent the whole way there. It was strange to be going to a funeral for someone who I had talked to recently. None of this seemed particularly real to me anymore. It was like I was stuck in a nightmare and couldn't wake up.

Billy Campbell met us in the foyer of the funeral home. He shook our hands and told us how sorry he was for everything that was happening. I told him that there was nothing he could do but he told me that if I needed to talk he'd be available any time and gave me his cell number.

We followed Billy's car to Mrs. Granger's house where they were having a small get together after the funeral. We each told Mrs. Granger how sorry we were about Charlie and asked about Dustin. She thanked us all and told us that Dustin was still trying to recover. I sat with Greg on the couch and watched everyone for a few minutes until a man walked over and sat beside me.

"You're Tommy Porter, aren't you?" he asked, and I looked over at him. He looked to be in his mid to lat thirties with blond hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a three-piece gray suit with black pin stripes. He looked professional to me.

"Yes," I said, reaching for his hand. "And you are?"

"My name is Chris Decker," he said. "Charlie was my nephew."

"I'm sorry," I said immediately.

"Thank you," he said. "I've been seeing your face on television a lot lately, and I just wanted to tell you that I'm proud of you for standing up and taking a stand last year."

"Thank you," I said. "I don't really think I made much of a difference."

"Oh I'm sure you have to some people," he said. "I'll let you get back to talking with your friend. It was a pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure was mine," I replied, watching as he got up and walked away.

"That was interesting," said Brian as he walked over and sat where Mr. Decker had been sitting. "I read an article about that guy not long ago."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah, it said that he's the youngest CEO of one of the companies here in town," he said. "It also said that he doesn't live here and never works out of his office."

"Must be nice," I said, looking at him across the room. He was talking with a dark haired man that was dressed similarly.

"It also said that he's the first CEO of that company to ever be 'out' publicly," he informed me.

"Seems Storyville is crawling with homosexuals," I said not taking my eyes off the couple.

"Well we'd better get going if we want to get back to the funeral home in time," Greg said, stopping our discussion of Chris Decker and his being an openly gay CEO of a company that Brian couldn't remember the name of.

We filed out of Mrs. Granger's house, after saying goodbye and how sorry we were again. Then we headed back to the funeral home. It was so strange to be going back after Charlie's funeral. I didn't think I could even take another. Then we saw Meg and all thoughts of not attending left my mind. We joined her and walked inside with her.

We took seats behind her and the Meyers. The dark haired boy that had been my room mate in the hospital sat next to me. He looked at me and gave me a sad smile. I returned his smile and then turned my attention back to the front of the room, looking at anything but Phillip's coffin.

"You're Tommy Porter," he said once I'd looked away. "I recognize you from the hospital."

"Were you at the party?" I asked without looking back at him.

"Yeah," he said softly. "I didn't get hurt very badly."

"That's good," I said. "What's your name?"

"Eric," he replied. "Eric Maxwell."

"And how did you know Phillip?" I asked.

"We had class together," he replied. "Listen, I've seen you on the news."

"I'm sure you have," I replied with a sigh. That damned news story again.

"You're pretty famous around here aren't you?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "I just happened to be a target for a deranged minister."

"I remember that," he said. "You and Phillip were close?"

"Pretty close," I replied. "He was my friend."

"I'm sorry," he said, and then the eulogy began.

We sat and listened to the nice things being said about Phillip and it just made it all the more final. It seemed unreal to me. It was a strange feeling to sit and wonder when the next attack would come. Would it be successful? Would whoever it was get me?

We got in line after the funeral was over. I hugged Meg and Shirley and then just turned around and left. I didn't want to see Phillip in his coffin. I hoped the ladies would understand. I just didn't think I could take it. I was outside for only a minute before Greg and Brian found me. We got back in the car in silence and drove back to the hospital.

We all went straight to Ben's room. There was a man in his room with him when we got there and I thought we were interrupting something. Then I recognized him and smiled. Daryl Watson lived down the street from all of us and he'd always been a great guy to us in the past. He was also a very attractive guy. Steve and I used to stare at him. He had a great body, and he would job past our house just about every day. Just thinking about that made me smile. The he turned his dark haired head and saw me and smiled as well. I actually felt my stomach get queasy when he smiled at me.

"Tommy," he said with a smile as we came in. "It's good to see that you're all right."

"Hello, Darry," I said with the best smile I could muster with my stomach betraying me. "Where's Alex?"

"He's back in Chicago for now," he said, losing his smile for a second. "He'll be back soon though."

"Tell him we all said hello," I said.

"Will do," he said with another smile and then he walked out of the room, and I'm ashamed to admit that I watched him go. The man was sexy.

"All right, put your eyes back in your head, Tommy," said Ben, making Greg laugh. "You both have boyfriends."

"Right," I mumbled, turning to face my friends and shaking my head just a little bit.

"Well at least we know he isn't too far gone," laughed Greg.

"Shut up," I said while they laughed.

"So have you thought about where you want to go?" Ben asked when they'd both stopped laughing and I had taken a seat in the chair next to his bed. "My mom and dad said something about moving back to Maine."

That didn't sit well with me actually. I didn't like the idea of Tom and Shirley leaving Storyville. I mean, yeah, I was planning to leave just as soon as I figured out how I was going to do it, but I didn't want them to be gone before I left. It was selfish and stupid, I know, but that's the way I felt.

"When did they say this?" I asked Ben.

"This morning before everyone left for Charlie's funeral," he said. "Mom has been talking to Meg and they both want to go back."

"Both of them?" I asked, near panic.

"Yeah," he said, looking at me evenly. "Tommy, Meg lost her son here. Of course she wants to put some distance between herself and this place."

"I understand that," I sighed. "I don't know what's with me right now. Every little thing just about freaks me out."

"I think that's understandable," he said. "And don't worry. Neither of them are ready to go yet. It'll be a while before they find houses in Maine to buy."

"Right," I said. "Brian and I were talking about moving to Florida."

"That's a good idea," he said. "After school I might come down and find you. Believe me I've lived in Maine. I don't particularly care for it much."

"What about Andy?" I asked.

"What about him?" he replied. "He's an adult, Tommy. He'll make his own decision. I think he'll stay because Gage can't exactly leave right now."

"Right," I said, thinking about Gage's family. They were very close and Gage wouldn't leave them behind.

"Where is Brian?" Ben asked, looking around the room.

"He had to meet with Ian's mom," I said.

"Ah," he said. "Don't envy him."

"Me either," mumbled Greg.

"We're meeting him at DH3," I said. "He'll call me when he gets there."

"Ready for some good news?" he asked, smiling wide. "I get out of this place in the morning. I have to come back three times a week so the doctor can look at my burns, but he says they won't even scar."

"That's great!" I cried. "Now we'll just hang out at your house. Think you mom will be all right with the whole gang?"

I'd said it without thinking. The whole gang wasn't that big anymore. There was only Tyler, Greg, Brian, Nick and Wendy. The fact that so many of our friends were just gone sobered us again. We got quiet and just let time pass for a few minutes. I didn't think we'd ever get the hang of this.

"It'll get easier," Ben said softly after a while. "It hurts like hell, but it will get easier."

"Yeah," I said just as my phone started to ring. "That's Brian."

"Well I'll see you boys later," sighed Ben. "My mom should be coming back any time. I'm sure that she'll want to talk to you soon, Tommy."

"I'll call her if I don't run into her soon," I said.

I took my call from Brian and assured him that we were leaving the hospital. Greg and I made our way to the elevator, saying hello to others from the waiting room as we passed. We talked about Florida as we walked. Greg hadn't been told that we were discussing moving so I had some explaining to do. We talked about it all the way to the car.

"Well I can definitely understand why you'd want to move away from Storyville," he said when we got in his car.

"Well it isn't like the rest of you have to stay here," I said. "And you'll all be welcome to come and visit any time you want. We just have to get down there and get settled first."

"Yeah," he said as we pulled out of the parking lot.

We made it to the stop light when I noticed the red truck with heavily tinted windows behind us the first time. I'd thought that the tinted windows were against the law. That's what made me notice the truck to begin with. The fact that it made every turn we did stuck out in my mind as well. I thought I might just be paranoid until the truck sped up to stay just on our tail.

"Greg," I said slowly.

"I see," he said, speeding up. The truck sped up as well.

"Who is that?" I asked, turning almost completely around in my seat to look.

"I don't know," he said.

Then the truck lurched forward and hit us in the tail end. I flipped around in my seat and quickly put on my seat belt. This guy had an agenda and I didn't want to get hurt just because I wasn't wearing my seat belt. I thought for a minute that this was the shooter, but then I realized that this information did me no good. I flipped open my cell phone and dialed 911.

I got the message that said that all operators were busy, but if this was an emergency to please stay on the line. I cursed loudly and slammed my phone shut. It seemed the only way we were going to get police assistance was if we happened to pass a patrol car. About that time the truck hit us again. The car swerved hard for a second, but Greg got control again just as quickly. Then the truck hit us again, but we swerved into a turn and turned the corner so fast that I swore the driver's side wheels left the ground. We were two blocks from DH3 and I so wanted to get there.

The truck was about two car lengths behind us after that turn. I don't think the insane driver was expecting us to turn the way we did. Greg stepped on the gas pedal and we shot forward. He slammed on his breaks and we skidded to a stop right in front of DH3. We actually stopped only a few hairs from the back of Brian's car.

"Run!" Greg cried as he threw open his door and bolted from the car.

I pressed the button on my seat belt and opened the door at the same time. In just a few minutes I was running around the car just as the truck came to a screeching halt behind our car. I ran for all I was worth and slammed through the door right behind Greg.

"Call the police!" I screamed as we got inside, and then the mirror behind the bar exploded as a man with a rifle came into the coffee house. The shooter had come for us.