Storyville 3
By Julien Gregg
Chapter Nineteen

I had about three seconds of fear filled ignorance until my eyes focused on the other people in the coffee house. The coffee house wasn't busy. There were only two customers besides Brian sitting at the bar. The tables were empty. Jamie Halliwell was crouching behind the bar, and the two patrons had jumped from their stools and hit the floor. One of them I didn't know. He was about my age with dark wavy hair that had been cut short. His dark eyes were filled with fear as he stared at the man behind me.

The other patron was a person I knew very well. The head of dark hair was down. A tattooed arm covered the face, but as he peeked over the edge of his arm and our eyes met I knew those gray eyes. He flinched when I looked him in the eye and I wondered where all of his bravado had gone. Perhaps it was the fact that a man with a rifle was behind me and could shoot him at any time, but I thought it had more to do with coming face to face with me.

Then those gray eyes focused on the madman behind me and the arm came all the way down. Jason Cox stood slowly, but he never took his eyes off the man with the rifle. I moved further into the coffee house and started to turn around to see who my would be killer was when Jason said his name.

"Abraham," he said in a pained voice. "What are you doing?"

"Revenge," said the man behind me. "This has all been about revenge, little brother. I thought this fag would die when that moron bombed the university. He didn't. Stupid idiot killed his own son. Then I tried to get him at that wimpy vigil, but his friends got in the way. Killed two of them, though."

"Why, Abraham?" Jason asked. I had to admit he looked repulsed, but I believed it was probably all an act. This was part of some grand act for my benefit.

"Because of what he did to you," Abraham said. "Because of him, you went to prison. Because of him you got raped!"

"Abe, no!" he cried as I gasped. "None of that is Tommy's fault, Abe. It was my own fault. I'm the one who attacked Tommy. That's what I went to prison for. I couldn't keep my mouth shut there and then they got me. That wasn't Tommy's fault either. Abe this was all my own fault. Tommy didn't do anything."

"It is his fault, damn it!" cried Abraham. "All of it is. I tried to kill him and his little faggy friends a year ago. I put bombs in their lockers, and they still got away!"

"You bombed the lockers at the school?" Jason asked in a pained voice. "Abe, you're going to go to jail for all of this. You killed people!"

"Fags!" he cried. "I killed a couple of fags. Who cares about that?"

"Abe, you can't do this," said Jason. "I don't want this. I never wanted anyone to die. I did my time for the crime that I committed, Abe. It was my fault. Stop this before you get killed."

"Nobody's gonna get killed but him, Squirt," said Abraham. "Now don't try to stop me."

I had to do something. The weight of his revelation shocked me to the core, but I had to do something. He'd killed Leo and Noah and shot Wendy and Tyler! He wanted to shoot me too. I couldn't just stand there and let it happen. Then I was moving. Fast. I flipped around and kicked my leg out. It was a stupid move on my part not knowing exactly where he was. His voice had sounded like he was right behind me, but fear and shock could have made that a deception.

He was right behind me though, and my foot connected with the barrel of the rifle as I spun around. The rifle clattered to the floor, but thankfully it didn't fire. Then I got a look at Abraham Cox. He had the same dark hair and gray eyes as his younger brother, but his hair was long and tangled. His chin was covered with a goatee that was long and bushy. His eyes were wild and his mouth was slightly open.

Then he moved as well. He grabbed my foot and shoved backward until I hit the floor. Then he dove at me. I rolled out of the way just in time, but he grabbed me and pulled me back toward him. Then he was punching me in the back, sending agony up my spine.

I heard Jason before I saw him. He shot forward, grabbing the fallen rifle as he moved. Then the barrel was against Abraham's head. Jason had tears running down his face as he pointed the weapon at his brother. In a sickening moment I hoped that he would just pull the trigger.

"Abe, stop!" he cried. "Let him go!"

"Jase, don't tell me they turned you," said Abraham without letting go of me. "Don't tell me you're a fag now, too!"

Then the rifle fired. It was so close to me that the sound nearly broke my ear drums. My head started to hum with the reverberation of the shot gun blast. I did notice that Abraham's fists slowly let go of my shirt and arm. I scooted away from him slowly. The pain in my back was almost unbearable.

"Jason, put the gun down," I heard Jamie say as my world went black.

When I opened my eyes again I saw a hated familiar sight: a plastic covered fluorescent light set in a plain white tiled ceiling. I smelled the smell of antiseptic and pine cleaner. I could feel the rough surface of the thin blanket that covered me. Turning my head I saw a pail yellow curtain with a mesh net at the top that could be pulled to give me some measure of privacy. I was once again in a hospital.

I thought about how many times I'd opened my eyes to this same discovery. I had woken up in a hospital bed more times in the days since we'd moved to Storyville than any other time in my life. The first time had been because of a strange physical and psychosomatic reaction to the news of my mother's death. The second had been the result of my own dogged determination to ignore her death. The third had been because of a man who claimed to love God and for that reason had sentenced me and Steve to death by stoning. Then there had been the bombing that had started off this latest rein of terror in my life. Now here I was again, waking up in a hospital room that looked almost exactly like each of the others past.

I looked to my other side and found my brother asleep in the chair beside my bed. My heart ached as I looked at him. He'd suffered so much. First with the loss of his mother and step-father and then losing his lover. I had only known Ian for a short time, but I could see how much he and Brian had loved each other.

We'd both lost so much in our lives. We were truly brothers. As I watched him sleep I thought about his agreement to leave Storyville with me and Tyler when all of this was over. Was it over? Were we free to leave now? I hoped so. Surely there would be questions about what had happened at DH3. I didn't really remember much about what had happened. I did remember Abraham Cox saying that he had been the ones to put the bombs in our lockers the year before. That had shocked me, but I was sure I could figure out what twisted logic had lain behind that action.

I decided that I didn't want to stay in the hospital. However it hurt so bad when I tried to sit up that my head began to swim and I thought better of my decision. I slowly lay back down and willed the stars to stop circling my head as tears filled my eyes. Abraham Cox had beat me good it seemed. That's when I remembered him pummeling his fists into my back over and over again and kicking me at the same time. I moaned as I thought about that. Why hadn't I fought back?

"Tommy?" Brian inquired groggily as he sat up straighter in the chair and stretched.

"I'm here," I said through gritted teeth. "What did he do to me?"

"Bruised a few ribs," Brian replied through a yawn. "Doctor said you'd be in a little pain for a while. Your back is all black and blue."

"A little pain?" I asked. "I'd had to have to find out what a lot of pain would be."

"Uh, Tommy," he said, sitting up even straighter and looking fully awake. "There's someone who has been asking to see you, but none of us would let him in here without talking to you first."

"Who?" I asked, looking at the serious look in his eyes.

"Jason Cox," he replied. "He's been asking about you at the nurse's station like every hour."

"What does he want to see me for?" I asked.

"Well you do know that he killed his brother to stop him from hurting you, right?" he asked.

"I remember that," I said. "I was wrapped in a killer embrace with Abraham when Jason shot him."

"Well he hasn't been arrested," he said. "He told the police all about what Abraham had said and done. They asked him about his connection to you and he told them the truth but said that he never wanted you dead and his brother was wrong."

"That's all well and good," I said, remembering the knife he'd tried to stab me with. "He tried to kill me once himself."

"Well maybe something has changed for him," Brian said cautiously. "I don't know, Tommy, but he seemed sincere. He was a basket case after he shot his brother. That's to be expected, but he kept asking all of us if you were all right."

"I'll see him," I said, deciding on the spot. If he really had changed then I wanted to see it with my own eyes. We would never be friends, but at least I wouldn't have to keep looking over my shoulder now that I knew he was out of prison. Enemies were best kept close.

"A boy named Grady Lakeland has asked to see you, too," he said. "He was with us at DH3."

"I know Grady," I replied. "He lives down the street from us. I'll see him first."

Brian went to get Grady as soon as the doctor came into the room. I was told again about my bruised ribs and condition of my back. He said that there was no permanent damage and that I'd be fine in time. Bruised ribs took a while to stop hurting so I'd be very uncomfortable for a while. I assured him that I would deal with that.

Grady came into my room just as the lunch tray was being served. I'd been brought into the hospital the day before and had been sedated so I slept through the day and night and missed breakfast. It wasn't until I saw the tray and smelled the food that I realized I was hungry.

"I'm glad you're all right, Tommy," Grady said, sitting in the chair that Brian had vacated to go and talk to him. "I was a little worried."

"I'll be fine," I assured him. "How are you?"

"Shaken, I guess," he said with a small smile. "I never expected to have a rifle pointed at me."

"Well maybe that stuff is all over now," I said. "I don't know how much more I could take."

"I hear that," he said. "I don't think I could have lived through half of what's happened to you."

"You're stronger than you give yourself credit for," I informed him. "When Abraham shot out the mirror behind the bar you didn't have a heart attack."

"I nearly did," he chuckled. "Believe me it was a close one."

"Yeah, it was pretty close for me, too," I said.

"Well I should probably go," he said. "My dad wants me at home, and CJ is waiting for me."

"Tell CJ that I said hello," I told him. "And you take it easy, Grady. Thanks for coming to see me."

"Any time, Tommy," he said with a smile.

I started to eat my bland food after Grady left. No one came in for a while so I actually got most of it ate. I stopped when the door opened and Jason Cox came into the room. He looked scared for some reason. That threw me more than his being in the room. I sighed as well as I could with my hurt ribs.

"Hey," he said, standing at the end of my bed.

"What do you want, Jason?" I asked.

"I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for what happened," he said. "Everything."

"What brought on this change in attitude?" I asked, unable to keep the bite out of my voice.

"You have every right to hate me, Tommy," he said. "I just want you to know that I don't hate you anymore. I was wrong before. So wrong. I swear that I didn't know what Abraham was doing."

"You shot your brother," I said, wincing as I said it. I didn't really want to wound him.

"I had to," he said. "If I hadn't he would have just kept killing people."

"Well I thank you for probably saving my life," I said. "I don't know what brought on your change of heart, but I guess I'm glad for that too."

"I learned a lot in prison," he said. "I learned that people are people for one thing. It doesn't matter what they do or how."

"Jason, I don't want to hear about your enlightenment," I said. "I'm sorry, but you and I aren't friends. We will never be friends and that's fine. We don't have to be enemies anymore either. Thank you for what you did. I know it must be doing a number on you, but thank you."

"Well I'm glad you're all right," he said, and then he left the room.

I thought about it for a little bit and decided that I was right to say we didn't have to be enemies anymore. The Jason Cox that walked into my room that day looked broken, and I knew a bit about what it meant to be broken. I didn't want to hate him anymore, but I certainly couldn't be his friend.

Then the door opened and I got the best surprise. Tyler walked into the room with a huge grin on his face. His arm was in a sling, but he was alive. I was so happy to see him that I tried to sit up again and was rewarded with another brow beating bout of pain from my ribs.

"Don't do that, silly," he said with another grin. "The doctor told us about your ribs. That had to hurt."

"Ooh," I said, breathing heavily. "When I can get up I'm going to whip your butt."

"Promise?" he laughed.

"Get over here," I said.

"Do me a favor," he said as he came and sat in the chair beside my bed. "Stop getting hurt."

"I'll do my best," I chuckled. "How's your shoulder?"

"Hurts like a . . ." he stopped and smiled. "You know."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm having a similar problem with my ribs."

"With everything going on I forgive you for not coming to see me," he said smartly.

"Hey!" I cried. "They wouldn't let me in to see you. They said it had to be approved by your parents. That never happened."

"Yeah, my parents aren't exactly comfortable with my sexuality," he said. "They wanted me to come home."

"Are you going?" I asked. I would understand if he did. I mean being around me had got him shot.

"Are you crazy?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "I'm moving to Florida with you and Brian. We're going to get jobs at Disney, and I'm going to be Aladdin."

"Right," I laughed. "Thanks, Cutie."

"For what?"

"Never mind," I said, shaking my head as the door opened again and Steve wheeled himself in.

"I didn't mean to interrupt anything," he said. "I just wanted to come and make sure you're all right, Tommy."

"Come on in, Steve," I said, deciding to put into motion our plan to be friends. "You've met Tyler."

"Yeah," he said with a smile. "How's it going, Tyler?"

"I'm surviving," he said. "Nice to see that you are too."

"Thanks," he said.

"How are you feeling, Steve?" I asked.

"Getting better every day," he said. "Dustin and Vince are both out of the hospital completely now."

"That's great," I replied happily. "How is Maria?"

"She's great," he said. "And the explosion didn't . . ."

"Didn't what?" I asked when he faltered.

"I don't know if I'm supposed to tell anyone or not," he said. "You can't say anything. But Maria was pregnant before the explosion."

"Oh my God," I said, alarmed. "She didn't . . ."

"No!" he said quickly. "That's just it. The baby is doing fine."

"That's great news," I said with a smile.

"I hear you're moving to Florida," he said, shocking me.

"How did you hear that?" I asked.

"Tommy, this is Storyville," he laughed. "Seriously, Brian has been saying it to anyone who will sit still and listen. They're been pretty supportive with Ian's death, though. Even Shirley hasn't said much."

"Well we are moving to Florida just as soon as we figure things out," I said. "It'll be a bit yet."

"Well I hope we'll write to each other, Bud," he said sadly.

"We will," I replied. "We're friends, aren't we?"

"Yeah we are," he said with a big smile as the telephone rang.

"Hello?" I asked when I answered, shrugging at Steve and Tyler.

"Tommy, this is Skyler Thomas," said the voice on the telephone. "I just wanted to call you and let you know that I understand how it feels to be the center of attention over something that should be personal and private. I just want you to know that I'm sorry for what's happened to you and that I'm thinking of you."

"Thank you, Skyler," I replied with a shaking voice. I couldn't believe he actually called me. "It means a lot to me to know that someone really understands."

"Well I want to invite you to Florida for some down time after this," he said. "I have three shows left in the tour and then I'm heading home for a little down time of my own. Just know that Kevin and I would love to have you come and spend some time with us to get away from everything."

"I think I might just take you up on that," I said, though I couldn't believe it. "I have one condition."

"Name it," replied Skyler.

"I want to bring Tyler and Brian with me," I said and watched as Tyler's eyes grew wide. He didn't know what I was talking about but he must have guessed that it had something to do with seeing Skyler Thomas.

"Of course you will bring Tyler and Brian," said Skyler with a chuckle. "I wouldn't have it any other way. I'll contact you when I get back to Orlando and we'll set it all up."

"That sounds good," I replied. "Thank you so much."

"No thanks necessary, Tommy," he said. "Just know that the good times in your life are far from over. I'll talk to you soon."

"Thanks again," I said. "Bye, Skyler."

I looked at my friends without being able to say a word. I couldn't believe it.

Chapter Twenty

Things moved pretty fast for me after my phone call from Skyler. Before I had a chance to tell anyone, they already knew that he'd called and about his offer. Before I was released from the hospital two days later I'd been visited privately by everyone from Shirley to Wendy. Wendy, Nick and Ben expressed their jealousy, but they were each happy for me that I'd be getting away from Storyville for a while. I told each of them that I was thinking of moving to Orlando permanently, but none of them really believed I would do it.

Tyler and Brian were the only ones who believed it, because they were also planning to move there. Tyler would be moving with me no matter what, and Brian had almost as many painful memories in Storyville as I did. Naturally he wanted to move with us. I didn't mind. I'd just gotten to know my brother and I wanted him with me for a long time.

While we waited for Skyler to call back I started healing from my attack. Jason Cox was never formally charged with killing his brother. They said that he'd acted under extreme duress. He'd visited me once more before I was released from the hospital just to deliver the news. He promised that he wouldn't try to contact me again after that. It was a moot point really. I wasn't planning to return to Storyville for anything more than to pack up everything I wanted to take to Orlando with me and leave again for good. Of course I'd return to visit friends, but that wouldn't happen for a long while. It would take time for me to want to be in Storyville again.

Vince and Maria announced that Maria was pregnant at the huge dinner that Meg and Shirley cooked at my house the day after I was released from the hospital. Everyone was very excited after she told them. Meg didn't seem all that excited but then she'd just lost a son. She and I had a few private talks after that dinner and I learned that she was moving back to Maine.

Skyler called about a month after I was released, and by that time I was more than ready to get out of Storyville. He told me that our airline tickets had been purchased through his company and they would be at the airport when we got there. He also told me to pack my swim trunks. He said that he planned to spend as much time in his pool as possible. With my stiff and sore ribs I thought that was a great idea.

Everyone turned up at the airport to see us off. Of course they still believed that this was a temporary thing and that we'd be back soon. I didn't bother to argue. Tyler and Brian were more excited than I was as boarded the plane. All they talked about as we flew was meeting Skyler Thomas. Brian had met him already when we were backstage in Chicago, but Tyler hadn't been with us on that trip. This was going to be something really special for him.

Skyler and Kevin met us at the airport themselves. Skyler shook our hands and told us that he was amazed at how well we had gotten over the events in Storyville. In truth I don't think any of us had really gotten over it. I know that Brian cried himself to sleep most nights, and he liked to talk about Ian a lot.

Skyler's house was huge. There were so many rooms that I wondered who else lived there. We met his son, PJ, as soon as we got to the house. He was a happy boy and I could see instantly how much Skyler loved him when he picked him up in a huge hug and spun him around.

We were given rooms on the second floor of the house just down the hall from PJ's room. PJ told us that it would be cool to have us up there with him. I got the feeling that he thought of our visit as a huge slumber party. Skyler told us that PJ had a bed time so there was nothing for us to worry about.

We spent a lot of time in the pool that first day only getting out to eat lunch and sit on the deck to let the food settle afterward. When the sun went down and the balmy Orlando day turned to the sultry evening we went to dinner in a very nice restaurant. Skyler scolded each of when we tried to pitch in for the bill. He informed us that this was his treat and we weren't to try to spend a dime while we were there.

Two days after we arrived a steady stream of celebrities filed through the house. We met Madonna and Niki Harris before any of the others. I have to say that Madonna was awesome. Niki acted like she'd known us all our lives and I instantly liked her.

We'd been there two weeks when Skyler came home from a day at Sky High with a problem. He took of his sports jacket and slung it over a chair just seconds before slumping into it with a sigh. Kevin rubbed his shoulders as we listened to Skyler tell us about an assistant that had quit, leaving one of his rising stars high and dry.

"What exactly does an assistant do?" I asked. I knew nothing about show business or the trappings of it at all and I was very curious.

"Well basically the assistant makes phone calls and makes sure that press releases are handled by the publicist," he said. "They do odds and ends things for their celebrity most of the time unless it's movie time, or for singers, tour time. Then things change a bit."

"Well I don't know how much longer we're going to be here," I said. "If you'd like, though, I could fill in until you find someone. I don't know much about show business but I'm eager to learn."

"That sounds like a great idea," he said with a smile.

And that was how I got my first job in Orlando. I met Christian Kane the very next day and he and his lover made me a list of things that Christian expected of me. It wasn't really all that difficult. I was set to making phone calls to various people for most of the morning. There was a phone book so I had all the numbers. After that was done I took a taxi to get lunch and we spent the afternoon going over publicity photos that Christian was signing for an event that was coming up in a week. I had a great first day and after a week Christian said he wanted me to stay on as his assistant.

When I got home that day, Brian and Tyler had news of their own. Brian had been helping one of the agents at Sky High for the past week while Tyler had been hanging out in the art department. Both of them had been offered positions at Sky High. All three of us happily accepted.

We moved into Skyler's guest house the following week, insisting that Skyler let us pay rent. He eagerly declined and declared us friends. He said that he never took money from friends. The utilities to the guest house were on separate meters, so he finally agreed to let us pay for the bills we ran up.

We went back to Storyville two months after we had left for Orlando to pack up our things and say goodbye to everyone. Ben and Wendy were at school in Chicago, so all I could do was call them. Ben called me a lucky dog and promised to visit as often as he could.

A strange event had taken place while we were gone. It seemed that Dustin and Steve had been spending a lot of time together, being each other's shoulder to cry on. That friendship had grown into a relationship for the two of them. They ended up being our first visitors for a week that summer at the guest house. We amazed them with celebrity parties and the sights around Orlando.

I made a deal with Andy and Gage concerning my house. I would still own the house but they were free to live there for as long as they wanted. Gage's sister was now staying with them. Her heart condition had gotten worse for a while and Gage had wanted to care for her. It worked out. She got my mother's room. I told them to rent the garage apartment to someone they felt was suitable and keep the rent each month. When they protested I assured them that we made more than enough money in Orlando to keep us comfortable for years.

Meg had moved to Maine but she and the boys had come to visit around the fourth of July and had a blast. She commented about how much Phillip would have loved to have been there with them and we talked about him for a long while that night. We both cried but it was over happy memories. We didn't talk about the bombing or the shooting.

Shirley and Tom were probably the most sad to see us leave for good. I promised to fly them to Orlando soon and that helped a little bit. They talked about taking a vacation and asked if they could spend it with us. I told them we'd show them the time of their lives.

Even Mike and Sharon wanted to visit. After their near divorce a few years earlier, they'd decided to renew their wedding vows. Nick and Jeremy were their witnesses. They came to Orlando at the end of the summer for their second honeymoon. Nick, Jeremy and Thomas came with them of course.

Tyler, Brian and I took night classes three nights a week to keep ourselves in school. Our majors had all changed, but that didn't really matter. With our jobs being in the field of our majors we each got credits for work experience and in three years we had our degree.

Tyler and I were going strong after three years. He was now a cover designer for the literary division at Sky High. I'd long since moved to Sky High and taken a position in management. I worked along side Clay Silver for the first year and then I was on my own. I asked Tyler to marry me after we'd been together four years and he happily accepted.

The wedding is another story entirely, but I doubt that I'll record it. The memories are ours. I've told enough of our lives in this tale. I think about that every time I hold Tyler at night. He went through a long period of wearing a shirt to bed so that I wouldn't see the scar on his shoulder from the bullet fired by Abraham Cox four years ago. I just held him until he finally agreed to sleep without his shirt. It was the night that I proposed. When he accepted that night while we were in bed I showed him that I loved every part of him by kissing his scar.

We were happy and that was all that mattered. Brian met a guy that also worked for Sky High. His name was Mitch Simmons. You'll all be hearing a lot about him soon. He's Sky High's newest rising star. Brian moved in with him six months after they began dating. They're just as happy as Tyler and I.

We'd been through a lot together, and it had bound us together in a special way. Through all of the hatred a strong love had been born. I can't say that I would ever go through all of that again, but I don't look back on it with so much sorrow anymore. Sure I still have a pang of pain in my heart when I think of the friends that lost their lives, but mostly I'm just thankful for the life I have and Tyler's love.

The End