WHAT LIES WITHIN, Part II:
Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone...
- C.S. Lewis
I awoke with a start, but quickly realized we were still at the hospital. Since the lights were dimmed, I assumed that it must still be nighttime. As my eyes adjusted to the faint light, I glanced around the waiting room. I could guess by the various aches and pains in my body that I had been sleeping in this stupid chair for a while now.
But I knew something wasn't right. I could just feel it, somehow.
I heard the sounds of someone else breathing, and I turned my head to glance at Tim Petersen slumped in the chair beside me. Gradually, vague images of the day before began to form in my head. I knew in a general sense what I was doing here...it was simple really, it was because he was here.
Some part of me knew quite well that a whole series of events had transpired the day before...all of which led up to my sitting here right now. But, there seemed to be a cover on those memories...like some part of me didn't really want to remember any of it right now.
I stood up stiffly, and stretched my arms and legs. Ugh. I was really wiped out. I was tired and sore...and I felt really grungy. Sniff...uh; kinda smelly too, I'm afraid. Immediately, I imagined to myself how great it would feel to take a nice hot shower right about then...maybe even put on some clean clothes...
Standing in the middle of the dimly lit room, I closed my eyes as I rubbed my face with my hands, detecting the growing stubble on my chin with my fingers. I pictured in my mind the exquisite feeling of hot water running all over my body...and gently massaging my stiff muscles with a soapy washcloth. I could literally see in my mind the soapy water running down my body...and swirling around the drain at my feet. But wait...the drain! There was something wrong about that drain...
Suddenly, I was in the shower room in the school gym...but I wasn't taking a shower any more. I was just standing there, staring at the drain in the center of the floor...watching in horror as a thin trickle of blood crept slowly across the tile, and dripped down into the drain, disappearing from sight.
My eyes traced the narrow path of the blood back to the lifeless form of a teenage boy, laying face up on the tile floor...completely motionless...as the blood slowly oozed from the back of his head.
Immediately my eyes went to his face...and my heart told me I desperately needed to know who it was. But, it was like my eyes refused to see it. My eyes were open, I was looking right at his face, but they simply refused to let me see it.
Dammit...I just have to know! Who is it?
With all the mental strength I could muster, I willed myself to see who it was...and then suddenly, his face crystallized in my mind. Oh my god...it was...but, it just couldn't be! It just didn't seem possible...something like this couldn't be happening...not to him! Finally, my initial shock and confusion gave way to sheer pain and agony....
I snapped awake instantly, realizing that I actually was screaming at the top of my lungs...in the middle of the hospital...in the dead of night.
Immediately, Tim was at my side with his hand resting on my shoulder...speaking calmly to me. He shooed away the hospital orderly who had rushed into the room to find out what was happening.
"Rusty...Rusty...it's ok, you must have been dreaming, or something. You're ok. We're still here in the hospital. Just take it easy...everything's fine, alright?" he asked, as he stared blearily into my eyes, trying to calm me down.
He patiently ushered me back into my chair, and sat down beside me again. I looked at him apologetically. My heart was still racing, and I was breathing hard...I was awake now. Ya, definitely awake. I looked at my watch. It was 4:45 AM.
Suddenly, a group of very worried looking nurses and doctors shuttled quickly past our view, vanishing behind those damn doors again. As they passed briefly within view, one of them caught my eye for a split second, and a chill came over my body. I shuddered involuntarily.
I knew it. Something is definitely wrong...
"You ok now?" Tim asked softly.
"NO...well, I dunno. Tim...you have to tell me...I saw him like that yesterday didn't I? Just laying there on the floor in the shower room? I think I kinda remembered it in that dream, but then I don't really know...like I'm not sure if it really happened, or if it was just some kind of nightmare...it looked almost like he was...like he was..." I said, unsure whether I could even force myself to say the word.
"Rusty...take it easy, now. Just listen to me, ok? He's not dead. He's right here in the hospital, and he needs you..." he said slowly, trying to be as calm as he could, given he had just been awakened out of a dead sleep by my piercing scream...
"They said you might have problems with this...'Post-Traumatic-Shock' they called it," he explained cautiously. "Yesterday, you weren't really coherent enough to even talk about it, so nobody's actually had a chance to ask you what you saw...what really happened. You spent most of the afternoon and evening right here in this chair, curled up into a ball...and you wouldn't recognize or talk to anyone, not even me...except for the dozen times when you kept getting up and trying to walk through the door into the ICU. You were in total shock, dude. Then I left you here for one minute so I could take a leak, and you split on me, Rusty. I spent the rest of the night trying to find you."
I looked at him in surprise. "I was here all afternoon yesterday? And you were here with me? I really don't remember..." I said, shaking my head. "Shit! Does my mom know where I've been?" I wondered out loud.
"Listen, Rusty...it's ok. I talked to your mom on the phone yesterday...she knows what happened, and that you're here with me; she was really worried about him too. But, she uh...she said to tell you that she needed to stay home to handle some things there," he said, somewhat cryptically. I kinda got the feeling that he might know a little more than he was telling me about that. "She said you should say here with him...and call her in the morning if you were...you know, feeling up to it."
"I'm sure you'll eventually remember everything from yesterday..." he continued, changing the subject a little. "It might be kinda hard for you, because those memories won't all be very nice ones. But, I'll tell you what I know, ok? Are you sure you can handle this?"
"Ya...I, uh...I need to know what's real right now...I gotta get my bearings here, somehow...everything just seems so unreal, I'm feeling kinda lost right now."
He gave me a sympathetic look, and patted me lightly on the shoulder. "Ok, dude...but you stop me if you don't want to hear any more, alright?" he asked.
I nodded, staring at the floor...subconsciously bracing myself for the awful truth that I sensed was coming.
"Well, something happened to him yesterday in the shower room of the gym, but nobody seems to know how, or who might have done it, or if it just some kind of freak accident or something. He went to the gym during sixth period yesterday to make arrangements for another team photo for the yearbook. When he didn't return soon enough, they said you went to look for him. They found you in there with him, just screamin' your head off..."
I nodded, wincing to myself with the pain of that recollection.
"Nobody saw anything, Rusty. You just found him there, and then they found you," he explained. "You doin' ok so far?"
I nodded again.
"Now, this is the hard part, ok? He's alive, Rusty...that's the main thing. Somehow, they think he hit his head on the floor ...and fractured his skull. He's been unconscious since it happened. They had to do surgery yesterday to relieve the pressure in his brain from the swelling. Technically, well...they say he's in a coma...but if everything's gonna be ok, he should wake up real soon...but...now, don't freak out on me here, ok? They say there's always a small chance...very small...that he might not wake up...um, right away...we'll just have to wait and see."
I sighed heavily, and continued staring down at the floor. I noticed the growing pattern of wetness on the linoleum tiles that was being created by my tears, as they continued to fall...
Yup. Everything was as bad as I thought it might be. And, it was all my fault.
God, it had been so awesome the first time we really got together, you know...that weekend. It had totally redefined what the terms joy and happiness meant in my life. He was so cute...but, as much as I knew he wanted it too, he was also having a little trouble overcoming his natural shyness.
We had biked over to Mr. B's house (ya, of course I have a driver's license at seventeen, but I don't have a car, duh...and, in California, I'm not supposed to drive without someone over 18 in the car unless I'm driving myself to school or to work...so there!). Well, he rode his bike, and pulled me along on my board. I was surprised at how strong of a rider he was, because you wouldn't really think that to look at him. But, those long, sexy legs of his got us there pretty easily.
We walked through the side gate into the back yard, and we were immediately attacked by Lucy, Mr. B's yellow Labrador. After both of us had been thoroughly sniffed (more like completely vacuumed, LOL) and bathed by Lucy's tongue, we were allowed to proceed to the pool area. When we reached the pool deck, Lucy instantly produced a tennis ball, and demanded it be thrown for her. Over and over and over again...I didn't think she'd ever get tired of it. Now I can see why Mr. B has such a big lawn in his back yard...
It was clear right away that Ian and Lucy seemed to have some kind of special connection from the very first instant. I've been around dogs all my life, so I was used to them, and vice versa. But Ian had never had a dog...and, he confessed, he was a little afraid of them when he was a kid. But Lucy adopted him right on the spot. I guess she could see the same things in him that I did. There just wasn't a bad bone in his body. He was just such a nice person; so totally incapable of meanness or hostility...you had to admire him for it. But, it also made me want to protect him at times, because he just seemed a little bit too fragile for this world (ok, maybe it's just my cynical nature...). Standing there watching him bond with Lucy while they laughed and played made me fall in love with him all over again, right there on the spot.
Lucy relentlessly chased that stupid ball across the lawn: racing full speed, as if her life depended on capturing it yet again. After she'd retrieved it for like, the zillionth time, Ian picked it up again, making a gruesome face at me.
"Gross Lucy! You've totally slimed the ball!" he said. She looked at him intently, cocking her head slightly in confusion, while making sure that she couldn't possibly miss seeing if he suddenly decided to throw it again. He eyed the once greenish-yellow ball oozing in his fingers, holding it away from himself in disgust. She looked at him in a questioning way, and then she glanced at the pool. When his eyes followed hers towards the pool, she wagged her tail vigorously, and gave a little whimper.
"You mean you want me to throw it in the pool?" he asked her in amazement.
She barked sharply in reply.
"Dude..." I told him with a laugh, "she's a Labrador Retriever...they like, totally live to chase things in the water!"
He gave me a concerned look. "She can swim right? I mean, it would be really cruel to trick her into going into the water if she couldn't..."
"Dude! Just throw it in, and watch!" I told him with a chuckle. Lucy agreed wholeheartedly.
Carefully, he tossed the ball into the pool. Lucy was off in a flash of yellow, followed closely by a giant splash. She motored smoothly across the pool with her (not so little) webbed feet, snatched the ball in her mouth, and motored her way back to the steps.
Knowing what was about to come next, I had already taken a few steps back. I could barely stop myself from laughing out loud before it actually happened. Sure enough, she trotted straight back to Ian, and dropped the ball at his feet. Just as he was bending down to pick it up, she began to vigorously shake all the water off herself, totally drenching him. The look of shock and surprise on his face when he turned to look at me was one I'll never forget. He looked at himself, and looked at me standing a safe distance away.
"You knew that was gonna happen, didn't you?" he said with a frustrated laugh (he always seemed to have the ability to laugh at himself...another little thing I loved about him!).
"Yup," I smiled back at him.
Lucy broke up our little moment by demanding that the ball be thrown yet again. And again...etc, etc. But, as unlikely as it seemed, even Lucy eventually needed a rest. She took her ball, and trotted off to sit in the shade for a while...with the biggest dog smile I've ever seen plastered across her muzzle.
Ian laughed at her, and then turned to me. Immediately, a look of concern crossed his face. "Oh man, I'm sorry Rusty...I didn't mean to ignore you...I kinda got carried away...and you know, she's so persistent..."
"Hey, dude," I answered, "don't apologize. It was fun to watch you two. You have a friend for life in her now. I think she sees it too..." I said with a smile.
"Huh?" he asked. "Sees what?"
"How beautiful you are on the inside..." I answered. "Maybe on the outside too, but I have no idea about that," I laughed.
"What!?!" he said.
"I mean, I have no idea what a dog thinks is handsome, or good looking, or whatever...But, I definitely think you're cute, though. I thought you knew that."
He looked down at the beginning erection in my shorts and smirked.
"I guess so...you've definitely been throwing this dog quite a few bones lately..." he said, as he fell backwards into a lounge chair, laughing hysterically and holding his sides (that was one more thing that really surprised me, as I got to know him better...he had the most outrageous sense of humor...but it only rarely made itself known, which just made it funnier than shit every time he surprised me like that).
Immediately, I jumped on top of him, and straddled him with my legs. We were both still laughing at first, but then suddenly grew quiet. I leaned in real close to his face and studied those wonderfully soft, pale-blue eyes for a moment as our noses gently touched together...silently asking the question with my eyes. I was quite sure that his eyes answered me with an emphatic yes.
I leaned in and kissed him softly. Then, I kissed him again. After that, my memory gets a little fuzzy...
It was obvious he'd never really kissed anyone before, but he was definitely a quick learner. We must have spent the next half hour or more making out right there in that lounge chair, with me sitting on him, straddling his waist. At one point my eyes cast over towards Lucy, who was watching us attentively from her shady little spot. She wagged her tail briefly when she noticed me looking at her.
I think she approved.
"Wow," was all he could say, as he looked up at me with a glassy-eyed, dazed expression on his face.
"That was awesome, dude," I said, giving him my best smile as I brushed the hair out of his eyes with one hand. "You're definitely a quick learner."
Subconsciously, I think I'd been waiting for that moment for five years, and it was definitely worth waiting for. I can't ever remember feeling anything like that before ...it was like being totally tingly and drunk and high...all at the same time. I didn't even know a feeling like that existed before today.
I thought I knew what to expect, since I'd kissed a few girls before. But, this was nothing like that. It was so much more powerful...so much more electric. The last girl I kissed was like being attached to the wet end of a vacuum cleaner...all you could do was just hold on for your life! Ian was so gentle, but so intense at the same time. I could feel the depth of his feelings for me in every kiss...as his soft hands desperately pulled me closer to him.
I was getting a little warm, since we were sitting together in the sun, and generating a little heat of our own as well. I gave him a sexy little grin as I sat upright, and slowly pulled my t-shirt off over my head, and tossed it aside.
His eyes got a little bigger as he looked at me, and he swallowed hard.
"Wow," he said again softly.
Tentatively, gently, his hand reached out to touch me. Lightly, his fingers traced all over my chest and shoulders, as he watched them in complete fascination. They lingered for a few seconds, teasing the few little dark hairs around my belly button. When he accidentally brushed across one of my nipples, I squirmed with the sensation.
"Ian, dude..." I said, gently grabbing his arm, "if you keep doin' that, I'm gonna spooge right here in my shorts!"
He flashed me an apologetic look.
"I'm hot. Let's hop in the pool and cool off a little, ok?" I suggested.
He swallowed hard again, and nodded yes.
I had arrived at Mr. B's house already dressed in my board shorts (which are just long swim trucks, really...), and had since removed my shirt and shoes. I stood up, gently extracting myself from on top of him. I glanced down, and noticed the head of my painfully hard erection poking out of the top of my shorts. As I reached down and made the necessary adjustments, I noticed him staring at my crotch, with his mouth hanging open.
"Oh god..." he said softly to himself.
I gave him an embarrassed little smile, and extended my hand to pull him up. I noticed he was pitching quite a little tent there himself.
"Let's get this shirt off you," I suggested.
I stood back and admired him shirtless for the first time. He had a pretty decent natural build, but he was awfully pale. I could imagine him with a little more muscle tone and a little bit of a tan...a pretty classic 'swimmer's build' was definitely within reach for him. He noticed me studying him, and he frowned.
"Jeez, Rusty...I feel so...I dunno...I mean, compared to you, I look like a total nothing. You're just so amazing looking, and I know I'm not. It's ok...but, just don't laugh at me," he pouted.
I rolled my eyes at him. "Don't say that, dude...I see lots of potential here," I said, licking my lips. "So, let's start by working on your tan there, white boy," I laughed. I grabbed the bottle of sunscreen he brought, and squirted some on his back.
"HEY!" he jumped. "That's cold!"
"Don't worry, I'll warm you up again princess..." I joked.
He shot me a disapproving look over his shoulder. But, it slowly faded away as a smile of deep satisfaction spread across his face, as my hands started massaging the sunscreen into his back. He groaned in pleasure as I moved around to the front, and did the same on his chest and arms. Before I could completely finish, he grabbed me firmly in his arms and kissed me hard again. He pulled back and looked me deeply in the eyes, putting both of his hands on my shoulders.
"Rusty, I just wanna tell you how much I..." he began softly, with love dripping from his eyes.
Suddenly, I felt my balance begin to shift.
"...Really wanna see you get WET!" he finished with a giggle, as I fell backwards into the pool.
I was awakened again by the sound of voices in the room. As I struggled to open my tired eyes, I could see a doctor dressed in full surgical gear standing with a nurse, and two middle-aged people...a man and a woman...having a quiet, but very serious conversation. I looked at my watch; it was now 5:30 AM.
"He's almost finished being prepped, Mr. & Mrs. Finestra. As soon as they're ready, we're going in to do another procedure to relieve more pressure from the swelling. In the last couple hours his vital signs have become erratic again, so we have to move quickly now. But, I'll be right out as soon as we're done to let you know how everything went. We'll do everything we can. This is still a fairly normal progression for injuries like his...it's not something totally unexpected. He still has an excellent chance for a full recovery, ok? Looks like they're ready now, so I have to go..." he explained, as he turned and disappeared through those damn doors again.
"But...um...Wait..." I stuttered.
I had wanted to say something, but the doctor was already gone. As I was watching that little scene play out in front of me, I had suddenly felt the need to just jump up and do something...say something...anything, really...but then I realized I was totally useless to him right now. There wasn't a damn thing I could do, but just sit here and watch. And wait. God, I hate this!
The couple turned to look when they heard me sputtering. They each paused to give me a thoughtful look, then turned back to each other, and clasped their hands together. The worried look on their faces made my heart ache...I could see that they both cared deeply about him too.
Mr. Finestra wandered off to find a cup of coffee. Mrs. Finestra...Judy, I remembered she had asked me to call her several times before...sat down and patted the chair beside her. I moved quietly across the room, glancing over to see that Tim was still asleep beside me. She spoke quietly.
"Hello Rusty. Did you hear all of that? Do you understand what's happening? I want to make sure that you feel like you're being kept informed on all this," she said, with a quiet concern in her voice, "especially since it looks like you're feeling up to it now."
"Um, yes mam...uh, Judy...I think I heard everything. It didn't sound too good, though. Is everything really gonna be ok?" I asked, unable to stop the quivering in my voice.
"We'll just have to wait and see, Rusty. I trust the doctors to do everything they can for him. They know what they're doing," she replied confidently.
"I just can't handle all this waiting...I feel so helpless, not knowing if...you know...he's gonna be ok and everything," I said, staring down at my hands.
"Don't worry Rusty. He's a strong boy. And, he's got every reason in the world to keep fighting...to get back to you," she said with a warm smile, as he patted me on the arm.
I couldn't help but let a sad little smile creep across my face.
I hadn't been crazy about the idea, but Ian eventually felt like he just had to tell his parents about us. I mean, they already knew he was gay, and his house had become one of the few places we could really hang together after school. We definitely couldn't go to my house, and the park was a little weird, because if all the skate punks started seeing us together every day...well, you know...
I have to admit, I was pretty surprised at how easily they accepted it. I mean, I was pretty freaked out at the whole idea of 'being gay' in front of a couple of adults that I didn't even know...even though all it amounted to for us was a little hug now and then, or maybe holding hands sometimes. Hell, I'd only really admitted it to myself just a couple weeks before. But, they told me more than once that they trusted his judgment, and that if he thought that much of me, then I was welcome in their house any time. Ian joked with me privately that he thought they were just happy because it was the first time he had ever really wanted to spend some time with anyone his own age...even if it was his 'boyfriend.'
(Ya, we were pretty much happy to agree with each other that we were officially 'boyfriends' after the weekend at Mr. B's pool, although it was obvious to both us long before then...)
They also made it clear that they were kinda worried about us being out 'together' in public (shit, not half as worried as I was, I bet!), so they were happy to let us spend time together in their house. They only had one rule: we couldn't close the bedroom door if we were in there together. They explained that they would have had the same policy if Ian was dating a girl...it was more about their Midwestern ideas concerning what kind of behavior was appropriate between two kids our age, than the whole shocking perverted gay sex thing that so many people had stuck in their heads.
It took me a little while to get used to them, but I think I got along pretty well with his parents. They were just so...so different...than he was. They didn't look related, and they sure didn't really act related...you know, like by personality type...the way that you can just tell some people are part of the same family gene pool, or something. As much as I hate to admit it, my mom and I are a perfect example. I mean, everyone has always said how much we look alike, but as I get older, people have told me more than once that we have somewhat similar personalities too. I guess so...but, maybe I'm not the best one to judge that.
I really appreciated how much George & Judy had let me into their lives, and I was able to feel pretty much at ease when we were at his house. The only problem was his mom was always wanting me to stay for dinner. Not only did I have to make somewhat regular appearances at my own home (such as it was...) for dinner, but Ian and I both quickly agreed that she was simply a terrible cook! She meant well and all, and she always tried to fix very healthy (read bland and completely tasteless) meals and stuff. But shit, some of the concoctions she came up with I just couldn't force down without some serious gagging, and I hated to make her feel bad. I mean, it's always a bad move to barf on your boyfriend's mom's cooking...right?
So, Ian and I came up with a compromise. He tried to secretly do advance intelligence gathering every morning with regard to the proposed Finestra evening meal, and if it was something that sounded like it was best to be avoided, I would go home for dinner, or the two of us would go out for dinner together...a casual little 'date.'
There was a really good mom & pop Mexican place near his house (i.e. walking distance...), and we both adored Mexican food. So, it didn't usually take much to convince us it was a 'Mexican' night. In no time at all, I was turning him into a big fan of spicy food. I mean, hey...I am part Italian!
My mom was really cool about it too...she was always handing me a few bucks to make sure that we could do stuff together if we wanted to. Not that there was all that much we could do, and Ian didn't really have any money of his own...like an allowance or anything. I mean, his parents were accountants after all. He could always ask for money, but all requests definitely needed to be accompanied by very sound supporting arguments. Good documentation never hurt, either.
My mom was the one who really surprised me. After she had pretty much figured everything out, she started subtly pressing me to meet my boyfriend (when we were alone, and were free to talk about stuff...duh!). I told her I just didn't feel safe letting Ian get anywhere near our house (ok, well...near my dad!). But, I had forgotten that my dad's annual Baja fishing trip was coming up the following week, and mom & I would have seven days free...just to ourselves.
So, it was settled. That weekend he was going to stay over at our house, period. No further debate necessary. When the day finally came, I swear; I thought my mom was just gonna adopt him right on the spot. I think she fell in love with him almost as much as I was that weekend...but, I assume in a slightly different way.
I was totally amazed at my mom...for a woman of forty-nine, she was suddenly acting more like my big sister than my mother. We had tons of fun that weekend...going shopping (that's when we finally managed to get him some decent looking clothes...), going out to the movies, and even just staying home to cook a big Italian meal while we all laughed and joked around in the kitchen together (and, I do seem to remember a little bit of red wine being involved, now that I think about it...).
More than anything, that weekend convinced me that it was real. Suddenly, I could actually see us being together like that for the rest of our lives...feeling totally comfortable and completely accepted by a small circle of family and friends...just having a normal life. It really was possible; if only in the world of open-minded and caring adults. I still had no illusions about high school life...I knew that if we were to ever really find that little slice of nirvana we discovered that weekend, it was gonna have to wait a few years.
"Rusty, dude...wake up," I heard, as someone gently shook my shoulder. I opened my eyes to find a familiar looking face peering down at me ...plastered with a lopsided grin, and surrounded by wild unkempt looking auburn hair.
Ugh. Stiffly, I pulled myself into an upright sitting position, and rubbed my eyes. Shit...still in that damned waiting room. I just hope I don't have nightmares some day about this fucking room...
"Hey Tim," I said groggily, as all of him came into focus.
"He's out of surgery now. They say he's doing fine...everything's looking real good," he said in his usual upbeat manner. "They think there's a pretty good chance that he'll wake up this afternoon, or tonight maybe. Right now they have him knocked out with drugs, but when those wear off...then, I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
"Oh, ok..." I replied. For some reason, I was still having a hard time letting myself get too excited about the prospects. I was afraid to let myself get my hopes up too high.
"His parents went home for a while. You should call your mom now, dude. They want us to go home for a while too. They promise he's gonna be fine, the swelling in his brain is just about gone. And, all he's gonna do is sleep, or whatever, for the rest of the day. We can come back later this evening. Maybe he'll already be awake by then," Tim suggested.
I gave him a weak smile, subconsciously communicating my fear and doubts to him, perhaps. He reached out, put his hand on my shoulder, and gave me a reassuring look. I dug into my pocket and searched for enough change to call home.
To my relief, it was my mom who answered. But then, she was almost always the one to answer the phone at our house. My dad usually couldn't be bothered, even if nobody else was there. He considered it one of her many 'jobs' around the house, I think.
Mom arrived a few minutes later to pick us up, and gave me a big hug in front of the hospital entrance. "Oh Rusty," she said tearfully, "I'm so glad that things are looking better for Ian this morning...you must have been so worried...are you doing ok honey?"
"Ya Mom," I replied dully, "I'm dealin'..."
She gave me a concerned look, and then glanced over at Tim.
"I think I need to use the head before we go, I'll be right back," I said, then turned and went back inside. As I returned from my mission, I could see Tim and my mom standing off to the side having a serious discussion. As I approached them, I heard just the very end of their conversation...
"Thanks Tim, for everything you did yesterday. Rusty really needed someone to look after him, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there for him," she said, giving me an apologetic look. My mom kinda knew Tim, since we'd been going to school and skateboarding together for years. She always seemed to like him. But then, adults always seemed to like Tim. Without being a jerk, he always managed to have a very 'mature' sense about him, even though he was just a typical skate punk to most people. I think he liked it that way...he got a kick out of challenging people to look past his appearance and their own preconceptions and the usual stereotypes. He was pretty damn smart too...at least, he always seemed to be a few steps ahead of me!
Mom gave me one of those meaningful looks...communicating with me how much sympathy she had for what I'd been going through. As we drove home, it was clear that she wanted to talk about something. The way she was acting made me a little bit nervous, because I could just tell that something wasn't right.
We pulled to a stop in front of Tim's house, and we both hopped out. I walked beside him half way up the front path, until I got my courage up to speak to him again.
"Tim, dude...thanks for uh...you know, for everything you did for me. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. It's really cool to have such a good friend."
I could tell by the way he raised his eyebrows in that goofy way of his, that he totally realized the significance of the "F-word" when I used it. I knew he had been trying to be a friend to me for a long time, and I had finally acknowledged it to him.
He mumbled something like "no problem, dude," but it was the moist look in his eyes that caused me to totally lose it. I fell against him, and gave him a big hug. After I released him from my death grip, he studied me for a moment while I wiped the tears from my eyes.
"Russ, you know you can call me any time...for anything...you know, if you need me, alright?"
"Ya, thanks big guy. I won't forget."
We tapped our knuckles together in the traditional skater's ritual, and I headed back down the path to leave. As I turned to look back one last time before getting into the car, I was struck by the concerned look on his face. He was clearly still worried about something.
After we dropped Tim off at his house, mom pulled to the side of the road and stopped the car a block or two from home.
"Rusty, I hope you realize you have a really special friend in Tim. I get the impression that he knows about you and Ian too, am I right?" she asked gently.
"Ya, mom...he does," I sighed. "We didn't really talk about it until yesterday...or was it today? Last night, anyway..." I answered quietly. "He seems cool with it. He's Billy's cousin, you know...?"
"Yes honey, I know," she said, giving me one of her faint little 'Mona Lisa' type knowing smiles...the ones that just barely, almost imperceptibly, hint that she knows a lot more than she's letting on at the moment.
"He called me as soon as he got to the hospital, and found out what had happened. He could see right away that you weren't in much of a state to take care of yourself, and volunteered to keep an eye on you," she explained.
I gave her a little shrug. She looked at me sadly, and I could see a few tears beginning in her eyes. "Oh Rusty...I'm so sorry I couldn't be there for you when you were hurting so much...I feel terrible about that."
"It's ok mom...I don't really remember much of it right now anyway. But, I don't really wanna talk about it..." I explained. "It kinda hurts too much...it's just too soon. Besides, about all I can really do is think about him right now."
I turned to face her in the passenger seat. "Mom, I'm still so scared...I just don't know what to do..." I said, leaking a few tears of my own. "I've been thinking...I mean, what if he has some kind of brain damage? What if he doesn't even remember me? I don't think I could live without him now."
"Maybe you can tell him that yourself tonight," she said hopefully. "They're doing everything they can for him, Rusty. I just know he'll be ok...you just have to believe it in your heart."
She paused for a moment to take a deep breath, apparently changing gears inside her head.
"Now, I need you to listen to me for a second. This is real important, ok? There's a reason I didn't come to the hospital last night, Rusty," she said, now with a very sober and serious expression on her face. "Mark came home yesterday afternoon...and it looks like he's moving back for a while. He'd been to your school to talk to the football coach earlier in the day about helping coach their football team; and you know, since he hurt his knee and can't play for his college any more, he lost his scholarship."
I nodded, having vaguely remembered hearing something like that being discussed between my parents.
She took a deep breath. "Rusty, he said some things to your dad last night...things that he heard about you...and Ian...at the school," she said carefully.
I'm sure I couldn't contain the look of shock on my face.
"Fuck..." I said to myself, just barely above a whisper.
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