Part one of three-part story
Sounds came first, and smells, mingling with the sounds. A strong odor of car fumes filled his nostrils, the scent of familiar cologne and the smell of sweat, mingling with the sound of a voice droning no-no-no-no-no-no. Then darkness held him, nothingness blotting out consciousness; darkness for a long time. Then voices came. He couldn't understand the words but he heard his name, Justin, over and over, many different voices saying his name. Smells penetrated the darkness again, strange odors like ozone and alcohol and others he could not identify. Pain rolled over him in waves; when it got too bad to bear, the darkness would take him away.
In strange twisted fragments of dreams, he would be screaming, silently screaming, in an unfamiliar cave of a place; not a real cave, but he didn't know where it was. It felt like a building, some kind of dark, windowless structure - a place full of shadows and huddled shapes, light reflected on glass and chrome, he should know what those shapes were but the visions never lasted long enough to identify them. Then dreams of strange alien creatures touching him, hurting him, tearing off his clothes, sticking him with sharp painful instruments, he could almost see his own body, paralyzed, motionless, whiter than the white sheets where he lay, helpless to stop the huddled aliens from torturing him. Then long welcome dreamless sleeps again swept him away.
After an immeasurable passage of time, sounds began making their way through his sleep, waking him up. He did not want to wake, the pain was there, and bright lights that burned behind his closed eyelids. Voices again, telling him to wake up, wake up, wake up. Finally he could resist the voices no longer, and opened his eyes.
"Justin! Justin, you're awake!"
Two moms beamed down at him. Justin closed his eyes against the double image of his mother and the blinding white light behind her, but she called him again.
"Justin, it's Mom. Wake up, Justin!"
Reluctantly he obeyed, blinking and blinking, trying to merge the two moms into one. They were smiling, they were mouthing glad words, happy words, then other images surrounded his bed. Two of everyone. Two of everything. Everyone reaching two hands to touch him, he couldn't separate the double images into individual people. "No," he managed to croak, his voice disembodied, unfamiliar. He wanted them to stop touching him, move away, let him breathe.
Two men pushed their way to the bedside and everyone stood back. Two doctors, all in white. "Hello, Justin," they said, "How do you feel?"
"I'm in the hospital," Justin said, not quite a question. "I can't see right." He tried to keep the panic sound out of his voice.
The doctors were holding his hand. Both of them were peering into his face, then they reached to touch his eyes and he recoiled sharply from the hands coming toward him. "What can't you see right?" they asked him gently.
"Everything's in twos. That's not right, is it?"
"Ah," the doctors answered, "You're seeing double?" Justin nodded. "Two of everything?" Another nod. "Don't worry, you're okay," they assured him. "That will pass. Do you remember what happened to you?
"No..." Justin answered, glancing around the room at the blurred faces of the silent doublepeople filling the room. He didn't, not really. "Car accident?" he guessed. "Was I driving?"
The doctors became brisk. "No," they told him, "You sustained a blow to the head. A serious injury, but you're going to be fine."
"Head hurts," Justin confirmed, and the doctors nodded. Their faces were closer together now; Justin blinked hard three times and the faces almost converged into one. The effort to focus on the doctors suddenly exhausted Justin; he closed his eyes and sagged downward. "Sleepy," he murmured, and then the comforting darkness took him away again.
Next time he awoke was better; he didn't feel so afraid or confused. His moms were there again, but like the doctors, they were closer together this time. If he looked right in the middle of the images, they nearly converged. His mom was smiling down at him, he could feel her holding his hand. "Sweetheart," she murmured, and he saw tears running down her face. "You're going to be fine."
"Head hurts," he managed to croak. "So thirsty." She held a glass for him, put the straw between his lips, and he swallowed a mouthful of cool water easing his dry, sore throat, then he sighed. He let his eyes go around the room, carefully not focusing on any one object, still a blur, but the light no longer hurt. The room was empty but he saw vases of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals on every surface. "There were people here before," he told his mother.
"Yes, everyone's been around to see you, waiting for you to wake up. The doctor thought we should keep back the visitors for a while now, till your vision clears."
"How long have I been here?"
"Four days. Almost five."
Justin was surprised. He could not have guessed how long he'd been sleeping, a day or a month or a year. He reached out to take hold of his mother's arm. "What happened to me?" he asked, almost reluctantly, almost not wanting to hear the answer. He reached up and touched a large bandage lumpy above his right eye. "Ouch."
Jennifer hesitated. "You were. . .hit. You don't remember?" He shook his head. "Don't try to remember now," she told him. "The doctor says it will probably come back later, you shouldn't think about it now."
Justin was glad to let it go. Somehow he didn't want to ask who hit him, and why. It was frightening to think about being attacked. He closed his eyes and from out of nowhere he saw something coming toward him, a club, some kind of club, and he cried out and jerked away, before it could reach him. His eyes flew open, and suddenly he had to know, he had to. "Tell me who," he insisted, grabbing his mother's wrist.
She hesitated, then said, "It was that boy, from St. James, Chris Hobbes."
"No." Not Chris. He'd always liked Chris, admired his athletic ability, his masculine beauty. Tried to capture him over and over in his sketchbook. But Chris started to hate him, right after the jerk-off in the equipment room. Started picking on him, bumping into him, knocking him down. "He really hated me," Justin marveled. It was so amazing that someone could despise you enough to. . .
And now he could see Chris, his face a mask of fury, his mouth twisted in an angry line as he raised the bat and brought it smashing toward Justin's face. Justin cried out, threw out his hands to ward off the blow, and his mother grabbed his hands and said quickly, "Shh, shh, it's okay Justin, it's over, shh shh," till he opened his eyes and stared back at her.
"Sleepy," he insisted, more to himself than to his mother, and willed himself back into the comforting blank darkness where he didn't have to think or feel or be afraid.
He awoke sometime in the night. A dim light in the corner revealed the huddled form of his mother, asleep in a chair. An overweight black nurse was at his bedside, hanging a plastic bag of fluid on an IV post; she saw that Justin was awake and whispered, "Hello, honey." He was so relieved to see only one image of the nurse that he smiled at her. His vision must be clearing.
Jennifer awoke and jumped up to stand beside his bed, take his hand. "You look better, sweetheart, do you feel better?"
He nodded. He felt a lot better, not so dizzy or disoriented. "Just one mom, now," he told her. Suddenly he was starving, starving. Glancing at the nurse, he asked, "Can I have something to eat, please?"
The nurse cracked a big smile; she had a wide space between her front teeth. "Kitchen's closed, honey, but I can get you some juice, maybe a cracker. Doctor's orders are no real food till he checks you out in the morning." Justin was disappointed, but gladly gulped apple juice from a plastic cup and tore open a small cellophane packet of crackers.
When the nurse was gone, Justin glanced up through his eyelashes at his mom, and asked, through a mouthful of cracker crumbs, "Who all's been to see me?" He didn't like the idea of people staring at him while he was unconscious; he must've looked silly, helpless, weak. He didn't want. . . well anybody. . . to see him looking weak.
"Everybody!" Jennifer was enthusiastic. "Debbie, of course, Vic, Daphne, there was a whole contingent from your school, with balloons and a big card they all signed," she pointed at a large piece of colored cardboard fastened to the wall.
"Did. . .did Brian come too?"
"Honey," Jennifer sighed, "Sweetheart, Brian's hardly left the hospital all this time. I'll go and look for him, he won't be far away, if you want to see him now."
"Really?" Justin was amazed. "Oh yes, I'd like to see him. Do I look okay?" Suddenly Justin realized he must look like shit, his hair all disheveled, his body sweaty in the twisted sheets. He tried to sit up and cried out when a sharp pain stabbed his head.
Jennifer put a hand on his shoulder, gently pushed him down on the bed. "You're fine! Do you think Brian cares how you look! The poor man was so relieved when you woke up, he nearly passed out!"
Jennifer nodded, then turned and hurried out the door. She returned a few moments later with Brian, who hesitated in the doorway. Jennifer gave his arm a small, encouraging push, then pulled the door almost closed behind her. Brian approached the bed.
"Hey," Justin smiled a bit tremulously.
Brian said, "Hey," but did not smile back. "Still seeing double?"
"No. Just one of you. Imagine TWO Brian Kinneys!" Justin joked, and Brian smiled slightly. When he said nothing, Justin blurted out, "Mom said it was Chris Hobbes. Who hit me."
"You know who he is?" Justin was surprised. "I hope they suspend him. Or maybe they'll suspend both of us, for fighting."
"I hit him first, and I'm glad I did!" Justin exclaimed hotly. "We were in the locker room. Chris made fun of my nipple ring, and I punched him! He hit me back, and I spit at him. Guys were holding us. I remember that really well, but after that. . . I don't know. He must've gone and got a bat, sneaked up behind me?" Brian said nothing. Justin went on. "I can see his face, well sort of. . .looking so mad, so fucking mad! And I see the bat coming at me. . . but, but nothing after that." Justin shivered. "What happened after that?"
Brian shook his head. "The doctor said we're not supposed to talk about it. That you need to remember everything. . .naturally."
Justin was pissed. "That's bullshit! I have a right to know what happened!" He flung his head sideways, and cried out in pain.
"Stop it," Brian ordered. "See? The doctor's right. You're getting yourself upset, so forget about it."
Indignant, Justin demanded, "And how am I supposed to forget about it?" His hands were clenched on the sheet, his face flushed. "I can't think about anything else!"
Lips twisting in the trademarked Kinney sarcastic yet seductive grin, Brian slid a hand onto Justin's ankle, swathed in the folds of the sheet. Slowly he moved his fingers on top of the starched linen sheet, over Justin's calf, his thigh, and rested his hand on top of Justin's balls. "I'll help you think about something else," he murmured. Justin was immediately hard, and exhaled a shaky breath. Brian laughed. "Five days without sex, and you're ready to pop." He moved his hand and squeezed Justin's arm just above his wrist. "Hurry up and get well," he whispered, leaning down until their noses touched, "And I'll take care of that problem for you."
"I'm well enough now!" Justin insisted. God, he wanted Brian. He couldn't believe Brian was here beside his bed, wanting him back.
Brian laughed softly, then the door was pushed open and Jennifer came in. "No more visitors tonight!" she announced brightly. "You need to get some sleep."
"Mom!" Justin argued, "I've been sleeping for DAYS, I've had enough fuckin' SLEEP."
"Behave yourself and I'll see you tomorrow!" Brian said sternly. He pulled his hand away, hesitated a moment, then reached out to lightly caress Justin's cheek.
Justin saw Brian glance at his mom before going out the door, then Jennifer said, "Be right back!" and followed after him. He tried to make himself relax, go back to sleep; the sooner he slept, the sooner he could wake up. Brian said he would be there. Justin couldn't believe his luck. It was almost worth having Chris hit him, he told himself, if it brought Brian close to his side.
Brian left the room, walked three or four steps from the door, then leaned a bit unsteadily against the hallway wall. Jennifer was right behind him, and gestured for them to walk further away from Justin's room. "He doesn't remember the prom!" Brian exclaimed. "He thinks this was a locker room fight at school."
"What did you tell him? "
"I told him nothing. Like the doctor said." He shook his head. "I don't know if I agree. What if he never remembers?"
Jennifer put a hand on Brian's arm and squeezed. "We have to trust the doctors, I think. They've gotten him this far. God!" she suddenly exclaimed, "I wasn't sure he would ever wake up!"
Brian put an arm around her shoulders. "Justin is strong, incredibly strong." She nodded. "He's the most courageous man I ever met."
"Man!" Jennifer shook her head. "It's hard for me to think of him as a man. But he's always had courage, even as a child, he was never afraid of anything. Or," she corrected herself, "If he was afraid, he'd go ahead and do things anyway." She was remembering Justin playing with snakes at a science museum; and the first time he went away to camp, his bottom lip quivering as he insisted he was not afraid to be off on his own; the time a big dog had him cornered in the yard, how Justin had walked backwards slowly, slowly across the grass, when she knew he wanted to run like hell.
Jennifer thought that Justin must have been very afraid to tell her and Craig that he was gay. Afraid they'd stop loving him. Yet he'd stood up to his dad, even when Craig had slapped his face. Oh, he was brave all right. And she guessed he was a man, all right, now too. As much a man as this tall, dark, frightening enigma that Justin loved. Jennifer pulled herself together.
"Well," she said briskly, "Now that you've seen for yourself that Justin's okay, you need to go home, sleep, take care of yourself."
"Well, excuse me, Brian, but you are not fine. You look exhausted, you have circles under your eyes, and you need to - "
"Okay," he cut her off, "I'm going. You have my cell number, right? You'll call if there's any change, or anything?"
Brian turned abruptly and walked off down the white-walled corridor and out the electric door into the dark vastness of the parking lot. Breathing deeply of the cool, damp night air, shoving hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket, he tried to remember where they'd left the jeep - was it yesterday, the day before? He couldn't remember what day it had been when Michael had dragged him away from the hospital, drove him home, made him take a shower; he'd even pushed him down on the bed, where Brian fell instantly asleep. And he'd slept hard, for a few hours, before waking up to the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. Michael made him eat something, a bagel, some yogurt, he couldn't remember, then drove him back to the hospital in Brian's jeep, so it would be there when he needed it. Was there ever a friend in the world like Michael Novotny?
It had been silly, stupid, for Brian to remain at the hospital - it was like he'd been sleepwalking all this time. He could do nothing, he was not even allowed in Justin's room for more than a few minutes at a time. And he should have been at work, yet he had not even been able to make himself call in. Michael took care of that, too, phoning Cynthia. Michael said reports of the attack were in all the papers, so of course Marty knew about it. And Marty must be furious at Brian, for again bringing what he considered to be "scandal" into the agency. Brian could easily imagine Marty's face when he discovered Pittsburgh's Advertiser of the Year in the middle of a gay bashing incident.
Once Justin regained consciousness, Brian could have gone home, should have gone home, gone away, without talking to the kid. But he hadn't been able to leave, not without looking in Justin's eyes, assuring himself that Justin was really okay. When he realized that Justin did not even remember the prom, did not remember that he had called it "the best night of his life," something had jerked inside Brian's chest, sharply. What was that feeling? Relief? Or despair? It didn't matter. There was no future for Brian Kinney with a beautiful blond twink on the verge of manhood. Wake up! Brian told himself. He couldn't be, he didn't want to be, part of some teenager's excellent adventure. It was time to disengage, move on, move away.
Glancing around, Brian realized that he'd been walking in circles through the deserted hospital parking lot. He spied the jeep, not twenty feet away; he'd passed it several times, lost in thought. Wake up! Brian told himself again. He unlocked the car, got in. And then, unable to stop himself, Brian folded his arms on the steering wheel, dropped his head on his hands, and wept.
Final Version Posted August 2001