|Queer As Folk FanFic by Morpheus
The Prisoner of Tremont Street
Part 4: TREE MUNTS
"Yes," the doctor repeats, "Two to three months for the bones to heal, it's a very nasty compound fracture of the femur. Then physical therapy, and - "
"Fugg you! No. No." I turn my head away, I can't look at him any more. He keeps talking but I stop listening. No fucking way.
He talks some more, Red Glasses talks too, I can hear her voice. But I stop listening to the words, and finally the doctor goes away. I thought Red Glasses went away too, but when I turn my head back against the pillow, she's still there, staring at me.
"Would you like a glass of water?" she asks conversationally.
I want to tell her to fuck off but I don't. Suddenly I am so tired, I don't have the energy to fight any more. I shake my head no, look away from her again.
"Self-pity's a bitch," Red Glasses murmurs, which makes me twist my head around to glare at her.
"Is not selv biddy."
"Sure it is," she insists. "You survived a serious accident and the doctor has just told you that you'll make a full recovery, as long as you do what's necessary. Now you feel sorry for yourself because you'll be in a cast for three months and your family will have to take care of you."
Stung by the nurse's unconcern, I say tersely, “No family.”
"Oh." She comes closer to the side of my bed, absently tucking in a fold of sheet. Then she asks, "What about Juckin, isn't he family?"
"Stob calling him Juckin, his name's Juckin."
"Is he family?"
Red Glasses waits for me to answer, but I can't answer, I have to look away from those piercing eyes. Christ, I don't know what Justin is. Nobody. Nothing. He's nothing to me. Nothing.
"Well," she says at last, "There are other alternatives than living with family. There's convalescent hospitals, visiting nurses. . ."
I swing my head around to glare at her, I really want to tell her to fuck off. She reads the message in my eyes but doesn't blink, she's one tough bitch all right. "Go away."
Surprisingly she doesn't get mad. Instead she smiles at me, it's a real smile, and she pats my shoulder. Then before she walks away, she draws the curtain partway around my bed, concealing me from the rest of the room. Somehow she knows I need to be alone.
I've always been alone, and mostly I've liked it that way. I wasn't always glad to be alone, back when I was a kid. I found Michael or he found me, and then I didn't have to be alone if I didn't want to. We were inseparable as kids, and I spent as much time at his house as I possibly could. But away from the Novotnys, I was alone. In my family, we all lived in the same house, ate meals at the same table, but basically we were each alone. It was necessary for survival.
You get used to it and after while, even embrace it. Alone on your own terms is the best way to live. You can always find people to spend time with if you want to. But except for Michael, I've never needed anybody. Not really. Not essentially. Now the thought of needing people just to survive is unbearable. It's really unbearable. I feel pressure building up behind my eyeballs, burning hot and aching to leak out of my eyes. I won't let it though.
Instead I'll think about Justin. It was such a relief to finally see him and to know he's all right. He seemed okay, though I can't help but worry about his head - he said it was fine, but it can't be good to have another head injury after last year. I need to talk to his doctor about it. Not to Jennifer. I don't want to see Jennifer. She's going to blame me for this one too.
If only she knew that she does not need to blame me. I'm doing a good job of that on my own. I shouldn’t have let Justin come over. I should have talked him into staying overnight. I should not have gone on the freeway - so what if the streets were crowded, it would only have taken a few extra minutes. When I saw the car coming at us, I should have turned the wheel sooner, I should have stepped on the gas faster, I should have gotten the jeep out of the way. Now here I am, once again responsible for Justin getting hurt.
He was crying. Sometimes I forget how young he is, how vulnerable he sometimes can be. Other times, like last night when we were fucking, Justin feels totally my equal. He's always managed to keep up with me in bed, to the point that after that first few times, I stopped considering Justin's youth and inexperience. He was hungry for sex, from the very first moment I saw him. Justin gave off the strongest fuck-me vibes I've ever felt. That's how I remember it, anyway. As if Justin had been standing under that street lamp waving a sign that said, 'Come and get it.'
That thought makes me laugh, and it fucking hurts to laugh.
After Justin left this morning, I asked Red Glasses to call the fucking doctor, but she refused. Red Glasses is the head nurse, a small black woman whose eyes burn with impatience whenever I harass her. She insisted I could wait for the doctor's rounds later in the day, and finally she declared that the only way she'd call him is if I faked cardiac arrest. I was angry but I almost laughed at that. She's a sharp one all right. Probably all the nurses in ICU have to be sharp or they wouldn't be here. I recognize competence when I see it, even when I loathe it, even when it makes me crazy.
Red Glasses told me I have a broken leg, three broken ribs and a cut below my mouth. No details. I wanted to know how soon I could get out of this fucking bed. How long it takes a broken bone to heal. She would tell me nothing, and I remember that I cursed her.
Concentrating on the pain kept me from thinking about almost anything else. There’s a red machine on wheels that drips morphine into my IV, and they gave me a little button to push to self-dose. But it won’t let you have all you want. Red Glasses says it’s set to ten minute intervals. You can push the button as much as you want in between and nothing happens. Something else to make me angry.
But Christ, I was so tired. Finally I gave in and went to sleep. I loathe giving in to the nurses, doing what I'm told, yet I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open. I couldn't stop thinking about the accident, about the blood on Justin's face; I couldn't stop trying to turn that wheel a little harder, to step on the gas a little faster. I couldn't stop seeing his tears.
Usually tears have no effect on me. Usually tears turn me off, I'm not into sympathy, I'm not into empathy and all that emotional blackmail shit. So I don't know why Justin's tears affected me this morning.
Now I need to see him again. I need to know that he's really okay. Christ, I need to get out of this fucking bed!
My first thought when I open my eyes is that I'm just waking up from the coma, and everything that's happened in the past year is a dream. In some ways I wish it had been. Not that I'd want to go through all that physical therapy again, no way.
It’s dinner time, the smell of food trays being delivered up and down the hall wakes me up. Mom is here and she helps the nurse set up the table over my bed. My dinner and my doctor arrive at the same time, and all the while I'm talking to Dr. Jennings, I'm glancing over at the dinner tray, an opaque glass dome concealing the food but not preventing delicious smells from wafting toward me. I'm embarrassed by the sound of my stomach rumbling.
I remember Dr. Jennings from last night. Or early this morning I guess.
“Sorry to interrupt your dinner,” he says, "How are you feeling this evening?"
"Fine. Sore, but fine. And hungry."
He smiles. "I'll only keep you from your dinner for a few minutes." He sets the clipboard he was carrying down on the foot of my bed, then peels the bandage off the side of my face and I resist the urge to say ouch! It stings and is very sore, but he doesn't touch it, just nods and says, "Good." Then he puts his hands on my neck and presses his fingers into my neck and shoulders, and I'm reminded just how sore they are.
"Is it whiplash?" Mom asks, and he nods.
"Yes," the doctor glances at Mom, "But the x-rays and cat-scan show no major damage, just slight swelling, and Justin will be sore for a few days." He turns back to me and adds, "The ambulance staff reported that the vehicle's airbag deployed properly, which no doubt saved you from serious injury."
"Do you know anything about my friend, Brian Kinney? He was driving, I know he's in ICU, and - "
"Sorry," he shakes his head, picking up the clipboard and writing something on it. "That patient has a different doctor, I haven't followed his case."
"Dr. Kuchner," I tell him, "You said his name last night. Or this morning. I'm all confused on what time it is."
"Excellent man, Dr. Kuchner. Perhaps the nurse can page him for you, if you'd like." The doctor clicks his pen closed and shoves it in his pocket.
"Oh yes," I say quickly, "I asked the nurse to do that, but I don't think she did."
"Mmm-hmm. Well, Mr. Taylor, I'm going to release you now, there'll be some papers to sign and so forth, but you should be able to go home later tonight. Try ice packs on your neck every fifteen or twenty minutes for a few days. And be sure to check in with your regular doctor - ummm," he consulted the notes on his clipboard, "Dr. Mayfield. The hospital will send him a copy of your file." He straightens up and smiles at me, then at Mom.
"Thank you, Dr. Jennings," Mom says politely, and I echo her.
"Enjoy your dinner." And he's gone out the door.
Mom starts to move the tray-table toward the bed, but I interrupt her and insist on pushing the call button for the nurse first, and when she finally arrives, I tell her that my doctor said it was okay to page Brian's doctor. She agrees to call him, and then at last I can lift the dome over my dinner plate. Sliced beef and mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans. Mmm, I wonder if they'd bring me another tray?
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I’m abruptly awakened next morning by the sound of rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the floor by my bed. “Good morning, Mr. Kinney,” a nurse greets me with unnecessary cheerfulness; she has curly red hair and broad cheeks sprinkled liberally with freckles. “How do you feel this morning?” She’s checking the IV bags and I try to see around her, looking for Red Glasses.
Red Hair turns from the IV stand and lifts my left arm, then my right, studying the IV needles. I still haven’t answered her, and she glances at my face.
“Where’z udder nurz?” I ask, looking over her shoulder at the nurses’ station.
“You mean Lisa?”
How the hell should I know her name? “Wed glazzes.”
“Red glasses? That’s Lisa. She’s gone home of course, her shift ended hours ago. How do you feel this morning?”
I realize that I’m disappointed not to have Red Glasses to harass. “I’m vabuluss,” I answer sourly.
Red Hair’s professional nurse-smile falters slightly, then she says, with determined cheerfulness, “Your chart says you ate nothing yesterday, so you need to eat breakfast. You’re being moved from ICU shortly.”
“Down to three, Orthopedics.” She’s holding the control thing, pushing a button to raise the head of my bed till I’m sitting almost upright. It hurts my hip to move, but I bite my lip till I can’t help but say, “Jezuh Cride, stob!”
“Too high?” She doesn’t wait for an answer, but hits the down button and lowers me a few inches, which takes some of the pressure off my leg. “Okay?”
I nod, and she turns away to pull a high tray table on wheels over the middle of my bed. She disappears for a moment, then returns carrying a blue tray with a dome-covered plate. I have no desire to eat anything, but when she pulls off the lid, I see a mound of scrambled eggs and my stomach betrays me by growling in anticipation.
“Soft foods for a few days, till the swelling in your mouth goes down,” the nurse says. “Eggs, oatmeal, fruit cocktail and orange juice. Would you like some help eating?”
“No,” I mumble ungraciously, glaring at Red Hair till she leaves my cubicle. Then I watch my right hand reach for the fork and raise a mound of eggs to my mouth. “Oww,” I exclaim when the fork tines stab my revoltingly swollen lower lip. I can look down my nose and SEE my lip, that’s how enormous it is. Dropping the fork, I pick up a spoon instead, and manage to convey a mound of eggs into the painful hole that is my mouth. “Mmm,” I moan accidentally, the eggs taste wonderful, I really am very hungry. I eat all the eggs, even the oatmeal, which I loathe; even the disgusting squishy little cubes of canned fruit cocktail, and with the help of a straw, I manage to empty the glass of juice in two slurps.
Feeding myself was exhausting, and I relax back against the pillows and close my eyes. I stay like that, unmoving, as I hear the nurse’s squeaky shoes approach. Faking sleep to avoid conversation, I’m aware that she’s wheeling away the table, and the sound of her retreating footsteps tells me she’s left with the food tray. I just lay there, thinking of nothing. Trying to think of nothing.
My nothingness is interrupted by the arrival of two orderlies in blue uniforms, led to my cubicle by Red Hair. “Mr. Kinney, you’re going to move downstairs,” the one who looks like an escapee from a bear convention tells me as Red Hair messes with my IVs and disconnects the morphine drip.
“No,” I exclaim, against my will; in less than twenty-four hours I’ve become a morphine junkie, begging for a fix.
“They’ll re-attach it in your new room,” the bear assures me. The other orderly, who’s as skinny as the bear is rotund, says nothing the entire time the men are with me, merely cracking his gum and doing whatever the bear tells him. I don’t want to fuck either of them. They wheel my bed into the elevator and we ride downstairs in silence, then down a hallway and around a corner, and into a room with two empty beds. The orderlies wheel me to the far bed near the window.
“Mr. Kinney?” I turn my head from the window’s view of a cemetery on the hill (surely not the best sight for sick people in a hospital) and see a tall middle-aged nurse with dark blond hair pulled back into a pony tail. “I’m Debra, I’ll be your nurse during the day, how are you feeling?”
“Okay,” I mumble, knowing how churlish I am but not really caring.
“Now, Mr. Kinney,” the bear gets my attention, “We have to shift you to the other bed, so just relax and let us do the work, okay?”
Shift me? “Jezuh Cride,” I mutter, realizing it’s going to hurt like fucking hell to be shifted from one bed to the other. And it does. By the time they have me settled on the new bed, I’ve broken out in a sweat and I’m shaking with the effort of not crying out from the pain in my leg. My eyes are squeezed shut and I can hardly breathe.
“Sorry, Mr. Kinney, the pain will ease up in a moment,” Nurse Debra tells me. I feel her hand on my shoulder, then she takes my arm and reattaches the morphine drip to my IV. “Would you like a Vicodin?” I still can’t open my eyes but I nod, and in a moment I feel Debra slip an arm under my shoulders and raise my head up; she slips a pill between my lips and I manage to sip water through a straw from a glass she holds in her other hand. Then she gently lays me back down and promises, “That will start working in about fifteen minutes. I’ll come back and check on you then, but ring the bell,” and I feel her put the control knob into my right hand, “if you need me sooner. Okay?” I manage to nod and as she exits my room, I sigh a shuddering breath that I’ve been holding for the past five or six minutes.
Some time passes, I don’t know how much, gradually I become aware that the morphine and Vicodin are taking effect, I feel my muscles relaxing from the rigor mortis grip I’d been holding over myself. With a relieved sigh, I open my eyes, glancing once again at the disturbing view out over the cemetery. The sun is shining weakly, the sky is pale blue, and the trees that still have leaves are bending in a light breeze.
I jerk my head around from the window, almost crying out with the pain of movement, any movement, and there standing a few feet from my bed is Justin.
“Juckin.” That’s all I can say.
He moves forward and reaches for my hand, and we squeeze fingers. I clear my throat and ask, “You okay?”
“Yeah, yes, I’m fine, Brian.” He’s dressed in normal clothes, the omnipresent khakis and a pullover sweater. The only evidence of injury is a round band-aid on his face just beside his ear. “They released me last night, I’m sorry they wouldn’t let me see you again till now. It’s been driving me crazy not to see you.”
“Me too,” I admit. The Vicodin must have loosened my flabby lips.
“Everybody’s been coming to the hospital to see you,” Justin’s telling me. “I promised to call them as soon as you could have visitors. Michael had to open the shop, but he’ll come by as soon as that kid gets there to take over. Deb’s downstairs, Lindsay’s coming sometime this morning, she’s hoping they’ll let her bring Gus but they might not, and – “
“No,” I stop him, pulling on his hand, “No bizidors!”
“Huh?” Justin looks surprised. “Of course you’ll have visitors, everybody wants to see you, everybody’s been worried to death about us, about you really, because I’m perfectly okay.”
“Don’ wan’ to see peoble.”
Justin pulls his hand away and demands, “Why not?” I just shake my head and he says, “What, just because you’re all scuzzy and sweaty and your mouth is swollen like a balloon?”
“Thangs a lot.” That really cheered me up. I pull my hand away from his and raise it up to feel my hair. It’s dirty and twisted and smashed flat on the back.
“It’s okay, Brian.” Justin bends down and lifts his backpack, rests it on a chair near the bed, and pulls open the flap. “I’ve brought some of your stuff from home, we’ll make you look better.”
Justin’s pulling out my shaving kit, some tee shirts, even my black silk robe. I’m speechless.
“Hello.” We both jump slightly, we didn’t hear anyone approaching.
“Hi,” Justin exclaims, turning his Sunshine smile on the nurse.
“I’m Mr. Kinney’s day nurse, Debra.”
“I’m Justin, I’m going to be here every day, I’m happy to meet you.” They shake hands and I feel like a fifth wheel in my own room.
“Is there a way I can help Brian get cleaned up for visitors? He’s feeling all sweaty and dirty.” He waves his hand in my direction but doesn’t look at me.
“Of course,” Debra agrees, she doesn’t look at me either. “Nurse Lydia is on duty, she’s an LVN, I’ll ask her to come give Mr. Kinney a bed bath, and she can help him shave, too – she’s an expert.”
“Great,” Justin beams at her, “He’ll feel so much better once he’s cleaned up.”
“He’s ride heah in the bed an’ can heah bofe of you,” I interject, and they turn to stare at me, as if surprised that I can speak.
Debra leaves, and Justin returns to emptying out the backpack; in a few minutes, a new nurse pops her head round my curtain.
“I’m Lydia,” she informs us cheerfully. God, not another cheerful one. “I’m going to give you a bath, Mr. Kinney, you’ll feel so much better.”
“No,” I protest weakly, having somehow lost the upper hand in my own hospital room. But I don’t really want to protest; as Justin said, I am sweaty and there’s nothing I can do about it myself. Lydia makes a quick job of it – Debra was right, she’s good at her job. She even wants to shave me, but I draw the line at somebody holding a razor to my throat. Maybe I’ll grow a beard. At least until I can stand up and shave myself. If I can ever stand up again.
When Lydia throws back the sheet and pulls off the hospital gown, I’m surprised to see the size of the tube attached to my dick. It’s a catheter, Red Glasses explained how it works, but I haven’t actually seen it till now, I’ve kept my hands off it, somehow it freaked me out. Now that I see it, I’m amazed that it’s not as uncomfortable as it ought to be. Still, I wouldn’t want to get a hard on with that tube running inside the head of my penis. Though actually it might be kinky. Lydia even washes my pubes, she’s unembarrassed but as I glance over her shoulder at Justin, even though I’m in pain I have to choke back a laugh when I see his face contorted with suppressed hilarity. I have to look quickly away, at the ceiling, at the cemetery, any place but at Justin.
Then Justin wants to put my silk robe on me but Lydia talks him out of it – it would interfere with the lumpy cast on my left leg running from below the waist to the knee. She fetches a clean hospital gown, it’s a hideous puke green color, but after all the mauling the pain is coming back full force and I don’t give a fuck what I’m wearing, and I’m pushing the morphine dose button over and over, even knowing that it’s not going to zap me for another four or five minutes.
“Ev’body go away now,” I finally order them, I’m really exhausted and just want to be alone with my pain. It’s like a separate entity lying on the bed beside me: Brian and his Pain. I close my eyes as Lydia packs up her cleaning supplies. She says something to Justin but I’m not listening, I’m just wanting them to go away. Finally the room is quiet and I let myself relax slightly. The morphine drip makes it’s telltale ‘bink’ sound and I feel the dose spread through my body, taking the edge off the mountain of pain pressing me into the bed. With a sigh I slip into an almost-asleep zone and disconnect my brain for as long as possible.
Poor Brian, he’s in so much pain and I can’t help with that. I thought he’d be glad to see me and he sort of was at first, but now he wants to be alone. He says no visitors, but I’m going to talk him into it, everybody wants so badly to see him. I’m sure he’ll see Michael at least, he should be here soon. Meanwhile I pull a chair from an empty room and sit in the hallway outside Brian’s door, pull out my sketchpad and chew on the end of my pencil.
“No.” I stare at them, forming a semi-circle around my bed. Too many visitors, I could ring my bell and get the nurse to chase them out. Too many visitors, against the rules. I glance at Michael, “Mikey?” Surely he will rescue me.
“Mom’s right,” Michael looks me in the eye, tilts his head at Debbie. “We are your family, all of us here, whether you like it or not. You need our help, and you’re just gonna have to suck it up.”
“Sucking up should be easy for him, he’s in advertising.” Ted’s at the foot of my bed, smirking.
“I don’ need any fugging helb.” Even I can hear the waver in my voice. Yet I say it again. “I don’ need anybody.”
“Brian. Sweetie.” Deb takes a step closer to the bed. “Justin’s told us everything, we had a big family meeting, and we’re all pitching in to help take care of you. Whether you like it or not.”
I’m going to murder Justin. With my bare hands. As soon as I can stand up. He talked to my doctor behind my back. Now he’s told everybody I’m going to be a fucking helpless cripple for three fucking months, and they’ve all decided they’re going to band together to rescue me. Fuck no!
“No.” My voice is firmer now, they took me by surprise is all. “Ahweddy made awangemends fo’ the convalezzen hoppital.” Christ. Christ. “Insurance’ll covva id.”
People who are paid to take care of me. People I won’t have to appreciate or thank or be nice to.
Now it’s Lindsay’s turn to move forward. She takes my hand and gives me that melting smile I’ve never been able to resist. “Brian, you know we all love you, stop pushing us away.”
They don’t love me, and I don’t love them either.
“Besides,” Melanie pipes up, “You wouldn’t survive twenty-four hours in a convalescent hospital, with all those old sick people.”
“All that flannel,” Emmett shudders; “All that oatmeal.”
“It’s no big deal, Brian,” Justin interjects. He’s standing at my right shoulder like a sentinel. Does he imagine he’s my guardian angel? He’s not. He’s my nemesis. My enemy. The boy I want to murder. Most of the time. This is one of those times.
“It’s not,” he insists, deflecting my deathstare with urgent seriousness. “They said that in a few days you’ll be able to sit in a wheelchair, your new cast will be lightweight and you’ll be able to get in and out of bed with just a little help. All you need is somebody to stay with you to help with practical stuff. Everybody’s going to take turns.”
“You NOD livin’ in my loff.”
“Yes, I mean no,” he shakes his head agreeably, “I won’t live there, I’ll just be staying there at night. And everybody’s going to take turns helping you during the day, bringing you food, doing laundry, taking care of your place, just practical stuff, Brian. We’ve worked out a schedule.”
“No.” I close my eyes and will them all to disappear. I’m too tired to deal with this shit. My leg hurts too much. “Go away.” It’s time for the morphine to drip and I feel my body reacting to the drug, to my exhaustion from listening to all these people, to my – Christ, to my own fucking worry. I’ve never been fucking helpless in my life. And I’m going to lose my job. Then the loft. I’ll be a helpless, homeless, out-of-work cripple. No wonder they shoot horses.
I feel myself sliding away, and I’m glad. Now they’ll have to leave. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone.
I don’t have to answer, I’m asleep.
I would have bet a ton of money, if I had it, that Brian would never speak to Justin again after that boy ran off with the fiddler. Now we find out they’ve been dating. Brian dating the boy who broke his heart! Sunshine’s still in love with Brian, which doesn’t surprise me a bit; but damned if that stubborn buzzard in the hospital bed doesn’t still love Justin too. I wouldn’t have believed it, if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.
Michael doesn’t believe it.
He’s driving me home and we talk about Brian probably feeling ambushed with the whole crew crowding round his bed. That’s okay, he needed to see everybody there, caring about him.
“I should be the one staying with Brian at night,” Michael says at last. I knew something was eating at him, he’s been too quiet.
“You’ll be taking turns at the loft,” I remind him, “While Justin’s at school or working.”
“It’s not the same. Besides, I’m the one closest to Brian, now that him and Justin aren’t boyfriends any more.”
I’m sad for Michael; I thought he’d gotten over this jealousy of Justin. He’s got a gorgeous boyfriend, he’s got a new career with his own business, but he still can’t let go of his desire for Brian Kinney. First I decide to let it slide, then I can’t help myself, I have to blurt out, “They still love each other, Michael.”
“No way!” Michael raises his voice, but I say shh and he lowers it again. Still he’s insistent. “Brian doesn’t love him! You saw how mad he was with Justin sabotaging him, for dragging everybody to the hospital.”
“Brian’s mad at the world right now, not Justin.” When he says nothing, I can’t resist adding, “You’re not going to start up that rivalry again, are you?”
“What rivalry?” Michael mutters angrily, keeping his eyes on the road. We ride the rest of the way home in silence.
I glance toward the door and see Rick standing there, one hand in the pocket of his jeans, one hand holding a bouquet of yellow flowers.
“I read in the paper, about the accident,” he says, advancing another few steps into the room. “The hospital said you can have visitors now, so I – so here I am. Should I have called first?” He’s glancing back and forth from me to Justin, like he’s at a tennis match.
Justin’s been rearranging my pillows and his hands freeze on my shoulder. Then he looks at me, waiting for me to speak. “S’okay,” I tell Rick, “Come in.” He advances closer to the bed, watching Justin out of the corner of his eye.
I can almost feel Justin bristling, but then he clears his throat and announces, “I’m going to the bathroom, I’ll be back IN A FEW MINUTES.” He throws a look at Rick that I can’t see, then hurries past him out of the room.
“Hey,” I say to Rick, and he visibly relaxes, moving closer to the bed.
“Hey,” he’s smiling slightly. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Well, not weally.” I shake my head, silently cursing my clumsy speech. It’s better – the swelling of my lower lip’s gone down a lot today, but I still sound like Elmer Fudd. “Bwoken wibs, bwoken leg.”
“Worse for the other driver though,” Rick says, laying the flowers on my bed table. “He’s dead.”
Nobody told me. Why didn’t they tell me? Suddenly I feel myself start to shake, I don’t know why.
“Hey,” Rick moves close to the bed, reaches out to take my hand. “Are you all right?” I nod yes but it’s a lie, for some reason I’m upset, my shoulders are shaking, I don’t know why. I squeeze Rick’s hand convulsively and close my eyes.
“S’okay,” I gasp, trying to get a grip on myself, trying to open my eyes, taking deep shuddering breaths, which of course hurts my ribs. “Oh,” I moan, though I’m trying not to acknowledge the pain, it’s about six minutes till I get my morphine dose in the IV.
I hear quick footsteps enter the room and in moments an arm goes around my shoulders. “Brian, Brian, what is it?” I open my eyes to see Justin bending over me.
“S’okay,” I manage to say, taking another deep breath.
“What did you do to him?” Justin demands, glaring at Rick, who’s let go of my hand and backed away from the bed a step or two.
“Nothing,” Rick denies quickly, and “Nothing,” I echo him, then I ask Justin, “Why didn’ you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
Rick pipes up, “About – the other driver. I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was a secret.”
Justin’s hugging my shoulders. “You didn’t need to know, Brian, I was afraid it would upset you.”
“I’m not ubset,” I lie, glancing at the clock over the door. Four minutes to morphine. “Water?”
Justin points at the bedside table and tells Rick, “Pour some water in that glass with the straw and hand it to me.” Quickly Rick obeys him and I take a grateful gulp of cool water, then another.
Justin lets go of my shoulders and hands the glass back to Rick.
“I’m sorry,” Rick says, setting the glass down, then wringing his hands. “I should go now.” He turns for the door, and after a brief pause, Justin follows him out of my room.
Three minutes to morphine.
“Rick – “ My voice stops him before he reaches the elevator.
Turning and regarding me warily, Rick says, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s – okay. You didn’t know we were keeping it from him.” I don’t know why I’m being nice to this guy. He’s beautiful, and I’m so jealous of him my balls ache with it. Brian likes him. Brian’s dating this guy. Brian’s fucking this guy. It nearly chokes me.
We stand staring at each other, and finally Rick says quietly, “I won’t see him again.”
I shake my head. “Don’t do me any favors. If he wants to see you, that’s his call.”
He considers this, then asks, “Are you two back together?”
“No.” Then I sigh. “I don’t know. This,” I wave my hand toward Brian’s room, “This complicates things. He’s going to need my help for a while, I’ll be staying at his place. But it doesn’t – probably – mean anything.” I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“Well.” Rick’s got nothing else to say, and I don’t either. “Thanks,” he says at last, turning away. “See you around.”
“See you.” I watch him get on the elevator, then turn and go back to Brian’s room.