I weaved through the crowd, trying to get outside. It was too crowded for my liking. There were too many people, too much alcohol.
I’d lost Johnny the second we walked through the door, but I knew where he’d be. Booze table, or upstairs with some girl.
I wasn’t sure why I even bothered going to the party. The only person I knew was Johnny, and he’d left me already.
I was far from popular, and the host of the party was Matt Sanders, captain of the school football team. He’d had a grudge against me since the day I started at the school. I’d cut my hand on a piece of glass in science, and accidently bled on his book. From then, his hatred for me radiated to the rest of the team.
Johnny had begged me to go with him, and I stupidly agreed. Unlike me, Johnny had a good reputation and seemed to get along with Matt and his friends.
I stood out the back, away from stumbling people. I was hidden in the shadow of a tree, certain no one could see me.
People passed me, too drunk to notice me whether I was visible or not.
I only stood in my shelter for a short time, finding myself bored out of my mind just standing there.
I wandered the yard, stepping over people who’d decided the stars were arranged into a message for them. I tripped over someone’s arm when they moved, my body propelling forward. I thought I was going to hit the ground, but something stopped me.
I was set to my feet, and a chorus of laughter filled my ears.
Matt towered over me, grinning. Behind him, half his team created a barrier, giving me no opportunity to run.
‘You’re the last person I expected to see here.’ He sneered, shoving me back. I stumbled, but managed to catch my footing before I could tumble over. A sharp ache began pounding in my rib cage, the entire left side of my body searing.
I quickly swept the yard, searching for Johnny. He wasn’t anywhere in sight.
‘Trust me, no one is going to save you.’ Matt laughed, punching me as hard as he could. My jaw cracked, the taste of coppery metal filling my mouth. I fell back on the ground, holding my left side as Matt and his friends jumped me, kicking and hitting me wherever they could.
My mind grew fuzzy after someone had managed to kick my left side, a skin-splitting pain ripping through me.
I could hear laughing, my own crying, and someone yelling. The yelling grew into screaming, the laughing died down.
‘Somebody call nine-one-one!’ A familiar voice cried out as something cold touched my face.
‘Zack, open your eyes.’ The voice whispered, my body shaking slightly.
My side was on fire, the pain too much for my body to handle. The last thing I heard was sirens and people murmuring.
I felt like I was swimming in darkness. There was a light, a speck of light above, but no matter how hard I kicked, I seemed to get no closer. My lungs were aching from the lack of oxygen, my brain suffocating.
I kicked harder, my legs pounding to the beat of my erratic heart.
Slowly, oh so slowly, the speck of light grew. It seemed like a lifetime till I broke the surface.
I lurched forward, gasping. I felt hands on my body before I saw anything. My eyes adjusted slowly, my mind moving at a slower pace.
‘Zack. Sweetie, lay down.’ My Mothers’ voice murmured, hands pushing me down lightly. I let them push me back, regulating my breathing.
‘Oh, baby. How do you feel?’ She asked, cupping my cheek lightly.
‘Numb.’ I croaked after a moment, having to actually think about it. From my neck to my waist, I felt numb. I wiggled my toes, checking my lower half.
‘What happened?’ I asked after clearing my throat. Mum handed me a cup of water, helping me sip at it.
When the cup was empty, and taken away, I looked around, expecting to see my posters and the general clutter that inhabited my room. I was faced with white. White walls, floors, curtains, bedspread. Shit.
‘I’ll let the doctor explain.’ She smiled sadly, rushing from the room. I shifted around, not really liking the no-feeling in my back.
I pushed the blanket down to my waist, frowning at the hospital gown I was dressed in. I ran my hands up my torso, pressing my fingers into my left side. Something lumpy was underneath the gown, and I frowned again.
I rolled the gown up, glad the nurses had left my boxers on.
Stitches stretched up and down my ribs, holding together a large wound. Shit, shit.
Mum came back in the room, avoiding the mess that was my body. A doctor followed her, walking straight up to me and touching the skin beside the stitches.
‘It’s good to see you’re awake. We thought we lost you for a while there.’ He smiled, showing off his perfect white teeth.
‘You’ve been out for a few days.’
‘What?!’ I snapped, trying to sit up again. The doctor pushed me back, much like my Mother had.
‘An ambulance brought you in on Friday night, around two-am. Ruptured spleen, multiple wounds. And with your condition, you’re lucky to be alive.’ He said, picking up a clipboard. He wrote something on it, then looked over to a heart monitor I’d failed to notice. An IV sat in my hand, the tube traveling to a bag hanging from a stand.
‘Splenomegaly is a serious condition. We managed to stop the internal bleeding. You’ll be numb for a while, till the anesthetic wears off.’
‘Where’s Johnny?’ I asked, looking at Mum. She wouldn’t know anything. Johnny would have lied to her. I hadn’t told her about the party at all.
‘He’s in the waiting room.’ She said, leaving again. I didn’t even have to ask for him.
The doctor checked my stitches before excusing himself as his pager went off.
Johnny came into the room, Mum nowhere in sight.
‘Shit, man. I thought you were dead!’ He frowned, hugging me awkwardly.
Johnny was one of the only people who knew of my condition. Most people would have to ask what the hell Splenomegaly meant. I didn’t mind telling Johnny, because he was my friend.
‘How are you?’
‘Numb. Dude, what the fuck happened?’ I asked, sitting up slowly, rolling my gown back down. The stitches wouldn’t have shocked him. He’d seen me in worse conditions.
‘Matt and his fucked up friends jumped you. They’re all at the police station now.’ He said, showing me a message from Brian.
”They are all fucked. Some copper said they are being charged with attempted murder. Text me when you see Zack.” The message read.
‘Attempted murder? Fuck, that’s serious.’ I muttered, looking at Johnny. He wore a gloomy expression, his fingers tapping away at his phone.
‘As much as I hate them, they can’t go down for that. They didn’t know.’ I stated.
‘Brian already told the cops that. It changed nothing.’ He whispered, closing his phone.
‘Matt’s got it worse than everyone. Juvie till he’s eighteen, then twenty-five years to life. The rest of them have Juvie then a maximum of ten years, except Brian.’
‘What did Brian get?’ I asked, slightly worried. I knew who Brian was, and he was nothing like the others. He didn’t do anything to me. He stood there and watched.
‘Community hours. He didn’t do anything to you, Zack. He’s only in shit because he knew what they were planning, and didn’t stop them.’ Johnny said, opening his phone as a new message came through.
‘Brian wants to know if he can come up.’
I just shrugged.
Johnny sat with me for a while, complimenting me on my bruised face. He helped me go to the bathroom, holding me upright because it felt like my top half was too heavy to support itself.
With permission from a nurse, Johnny helped me outside, into one of the many courtyards. I’d been allowed to take the heart monitor chords from my chest, and the IV tube from my hand.
I sat in one of the mesh covered chairs, while Johnny lay on the ground, his face covered by the shadow of the umbrella, the rest of him submerged in the sunlight.
‘What’s today?’ I asked, poking at my ribs. The anesthetic was wearing off slowly.
‘Wednesday. Oh, there’s this new horror movie at the cinema. Wanna go see it when you’re out of here?’ Johnny piped up, sitting and spinning on the spot so he was facing me.
He had to guard his eyes from the sun.
‘Dude, slow down. Wednesday? I’ve been out for almost a week?’ I asked, frowning.
‘Well, yeah. You went in for surgery. The doctor said you’d wake up when you wanted to.’ He shrugged, laying back down.
‘So, about that movie?’
‘Sure. We’ll go when I get out.’ I sighed, resting back in the chair. I could feel the anesthetic wearing off. My skin was cold.
Silence fell between us, only to be broken minutes later by the courtyard door opening.
Brian sat in the chair beside me, his expression blank.
‘Y’know, I think I’m hungry.’ Johnny said, standing up and brushing him off. Brian had his head down, fingers twirling together.
I shook my head furiously to Johnny, biting the inside of my lip. He just smiled, walking off. Shit, shit, shit.
I looked back at Brian, smiling a little. He was looking at me, his head resting on his hands.
‘I’m sorry.’ He whispered, closing his eyes. His jaw was tight, lips pouted slightly.
‘I should have stopped them.’ He shook his head, his fists clenched.
‘You didn’t know I’m sick.’ I said, readjusting myself in the chair. There was a slight discomfort in my ribs, but I tried to ignore it.
‘That doesn’t matter. They shouldn’t pick on people, at all.’ He snapped. His face softened a second later, realizing what he’d done.
‘They chose you because you’re an easy target. You don’t fight back.’ He murmured.
‘I can’t fight back.’ I muttered, looking down at the grass beneath my chair.
Idly, I ran my fingers over the stitches in my side, wincing.
‘Johnny tried to explain what you have, but he made no sense.’ Brian prompted. He didn’t have to hint much more.
‘He never really understood my condition. I don’t blame him. A Splenomegaly is simply an enlarged spleen.’ I explained, prodding my ribs again. Normally, I could feel my spleen underneath my ribs and skin.
‘I’m too young to have it removed, though they might consider it now.’
‘Is that why you’re always so white?’ He asked, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
‘It causes anemia, so yeah.’ I shrugged, wrapping an arm around my body. The discomfort was slowly becoming an ache. I needed my medication.
I tried to stand, but the ache became a sting as I straightened up. Brian rushed to my side as I doubled over, gripping my side.
‘Shit, Zack. Come on.’ He rushed, wrapping an arm around my waist as he lifted my right arm around his shoulders. Brian practically dragged me back inside, keeping my upright as the pain ripped through my side. Other than the night I’d been attacked, it was the worst pain I’d ever felt.
The nurse must have spotted us on the way in, because she was in the room, followed by my doctor, Mum and Johnny as soon as Brian laid me on the bed. He stepped back, letting the nurse and doctor in.
The nurse shoved another IV in my hand, telling me that I had to relax. I tried to relax, I did, but it hurt too much. My jaw clenched so tight, I thought my teeth were going to shatter. I wanted to roll into a ball, because I knew that made the pain ease, but the nurse and the doctor insisted I stay on my back.
The doctor instructed Johnny and Brian to hold me down while he pulled out a needle. A long fucking needle.
Brian held my right side down while Johnny held my left. The doctor lifted my gown up, exposing the stitches. He gave me a sorrowful smile before jabbing the needle into my side, just missing my spleen. I was used to the needles, but the sheer size of some of them freaked me out.
I didn’t feel the needle go in, but I felt the pain reliever release into my body. It stung, much like a bee-sting.
I felt the relief of the pain killer almost immediately.
Johnny left my side, breathing a sigh of relief with Mum. The doctor whispered something to Mum before following the nurse out.
‘Sweetie, I’ll be back tomorrow. Visiting hours is almost up.’ She frowned, kissing my forehead.
‘Do what the doctors say.’
Mum left, followed by Johnny after his long goodbye. I expected Brian to leave, but he sat by my side.
‘You scared me for a second there.’ He whispered, sitting on the edge of the hard plastic chair by my bedside.
‘How are you feeling now?’ He asked, laying his hand on the bed, right beside my arm.
The painkillers had clouded my mind, making me drowsy.
‘Why’re you bein’ so nice to me?’ I mumbled, fighting the clouds off as I tried to stay awake.
‘You almost died, Zack. And it’s my fault.’ He said sadly, his forehead creasing. I lifted my hand, with some difficulty, since the drugs made my body feel like an anchor, and laid it over his, my fingers tightening around his hand.
‘’S’not your fault. ‘m alive.’ I mumbled, managing a smile, though my eyes fell closed. The drugs, much stronger than I was used to, had control over me, and they demanded I sleep.
‘You’re impossible, y’know that?’ Brian chuckled softly, turning his hand over to grip mine as gently as possible.
‘Sleep, Zack. You need it.’ Brian whispered. My body reacted to his words, the drugs taking over me. I wasn’t sure if it was part of the dream or not, but I could have sworn Brian had kissed my cheek as I drifted off.
Like every other time I’d stayed in the hospital, I was woken up by nurses on the late shifts. One, who looked too young to be working in the wards, was chatting away with another nurse, while the third replaced my near-empty IV.
She smiled at me, her aged face creasing a bit more. She patted my arm, and left, shushing the loud mouths by the door.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I was tired, god was I tired, but my body refused to sleep. I ended up getting out of bed, sitting by the window to watch the sun rise.
At eight-am, just after breakfast, Mum and Brian came by. Mum had to work, but she wanted to stop in.
Brian was quiet while Mum chatted away. He asked me, very quietly, if he could have the piece of toast on my plate. I let him have it, seeing as it was too early for anyone to be awake, and I wasn’t going to eat it.
By eight-thirty, Mum left for work, kissing my cheek as a goodbye.
‘Why’re you here so early?’ I asked, turning towards Brian. He’d made himself comfortable on the plastic chair by the bed.
‘My community hours start at eleven. I wanted to see you before they put me to work.’ Brian smiled, tilting his head so he could rest it on the back of the chair.
‘I’m sorry you’re being punished for something you didn’t do.’ I frowned, laying back on my pillows.
‘I’ll take the hours over jail time any day.’ He nodded, looking down at his hands.
‘Before we were sentenced… The police brought us all in here while you were asleep. My friends are horrible people for what they did to you, but they want you to know they’re sorry.’ He whispered, looking up at me quickly, before dropping his eyes back to his hands as they fiddled with his belt.
‘Matt regrets it all. And not just because he’s going to jail. You’re a nice person, Zack, and we all know that now.’
‘Don’t I get a say in this? I don’t want them to go to jail.’ I frowned. Brian just shrugged, slumping forward. His shoulders were tense, rigid.
‘Take me outside.’ I said after a moment. I sat up, tossing the covers back. Brian was up like a shot before my feet hit the ground, helping me down from the bed, trying not to touch me anymore than necessary.
‘Zack, I don’t think you should be outside.’ He reasoned, his hand tight around my arm.
‘I want fresh air.’ I shrugged, reaching one arm back to untie the gown. I could undo the tie at my neck, but the tie on my back was harder.
While I struggled, Brian slapped my hand away, tugging on the right string, the gown falling to the floor in front of me.
My side was un-bandaged, the wound there for Brian to see clearly. And he looked at it, like it was going to eat him. To me, it was nothing more than skin stitched and bruised.
Brian tore his eyes away from my side for a second, to kick my bag out from underneath the bed. He placed it on the bed, so I didn’t have to bend.
I picked out some loose-fitting pants and whatever shirt was on top. Most of the patients in the hospital wore their gowns, so I doubted anyone would judge me.
Brian, reluctantly, led me outside after I’d taken the IV from my hand.
At first, we just sat outside, soaking up the sun and cool breeze that wafted through. His phone buzzed once. I didn’t ask who it was, because that was just rude, but he explained that he had to leave soon.
‘I thought you started at eleven.’ I stated, sure it was barely passed ten, if that.
‘I do, but I’m assigned to a kitchen across town. My advisor wants me there early.’ He shrugged, pocketing his phone again.
‘If you want, I’ll come back after.’ He stated, sounding hopeful.
‘I’d appreciate that.’ I smiled.
Brian let me walk him as far as my room, even though I insisted on walking him to the exit. He said that he just wanted me to rest, and try not to tear a stitch.
I did what he said. I watched TV for most of the day. Though, I spent more time flipping channels that actually watching anything. The midday movie was old and sappy, cartoons were over. It was either sport, news, or the foreign channel.
I’d searched my bag when the TV had begun to annoy me, hoping Mum had packed a book or my ancient Game-Boy. Sadly, all she’d packed was clothes and too many pairs of underwear.
The day nurse, Heidi, stopped by my room to take my lunch order, and she stayed and talked with me until her pager rang out, scaring both of us.
I was completely bored by two-thirty, and nearly cheered when the doctor came in.
‘Good afternoon, Zack.’ He smiled, placing a bandage on the bed, along with a tray that held a clamp, cotton balls, and a clear liquid at the bottom.
‘I’m just going to clean and strap you up. It’ll sting a little.’ He said, sounding a little apologetic.
I folded my shirt up and tucked my arm behind my head, wincing when the stitches pulled a little tighter.
The doctor picked up a cotton ball up with the clamp, shaking some of the disinfectant off before dabbing it on my skin. It burned a little, but it wasn’t too bad.
‘Hey, doc. I was wondering why you didn’t just take my spleen out.’ I said, watching him dispose of the cotton ball, picking up another.
‘We were able to reduce the size of it during surgery. Most of what we took out was damaged tissue. You’re still too young for it to be removed, so we did what we could to make everything safer for you.’ He explained, his eyes focused on the task at hand. He dabbed over each stitch carefully, wiping away any excess liquid with a spare cotton ball.
‘What about the medication?’ I asked, flinching forward when he poked an extra sensitive spot.
‘The dose has been lowered, but you’ll still be on the meds. You can start taking them when you leave. Until then, the medication will be delivered through the IV.’ He said, tapping the bag above my head. I ran my thumb over the bruise the IV had caused in my hand.
‘You need to stop taking it out. I know it’s annoying to drag around, but you need it.’ He said, dropping the clamp in the tray. I sat up, knowing he’d ask me to.
I let the doctor wrap me up tightly, biting my lip to refrain from abusing him. The bandage needed to be tight, but it still hurt.
‘The night nurse will come by later to check on you. I’ll send Heidi in to replace the IV.’ He said, taking everything he’d brought in.
Only minutes later, Heidi walked in, a new needle in hand. I turned my head as she felt for a vein, plunging the needle in. She attached the lead from the IV and checked to make sure it worked before leaving.
Brian never mentioned how long his hours were, so I wasn’t sure when to expect him.
Johnny dropped by after school, bringing a pile of homework with him. At first, I thought it was his, and he’d brought it to do while he visited. But, when he’d placed the pile of books and sheets of paper on the over-bed table, and handed me a pen, I groaned.
‘Seriously? I’m in the fucking hospital! Isn’t this the one time I get immunity from homework?’ I grumbled, looking through the pile. English, maths, history. It was all there.
‘Sorry, buddy. Apparently it’s important for the exams. Though, Mr. Kennedy said you could sit out and he’d pass you.’ Johnny shrugged.
Mr. Kennedy was one of the youngest teachers our school had. He liked to think he was our friend, and, if we were nice and played along, he’d pass us.
‘I hope you have this much to do.’ I muttered, opening one of the textbooks to a marked page. Johnny had, so kindly, highlighted the paragraphs I had to read. Though, in the back of the book, he’d slipped a piece of paper with the answers.
‘Those are just quick answers. You have to make them longer. Explain shit, y’know.’ He said, flicking back to the marked page.
‘And, I do have this much to do. That’s why I’m leaving so I’m not up to three-am again.’ He smiled.
‘Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I said, biting on the end of the pen he’d given me. It already had tooth marks, but I’d shared a lot of things with Johnny, and a bit of saliva wasn’t going to hurt.