Joe had been picking at his pancakes for a while, not looking up. Jack and Byron were eating, slowly while waiting in silence. They were sending each other looks as for to get the other one to say something, but neither knew how to start. Finally, Jack spoke.
“Joe. Please talk to us.”
Joe kept his eyes on the now cold pancakes. “I’m not sure what to tell. I’m still not sure this will help.”
“It can’t make it worse.” Byron was sure of it, but from the look Joe sent him he suddenly had doubts.
“I need you to promise me…” Joe looked down again. “…I need you to promise me, that I don’t have to talk to a psychiatrist or someone like that, and…” Joe paused and stabbed his pancake a few more times with the fork.
“We won’t. We legally can’t, you know that, right?” Byron looked at Joe and then at Jack who seemed to be just as confused as himself. “What else?”
“You can’t think I’m crazy, and I don’t want you to talk about me as I’m some mental-case.” Joe’s pancakes were in pieces by now.
Jack leaned in and took a hold on Joe’s hand, took the fork and handed it and Joe’s plate to Byron, who pushed it to the other end of the table with the rest of the dishes. “We wouldn’t do that. You’re not crazy. No matter what you tell us we’ll figure this out, okay?”
Joe looked Jack in the eyes and then Byron, then he nodded. “But where do I start?”
“I don’t know. Maybe tell us what you dream about.” Jack let go of Joe and leaned back on the chair. Joe shook his head pensively.
“If it’s easier, I can ask you questions and you can start there?” Byron got a nod from Joe, so he thought last night over, looking for things that didn’t make sense. “Is your leg good? I mean, you said you were healed, but last night it was clearly hurting.”
“My leg is fine… sometimes the scar itches, but it’s all healed up. When I dream its just like being back in the car, pain and all.”
“Can you walk us through the nightmare from last night, if you remember it?” Byron was adamant on getting the conversation going, even if it was more an interview right now.
“I always remember them. I just…” Joe started fiddling his fingers, now that he didn’t had the fork to distract his hand’s with. “…it’s a lot.”
“We know it’s a lot and we know that it may not make sense, but we won’t judge, remember?” Jack was leaning in, trying to look Joe in the eyes, but he didn’t have any luck since Joe kept his face down.
“Okay…” Joe sounded small, insecure and tired, but most of all Byron thought he heard surrender in Joe’s voice. “I was stuck in the car again, and someone tried to pull me out. The burning in my leg got real bad and I yelled for them to stop. Then the…” Joe looked up at the boys on the other side of the table, receiving nods in acceptance and encouragement to keep going. “…the surgeon from the hospital was there with a saw. I tried to fight him off, but they held me down. Sometimes I wake up. Sometimes I see them cut of my leg, and I feel it. Last night someone came to put out a fire in the engine and all the other people disappeared. It hurt when my leg got hit with the foam from fire extinguisher, but the cold made it better quick. Then I was in my bedroom and the surgeon was there, and you told him to leave, and he did.”
Joe looked at Byron. Byron didn’t know what to say. To hear the story behind the screams made everything make sense in the most horrible way. Joe had to have had over a hundred nightmares the last five months, no wonder the guy didn’t want to sleep.
Before Byron could get his mind back in order to generate words, Joe looked at Jack and his face changed, from fright to concern. “Jack?”
Byron looked at the blonde next to him to find him with a blank look. His mouth slightly open and not looking at anything but thin air. He had tears in his eyes. Byron put a hand on his back. “You okay?”
It looked like Jack came back from another world. He looked from one to the other. “Yeah. I’m okay.” Then he took both of Joe’s hands. “Joe, I’m so sorry. I know how it feels to remember like you are there. I had people to talk to. I’m sorry I haven’t done that for you.”
“Its not your fault. I didn’t want anyone to know… I locked the door to my room every night so Byron couldn’t come in. I wanted to deal with it on my own.”
“You don’t have to do that anymore.” Byron handed Jack a paper towel for his eyes and then continued. “But I still don’t understand why you haven’t sought help… with anyone?”
“I’m not against shrinks. I’m not, but they would think it’s all in my head and I’m going insane. It’s not. The pain is real. I can’t explain it, but it doesn’t stop right when I wake up. Sometimes I have to walk it of, sometimes I can’t, I just have to lay there and wait.” Joe reached down to rub his leg as if he felt it now.
“Joe. The pain is real, because it’s a memory.” Jack talked calmly but stern, so it was easy to hear every word. “Your brain knows how to make you feel that way, and that’s probably why it keeps hurting after you wake up. I had my flashbacks when I was still in pain at the hospital, so it’s not the same, I know, but it hurt more when I remembered.”
Byron figured Jack must be talking about the time he was attacked almost two years ago. He could hear the pain in his voice and it looked like he was thinking back to things he’d rather forget. Byron didn’t know more than Joe had told him, which was that Jack had been attacked and beaten and ended up at a hospital overnight. The faces on the two guys in the room with him, clearly showed hurt, though Jack seemed to have it under control and that he had dealt with it. Joe was another story. For the first time Byron was sure that it was the right call to text Jack last night.
“So, what do I do about it?” The question was definitely directed at Jack.
“What do we do about it? I’m staying.” Joe drew in air to start protesting, but Jack didn’t give him the opportunity. “Joe. I’m not kidding. This has to stop. If you are in that much pain every night, we have to be there to stop it. Byron and I will take shifts staying in your room.”
Byron looked at Jack. Shocked that there was a plan, any plan, he agreed. “Yeah, every other night till this has calmed down.”
Joe got up and started pacing the floor. “You can’t. You have to sleep, it’s not necessarily, it’s just nightmares.”
Byron went to him and held Joe by his shoulders like earlier in the hallway, making him look at his eyes. “We will do this. I don’t understand what is happening or how this works, but the fact is, that you are in excruciating pain almost every night and we can stop it. To hell with our sleep.”
Joe looked choked, but nodded in acceptance.
Jack stood up with a jolt and determination. “Okay, we need air and you need food, I say we take a walk and get some McDonalds. When is the last time you’ve left the apartment, anyway? You take a shower and we’ll clean this up.”
Joe smiled for the first time in a week and headed to the bathroom.
“Thanks for coming, Jack.” Byron handed Jack the dishes as Jack loaded them into the washer.
“Sure thing. How about we try to have a day without talking about the nightmares? Something tells me he has been thinking about it nonstop for a long time.”
Byron agreed and when they were done with the dishes he got the wet sheaths from Joe’s bed and replaced them with new ones.