Jack had spent the first two hours of the night looking at Joe and seeing Joe look back at him. He was wondering if Joe was afraid that he would fall asleep and don’t notice if there was a nightmare starting, or if Joe wanted him to leave. He wasn’t going to leave and eventually Joe fell asleep. Byron had been asleep the whole time. He was on a mattress by the foot-end of Joe’s bed and just out of sight, but Jack could hear his heavy breaths, indicating that he was out.
The talk with Conor had been short and he hadn’t told him anything about Joe’s nightmares, but he had a feeling that Conor was figuring it out. Joe had said that it was okay for him to know, but he could wait a bit with that, at least until there was something more to tell. Hopefully, some good news.
Two hours of editing and an episode of Stranger Things later, he was starting to wonder if he would be able to stay a wake the whole night. He poured himself some coffee from the thermos and sipped it slowly while listening to the others sleep. Maybe he should text Caspar to see if he was a wake. If Caspar didn’t have plans tomorrow he would probably be up most of the night anyway.
A deep sigh came from Joe, Jack almost dropped the mug. He stilled and listened while trying to see Joe in the dark. Joe moaned and turned in his sleep and Jack speed-crawled from his corner to the bed. Kneeling next to it, he grabbed Joe’s hand and tried to wake him.
“Joe?” Jack whispered, he was afraid to startle Joe. “Joe. Wake up.”
Joe clutched on to his hand and started to turn his head from one side to the other. He had his eyes closed and it didn’t look like he was in pain, but Joe was definitely scared. Jack looked down Joe’s body. He was still, his legs seemed okay, no twitching or shaking. His breathing got faster quick though, and he held on for dear life to Jack’s hand.
Jack stretched his entire body and managed to push Byron’s feet with one of his. “Byron.”
The long body started moving.
“Byron.” Suddenly Byron seemed to figure out where he was and what was happening, and he sat up with a jolt. Before Jack could say anything, he was crawling into the bed and sitting on the other side of Joe. He looked over the boy and then at Jack.
“I don’t think he’s in pain.” Jack looked for confirmation with Byron and got it. Byron shook his head and grabbed Joe’s other hand.
“Joe. Where are you?” Jack was stunned at how calm Byron was. He was freakin out himself. He hadn’t stopped to think that Joe might be able to answer.
Joe shook his head but stopped in Byron’s direction. If he’d had his eyes open, he would be looking straight into his roommate’s.
“What do you want me to do?” Byron talked calmly but firm, so nothing could be misunderstood.
Joe was panting, and it looked like he didn’t get enough air. He was struggling to say something, but Byron gave him the time he needed.
“I… I don’t want… sleep.”
Byron and Jack looked at each other. Equally confused. Then Byron turned to Joe again, placing a hand on his cheek to steady his rapid head movements from the gasping for air.
“You don’t have to.”
Joe moved away from his touch. Moving his head to the other side and twisting his entire body as if he was trying to escape something.
“Don’t make me. I don’t want to.”
He was sobbing now. The only part of Joe being somewhat still, was his hand’s clutching the hands of the other boys.
“Please. I want to go home.” Joe sounded so scared that it made Jack’s stomach hurt. His sleeping friend continued to talk but the crying and the gasping for air was getting in the way of making clear words.
Byron looked confused. He didn’t seem to know what to do, but when Joe made a string of sounds that sounded like “please, please, home, please.” Byron took a hold of his chin, turned Joe’s face towards his own and tried again.
“Joe! Listen to me!” He was not yelling but it was close. “You are home. Open your eyes and you are HOME.”
Joe went silent, his breathing became a bit more controlled, but still too fast.
“You are home.” Byron’s face was right over Joe’s and he talked calmer now. “Open your eyes.”
Joe’s eyes opened, and he looked straight into Byron’s. He still looked scared and his hands were not letting go of either friend.
Byron continued. “You are home, Joe. Its me Byron do you see me?”
“What scares you?”
Joe was still frozen looking into Byron’s eyes. “S-She… I don’t want…” Joe was gasping for air again. Jack wanted to make it stop, but he knew that Joe was still dreaming even with his eyes open. “No surgery. Please. Where’s Jack?”
Jack’s heart sank. In the hospital Jack had been freaking out, when they had taken Joe from him to operate on his leg. He hadn’t considered that Joe must have been scared too. He couldn’t speak. Byron saved the day again. “Jack is here. No surgery.”
“No surgery?” Joe’s breathing got easier and his words clearer. “Jack?”
“I’m here.” Jack squeezed Joe’s hand with both of his. Byron nodded and looked at Jack, and Joe followed his line of sight and looked into Jack’s eyes.
“Jack?” Joe was whispering now.
“I’m right here, Joe. You are okay… We are okay.”
“We are okay?” Jack could hear Joe was still not quite there with them, but he had calmed down enough to talk and understand what they told him.
“Joe. Look around. You are home.” Jack looked at the room. It was pitch black, except for the screen of his laptop in the corner. “Do you want the lights on?”
Joe nodded, and Byron reached over to turn on the bed-light, neither of them was going to let go of Joe just yet. With the light, Joe looked around, confused, but slowly accepting that this was in fact his bedroom and there was no other than friends here.
“You back?” Byron asked cautiously.
“Yeah.” Joe relaxed back into the pillow and loosened his hands. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Byron offered him a bottle of water, which Joe accepted. “You just try a get some more sleep. It’s almost morning. You’ve made it through most of the night.”
Byron smiled and took the bottle from Joe when he was done. Joe turned to his side, and closed his eyes. He grabbed on to Byron’s hand and it looked like he accepted him sitting next to him in the bed.
Ten minutes later Joe was asleep. Five more minutes went by before Byron took his hand from Joe’s. Joe didn’t react, so he went to the other side of the bed. Jack was still frozen on his knees next to the bed. He hadn’t moved or said anything, even when Byron got up. The hand on his shoulder startled him, and he looked up.
“C’mon.” Byron offered Jack a hand to help him stand. Zombie-like he got up, and looked at the taller guy. Byron pulled him in a hug. At fist Jack’s arms was limp down his side, but when he felt the tears rolling from his already burning eyes he wrapped both arms around Byron’s torso. The hug lasted till Jack let go and took a step back. Byron held on to his shoulders, worried that he would fall.
“I need to call Conor.”
Byron nodded. “I reckoned that. I’ll stay with Joe.”
Jack picked up his phone and walked to the kitchen and Byron sat down in the pillows where Jack had spent most of the night.
“I’m sorry.” Jack hadn’t let Conor get a word through, before he started talking.
“Sorry about what? What happened?”
Conor was clearly tired. Jack had probably woken him up. It was around ten pm in LA, and Conor clearly didn’t remember the talk from earlier, yet, so he must have been asleep.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know how scared I made you.”
There was a ruffling sound, Jack figured Conor was sitting up in bed. Then silence. Jack couldn’t really say more, he just needed to apologize and now his voice was blocked with tears.
“Jack?... Is this about the flashbacks?”
Jack nodded, and then realized that Conor couldn’t see that. “Yeah. I never knew what you went through. I’m sorry.”
“Jack. I’m getting worried here. What is going on? The call with Joe and Byron and now this. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay. I just need you to know that I never meant to put you through that.”
“Hey. Baby-brother! I know you didn’t. It’s okay. We are okay now, and it wasn’t your fault. It would have been worse if I wasn’t there to help… for both of us.”
“But, I scared you.” Jack had known that for a long time, they have had the talk from the other phone call, multiple times, but this was the first time Jack had understood the helplessness and fear Connor must have felt.
“Yeah you did. But you were more scared, and you were in pain. I had to be there. I was glad to be there, and I would do it all over again. You know that, right?”
“I know.” Jack was whispering, it was hard to get out real sounds without starting to sob.
“Now, what is going on? Do you need me to come home?”
“No. I’m okay.”
“Then what? You don’t sound okay?”
Jack wanted to keep Joe’s secret a bit longer, although he had been given the green light to share, but it might make Conor jump on a plane home, if he didn’t spill right now.
“It’s not me. It’s Joe… He’s having nightmares after the car-crash. They are really bad. Byron and I are sitting watch for him. I just saw a part of what you saw, back at the hospital. He was so scared, and it took forever for us to wake him up.”
There was silent in the other end. Jack waited for Conor to answer.
“What are you scared about?”
Jack hadn’t expected that question and the took at second to think it over.
“What if I can’t help? He is really scared and sometimes he is in pain, just like I was. I don’t want him to go through that.”
“Do you want to leave? Do you blame Joe?”
“Then you know how I felt. No matter how bad it got, I never wanted to leave. Do you understand?”
Jack nodded again, then he took a deep breath. “I do.”
“Good. Just be there for him. It sounds like you and Byron are doing a great job.”
“I’m still sorry.”
“I know. I’m sorry too. You call me whenever okay? And Joe can do the same if he wants.”
“Okay. Thanks. Good night.”
“Talk to you later. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
There had never been any doubts between the Maynard-brothers as to how they felt about each other, but they never used to say it like that. The last two years had been different though. Jack put the phone in his pocket and walked in to Joe’s bedroom, to find Joe sound asleep and Byron in the corner looking up at him.
Byron looked at the mattress. “Do you want to sleep a bit? I can stay awake.”
Jack considered the offer, but shook his head and smiled. “No, I’m good. You just sleep. I’ll get a nap after breakfast.”
Byron smiled back and moved to the mattress, letting Jack continue his watch.