Chapter 1: Five months later
”Mornin.” Joe didn’t look up or even move when Byron came in the kitchen. He was sitting at the table starring into a half empty coffee-mug .
“Did you get any sleep last night?”
Joe shrug his shoulders still not looking up. Byron sighed and felt the feeling of defeat filling the room. He poured the rest of the coffee from the pot into a mug and sat across from Joe. “How many nights is it now?”
Joe took a sip of the coffee. If Joe had made a whole pot, he must have been on his third mug by now. He didn’t use to drink coffee on a regularly basis, but lately he’d been downing over a pot a day. Byron continued to try and get an answer from his roommate; “Five? Six?”
“Six.” Joe’s voice was ragged from not being used until now.
Byron had to tread carefully. Last time he’d confronted Joe about his nightmares he almost found himself without a roof over his head. However, this was the fourth row of nightmares in two months, and judging from the sounds coming from Joe’s room, they weren’t getting better.
The taller guy was running his fingers around the edge of the mug, turning it around, grabbing it with both hands before leaving it on the table. He placed both hands in his lap and took a deep breath. “It’s getting worse isn’t it?”
There was silent for a few seconds before Byron decided to look up at Joe. Joe was biting his lover lip, still starring into the mug. Maybe he didn’t hear him.
“Can we not talk about this?” He sounded annoyed even with a voice so low it was almost a whisper.
“It’s been five months. Joe.” Byron wanted to apologize for intruding, but he knew that something had to happen. Something had to change.
“I know how long it’s been!” Joe suddenly regained a voice. Without making eye-contact he went by his roommate and placed the mug in the kitchen sink.
“Joe. I’m sorry, but…” Joe disappeared into his room locking the door before Byron could say more. He didn’t know how to finish that sentence, without starting a fight, anyway.
At 8.30 pm Byron decided that he would go to his room for the night. They hadn’t spoken more that day, but Byron had decided to stay in the apartment if Joe decided to come out. He only did twice; once to go to the bathroom and once to pick up a plate of the dinner Byron had prepared and announced with a careful knock at the door. Byron had kept his distance while Joe was in the kitchen, but had asked if he was okay. Joe had looked at him and nodded, he looked tired and Byron wondered if he’d been crying, but Joe broke eye-contact before he could be sure. He’d taken the plate to his room.
Chapter 2: Leave me alone
“No! Nonono NO!”
Joe was screaming, and Byron was awake in an instant.
Another scream made its way through the apartment. This time, no words, just pain.
Byron’s heart was pounding. When Joe came home four months ago, and Byron had heard the first nightmare, he’d sprinted to his room and woken the trembling and screaming boy. Joe had been embarrassed and since that day he had locked his door at night. Byron couldn’t count the hours he’d spent beating the wood, that was Joe’s bedroom-door, screaming in attempt to wake up Joe on the other side.
“NO! My leg!” The words were followed with yet another stomach-wrenching scream.
Byron laid on his back, starring at the ceiling. He was not able to do anything. Joe wouldn’t wake up if he went to the door. He never did.
“Don’t! NO! Leave me alone!”
The tall boy suddenly sat up. This was new. Most of the times it was impossible to distinguish the words Joe was screaming, besides from the NO’s and the eventually mentioning of pain or his leg. Was he talking to someone now? He stood up and opened the door to the hallway a bit more, listening.
“Stop! It hurts. LET ME GO!”
The fear in Joe’s voice made Byron’s heart sink and pulled him up the stairs. He had no idea how much force it would take to kick down a door, or if he could do it, but he had to do something. Joe was fighting of some invisible thing who was clearly hurting him, and it sounded terrifying. As he ran up the stairs he tried to remember where Joe kept his tools, maybe he could un-screw the door-knob.
“Please no! Stop!”
“Joe!” Byron shouted to wake Joe up, even before he made it to the door. He grabbed the knob and almost stumbled to his hands and knees as the door opened. He quickly gathered himself concentrating on the sweating boy tossing around in the big bed. Byron grabbed him by a hand and a shoulder standing over him.
“Wake up. It’s not real. Joe!”
Joe pressed his head back into the pillow, arched his whole body and screamed. Tears were running from his eyes. His whole body went limp for a second, then he started sobbing and turning his head from side to side.
“It hurts. NO! Leave me alone!”
Byron was having no luck in waking him up. He looked down Joe’s body and noticed that he’d ripped the pantleg on his PJ’s. Byron saw the scar on Joe’s shaking leg, and decided; If he couldn’t wake Joe up he could at least ease his pain. He left Joe crying hysterically in the bed, but only for a second. When he returned he sat on the bed next to Joe.
“Here, this will help.” He placed a soaking wet, ice-cold towel on Joe’s shin. Joe gasped sharply and then turned to Byron, still with closed eyes.
“It hurts.” Byron almost regretted his choice, but there was a flicker of hope in Joe’s voice and he did seem to calm down a bit.
“I know.” He talked calmly to the sleeping Joe now. There was no more screaming, only crying.
“Make it stop.” Joe sounded exhausted and scared. The next words were hidden in sobs, to unclear to understand.
Byron held on to Joe’s shoulder, shaking it slightly. “Joe, wake up now. It will stop when you open your eyes.”
Joe unexpectedly opened his eyes and looked over Byron’s shoulder, into empty space. He grabbed Byron’s forearm. Joe was frozen. Scared. Only movement was a slight gasping and a few tears still making their way over his face. “P-please. Don’t.”
Joe had to still be sleeping, or at least, out of it. “Joe. Look at me.”
Joe did. Still the same scared look.
“Make him go. Don’t let him…” Joe stopped. His breaths got shorter and Byron thought he was un the verge of hyperventilating.
“I won’t let him. Joe. Relax, he’s gone.”
To Byron’s relief, Joe relaxed back into the bed. His breathing eased up and within a few seconds he looked at him, making real eye-contact.
“Do you know where you are?” Such a cliché, but he had to know Joe was there with him. Joe nodded. Coming to terms with reality, his breath slowly, but surely got back in order. Not unlike recovering from a jump-scare. This was the worst scare Byron had witnessed though. Joe looked at his hand still clutching on to Byron’s arm, he let go with a jolt and turned to his side, away from Byron.
Byron was contemplating letting Joe be alone and go to his room, but he knew that he would just end up sitting outside the room the rest of the night anyway. He put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Joe?”
Joe didn’t answer. Curled up, pulling his knee to his stomach holding on the scar with both hands. The soaked towel lying on the sheath behind him.
“Does it hurt?” Joe had been fully healed for months now, at least that’s what he’d told him. Joe shook his head, but held on a bit tighter.
Maybe it was the memory of pain. Byron didn’t know how to deal with that. “Do… do you want the cold on again?”
It took a few seconds for Joe to react. When he did, he turned his head and looked at his roommate, sitting quietly waiting for an answer. Joe eventually nodded and laid back, facing the ceiling. Byron drew a breath of relief and went to put new cold water on the towel. He came back with a bucket. He carefully placed the dripping towel over the entirety of Joe’s lover leg. Joe shuddered from the cold impact, but quickly eased up again.
There was a moment of silence before Byron decided to try his luck. “Joe. You can’t keep this up. We need to do something.”
Joe looked at the other guy. “There’s nothing to do.” He turned his head away. “I don’t wanna see a shrink.”
Byron took the hand closest to him and held it in both of his. “I’ll figure something out. Let’s talk about it in the morning. Right now, you need sleep.”
“I can’t sleep anyway... I don’t want to.” Joe’s eyes welled up again.
Byron pulled the cover over Joe, making sure the leg with the towel were left clear. “I’ll stay here. I’ll wake you before it gets bad.”
“No.” Byron could have sworn that the embarrassment made an appearance before the stubbornness took over his eyes.
“Joe. You haven’t had a full nights sleep in a week. I’m good. Okay?”
Joe nodded and when Byron came back with a few pillows to get him situated upright in the bed, Joe took his hand and closed his eyes.
Byron hadn’t slept a full night that week either, but at least he had been able to squeeze in some sleep when Joe had been awake, which had been most of the time. He reached over and turned the towel to get the cold side down on the leg. Joe whispered something Byron didn’t hear. “Joe? Did you say something?”
Byron had no idea what to do, but he had a whole night to figure it out. Joe fell asleep fast. He was holding on tight to Byron’s hand, but he seemed to be okay.
Byron had almost fallen asleep, sitting against the soft pillows in the dark room, when Joe started turning his head slowly, back and forth.
“Joe? Calm down. It’s a dream.” Byron combed a hand through the sleeping boy’s brown hair. He seemed to calm down a bit, but his leg was twitching. Careful, Byron took his hand from Joe’s and sat up in the bed, he took the towel from the leg and dipped it in the bucket. He slowly placed it back on the scar. Joe moaned in discomfort, but then relaxed and seemed to fall back into a dreamless sleep. The bed was soaking wet under the leg, but Joe didn’t seem bothered, he was still again. For a few seconds Byron sat on the edge of the bed looking investigative at his sleeping roommate. When he was confident that he was sleeping okay and comfortable leaving him for a few seconds, he ran downstairs to pick up his phone. When he came back he regained the position from earlier, sitting next to Joe’s, leaning against pillows he’d stacked against the wall. He slid his hand under Joe’s and felt him hold tight again.
In his other hand was his phone, but what now? He wanted to message Zoë, but he was sure Joe would kill him, or worse; shut down and never talk to him again. He needed advice in what to do, someone who didn’t know Joe, but no matter who he could think of he was sure the answer would be, find professional help.
It was getting late and if he wanted text someone it had to be soon. He was not calling anybody, it would wake Joe up. Then he realized that Conor and Jack was in the accident with Joe, they had to know more about this than him. For what he’d gathered, Conor had been unconscious for most of that day, Jack had to be the one to contact.
He took a deep breath. Was he doing this? What would Joe say?
He hadn’t really thought this through. What now? He stared at the phone for a couple of minutes. Thankfully Jack ripped him out of his gaze and made him just start somewhere.
Byron could have been clearer, but he was not sure he was doing the right thing here. He looked at Joe. Thankfully he was still sleeping, he must have been exhausted to sleep in the same position for so long. He was still on his back, not moving his legs or arms. Byron turned back to the phone, he would sit here as long as needed, but at some point, that wouldn’t be possible. Joe wouldn’t allow this to go on forever either.
Was Joe okay with Jack knowing that? He’d basically already told him, so he might as well continue. He was asking for help, this was the right thing to do. It didn’t stop the feeling in his stomach though. It was the feeling of being deceitful, like he was betraying the trust, he was only starting to build.
The best thing to happen was if Jack could come and fix this, but Byron wasn’t sure that’s how it would go down. Not even two hours ago, Joe had let him help, he had thanked him, but he was worn-out completely and Byron wasn’t sure he would even remember that in the morning. If Jack was here it could make everything even worse than before, but there was also a chance that Jack knew how to help or that they could figure it out together.
He put the phone down and was left in total darkness. While his eyes adjusted to the dark, he listened for Joe’s breathing. He was sleeping quietly.
During the night Byron had to calm Joe down three times more, but each time he was right there; cooling his leg, sweeping his hand through his hair and each time he managed to prevent the nightmare from getting excruciating like the first. Joe slept through the night for the first time in a week. Byron didn’t. He’d fallen a sleep a couple of times, maybe half an hour or so, but it was still the most peaceful night he’d had in a long time.
He’d thought it over. Jack being here might be a good idea anyway. He, himself had no idea what to say to Joe. He had no solutions or even suggestions to what might help. Jack was in the accident too, and at the hospital with Joe. Maybe he had a way to reach Joe. He must have a better idea of what was going on.
A few minutes later Jack texted Byron to let him know that the Uber was on it’s way to pick him up. This was it; as soon as Joe woke up he would know that he had ratted his mouth to Jack. He just hoped that Joe would take what little help they could offer.
So this was supposed to be a short story, only one or two chapters. I can't seem to do that lately... The stories just keep building.
It's the first time I'm including texts like this in a story. Please tell me if it worked for you.
Chapter 4: Intervention
Byron hate how this has to happen, but If Joe can't ask for help himself, yet; he and Jack has to make him realize that he already got it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So, is this like an intervention?” Joe stopped in his tracks in the kitchen doorway.
Byron had left Joes room in silence when the older boy seemed like he was waking. Ha hadn’t figured out how to tell Joe that he’d been talking to Jack, and that he was already in the kitchen.
“Just come eat.” Jack took the lead.
“You called him? What, did you tell him everything?”
Joe looked more confused than angry, so Byron thought it would be a good thing to start explaining now. “I did. Joe, we need to figure out how to make this stop. You can’t go on like this.”
“WE don’t need to do anything. I’m good!” Joe turned and headed for his room, but Jack was at his heals fast, grabbing his upper arm. “Let go of me!”
“I won’t. If you don’t come sit with us, we’ll just follow you to your room and we’ll talk there.”
“The hell you will. Jack let GO!”
Byron was frozen in his chair. He didn’t wasn’t to make it worse by trying to help. He really didn’t want this to turn in to a physical fight. That wouldn’t do anyone any good.
“Byron was up with you all night. You are not good. You need to talk to someone about this.” Jack seemed to try and talk calmly, but he was using all his strength to keep Joe from escaping his grip.
“I’m not going to a shrink. Forget it. I’m not some mental case.” Joe was putting up a real fight now, and Jack was struggling. Byron got up and joined the two in the hallway. Joe was searing with anger by now and he was following Byron’s every move as the tall boy put both hands on Joe’s shoulders, and turned him to face himself.
“No-one said you’re a mental case. We won’t make you see anybody. We can’t. But you need to talk about this, so talk to us.”
Joe looked Byron in his eyes, looking for deceive or sizing up the threat. He seemed to relax a bit though, and the next words out of his mouth were almost calm and collected. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Joe.” Jack waited for Joe to look at him. “You can talk to me or Byron or both. You can call anyone you want, maybe your sister or Alfie?” Joe’s eyes went wide, and he shook his head. “Okay, but you need to do something about this. You are scaring us. We are worried.”
Joe tensed up again under the hands of the two others. Byron felt the response to Jack’s words. “Listen. We are not worried that you are going insane. We are worried that you are scared and in pain.”
Joe looked surprised. Byron let go of Joe, hoping it would be received as a sign of good will. He backed op a bit and leaned against the wall. “Joe, please. I was in there last night you were feeling real pain, wasn’t you?”
Joe shook Jacks hand of his arm and Jack let it fall. Joe nodded. “Yeah, but…” Joe suddenly sounded small.
“C’mon. Jack have brought breakfast. Let’s eat and talk. You try to make us understand, okay?” Byron led the way and Jack put a hand on Joe’s shoulder, this time barely touching him. Joe agreed in silence and they headed for the kitchen.
I know this was shorter than usual, but there is another coming within a few days. I just wanted to give you this now since its been a while from the last one.
Chapter 5: Breakfast
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.
Chapter 6: Do we need more people?
Jack decides that they need more help. It's not easy to convince Joe that this is a good idea. Byron learns more about what happened with Jack two years ago.
>This chapter gives us a diferent look at Jack's stay at the hospital in the story 'Backstage'.<
It had been a great day. Joe had eaten A LOT of nuggets, and they had been to the park after. When they got home they played FIFA for hours and hadn’t mentioned the nightmares. Occasionally, Joe would zone-out a bit, but the others brought him back every time with a bump of the shoulder or some stupid joke.
They had decided that they would go to bed at midnight at the latest to try to get a good sleep, and that coffee was a no-go after five pm. They’d all agreed to that, but as the time got closer to eleven, Joe started sending long looks at the coffeemaker, he zoned out more often and he didn’t seem to enjoy the games anymore.
“You okay?” Jack had clearly seen the same signs as Byron.
“I’m good.” Joe spoke fast and quietly. He started to sound like the Joe they had talked to at breakfast. He had been the good-old Joe ever since the shower this morning, but something was clearly troubling him now.
“Are you thinking about sleeping? You tired?” Byron could see that he was. He had trouble with staying awake himself after not getting any sleep last night.
Joe looked at him as if he wasn’t sure what to answer. Then he nodded. “Yeah, I’m tired. But I’m not sure about Jack sleeping in my room tonight. I’ve had a great day, I might not have a nightmare.”
Jack and Byron looked at each other, looking for signs that the other knew what to say. Jack started; “Do you want it to be someone else?”
“I can’t stay awake all night, Joe.” Byron put down the controller and turned off the screen.
“I don’t want anyone to be there.”
“Joe.” Jack moved from the chair to sit in the couch, making Joe sit close between the two of them. “You might as well tell us what’s bothering you. We’ll figure it out eventually.” He sent Joe a smile and it seemed to be received as intended. Joe smiled a bit too.
“You don’t understand.”
“Try me.” Jack put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. Byron noticed Joe fidgeting his hand’s in his lap and he placed his on top to calm him. It seemed to work.
“I don’t want you to see. Byron have seen it, but I don’t want that anymore. Last night I was seeing things in my bedroom. I’m losing it.” Joe looked down on his hands. He tried to control his breathing but as the first tear hit the bundle of hands, Byron knew that his roommate was not able to get back in control. “Please don’t make me show you.”
Joe was flat out crying by now. It was easier last night when Joe was sleeping and after when he was still exhausted. He didn’t know how to comfort him.
“Joe. Look at me.” Jack sounded like he knew what to do. He put a hand on Joe’s chin and moved his head up. “Look at me. It’s okay to lose it sometimes. I get it.”
Joe shook his head and looked down again, still crying. “I want you to talk to Conor.” Jack found his phone, picked Conor’s number and looked at Joe.
Joe looked terrified. “No, Jack. I can’t.” He held on to Byron’s hand and squeezed. Byron took that as a request for help.
“Are you sure we should bring more people into this?”
“Please don’t.” Joe was looking at the phone like it might explode.
“Hey, calm down. I won’t call him if you don’t want me to, but listen to what I have to say first, okay?”
Joe seemed to breathe a bit easier, but he didn’t take his eyes of the phone.
“When I was attacked I had flashbacks. I told you about that after the accident, remember?” Joe nodded in silence. Byron was not sure he should be here for this conversation. There was a lot about Jack’s attack only Jack, Conor and Joe knew. Joe was still staring at the phone, so it was easy to get eye-contact with Jack. The younger guy smiled and nodded once, to let him know they were good. Byron turned his attention back to Joe, who was clearly waiting for Jack to continue.
“Conor was with me. He saw all of them. Let him tell you how bad they were. Let him explain how I lost it. Then you can decide if you want me in there.”
Joe looked at the ground, deep in thought. He’d stopped crying and he didn’t look at the phone no more. He relaxed his hand’s a bit and turned his head towards Byron, stopping and locking his eyes somewhere around his knees. Byron put his other hand on Joe’s back.
“I think it’s a good idea, Joe.”
Surprisingly Joe nodded and turned to Jack. “Okay.” He looked up with willpower in his eyes, and Jack called the number.
“Hey. You good?”
They could hear Conor's cheerful voice but the sound was muffled.
“I’m great. Do you mind if I put you on speaker? I have a question for you.”
Conor answered with one word, Byron and Joe couldn't hear properly.
“Okay. Hold on.” Jack put the phone on speaker and placed it on the table in front of the three of them.
“I’m at Joe and Byron’s. Were all here.”
“Hello! So, what was that question?”
“Can you tell them about my flashbacks in the hospital?”
The other end went silent for a few seconds. Byron figured that Conor was confused and thinking about how this could be a conversation at 11pm a Thursday night.
“Is this for a video or something, because I really don’t think…”
“No, it’s just us so don’t sugarcoat it.”
“But, I don’t know what happened. Why don’t you tell them?”
“You’ve told me how I looked, what I did, while I was… out. That’s what they need to hear.”
“You sure about this? Why?”
“I’ll explain later. Can you just tell them?”
Joe, who had been sitting still the whole conversation looked at Jack. Startled like before. Jack looked at him and shook his head. He whispered, so Conor couldn’t hear: “I won’t tell him.” Joe looked back at the phone, waiting for Conor to figure things out. Byron wasn’t as easily convinced, the Maynard brothers were close, and even more the last two years. He wasn’t sure Jack was able to keep this from Conor, know that he knew something was going on.
“Okay. If that's what you want."
They could hear Conor sigh on the line, but soon a steady flow of words followed.
“Most of the times it started with his eyes rolling back and closing. He hyperventilated and sometimes he was crying, real tears. The sounds he made were horrible, like he couldn’t breathe. The last episode was the worst, it lasted longer, and he looked like he was fighting something of. The doctors told me it was a bad nightmare and he was just unconscious, but the pain looked real. He was shaking. When I talked to him he stopped fighting. Every time he came back, there was a second or two, where he seemed like he didn’t know were he was, before he could make eye contact, but as soon as he was able to, he calmed down.”
Byron felt tears on his hand again and a slight shaking from Joe.
“Was that what you meant?”
Jack cleared his throat. “Yeah. Thanks.” He looked at Joe, waiting for him process.
Joe straightened his back a bit. “How about you? Were you scared he was going insane?”
Byron met Jack’s eyes. They were both stunned, but Conor must have broken through on some level.
“I was scared. I was freaking out…” All three boys tensed. This was not what Joe needed to hear.
“…but I never thought he was going insane. When he blacked out, I knew he would be in pain, and that’s what scared me.”
Joe leaned back and nodded at Jack. He was done. Jack picked up the phone and turned the speaker off. Before he left the room, Joe stopped him.
“Tell him thanks… and if he asks, it’s okay if you tell him.”
Jack nodded and left, clearly in a hurry to talk to Conor alone. Byron stayed with Joe on the couch in silence. When Jack joined them again Joe was more collected.
“I get it. You want to help because I’m in real pain and not because you are scared that I’m going crazy.”
Both Jack and Byron smiled and drew a sigh of relief.
“But, I’m still not sure about you being in the room.” Joe looked at Jack. Jack looked confused, but didn’t seem to have anything left to convince Joe. If the talk with Conor didn’t help? Joe was not scared or defensive this time, but he talked lover and more apologetic, when he continued.
“I don’t like that you don’t know what’s happening. I don’t want to scare you.” Joe turned to Byron. “Would you mind staying in the room too? Then Jack can wake you if something happen. You know what to do know.”
“Of course, I will.” Byron was stunned. Joe had really thought this through.
Jack was already hugging Joe. There weren’t really any words to be said.
It didn’t take long for them to move a mattress to Joe’s room for Byron to sleep on and sett up a cozy corner for Jack next to the bed. Joe had been a bit more relaxed while they worked, but he was silent. When he was done in the bathroom and couldn’t think of any more he had to do before sleep, he walked in the bedroom, looking like an animal heading for slaughter.
Chapter 7: Jack?
Lots of emotions. Like A LOT.
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.
Chapter 8: Real life knocking
Joe struggles with continuing the happy and funny videos.
At breakfast Joe had told Byron and Jack about the nightmare. It was like they thought. He didn’t trust the people around him, there was no one he knew, and he was scared of being put under. Jack had been apologetic for making it all about him at the hospital and for forgetting that Joe must have been scared too, but Joe had reassured him than none of it was his fault.
Now, Jack was sleeping, and Byron had joined Joe in the search of a good theme for a video. It was Friday and he had come up with nothing. Last week he did a Q and A so the easy pass had been used.
“Why don’t you make another Dare Sugg?” Byron suggested, after a long silence between them.
“It hasn’t been that long since the last one. People will start to question if I’m out of ideas.”
“But, you’re not out of ideas. You have a three-foot-long list here. Each of them will make a great video, you just have to get your energy back.”
Joe put the notes down and looked at his roommate. “How long will that take? I just can’t get myself to make a funny happy video today. They will all see how tired I am. I can’t fake it, anymore.”
Byron didn’t know how to help. Joe had great ideas, he always did, and even when it was hard for him to keep up, he could make a joke about it and come back strong the next week, with something original and funny. Byron didn’t know how he did it. This time was different. The Ideas were right there, but Joe didn’t want to do any of it.
“What if you miss a Sunday for once?” Byron almost regretted asking when he saw the surprised look on Joe’s face.
“But… I can’t.” Joe looked at his hands and then at the long list of ideas. “Well, I can. But I’m not sure I want to. I would have to explain why, and I don’t want to lie.”
“Okay, then how about you sit down and talk about what happened?”
Joe looked shocked that Byron would even suggest it. Byron knew that ThatcherJoe was not that kind of channel, but he was getting nowhere with this.
“Byron, I don’t think...”
“Just hear me out.” Joe looked at him waiting to hear the explanation. Byron continued. “None of you have addressed what happened in that accident. Your viewers know the three of you had an accident and that Conor’s break was because of it. You didn’t show your legs on camera until you walked without help again. That’s two months of videos where you sat on your bed or filmed other things.”
Byron paused as Joe looked down, he looked regretful. It wasn’t Byron’s intention to make Joe feel bad about the choices he’d made. He just needed Joe to understand that people out there was wondering what had happened.
“I get it if you don’t want to talk about the nightmares, but maybe it is now you want to talk about the accident. That would make it okay if you didn’t smile or laugh through all of it.”
Joe was silent. He nodded for himself. Byron put a hand on his shoulder and Joe came back from thought and looked at him.
“Joe. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and it certainly doesn’t have to be now, but if you don’t feel like you can put on a happy face, it might be because you really want to talk about something else.”
Joe got up suddenly and without warning. Byron sat stunned in the couch and watched him get a glass of juice from the fridge. Joe turned and leaned against the counter-top. “Let me think about it. I don’t have to do it right now.”
Byron let it go and they started planning what to do with the rest of the day once Jack would wake up. He didn’t want to pressure Joe into anything, and it really looked like Joe would give it some thought, so he would let it be up to him now.
“Hello everyone. Now, a lot of you were probably thinking >Clickbait< when you saw the title, but I was in a car accident… Six months ago.”
“Well, we were.”
“That’s right. Jack and me and Conor was in a bad accident and a lot of you have been worried about Conor because he had to take some time off after. So, Jack and I thought that we would sit down and tell you what happened.”
Conor had seen the whole video and approved. They had worked on it for most of the day and Joe was getting more and more confident that this was a good idea. They hadn’t gone into the gory detail, but they had explained how it happened, their injuries and why Joe’s channel had been “weird” as he called it himself, and why his vlogging channel had been almost non-exciting for a few months.
“Do you think people will believe that I hid my legs on camera because I didn’t want to answer questions?”
“You said that you wanted to put it behind you and didn’t want it on the internet until you were good and ready. That’s the most reasonable thing to think in that situation. People will get that. Besides I made videos with a broken arm and got a lot of questions from it, I didn’t answer one.” Jack put the pizza on the coffee table. They had been so busy with the video, that they hadn’t thought of food until Byron’s stomach started making sounds.
Byron took the first piece and sat down. It was almost 11.30 and he had noticed Joe look at the clock multiple times already. “I’ll stay in your room tonight Joe. Jack, you can sleep in my bed.”
They both nodded and the three of them spent the next few minutes in silence, eating. When they had finished almost two pizzas between them, Byron got up to move the boxes out of the way.
“Joe. Can I ask you something?” Jack was sitting on the floor with his legs under the coffee table, but now he pushed himself back to sit against the wall.
“Yeah…” Joe sounded apprehensive and Byron suddenly felt like he should excuse himself and leave.
“Ehm. I’ll go get ready for bed.”
Joe turned around and looked at him. “No, it’s okay. You are in this too now.”
Byron looked at Jack and the blonde nodded at him, so he got back to sit in the couch.
“When you said my name last night?” Jack looked like he was physically getting smaller by the word. “Did you want me to be there, or were you worried about me?”
At first it seemed like joe hadn’t heard the entire question, but then he came through and looked Jack straight in his eyes.
“Both… I was scared out of my mind, and there was no one there I knew. Then I realized that this must have been what you felt like, when they took me away.”
Byron was frozen in his position, observing what happened, like a scene in a movie you didn’t see coming.
“I needed to make sure you were okay and that you knew I was.” Joe stopped and looked at Jack. His blonde friend didn’t move. “Jack, say something.”
Jack came back and must have realized that it was his turn to speak. “Yeah that was how I felt, but I’m a mess when it comes to hospitals. You know that. You didn’t have to feel responsible for me.”
“I did.” Joe said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Then he took a breath. “I guess, it’s the same reason why you guys are here now.”
They all went silent for a few seconds, till Byron couldn’t stand it anymore. “Okay. I think we need something hot to drink before we sleep. Tea or cocoa?”
After joking and talking about nothing important for awhile, they turned in for the night. Byron had made coffee to help him keep awake and Jack had made him promise that if he couldn’t stay awake he would come wake him.
That night the first sign of a nightmare showed at two AM. Joe was shaking and moaning, his leg was starting to twitch. Byron put an ice-pack on the scar and talked calmly to Joe, holding his hand. Joe had calmed down within five minutes and hadn’t woken up.
Half an hour later he had to do the same thing, and he was happy to see Joe calm down faster this time.
Nothing else happened that night and around six AM. Joe woke up and volunteered to make breakfast, while Byron slept. Byron gladly accepted and crawled into Joe’s bed, since Jack was still sleeping in his.
The Saturday went by quick even though they didn’t really do anything. Most of the day was spent on playing PlayStation, watching other people’s online videos and they ended up having a marathon of old Good Mythical Morning videos. When dinnertime came closer they decided that they should probably go to the store and pick something up, so they could make some real food this time. All three of them joined in the preparation and when they sat down to eat they were all joking and laughing, like the last two days hadn’t happened at all.
Byron put the dishes in the washer and Jack and Joe were first to the couch. Jack picked up the controllers and handed one to Joe. He took it but put it down.
“I think we’ve played enough for today.”
Jack put his down too. “Okay, what then? Do you guys wat to watch a movie?”
Joe looked down, and shook his head in silence.
“Hey, Joe. C’mon, you’ve had a great day, and the nightmares last night were so small you don’t even remember them… or do you?”
“I didn’t lie. I don’t remember them. As far as I remember, I slept great.”
“Then what?” Jack looked at Byron as he came over and sat down in the armchair.
“I’m not sure about the video.”
Jack and Byron looked at each other, neither of them knew what to say.
“I know we didn’t talk about the nightmares, but…”
“But what, Joe?” Byron tried to look up at Joe’s eyes, but he looked away.
“My channel is not like this. My personal stuff is private, what if they think I’ve lost it?”
Byron sighed. Did they have to go through this whole crazy-scare-thing again? He thought Joe was over that. “Joe, no one will think that.”
Joe looked up. “What if they think I’m using it for views, like sympathy votes or something like that?”
Jack put a hand on Joe’s knee. “Joe, you don’t seriously believe that, do you? That’s not gonna happen.”
Byron continued. “You guys described the accident like it happened and you even told that the seat-belts probably saved your lives. I see that as a public service. You are educating the youth here.”
They all smiled, even Joe and he agreed that he was just overacting. Before they went to bed they uploaded the video and set it to go public at six PM the next day.
Byron went to sleep in his own room, making the same deal Jack had made with him the night before. Jack was ready to stay up another night and was situated in the corner before Joe came out of the bathroom.
Joe got in bed without saying anything and turned his back to Jack, but it wasn’t long before Jack could hear small sniffles and a shorter than normal breaths coming from the bed.
“Joe, are you okay?”
“Joe, are you crying?”
“I’m fine.” Joe’s voice cracked, and Jack was convinced that Joe was not fine.
Jack went to the other side of the bed and kneeled to be at eye-level with Joe. “What is it?”
“I don’t want to sleep.” Joe almost whispered.
Jack knew how he felt. He didn’t want to sleep after the attack, what if he was suddenly there again? “I got help from a doctor to sleep when I couldn’t calm down. She gave me something that made it less scary.”
Jack had never told anyone except Conor about this, but it had been a help for him. He didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks after the hospital though. “Maybe you could consider it? I can call her.”
Joe looked in to the mattress. “No thanks. I’m not scared of sleeping. I…” Joe paused, Jack took his hand and waited for him to continue. “I don’t want to sleep, because then it will be tomorrow.”
“You're still thinking about the video?”
“You know that we can still stop it right? We don’t have to…”
“I want to. I… I just keep second-guessing it. There are too many maybes.”
Jack understood, he had the same thoughts, even though his channel hadn’t been as affected in the months after, he too had been neglecting to answer the questions about the cast on his arm.
“Do you want to wait? It doesn’t have to be this Sunday?”
Joe sat up, wiped his eyes and found his phone. “I just think I need to make the decision now so there is nothing else to think about. I can’t sleep if I have to wait with the decision till right before it goes up.”
Jack sat on the edge of the mattress to see what Joe was doing. He was on Twitter.
He put down his phone and laid down.
“Okay, so you’ve committed to it now. Will you be able to sleep?”
“I hope so.”
Jack squeezed Joe’s shoulder before he left him, to go sit in the corner with his laptop and the thermos filled with coffee. It took almost an hour for Joe to fall asleep, but he didn’t cry anymore that night.
Joe woke up screaming. He couldn’t seem to stop. The pain in his legs was everything he knew. He tried to move to get away from what was hurting him, but he was stuck. He tried to pull his leg back quickly, but it hurt more, and he screamed even louder. He felt like he was passing out or had to be sick. Then something touched his hand. He jumped at the shock that anyone else was there. His world had been only darkness and pain till now, but now he realized that he was in his car. The man holding his hand had a surgeon’s mask on.
“It’ hurts. Get me out please!”
The man started to pull Joe up through the roof of the car which wasn’t there anymore. The pain spread in his leg and he screamed in shock. Why was people wired to feel such pain?
“No. Stop!” Joe couldn’t catch his breath long enough to make more words, and had to gasp for air to not puke. He was hyperventilating when two more men with masks came over. They pulled him op from the car. They did not hear his pleading for them to stop. He was sure his foot was getting ripped off. He started crying hysterically and the only thing he got through was; “My leg. M-leg, m-leg.”
Then he found himself lying on a stretcher and the men was trying to strap him down. Joe knew that he had to get away. He fought of the men and tried to stand, but his leg betrayed him and sent a jolt of electricity through his entire body and he fell with a scream, quickly muffled by the impact with the ground. Joe looked down to see the injury. It was a bloody mess but the thing that made him cry harder and shout incomprehensible words was that his foot was gone.
He pulled himself across the surface he had landed on, nothing left to do for him than try to escape. The pain was unbearable, and he wanted to pass out, but the fear made him stay and try to get away. He knocked his head against something hard. His eyes went black for a second, but he didn’t stop screaming and begging for them to leave him alone. When he could see again he was in an operating room. He had pressed his back up against a corner and two guys stood mid room slowly getting closer.
“No! Leave me alone!”
Joe tried to stand but fell as the pain in his leg was too much to handle. He coughed and spat on the floor and tried again, screaming in agony as he managed to stand in the corner on one leg. He panted as the two men came closer. They had their arms out in front of them, possibly to catch him if he tried to get by.
“Get BACK!” Joe shouted with all the force he had left in him.
The two doctors took a step back. They looked at each other and then the tallest spoke. “Joe. You’re okay.”
“I’m NOT!” He tried to get more air to continue but the pain was getting worse with standing so all he managed was sobbing and panting to try and prevent being sick.
“He’s going to be sick. What do we do?” The doctors looked at him like he was some lab-rat.
“Joe. Listen to us.” The tall doctor stepped closer and that’s when Joe saw the needle in his hand.
“Don’t touch me! Get back!”
“You need to calm down.” The other doctor stood still but Joe noticed the saw in his hand.
“Don’t take it! Please.” Joe collapsed to the floor and pressed his back to the corner. They were going to take the other leg too. That leg was hurting too, but… no this couldn’t be right.
“Please. No no nnono.” Joe was reduced to a bundle of crying pain. He could do noting to stop them.
The doctors looked at him, then they came closer and hunched down on either side of him. “Should we move him to the bed?” The other doctor considered the question and then nodded.
Joe was so exhausted that he couldn’t put up much of a fight when the two men lifted him by his upper arms and placed him on something soft. This was it. They would chop of his other leg, and he would feel the pain double. He would never be able to walk. He started crying louder, on the edge of hysterical again.
“Please, don’t. Let me keep it. It’s not that bad. Please… No more pain. Please.”
He was on his back and couldn’t see much of the room. The tears in his eyes made it impossible to see most anything anyway. They tied Joe down to the bed. He had restraints on both hands holding them on his stomach and one over his chest and shoulders. He twisted and turned to get away, but it was futile.
Minutes went by where nothing happened, besides Joe crying and trying to call for help. It seemed like he was left alone. The pain was still bad enough to make his breathing difficult, but it seemed to be better des longer he kept it still. Was he really going to lie here and bleed to death?
As he realized that no one heard him anyway, he silenced his crying. He might have heard someone talking. He listened but it was hard to hear through his rapid breathing and loud heartbeat.
Someone was there. It didn’t sound like the doctors, but he couldn’t be sure. He tensed his body against the restraints.
“Joe. Relax, it’s Byron.”
He had to be hallucinating now. Byron was not in the car with him, why would he be here?
“Can you hear me?”
Joe wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t even sure he could produce words anymore, so he nodded carefully.
“Good. Listen. You are home. You are safe.”
He was lying. Why would he be tied up at home? He shook his head. He could still see the lights from the operating room through the door.
“Joe. You are having a nightmare. You need to wake up now.”
Joe fought the restraints one more time to be sure that he wasn’t imagining them.
“It’s me. Byron. I had to hold you. You were hurting yourself. Relax and I’ll let go.”
This couldn’t have been a nightmare. It was too real, the pain was real, and it was still there. But he had to try, so he took a few deep breaths and tried his best to relax.
“Good, Joe. Now just lay still, okay?”
Joe nodded and the pressure over his chest and shoulders disappeared. He felt relief that he wasn’t tied down, but he also suddenly felt less secure. It was weird because he hadn’t realized till now that being held in place had helped him calm down. He squeezed the things around his hands to ground himself.
“Are your leg hurting still?”
Joe closed his eyes and could feel his lover lip quivering. He nodded and new tears flooded from his closed eyes.
The things on his hands disappeared and he desperately searched for something to hold on to. He found a hand, realizing that the other things must have been hands too.
“I got you.” Joe was sure now. It was Byron. He squeezed his hand with both of his and felt a hand brush through his hair. “Jack is here too. He’s going to put something cold on your leg.”
Joe’s eyes flew open with fear. “No! Please. It hurts!”
“It will get better. I promise.” Joe saw Byron nod at someone by the food end of the bed. He could see that he was in his own room now. Byron lying next to him on the bed. The cold burned like fire when it hit, and Joe arched back and tried to kick it off, but Byron held his hands and Jack must have been holding the ice on him. It was over quickly, and Joe was finally able to relax, but he didn’t let go of Byron’s hand.
Jack came to lie on the other side of him and put a hand on his shoulder. Joe didn’t know how long they stayed like that, but he didn’t sleep more that night and neither did Jack or Byron, and when they decided to move, it was light outside.
When I uploaded the first chapter, this was meant to be a cute short (maybe three short chapters) story. Then it took a life on it's own and now...
Chapter 10: Sunday
The video is about to go up and Joe is not as okay with it as he tries to be.
The morning was slow, but started early. They took turns taking a shower and they ate breakfast in silence. Jack and Byron didn’t know what to say and Joe wasn’t even making eye-contact. Reluctantly Jack had gone to Byron’s room to get some sleep. But Byron had to promise him that they wouldn’t leave the apartment without him, and that he would come and wake him after four hours.
Joe was putting the dishes away, when Byron had to break the silence. “Joe talk to me.”
Joe didn’t answer.
“Joe?” Byron came into the kitchen-area and took the plate Joe was holding and put it away. “Talk to me.”
Joe was frozen with his eyes locked at the floor. “I’m not getting better. Last night…”
“Last night was a setback. Nothing more.” Byron put a hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“No, Byron. Last night was the worst I’ve ever had. It’s getting worse.”
Joe was not crying, he was not hyperventilating, he wasn’t shouting. He looked at the floor and talked quietly. Defeated. Byron was sure he had given up.
“Listen, Joe. You were worried about the video and you have spend the last few days talking about these nightmares. It’s not getting worse. You are just reacting, because you are finally doing something about it.”
Joe was still frozen. Byron wasn’t sure if he was thinking it over or if he’d even heard it. “C’mon. Let’s play some Mario Kart or something and then we’ll go ice-skating when Jack wakes up, like we planned.”
“I’m not in the mood. Maybe we should cancel the trip.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong here, but you spent all day yesterday thinking… about everything. Even if you didn’t show it until the evening, right?”
“I guess.” Joe wrong his hands in front of him.
“So, today we should do something to change that. You are just as bad on skates as me so, there won’t be much time to think about anything else.” He landed a friendly fist on Joe’s other shoulder and Joe looked up and almost smiled.
They sat down to play the game, and both tried very hard to enjoy it. Three hours later Jack came in the living room looking more dead than alive. Byron paused the game. “You should be sleeping.”
“Like anyone would be able to sleep with you yelling and laughing so loud.”
“Sorry.” Joe got up from the couch, still with a smile one his face. “Do you want anything to eat?”
“No thanks. I’m just happy to see you like this.” Jack pulled Joe in for a quick hug and then looked at his watch. “Are we still going skating?”
“As soon as you are ready.” Byron turned off the TV-set and started throwing things in a bag-pack.
Jack and Joe looked at each other then smiled and Joe shrug his shoulders. Jack got dressed and soon they were on their way.
It had been great to let loose for a few hours and they had all had fun at the ice-skating rink. They had talked about eating out for dinner, but as the time came closer to six, Joe started to be worried, so they decided to drive home and bring take out.
“Are we going for McDonald's or did you have something else in mind?” Byron was driving and Joe was in the passenger seat. Jack was in the back, sleeping. He was still going on only three hours.
“I guess that’s fine.” Joe looked at his watch again. Byron had counted at least seven times in the last ten minutes.
“What’s the time?”
“Are you okay?”
Joe nodded and folded his hands, which were obviously sweating. Byron pulled up to the drive-in and ordered what he thought Joe and Jack would like. When they got the food, Joe looked at his watch again.
“You know everything will be just fine, right?” Byron could practically smell Joe’s worry. Joe nodded but it didn’t seem like he believed him.
“I-I can’t do this.” Joe looked like he had just had an epiphany. He looked at Byron. “I need to take it down. I need to stop it.”
“Why suddenly now? There’s nothing in that video that will make you fans think badly about you. You know that.”
Joe looked at Byron, he was scared now. Byron could see it. “Not fans.” His breathing got faster quickly now. “What a-, what about all the others?”
Joe’s hands found the way to his chest, holding it like he was in pain. He hunched over as much as the seatbelt would allow and started pulling the collar in his jacket. “I can’t… can’t breathe.”
“Jack! Wake up!” Byron pulled the car over and got out in lightning-speed. Jack wasn’t fully awake before Byron had already opened the door on Joe’s side.
“Joe. Slow down your breathing.” He talked calm while he reached over to unlock the seat belt.
“Can’t… Hurts.” Joe was gasping for air and his eyes started to roll back.
Jack was out of the car now, and it seemed like he’d gotten up to speed with what was happening. He grabbed Joe’s one hand while Byron pulled his seat all the way back.
“Jack?” Joe was only getting out a sharp whisper.
“I’m here. It’s a panic-attack. Put your head between you knees.” Byron and Jack both supported Joe in moving without falling out of the car.
“I can’t… the video… all the others.”
Byron and Jack shared a look of confusion, before Jack decided that they would need an explanation to help calm Joe down. “Who are ‘the others’?”
Joe took a few sharp shallow breaths and tried to form a sentence. “Not fans… Friends... People I know… They don’t know.” He went in to full hyperventilation and Jack had trouble holding on to his shaking hand.
“Joe. Stop!” Byron was yelling to get through to him. “You said it; They are your friends! Now, calm down so we can talk about this.”
“Can’t.” Joe was trying to take of his jacket, still with his head between his knees, and failing miserably.
Byron talked composed again. “Yes, you can. Let me help get this off.” He calmly helped him out if the jacket. “Take a deep breath. You feel Jack’s hand?” Joe nodded squeezed the hand and almost managed a breath of normal length. “Keep going. We can talk about all of this when you are calm.”
After five more minutes of coaching from both Jack and Byron. Joe sat back up, wiped his wet eyes and looked at the two guys squatted down outside the car door.
“Sorry.” He still held on to Jack’s hand.
“No need to be.” Byron stood up and stretched his back. “Are you good, now?”
Joe nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”
They decided, or Jack and Byron did, that Joe should sit in the back with Jack for the rest of the drive.
“Joe.” Byron started when he got in the driver’s seat. “We still have time to take the video down. But, I’m telling you, that even if you can’t see it now, no one is going to be mad or disappointed that you kept things to yourself.”
Joe looked at his watch again. He gasped, and Jack looked scared that this would all start over. Byron looked at the car-clock; 5:58 pm. Even if they wanted to stop it, even if Joe did it right now on his phone, it would probably be up for a bit and get some views. He looked in the rear-view mirror and Joe wasn’t doing anything. Jack was holding both his hands.
“It’ll be fine Joe. I promise.” Joe looked at Jack. Then he took his phone out of his pocket.
“Take it.” He handed it to Jack. “I don’t want to see.”
Byron nodded at Jack and he took it. They spend the last ten minutes of the drive, in silence, and when they got to the apartment, Joe went to his room and closed the door. Byron had taken the key, so he wasn’t able to lock it.
Caspar was the first one to call Joe’s phone. Jack answered; “Hey.”
“Hey. I guess you are with Joe, since you have his phone.”
“Yeah, but he’s in his room. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone.”
Caspar went silent for a few seconds, but then he spoke again. “He won’t talk to you either?”
“No. Not anyone. Me and Byron have both tried.”
“Well. Since it wouldn’t help much to ask you to give him a message I want you to give him the phone and if he don’t take it; throw it at him.”
Jack sighed. He’d never heard Caspar like this. He wasn’t angry, but there wasn’t room for counter-arguments. He sent Byron a suffering look and walked to Joe’s room. On the floor right out-side of the door was Joe’s lap-top, tablet and his old phone. Jack knocked carefully, not wanting to startle him if he was sleeping. Not that he truly believed that.
“Go away Jack. I don’t want any of it right now.”
“Caspar is on the phone. Joe please.”
There was a brief silence then the door opened. Joe looked more tired than ever before and he had been crying. “I-I don’t want to talk to anyone. Not you, or Byron, or Caspar. I want to be left alone. I need time.”
Joe tried to close the door, but Jack stopped it with his hand. “Time for what?”
Joe looked like he would snap off Jack’s hand any minute to get the door closed, but he took a breath and answered the question instead. “I’ve just told everyone in my life how horrible that crash was, on the same time! If I have to explain my decision to not tell, or tell them all about the accident, I’m never getting rid of the nightmares.”
Jack froze. How could he argue with that? He had hoped that this video would help Joe. Now he suddenly understood the panic-attack earlier.
It was Caspar yelling on the phone. Jack took his eyes of Joe and held the phone to his ear. “Just a sec Cas.” He handed the phone to Joe. “Joe. I get it, but this is Caspar. He knew. He was there at the hospital with us.”
Joe reluctantly took the phone. He took a deep breath and put it to his ear, while closing the door.
“Joe. Are you okay?”
Joe sat down on his bed and put his elbows on his knees. “Can we pretend you didn’t just hear all of that?”
“If you want. I saw the video, but I guess you figured as much.”
“Yeah.” Joe sighed. “I don’t know why we did that. I never wanted to post something like that."
“I know. ThatcherJoe isn’t really that kind of channel, but sometimes shit happens. It was a good video, I think you should read some of the comments.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening.”
“Sure. Call me if there is anything you need.”
“I will… and Caspar?”
Joe sat for a sec and looked at the phone. There were three new messages. The video had only been up half an hour and he knew his friends normally didn’t see his videos right away, if at all. He stood up to put the phone outside of the door with the other things, but something made him stop. Joe went back and forth on the floor with the phone in hand a couple of times before he sat down on his bed. He couldn’t put the phone down. With an angry sigh he tapped the screen and opened the first message.
Suddenly he missed Tyler and other people he hadn’t talked to in a while. He had been putting of quite a few conversations, the last six months. He didn’t want to lie, but if someone would ask about the accident, he would have had to. He wasn’t ready to talk about it. Tyler’s message gave him courage enough to open the one from Will.
Joe hadn’t talked to Will in almost four months. He’d assured him that he was fine after he came home and then he’d ignored the following messages. Joe quickly sent a thank you and explained that Will was right, that he’d just needed time. Then he went back to Tyler’s message and thanked him too.
The third message was from Mikey. Joe had spent time with him while his legs were still healing so he knew about the extent of the accident.
Joe wanted to call Mikey, but settled on answering with a message, since he was already tearing up. They understood his choice. All three. They weren’t mad because he hadn’t told them, or because he had needed some time to figure out things for himself. They were just there waiting for him when he decided to come back.
He sat for a moment just looking at the lock-screen on his phone. Feeling relieved, for the first time in a long time. Then the silence was gone. Two more messages came in, he managed to see that one of them were from Marcus, but then Conor called. Joe hesitated a bit, but then remembered that Conor already approved the video, two days ago.
“Conor? What time is it there?” Joe tried to sound on top of his game, but he probably couldn’t hide the lump in his throat.
“It’s around ten thirty in the morning. Jack messaged me. Are you okay?”
Joe should have figured as much. “I’m better now. Talked to Caspar and wrote with a few people.”
“Good. The video has gotten a lot of response. Have you seen any of it? Even my twitter is blowing up.”
“I’ve turned off the apps. I didn’t want to see it.”
“You do it in your own time, but I promise. There are good people out there, Joe.”
“I know. Thanks.” His voice cracked as he thought about the response he’d already gotten.
“Now, should I text my brother back or would you like to go talk to him before he knocks the door down?”
Joe almost let out a small chuckle. “Can you tell him that I’ll be out soon? I just want to answer some texts.”
“Sure thing. I’ll do that. Take care, you’ve got this.”
Conor hung up on him before he could decide what to answer. That’s one way to get the last word.
Joe opened the message from Marcus.
He had downplayed it. Marcus had visited after the cast and the splint had come off, so it had been easy to avoid too many questions about the crash. After the nightmares started however, he had closed almost everyone out. He didn’t want anyone to stay over. For a long time, he had wished that he didn’t had a roommate, but now he was grateful for Byron being there.
He decided that he would answer them tomorrow. There were already three more messages, and he just wanted to read them now. The next was from Oli.
Joe smiled. He was going to call Oli, or at least text him back, tomorrow, but he had absolutely no intentions on going on twitter or YouTube. Maybe he could just let it go and upload next week without reading anything, but that meant that he would have to spend a week offline, and even then, it would be impossible not to see.
He shook the thought of him and looked at the phone again. The two last messages were from Troye and Tanya.
Troye had probably been the one he’d talked least to after the accident. He decided to answer him right away. Telling him sorry for the scare when the video came up and thanks for the support.
He hadn’t been able to hide how tired he was, but if Tanya didn’t realize that it wasn’t just from staying up playing video-games all night, maybe no one else would either.
The phone was silent. He didn’t want to turn on the apps. Everyone was telling him that there was a lot of comments and both Caspar and Conor had said that it was good. Though, lately what seemed good to others hadn’t always showed to be what he needed. Everything seemed to get twisted around in his head, and he could find something bad in every situation or sentence.
He decided to put his phone in his pocket and go face the boys in the living room.
“You okay?” Jack almost flew of the chair he was sitting on.
“I’m good.” Joe pulled over a chair to the table and Jack settled down again. “Are you just sitting here waiting?”
Jack and Byron had been at the table when he got there. No computers, books or even food on it. Only a glass of water in front of Jack.
“We…” Byron started. “We wanted to be quiet, incase you fell asleep, so we…”
“…so you could hear if I had a nightmare?”
Both guys nodded. Joe reckoned they had been nervous for quite some time. “Didn’t Conor call?”
“Yeah, he did, about ten minutes ago. He said you were answering some messages.”
“I was. You guys were right about the video. It was the right way to do it. Everyone is totally fine about it.”
“But, you knew that they would be, right?” Jack looked at Joe and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I guess. Everything just seems more serious and I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like I’m expecting everything to go wrong all the time.”
Byron and Jack looked at each other and then Byron took Joes hand. “Joe…”
Joe’s phone rang. It was Zoë. Neither of the boys let go of him and he didn’t want to try and shake the hands of him, so he remained seated between them while talking.
“Joe. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” He struggled to not let his voice crack. “I guess you saw the video.”
“Yeah. Tanya called. Alfie and I have just watched it. I’m so proud of you for making a video like that. I know that couldn’t have been easy.”
Joe swallowed and took a deep breath. He was not going to cry on the phone with Zoë. Jack’s hand on his shoulder started rubbing him in small circles. It helped a bit, keeping him here in reality and not getting lost in the thought, that right now he just really missed his sister.
“You there, Joe?”
“I’m here.” Joe straightened his back a bit and cleared his throat.
“Joe. Are you sleeping okay? I remember the nightmares from the weeks you stayed here. They went away, didn’t they?”
What was he supposed to do know? He couldn’t lie to Zoë and he probably wouldn’t be able to pull it of either. He looked down at his hand in Byron’s and squeezed it. “They came back.”
“When? For how long?” Zoë sounded worried, maybe a little shocked, but not angry.
“I-I…” Joe couldn’t talk. The lump in his throat made it impossible to make sound without ending up crying.
“You have had them the entire time, right? You have looked tired on screen since the accident, I thought it was from the healing, but it can’t be that anymore.”
“I’m sorry So. I should have told you.” Joe broke down crying. His head landed on Byron's and his hand. His other hand was still holding the phone to his ear. “I’m sorry. They never stopped. It’s only gotten worse.”
Joe was shaking now, and Byron had to move closer to make him stay on the chair. He was sobbing uncontrollably and couldn’t make any words except from repeating I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
“Joe, breathe.” Byron tried to calm him down, but he just leaned against his torso and held on, dropping the phone in the process. Byron pulled Joe down to the floor to get him situated a place he wouldn’t fall from. He sat with Joe curled up between his legs and holding his trembling upper body in his arms.
Byron looked at Jack, then at the phone, which had fallen to the floor. Jack picked it up.
“Zoë? Are you still there?”
“What is going on!? Jack?”
“Yeah it’s me. Byron is here too. He’s not alone.”
“I can hear him. Jack, tell me what is happening.” Zoë was crying now, Jack was sure of it. He looked at Joe curled up, holding on to Byron as if his life depended on it.
“He has been having nightmares on and off since the…” Jack left the room to talk to Zoë a place where she couldn’t hear Joe’s sobs and pleading for forgiveness.
Byron turned all his attention to calming Joe down. He moved a hand in big circles on his back and the other was in his hair. “Joe. Calm down.”
Joe was hysterical. He gripped Byron’s shirt and tried to move closer. Like some monster was coming to get him, and Byron was the only one who could save him.
“Shhh Joe. It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry, ‘m sorry.”
“Joe. Zoë is worried. She’s not mad.”
“I sh… I-I should…” Joe was panting and coughing to get the words out.
“Joe, breathe. It’s all good.”
“No… should ‘ve… told…” He hid his head between his arm and Byron’s chest. “’m sorry.”
Byron lifted Joe’s head with both his hands. He looked him straight in the eyes. “Joe. Listen. Zoë will understand, she’s just worried.”
Byron kept eye-contact until Joe nodded, then he let him fall to his chest once more. Joe was still crying when Jack came back. He was still shaking and gasping for air, but he didn’t talk and didn’t move. Jack was still on the phone. He sat squatted down in front of Joe.
“Joe? Do you want Zoë to come by?”
Joe didn’t react at first, but then he calmed down his breathing a bit and without looking up he nodded. Jack stood up and exchanged a few more words with Joe’s older sister.
“Joe?” Byron tried.
Joe shook his head. His breathing indicated that he was still crying.
“Joe? Let’s get you onto the couch.”
Joe didn’t react until Jack came back and helped Byron move him. He walked to the couch, but still had his arms tightly wrapped around his larger roommate. Byron had to sit down first and have Joe lean against him. Joe was going along with it, like a tired kid when Jack moved his legs up in the couch.
Zoë had taken the train. The Thameslink left every fifteen minutes and was way faster than a car. Alfie was going to pack and then come by later. It had taken Zoë an hour and a half to get there, but when she came in to the living room, Joe was still on the couch with Byron.
“He cried himself to sleep half an hour ago.” Jack took Zoë’s jacket and purse and shoved her gently towards Joe.
Zoë kneeled down in front of Joe’s face. “Joe?”
Byron shifted a bit, and rubbed Joe’s arm. “Joe. Zoë is here.”
Joe moaned and then grabbed Byron’s shirt again. “Joe. Wake up.” Zoë talked calmly, almost whispering. She took his hand from Byron’s shirt in hers and cupped her brother’s cheek with the other.
“Zoë?” Joe opened his eyes and looked at his sister. He relaxed his body again, but tears were emerging in the corner of his eyes.
“It’s okay Joe.” Zoë brushed a falling tear from Joe’s cheek with her thumb. Joe let go of Byron and almost fell of the couch hugging Zoë. Zoë held on tight for a minute, then she tried to stand.
Still holding each other in a tight embrace Joe and Zoë stood up with Byron and Jack’s help. “Let’s get you to bed.” Zoë’s comment made Joe stop, but she got him going again and soon they were both in Joe’s bed, and Byron and Jack had left the room. Joe was crying again.
“What is it?” Zoë brushed her hand through Joe’s hair. Joe had his forehead pressed against her collarbone and his arms wrapped tight around her upper body. “Joseph, it’s okay. I’m not angry or disappointed. I get it.”
Joe stopped shaking.
“You don’t have to tell me these things, Joe, but now I know, and I’m staying right here.”
Joe looked up at her with eyes full of water. “I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you but…”
“It’s okay. Honestly.”
Joe rested his head on the pillow. “I… I kinda lost it.”
Zoë moved his hair out of his face so he they could see each other properly. “You don’t think that I could ever be mad at you. Like really mad? Do you?”
Joe shook his head and looked down. “Everything have just been too much. I’m spiraling out of control all the time.”
“We all have times when things seem worse than they really are, and if you’re not sleeping then could it very well make it worse. Jack told me everything. You didn’t get much sleep last night, did you?”
“No.” Joe felt kinda embarrassed that she knew everything, but it was safe too. Then they didn’t have to talk about it.
“Before we sleep…” Joe looked up at her, Zoë looked calm and kind as always. “…have you read comments or talked to others about the video?”
Joe told her about the messages and the calls from Caspar and Conor. He fell asleep soon after, in his sister’s arms and with a slight smile on his face.
Chapter 11: Like a normal monday
Joe had slept light the first hour or so, occasionally waking up and looking at Zoë to make sure she was still there, even though he was still in her arms. Every time she looked at him with a smile and told him that she would stay. Eventually he had given up and fallen to sleep. Almost an hour more went by before Zoë slept too.
Zoë woke up when a stripe of light from the hall hit her face. She squinted against it and saw Byron’s head popping out from behind the door. She looked down at Joe, who was still sleeping and drew a breath of relief, even though her arm was numb from his head cutting off circulation.
“Are you awake?” She could barely hear Byron whispering.
“Joe is still sleeping. What time is it?”
Zoë did the math in her quickly. Joe had been sleeping for 13 hours. Her eyes had had time to get used to the light and she looked at her brother again. He was calmly sleeping, and she didn’t want to wake him.
“Don’t you think we should let him sleep?” She looked at Byron again hoping he would agree, but she had never dealt with something like this before, so she wasn’t sure of anything. Byron nodded.
“Do you need anything?”
She shook her head but asked him to leave the door open, so Joe would wake up to a brighter room. She could hear voices from the kitchen.
“Is Alfie here?”
“He came about an hour ago. Do you want to talk to him?”
Joe shifted a bit in her arms and she used the moment to move her arm a bit and get some blood flow going, but she stilled quickly not to wake him. She shook her head at Byron and the tall guy disappeared in to the light.
All three boys were sitting around the table talking quietly, but stopped when they saw Zoë walk in. It had been little over half an hour since Byron had talked to her. They had used the time to fill Alfie in on what was going on.
Alfie stood up and hugged his girlfriend tight. Jack and Byron sat frozen at the table, both ready to burst with questions.
“He’s awake.” Zoë came over to the table and sat down. “He slept through the night without nightmares.”
Both boys physically relaxed and leaned back. “How is he? Is he coming out to eat?”
Joe stood in the doorway with a smile on his face. A small one, but a smile none the less.
“I’m sorry about my breakdown last night… and the one in the car.” He put a hand on Bryon’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes, before he gave Alfie a hug. “Thanks for coming.”
He sat down and poured some cereal in a bowl. Everyone else was just starring at him in silence, until Jack broke the silence.
“So, we hear you slept well.”
Joe looked up and seemed to realize that Jack and Byron were drowning in questions. “I did. I’m not sure, but I really think this will be over soon, if not already. I feel better.”
“Why do you think that is?” Jack was not sure he should even ask this, but he had to know what Joe was thinking if he had to help him later.
Joe looked at Zoë and she nodded at him to go along. Byron and Jack realized that he’d already had this conversation with his sister.
“I think that everything got worse because I tried to pretend that it wasn’t there. I was scared but I didn’t show it, and that’s why I had so many nightmares.”
He looked at everyone in the room and Byron could have sworn that for a moment he saw tears forming in Joe’s eyes, but they were gone as soon as he continued.
“I’ve told everyone now. You guys made me.” He smiled and elbowed Jack on his shoulder. “The longer I kept it inside, the worse it got, the harder it became to tell. Now, thanks to you, everyone knows. And of course, everyone was great about it.”
The next few minutes were quiet, but soon they all ate and talked like nothing had happened at all. There was a light and relieved atmosphere in the room and the conversation quickly became loud and cheery.
However, during the conversation Byron and Jack sent each other looks as if they were thinking about the same thing, but none of them wanted to say it. Joe eventually picked up on it.
“Jack. What is it?”
Everyone went silent. Jack looked at Byron and the brown-haired man nodded for him to continue.
“We were wondering…”
“What?” Joe looked confused and all of a sudden, a bit worried too.
Jack sighed and continued. “Have you seen any of the comments on the video?”
Joe looked from one to the other and then at Alfie and Zoë too. He shook his head. “No. I…”
Zoë put a hand on his shoulder. He felt eyes on him from every direction, Jack and Zoë from either side and Alfie and Byron on the other side of the table. He only noticed now that Byron’s laptop was open on the coffee table.
“Have you?” Joe was felt his stomach closing tight around the cereal he’d eaten.
Byron look over at his laptop too. “We have. It’s good Joe. You should look at it.”
“Have you read them all?”
“I couldn’t. There are already over 3.000. It’s impossible to keep up.”
That hit Joe as a punch in his stomach and left him breathless. He grabbed his sister’s hand. This was too much to handle. Everyone said that it was all good, but there was bound to be some bad in there too, and lately everything was twisted to bad in his head anyway.
“Do you want to read them alone?”
Joe looked at Zoë. She had already decided that he was doing this. He shook his head. He didn’t want to do it by himself but there were way too many people in the room right now.
“Who do you want to stay?” Zoë looked at the others at the table. Joe had no idea what to do. He didn’t want to choose, that wouldn’t be fair, would it?
“Joe?” Joe must have taken too long. Jack was looking at him, waiting for him to say something. “You know none of us will be disappointed or mad, right? Just pick one and the rest of us will leave.”
Joe looked at him. He didn’t find any deceive in his expression, so eventually he nodded. He looked down at the table and squeezed Zoë’s hand and then let go.
“Byron.” He looked up at his roommate and found him surprised, but then he nodded and picked up his laptop on his way to the couch. Joe followed.
The others got up and cleared the table before they left the apartment. Jack smiled at Joe on his way out. “Call when you want us back, well get something special for dinner.”
“You sure it shouldn’t be Jack?” Byron had already pulled YouTube op on the screen. The laptop was still on his knees, turned slightly away from Joe.
“I’m sure. It’s more… you know, normal, when it’s just us. Like a normal Monday, checking comments and tweets.”
Byron nodded and gave Joe the laptop. Joe looked up the video and paused it immediately. He didn’t bother to lock in. He was only going to read anyway.
Joe closed the screen down and put the machine on the table.
“You okay?” Byron sounded worried, but Joe was more than okay. He had only read five and there was over 3.000. He already felt like he was ready to burst out crying.
“I’m good.” He looked at Byron with a smile and glazed over eyes. He took a deep determined breath and hugged Byron. “Thanks. I think I’ll read the rest alone.”
Byron nodded, and looked after Joe as he went to his room to open op his own computer.
After an hour Byron finally dared to knock at Joe’s door. “You good in there?”
Joe was laying on his stomach on his bed with the laptop in front of him. He turned his head and looked at the nervous guy barely entering the room.
“Yeah. I am.”
Byron could see that Joe had been crying but he didn’t anymore, he looked relaxed and calm. For the first time in months Byron was convinced that Joe was actually good when he said he was.
“Alfie called. I guess he was the only one who dared.” Byron smiled. “They are done shopping.”
Joe chuckled. He’d forgot that the other left to leave him alone and he had definitely lost track of time in here. “Tell them to come back. I’ll go through the rest later.”
“Are you planning on reading every single comment?”
“Yep.” Joe got up and went by Byron without acknowledging the shocked look on his roommate. Byron eventually smiled and followed Joe to the kitchen.
Chapter 12: A plan and a deal
“Zoë. It’s fine. Go home.”
“Are you absolutely sure, you don’t want me to stay another night?”
“You’ve been here five days. I’ve only had one small nightmare. I’m fine.”
Joe was almost pushing Zoë out the door. He was grateful that she’d been there these last few days, but now they all needed to get back to something closer to normal. He’d only had one nightmare, since Sunday and he woke up by himself from that rather quickly.
Zoë put on her shoes and folded the jacket over her arm. As she pulled her bag over her shoulder she turned towards her brother once more. “I don’t mind staying here. You know that, right?”
“I know Zoë, but I need to get back to normal. We all do. Besides, Alfie might start to think that you fancy Byron if you stay any longer.”
Alfie had taken the train home after the first night, to take care of Nala. He’d left the car for Zoë since she now had the luggage.
Zoë smiled. “Alright, but you better call, if you need me to come back.”
Joe hugged his sister. “I promise. Thank you.”
Zoë hugged him extra tight before she let go and took hold of the trolley and started walking towards the parking lot.
Joe went into the living room. Jack and Byron were sitting at the table. Working on each their own computer. They both looked up and Joe didn’t need to say anything to let them know what he was thinking, when he looked at Jack. They’d had the same conversation for two days now.
“One more night Joe. If nothing happens I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Jack had refused to leave. He’d been home to pick up some clean clothes after Zoë and Alfie had arrived. But every time Joe had mentioned that he was okay with him leaving, he’d refused and said that he was not leaving just yet.
Joe sat down and opened his own laptop to edit the vlog from yesterday and the video the four of them had shot together for Sunday. I was the first time in forever that he felt good about a video, and it was just a crazy game between them, but it had felt good to have fun and not faking it on camera.
After a few minutes of silence Joe looked at Jack. “You know that I’m glad you came right?”
“Joe. You’ve told me that for two days now. I know. You don’t have to worry about what I’m thinking when you kick me out tomorrow.”
Joe knew that Jack would understand, but he’d still worried about sending him and Zoë home. What if they thought that he didn’t want them there and that he wasn’t glad that they came?
“I just want to make sure that you are better, before I leave, and I don’t think I should leave the same day as your sister. Besides, Byron was in your room last night, it’s my turn.”
After the night where the video had gone up, they had returned to the same routine as before, but with Zoë taking some of the nights. But the last two nights Zoë and Byron had not had to stay awake, they just slept on the mattress to be close if something happened.
“I don’t think I need that anymore. I’m not having nightmares.”
Byron cut in. “I know, but let’s not do all at once. Today, Zoë left. Tomorrow, Jack will go home, and I’ll stay in your room for one or two more nights. Okay?”
Joe just nodded. He really wanted to go back to normal sooner rather than later, but he figured that they were right about taking it slow. He was not going to jeopardize anything and maybe start over. He was not scared anymore, he could go to sleep without thinking that he would be in pain and scared out of his mind, but he still got nauseous when he thought about the nightmares, and if they would ever return.
Two weeks later
Joe hadn’t had a nightmare in almost three weeks, and Byron had been sleeping in his own room since, two days after Jack left.
Now he was tossing around in his sleep. His head violently turning from one side to the other. He was crying and in pain. A scream woke up Byron downstairs and ten seconds later he was standing over his roommate.
“Joe. Wake up, it’s a nightmare, remember?!” He put both hands on Joe’s shoulders to try and shake him awake.
Joe’s breathing got calmer fast and the boy stilled as if he was trying to listen for something.
“Joe? Can you hear me?”
Joe’s head turned toward Byron and he grabbed his forearm with one of his sweaty hands.
Joe finally nodded
“Breathe. It’s a nightmare. Just breathe and open your eyes. Everything is fine.”
Joe took a deep breath and opened his eyes slowly. He looked at Byron for what seemed like minutes to both of them and then he stopped shaking.
“Are your leg hurting?”
Joe looked like he didn’t quite get the question or was thinking of something else completely.
“Joe?! Are you with me?”
“Y-yeah…” The boys were finally able to lock eye-contact and Byron sat down on the edge of the bed and loosened his grip on Joe’s shoulders.
“Are you hurting?”
“No. Not anymore.”
Tears started rolling down Joe’s face again. Byron got it. They all thought this was over. He pulled Joe in to a hug and stayed like this till Joe started talking.
“I can’t do this anymore, Byron.”
Byron held Joe by his shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “You are getting better. Trust me. This is just one nightmare. It didn’t take long to wake you and your leg stopped hurting when you woke up.”
“But… I was over it.” For a second Byron saw a glimpse of the Joe he’d woken up almost four weeks ago. A terrified Joe who had given up on getting better.
“Joe! Snap out of it!”
Joe looked surprised, maybe a little shocked.
“You are over it. This was one nightmare. It could be the last one, or you could have one in a month from now. The fact is that you are still getting better. Nothing is suggesting that it is going the wrong way. Do you understand?”
Joe nodded and sent Byron a small smile as he wiped his eyes.
“Do you want me to stay here the rest of the night? It’s 3 am.”
Joe pushed the cover aside. “No, I’m okay. I’ll just take a quick shower, I’m all sweaty, then I’ll see if I can get some more sleep.”
Joe seemed determined on sleeping again, so Byron went back to his own room. He stayed awake till twenty minutes after he couldn’t hear the shower anymore and walked quietly up to Joe’s room. Joe was sleeping peacefully in his bed and Byron turned in too.
That was the last nightmare Joe didn’t wake up from by himself. Over the next six months they became rarer and after he’d gone two whole months without one, he felt confident that he could sleep without someone else in the house and even better; with someone there, who didn’t know about the nightmares.
Byron and Joe had made a deal, that if Joe woke up and had any doubts that this wasn’t over, he would wake up Byron, so he could knock some sense in to him. Byron had even made Joe promise that he would call if they weren’t together, and if he didn’t answer Joe should call Jack or Zoë. Byron was home or answered the phone all four times over the next six months.
When the nightmares stopped including pain, Joe didn’t have to call anymore. He trusted that he was better. He would still text Byron in the morning, he was not going to keep anything to himself anymore.