After the fire Rich became somewhat a celebrity around Middleborough High the next day. The news of the party had spread throughout the school like wildfire. Pun unintended. Every student had changed their profile picture to Rich's face and used hashtags that didn't really mean much, but to the adults it not only showed that the students of Middleborough High School were united but that they were also caring and understanding. However there were plenty of rumors as to why Rich had started the fire too:
"I heard he was out to get us all, no joke. He had a list and everything."
"I heard he was out to get his best friend, you know, Jake Dillinger."
"I heard it was all some crazy accident."
"I heard he did it for no reason. Psychotic, right?"
But only one rumor turned out to be true and nobody would know:
"I heard he was trying to end his life. Poor Rich..."
Michael Mell, who was never a friend of Rich to begin with, had enough of hearing "I heard" and "I think" because Rich didn't deserve that. Although he didn't know what to do. Until today when he overheard a conversation going on between two freshmen—a girl and a boy—beside his locker. He knew it was rude to listen in on other people's conversation, but then he heard the subject of their gossip: Rich.
"I heard Rich has been in the hospital since the fire." The girl said in a matter-of-fact tone. Michael paused before slowly shrugging on his backpack, trying not to look suspicious. He didn't know why, but he had to hear more.
"And nobody visited him?" The boy asked curiously. They were whispering, but they weren't doing a very good job at it. And so, even though it was rude and his moms would scold him for it later, Michael continued to eavesdrop.
"No." The girl answered casually, shaking her head. Her friend gasped.
"That's awful." The boy said quietly. "Must be pretty lonely." He said, feeling pity. But Michael could tell that they didn't feel guilty or ashamed in the least. And their sorry ass excuse would be: "Oh, but we don't know Rich." And they would be right, because they didn't know Rich. 'Fucking assholes. What a crock a shit.' Michael thought. He wanted to yell at them. Scream at the top of his lungs in Rich's defense, but he bit his tongue.
"Rich wouldn't know." The girl replied rather casually, and Michael stayed quiet, perking up in interest. "Get this. He's been in a frickin' coma since the night of the party." Michael closed his locker, watching as the freshmen continued to converse while they exited the building to go home. Michael's mind began to spiral, thoughts beginning to clutter as he pondered. Michael wondered how two nosy freshmen found out about Rich's condition and why nobody bothered to go see Rich, especially his friends. Even if Rich wasn't awake to respond, it's common curtsey. 'Some friends.' Michael thought bitterly, all-the-while thinking about Jeremy. But he shook his head, adjusting his bag. He and Jeremy weren't best friends anymore, he should get over him... Exiting the school, Michael kept his head down to avoid in a lame attempt to avoid the popular kids while he trudged to his car. School's out, time to go home. But then a random idea suddenly popped in his head. Stepping to his beloved car, Michael took out his phone, unlocking it and going to his messages. Clicking the contact labeled Mom, Michael wrote:
Mom, I'm gonna be home late; I'm going to the hospital.
Waiting patiently, Michael leaned back into his seat. 'Am I really gonna do this?' He thought, unsure of himself. And then he received a message.
What do you mean?
And then another.
Do you need something?
And then another...
ARE YOU IN DANGER?!?!
Michael then decided it would be best if he actually called his mom to explain the situation. Wouldn't want her to have a heart attack.
Later that afternoon
Dove Israel Hospital [parking lot]
"Yes Mom, I'm just visiting a friend, that's all." Michael explained as he leaned against his PT Cruiser, watching as either visitors or hospital staff entered or exited the building. Michael was lurking in the parking lot, the lot located besides the emergency section of the hospital.
"Alright sweetheart, just making sure." Michael's Mom—Mary—said kindly, chuckling to herself. "Hey, how's Jeremy? Or do you not know?" Mary questioned. "Have you two started talking again?" She asked, both curious and hopeful. She and her wife didn't exactly understand why Michael and Jeremy suddenly stopped being friends, and started to worry because Michael refused to talk about it. They only hoped that the Players could patch things up. Michael sighed sadly, digging his foot in the pavement.
"No, Mom, I don't know how Jeremy's doing. And, no, we haven't." Michael answered. "Things between us are still..." Michael paused, letting out a heavy sigh, blinking rapidly to keep himself from crying. "Get out of my way, Loser." He knew he should be over the whole thing, but the words had hit deep... Halloween was the worst day of his life. And he was sure Rich could relate.
"Things are just what?" Mary asked concerned, and even though she couldn't see him, she knew Michael was shrugging.
"Complicated." Michael replied, rocking on the balls of his feet, trying to keep his mind distracted so he didn't have to think about the party.
"Alright." Mary said, and just decided to leave it at that. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."
"No, Mom, it's ok. I'm fine." Michael said, and even though she couldn't see it, he managed to smile for her. But she knew.
"Ok." Mary said, smiling to herself. "You'll be safe, won't you?"
"Hundred percent, Mom, I swear." Michael promised. "Mahal kita." He said softly, a wide smile spreading across his face.
"Mahal din kita." Mary said sweetly, a wide smile of her own appearing as she gave Michael loud and loving kisses through the phone. Michael laughed and gladly returned his mom's kisses just as loud, loving, and goofy. And with that they hung up. Michael then pocketed his phoned, his smile slowly disappearing as he wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans. Biting the inside of his cheek, Michael hesitantly entered the hospital. The sound of children and Bubble Guppies surrounding him as he exited the emergency room and into the main grand hall, where the front desk was located. Sitting behind the large marble desk was a woman with a soft tan complexion and long brown hair held up in a high ponytail, her eyes shielded by her bangs as she focused on her paperwork. Michael walked up to the desk, clearing his throat to grab the lady's attention. The woman looked up, staring at the teenager with curious green eyes.
"Hello." She greeted. "May I help you?"
"Yes, yes please." Michael replied. "Oh, uh, hi!" The woman chuckled and encouraged him to go on. "Well, you see..." He trailed off, his eyes roaming over her lilac scrubs until he found her nametag: Angela Scarlet. "Miss Scarlet?" He asked, and she nodded, confirming his guess. "Miss Scarlet, my name is Michael Mell. I'm here to visit Rich, um, I mean Richard Goranski. I'm a..." Michael trailed off again. He didn't know what to say. He definitely wasn't a family member and they never had a civil conversation so they weren't friends. They weren't even close associates. They were just... "We're classmates." Angela seemed to understand his awkwardness and figured she should continue as to not make Michael anymore nervous than he already was.
"Well then Mister Mell," Angela took out a clipboard with several loose-leaf papers attached and a black ballpoint pen. "I need you to sign here before you can go up." She said, handing Michael the needed materials. "Sign your name, who you're here to see, and the current time." She added, and Michael hummed in understanding.
Visitor(s): Michael Mell
Patient(s): Rich Goranski
Time of Arrival: 3:57 PM
"Mister Goranski is in room 227. Take the elevator to the second floor, hang a right, and you'll find yourself at your destination." Angela explained kindly, as Michael handed her back the clipboard and pen. "Also, visiting hours are from ten in the morning to nine at night."
"Thanks again." Michael said, and turned on his to round the corner. The elevator located just down the hall.
"Michael." Perking up, Michael looked over his shoulder. "This may be none of my business, but I have to ask. Why come all this way for a classmate?"
"Because I was an ass." Michael replied, his answer blunt. Honest and shameless. "I didn't bother to give him a chance and I didn't try to understand what he was going through. But now I am. I just hope he'll listen." He explained. Angela smiled.
"Good answer." She said. She then expected the conversation to be over and for him to walk away, but Michael stayed. "Yes?" Angela asked curiously.
"I heard some rumors at school and I wanted to know if anyone else came to see Rich?" Michael asked, his eyes full of hope. But that hope disappeared when he saw Angela slouch in defeat.
The next afternoon
Rich's hospital room
'Ok, ok. You can do this, Michael, you can do this.' Michael thought to himself encouragingly. 'You did this yesterday so you can do it again today, right now.' Michael coaxed himself, slowly grasping the knob that connected to Rich's room. He was nervous. Again. Nervous about a lot of things. Things that he shouldn't be nervous about and still here he was, practically shaking. But then he got enough courage to finally open the door, stepping inside the quiet room. Nothing was out of place. The room had looked the same as it did yesterday: the lights were still on and bright, the AC still hummed in the background and a small breeze filled the room, the bed near the door was still empty and neatly made, and the baby blue curtains that separated the room were pulled back to reveal Rich's bed where the sleeping teen remained. Rich's bed was placed near a wide window and was elevated so Rich was laying in a comfortable position. Rich was still sleeping. Breathing softly into the breathing mask the doctors gave him, his left hand gripped onto the suspended bar. Michael quietly closed the door behind him and walked over to the lone chair at stood at Rich's bedside. "Hey Rich." Michael greeted as he took a seat. "Still dreaming huh?" Michael didn't feel comfortable with saying that Rich was in a coma because there were lots of risks, like Rich only had a 94% chance of waking up from his comatose state of sleeping. Which was good! Great, even! But then there was a 42% chance of Rich waking up at year later. And then there was a very slim, but not at all rare chance of Rich never waking up at all... So Michael decided to say that Rich was just sleeping in. Dreaming peacefully. To avoid thinking about the statistics. "I wonder what you're dreaming about." Michael murmured, leaning forward so his arms laid near Rich's hip. Michael was no longer nervous, no. Instead he was comfortable. He was himself. "You know, yesterday I was so scared that I didn't talk to you at all. I didn't even sit near you." Michael admitted. "I stood by the window the whole time. But your nurse, Monica, told me something that got me off the wall. She said that patients like you need to have someone to talk to, because you can hear everything they're saying. So, I hope you can hear me when I say-" Michael was then interrupted, startled by the intro of April Showers by ProleteR. His Mama's ringtone. "Excuse me." Michael mumbled while fumbling to answer the call.
"Hey Mama." Michael replied, greeting his Mama.
"How are you?" His Mama—Amelia—asked.
"I'm alright." Michael answered. "How are you and Mom? Are you guys alright?"
"Yes, Michael, we're alright." Amelia said with a hearty chuckle.
"Well, did you need something?" Michael asked curiously, wondering why his Mama was calling.
"Yes actually." Amelia said. "You were supposed to call, but you didn't. I decided to check on you myself and it sounds to me that you're just fine." She said, amusement in her voice.
"Whoops." Michael mumbled, and Amelia giggled at her son's forgetfulness. "I knew I forgot something. Sorry. I was gonna call when I got in the room, but I got so caught up. Sorry again." He apologized.
"It's fine, as long as you're ok." Amelia assured her son. "How is he? Rich, was it?"
"Yeah." Michael answered, confirming his Mama's guess. "And he's still sleeping." He said. Amelia hummed.
"That's good. I'm glad he's doing great." She said kindly. "I think what you're doing is real sweet." She added. "I'm sure he'll be happy to see you when he wakes up." Amelia said, and even though she couldn't see it, Michael was shaking his head in denial.
"I don't think so." He disagreed. "I'm sure he'd rather see someone else, like Jake or his dad. But not me, especially not me." Michael said, leaning back in his chair. "To him, I'm just the weird kid that he bullies." He said, sniffing. The line then went quiet. Michael raised an eyebrow, moving the phone from his ear to see the call was going. "Mama?" Michael called out into the phone, wondering if something went screwy with the cellar device.
"...So Rich is your bully." Amelia said. It wasn't a question, it was a statement. Michael winced. He didn't mean to tell her that. "Would you like me to pick you up?"
"What? No, no!" Michael cried out in protest, nearly bolting up out of his chair. "I wanna stay."
"Why? Why do you care so much for some boy that shows you nothing but disrespect?" Amelia questioned. "I don't... I just... Michael, I don't understand." She said, trying to form a sentence. Trying to understand why Michael would want to be in the same room as this boy that only ever seemed to hurt him. "This boy has hurt you numerous of times, Michael-"
"It's more complicated than that!" Michael yelled defensively. Amelia went silent. "Rich isn't like that. That bully is not Rich. Rich is..." Michael paused, his eyes trailing over Rich's face. "Rich is..." Michael trailed off again. Rich looked so familiar, but he didn't know why. However Michael knew that this popular Rich was fake.
"Ok, Mahal Ko, ok." Amelia said softly. "I think I understand."
"No." Michael said bluntly. "No, you don't, but I want you to."
"Ok." Amelia repeated. "You have such a caring heart, Michael. I hope you know that. And Rich is lucky." She said reassuringly. "I stand by my earlier statement. I hope your...friend continues to do great." Michael smiled, knowing that she wasn't angry anymore. Knowing that when she called Rich Michael's friend, that she was being genuinely kind and not sarcastic. Knowing that slowly she was accepting Rich.
"Me too." Michael said, leaning forward so his arms were at Rich's side again. But this time he tucked his head on his arms, feeling less tense and much more relaxed. For some reason Michael felt like he could let loose, even around Rich. Maybe because he was familiar. Michael just couldn't put his finger on it.
"Mahal kita, Mahal Ko."
"Mahal din kita, Mama."
Two weeks later [Sunday]
Rich's hospital room
"Hey Rich!" Michael greeted cheerfully, entering the quiet room with arms full of gifts: a cherry slushy, a container of meki maki sushi, his treasured white bulky headphones, his beloved TPS-L2 Sony Walkman, and a shoebox labeled FIRE. Obviously the food was for him, but everything else was for Rich. "Man, I'm so excited!" Michael cheered, quickly moving to Rich's side, but decided to stay standing. "I talked to Monica yesterday and asked for her permission to do this and she totally said yes!" He laughed, clumsily but carefully setting everything down on the nightstand. "I didn't know what kind of music you liked, so just I rummaged through my dresser and found some of my favorites. Mind you, I have a hella collection of cassettes because of my good taste in music. So I had to limit it to only thirty tapes." Michael said, pressing the eject button on his Walkman and sliding the Bob Marley cassette from the player. 'We can save this baby for later.' Michael thought, nodding to himself as he set the cassette next to his sushi. Opening the shoebox, Michael plunged his hand in the many tapes and picked at random, coming back up with a cassette that read The Beatles: Twist and Shout. "Trust me, this album is the shit." Michael said with a grin, popping the cassette into the compartment and closing the lid. Connecting the bulky headphones to HEADPHONES A, Michael gently slid the headset onto Rich's ear before setting the volume sliders on five and pressing PLAY, placing the Walkman near Rich hip. "I hope you enjoy the tunes." Michael whispered, sliding into his chair. Just as he sat down, Monica entered the room.
"Afternoon Michael." Monica greeted sweetly, her smile kind but false.
"Hey Monica." Michael greeted back, flashing her a kind smile. But then his happiness faltering as the nurse fully entered the room until she stood at the foot of Rich's bed. Something was wrong; Monica chuckled and pointed to the bulky headphones.
"What's he listening to?" Monica asked, interested.
"The Beatles." Michael answered simply.
"What album?" Monica asked almost immediately.
"Twist and Shout." Michael replied off the bat. Monica hummed and nodded.
"Is something wrong?" Michael asked, getting straight to the point. He didn't want to continue the small talk if there was something he needed to know. And she was obviously hiding something. It had to be pretty big if she had a hard time saying it.
"Rich's father called." Monica said meekly. Michael nearly did a double take.
"Why is that so bad?" Michael asked, baffled.
"He didn't even know Rich was emitted in the hospital." Monica stated, clenching her fists.
"Seriously?" Michael asked, shocked. Monica nodded. Michael wondered how that was even possible. The news had reported the house party fire and everything.
"I fear for Rich." Monica admitted. "Don't tell anyone I told you, but when Rich first arrived he was covered in scars, and not just from the fire. Scars from electrocution, belt lashings, and what we believe to be cuts from beer bottles had littered his back. Some old and others new."
"You think all those are from Rich's dad?" Michael inquired. Monica hummed, biting her lip. Michael squinted, watching the nurse closely. "Monica, what aren't you telling me?"
"...Michael have you ever heard of a Squip?" Monica asked, her focus pinpointed on Rich. Michael's breathe hitched. 'How does she know?' Michael thought, astonished. "So you have..." Monica continued, keeping her eyes locked on Rich. "I believe the electrocution scars are from Rich's Squip and the other scars are from Rich's father." They both fell silent, the atmosphere growing tense and the air getting thick. It became too much to breath and Michael just wanted to punch something. But now wasn't the time for that. Michael sighed heavily and reached for his slushy, taking a quick big gulp and letting himself catch a brain freeze. When his brain freeze ended, he slouched in his chair in deep thought.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Michael asked quietly, stirring the icy drink with his straw, gazing at Rich. He wanted to know what he could do to help.
"Look out for him?" Monica requested.
"I already am."
Later that evening
The hospital cafeteria
I thought visiting hours were from 10 AM to 9 PM
Angela is letting me stay later
Should we come down there too???
Only if you want to
You have work tomorrow, I don't wanna cause any trouble
We're coming down there
Expect us soon, ok sweetie?
"Sir?" Michael looked up, realizing he was next and last in line. "Hi, how may I help you?" The man asked him politely.
"Hi. Um, I'll take two pies, large. One with the works and make the other a classic Hawaiian, please and thank you."
"On it." The man said, flashing Michael a smile before he and a fellow coworker of his went to work on Michael's order.
"Michael!" Turning around, Michael saw Angela sprinting towards him.
"Angela?" Michael inquired as Angela skidded to a stop, keeling over to catch her breath. She seemed troubled. "Is your shift over or something? What are you doing here?" Michael questioned, wondering what could be the matter.
"My shift is over, yes, but that's not the point." Angela replied. "Michael, get back to Rich, his father is here." She said, and Michael's eyes widened. He was supposed to be watching Rich. Fumbling into his pocket, Michael shoved a twenty and five dollar bill into Angela's hands.
"H-here's the money for the pizzas, I'm on my way." Michael said, turning on his heels and running out of the cafeteria, barely avoiding the other people around him. He almost forgot to say sorry to numerous of people as he passed by. Finally getting to the front desk, Michael grabbed onto the edge of the desk to stop himself. And sitting behind the large desk was a man.
"Can I help you with something." The man—Trever—asked, both startled and curious by Michael's sudden appearance.
"Yeah. Did Rich's father happen to come by?" Michael asked, hoping that maybe Angela was mistaken.
"Yes, he's on his way to see his son." Trever answered, pointing towards the elevator.
"You sent him up?!" Michael yelled, startling the man once again. Trever then went to speak, but Michael just waved him off. "Forget it!" Michael then turned on his toes and running off again, skipping the elevators and deciding to take the stairs. Throwing open doors and shouldering pass people until he got to 227. Busting through the door, Michael panted heavily as he stared at a man that looked like an older version of Rich and probably no older than his mid-thirties. No doubt Rich's dad, who was standing at the foot of Rich's bed.
"Get away from him, you bitch!" Michael yelled at the man, narrowing his eyes at him.
"Who are you?" Rich's dad asked, watching as Michael stomped over to him.
"Michael fucking Mell." Michael said, stopping directly in front of the man. "So you must be Rich's ol' man."
"Ray Goranski." Ray said, looking down at Michael.
"I won't let you hurt him." Michael blurted out. "I know you abuse him."
"Did he tell you that?" Ray asked, and Michael shook his head.
"Doctors pay attention to that kind of stuff." Michael said. "I'm sure if Rich was awake he'd want you to leave, so kick rocks." Michael demanded, gesturing to the door.
"He's my son!" Ray yelled in defense. Michael's shoulders tensed up as he blew strands of hair from his view, all-the-while keeping his eyes narrowed at the stubborn man in front of him.
"You know my Mom once told me something that I didn't really understand until today." Michael suddenly said, confusing Ray. "She said there was a big difference when it came to a mom and a mother or a dad and a father. But I'm only going to explain one of two. A dad is a man that not only gives you life, but takes care of you as well. A father is a man that just helps give birth to you. That's it." Michael explained. "You are Rich's father. A sperm donor!"
"Don't you understand that I'm trying to be more than that?!"
"Kinda hard to understand when you're abusing him!" Michael retorted. "A dad doesn't hit his kids! A man doesn't lay a fucking finger on his kids!" He yelled, jabbing Ray in the chest. "Hitting your children doesn't make you a man, it makes you a shitty human being!" He raged, giving Ray another sharp jab and causing the man to stumble back. "I should kill you! I SHOULD fucking turn you in!" Michael screamed, shoving Ray back into the chair, causing the chair wobbled while Michael continued to advance towards the man. "How does it feel?" He asked, gripping the collar of Ray's shirt. "How does it feel to be small? To be helpless? To be cornered and just wanting to die-"
"Please..." Ray pleaded, and Michael stopped. "I'm getting better..." He whimpered out. Michael scoffed in doubt. "No, I am." Ray insisted. "Traci left. And so did Robin. I can't lose him too." Ray said, and Michael's grip on the man's shirt loosened. "Rich is all I have!" He cried out, bubbly tears collecting in his eyes. Michael scoffed again.
"You make me sick." He hissed. However he continued to let his grip loosen, until he was barely holding Ray's collar. "But Rich needs you." He mumbled. "He needs a dad." Michael declared, letting his hands fall to his side. "So wipe your fucking face and be a dad!" Michael demanded. Ray sniffled and hastily wiped his eyes until they were nearly dry. Michael hummed and walked towards Rich, carefully taking off the headphones, holding onto them and the Walkman for the boy. "Talk to him." Michael ordered, stepping aside to stand on the other side of Rich. Watching the man with sharp eyes. Ray made a mentally note, keeping Michael's name in mind. "H-hey son." Ray then greeted his son, moving closer towards Rich and yet he still kept his distance. "I'm sorry I haven't paid a visit, I was pretty busy." Ray said lamely, wringing his wrists. "I quit the booze." He blurted out, feeling as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders. "Not only that, but I found a support group. Looks like I finally took Robin's advice, huh? I'm hoping they can help and give me some advice, God knows I need it will my grade A+ parenting." Ray said, chuckling to himself. The chuckle was shaky and not at all confident. But still, he continued. "I found a job too. Finally using that degree for something and now I work behind a desk at a law firm. Well, not yet, I start Tuesday. How crazy is that?" Michael watched quietly as Ray conversed with his son, moving towards the door just as Amelia and Mary came running in.
"What's happening?" Amelia asked, worried. Michael shook his head and guided his moms out of the room.
"They're having a father-son moment."
The next morning [Monday]
Menlo Park Mall
"What gift are you specifically look for, sweetie?" Mary asked, and Michael nodded, brown eyes flickering between different shops as they walked.
"Something ironic, but shows I care." Michael explained. Michael's moms allowed Michael to skip school, taking him to the mall at his request in search of a gift for Rich. But nothing caught his eye. "I just want something simple, but isn't cheap looking." Michael said, running a hand through his hair in frustration.
"Like that?" Mary asked, pointing to a shop across from them. Michael followed her finger to see a cute little shop. The store was a sweet tea green with blossom pink accents. Emily's Gifts.
"That's perfect!" Michael cheered, speeding towards the shop. Entering, Michael looked around to see it was like a cute little Valentine's Day store.
"Welcome to Emily's Gifts!" Jumping, startled, Michael focused in front of him to see a young woman. She had short black hair styled in a pixie cute, a tan complexion similar to his own, and deep blue eyes. Wearing a simple red shirt and pink apron, blue jeans, and pink converses. She giggled. She reminded Michael of Christine. "I'm Emily, how may I help you?" Emily asked kindly. Michael then remembered what he was there for.
"Hi, uh, me and my moms couldn't help but notice your shop, and wondered if you had anything that gives off a 'get better' vibe?" Michael asked hopefully. Emily hummed in thought.
"Oh!" She cried out. "Our special Get Well Soon teddy bear. He's a very popular gift and people usually buy him for loved ones." Emily stated.
"Only ten bucks." Emily said right off the bat, walking over to the bear on the shelf and handing it to Michael. The bear had a gauze wrapped around its head and carried a simple white heart with GET WELL SOON written on it, making it look absolutely adorable. 'Rich is gonna love it.' Michael thought. "You can even add in a bouquet if you want." Emily added as a suggestion, grabbing Michael's attention.
"Can I customize the bouquet?" Michael asked, and Emily nodded eagerly.
"What kind of flowers would you like to make this bouquet?" Emily asked, guiding Michael through the large space of flowers. Michael's eyes trailed over each patch, pointing out the ones that caught his attention: lilac asters, red and white camellias, white heathers, red rosebuds, white magnolias, and a lone pink primrose. Emily nodded, grabbing twelve asters, five red camellias and five white camellias, six heathers, four rosebuds, two magnolia, and the single primrose. She then grabbed scarlet red tissue paper and a thick sunset orange sash, before quickly—and yet taking her time—arranging the bouquet.
"They must be very special." Emily said, handing Michael the neatly wrapped bouquet. Michael looked it over, gazing at the flowers. The flowers were randomly placed and yet placed it was way that looked like a purposeful pattern, with the primrose planted in the center.
"Thank you." Michael said, exchanging the flowers for the fifteen bucks.
"Thank you for coming, my darling boy. I hope to see you soon." Emily said with a bubbly giggle. Michael gave her a salute as he walked out the shop, where his moms were still waiting.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Mary asked, and Michael nodded confidently.
Later that morning
Rich's hospital room
Michael quietly entered the room, practically tip-toeing to Rich's bed with the teddy bear and flower arrangement in his arms. Michael didn't notice that the oxygen mask that Rich had to use was gone as he placed the flowers on the nightstand. Michael didn't notice when Rich's eyes fluttered open as he placed the teddy bear in the crook of Rich's right arm.
"Michael?" Michael's eyes widened in shock. He stumbled back and watched as Rich chuckled softly, his tired eyes swimming with joy.
"Y-you're awake..." Michael gasped, and Rich nodded, his eyes shining with amusement.
"What day is it?" Rich asked, his voice hoarse and raspy from lack of use.
"November 12th." Michael stated. "Halloween was two weeks ago, by the way." He added, and Rich hummed, grateful for the information. "Did you just wake up?" Michael asked. Rich shook his head as best as he could without hurting himself.
"I woke up earlier. I was choking on some tube. I didn't see what happened after that, having passed out. So..." Rich informed. Michael then realized that he was the first person Rich like Amelia had predicted up and this made him blush; Rich looked down and saw the teddy bear Michael put in his arm. "Hey, cool."
"You really like it?" Michael asked, acting rather bashful. Rich nodded with an approved hum.
"Yeah. It's been a long time since I had a plushy. Chill threw them all away." Rich said, his happy tone turning sad and distant. Michael frowned and took a seat.
"Chill?" He repeated.
"My Squip." Rich replied. "He's such a jackass. He swears he's so smart and charming. He's..." Rich trailed off, coming into realization. "He's off..."
"Is it bad that I feel kinda lonely?" Rich asked, and Michael asked him what he meant. "Chill hasn't been turned off in three years. I mean, he would shut down whenever I went to sleep or if I told him too, but other than that he has always been around." Rich explained, just wanting to disappear. Michael did a double take.
"I had Chill since freshman year." Rich stated, unfazed. Sounding almost robotic. "I bought him at Menlo Park Mall. Payless Shoes to be exact, from this scary creepy stock boy named Harold. Said that the Squip would make my life easier and I believed him. I paid the 600 bucks just days before summer break and the rest is, or was, history."
"No wondered you burned down Jake's house." Michael mumbled. Rich's eyes widened at the sudden statement and Michael cursed himself for even bring the party and Jake up. But that wasn't why Rich was shock. "S-sorry, I shouldn't have-"
"I wanted to kill myself..." Rich interrupted, his voice quiet. "I didn't have any Mountain Dew Red, so I thought if I killed myself then Chill would go away. I would go away..." He explained, suddenly feeling self-conscious and foolish.
"Same..." Michael spoke up. Rich tilted his head as best as he could, surprised and confused. "At the party, Jeremy called off our friendship and left me in the bathroom. I had a panic attack." Michael explained, and suddenly it felt hard to swallow. "When Chloe started yelling about a fire I managed to collect myself and run straight out of there."
"I could've killed you-"
"I'm fine." Michael assured the teen.
"Are you, Michael?" Rich asked.
"Are you, Rich?" Michael shot back. The boys stared at each other, the atmosphere turning intense as the room around them went completely silent. Until they both burst into laughter, laughing for what seemed like no reason to others was actually a big reason to them.
"I heard you." Rich said, speaking quickly as their laughter died down. "When I was in a coma, I heard you. Every conversation, every little comment, every cassette tape, I heard it all." Rich explained, turning from loopy goofy to serious. "You forgot to change the tapes."
"The tapes. When my ol' man came around. I assumed you left to go eat or whatever, so when that door closed the music just stopped. You didn't change the tapes. So when my ol' man came in, I heard him too. He was apologizes and babbling and he really wasn't making any sense. Then you busted through the door and started whalin' on 'im, saying all these amazing things. You got him to talk to me, something that we haven't been able to do since Mom and Robin left. I'm shook. I'm proud. I'm in the fucking clouds because you, this amazing anti-social headphones kid, comes into my life and stays with me for two weeks and some change. And I don't know what to say." Rich ranted. And the whole time he was ranting, Michael was blushing. He had magically turned into from a sweet chocolate boi to an adorable cherry boi.
"I think you said enough." Michael said.
"But I-" Michael then leaned forward, pecking Rich on the lips to shut him up. The peck was quick and so sudden, but as their lips touched the boys felt this spark and the peck felt more like an actual kiss. Too bad it couldn't be more.
"You said enough." Michael said, whispering, his lips brushing Rich's. He didn't know if he should actually kiss Rich or leave well enough alone. "Ok?" He asked. Rich let out an airy exhale, his breath tickling Michael's skin. "Ok?" Michael repeated.
"O-ok." Rich stuttered out, his mind going blank, his heart going a mile per minute, and all he wanted was for Michael to kiss him again. "Ok."