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Aftershock

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The sound of solid wood striking flesh and bone reverberated through Brian’s brain over and over again, as he sat on the cold concrete of the underground parking garage. His arms cradled Justin’s body as best he could, in hopes of keeping him as warm as possible before help arrived, but he feared moving the injured teen too much. Instinct told him he could do more damage than good if he did. Instead, he used his beautiful snow-white silk scarf to staunch as much blood from Justin’s scalp as was humanly possible, without moving his head.

Brian heard all the voices of those who had gathered nearby, but nothing fully registered. Several couples had stepped out into the garage only seconds after Brian had run to Justin, after smashing his fleeing attacker in the knees, and he knew that they had instantly called 911 upon witnessing the scene. He knew that help was on its way, but he was deaf to everything else but the deadly silence coming from the unconscious form he was holding. There was some comfort in knowing help was on the way, but not enough to overcome the overwhelming dread that pervaded every fiber of his being. Brian simply couldn’t think straight. He had always been someone who never seemed shocked by anything, and yet he was undeniably in shock now. He was so numb he couldn’t even cry, although his heart ached in a way it had never done before. Even news of the death of his father had not affected him half as much as this attack on Justin did.

After what seemed like hours, the sound of sirens was finally heard by all those gathered in the parking garage. By now, word had spread to others inside the hotel and many more now filled the space surrounding Brian and Justin. They could see the two young men stretched out yards apart on the cement floor. One had blood seeping steadily from his head and the other with patches of blood on his pants at the knees. They witnessed the older man cradling the body of the more seriously injured one and heard his moans of distress. He sounded as if he was the one who had been injured. Brian was oblivious to their presence and murmurings. Even the sound of Chris Hobbs’ cries of pain didn’t register or bring any sense of satisfaction. All that mattered was the limp body of the man he had come to care about more than he had ever expected to, less than a year earlier.

Suddenly, Brian was forced out of his paralysis by hands that urged him to let Justin go. He looked up and saw a young man and woman standing next to them with medical equipment in hand. The young man quietly, yet forcefully encouraged Brian to move away from Justin so they could begin examining him. Realizing that he had no choice for Justin’s sake, he obeyed and let them do their job. Brian stood close by, watching as they wrapped a brace around Justin’s neck and checked all his vitals. They were still working on him when Brian was approached by two uniformed cops. Reluctantly, Brian turned away from what was happening with Justin and faced the officers. Nothing in his life would ever be as hard as diverting his attention away from Justin long enough to answer their questions. His only thought was the necessity of doing so in order to make sure Justin’s attacker was arrested.

He knew who the bastard was, remembering back when Justin had stood up to the creep on Liberty Avenue some time back. He remembered warning Justin that he had made a real enemy of the guy by ridiculing him in front of his friends, but never dreamed the son-of-a-bitch’s retaliation would come in such a violent form. The thought that he should have known and been more careful, once he noticed that the same guy was also at the dance, began playing through his mind like a distorted record. Why, he asked himself, why didn’t he keep an eye out for the guy? No answer came to him, but a wave of guilt suddenly washed over him, threatening to drown all his senses. Somehow, he managed to hold it together long enough to answer all the questions the officers asked of him. He was even able to think of giving them his business card so that they could easily contact him for any further information. For the moment, he was working on auto-pilot, but all that changed when he saw another man in a white uniform joining the first two paramedics and helping to place Justin on a stretcher. Brian hurried over to where they were carrying Justin’s lifeless body up to the ambulance doors.

“I’m going with you,” he ordered them.

“Are you family?” asked one of the men.

Brian hesitated for less than a second. “Yes,” he told them.

He watched as they loaded Justin into the ambulance, then stepped up to take a seat across from the stretcher. He couldn’t take his eyes off the blood-soaked bandage they had wrapped around Justin’s head. The image of the bat connecting to Justin’s skull played over and over in his head, causing him to hold his breath almost to the point of passing out. No one spoke to Brian at first. They were too busy checking Justin’s vitals and preparing an IV. Time seemed to drag, making Brian wonder if they’d ever reach the hospital. His eyes were still dry, but he was crying inside. The paramedic sitting next to Brian saw the pain he was suffering. It was a familiar sight. He knew from experience that loved ones hurt almost as much as the victims, although in a different way. It was obvious to him that this man cared deeply for the patient.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the ambulance slowed down and entered the emergency room entranceway. Brian sat as still as a statue while they unloaded the stretcher bearing Justin. As the paramedics lowered him down to the gurney waiting below, the silk scarf Brian had used to help Justin slipped off the stretcher, landing at Brian’s feet. He reached down to pick it up. He held it up to his face, witnessing the brilliant red stains covering part of it. For a brief moment, he recalled how he had used this same scarf such a short time ago to try and end his own life. Maybe if Michael hadn’t interfered, this wouldn’t have happened to Justin. He shook his head violently. He had to stop thinking like that. He had to keep it together… to be strong for Justin. What was done, was done. They couldn’t go back in time and change anything.

Brian stepped out of the ambulance, carrying the scarf in his fingertips. He followed the gurney into the emergency room. Instantly, several people in white uniforms surrounded the gurney and began working on Justin as they rolled him into a private cubicle. Brian tried to follow but was detained by one of the nurses. She began bombarding him with more questions. Brian was still on auto-pilot but did his best to give straight answers that would help them. Now that he was at the hospital, he felt he had to be honest and admit he wasn’t a family member and didn’t know everything about Justin’s medical history. Unfortunately, he didn’t have Justin’s mother’s phone number saved in his phone. He had never had an occasion to call her, always using Justin’s cell when he wanted to get ahold of him. Then it hit him. He gave them Debbie’s phone number. She would not only have Jennifer’s number, but would know who else should be told. He longed for someone to reassure him that Justin would be fine, but his best friend, Michael, was probably already on a plane with his doctor boyfriend.

Once he passed on Debbie’s number, Brian was directed to a waiting area down the hall from the room where they were frantically working on Justin, trying to stabilize him. He sat there, his vision darkening as he replayed the events of the night. Occasionally, activity coming from Justin’s room, as hospital personnel moved in and out of the cubicle, would briefly snap him back to reality. He had just slipped back into that dark place again when he noticed the curtain to Justin’s cubicle being flung open and the gurney carrying his motionless body being rushed down the hall towards him. They stopped at a bank of elevators directly across from Brian. He jumped up and hurried over in time to grab one of the nurses as they waited for the elevator door to open.

“What’s happening? Where are they taking him?” he demanded to know.

The nurse could see how frantic Brian was. She did her best to calm him. “He’s being taken to an operating room on the third floor. They’re concerned about the swelling in his brain and need to relieve the pressure right away. They’ve spoken to his mother and obtained consent for the surgery.”

“He’s going to be alright, isn’t he!” It sounded more like an order than a question.

“I’m sorry. I really don’t know any more than what I’ve just told you. You would need to speak with his doctors to learn more.” She laid a hand gently on his shoulder. “Right now, they are busy trying to save the young man’s life. I’m sure they’ll get to you as soon as they have any news. There’s another waiting area upstairs on the third floor. You can go up there and they’ll come to you once they are finished with his surgery.”

Brian appreciated the nurse’s help, but was too numb to do any more than mumble a quiet thank you just before she joined the others as the elevator door slid open. There was no room for Brian, so he waited, his heart racing at the thought of Justin being in enough danger that he needed surgery. ‘If only he had opened his eyes, just once, so I could see the life still shining there in those beautiful blue orbs,’ he thought to himself. ‘God’, he prayed to a deity he didn’t even believe in, ‘you can’t take that sunshine smile out of this world! This world needs more like him, not less.’

Brian took the next elevator up to the third floor and stepped into an area totally different from the hustle and bustle of the emergency room. There was a hallway with benches along the wall. The hallway was deserted. Perhaps it was the extremely late hour, which meant there were no other operations being performed, or simply a case of good luck. Because Brian needed the solitude at this moment. He had never felt so alone, yet had no desire for company either. His brain could not handle any more questions right now. He was too busy trying to process all that had happened and what part he played in the tragedy.

Brian had always made it a point to not take responsibility for the actions of other folks. He remembered telling Justin that he had nothing to do with his parent’s decision to separate and divorce. He reminded Justin that they were responsible for their decisions. But this was somehow different. He did feel responsible for what happened to Justin. He didn’t swing the bat that almost killed Justin, but the asshole who did never would have attacked him if he hadn’t watched Brian dancing so intimately with Justin on the dance floor. Brian believed it with all his heart. So yes, he was partly responsible for Justin’s condition. As that last thought took hold, Brian let his mind shut down. If he stopped thinking, nothing could touch him anymore. Then time stopped.

Almost an hour passed. Brian was still sitting in the exact same spot, his eyes glued to the top of the wall across from him. He saw nothing, he felt nothing, he thought of nothing. He didn’t even notice when the elevator door opened nearby, and a slight dark figure stepped out. The newcomer scanned the hallway. Brian was still unaware when the figure moved slowly down the hall towards him, stopping for a brief moment in front of him, then taking a seat right next to him. At first, he didn’t even recognize it was Michael, but then he felt a hand gently caressing his shoulder and moving up to stroke the back of his neck. Without seeing his face, Brian knew it was Michael, come to comfort him.

Suddenly his brain unfroze. An image of another hospital visit… one with Michael and Justin, flashed through his memory. He saw the three of them racing down a similar hallway on the way to Lindsay’s room where she had given birth to his son. He remembered how excited he was, and how adorable Justin was when he told the assembled ladies in the room who the young kid was. So much had happened since then. The kid turned out to be a real man, despite his youth. He turned out to be far more than a one-night stand… far more. Then it finally happened. The dam burst. Silent tears began trickling down Brian’s face. He made no sound. The pain was too deep for sound. But the flow was steady. Memories that should have brought a smile only increased the pain and the flow of tears.

As the two men waited for news of Justin’s condition, Brian made a vow to himself. He didn’t know what the future held for Justin, but he would never darken the young man’s chances of a safe and happy life again. He cared about Justin far too much to ever be responsible for any harm coming his way a second time. He would stay with Justin every day and every night until he was better, but then he would stay away forever. Justin deserved to find someone worthy of the great amount of love he was capable of giving to someone. And whoever that someone was that Justin would give his whole heart to, he had better treat Justin right… a whole hell of a lot better than he had!

The End…. But Not Really!