"Glad to see you're having fun, Clay!" A rather annoyed Jessica complained.
Resting against a wall on the corner of the living room, arms crossed, Clay had been watching teenage boys and girls drink like fishes and claiming they were having fun. How could someone have fun when at the end of the night he or she's too drunk to remember their own name? Shaking his head in disbelief, he asked himself for the hundredth time why he let Jeff convinced him to come. They could have had a great night, just the two of them, yet Jeff seemed so eager to have fun with his friends. Looking at Jessica, who seemed sober enough and couldn't bring a smile on his face and pretend he was having fun. He didn't like her and her friends, if he was here it was for Jeff but he may have hurt his feelings just because he was in a bad mood.
"If you don't like my parties, just go! At least, Jeff knows how to have fun!" She said before sipping her half-empty bottle of whatever alcohol it was.
Clay looked at her in disbelief. Proud of herself for messing with his mind, she sent him a disdainful look and went to join her friends who were playing truth or dare game.
What did she mean by "he knows how to have fun!"? Jeff was a respectful young man, more honest than any other guy in their school. But Jeff was indeed young and he wasn't like Clay, he had actual friends here, he could be tempted to live the life its fullest...
In his back-pocket, his phone vibrated meaning he received a message. He took it out and was glad to see Tony's name written on his screen:
T- How's the party going?
The answer to that question came out quickly:
C- I'd rather be sick at home!!!
He knew he sounded a bit dramatic but Tony knew him better than anyone else and probably predicted Clay wouldn't be having fun, that's why Tony told him to go with Jeff, hoping his presence would reassure him.
T- Where's Jeff?
C- With his friends... I guess.
T- He left you on your own? O.O
C- I told him to, didn't want to ruin his mood even more.
Tony didn't reply straight away, probably wondering what Clay's last message meant.
T- What do you mean even more? What did you do?
Clay sighed, of course, Tony knew it was he who did something but didn't want to get into the details so he stayed vague.
C- Let's say I accidentally hurt his feelings and now I'm not feeling good.
T- You miss your man that's all ;p Go talk to him (and don't forget to apologize!!)
Clay smiled, Tony was right. In such an environment, he always felt vulnerable and Jeff's presence always helps.
C- He's probably having fun with his friends, I shouldn't ruin his mood.
T- Come on, Clay! You know you won't! And if you think so then at least try to have fun... Did you even try?
Deep down, Tony knew the answer to that question yet he hoped he was wrong.
T- I gotta go, have a hot date tonight! We'll talk later, in the meantime...
Clay smiled and played Tony's game by finishing his sentence as he wanted him to:
C- Try to have fun! Got it! Have a great night ;)
T- You too ;)
Clay put back his phone in his pocket, as soon as he put an end to his conversation with Tony, he felt lonely and vulnerable again. Pushing himself off the wall he decided to wander around the house in the vain hope to run into Jeff. During his unofficial search, he wondered how such a small house could fit so many students in it? He skirted between the mass of people gathered in the living room and bumped into Sheri and Hannah who looked quite in a rush.
"Hey Helmet! What a party!" Hannah said with a goofy smile on her face.
Clay looked at her cautiously.
"Yeah right. Are you leaving?"
"Yes! It's a great party but it's getting late and my head starts spinning."
Judging by Clay's frown, Sheri added:
"I'm driving her back home, don't worry!"
She immediately regretted her remark when Clay looked at her with a stern expression on his face. She wanted to defend herself, saying she could drive but the look on his face was so insulting that she took Hannah's hand in hers and pushed past Clay before disappearing into the crowd. This party was getting worse with each passing minute. Tired of being cautious as not to bump into anyone, Clay forced his way to the kitchen and let out a sigh of relief when he finally reached the half-empty room. There were bottles everywhere and someone must have spilled some beer on the floor because the odour was persistent in the room. Disgusted by the smell, Clay headed outside, needing the fresh, pure air. Behind him, the music was as loud as the yellings. Closing his eyes, Clay couldn't help but wonder why he accepted to come, he wasn't a party kind of guy everyone knew that, and yet here he was.
His ear twitched when the door clicked open. At first, Clay thought it was someone about to leave the party but he highly doubted it. Then the person made his way towards him. Eyes shut, he almost prayed that it wasn't Jessica ordering him to go back home, he didn't to leave without Jeff. He waited patiently until two strong arms wrapped themselves around his middle, bringing him closer to an all too familiar body. Sighing deeply, he relaxed into the embrace before turning around and immediately seeking refugee in the crook of Jeff's neck.
The athlete chuckled at his boyfriend, it was becoming a habit for him whenever he needed to feel safe and it was a feeling he often needed to feel, but Jeff happily obliged. For him, there was nothing more important than to know that Clay was feeling safe and protected. Jeff's right hand came up to play with the hair at the base of Clay's neck while the other continued to caress his back.
Clay knew he probably should apologize as Tony told him to, but he was torn between apologizing and not saying a thing and enjoying the warmth of Jeff's body. Unfortunately for him, Jeff always seemed to know when he was overthinking. The young athlete pushed gently Clay off him and put a hand on his face.
Clay expected his voice to show some sign of annoyance but instead, he only heard his boyfriend's concerns.
"I want to go home."
He hoped he didn't sound as lame but Jeff nodded, not even surprised.
"Let me get the car and I'll drive you home."
Eyes wide open, Clay grabbed Jeff's hand before he got the chance to go back inside.
Taken aback by Clay's outburst, Jeff gave his hand a small squeeze.
"What do you mean no? Clay, what's wrong?"
This was gonna be the hardest part for Clay, he knew it was gonna sound strange but he had a hunch all day, telling him that something was gonna happen. Anything could go wrong but the idea of letting Jeff take him home after a party may not seem the best one.
"Thirty minutes." Clay simply said.
Jeff looked baffled at that. "What?"
"My house is just thirty minutes away, walking distance. I know yours isn't but it's ok you can sleep at my house, my parents love you they won't mind."
Closing his eyes for a second, Jeff resisted the urge to sighed deeply.
"Clay, we're not gonna have that conversation again."
"And I don't want to either, but I don't think it's safe for you to drive me back home."
"I'm not drunk Clay!!!"
Jeff's outburst made Clay jump and take a step back from him. He immediately regretted having yelled and tried to reach out to Clay but the young man took another step back and judging by the way he wrapped his arms around his body, he wasn't feeling safe anymore. Jaw clenched, Jeff tried to regain control of his voice and emotions.
"I'm sorry, just wait for a minute, I'll grab my keys and if it helps I promise I'll drive slowly."
Judging by Clay's frown, Jeff knew he said something he should have said.
"You don't understand, isn't it?"
Sighing deeply, Clay started walking away.
Jeff's heart constricted in his chest not knowing what to do, he was paralyzed. Up until now, he didn't understand what Clay was talking about, he stupidly thought his boyfriend was just worried he might want to drink his ass off like any other person at the party and he must admit that it hurt to think that Clay didn't trust him, but now that he left, Jeff shared his boyfriend's hunch too: something was gonna happen!
That thought came out of nowhere and it almost sounded stupid, but at the same time, this thought occurred right after Clay's departure, maybe he was just worried and a bit overprotective. Looking back and forth between the empty streets and Jessica's house, Jeff found himself unable to move for a few seconds before deciding to go against his boyfriend's judgement and walked inside the house, took his keys and headed back for the door.
"Jeff!" A voice stopped him. "Where are you going? The party only just started!"
Turning around, Jeff tried to put a smile on his face but it was hard considering Bryce Walker wanted to keep him here.
"I just got into a fight with Clay, I need to make sure he got home ok."
"Man, if you two got into a fight let him cool down and stay here. You'll talk tomorrow."
Jeff shakes his head.
"I can't! Sorry!"
He didn't wait for Bryce's reply and headed for his car. He followed the street Clay must've taken, hesitating here and there when he had to turn left or right. His nervousness made him forgot the way to Clay's home. Fortunately, he found him within a few minutes and realized Clay really walked fast, or maybe it was him who wasn't used to walk. He slowed down and rolled next to the rather angered teen.
"Clay! Please, I know you're mad but at least let me take you home." He pleaded.
But Clay wasn't listening he kept on walking.
Jeff called his name a few more times before giving up and accelerating just a bit so he could park the car in front of Clay. Climbing out, he approached him but the young man put his arms around himself again as a defence mechanism. Seeing Clay wanting to protect himself from Jeff hurt so he kept his distance with him for now.
"Look, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have lost my temper. I guess I was just hurt that you didn't trust me."
"Can you blame me? It's difficult not to have doubts with friends like yours."
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jeff sighed deeply. "Clay, please! Not again!"
"It's true! Look, I trust you..."
"Oh yeah?! I find that hard to believe!"
With a new step back from Clay, Jeff knew he went too far again.
"Just take me home already!" Muttered Clay as he walked past him, arms still crossed and tears forming in the corner of his eyes.
They climbed up silently in the car and Jeff started it up. They stayed silent for a few moments until Jeff felt the need to speak.
"I'm not drunk Clay."
Neither of them knew if he was saying this more to himself or if it was meant to Clay.
"I never said you were." He replied still looking out the window.
"But that's what you implied..."
"Jeff," Clay called out.
"No, hear me out!"
"Jeff!" Clay repeated more firmly.
"You're allowed not to trust Bryce and the others but..."
But it was too late, Jeff saw the car too late to react...
Head spinning and ears whistling, Jeff got out of his cars. His vision was blurry and night so dark. Putting his hands before him, Jeff blunders his way to the front of the car. After a few seconds, he could see a bit better. As he acknowledges what just happened a thought wandered through his head.
The other car was still stuck in theirs. He climbed back up and looked at Clay. There was blood everywhere and he was unconscious. Pulling out his phone he dialled 911 while going to check on the persons in the other car.
"911 what's your emergency?"
Now that he had to speak, he didn't know where to start. His lungs hurt and his head was still spinning.
"I'm Jeff Atkins, my boyfriend and I just had an accident."
"What kind of accident?" She asked while tapping on her computer.
"A car crashed into ours."
"Where are you, Jeff?"
The young man looked everywhere, realizing he didn't know where he was, but the night was too dark and there was no sign to tell him on which road he was. Panic started overwhelming him making it hard to breathe.
"I don't know!"
"It's alright Jeff! I'll track your phone, just hold the line."
In the other car, there were two old people, they looked unconscious but still breathing. But what about Clay?
"Jeff, are you still there?"
"I need to check on my boyfriend. His face is full of blood."
"He is still breathing?"
Jeff put a hand on his throat and nodded.
"I think so. Should I get him out of the car?"
"No Jeff, don't! We don't know the extent of his wounds, let him in the car. Jeff, I sent you some help, they will be there in a few..."
Jeff tried to stay focus but it was getting harder with each passing seconds. His head felt heavier and the sound of the operator's voice started to be muffled by the whistling in his ears. He wanted to hold on but was too weak. His phone dropped on the ground and he followed right after.
When Jeff woke up, he recognized the white walls of the hospital. The images of the car crash flooded through his mind. He got up from the bed he was on as quickly as he could and started searching for a doctor.
When she saw him standing and looking for someone, Lainie got up from her chair and hugged the young man.
"Great you're awake."
Startled by the woman, Jeff hesitated before hugging her back.
"How are you feeling?" She asked.
Jeff gently pushed her in front of him.
"He's still in the operating room, the doctors are doing their best to save him."
Jaw clenched, Jeff tried to fight the tears that slowly started to form. He looked around and sat on the first chair he saw. Lainie and Matt sat on each side of him.
"You can go home if you want, take a shower, eat, have some rest and come back when you'll feel better." Clay's mother said.
But Jeff shook his head, wanted to say something but was too afraid to break down crying if he opened his mouth. His parents arrived a few minutes after, having been called by the Jensens. When she saw her son's body language, Mrs. Atkins decided to take Clay's parents to the cafeteria and give Jeff some space. They all silently agreed and went down.
As soon as he was alone, Jeff put his head in his hands but refused to sob. In his head, he had to be strong for Clay like he always were.
A hand landed on his shoulder, looking up, he was relieved to see Tony. Clay's mom must've called him to let him know what happened.
Tony was a good guy, but he was worried about the wrong person. Getting up, he accepted the hug Tony was silently offering. This simple gesture was comforting enough to give Jeff some more strength. When the finally broke apart, they sat on the chairs.
"What did the doctors said?"
"Nothing! They're still operating him."
Patting his leg, Tony murmured reassuring words but Jeff wasn't listening anymore, too focused on Clay. A part of him blamed himself for what happened, he was the reason why they were here and it all started the moment he accepted to go to Jessica's party and offered to bring Clay along. Jessica wasn't a big fan of him in general but it was worse when it came to parties because Clay doesn't like them too and they felt it. She called him a mood killer more than once and even if he knew his boyfriend wouldn't be happy there, Jeff still insisted to bring him along and why? Because he couldn't stand the thought of Clay being unhappy on his own. The minute they stepped foot in Jessica's house, Clay noted right away the drunk teens and the excessive amount of beers in the house and the fact that Jeff helped carry some more kegs of beer didn't help. They started fighting, Clay arguing that he brought them in his car and it wasn't a good idea to stay at such a party. To say Jeff had been hurt by this comment would be an understatement and he left Clay alone to have fun with his friends. Everything went down from here...
Clay and Jeff's parents came back and sat with the two boys.
"Thirty minutes walk," Jeff mumbled under his breath.
All eyes turned to him, wondering what he was saying.
"What?" His mother asked.
"Clay told me we could walk back home, it was just a thirty minutes walk... I should've listened to him." Unable to stop the tears from falling, Jeff put his head in his hands.
"Hey! No, no, no!!! Stop that!" Matt said, kneeling in front of Jeff before taking his hands off his face. "It was an accident, Jeff! It's not your fault!"
"It is! Clay and I had a fight and he didn't want me to drive him home but I didn't listen, and look where we are now!"
Matt sighed. "You boys fought," he stated. "So what? Do you think Lainie and I never fought? Do you think your parents never fought? It happens."
"I was driving!" Jeff almost yelled, his face wet from the tears. "I should've focused on the road but I wasn't!"
"Jeff, listen to me! When we were downstairs, we hear some policemen talking to a nurse, saying they got a call from a driver saying she accidentally knocked the stop sign with her car."
Jeff and Tony's eyes widen, starting to understand what Matt was saying.
"Yes, you could've been more focused but without the stop sign to slow down the other car before the intersection..."
"Neither of us could've stopped our car before it was too late."
Jeff started to understand and to accept the circumstances of the accident, but a question suddenly popped in his mind. "But if they warned the police about the stop sign, why didn't they react sooner?"
"Because the person who knocked it down warned them too late."
Jeff got up, unable to stay still much longer. Why someone would wait so long to warn the police about something so dangerous? Maybe she thought she would get into trouble for having knocked the stop sign? Even so, she's part of the reason why they are here now and he hated her for that. But if he was honest, he should hate himself too, because despite what Matt said to him he could've listened to Clay.
Thirty minutes! Is that so long after all? Thirty minutes of walking hand in hand with Clay, going at a slow pace so it could last longer. Thirty minutes in their quiet neighbourhood, listening to Clay's voice and laugh as he rambled on and on about whatever new thing he learned during the day. It was just thirty fucking minutes!!!
The hours passed and no one came to inform them. Sitting on the uncomfortable chairs, Matt caressed absentmindedly Lainie's head who rested on his lap with her eyes closed but unable to sleep. Jeff's parents were pacing nervously in the corridors while Jeff and Tony had their eyes focused on the door leading to the operating room.
At 3 am, a young doctor pushed the door open, making everyone stand up almost immediately. Surprised by the abruptness of their reaction, the young doctor stuttered. "Family of Clay Jensen?"
"How is he?" Jeff asked before the others.
The doctor smiled shyly. "Clay has two broken ribs and a concussion but we took care of everything and stabilized him. He's been moved to a room where he'll go under observation for a few days. I can allow you to see him, but only one person at a time."
Jeff turned towards his family and they all nodded, knowing fully that he wasn't going to leave anyway.
Jeff followed the doctor in a corridor leading to a room where his boyfriend laid unconscious, his head wrapped up in bandages.
He's stable! He's stable! He's stable!
He kept repeating it in his head, scared that if he didn't convince himself it might be wrong. Raising his right hand, he carefully caressed Clay's cheek before leaning in to kiss his temple.
"Please, forgive me!" He murmured lamely.
Climbing up on his bed, Jeff put his ear on his chest. He was still so scared of losing him that he needed to hear his heartbeats, letting its slow and steady pace lull him to sleep.