[ I want to thank all of you whove written me little notes of encouragement, thanks, and suggestions. I didnt expect the massive outpouring of support and encouragement youve all given. Next month is the finale, so stay tuned. And, if you havent read the previous three episodes, you should check the archives, or this probably wont make much sense. Enjoy!]
The bus ride to Hennepin County Medical Center was excruciating. I kept wanting to push the bus driver out of his seat and get behind the wheel. What if Kyle died? What if he died and the last words I said to him were so malicious? I started crying and a half-drunk bag lady sitting across from me stared at me. Eventually I became so annoyed that I started staring at her until she became so uncomfortable that she looked away.
Once the bus rumbled to a stop at the hospital I ran inside, checked a map, and raced through the corridors of the massive hospital. Eventually I found the intensive care unit and saw Maggie, Kyles mother, sitting in a family waiting lounge. Maggie sat hunched over a cup of black coffee, half-watching a Frasier rerun in the empty family lounge. I walked up silently and pulled up a chair next to her.
"Hi Maggie," I said, trying to be brave. She looked up at me with red, swollen eyes and attempted to smile. She reached across the table and squeezed my hand.
"Thank you for coming, sweetie," she said, her lips quivering. I had always liked Maggie Townsend. She had often invited Kyle and me over for dinner and wed spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years together. For a few minutes we pretended to be interested in Frasier, both unsure exactly what to say to each other.
"How is school going?" Maggie finally asked, turning to me during a commerical break.
"Oh, its great. Its incredibly busy. Final exams are in a few weeks and Im nervous."
Maggie laughed a tiny laugh. "What are you worried about? You could sleep through your exams and get an A."
I changed the subject. "How is Kyle?"
"His condition is deteriorating," she said robotically. "The GHB that was in Kyles schnapps was laced with something almost lethal. Its got a name that I cant even pronounce, but its on Kyles charts if youre interested," she said, waving her hand. Maggie started crying, her shoulders shaking. I moved closer and wrapped my arms around her. She heaved as she cried, abandoning herself to her grief. Kyle, the youngest of her two boys, had always been her favorite. After a few minutes she collected herself an took a long drink of her coffee. "Do you want to see him?" Maggie asked.
"Kyle doesnt look like he used to, Josh. Evan got Kyle into his van and brought him to an empty K-Mart parking lot. A police officer just happened to stop at the van and rescue Kyle." Maggie talked through tears, wiping her red nose. "Kyles nose is almost broken and his left eye is swollen shut. His lips are busted and they have him on a ventilator that goes down his throat to keep him breathing." I cursed. I started to cry, too. "Evan, he, uh... He violated Kyle." At that I started sobbing and I hugged Maggie tightly, crying with her. How could this have happened? How could it have happened to Kyle? Guilt struck me from deep, deep within my heart.
Maggie poured me a cup of coffee. I dont drink coffee, but the bitter, watered-down liquid kept me both warm and awake.
Once we moved from the family waiting lounge to the intensive care unit, hell broke lose. Doctors and nurses rushed from room to room while receptionists answered calls and various patients were wheeled from room to room. While Maggie walked me to Kyles room an alarm went off in a room down the hall and four nurses raced down the hall, yelling for a doctor.
Kyles room was almost at the end of the hall. I walked in gingerly, not sure that I actually wanted to see him. When I saw him I walked slowly to the bedside and dropped into a cheap hospital chair. Kyles hair was matted and strewn, his nose did indeed look broken, and the bones and skin around Kyles left eye were shades of blue, purple, and black. A doctor came to visit and Maggie talked with him while I sat looking at Kyle. The body in the bed looked something like Kyle, but not enough that I was convinced. I looked down at Kyles hand and suddenly started to cry all over again. He was wearing a thin silver ring Id given him at Christmas.
My head flushed with memories of Kyle. I remembered bopping around in his little Saturn on Friday nights, listening to Bjork, Garbage, and Natalie Merchant. I remembered him introducing me to new restaurants and cafes, showing me a world I didnt know existed. Hed opened my eyes to things I never knew that I would like. I remembered days walking by the river, browsing through book stores, drinking lemonade and reading the City Pages in small, unknown cafes.
I had to leave. I panicked.
"Josh!" Maggie called after me. "Josh!"
I was gone.
I whipped out my cell phone and tried to get a hold of Kate or Tyler. Neither answered. It was two oclock in the morning, so it wasnt much of a surprise. Suddenly I remembered that Camerons apartment was just a matter of blocks from the hospital, and I started sprinting down the street until I found his apartment. I found his name on the security buzzer in front of the apartment.
"Hello?" Camerons voice said, quite awake, through the speaker.
"Cameron, its Josh."
"Yeah. Can I come up?"
Camerons apartment was on the seventh floor. He opened the door in his pajamas and ushered me in. Id stopped crying, but I was quiet and whimpering.
"Josh, what happened?" Cameron asked, bringing me to his small living room. Apparently he hadnt been able to sleep and was watching infomercials.
"You havent heard?"
"Heard what? Ive been in California with Mandy." Mandy was his new best girlfriend. I relayed the entire story to him as his eyes grew wider and wider.
"When did all of this happen?" Cameron asked, suddenly very still.
"Did they find whoever did it?"
I hadnt cried until that point. "His name is Evan Kincaid."
"Do you know him?"
I sighed and tried to fight crying. "I met him a few weeks ago at the Saloon. Tyler and the boys set me up on a date with him." A frightening thought invaded my mind. "Cameron, this guy bought me a drink and wanted to go out with me. I could be in a hospital bed right now, raped and drugged. It could have been me. Evan could have done the same thing to me." Cameron scooted closer to me. I rested my head on his shoulder.
"How is Kyle doing now?"
"They dont know. Apparently there was a mistake with the drug because he put too much into the drink and the drug been tainted with some other drug, too." I sighed. "I just feel so guilty. I mean, I dumped him. And we had all of those great times together. My God, what if Im not over him yet? Maybe thats the problem. I never really grieved. I started dating Jared right away."
Cameron tried to be comforting. "Josh, the guy cheated on you. You had every right to dump him. If things werent working, you needed to let go of the relationship. You deserve that. And maybe if you think youre not over him, you should take some time and think about it."
I looked at the couch. "Would it be okay if I slept here for the night?"
"Absolutely," Cameron said gently. "Ill go get a blanket and pillow from the bedroom. My roommate is at his girlfriends house, so it should be pretty quiet around here."
Twenty minutes later I was sleeping like a baby while Cameron paced around the apartment, waiting for the sun to rise.
At nine oclock my eyes opened slowly. For a moment I didnt realize where I was. When I did realize where I was I had a fleeting moment of panic: had I slept with Cameron? Quickly I realized I hadnt and I sat up on the couch, wrapping a blanket around my half-naked self. I could hear Cameron in the kitchen and I went to investigate. It reminded me of weekends we had spent during high school having sleepovers. Whenever our parents went out of town wed pretend we were the masters of the house and spent long weekends relaxing, making love, watching movies, and talking.
"Morning, pumpkin," Cameron said, turning to smile at me from the stove. He was making scrambled eggs. Pumpkin was something he hadnt called me since we were boyfriends. Something felt warm and comfortable when he called me that, but another pang of guilt struck me. "Want some eggs?"
I nodded and sat down at the table. I smoothed out my hair and yawned lazily. I could tell I was on the verge of being cranky. Little sleep combined with stress pushed me to the edge.
"What are your plans for the day?" Cameron asked me, swishing the eggs around in the pan.
I shrugged. "I really need to study for exams. I should probably find Jared, too, and talk to him about Kyle. I also have to find eight thousand dollars for the Spring Out program and go to opening day of the festivities tomorrow." I sighed and laid my head down on the table. I stayed there for a few minutes until Cameron came into the kitchen with two plates of toast and eggs with a glass of orange juice on the side. I lifted my head, thanked Cameron for making breakfast, and we started to eat.
Cameron looked at me warily. "So, how are you feeling about the whole mess?"
I put a small bite of food into my mouth. I didnt want to pretend everything was okay. It wasnt. "It was really hard to see Kyle like that last night," I said quietly. "I sat there looking at him strapped into all those machines and I remembered so many things about him." I trailed off and kept chewing.
Cameron raised his eyebrow. "But youre with Jared, right?"
"Of course," I said with a nervous laugh. "Of course I am," I said, trying to sound more confident. "It was just really hard to have all of those memories. I remembered the first time we kissed and I remembered our first date. There was this wilderness preserve that we always used to walk through and -- "
Cameron interrupted and glared at me. "Do you remember what Kyle did to you? I mean, you spent a whole night detailing how he wronged you. Do you remember how lonely you felt with him and how much the things he said to you hurt? And thats not even to mention the affair."
I dropped my fork to the table, frustrated. "But it wasnt like that all the time. He could be so sweet, you know? And sometimes he did really thoughtful things..." I looked out the window but Cameron used his hand and turned my head back to him.
"Listen to me," Cameron said gently. "Jared sounds like a wonderful, wonderful man. He doesnt ever say things that hurt you and youve never felt lonely with him. And, above all, he loves you." Cameron looked pained for a moment. "And, speaking from the point of view of somebody who has lost you before, that bastard Kyle has no idea what he lost. Im horribly sorry about everything that Evan did to Kyle -- I wouldnt wish that on anybody, seriously -- but you have a good, strong man now. Dont be tempted by this blast from the past who was more habit than anything else."
I chewed on my lip. An hour later I was at Jareds house.
Jared wrapped his arms around me tightly. I had just stepped into the door of his apartment, hair still wet from the shower, clad in my hooded sweatshirt and battered blue jeans. I held on to him lightly.
"Kate called and told me last night," Jared said into my hair. He kissed my forehead. "I was so worried about you. I mean, it must have been like losing Aaron, Carl, and Drew when they crashed your car."
My heart stopped. I hadnt even thought about that. My face went ashen. Jared pulled back as he felt my body go limp.
"Joshua, are you okay?" Jared asked. "Lets get you to the couch."
We moved quickly to his couch and I closed my eyes. Too much had happened in far too little time.
"Listen, I know this is isnt the most opportune time to bring this up, but it was going to be a surprise. You see, I know you wanted to meet my parents, so I bought us tickets for New York the day after Spring Out ends, right on that weekend before final exams."
I opened my eyes and looked at him, astonished. "You dont still expect me to go, do you?" I said, with an unfair tone. Jared looked taken aback.
"Well, I was hoping you would..."
"Jared, Kyle was just raped and drugged by a man who could have done the same thing to me. Not to mention that its the weekend before finals which I havent studied adequately for, along with the fact that its the day after the four day long Spring Out, after which I will be completely exhausted." I shook my head. "Of course I cant go." Jared didnt say anything for a moment. Hed never seen me like this. He looked like a puppy whod been smacked. "And what if Kyle died? Id need to be here for the funeral." The words struck me as I spoke them. I had never conceded that Kyle could die.
"Where did you stay last night?" Jared asked quietly, not making eye contact. "I tried to find you, but I couldnt get a hold of you."
"I slept at Camerons," I said shortly. Jared tried to hide a disconcerted look. "Oh, Jesus, Jared, its not like we slept together." Jared remained silent. I started to cry. I was overwhelmed. Everything boiled over and I finally let all of the emotion out. I ran for the door, slamming it behind me. Jared ran after me as we ran down the street.
"Josh, come back," Jared said, sprinting to keep up with me on the Minneapolis streets. "Josh, lets talk about this, please!"
I pursed my lips and sped to a sprint I knew he couldnt keep up with. "Jared, just leave me alone right now. Go!" Eventually he stopped and I kept running down Hennepin Avenue as a spring rain started to fall unevenly on the pavement.
When I arrived home I realized that I would have to set aside the turmoil for at least an hour while I searched for eight thousand dollars for Spring Out. I pulled out my laptop, my rolodex, and my phone. I called most of the liberal agencies in town and most of them had either spent most of their funding or couldnt get the money to us in time. I thought it would take me an hour to find the funds, but after nearly three hours I was still without money.
"I dont know what to do," I said to Meg on the phone. "There just isnt any money."
"Should I formally cancel the last day of activities?" Meg asked gravely. She treated me gingerly, knowing what had happened to Kyle.
"No. God, no. Well find a way to do this."
Opening day of Spring Out began with a bang. I met Ellen DeGeneres and her mother, Betty, at the Minneapolis International Airport with Meg. We took a limousine back to the campus and Meg talked non-stop with Ellen on the way back. Betty sat next to me and immediately tuned into the fact that something was wrong with me. After a few minutes she put her soft, warm hand on mine.
"Sweetheart, is something bothering you?" Betty asked, her kind eyes peering out behind a pair of eyeglasses. "Looks like youve had a tough day."
I knew Bettys concern was real, but I also knew that if I started talking about everything that Id cry. Kyle was still in the ICU and I hadnt talked to Jared since our falling out. The night before I had finished almost a gallon of bottled water off, concerned I had dehydrated my body from all the crying. Id realized the crying was about Jared and Kyle but I was also starting to think about my parents divorce and other things while I cried, confusing me even more. It should have been my strongest day -- I was completely in my element -- but I was crushed.
Instead of telling Betty the truth I put on my brightest smile and made a note to myself to not let my true feelings show through until I had Spring Out well on the way.
When we arrived on campus four security guards guided Ellen, Betty, and me to Roy Wilkins Auditorium where the day would be kicked off by a speech made by the mother and daughter pair. Meg bustled off to take care of business while I seated myself in Roy Wilkins Auditorium where every single seat in the monstrous auditorium was filled. I stood in the back of the room as Ellen came on stage and the audience exploded in applause. In true comedic style Ellen charmed the audience with her greetings and her message to our gay generation.
Meg suddenly burst through the door of the auditorium near me and pulled me into the hallway. She smiled sheepishly and held an envelope out to me.
"This just came from Jared by courier," she said, handing me the envelope and then taking my place in the auditorium.
I opened the envelope gingerly. As the festivities had started Id stopped thinking about the Kyle crisis and the Jared fiasco, but suddenly this envelope brought it back into focus. Inside was a note and a check.
Joshua, I want you to know how sorry I am about the other night. Youd had a miserable day and I wasnt being understanding at all. I hope you forgive me. Enclosed youll find a check from my parents for eight thousand dollars, covering your last expenses for Spring Out. They heard you needed it and wanted to help your organization. Ive left on a plane for New York this morning and I hope we can talk when I get back.
I almost cried when I finished reading the note and found the check in the envelope. I folded it all up, relieved, and walked back into that auditorium with a smile on my face.
That night I slumped into my couch at home, exhausted. The kick-off was wonderful -- we attracted more than nine thousand people so far -- and Ellen and Betty were the stars of the day.
The next day I didnt have any Spring Out duties, so I spent the day hibernating at the library. I also planned to see Kyle.
Right after dinner time, after a day filled with studying, I again walked through the doors of Hennepin County Medical Center. I made my way to the Intensive Care Unit and found Kyles room easily. I was startled, though, when I discovered four police officers outside his room.
"My name is Josh Stafford," I said to one of them. "Im on Kyles visitors list." A young, stocky police officer verified that I was on Kyles visitors list. "And why are you guys here, if I can ask?"
The young police officer looked at me sternly. "Evan Kincaid killed two officers and escaped from a jail transport van along with five other fugitives today. Our sources tell us that Mr. Kincaid is probably heading to Michigan, but were here just to secure the area."
My throat clenched. Jesus, how could this get any crazier?
Kyles mom had finally gone home for rest. I stayed with Kyle, holding his hand and watching him breathe. He still had a ventilator running and a mess of machinery around him beeping almost rhythmically.
Finally, as I spent time with Kyle, I realized I wanted to be with Jared. Wed had a stupid misunderstanding when I was exhausted and Jared pushed the wrong issue at the wrong time. Wed both made mistakes and I understood, now more than ever, that I wanted to be with Jared. I felt like Id made peace with Kyle as I sat with him, watching his chest slowly rise and fall. I simply sat in a chair next to the bed, looking at Kyle and thinking. I had found peace.
As midnight approached I decided it was time to go home. On my way out I noticed only one police officer still standing guard at Kyles door.
Yawning, I stepped into an elevator. A cute blond guy stood in the back of the elevator wearing sunglasses. He smiled at me as I got in the elevator and I smirked back. I wasnt in the mood to flirt -- I just wanted to get home and get some more sleep before the final day of Spring Out.
I pressed the button for the first floor as the elevator began to move.
Suddenly, without warning, the man behind me let out a roar and smashed his full body weight into me, slamming me against the metal elevator door. I fell to the ground, completely stunned and unable to breathe, as I felt the elevator come to a stop. The man had pressed the emergency stop button on the elevator and pulled out a gun. Everything had happened in less than five seconds, and I still couldnt breathe.
"Well, I was coming to visit Kyle," the man said, stooping near me and pointing the gun at my head, "but its nice to see you again." I looked at him more carefully as he took his sunglasses off. Panic rose in my throat. "Dont you remember me?"
I finally found breath. The man clicked off the safety and placed his finger on the trigger. I could taste blood in my mouth. "Hi Evan," I said, my head pounding.
[Josh, 18, lives in Minneapolis. Hes an award winning writer who set out to write the story about gay teens that hes never been able to find in book stores. E-mail for Josh is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Josh has been out of the country for several weeks, so he apologizes profusely if e-mails havent been returned yet, and is working on returning all of them as soon as possible.]