Chapter 13
Brittle as a Bird
Ticker and Star were sitting in the living room waiting on me to get home. Both gave
me a cold stare when I walked in. I gave them a ‘don’t fuck with me’ look, and then I
headed up to Ticker’s room.

As soon as I lay down on the cot, Star came barging in. She stood in front of me with
her arms crossed. “What the hell is going on with you?”

I buried my head in the pillow. I wasn’t ready for another confrontation. I just wanted
to be left alone.

Star grabbed my sleeve and tried to lift me up. “Sit up and listen to me.”

“Leave me alone, Star,” I muttered into the pillow.

“Allen tried to kill himself tonight!” She let out a loud sob and then walked over and sat
down on Ticker’s bed. I kept the pillow over my head, stunned by what she had just
said.

I heard Ticker enter the room and walk over to the bed. I peered under the pillow and
saw him holding her while she cried into his chest. I sat up and looked across the
room. “What happened?”

Star removed her head from Ticker’s chest and screamed, “As if you care!” Her head
fell back into Ticker’s chest as she continued to cry.

“When we went back to his room,” Ticker said softly, never taking his eyes off me. “He
had pulled all the tubes from his body, and there was blood everywhere. He was
unconscious.”

Tears started streaming down my face. “Is he all right?” Ticker gave me a sad look.
I was afraid to hear his next words.

“They took him back into surgery.” He still had his arm around Star and was patting
her softly on her back. “When we left, he was in critical condition.” She let out another
loud sob.

She raised her head and looked over at me. “What did you say to him?”

What could I say? No one but the two of us knew about our exchange. Ticker knew I
was a hustler, but he didn’t know that Allen had seen me in the car with Roger. And
Star would never understand. It would take weeks for me to explain everything that
led up to tonight’s encounter.

“Well?” She screamed. “What did you say to him?”

“Fuck you, Star.” I rose from the cot and stood before her. “You think    you’re so God
damned righteous. What the hell would you know? You live in a fucking mansion and
have everything you’ve ever wanted. You wouldn’t know what it is like to sleep on a
cold, hard ground because you don’t have anywhere else to sleep.”

Tears were pouring down my face. “No one’s loved me my whole damned life!” I put my
hands over my head and screamed out, “I’m so fucking tired of this fucking shit!” I
gave them one last look before running from the room.

I walked the streets for hours. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. Several guys
tried to pick me up, but I just flipped them off and walked away. It was late when I
stood before the massive white building, Community General Hospital.

“Can you tell me the condition of Allen Foster?” I was standing before the information
desk. An elderly man typed something on the computer and then looked back up at me.

“He’s in room 4112, but it’s late and you’ll have to wait until visiting hours tomorrow.”

“But is he all right?” I pleaded.

“It doesn’t give me that information,” he stated. “Only his room number.”

“Thank you,” I said dejectedly. “Can you tell me where the restroom is located?”

He pointed toward a hallway on his left. “It’s down that corridor.”

I headed to the restroom, but on the way I passed the elevators. Without hesitating,   
I entered and hit the button for the fourth floor.

I exited to a quiet hallway. No one was in sight. On the wall was a sign indicating that
room 4112 was to the left down a long corridor. Carefully, I made my way down it.

Allen’s room was dark. The curtain had been drawn, and the only light was from the
monitoring machines. I could make out his frail body lying under the white sheets. I
looked at the numbers on the machines, but they were meaningless. I had no idea how
his body was holding up.

His left hand was sticking out from under the sheets. I scooted a chair near the bed
and sat down. I took his hand and held it. He squeezed it slightly. While still holding his
hand, I put my head on the side of the bed and closed my eyes. He gently squeezed
my hand again before I feel asleep.

“Young Man, wake up!” I was awakened by someone shaking my shoulder. I sat up and
looked groggily around the room. A nurse was standing beside me looking down. “Who
are you? You’re not supposed to be here right now.”

I thought for a second before answering. “I’m his brother,” I replied. “He’s sick and he
needs someone to be here with him.”

“We have a staff that can do that,” she responded. “You really do have to leave. It’s
after two in the morning.”

“Please let me stay,” I begged. “I’m not hurting anyone, and he really needs me to be
here.” As if he heard my words, he squeezed my hand.” The nurse looked down and
noticed the gesture. “See,” I said. “Please let me stay.”

She looked thoughtfully at me. “It’s not uncommon for a family member to stay the
night when someone is as ill as Mr. Foster is.”

I think I stopped breathing when she said that. As ill as he is. It sounded so ominous.
“How sick is he?”

“He lost a lot of blood last night,” she said. “His vital signs have stabilized, but it looked
for a while like we were going to lose him.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I gently
squeezed his hand. He responded by squeezing my hand more firmly.

She gently pushed me out of the way. “Let me attend to him for a minute, then I’ll
leave. But I’ll be in and out all night. So if you decide to stay, you won’t get much
sleep.”

“That’s all right,” I said appreciatively. I was just glad she wasn’t making me leave.
“Thank you.”

She was right about one thing- I didn’t get any more sleep. A hospital can be a very
noisy place at night. No wonder many people go home sicker than when they came in.
If the nurse wasn’t coming in to check on him, then there was the noise coming from
nearby rooms. One woman yelled out in pain all night. Hospital personnel kept going in
and out of her room, but she continued to scream.

And what is it with lights at night in a hospital? If you didn’t look out the window, you
couldn’t tell if it was day or night inside. The nurse continuously left Allen’s overhead
light on when she left,  but I would get up and turn if off. We repeated this several
times.

I managed to doze off for a few minutes, but I was awakened by another nurse. “Who
are you?” I looked up into the scowling face of an elderly nurse. “Who gave you
permission to be here?”

“I’m his brother,” I informed here; however, she didn’t seem to care.

“Well,” she huffed. “You have to leave. Visiting hours begin at eight.” I looked over at
the clock on the wall. It was 5:42.

“The other nurse said I could stay,” I insisted.

“I’m not the other nurse,” she remarked rudely. “Now leave before I call security and
have you removed.” She crossed her arms and stood defiantly in front of me.

I stood up, leaned in and gave Allen a gentle kiss on his forehead. She seemed
repulsed by my action. “Just a brotherly kiss,” I said smugly.

When I gave his hand a final squeeze, he squeezed mine tightly. I then leaned in and
kissed him on his lips. When I looked at the nurse, she was astonished. “Just another
brotherly kiss.” I laughed as I walked out of the room.

I headed directly to school after leaving Allen’s room. Since I had an hour to kill, I
stopped off at the coffee shop. When I walked in, I noticed Star sitting in a booth at
the end of the store. I purchased my coffee and ordered two blueberry muffins. I
handed the waitress my last ten dollar bill.

Star looked up when she saw me approach, but then continued writing. Since she had
her literature book opened, I figured she was trying to make a last minute effort to
finish Mr. Vickers’s assignment.

I pulled out a chair and sat down without saying a word. I pushed one of the muffins
over to her. “Thanks,” she said as she picked it up and started nibbling on it.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “I shouldn’t have said those things to you last night.” I looked
over to see her reaction, but she continued writing as if she hadn’t heard me.

“How do you spell inevitable?”

“What?” She looked at me and rolled her eyes. “I-n-e-v-i-t-a-b-l-e.”

“Thanks.” She continued to write, nibbling at her muffin.

“I’m a hustler,” I blurted out. Star looked up and gave me a questioning look. “I said    
I’m a hustler, or rather I was.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I used to hustle for money,” I continued. “That’s how I was able to pay my way. It’s
something I’m not proud of, but it’s the only way I could eat.”

She didn’t say a word. She just continued to stare at me.

“Allen saw me with a guy the other night.” Tears started to form in my eyes. “That’s
why he’s mad at me. Now you know.” I put my head down on the table and cried
softly. Star got up and sat down beside me. She put her hand on my neck and rubbed
it gently.

“I had to eat,” I mumbled.

“I had no idea.” Her voice was filled with emotion. I sat with my head down for several
minutes. Star continued to rub my neck and back, trying to comfort me. I was glad
that she hadn’t gotten up and walked out of my life after I finally told her about my
unseemly past.

After a few minutes, I was able to compose myself and sat back up. Star took hold of
my hand and squeezed it. “Tell me about it,” she said softly. I then told her my life
story- a condensed version. I didn’t leave out any details. I told her about Uncle Mike
and how my parents had disowned me after discovering us together. I told her how I
had to hustle older men to make money, and then I told her about being arrested for
stealing.

She started to cry when I went into detail how I had tried to kill myself that night on
the bridge; and then how I had attempted to experience the sensation again. I was
afraid she’d get up when I related how Allen had seen me performing oral sex on
Roger; and then how he had reacted afterwards. When I was finished, she sat quietly
for several minutes drinking her coffee.

“How much of this does Allen know?”

“I told him most of it the night I stayed overnight at his place,” I said. “I just didn’t tell
him about the other men.”

“I can understand why you didn’t,” she said. “I guess some things are a little too
personal.”

“And embarrassing,” I added quickly.

We sat for a few minutes in silence. She would look over and stare at me, as if she
were seeing me for the first time. Feeling uncomfortable, I took the paper she was
working on and read it.

“This is pretty good,” I said after finishing. She and Ticker had completely rewritten
what I had done earlier. It appeared more like it was written by a typical high school
student. I still wasn’t sure if Mr. Vickers was going to believe she had written it. After
all, she hadn’t used Wadsworth once in the report.

“So what now?” She asked as she took a drink of coffee.

“You turn it in,” I replied.

No, Joey,” she frowned. “I’m talking about you and Allen.”

“I don’t know,” I responded sadly. “I honestly don’t know.”

“You can’t keep hurting each other,” she said. “He cares about you. I can tell. The
other night, before all this happened, I could see a difference in him. It’s like you two
were meant for each other.”

“It won’t happen,” I replied.

“Why?”

“There’s too much working against us,” I said remorsefully. “Our ages, his illness, my
past, his past.”

Star reached down and took my hand. “Do you care about him?”

I remembered just hours earlier when I was holding his hand while he lay unconscious
in the hospital bed. The gentle squeezes of our hands. It was if he knew I was with
him. I wanted to believe he knew I was there.

“I think so,” I finally responded. She frowned. “Okay, yes. I care about him.”

“Then you can’t give up,” she insisted. She looked at the clock on the wall. It was a
little past seven. “I’m going to stop by the hospital before going to school. Will you
come with me?”

“I’d better go to school,” I replied. “I’m too far behind in my assignments. I need to
talk to my teachers before school starts. Besides, I spent the night with him.”

Her eyes shot open in surprise. “You were at the hospital last night?” I nodded. “Why
didn’t you tell me? How is he?”

“He didn’t wake up,” I informed her. “But he kept squeezing my hand.”

“Squeezing your hand?”

I then told her how I had spent the night holding Allen’s hand, and then how the
morning nurse had asked me to leave. She giggled when I told her about kissing Allen
just to anger the nurse.

“Then will you go with me after school?” she asked hopefully. I could see the Mother
Star beginning to emerge once again. Reluctantly, I nodded.

“Good,” she exclaimed. She stood and gathered her books and papers and put them
hurriedly into her book bag. “I’ve got to get over there and back to school in time for
Mr. Vickers class.”

Suddenly, an idea popped into my head. “Why don’t you call Ticker? He’ll come and
pick you up.”

“You think he will?”

“I’m sure he will.”

It surprised me when Star had his number on her speed dial. Ticker arrived fifteen
minutes later. He dropped me off at school before taking Star to see Allen.

                                       ********

“I’m sorry, Mr. Walters,” I said. “I promise to try harder.”

I was sitting in Mr. Walter’s office. He was leaning back in his chair and studying me. He
had just informed me that my grades had dropped substantially, and that there was a
chance that I would lose my valedictorian spot to Gladys Babcock. If I continued at the
rate I was going, my grades wouldn’t even be good enough to be salutatorian.

“I really want to see you standing up there giving the valedictorian speech next year,”
he exclaimed. “No one in your class has had to go through such insurmountable odds
to succeed. Don’t let me down.”

“I’m really trying to get my life together,” I informed him. “I’m staying with Ticker’s
family now. I’m not out on the streets. I’m not drinking and I hardly ever smoke weed
any more.” He raised his eyebrows and gave me an angry look.

“Said too much?” I laughed. He nodded. “Scratch that last part.” He let a small smile
form, but he pretended to still be upset with me.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll talk to your teachers and see if they will let you make up some
of the work you’ve missed lately. I can’t promise you anything, but we’ll see.”

“Thanks, Mr. Walters.” I reached across his desk and shook his hand. “I won’t let you
down. I promise.”

“Fine.” He wrote me a pass to class and handed it to me. “And remember, smoking
marijuana makes you sterile.”  He looked at me and smiled.

“Then I have nothing to worry about.” I laughed as I exited his office.

As I was walking down the hall to first period, I saw Gene heading my way. Thinking he
didn’t see me, I ducked into a nearby restroom. As I stood at a urinal, the door
opened and Gene entered.

He walked up to the urinal and began to piss. Since there was a partition between us, I
didn’t have to worry that he would think I was looking at him. I finished, then walked
over and started washing my hands. I heard the urinal flush, and I looked in the mirror
at him as he walked up and stood beside me.

I quickly looked down; but when he started washing his hands, I looked back up to see
him staring at me in the mirror. I looked to see how far I was from the exit in case he
decided he wanted to start something while we were alone. There would be no
witnesses if he decided he wanted to beat the shit out of me.

I was surprised when he cleared his throat and asked, “How’s my brother?” I looked
back into the mirror at his face. He looked concerned as he waited for me to answer.
My first instinct was to say, “Fuck off, you bastard,” but his worried expression
changed my attitude.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “He was unconscious when I left him this morning.”

A blank expression came over his face as he tried to understand why I had been with
his brother last night. I wasn’t even sure if he knew of the grave condition he was in.
After meeting his mother, I had a feeling that she and Gene didn’t communicate often.

“Oh,” he remarked. I stared into his eyes trying to understand why he had decided to
have this conversation with me. In the past, the only time he had something to say
was when he was with Barry; and then it was confrontational. Being alone with him, I
felt like I was with someone else.

He finished wiping his hands and headed to the door. Before leaving, he turned and
said, “I hope he gets to feeling better.” His voice cracked with emotion. He turned and
hurried from the restroom, leaving me wondering what had just happened.

From what Star and Allen’s mother had said, I thought of him as a heartless bastard
who hated his brother. But the boy I had just spoken to seemed like a caring individual
who was concerned about his brother’s health.

I spent the rest of the day sucking up to my teachers. My grades had suffered
dramatically since I had missed a major test in almost every class. The daily work          
wasn’t a problem, but most teachers seemed reluctant to let me make up a test. In
every class the tests had been handed back to the students. Do you have any idea
how hard it is to convince a teacher to give you a make up test that they will have to
specially prepare when you have no convincing reason for them to do so?  I even
offered to go home with my French teacher for the weekend and clean her yard and
garage. After she finished laughing, she reluctantly agreed to give me a make-up exam.

By the end of the day, I had convinced all my teachers to let me make up the work I
had missed and make up any exams. I later found out that Mr. Walters had sent them
an individual email asking for leniency. Again, I had been given another chance. This
time I was determined not to let anyone down.

I went to the library after school to use a computer so I could finish the research paper
for my economics class. I had been working for about fifteen minutes when Gene
walked in and sat about two carrels from me. I watched out of the corner of my eye as
he pulled out a book and some papers and began working. Occasionally, he’d look over
at me, but he would quickly look away when he saw me notice.

I was too engrossed in my writing to notice Gene get up and walk over to me. “Joey.”   
I jumped when he walked up behind me and called my name. “Do you have the notes
that Mrs. Moss gave us in class today? I can’t find mine.”

I turned around and looked up at him. He had a sheepish expression on his face. He
would look at me, and then his eyes would dart quickly around the library. He appeared
extremely nervous talking to me.

I remembered him having his head down and sleeping during class. In fact, almost the
entire class had fallen asleep except for me. I think it surprised Mrs. Moss when I
listened attentively to her and took notes. After all, just minutes earlier I had begged
her to let me make up the assignments I had missed. I couldn’t start out the first day
by falling asleep in class.

“Um, sure Gene.” I dug around in my book bag and found the notebook I used for
trigonometry. I shuffled through some pages until I found the ones I had taken earlier
in the morning.

“Here.” I handed him the notebook, pointing out the ones I had written.

“Thanks.” He surprised me when he sat in the carrel next to mine and began copying
from my notebook. Since my writing looks like chicken scratch, he had to ask me a
couple of times what a word was. On one occasion, he leaned over and pointed to a
word. When he did, our legs lightly touched. He looked down and quickly backed away.
“Sorry,” he said apologetically.

“No problem,” I replied. I looked up and found him staring at me. His face reddened as
he scooted back and continued working.

He finished writing and closed his notebook, handing me back mine. “Thanks, Joey.  
I’m glad someone stayed awake in class,” he laughed. “I’m not going to be eligible to
play baseball if I fail this class.”

I reached for my notebook, again noticing that he was staring intently at me. He gave
me a quick, short smile before getting up and returning to his carrel. I watched as he
packed up his books. Before leaving, he turned and nodded. I nodded back and
watched as he walked away.

After he left, I found it extremely difficult to concentrate any longer on my assignment.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened with Gene. For the past couple
of weeks he had been hostile to me. He had even gotten suspended for hitting me. But
he seemed to be a different guy when he wasn’t around his friends. He had seemed
almost friendly. I finally decided that I couldn’t get anymore work done, so I packed up
my books and left.

I had promised Star that I would stop by the hospital when I finished at school. My
stomach was in knots by the time I got off the bus and stood outside the hospital.      
I didn’t know if Allen would still be unconscious- or even worse. When I reached his
room, my hands were shaking and I had developed a throbbing headache.


Chapter 14                                  Return to TMJ