Jayden passed the police cruiser and looked inside. Anthony stared out the window and sneered. He walked up the stairs just as Detective Wallace was exiting the front door.
“Thanks to you, Jayden,” he said as he shook his hand, “we’ll be able to put these guys behind bars for a long time.” When Jayden looked behind Wallace, he saw Jarvis standing with an astonished look on his face.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jayden responded abruptly before pushing Wallace out of his way. He hurried to his room and looked out the window just as the cruisers were pulling away.
He pulled off his sweater and tossed it on the bed. When he turned, Jarvis was standing at his door. “What did that cop mean?” he asked angrily. “Why did he thank you?”
“I don’t know what you‘re talking about,” Jayden stammered. “You must have misunderstood him.”
“No, I didn’t.” Jarvis entered the room and stood defiantly before Jayden. “If you had anything to do with my brothers getting locked up, you’ll be sorry.” He pushed Jayden back and then stormed out of the room.
He showered and then returned to his room and lay down on his bed. He could still hear his aunt crying downstairs. He heard several people enter and then leave the house. He assumed friends of Tyrone and Anthony were stopping by to see what happened. He grew afraid that if they found out he was the reason for their arrests, then they might try to harm him. He had violated the code of the street. Even worse, he had informed on his own family.
His aunt was gone the next morning when he got up for school. Jarvis came into the kitchen, but turned and left when he saw Jayden. He knew it would only be a matter of time until Jarvis told others what he suspected- if he hadn’t already.
When he entered school, the students were talking excitedly about what had been on the morning news. A news crew had videotaped Tyrone and Anthony entering the jail in handcuffs. Everyone was relieved that Troy’s attackers had been captured.
He jumped when someone came up behind him and grabbed his arm. “Isn’t it wonderful news?” He turned to see Claire grinning up at him. “They got the guys who beat Troy. I hope they put them behind bars and throw away the keys.” She wrapped her hand around Jayden’s arm and walked down the hall with him.
After they had walked in silence for a minute, she stopped him. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he replied as he continued to his first period class. He was beginning to regret having said anything to Detective Wallace. He didn’t realize at the time it would generate so much attention.
Claire hurried to catch up with him. “Aren’t you glad they got the guys? After seeing what they did to Troy, I thought you’d be happy.”
“I am happy.” He turned to face Claire. “It’s just that..” He started to tell her that they were his cousins, but he was afraid it might change her feelings for him. He had felt that they were becoming friends the past few days.
“It’s just what?”
“Nothing,” he replied. This time he hurried down the hall, darting in and out of students so she couldn’t catch up to him.
He was taking notes in his second period Currents Events class when he was summoned once again to Principal Fallingsworth’s office. He shook his head when he saw Detective Wallace standing at the secretary’s desk. He looked up and smiled.
“Jayden.” He motioned for him to follow him into the principal’s office. A woman in a black business suit stood up when they entered. She appeared to be in her mid-forties, and she was professionally dressed. She extended her hand to Jayden.
“I’m Marsha Conyers,” she said. Jayden recognized her from the television news. “I’m the prosecutor for Richards County.” She sat down as Wallace pulled up a chair and sat beside Jayden.
“Before we begin,” said Mr. Fallingsworth as he looked with concern at Jayden, “This is a very serious matter, Jayden. You’re nineteen, so you can make your own decision; but would you like me to call your aunt and have her present?”
“What is this all about?” Jayden asked nervously. Mrs. Conyers handed him an envelope. “What’s this?”
“A subpoena,” she stated flatly. ‘You’re to testify before a grand jury.”
“Well, Jayden?” Mr. Fallingsworth asked. “Do you want her here?” Jayden shook his head while he nervously handled the envelope.
He looked up at the stern look on Mrs. Conyer’s face. “Right now, you’re the only witness we have for the Neal boy’s assault. I’ve read Detective Wallace’s report, and according to you, they admitted to you their involvement in this crime.”
Jayden jumped to his feet. “I can’t testify against them!” he shouted. “They’ll kill me.”
“Sit down, Jayden,” she said calmly. “I understand your feelings, but I only have forty eight hours to take something to the grand jury so I can keep them from being released. Until Troy recovers enough to identify his attackers, you are all I have. I think it’s important for the community’s safety that we keep them incarcerated.”
“I can’t testify,” insisted Jayden.
Mrs. Conyers leaned forward and stared directly into Jayden’s eyes. “I’m afraid you have no choice.” She looked down at the envelope Jayden was turning nervously in his hand. “This is a summons to appear before the grand jury this afternoon at three.”
“But...” Jayden started to protest.
“No, buts,” she stated firmly. “Detective Wallace will pick you up here at school at 2:30 and drive you to the courthouse. Do you understand?” Jayden shook his head and looked down at the letter. He knew he had no choice. If he didn’t appear, he was afraid he too could go to jail. He certainly didn’t want to confront his cousins there.
Mr. Fallingsworth escorted Mrs. Conyers from his office, leaving Jayden alone with Wallace. Wallace looked over at him as he put on his coat.
“You’re doing the right thing, Jayden,” he said. “Guys like Tyrone and Anthony don’t belong on the streets. They’ve committed so much violence in your neighborhood. This is the first time we’ve been able to make anything stick.”
Jayden looked at him sorrowfully. “You really think I’ve done the right thing?” How are you going to feel when you find my dead body in an alley someday? Will it all be worth it then?” Tears welled up in his eyes as he turned and fled from the room.
“Troy, Honey?” Mrs. Neal was leaning over Troy’s hospital bed and speaking softly in his ear. She turned to her husband, “I thought the doctors said he would be able to hear us.”
Mr. Neal looked down at his son. Twenty minutes earlier, he had been brought down from the ICU and placed in a private room. He had made steady progress over the past twenty-four hours, and the doctors felt he didn’t need as much medical attention. Time would now be a factor in how well Troy’s battered body healed.
“You have to remember,” replied her husband, “Troy’s still pretty doped up. He needs it for the pain.” She wiped tears from her eyes as she positioned his pillows to make him more comfortable.
They sat down and began the long vigil one takes in a hospital waiting for someone to recover. They talked about the good times they had shared with Troy in case he was alert enough to hear them.
“Do you remember the time he and Jeremy built that go cart?” Mrs. Neal started laughing. “They almost killed themselves the first time they rode it.”
Her husband looked over at Troy and laughed. “They were so sure they were going to win the Indy 500 some day. When the wheels fell off and Troy landed in the bushes...” He started laughing uproariously, “all you could see were arms and legs flying in the air.”
They stopped laughing when they heard Troy’s sheets ruffle. They looked over as he sat up in bed and looked around. “Mom! Dad!” he screamed. They rushed to the bed and grabbed him up in their arms.
“It’s all right, Son,” said Mr. Neal soothingly as he held tightly to Troy. “We’re here with you.”
“What’s wrong with me?” he screamed. “I can’t see!” He reached up and attempted to tear off the gauze covering his eyes. Mrs. Neal pulled his hands away.
“Don’t, Dear,” she warned. “You could hurt yourself more.”
He laid back and started sobbing. Mrs. Neal pressed the remote for the nurse. She soon appeared and gave Troy a shot. Within seconds he was sleeping soundly.
When Claire entered the cafeteria, she scanned the room for two people- Will and Jayden. She hadn’t seen Will since their talk a few days earlier. She had called him on his cell phone several times, but all she got was a recorded message. She was also worried about Jayden. He seemed extremely upset when she saw him before school.
Allison was beside her and was the first to see Will. “There he is,” she said as she pointed him out. She trailed behind as Claire approached him. He was sitting with another boy who had worked on the set of the play. They were deep in a conversation and didn’t notice Claire as she walked to the table.
“Hi,” she said as she sat down. Will jumped and then scooted away from the boy with whom he was talking. “Hi, Jasper.” He waved timidly and then started eating the slice of pizza. Allison sat down and stared angrily at Will. She had been mad since Claire had told her about their previous conversation.
“We need to talk,” insisted Claire.
Will looked nervously at Jasper. “Not now,” he said softly. Jasper took one look at the angry look on Allison’s face, picked up his plate and joined some friends several tables away.
“Why haven’t you been at the hospital?” Claire stared intently at Will and waited for him to respond.
“I told you the other day,” he replied.
“That was bullshit and you know it,” she spat back. “You can’t turn your back on Troy right now. He needs you.”
He looked up tearfully and replied, “I can’t, Claire.”
Allison stood up and stared down scornfully at him. “You selfish piece of shit.”
“I’m not being selfish,” he said. “It’s just... I can’t see him like that.”
“Fuck you, Will.” Claire stood up. “All you wanted from Troy was sex. Now I understand why he didn’t want to.” She gave him and angry look as Allison tried to pull her away.
“Let’s get out of her,” she warned, “before I kick his sorry ass in front of everyone.”
“You don’t understand!” Will cried as they stormed away from the table.
It was late afternoon when Detective Wallace drove Jayden home. As Jayden had requested, he dropped him off two blocks from his house so it wouldn’t raise any suspicions.
“You did do the right thing,” Wallace tried to reassure him. He was sure that after Jayden’s sworn testimony, the grand jury would hand down indictments on his cousins for assault and attempted murder against Troy.
“Yeah, I know,” sighed Jayden. “But it still doesn’t bring me much satisfaction knowing I’m sending my cousins away to prison for several years.”
“If it hadn’t been Troy,” he said, “it would have been some other guy, or perhaps several more people. You may have just saved someone else’s life.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jayden responded sadly as he looked at Wallace and slammed the door shut. He pulled his hood over his head and headed home. He turned and watched as Wallace did a u-turn and sped back down the street.
His aunt was in the kitchen preparing supper when he entered. He looked over at the dining room table where she had set the table for five people. He assumed she did it expecting his cousins to return home soon.
She walked into the dining room, wiping her hand on her apron. “Where have you been?” She looked over at the clock on the table in the corner. “You are usually home before now.”
“I had things to do,” he said dismissively as he headed toward the stairs.
“Well, you really should come home right after school,” she said, “just in case I need you to ride the bus with me to go see my boys.” He left the room without responding. She had suggested several times the previous day that she wanted to go to the county jail to visit Tyrone and Anthony. Anthony had been taking her places since he was fifteen; so without him, she now had to depend on public transportation.
He went to his bedroom and started working on his homework. He had a research paper for his American history class that was due in several weeks. He was thumbing through a book when his aunt called out that dinner was ready.
He took his seat at the dinner table. Jarvis came in and sat down across from him, but as usual, didn’t speak. Jayden looked at the two empty plates on the table. His aunt entered and they began eating in silence. Usually, it had been his two older cousins who had dominated the conversation at the table. Without them, the room was deadly quiet.
Jayden turned his head toward the living room when he heard the television announcer from the local evening news. “This just in,” he said as he quickly scanned the sheet in front of him. “Two young men were indicted by a grand jury just moments ago for the brutal beating of Troy Neal last Saturday evening.”
“Oh, God!” His aunt jumped from the table, hurried to the living room and stood before the television.”
“As you will recall, Troy Neal is the high school senior who was driving home late Saturday night when his car ran out of gas on the west side of town. He was confronted by two young men, Tyrone Hamilton, age 22, and his brother Anthony Hamilton, age 19. He was brutally beaten and still remains in critical condition at Grand Memorial Hospital. After a witness, believed to be a relative, testified before the grand jury this afternoon, they returned an attempted murder indictment against the two men. If convicted, they could be facing twenty five years in prison.”
Jayden looked up from the television into the eyes of his astonished aunt. Her eyes narrowed as she questioned him, “Where did you say you were this afternoon?”
His knees buckled when a fist slammed into his temple. He lifted his arm and stopped Jarvis from landing another blow to his head. “You Mother Fucker!” Jarvis screamed. He lunged at Jayden and they both fell backwards onto the floor. He could hear his aunt screaming hysterically in the background.
As he wrestled with Jarvis on the floor, he could hear his aunt shouting, “Get out of my house!” He rolled Jarvis on his back and sat on his chest while holding his arms out so he wouldn’t hit him again.
He looked down just as Jarvis spit into his face. “You son of a bitch!” Jarvis shouted as he struggled to break free. “Let me up so I can kill you!”
Suddenly, he felt his aunt’s hands on his shoulder. She grabbed his shirt and attempted to lift him to his feet. “You stay right there!” She screamed at Jarvis.
“But Momma!” he shouted as he started to get up, but she kicked him in his side.
“I told you not to move!” Tears filled Jarvis’s eyes as Jayden rose.
His aunt stood defiantly before him. “I want you out of my house. You have five minutes to go get whatever you can bring down.”
Jayden pleaded, “Where will I go?”
“To hell!” cried Jarvis as he continued to lie on the floor and cry.
“If you’re not out of here in five minutes,” warned his aunt. “I’m going to go get Anthony’s gun and shoot your fucking ass.” She started crying hysterically. “I can’t believe you told on my sons, your own flesh and blood.”
“But they beat that innocent boy!” Jayden shouted. He didn’t react fast enough to avoid his aunt’s hand as it landed flatly against the left side of his face.
“It wasn’t your responsibility!” she screamed. “You shouldn’t have said anything.” She looked over at the clock. “You’ve got four minutes.”
Jayden left the room and ran up the stairs. He turned to see his aunt kneeling on the floor trying to comfort Jarvis.
He grabbed what clothes he could and stuffed them in two pillow cases. He shoved his books into his book bag and slung it over his shoulder. After carefully checking to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything important, he sighed and left the room. He knew he would never return. Since he was nineteen, there was little he could do except leave.
His aunt and Jarvis were sitting on the sofa in the living room. She was still holding him as they both sobbed loudly. Jarvis tried to jump up, but his aunt held him tightly.
“Just leave!” she shouted angrily as Jayden stopped before them. He wanted to apologize, but he knew it would be useless to do so. Instead, he shook his head sadly and walked out the door. Once on the sidewalk, tears started to fall down his face as he walked away.
Troy was jarred awake by someone shaking his shoulder. He didn’t know where he was, and he couldn’t think coherently. He couldn’t tell reality from the foggy sleepiness he had been experiencing. He thought he had heard his parents talking beside him, but he couldn’t comprehend if he was dreaming or if it was actually occurring.
He felt the hand gently shake him again. He attempted to open his eyes, but he was surrounded by darkness.
“Troy,” the voice said again. “It’s Dr. Ramey. Can you hear me?” He felt a hand wrap around his. “Squeeze my hand if you can feel mine.” He instinctively attempted to move his hand, but like all the sensations he had been feeling recently, he wasn’t sure if he was imagining them.
“Good!” he heard the voice say excitedly. For the first time, he felt that he was sensing some form of reality. To make sure, he attempted to move his hand once again. He felt his hand gripped tighter. “Excellent!” the voice responded.
“Where am I?” he muttered, but he wasn’t sure if his lips were actually making any sounds.
“It’s okay,” he heard the voice say soothingly. “You’re going to be all right.” He felt a cool sensation on his lips as a nurse pressed a damp cloth to his dry mouth. He moved his tongue against his lips and tasted the moisture. It felt cool and refreshing.
He again felt the hand grip his tightly. “Squeeze my hand once for yes, and two for no.” He squeezed the hand once, hoping they would know he could hear them.
“Are you in any pain?” He tried to feel his body, but couldn’t feel any sensation except the hand against his. He squeezed twice.
“Do you know where you are?”
“Do you remember what happened to you?”
Suddenly, unwanted images came soaring at him. Two figures, fear, kicking, pain. He felt the board cracking his skull, and he could feel his body reeling from the kicks to his face and sides.
One squeeze. He gripped the hand he was holding and shouted out, “NO!” He attempted to sit up in bed, but a firm hand held his shoulder down.
“Don’t move, Troy,” the voice insisted. “I don’t want to give you a shot to put you back to sleep. You’ve got to stay alert for me. I know this is painful, but you’ve got to get through this. Do you understand?”
Troy rested his head back. One squeeze.
He was slowly remembering what had happened. He was in the hospital. He could recall running out of gas, and a van pulling up and two guys getting out. They approached him and began beating him. He managed to get away and stumble blindly down the sidewalk until someone came to help him. After that, he could remember no more.
The voice asked worriedly, “Are you all right?”
One squeeze, then two.
Panic swept over his body, but he knew if he reacted the voice on the other end would only put him back to sleep. He wasn’t sure how long he had now been asleep. He needed to stay awake to find out what was wrong with him. He couldn’t understand why everything was dark when he attempted to open his eyes. He could also sense that something was wrapped tightly around his face.
“Don’t try to think about anything right now,” the voice said. “Just lie back and relax.” He sucked at the moisture that once again was pressed against his lips. He felt the covers removed and hands pressing around his body. He winced when he felt a sharp pain jabbing into his side.
“Did you feel that?”
One squeeze. He tightened his grip when the doctor once again pressed the spot. He jumped when what felt like a needle enter the bottom of his foot.
“Did you feel that?”
Someone lifted his back and sat him up. He felt the rim of a cup on his lips. “Take a sip of this water,” the voice said. “Sip slowly,” he warned when Troy tried to gulp the cold water from its container. He wanted more when the cup was finally removed.
Troy felt his senses growing stronger. He could hear movement around him, and he was more aware of the probing that continued to his body.
“Doctor?” He gripped the hand that was still holding his.
“Am I going to be all right?” He panicked when the hand was pulled from his. He could feel the doctor removing the bandages from his face and feeling around his eyes. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see. He reached out and grabbed the doctor’s hand and squeezed it.
“What’s wrong with me!” he screamed. “Why aren’t you telling me anything?” He attempted to sit up, but again the firm hand pushed him back down. He could feel the bandages once again being placed around his face.
He grabbed the hand once again and gripped it. “What’s wrong? Why can’t I see you?”
The doctor held his hand and rubbed his other hand gently across the side of Troy’s face.
“You’ve lost your sight,” he said calmly.
Troy screamed, “You mean I’m blind?”
“Yes,” the doctor said sadly. “You’re blind.”
He was still tightly squeezing the hand when he felt sleep once again approach.