Troy was exhausted by the time all the guests had left. Even though he had worried about people seeing him for the first time, he didn’t feel that anyone had been awkward around him. In fact, after the first few minutes of entering the room, he had become comfortable with people sitting down and talking to him.
He could hear Claire and Allison scurrying around the room. His mother was telling the girls where to return items on the table.
His mother asked, “Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat, Troy?”
“No.” He was hungry, but he was afraid to eat without Jayden around. At the hospital it had been Jayden who had arranged his food on his plate so he could easily find things. He had a clock system he would use.
“The meat is at 9,” he would tell him. “Your potatoes are at 2, and the beans are at 6.” He found it much easier to find things rather than digging his fork into a plate and eating whatever he managed to scoop up.
His mother returned a few minutes later and placed a plate in his hands. “Here, Troy,” she insisted. “You need to eat something. You haven’t eaten all day.” He took the plate and tried to figure out what she had brought him. When he spilled what he thought was gravy in his lap, he reached out, felt for the end of the table and put the uneaten meal on it.
“Aren’t you hungry?” This time he recognized Allison’s voice. She sat down beside him and placed the plate back into his hands.
“I said I don’t want anything to eat!” He angrily threw the plate onto the floor.
“Troy!” his mother shouted. “What is wrong with you? You’ve made a mess.”
“Get me a rag, Mother!” he shouted back, “and I’ll clean it up.”
Suddenly, he felt a hand grab his. “Come with me.” Claire was pulling him to his feet. She wrapped his hand around her arm and led him from the room. He could hear his mother muttering angrily behind him.
“I want to go to my room,” he insisted as he walked beside Claire.
“Fine.” They walked until they came to the staircase and stopped. “Raise your right foot,” she said. They then climbed up the stairs and into Troy’s room. She led him to the bed and they sat down.
“What is going on?” She looked worriedly at Troy. He had appeared happy earlier, but his mood had changed after everyone left.
“Go away, Claire.” He lay down on the bed, turned away from her and curled into a ball.
“Troy?” When she started to rub his back gently, he turned and faced her.
“I said, go away!” he shouted. She stood, looked down sadly at him and then left the room.
He fell asleep, but he didn’t know for how long until he was awakened by someone sitting on the side of the bed.
“Troy? Are you asleep?” It was his father’s voice.
“I was,” he replied sarcastically. “I guess it’s hard to tell, huh?”
His father ignored his crude statement. “You want to talk, Son?”
“Yeah, Dad,” he replied as he sat up in bed. “How about we talk about the shining moon outside? Or maybe you want to talk about how blue the water is at the pool. Or maybe how nicely decorated my cake was earlier.”
“Troy, don’t.” He grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Don’t do this to yourself again?”
“Do what Dad?” He pulled his hand away. “Feel sorry for myself? I’m just supposed to go around acting like nothing happened?” He lay back on the bed and turned away from his father.
“It’s going to take time, Troy.”
“Yeah, Dad.” He sat back up and faced his father. “I’ve got a whole lifetime ahead of me. Isn’t that just great, Dad? I can look forward to you and Mom taking care of me for the rest of my life like I’m some little child.”
“That’s not true,” his father replied. “You can live a normal life. You’ve been hearing what they say in those counseling classes.”
“A normal life!” Troy started laughing. “Yes, Dad. It’s going to be a real normal life, living alone and afraid in this dark world I now live in.”
His father pulled Troy into him and held him tightly. “I’m so scared, Dad!” He wailed as he clutched desperately to his father. “I don’t know what to do.” He continued to rock his grieving son in his arms for several minutes.
“It’s going to be all right, Son.” He pulled away and ran his hand over Troy’s head. His hair was beginning to grow back, and the scars weren’t as noticeable.
“You’ve got a lot of people who love you,” he said softly. “Your mother and I will always be here for you. Claire will always love you, and then there’s Jayden.”
“What about Jayden?” He pulled away and faced his father. His father studied his son’s face.
“You don’t have any idea, do you?”
“How Jayden feels about you.”
He had been watching Jayden’s actions closely the past two week. He watched how he gently attended to his son at the hospital. He observed how he would sit and just stare at Troy when he was sitting in the hospital bed. And he saw the look in Jayden’s eyes when he leaned in and kissed his son in the garden. Over the past two weeks, he watched as Jayden fell in love with his son.
Troy turned away from his father. “I know he likes me.”
Mr. Neal gently took his son’s shoulders and turned him towards him. “He doesn’t just like you, Son. He’s falling in love with you.”
Troy knew his father’s words were true. He could feel the tenderness in Jayden’s touches. He could hear it in his voice when he spoke. He also felt it in the kiss they shared.
“I can’t, Dad.” He laid his body down and turned from his father.
“Can’t what, Troy?” He rubbed his son’s back. “Love someone? Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t find love. You’re a wonderful person, Son. Except for your sight, you’re the same person you were a month ago. And if I recall, you had a lot of people in love with you then.”
“It’s not the same,” muttered Troy. “I don’t want someone’s pity.”
“Pity?” His father laughed softly. “Is that what you think about people who love you? You think our love is only pity?”
Troy sat up and faced his father as tears ran down his cheeks. “Well, that is what it is, Dad.”
“No, Son.” He pulled his son into a hug. “We love you. We always have. Don’t close your heart to us, Troy. If you do, you’re going to live a very lonely life.” He wrapped his arms around his son tighter when he began to sob loudly.
“I’m so scared!” he cried.
“Of course you are,” he said softly. “We all are. But just remember, we love you and we’re here for you.”
“I love you, Dad,” Troy cried into his father’s shoulder.
“I love you, too, Son.” He squeezed his son tightly. After a minute he pulled away and looked at his son’s tear-stained face.
“And remember,” he said, “there’s a certain boy downstairs who feels the same way.”
“But, Dad...” His father put his finger to his lips.
“Just keep your heart open, Troy,” he replied. “Maybe Jayden isn’t the guy for you. Just don’t turn away without at least finding out. Okay?” He smiled when he felt Troy nod into his shoulder.
He pulled away and helped Troy lay back on the bed. “Now get some sleep.” He kissed him gently on his forehead.
Mr. Neal patted Troy’s hand and then left the room with tears in his eyes.
Claire looked around the cafeteria and waited for Jayden to enter. She hadn’t talked to him since Troy’s homecoming on Saturday. She had tried to call him, but Mrs. Neal said he had spent the weekend holed up in his room downstairs. She and her husband had attempted to get him to join them for dinner on Sunday, but he told them he didn’t feel well. The food she took him was left untouched. Mrs. Neal also told her that Troy had spent most of the weekend asleep in his room.
“Maybe he didn’t come to school,” offered Allison as Claire continued to watch everyone who entered the room.
“There he is!” she shouted excitedly. She jumped up and ran over to him. She took his hand and tried to pull him over to the table.
“I’ve got to get something to eat.” He pulled away and headed to the food line with Claire following closely behind. After getting a salad and an apple, she took his arm and led him to the table.
“Hey, Allison.” He tried to force a smile as he sat down.
Before she could speak, Claire asked him, “Where were you all weekend? I tried to call you, but Mrs. Neal said you wouldn’t come out of your room.”
“Yeah, well,” he replied. “I wasn’t feeling very well.” He looked over and noticed Allison staring intently at him.
“How was Troy this morning?” Claire asked.
“How would I know,” he snapped back. “I’m not his keeper.” Claire’s eyes widened in surprise.
“What is wrong with you?” Claire reached for his hand, but he quickly pulled it away. “That wasn’t a very nice thing to say.”
He rose to his feet. “Maybe I’m not a very nice guy.” He turned and walked away, leaving his untouched food on the table.
“May I have a pass to go home?” Jayden was standing before the nurse in her office.
“What’s wrong?” She reached out and felt his forehead. “You don’t seem to be running a fever. Have a seat and let me take your temperature.”
“It’s my stomach,” he moaned as he bent over as if he was in pain. “I think it may be the cafeteria food.”
“Let me get you something for your stomach then,” she said with concern. She disappeared and returned with a small bottle of Pepto Bismol. “This should help.”
He bent over and moaned again, only this time louder. “I think I should just go home,” he insisted. “I think I’m going to be really sick.”
“Then let me call your mother,” she said.
“I don’t have a mother,” he responded angrily. “I’m nineteen, so I’m old enough to sign myself out.”
“Yes, of course,” she said sympathetically. “I’ll write you an excuse to leave. Come see me when you return to school tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure,” he replied as he took the paper from her hand and left the office. He walked down the hall and exited the building.
The phone rang in Mr. Fallingsworth’s office. “There’s a Detective Wallace here to see you.”
“Show him in,” he replied. He put on his coat jacket and opened his door just as Wallace approached.
“Come in,” Fallingsworth stepped back and let the detective pass. He took a seat as the principal walked around and sat at his desk.
Wallace asked, “Do you know what class the Henderson boy has right now?”
“Why?” A worried expression came over Fallingsworth face when he heard the anxiety in Wallace’s voice.
“His cousins were released from jail last week,” he informed him. “We got a tip this morning that they are trying to find Jayden.”
Fallingsworth grabbed the phone and called Jayden’s senior advisor. He waited patiently for a few minutes before putting down the phone and looking worriedly at Wallace.
“He’s not in school,” he told him. “He left about an hour ago. It appears he went to the nurse and signed out sick.”
“Shit!” spat Wallace. He pulled out his cell phone and talked to someone on the other end. “We’ve got a code red,” he said urgently. “I need an officer to get over to the Neal home and see if the Henderson boy is safe. Call me the minute you get there.” He rose from his seat and headed to the door. He turned, “If he comes back to school, call me immediately.” He handed Fallingsworth his card and hurriedly left the office. The principal rushed out, searching the halls in hopes that Jayden had not left the building.
“Hey, Girl!” Trixie had just run up to Troy as he lay by the pool basking in the warm sun. It was a welcome relief from the hospital bed he had been lying in for the past week.
He laughed as she wormed her way into his lap. “Stop it, Trixie!” He giggled as she nuzzled into his shoulder. “You’re going to tip us over.” He had no sooner said that when the lounge chair rolled over, tipping them both off. Trixie immediately jumped on him and started licking his face.
He could hear someone running down the steps toward him. “Are you all right?” His mother shouted loudly. Seconds later, he could feel her hand on his arm trying to pull him to his feet.
“I’m all right, Mom!” he insisted. “Trixie and I were just playing.”
“You must be careful, Dear,” she warned. “You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
“I was just having fun!” he shouted. “I’m not an invalid!” He pulled himself to his feet. Trixie jumped on him and wanted to continue playing.
“Down, Girl,” he said angrily. “I’m not allowed to have fun. I might hurt myself.”
His mother looked sadly at him. She had been trying to stop being so protective, but it was hard to break a mother’s instinct to keep her child safe. The counselors at the hospital had been telling her that Troy needed to be allowed to experiment with his freedom, so he could learn what he was capable of doing and what things he would need someone‘s assistance. It troubled her to see him searching with his hands as he tried to find his way around the house. The cane he was given helped him from walking into objects, and he was learning quickly how to move around without much trouble.
“I’m sorry, Troy,” she apologized as she took his hand and wrapped it around her arm. “I’m really trying.”
“I know,” he replied. “It’s just frustrating sometimes. All I think about is being back in school with my friends. What time is it?”
She looked down at her watch. “Two fifteen.”
“I’d be in Mr. Linder’s sixth period English literature class.” He started laughing. “That guy used to bore the hell out of me, but right now I think I’d like to be there. It sure beats being bored sitting around her all day.”
“Why don’t you have some friends over tonight?” His mother suggested as she led him up the stairs.
“And do what?” he replied sarcastically. “Sit around and watch television?”
She looked over as tears filled his eyes. She could only imagine what it must be like to be so young and not be able to see the world any longer. Things that he had previously taken for granted, like watching television or surfing on the web, had now been taken from him. Tears fell down her cheek as she thought he’d never again see a rainbow in the sky or the smile on someone’s face. She tried to silence her crying, but she stopped and buried her head into Troy’s shoulder and started sobbing.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried. He stepped away and started searching for the next step with his cane.
“I don’t need your pity, Mom,” he said angrily. He found the step and walked up. “I don’t need anyone’s pity.”
She wiped her eyes dry, and then rejoined Troy who had managed to walk up three steps by himself. “I don’t pity you,” she said. She took his hand and squeezed it. “At least I don’t try to.”
“I know,” he sighed. She helped him up several more steps until they came to the deck. Most of the furniture had been moved to the side so he could find his way outside better.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. “You didn’t each much lunch.”
“All right,” he responded. “Is there any chocolate cake left from the Saturday?”
“Of course.” She smiled as she led him into the kitchen. She took him to a seat at the island, and then cut two large pieces of cake. She placed a fork in his hand and then sat down next to him.
“I still think you should have some friends over tonight,” she said. “It’s getting warmer out, so you could swim for a little while.”
“Maybe,” he mumbled as he stuffed a large forkful of cake into his mouth. After chewing it, he asked, “Where’s Jayden? I didn’t see him all day yesterday and he was gone when I got up this morning. I thought he would stop by my room and say goodbye.”
“I don’t know,” she replied worriedly. “He stayed down in his room yesterday. He said he wasn’t feeling very well.”
“It’s not like him not to come visit, though,” Troy said. “He used to come to the hospital everyday. Now we’re living in the same house, and he can’t even come see me.”
She looked over and studied him before speaking. Her husband had told her the prior evening what he suspected may be happening between him and Jayden. She just wasn’t sure how to approach the subject.
“What do you think of Jayden?” she asked. He sat silently for a minute before responding.
“Why does everyone keep asking me how I feel about Jayden?”
“He’s become a part of our family,” she replied. “I just want to know how you feel about that.”
“I don’t know,” he said. He ate another mouthful of cake before continuing. “I’m in the hospital because a couple of guys beat the crap out of me. I awaken, and suddenly there’s this guy I’ve never met coming into my life. All of a sudden he’s here all the time, helping me out and doing things for me. I know he likes me, but I’m just not feeling anything right now.” He turned toward her. “Does this make any sense?”
“I think I understand,” she said as she took her hand and squeezed it. “Jayden is such a wonderful young man. I think all of us have been hoping that there would be some kind of chemistry between you.”
He started smiling. “I don’t need a matchmaker right now, okay? This isn’t a scene from Fiddler on the Roof. Like I told Jayden, I need some time.”
“So you’ve talked about this then?”
“Yeah, sure,” he laughed. “In the garden the other day.”
She gave him a worried look. She now understood why Jayden had been acting strangely the past couple of days. Her husband had told her about seeing them kiss, but she wasn’t aware that Troy had probably made Jayden feel he had been rejected by her son.
“You know he cares deeply for you?”
“Yeah, I know,” he started laughing. He was remembering Jayden’s lips pressed to his. “Dad told me the same thing.”
As he continued eating the cake, he was deciding if he wanted to know the answer to the question that had been troubling him for several days. Finally, he asked, “Can I ask you something?”
“Yes, Troy,” his mother responded. “What is it?”
He hesitated again before asking. “Has Will asked you anything about me?”
One of the reasons he didn’t feel that anyone could love him again was because of Will’s actions. Even though they had only dated a few months, and he had decided they should wait to be intimate, he realized that Will no longer loved him. If he did, then he would have visited him in the hospital. He wasn’t even present at his homecoming on Saturday.
“No, Dear,” replied his mother. She reached out and held Troy’s hand. “But he has asked Claire about you a few times.”
“Yeah, right,” he said sadly as he pulled his hand away. He pushed his plate away and stood up.
“Can you take me down to the basement? I want to play the piano for a little while.”
“Of course, Dear.” She was glad to hear him ask to play the piano. He was extremely talented, and she was afraid that he might never want to play again. There had been many times that she had enjoyed listening to him practice as she prepared dinner.
She led him from the kitchen to the stairs leading to the basement. As they were getting ready to descend the steps, the doorbell rang.
“I wonder who that could be?” She let go of Troy’s arm. “You wait here while I answer the door.”
When she opened the door, two uniformed officers were standing outside.
“What’s happened?” she asked excitedly. Hearing the tension in her voice, Troy became upset.
“Who is it, Mom?” He took several steps in the direction of the door.
“We’re sorry to disturb you, Ma’am,” said one of the offices, “but is Jayden Henderson here?”
“Who is it, Mom?” Troy shouted several feet away. She walked over and grabbed his arm.
“It’s the police, Dear.”
“What’s happened?” Troy asked anxiously.
“We need to find Jayden,” replied the officer. “We have reason to believe he may be in danger. Do you have any idea where he is?”
“What kind of danger?” Mrs. Neal squeezed Troy’s arm tightly.
“His cousins are looking for him,” they informed her.
“Oh, God!” she screamed. She walked Troy back into the kitchen as the officers followed them. Once there, she turned and asked, “What’s happened?”
“They were released on bail last week,” one of the officers responded. “Detective Wallace told us to get over here because he has reason to believe they may be looking for Jayden.”
They were interrupted by the voice of a dispatcher on the officer’s radio. “We have a report of a shooting on Broadway Avenue. One person is down.”
Troy grabbed his mother’s arm and shouted, “No!”