“It’s so nice of you to help me, Jayden.” Jayden picked up the chair and moved it to the other side of the room. When done, he sat down and rested.
“I just can’t wait until he comes home.” Mrs. Neal sat down on the side of the bed. “The doctor said last night that he could be home as early as this weekend.”
“That’s great,” replied Jayden. “I know you’ll be happy to have him home again.”
“Yes,” she responded sadly. “I wish it were under different circumstances, but I guess we really don’t have much control over what happens in our lives.”
“Nope,” replied Jayden as he thought of his mother, “I guess we don’t.”
“Anyway,” she continued as she got up and fluffed the pillow on Troy’s bed, “we have a lot to do before he comes home.” She turned and looked at Jayden. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I guess it would be proper of me to at least ask you for your help.”
Jayden walked over, picked up a small table and placed it beside a chair. “I’m more than happy to help. After what you and your husband have done for me, how could I possibly refuse?”
She walked over and held Jayden’s arm. “I don’t want you to think like that, Dear. You don’t owe us anything. We’re the ones who owe you so much. Watching you with Troy in the hall yesterday was worth all the help my husband and I can extend to you.”
“I still want to pull my weight around here,” he replied. Jayden stepped back and observed the room. “Do you think the bed should be moved so that when he gets out of it he will have a straight walk to his bathroom?”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” she said. “When Robert and Penny come home tonight, we’ll turn it around.” She put her finger to her chin. “We might move the dresser over there,” pointing to the wall beside the door to the restroom. “That way he can find his clothing easier.”
“I read the books the counselor at the hospital gave you,” Jayden remarked. “Before he comes home, I’ll arrange his clothes in the closet and the dresser.” He walked over and opened the door to Troy’s step-in closet. The floor was littered with clothing and shoes.
Mrs. Neal stepped beside him. “Good luck,” she laughed. “In nineteen years, I’ve never been able to get him to put his clothes away.”
Jayden bent down and picked up a large pair of what appeared to be clown shoes. Mrs. Neal took them from his hands and started laughing.
“My God,” she exclaimed. “I had forgotten about these. He wore them to a Halloween costume party last year.” She turned and headed out of the room. “Wait here,” she said as she left. She returned a minute later carrying a photo album. She sat on the side of the bed. Jayden walked over and sat down beside her.
She started thumbing through the album. “Here he is.” She pointed to a picture of Troy dressed up in a clown outfit. Claire was standing beside him dressed like Goldilocks. Jayden let out a loud laugh. Mrs. Neal turned the page and showed him a few more pictures of Troy and Claire. She then sighed and closed the book. Jayden looked over and saw tears in her eyes.
“This is so hard,” she said as she got up and walked out of the room clutching the photo album. Jayden started straightening items on Troy’s dresser. Mrs. Neal appeared about ten minutes later. She was carrying two glasses of iced tea. Jayden looked into her face, and it was apparent she had been crying.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she handed Jayden the drink. “Sometimes I just become so overwhelmed with what has happened.”
“I know how you feel,” Jayden responded.
“Yes, Dear,” she patted his hand, “I suppose you do.” She stood up and smiled. “We’re not going to get anything done if we don’t get started.”
She walked over to Troy’s dresser and looked at the clutter on top. “Oh, Dear,” she exclaimed. “What a mess.” She turned to Jayden. “Go to the garage and get me a large box. I think most of this stuff can just be thrown away.” Jayden saluted her. “Yes, Ma’am,” he laughed as he left the room.
“You’ve got to try harder, Troy.” Detective Wallace was sitting in the chair beside Troy’s hospital bed.
“I’ve told you everything I can remember!” he yelled. He was becoming irritated with Wallace’s questioning. Going back and remembering that Saturday night was painful. He knew that the nightmares would come again. They always did when he closed his eyes. They were much stronger when he had to talk about what had happened.
“You said there were two men?”
“How many times are you going to ask me that?”
“Troy,” Wallace spoke calmly as he rose and walked over to the side of the bed. He placed his hand gently on Troy’s arm. Troy pulled his arm away and tucked it under the sheet. “We have to be sure we have the right men.”
Troy sat up and turned his head toward Wallace’s voice. “I told you what I remember. There were two black guys. They were driving an old blue van. They wanted my cell phone and wallet. I gave it to them. and they still beat the shit out of me.” He laid his head back on his pillow and wished that Wallace would leave.
“Do you think you could recognize their voices again if you hear them?”
He sat back up and turned to Wallace. “Yeah,” he said angrily. “I can’t go to sleep at night because I keep hearing their fucking voices in my head.”
He patted Troy’s arm under the sheet. “I know this is hard on you,” he said comfortingly, “but we want to make sure we put these guys behind bars for a long time. From what you and Jayden have said, I think we can do that.”
Troy sat back up in bed. “Jayden? What’s he got to do with this?”
“He testified before the grand jury what he heard his cousins say.”
“His cousins!” Troy reached out and grabbed Wallace’s arm. “What are you talking about?”
Wallace became concerned when he observed Troy’s reaction. It was apparent that no one had spoken to him about Jayden’s testimony. He was sure since Jayden was now living with the Neal’s that he had been informed.
“No one’s spoken to you about this?”
“About what!” he screamed. He touched his hand to his eyes. “Jayden’s cousins did this to me?”
“Troy, you have to calm down.” He gently put his hand on Troy’s shoulder and pushed him back down on the bed. “I assumed your parents talked to you about this.”
Troy turned his head away from the detective. “No one has said a fucking word to me about anything. Just leave me alone.”
Wallace placed his hand on Troy’s arm. “Jayden took a big risk testifying for you,” he said. “Don’t blame him for what his cousins did.”
“Someone should have told me,” responded Troy as he buried his head into the sheet.
He didn’t know if he was feeling anger or hurt. He had trusted Jayden. Besides his parents, Penny and Claire, he was one of the people he thought he could depend on. He felt a certain connection to the boy he had never seen. Now he felt betrayed. It seemed that everyone knew that Jayden’s cousins had been responsible for his injuries, but no one had told him.
“Troy?” Wallace squeezed Troy’s arm tightly.
“Get out!” Troy pleaded. “Please. I’ve told you everything I can remember. Just go.”
Wallace looked down at the boy lying in the bed. He couldn’t understand why no one had spoken to him about Jayden’s involvement. He had assumed that when the Neal’s invited him into their home that they had discussed it first with Troy. Surely, they had seen the news and knew that it was Jayden’s cousins who had harmed their son. They had to have known when they took Jayden into their home that his aunt had kicked him out of hers because he testified against his own cousins.
If they knew all this, then why didn’t they tell Troy?
“If you remember anything else, tell your father to give me a call.” He waited for a response from Troy. When he got none, he sighed and left the room.
When Troy heard the door close, he let out a loud wail and cried into his pillow.
“This is stupid,” Jayden said as he tied the blindfold around Claire’s face. She had suggested that he go with her to the mall after school. She said she wanted him to help her pick out a shirt for Troy. However, when they arrived, she told him the real reason she had wanted him to go with her.
“Look, Jayden.” She turned and lifted the blindfold she had made from a checkered handkerchief. “How else will we know what Troy is experiencing if we don’t experience it for ourselves?”
“People are going to think we are idiots,” he replied as he looked around the crowded mall. “Couldn’t we have done this somewhere more private?”
“Someday Troy is going to have to pick up the pieces and live his life again.” She looked sympathetically at Jayden. “He’ll have to come out in the public. He’s going to depend on us to help him. I just want to know what he’s going to be feeling.”
“Since when did this become ‘us?” He liked staying with the Neal’s; however, once he graduated, he planned to get a job and find his own apartment. He was becoming increasingly concerned that Troy’s parents, and now Claire, were planning his future for him.
“He should be coming home soon,” Claire insisted. “I know he’s going to want you to help him sometimes. Doing this will help us understand what he’s going through.”
“There you go with that us again,” he huffed. Claire placed the blindfold over her eyes and reached for Jayden’s arm. Playfully, he stepped away so she couldn’t touch him.
She swung her arms trying to find him. He circled around and giggled at her wild antics. She stomped her foot and pulled the blindfold off.
“Forget it, Asshole!” she shouted as she started to storm away. “I’ll get Allison to help me.”
Realizing he had gone too far, he ran up beside her and grabbed her arm. “Okay, Claire,” he said apologetically. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this meant that much to you.”
“I love Troy.” She began to wipe away the tears that were falling down her face. “I want to be a part of him,” she cried. “I want to know what he’s feeling.”
Jayden reached out and pulled her into a hug. She cried softly into his chest. “Okay,” he said softly. “Let’s do this.” She pulled away and smiled.
“Here,” she said as she grinned and held out the handkerchief. “You go first.”
“Me!” He looked anxiously around the mall. “People will think I’m crazy.”
“And how do you think Troy will feel when he comes out in public?” She grabbed Jayden’s waist and turned his back to her. She stood on her tiptoes and tied the blindfold around his eyes. She then walked around and waved her hand in front of his face.
“Can you see?” she asked. “No peeking. That’s cheating if you can see.”
“I can’t see,” Jayden assured her. He jumped when she grabbed his left arm and pulled him away. He instinctively extended his right arm and felt the air in front of him.
“Relax,” Claire said. “I’m not going to run you into anything. Although, I probably should after what you did to me.”
“Please, don’t!” Jayden pleaded. “This is really freaky. If you let go, I’m taking off the blindfold.”
“You can’t,” insisted Claire. “You have to leave it on until I tell you to take it off. Remember, Troy isn’t going to be wearing a blindfold. So no matter how scared you become, you have to leave it on.” He nodded as she took his arm and led him forward.
Without his sight, he realized that he depended on his hearing more. He listened for voices and noises around him. He also realized how important it was for Claire to keep her hand on his arm.
Troy jumped when a man came out of a store and ran into him. “Watch out, Freak!” he said angrily. “What are you kids doing? You need to get a job and quit playing around in the mall.”
“Fuck you!” Jayden spat as he turned toward the direction he last heard the man speaking.
“He’s gone,” Claire said as she led him forward.
As they walked, Jayden focused on the sounds around him. To his right he heard a mother comforting a crying baby. Behind him, he heard what sounded like three boys talking about an upcoming basketball game. The sound of shoes pounding on the pavement echoed in his ears.
“What’s that?” He stopped and listened to a strange sound coming up from his right. It sounded like an electric wheelchair, but it was moving too fast.
“That’s a security guard on a Sedgeway,” Claire explained. He listened as it passed him and faded away.
“Come on.” Claire pulled him to his right. He held out his hand and felt a door. He knew they had entered into a shop. Claire led him to a counter and told him to wait. He could hear her whispering to a clerk, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. She returned and led him back outside. She walked him over to a bench and had him sit down.
“Here.” She took his hand and gave him a small bag.
“Take it out, and you tell me,” she giggled. He reached in and removed something round and sticky. It had the shape of a cookie, but he knew it wasn’t. He held it to his nose and smelled it. It had the aroma of chocolate.
“Well?” Claire asked. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Jayden said as he stuck out his tongue and licked it. “It’s chocolate,” he said. “I’m not sure exactly what it is though.”
“Eat it,” Claire giggled.
“You’re not giving me something gross to eat, are you?” he asked skeptically. He thought he knew Claire well enough that she wouldn’t try to do anything to hurt him.
“Just bite into it,” Again, he smelled it before taking a small nibble on it.
“Mmm,” he said. “This is good.” He took a bigger bite. He could tell it contained chocolate, nuts and what tasted like caramel.
She asked, “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” he answered as he took another bite. “But it’s good.” He finished eating it and then licked the gooey remains from his fingers.
“It’s a turtle,” Claire giggled.
“Really?” Jayden started laughing. “I always heard that turtles taste like chicken.”
“Silly.” Claire reached out, took his hand and pulled him to his feet. “But didn’t it taste better by not knowing exactly what you were eating? Didn’t your other senses kick in?”
“Yeah,” Jayden thought. “It did. Even though I wasn’t sure what I was eating, I could better tell what was in it.”
They continued their journey through the mall. Claire took him into Sears and had him walk around the men’s department feeling different items and trying to guess what they were.
“What’s this?” He reached out for the item and then tossed it to the ground.
“That’s just plain gross!” He could hear Claire laughing as she reached down, took the brassiere from the floor and returned it to the shelf.
After a half hour, they sat on another bench and Claire had Jayden remove the blindfold. He squinted when he removed it because of the intensity of the light flooding into his eyes. It saddened him that Troy would never be able to feel that sensation.
“Well?” Claire looked expectantly at him. “What do you think?”
“It was really strange,” he replied. “Without my sight, I could hear things better. I had to pay more attention to what was going on around me. I heard things I normally wouldn’t have noticed, like that guard on the Sedgeway.” He looked over and smiled at Claire. “I also couldn’t have done it without you. About halfway through, I realized just how much I really depended on you. I had to place complete trust in you.”
“I became your eyes?”
“Yeah,” he said thoughtfully. “You became my eyes.”
She took the handkerchief from his hands and covered her eyes with it. “It’s my turn now,” she said. “Now I have to trust you, so don’t do what you did earlier.”
“I won’t,” he assured her. She wrapped her arm around his as he led her through the mall. Like Jayden, she concentrated on the sounds around her.
“What’s that?” She asked as they passed one of kiosks that were set up throughout the mall.
“What?” Jayden looked around but he didn’t know what she was hearing.
“That chopping sound?”
Jayden looked at the man chopping raw fish at the sushi bar kiosk. He laughed as he pulled Claire over to the counter. He put his finger to his lips and motioned for the attendant to give him something from the bar. It looked gross. The inside was pink, and it was wrapped in what looked like seaweed.
“What are you doing?” Claire asked worriedly.
“Trust me,” he grinned at the attendant as he handed him a five. He took the slice of sushi and placed it in Claire’s hand.
“What’s this?” She raised her hand to her face and smelled it.
“Just take a bite,” Jayden snickered. “I ate what you gave me.”
“Yeah,” she replied, “but I gave you chocolate.” She held it to her nose again. “This smells like shit.” She put her tongue to it and licked it. “Eww,” she said as she wrinkled her nose. “It tastes like shit.”
“Eat it,” he insisted. “It won’t kill you.”
“If it’s so good, then you eat it.”
“I’m not eating it,” he laughed.
She held it to her nose again, and then licked it. “What is this?”
“Oh, hell no!” she shouted angrily. “I’ve seen sushi before, and it grossed me out.” She handed it back to him. “Take this.”
He led her to a trash container and threw it away. They then continued their walk. After strolling for several more minutes, she asked Jayden to take her to a bench so she could sit down. Once there, she removed the blindfold.
“That was really strange,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for Troy.” She held up the handkerchief. “We can always take the blindfold off. But for Troy, darkness is something he’ll have to deal with the rest of his life.”
Jayden looked into Claire’s saddened face. She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder. “Life can be a bitch sometimes.”
“Yep,” he replied. “And a mother fucker every once in a while; especially when your back is turned.”
“You got that right,” she sighed. “A mother-fucking, back-stabbing bitch.” They laughed as he put his arm around her and held her tightly.
Troy’s parents noticed a change in him as soon as they entered his room. The curtain was pulled, and the room was dark. He was lying on his side with his back turned from the door. When they went over to kiss him, he pulled the sheet over his face.
For the past few days he seemed to be getting better. He was talking more, and occasionally he would even laugh. They had been told by the doctors that Troy would experience mood changes, but this seemed more than mild depression.
“Are you all right, Son?” Mr. Neal put his hand on Troy’s back and rubbed it gently. Troy attempted to shake it off.
His mother asked worriedly, “Do you want me to go get a nurse?”
“I just want you to get the fuck out of my room,” he muttered under the sheets. “I don’t want to see any of you.” They became puzzled when he started laughing. “Get it?” He asked. “I don’t want to ‘see’ any of you.” Mrs. Neal gave her husband a worried look.
“Son.” Mr. Neal rubbed his son’s back.
Troy sat up in bed and yelled, “I want you to get the fuck out of my room!”
“Troy!” his mother shouted. “What is wrong with you? Why are you talking to us like that?”
“Like what, Mother?” He leaned in towards her voice. “Like someone who you don’t give a flying fuck about?”
“Troy!” This time it was his father who shouted. “Stop that right now!”
“Or what?” He asked sarcastically. “What are you going to do? Take away my driving privileges? Or...Or... tell me I can’t watch television?” He held up his fingers and snapped them. “I got it. You’ll just keep secrets from me like I’m some kind of a child.”
“What are you talking about, Troy?” His father gave his wife a puzzled look. She was wiping tears from her eyes and trying hard not to let Troy know she was crying.
“Does it matter, Dad?” He laid back, turned away from them and pulled the sheet once again over his head. “Does it really matter any more? Poor Troy. He can’t handle the truth, so let’s keep him in the dark.” His shoulders started jiggling as he began to laugh nervously. “Get it, Dad? I said keep me in the dark.”
“Son.” He attempted to raise Troy and hold him, but he was met with resistance.
“Just leave, please?” He pulled the covers tighter over his head. “I’m tired and I don’t want company.”
Just then, Claire, Allison and Jayden walked in. They stopped when they saw the anguished looks on the Neal’s faces.
“What’s wrong?” Claire asked.
“Is Troy all right?” Allison asked worriedly.
“Has something happened to Troy?” Jayden asked as he approached the bed and looked down at the hidden body.
Suddenly, Troy sat up in bed and pointed in Jayden’s direction.
“Get him out of my room!”
An astonished look appeared on Jayden’s face. He looked anxiously around the room as everyone stood staring at him. He turned and fled.