“I had another nightmare last night.” Troy was sitting on the edge of his bed and pulling a polo shirt over his head. He and Jayden were alone in the room. He had asked everyone else to wait outside in the waiting room until he got dressed.
“A bad one?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “The nurse had to come in and give me a sedative.”
“Maybe they’ll stop once you go home today,” suggested Jayden. “You’ll feel safer there.”
“I hope so.” Jayden placed his pants into his hands. Troy stood to put them on. When he bent down, he lost his balance and started to fall. Jayden grabbed him, but they both tumbled to the ground.
“Are you all right?” Troy’s body was lying across his.
“Yeah, dammit,” Troy uttered sadly. “God I hate this.” He buried his head into Jayden’s neck. Jayden wrapped his arms around him and held him tightly.
“You’ll get used to it.” Troy raised his head towards Jayden’s face. To anyone else it would have been a hideous sight. Troy’s eyes were no longer bandaged, so there was a deep indentation where his right eye used to be. His left eye was open, but it was obvious that he was blind.
Jayden had become accustomed to Troy’s appearance. He often wondered what he had looked like before the injury, but he readily accepted the way he presently looked.
“Will I really?” he asked sadly. He buried his head once again into Jayden’s neck. Jayden turned his head and kissed the side of his face.
“I’ll be here to help you,” he whispered softly.
“I’d better finish getting dressed,” he replied nervously as he rose to his feet. Jayden put his hands around his waist and helped him back to the bed.
“Lift your right foot.” He pulled the pants over Troy’s right foot. “Now the left.” Troy then leaned down and pulled his pants up. When he pulled them over his crotch, Jayden noticed that Troy had a slight erection.
“What color is my shirt?”
“Does it have a little alligator on it?”
“I hate this shirt,” he responded. “Claire must have picked it out. She thinks it looks good on me because it matches the color of...” He started to remove it, but Jayden stepped up and grabbed his hands.
“Don’t, Troy,” he said softly. Troy nodded and tucked his shirt into his pants.
“Are these brown khaki pants?” He was trying not to cry.
“Yeah.” Jayden took the socks from the bed and handed them to him.
“These are white,” he laughed. Troy sat on the side of the bed and put on his socks and shoes. When he finished he stood up.
“Well.” He held out his arms. “How do I look?”
“Not too bad for a white boy,” laughed Jayden. “A little preppy looking.”
“It’s the way I dress,” responded Troy. He walked over and held out his hands. “Let me see what you’re wearing.” He felt Jayden’s clothing and then began laughing.
“You make fun of me and you’re wearing the same thing I am.”
“I should be,” replied Jayden. “They’re your clothes. Your mother had them lying on the bed when I got out of the shower this morning.”
Suddenly, Troy got quiet. He held out his arms and wrapped them around Jayden. Jayden tensed up at first, but then relaxed and returned the hug.
“Thanks,” said Troy softly. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here this past week.” He pulled him tighter to his body.
“I’m glad I was here, too,” Jayden whispered softly. He felt like kissing Troy, but he wasn’t sure if that was what Troy wanted. Troy gave him one last squeeze and stepped back to the bed.
Jayden reached down and got a colorful wool cap. “Here.” He gently pulled it over Troy’s head. His hair still hadn’t grown back and the stitches from the surgery were visible.
Troy grabbed his arm. “Please don’t tell me this is the rainbow colored one.” Jayden started laughing. “I’m going to kill Claire.”
The last thing lying on the bed was a pair of sunglasses. Jayden picked them up and placed them in Troy’s hand. He twirled them for several seconds and then placed them back on the bed.
“No,” he said determinedly. “I’m not going to wear these. I’m not going through life hiding myself from people. I’m blind. If people cant accept that, then.. then.. fuck ‘em.”
“Yeah,” laughed Jayden. “Fuck ‘em.” He gave him a reassuring hug and then pulled away.
“Thanks,” Troy smiled. When he then held out his hand, Jayden walked over and wrapped it around his arm.
“Yeah,” replied Troy nervously. “I’m ready.” They opened the door to Troy’s awaiting family.
Mrs. Neal walked over and kissed her son on the cheek. “You look wonderful, Troy.” His father stepped up and patted him on the back. He tried to take Troy’s arm from Jayden’s, but Troy resisted.
“I’m fine, Father,” he said sharply as he tightened his grip on Jayden’s arm.
Just then, a nurse approached with a wheelchair. Troy argued that he would rather walk, but she informed him it was hospital policy to be taken down in a wheelchair. She stopped by the nurses’ station and everyone hugged him goodbye. His therapist reminded his mother of his appointments.
“It’s important that we see him for several more weeks,” she explained. “It’s going to be a major adjustment for him to settle into being back home.” She turned to Jayden.
“Are you Jayden Henderson?” He nodded at her. “I’m Dr. Turner. Perhaps you should attend some of the meetings since you’re going to be one of Troy’s caretakers.”
Troy stood up and yelled, “I don’t need any caretakers! I can take care of myself!”
She seemed surprised by his outburst. She walked over, took his arm and helped him to sit back down in the wheelchair. “Of course,” she replied calmly. “I just meant you would need someone to help you around the house until you learn where things are.”
“I don’t need any damn caretakers,” he muttered as Jayden began to push the wheelchair in the direction of the elevator.
It was a long ride home for Troy. Even though he had his face toward the window, he couldn’t see anything. He could hear the hum of the tires as they moved along the pavement, and occasionally he would hear a car honking its horn in the distance.
“Where are we now?” He turned his head in the direction of his father. “We’ve just passed the corner of Rosedale and Hanover.” Troy pictured the KFC that sat on the corner. There had been numerous times that he and his friends had stopped off there to get chicken after school. As they drove by, he caught a scent of the aroma emanating from the restaurant.
“We’ve passed K-Mart,” announced Penny when she realized that Troy may want to picture where they were. “A car backed into another one,” she laughed. “Some old woman is yelling at a kid.” She was pleased when she noticed Troy smile slightly.
He asked, “What kind of car is the kid driving?”
“Looks like a Dodge Neon. A white one,” replied Penny.
“He should get a real car.” Suddenly, his mood changed when he remembered that he was looking forward to his parent’s buying him a car for graduation. Now he realized that dream would never come true. He sighed and leaned his head against the window.
His mother turned around and looked at him. “Are you all right, Honey.”
“Yeah, Mom,” he muttered sadly. “Everything’s just great.” Everyone in the car looked at each other. They realized that mood swings were something they were going to have to endure for a while.
Dr. Turner had told them that Troy could appear to be in a good mood one minute, then something could trigger a sad thought and he could quickly become depressed. They realized that talking about a young guy in a car had triggered such a response.
Penny tried to once again to lighten the mood. “We’re passing a Baskin Robbins.” She knew it had been one of Troy’s favorite hangouts. He loved any flavor, as long as it contained chocolate.
He sat up and looked toward the front. “Can we stop, Dad?”
“Why don’t we come back this evening?” His father suggested. “We really should be getting home.”
“Why?” Troy asked skeptically. His mood became angry. “You’re not planning any kind of welcoming party, are you?”
“It’s just Claire, Allison, some family, a few neighbors and a couple of kids from your school,” his mother informed him.
“No!” he said angrily. “I don’t feel like talking to anyone. I know this was Claire’s idea.”
“Troy.” She grabbed his hand, but he pulled it away. “It won’t hurt you to talk to a few people. You’ve been in the hospital for over a week and people have been worried about you. They want to see you.”
“They want to see the freak,” he replied angrily.
“Troy!” His mother was visibly shaken by his words. “You’re not a freak.”
“I’m not, Mother!” he shouted. “Take a good look at me.” He felt for the lock on the door. “Dad, let me out!”
“Troy!” His father shouted. “Stop acting like a child!”
“So now I’m a child!” He tried to open the door, but Penny stopped him. She looked pleadingly at Jayden.
“Help me,” she cried as she tried to keep Troy inside the car. Jayden lifted his body and Penny scooted under him. He was now beside Troy. He took his hand and pulled it away from the door.
“Troy, don’t,” he said softly as he took Troy’s hand and held it.
“Why?” Troy cried. “Why?” He buried his head into Jayden’s shoulder. Everyone looked worriedly at them. Penny was distraught with emotion. Jayden put his arm around him and held him tightly. Mr. Neal watched them through the rearview mirror.
Troy sat up when he realized they had pulled into the long drive of his home. He didn’t say anything as the car came to a stop. He opened the door and carefully stepped down onto the pavement. He held out his hand to Jayden.
“Take me around the house to the pool,” he insisted. Jayden took his hand and wrapped it around his arm.
“He’ll be all right,” he told his family. “You go inside while we go around back and talk.”
He carefully led him down the stone pathway to the back of the house. As soon as he opened the gate, a large golden retriever came galloping at them. “Holy Shit!” Jayden shouted as the dog neared them.
“Trixie!” Troy knelt down as the dog jumped on him and started licking his face. Troy fell to the ground as the dog continued to wet his face. He rolled around on the ground for several minutes playing with the dog.
“Jayden?” He held out his hand. Jayden reached for it, thinking he wanted up. Instead, he pulled Jayden to the ground. “I want you to meet my best friend in the world.” The dog jumped on Jayden and started licking his face.
“She likes you,” he smiled. She sat down while Jayden began stroking her beautiful coat.
“Where did she come from?” he asked. He hadn’t seen her previously.
“My uncle has been taking care of her,” Troy replied. “Mom and Dad were always at the hospital, and...” He pulled Trixie into his lap and began tickling her sides, “She needs a lot of attention.” Jayden reached over and ran his hand across her sides at the same time Troy did. Their hands met. Jayden gripped Troy’s hand tightly. They sat silently for a minute before saying anything. Trixie laid her head peacefully in Troy’s lap.
Suddenly, he pushed Trixie off his lap and stood up. Jayden rose and stood before him and asked, “Why do you always do that?”
“Pull away from me?” He started to walk away but Jayden stopped him.
“I don’t pull away from you,” Troy insisted.
“Yes, you do, Troy.” Troy stepped away but Jayden once again put his hand on his arm. “You’re doing it now.”
Troy turned his head away and sighed. “I don’t want you to care about me?”
“I just don’t,” he replied angrily. He put out his hand for Jayden’s arm. “Are you going to help me to the back, or am I going to have to find it myself?” Jayden shook his head sadly, then took Troy’s hand and wrapped it around his arm. He led Troy into the backyard as Trixie followed closely at his heels.
“Where do you want to go?” Troy could hear the hurt in Jayden’s voice. He knew he should be more open to Jayden’s affection, but he was afraid of committing himself to anyone. He felt that Jayden’s feelings were more out of sympathy than love.
“How could anyone love me,” he thought to himself as he stood in the backyard smelling the lilac bush nearby. He touched his hand gently to his eyes. “If only...” He buried his hands into his face and silently wept. Jayden reached out and pulled him into his arms.
“It’s okay,” he said softly. He kissed Troy’s cheek as he gently rocked him. He started to kiss his cheek again, but instead leaned in and kissed Troy gently on the lips. Troy let Jayden kiss him. When the kiss became more passionate he tried to pull away but Jayden wouldn’t let him.
“No, you don’t” Jayden insisted as he pulled him back into his arms. He leaned in and kissed Troy again. This time Troy didn’t resist. He returned the kiss passionately as he ran his hands up and down Jayden’s back. It was Jayden who finally pulled away.
“Wow!” he said. “That was nice.” Troy’s smile began to turn to a frown.
“I don’t know why...” Jayden put his hand over Troy’s lips.
“Shhh,” he said softly. “It’s okay.” He then closed his eyes and kissed Troy once again. When he opened them, he noticed Troy’s father standing on the deck above looking down at them. His face was expressionless as he turned and walked back into the house.
Jayden took Troy’s hand and placed it on his arm. They then walked to the side of the pool.
“I can smell the chlorine,” Troy said. He toed off his shoes and then removed his socks. “Help me sit down on the side.” Jayden carefully helped him sit down and watched as Troy slid his feet into the warm water. He removed his shoes and socks and sat down beside him.
“Listen, Jayden.” Troy reached out and felt for his hand. “I really appreciate what you’re doing, but...” He stopped and turned his head toward the pool.
He gently squeezed Jayden’s hand. “I’m not ready for what you’re wanting.” He squeezed it again. “I’ve got a lot of things to straighten out inside me first. I just don’t think I can deal with that and you at the same time.” He turned his head toward Jayden. “I hope you understand.”
“But I’m starting to...” Troy reached for Jayden’s face and placed his finger to Jayden’s lips.
“Give me some time,” he replied sadly. “Okay?” He nodded with Troy’s finger still upon his lips. Troy took his hand and kissed it. “Just a little time.” He then stood.
“Where are my shoes?” Jayden picked them up off he ground and handed them to Troy. He watched him as he sat on the ground and put them on. There was so much he wanted to say to Troy, but it was apparent that the words would go unspoken. Troy had made it evident that he wasn’t ready for the love that Jayden wanted to give him. His only hope was that some day he would.
He looked up when he heard someone walking down the stairs toward them. It was Penny. “There you boys are,” she said. She walked over and took Troy’s hand. “You’ve got some people who want to see you.”
“Penny, I don’t...” He started to pull away, but Penny held his hand tightly.
“It won’t hurt you to at least say hello.” He relented when she tugged at his arm. Jayden watched as she carefully led him up the steps and into the house with Trixie trailing closely behind them.
He walked over and sat down in one of the chaise lounges. He closed his eyes and thought about the exchange he and Troy had just had.
He knew he was falling in love with Troy. He had felt something for Troy the first time he held him that tragic night. He had tried to convince himself that he was only feeling guilty because his cousins had been the ones responsible for his injuries. But the more he visited Troy in the hospital, the more he felt he was becoming emotionally involved with him. Whenever he was with him, he wanted to hold him in his arms. Then came the desire to kiss him, to show him that he cared for him.
But now he realized that Troy didn’t feel the same way. Perhaps, he never would. Perhaps, he never could. He was afraid that Troy had somehow built a wall around his emotions and he might never be able to penetrate it. From what people had said, Troy had changed a lot since that fateful night. He was afraid he had entered Troy’s life too late.
He opened his eyes when he heard someone coming down the stairs. It was Troy’s father. He pulled up a chair and sat down beside him. He looked worriedly at Jayden. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, Sir,” sighed Jayden. “I’m okay.”
“That really sounded reassuring,” laughed Mr. Neal. “It’s the kind of response I get from Sheila at night when...” His face started to redden. “Never mind. Scratch that last comment.” He waited for Jayden to laugh, but he turned his head and looked out over the pool.
“Does this have anything to do with what I saw earlier?”
Jayden shrugged his shoulders as he stared across the pool.
Mr. Neal got up and sat down on the end of the lounger. “I was going to come down here and tell you not to hurt Troy because I didn’t think he could take much more. I guess I should go have this talk with him.”
“No,” insisted Jayden. “It’s okay, really. I’m not going to hurt Troy.”
“But what about you?”
Jayden rose from the lounger and looked down at Mr. Neal. “I’m a survivor, remember?” he replied sadly. “I’ll be all right.” He lowered his head dejectedly as he climbed the stairs to the homecoming inside.
Troy was sitting on a sofa with Penny at his side. He had received a loud round of applause when he entered the room. About twenty people were attending the small gathering, much smaller than Claire had first expected. She was flitting around the room making sure that people were enjoying the catered snacks Troy’s mother had ordered.
Many of the people attending were Troy’s immediate family. Since Troy had insisted on not having visitors at the hospital, this was their first opportunity to see him. His mother had prepared them earlier about his appearance. Only a few small children stared at him and asked questions of their parents. Penny was being overly protective to make sure that he didn’t hear any of their comments.
Besides Claire and Allison, only about four of Troy’s closest friends from school had been invited. He had known them since the first grade, and Claire thought he would enjoy them being there when he returned home. She had invited Will, but she had not heard from him.
Claire looked up when Jayden entered the room. She immediately noticed the sad look on his face. “Jayden!” She ran over and threw her arms around him. “Where have you been? Troy arrived ten minutes ago.” She became concerned when she looked over her shoulder and saw Mr. Neal enter and shake his head at her.
“I was outside by the pool,” he stated. He looked over at Troy who seemed to be listening to their encounter. Penny looked at him and then over at her brother. Claire grabbed his hand and led him across the room.
“There are some people I want you to meet.” She introduced him to Troy’s friends. He spoke briefly to them and then walked away. He walked over to the dining table, made himself a small plate of hors oeuvres and took a seat across the room from where Troy was sitting.
“Where did Jayden go?” Troy asked his sister. “I don’t hear his voice anywhere.” She looked across the room and saw him sitting by himself.
“He’s getting a bite to eat,” she informed him. She didn’t want to tell him how lonely Jayden appeared.
Penny asked her brother, “Did something happen between you two?”
“No,” he replied. “Why do you ask?” He was confused by her question. He was also curious why Jayden hadn’t come over to him. He couldn’t see the concerned looks on the face of his father, Penny and Claire.
Before she could speak, and elderly aunt came over and sat down beside him. Penny fixed a plate and walked over to Jayden.
“Hey, you,” she said as she sat down in a chair. She looked around the room. “I think Troy was happy to see some of the people in the room.”
“Well, he can’t exactly see them, can he?” Jayden’s voice was filled with sarcasm.
Penny gave him an angry look. “That’s a cruel thing to say.”
Jayden looked at her with tearful eyes. “Yeah, well, sometimes life is cruel.” He got up, walked across the room and disappeared through the doorway.