Jayden sat nervously across from Mr. Fallingsworth as he thumbed through some papers on his desk. He looked up and peered at Jayden over his glasses.
“I’m glad you decided to return,” he said. He looked down and continued to read before looking up again. “You have excellent grades,” he remarked. “I’m surprised I never knew who you were before the other day. I guess you’ve never played sports?”
“No, Sir,” responded Jayden. “I’ve only been here two years.”
“I see.” Fallingsworth closed the folder on his desk and removed his glasses. “I really don’t see any reason why you won’t graduate. Your grades are good. You don’t seem to have an attendance problem, and there are no disciplinary problems that I can tell.” He smiled at Jayden. “You’ve never even spent one afternoon in detention.”
“No, Sir.” Jayden looked down and studied the veins in his hands.
“Jayden?” He looked up at Fallingsworth. “Mr. Neal called me this morning. He said you’ll be staying with them temporarily.” Jayden found it strange when he started laughing. “You’re a very lucky young man. My wife and I have been to their home for a few cocktail parties over the years. Their home is rather... how can I say this? Ostentatious.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jayden replied. “I guess it is.” He thought he’d have to go to the library and find its meaning. It was the second time he’d heard it used when referring to the Neal home.
Fallingsworth reached behind him and took several books off a table. “Here,” he said as he placed them in front of Jayden. “I guess you’ll be needing these.” He took them and placed them in his lap.
“You only have a few more months to go,” Fallingsworth stated. “Hang in there; and if you need anything, don’t hesitate to come see me.”
Jayden started to get up and then sat down. “Can I ask you a question, Sir?”
“What’s going to happen to Troy?”
“What do you mean?”
“He was supposed to graduate in May. I don’t think he’ll be able to.”
Fallingsworth sat back in his chair and studied Jayden for a minute. “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I’m sure you’ll find out soon anyway.” He sat up and looked at Jayden. “Troy will graduate with his class.”
“I don’t understand,” Jayden replied. “He won’t be able to take any of his final exams.”
“Troy already had met the requirements to graduate at the end of last semester. Many seniors do. He could have left during Christmas break. He was aware of this, but he decided to stay because he wanted to perform in the play.”
“I see.” Jayden thought a minute and then grinned at the principal. “Do I have enough credits?” Fallingsworth opened his school file again and looked down.
“I’m afraid not,” he informed him. “I was looking earlier. I hoped that you had. But it appears that you missed a semester your sophomore year.” He looked up. “I guess it was when your mother passed away.” Jayden nodded his head.
“Well, you only have a few months to go,” he assured him. “I don’t think you’ll have any problems. Just make sure you show up for your final exams.” Jayden nodded and stood. He hesitantly extended his hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Fallingsworth,” he said appreciatively. “It was my mother’s dream to see me graduate. I’m glad you let me come back.”
“Think nothing of it, Son.“ He stepped from behind his desk and placed his hand on Jayden’s back. “I’m sure your mother is looking down right now and is very proud of you.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Jayden turned and hurried from the room before tears started to appear.
“I said get out of my room!”
“But Troy,” the nurse replied patiently as she pulled on his arm to get him to get out of bed. “The doctor wants you on your feet so you can walk around.”
“Walk around!” he shouted. “Where the fuck am I going to walk to?” He pulled his arm away and threw his head back on the pillow. “Now just leave me alone.”
“If you don’t get up and walk,” the nurse informed him, “you won’t be able to go home.”
“I don’t want to go home! I don’t want to go anywhere!” His voice boomed throughout the hospital floor.
Mrs. Neal rose from her seat and stood beside her son’s bed. “Troy, Dear,” she said.
“Are you still here?” he asked harshly. “I thought I made it clear to the doctor I don’t want visitors.”
“I’m not a visitor.” He could tell by the tone of her voice that he had hurt her, but he didn’t care. He was tired of living day after day; lying in the hospital bed unable to see what was going on around him. Simple tasks, like eating, were a chore. He refused to let anyone feed him; and on more than one occasion, his food had ended up in his lap. He also refused to let a nurse take him to the bathroom and watch to make sure he didn’t fall. He was tired…tired of living.
“Troy.” His mother spoke softly as she ran her hand over his bare head. He reached out and removed it. “I know this is difficult for you, but you’ve got to accept what has happened.”
“Accept what has happened?” He sat up and turned his head toward her. He then removed the bandages covering his eyes. She let out a gasp. “You want me to accept this, Mother?” He could hear her weeping softly.
“You’re being cruel,” said the nurse as she placed the bandages back onto his eyes. “She loves you.”
“Yeah,” he replied sarcastically. “Everyone loves the poor, blind kid.”
“Stop it!” His mother shouted. He listened as she sat back down and cried.
He sat up and threw his legs over the side of the bed. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
The nurse stepped up and grabbed his arm, but he pushed her away. “I can do it myself,” he said angrily. He stood on wobbly legs and then took a step. “Six steps forward.” He carefully walked with his arms outstretched until he found the door. He stepped inside. “Two steps to the right.” He felt for the toilet and sat down. He then reached out and closed the door.
Jayden was heading to lunch when he decided to go into the restroom and relieve himself. As he was at the urinal, another student walked in. He turned to see Will standing at the door waiting for him. Jayden finished and then went to the sink and washed his hands.
“How is he?” Jayden looked into the mirror to see Will standing beside him. He had a sad look on his face.
“He’s getting better,” Jayden replied as he reached in front of Will and pulled some paper towels out of the dispenser.
“Good,” Will responded. “I’m glad.” Jayden turned and faced him.
“Why haven’t you been by to see him?” Will looked down and shrugged his shoulders.
“I thought you guys were boyfriends?” Will looked up with a surprised look on his face. He didn’t know that Jayden was aware of their relationship. He then looked down and shrugged his shoulders again.
“He’d probably like to see you,” Jayden said. “He’s well enough to have visitors.”
“I’m not sure I can,” Will stated nervously. “I already saw him once.” He started to turn. “Look, I got to get to class. I just wanted to know how he was doing.” Before Jayden could stop him, he dashed from the room.
Penny was waiting for Jayden when he left school. He was walking down the sidewalk when she pulled up beside him and honked the horn.
“Want a ride?” She asked as he walked over to the window.
“Yeah, sure,” he replied. “I was going to walk to your house.”
“It’s over two miles!”
“It doesn’t bother me.” He looked up into the clear, blue sky. “Besides it’s a nice out today.”
Penny reached over and unlocked the door. “Well, get in. We’ll go by the house to drop your things off, and then you can go with me to see Troy.” He opened the door and got in.
On the way to the Neal home, Jayden asked Penny something that had been bothering him since his encounter with Will. “Do you know a guy named Will?”
Penny gave him a skeptical look. “Yes,” she replied. “What about him?”
Jayden shrugged his shoulders. “I was just wondering about him is all.” He turned and looked out the window.
Penny drove in silence for several minutes before speaking. “He and Troy are boyfriends,” she said. “At least they were.”
“What do you mean, were?”
Penny gave him a concerned look. “From what Claire has told me, Will doesn’t want to see Troy anymore.”
“This thing with Troy is hard on all of us,” she responded. “It’s changed everyone’s lives.” She looked sadly at Jayden. “It’s even changed your life.” He didn’t say anything as he turned and looked back out the window. He knew what she was saying was true.
“Anyway,” she continued. “Some of us have to deal with it, we don’t have a choice. But someone like Will doesn’t. He’s only known Troy a few months. It’s easier for him to walk away than stay.”
“I guess you’re right,” he replied. “It still sucks, though. You’d think if he really cared about Troy, he’d want to stay around.”
“I think he cares about him,” she said sadly. “I just don’t think he loved Troy enough to have to deal with what’s happened.”
“It still sucks.” Jayden rested his head on the window and closed his eyes. He dozed off briefly until he felt the car come to a stop. He opened his eyes to notice that they had arrived at the Neal home.
He went to his room and changed into something more comfortable. Thirty minutes later they were arriving at the hospital. They took the elevator to the fourth floor. When they got off, they noticed Troy’s mother sitting in a small waiting room. It was apparent she had been crying.
“What’s wrong, Mother?” Penny sat down beside her and put her arm around her.
“I can’t take much more of this,” she sobbed loudly. “He’s become like a stranger. Every time he says something, it’s so hateful.”
Penny rubbed her back gently. “He’s angry and upset, Mother. Look what’s he’s been through. He has to take it out on someone.”
“But why does he have to be so hateful?”
“He’s depressed, Mother,” Penny replied. “He’s nineteen, and he realizes he has to live the rest of his life without sight. How do you think you would feel?”
“I wouldn’t be mean to the people who love me.” She dabbed the tissue at her wet eyes.
“You don’t know how you’d react,” said Penny. “Just be glad you’re here for him to take his anger and frustration out on.”
“What do you mean, Dear?”
“I think what she means, Mrs. Neal,” offered Jayden as he sat down beside her, “is that Troy has a lot of anger and hate inside him. He needs to release it and take his anger out on someone.” He took her hand and held it. “Who is better to understand that than someone who loves him?”
“But it hurts me when he says those awful things,” she replied.
“Just think how badly he’s hurting right now,” said Jayden. He looked over at Penny as she nodded her head.
“We have to help him through this, Mother,” she said. “If it means he has to scream and shout at us everyday, then we have to be there for him to scream and shout at. He needs us more than ever.”
She laid her head on Jayden’s shoulder and cried softly. “I guess you’re right. It just hurts me so much to see him suffering.”
After several minutes, Jayden got up and went to Troy’s room, leaving Penny and her mother alone so that they could talk. The room was dark when he walked in. He went over to the window and pulled back the curtain.
“Who is it?” Troy muttered as he woke up.
“Jayden. The room is dark, so I thought I’d open up the curtain.”
“Really?” Troy said sarcastically. “I hadn’t noticed.” It suddenly occurred to Jayden that every day of Troy’s life would be filled with darkness. He’d never be able to tell if it were day or night.
Jayden walked over and took a seat. He watched the sad figure lying on the bed. Other than the movement of his chest rising and falling, it appeared that he had no life left inside him.
Jayden closed his eyes briefly, but opened them when he heard Troy stirring. He looked over as Troy threw his legs over the side of the bed and stood on the ground. He watched him carefully as he got up and went into the bathroom. Minutes later he came out. On the way back to bed, he lost his balance and started to fall. Jayden sprang from his chair and caught him before he fell.
“Thanks,” Troy said as he sat on the side of the bed.
“No problem,” replied Jayden as he sat down beside him. “Have you been up a lot? Your legs are probably weak from lying in bed all day.”
“They try to get me to walk,” he said angrily, “but they act like I’m some kind of a baby. I can’t even go to the bathroom without someone holding onto me.”
“Do you feel like walking a little?” Jayden looked over and Troy nodded.
“As long as that stupid nurse doesn’t start bitching,” he spat.
Jayden stood and then told Troy to stand up. He then turned his back and said, “We’re about the same height. Put your hand on my shoulder and I’ll walk slowly out of the room. Just keep your hand on my shoulder and you should be all right.” Troy put his hand on his shoulder and nodded. “If you get tired, let me know and we’ll come back.”
“Okay,” Troy replied.
Jayden headed to the door and opened it. “Put out your right hand and hold the door open while we leave.” Troy did as he was told. They entered the hall, and Jayden looked to his left. Mrs. Neal and Penny stood and started to approach them, but he held up his hand.
“We’re making a right turn,” he informed Troy. Troy gently held his shoulder as they turned. “It’s a long hallway, I’d say about thirty yards,” he stated. “Do you think you can make it?” Troy gently squeezed his shoulder. They had walked about twenty yards when they approached the nurses’ station. One of the nurses looked up and then jumped from her chair. Once again Jayden held up his hand. She stopped and watched as they passed. Jayden could see her following behind them.
“I feel warmth on my left arm,” Troy said. Jayden stopped and turned him so they were facing left.
“There’s a row of windows,” he said. “The sun is shining outside. That’s what you’re feeling.” Troy tilted his head and let the sun shine on his face. Jayden looked over at the nurse who was standing about ten feet away. She had a wide grin on her face. He looked down the hallway and noticed Troy’s mother and sister watching them. Mrs. Neal was dabbing tears from her eyes.
Troy squeezed his shoulder and then turned right, indicating that he wanted to move on. They had walked about ten feet when a nurse hurriedly exited a room and ran into Troy.
“Watch it!” Troy shouted.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going!” The nurse responded angrily.
“I would if I could, Shithead!” Troy screamed. Jayden watched as the nurse who had been following at a distance stopped the other nurse and they had an angry exchange. He couldn’t hear what the nurse was saying, but it was obvious she was extremely upset.
Troy squeezed Jayden’s shoulder tightly. “I want to go back to my room,” he said angrily. Jayden turned and faced him.
“It’s all right, Troy,” he said softly. “She didn’t know. You can’t get upset with people all the time.”
“You don’t understand,” he said dejectedly.
“No, I don’t,” Jayden replied. “I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through. But things aren’t going to change, Troy. You can either learn to live with it, or let it destroy you. I’ve been there, I know.”
“I don’t think I’m that strong, Jayden.” Tears were beginning to flow from underneath the bandages on his face. “I don’t think I want to live like this.” Jayden looked down the hall and saw a bench. He turned and led Troy to it. As they walked, he held up his hand to those behind him that he didn’t want them to approach.
When they reached the bench, he turned Troy so that he could feel the side on his back legs. “Sit down, Troy.” He held his shoulders as he sat down, and then took a seat beside him.
“Two years ago my life was changed in an instant, just like yours now. My mother was killed by a drunk driver one night.” He stopped when his voice began to tremble. When he thought he could speak without becoming emotional he continued. “In a second my life changed. Everything I had was taken from me. The person I loved most in this world was no longer here.” He stopped again as tears started to fall from his face. Troy reached out, found his hand and gently squeezed it.
He looked over at Troy and continued speaking. “I made it, though. I hated every minute of my life, but I didn’t quit. It’s not what my mother would have wanted.” He squeezed Troy’s hand tightly.
“I haven’t known you very long,” he said, “but I’ve known you long enough to know you’re not a quitter, either. I’ve met your family and friends, and I’ve never seen anyone who has been loved by more people.” Troy squeezed his hand tighter.
“You’re mad as hell right now,” he said. “I know. You don’t know why it happened, and no one can give you any right answers. Shit sometimes just happens.” He turned to Troy, once again holding his hand tightly.
“Kick, scream, tell the world to go to hell.” He grinned when he saw a smile form on Troy’s face. “But never, ever, give up.”
They sat quietly for a minute. Troy turned his head toward Jayden. “So your mother died?”
“Yeah,” Troy uttered sadly. “Hurts like a son of a bitch.”
“I know what you mean,” replied Troy. He squeezed Jayden’s hand. Jayden looked down and realized they had been holding hands for several minutes. He gently ran his thumb over the back of Troy’s hand. Troy turned his head towards him and smiled.
“You ready to head back to your room?” Troy nodded and Jayden got up and helped Troy stand. He then stood in front of him as Troy placed his hand on his shoulder.
“Yep,” he laughed. “Lead the way, Kimosabe.” When they passed Mrs. Neal and Penny, both were smiling as tears streamed down their faces.
Claire and Allison were sitting on the chair in Troy’s room. Allison was gently rubbing Claire’s back as they talked. Both were surprised by Troy’s happier mood. They usually sat and talked while Troy kept his head turned away. This time he was sitting up and seemed to enjoy their company.
Troy had informed them when they arrived that his mother, Penny and Jayden had left a little earlier. Claire had given Allison a knowing glance when Troy mentioned Jayden’s name.
“You can’t believe the support you have at school,” said Claire. “I can’t walk down the hall without a dozen people asking me how you’re doing.”
“I wish you’d change your mind and let people come visit you,” said Allison. “It might do you good to have some of your friends around.”
They immediately noticed a change come over Troy. He laid his head back down on the pillow and turned away from them.
“I’m sorry,” apologized Allison. “It was only a suggestion.” Claire looked up and gave her a worried look.
Troy turned his head and faced them. “I really don’t want anyone to see me,” he said sadly. He touched his hand to his face. “Especially like this. It’s bad enough knowing what you are thinking.” Claire got up and walked over to the side of the bed.
“Troy,” she replied softly as she ran her hand over the side of his face. “There’s nothing wrong with they way you look.”
“Yeah, right,” Troy replied. “I’m sure everyone wants to see this.” He lifted the gauze from his eyes. His left eye was shut tightly, but there was a deep depression where his right eye was removed. “I look really pretty, don’t I?” Claire stepped away and wiped tears from her eyes. Allison walked over, stood by the side of the bed and took Troy’s hand.
“All right, Troy,” she said harshly. “You’re not the same as you were a week ago, but you’ve got to start accepting what happened to you. You can’t be angry at people all the time.”
She gave Claire a puzzled look when Troy started to laugh. “You’re the second person to tell me that today.” He replaced the gauze to his face and sat up. “Jayden told me the same thing earlier when we were taking a walk.”
“You walked today?” Claire asked excitedly. Troy’s mother had told her how difficult a time the staff was having getting him to participate in his therapy.
“Yeah,” he smiled. “Jayden and I walked down the hallway. I’m not sure how far we went, but he helped me.”
“That’s wonderful,” said Allison cheerfully. She looked over at Claire and grinned. “It seems like he’s becoming quite a friend.”
“I guess,” he replied. “I still don’t know much about him. Any time I ask someone, they just say he’s in our class at school. When he left today with Mom and Penny, they said something about him doing his homework. It sounded like he’s staying at our house.”
Claire looked over at Allison. She wasn’t sure if they should be the ones to tell them about what had happened to Jayden since he had helped him that night. It seemed obvious he didn’t know much. They weren’t sure if Troy’s parents were keeping it from him, or if the subject had never been raised.
“So what?” Claire looked over anxiously at Allison. She knew Troy was waiting to be told something about Jayden.
“Don’t play dumb, Claire,” Troy replied angrily. “How long have we known each other? Since like when we were still in diapers. I can tell you’re holding something back from me. Everyone is.”
“I really think this is something your parents should discuss with you,” she responded. “It’s really not my place to.”
“So there is something going on?”
Claire glanced over quickly at Allison. Allison shrugged her shoulders, leaving Claire trying to figure out how to stop Troy from questioning her.
“How about those Yankees?” Allison laughed.
“Never mind, then,” Troy huffed as he laid his head back on the pillow. “I guess I’ll just have to ask Jayden for the truth. He seems like the only person I can trust around here.” He waited for them to respond, but they just looked at each other.
They returned to the chair and sat down. Allison put her hand on Claire’s back and began rubbing it again gently. Nothing was said for several minutes. Finally, Troy lifted himself on his elbow and turned toward them.
“Okay,” he sighed. “You can at least tell me one thing.”
“What? Claire asked.
“Is he cute?” Claire looked at Allison and giggled.
“Why do you want to know that?” She said in a teasing voice.
“I know he’s about my size,” he stated, “because when he’s helping me walk I can tell he’s about as tall as me and he’s thin.”
“Okay,” teased Claire. “You’re right about that.”
“So,” pleaded Troy. “Tell me if he’s cute.”
“Extremely,” cooed Allison.
“Really?” Troy asked. “What color is his hair?”
“Black,” stated Claire.
“Dark brown,” replied Allison.
Allison nodded her head at Claire when Troy lay back on the pillow and grinned.