Wow! That was all my mind could comprehend. Wow! I kept looking at Todd and trying to put it all together.
Todd Mathews. Josh Mathews. Couldn’t be. Brothers. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Cute. My mind couldn’t even begin to think in complete sentences. It was like it was going into overdrive.
But why was Todd here now? How did he figure in all this? He didn’t have anything to do with Josh beating the shit out of me. How did he even know what happened? Only four people had been in the restroom, and Todd was definitely not one of them.
My eyes wouldn’t leave his small body as he stood by the door, looking like he would leap away at any second. He still had his head down, and his foot kept tapping silently on the cold floor.
“What do you mean your brother did it?” I was finally able to speak after several awkward minutes. My mind was beginning to process all the information that was contained in that one sentence.
He just stood there, still refusing to look at me. He was picking nervously at the tie string on his hoodie. “My brother, he did this to you. I’m sorry.” Tears began to fall from his eyes, and he wiped them away with his sleeve. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated.
“How do you know?” I asked. “I haven’t said a word to anyone about what happened.” I hadn’t told anyone about the incident. Not my mother, the doctor, the police or school administrators. There was no way he could know anything.
“I saw Jimmy trip you in the cafeteria, and you fell pretty hard,” he explained. “You got up and ran out. I felt sorry for you, so I got up and followed you.” He was speaking so softly I could hardly make out what he was saying.
“Why?” That was the only thing that could come to my mind at the moment. He still had not looked up once while he talked to me.
“I don’t really know. Your mother is my math teacher and I knew who you were. I guess I just felt sorry for you or something.” The tears were still falling down his red cheeks while he dried them occasionally with his sleeve. I would have given him some tissue, but I didn’t know where they were.
“I saw you run into the restroom, and I was going to follow you. But then I saw my brother and two of his friends go in. I waited around a few minutes. I was afraid to go in. Then I saw Josh and his buddies come out. Josh was really red in the face, and he was rubbing his knuckles,” cried Todd. The tears were flowing freely, and he was making no attempt to stop them.
“After he left, I came in and saw you lying on the floor.” He lifted his sleeve to his face and cried uncontrollably into it.
I didn’t know what to say. I was dumbfounded. At the moment, I felt sorrier for Todd than I did for myself. I was lying in bed with a broken arm, ribs and bruises all over my body, but I felt immense sorrow for Todd.
He suddenly went into the bathroom. He closed the door, and I could hear him gently crying. After a couple of minutes the water began to run in the sink, and then I heard him blowing his nose. A little later, he opened the door and stepped out. For the first time since he began his story, he looked me in the eyes.
“Come here,” I said as I reached out my hand for his. He walked over hesitantly and took my hand.
“It’s not your fault what your brother did. Hell, it’s not even your brother’s fault. I provoked him into fighting me. I was mad and lashed out at the nearest person. Josh just happened to be there.” As I spoke I squeezed his hand. Surprisingly, he squeezed mine in return.
“I know. He told me,” Todd responded. “We talked about it later that night.”
“He told you?” I couldn’t believe that Josh had admitted what he did to me to someone else.
“Yeah. He feels really bad about it. He told Mom and Dad too. They’re going to go see the principal, Mr. Snow, tomorrow morning.”
“No!” I shouted. Todd dropped my hand and stepped back away from the bed. I guess I had reacted a little too strongly, and I had scared him.
“You’ve got to tell Josh not to go!” I was getting excited. “It wasn’t his fault. It was mine. I don’t want to see him get suspended and miss out playing football and basketball.” Josh was quarterback and captain for our team. We were getting ready to go into tournament play. Our team was 10-1 and we had a good chance of going to state. He was also a star forward on our basketball team. We had played together for the past two years, even though I only came in off the bench occasionally. The last thing I wanted was Josh to get punished for my impulsive behavior.
“It’s too late now,” he replied. “Josh and my parents have discussed it, and they think Josh should admit beating you up.” Todd seemed to have relaxed a little, and he was now speaking to me with less nervousness.
“Well, I have to do something about it,” I insisted. “Let me talk to my mom and see if there is anything she can do. Maybe she can talk to your parents or Mr. Snow. I don’t want to see Josh suspended.”
“I don’t want to see him get suspended either. I really love my brother, and this could be a major setback for him. He’s been accepted to several colleges on an athletic scholarship. This could really hurt him.” Todd looked like he was getting ready to cry again.
“It will be all right,” I assured him. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t get suspended. He should have kept quiet about this. I didn’t tell anyone he was involved.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Todd replied sorrowfully. “He knew he messed up, and he couldn’t live with himself until he made it right. He really feels bad for hurting you. He cried last night. I’ve never seen him cry before.”
I really felt like shit. I was mad at Shaun, and I ended up taking it out on an innocent bystander. Now I could ruin his future. My future was already ruined, but I didn’t have to ruin Josh’s too.
“I’m sorry,” I said. Now it was my turn to cry. I could feel the tears begin to run down my cheek.
“Why?” asked Todd.
“I didn’t mean to hurt Josh,” I cried.
“What a strange thing to say,” responded Todd. “Josh almost kills you, and you say you’re sorry for hurting him.”
“My life is so fucked up.” I was crying so hard. I pulled the sheet up over my head so Todd couldn’t witness me falling apart. It was true. My life was a mess, and now I had dragged someone else into it.
Todd came over to the bed and tried to pull down the sheet from my face. I fought to keep it covering my face. “Look at me,” he insisted. He again pulled at the sheet, and this time I did not struggle with him.
“You’re not fucked up.” I looked into his eyes and could see that they were moist, but there were no tears. “You’re fine just the way you are.”
He took my hand and held it. We gazed into each other’s eyes for what seemed like hours, but probably more like fifteen seconds. He kept squeezing my hand and gently rubbing his thumb over my knuckles.
Suddenly, the door flew open. My mother entered carrying two large pizza boxes, a large bag of potato chips and two liters of Dr. Pepper. Todd quickly released my hand and stepped back from the hospital bed. My mother gave us a strange look, and then she looked us over and smiled.
“Have you boys been good while I was gone?” she asked with a grin. “You seem to be getting along really well.”
“Yes, Mrs. Carson,” responded Todd. “Everything’s fine.”
“Well, that’s wonderful,” she replied. “Are you boys hungry?”
“Yes, Ma’am!” We both said excitedly at the same time.
“Good, then let’s eat.” She opened the pizza boxes and pulled out some paper plates she had bought.
We had fun eating. It was obvious that my mother and Todd had a good relationship. She told him a couple of embarrassing stories about me. One involved me trying to open a can of blue paint in the garage and spilling it all over myself, the floor, the walls and my mother’s car. Todd laughed so hard he cried. I just turned a bright shade of red.
When we finished, my mother cleaned up the mess we made. It was almost six o’clock, and my doctor would soon be in. He usually makes his rounds in the evening.
I knew I had some things that had to be said. I didn’t want to say them, but tomorrow would be too late. Josh and his parents were going to see Mr. Snow in the morning. I knew I had to face the truth- and my mother.
“Todd, could you wait outside for a minute? I need to speak to my mother alone?” He looked at me, and I could tell by his eyes that he knew what I wanted to tell her.
“You don’t have to do this, Gary,” he pleaded.
“Yes, I do,” I replied.