I walked for ten blocks in the dark until I came to the doors of Lee General Hospital. I took the elevator and went to the waiting room where I had spent the past two days. When I entered, the clock on the wall indicated it was after eleven. A few people were sitting around quietly chatting. They were keeping vigil in case the doctor appeared with news of Joey’s condition. They looked at me and nodded when I entered.
I crossed the room and entered the hallway to the ICU. A couple of nurses noticed me, but they didn’t try to stop me. With my casual stride, I guess they assumed that I belonged there.
My heart stopped when I entered the large room and pushed back the green curtain. Joey was gone! Panic seized me. Since I had been gone for most of the evening, I was afraid that he had died and I hadn’t yet been informed.
“May I help you?” I was startled when a nurse stepped up behind me.
“Where’s Joey?” I managed to stammer. She looked down at the clipboard she was carrying.
“Dr. Singh had him placed in a private room about an hour ago.”
“He’s alive?” A sense of relief swept over me.
“Yes, of course,” she smiled. “The doctor saw no need for him to stay here any longer.”
“What room is he in?” I asked. She again looked down at her clipboard.
“I really can’t tell you,” she said. “Unless you are next of kin. My notes say that only a Ms. Wendelmeirer is to be notified of any changes.”
“I’m his brother,” I informed her. Again, she looked down and scanned the paper.
“It doesn’t say anything here about Dr. Carpenter having a brother.”
“Please let me see him.” I pleaded. “I have to see him.”
“It’s against hospital rules,” she said politely. “You’ll have to get that information from...” she looked down at her clipboard, “Ms. Wendelmeier. Now please return to the waiting room.”
Just then a series of monitors went off in a nearby area. “Oh, my,” the nurse exclaimed as she laid the clipboard on a nearby gurney and rushed off behind another green curtain.
I looked around and then lifted the clipboard. I scanned the paper for Joey’s name. Finally, I found it. Beside it was a number: 2003A. I quickly left the ICU just as several more people rushed into the room where the nurse had disappeared. I assumed that by the end of the night, some family would be receiving bad news concerning a loved one.
Unfamiliar with the hospital, I roamed around for about twenty minutes before I finally found a sign that read: Rooms 2001- 2024. I stopped outside the room marked 2003 and took a deep breath. I carefully opened the door to a dim light room. The hospital bed was located on the right side of the room. There were a couple of monitoring devices, but none like he had been on in the ICU. I walked over and looked down.
Joey was asleep with his head tilted towards me. I stood for several seconds and watched him breathe. His breaths seemed to be somewhat labored. I looked up at the monitors. It appeared that his blood pressure was almost normal, but his heart monitor appeared irregular to me. Perhaps that was the reason he seemed to be having trouble breathing.
“Joey.” I took his hand and squeezed it softly. His eyes fluttered, but he seemed unable to open them.
“Nicky?” He asked weakly.
“No, Joey,” I leaned down and whispered in his ear. “It’s Gene.” I then kissed him on his cheek.
“Oh, okay,” he muttered softly, and then he appeared to fall back to sleep.
I looked around the room for a chair. There was one in the corner by the window. I pulled it over to the bed and sat down. Joey’s hand was hanging over the edge of the bed. He opened it as if he wanted me to hold it. I took it and squeezed it gently.
I held his hand and watched him sleep for almost an hour before we were interrupted by a nurse. She seemed surprised when she walked in and saw me sitting beside the bed.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” she insisted as she walked over and noted Joey’s vitals. “It’s after visiting hours.”
“I’m his brother,” I replied. “He’s been through a lot, and I didn’t want him to be by himself.” I watched as she read the notes she had on him.
Finally, she looked down at me. “He really needs his rest.”
“I’m not disturbing him,” I insisted. “You can see that he’s sleeping comfortably. All I want to do is sit with him. I don’t want him to be alone.”
I looked up and saw a sympathetic look on her face. “Please?” I pleaded. “Let me stay. I promise I won’t be in the way.”
She looked down at her watch. “I just came on duty. I’ll be here until seven. You’ll have to leave before the morning shift comes in.”
I nodded my head appreciatively and said, “Thanks.” She smiled and left the room.
Again, I took Joey’s hand and held it. Several times he squeezed it, as if he knew I was there keeping him company. I pulled his hand to my lips and kissed it.
“I know you can’t hear me, Joey,” I said, “but I’ve loved you for so long. Remember that night I kissed you?” I stopped and laughed softly. “It didn’t mean much to you, but it meant a lot to me.”
He turned slightly in the bed and winced in pain. I stood up and repositioned his pillow, trying to make him more comfortable. When he became calmer, I sat back down and took his hand.
“I never told you, Joey,” I stopped and took a deep breath, “but I’ve always cared about you. I wish I could have said it back then.” I leaned in and kissed his hand once again.
“I thought that it was just infatuation,” I continued, “and that I would get over it. But when you became involved with Allen, I really grew to love you. Watching how you cared for him when he was sick made me realize just how special you are. There were so many times I was jealous of what you two had.”
I stopped and wiped away the tears that were falling down my face. “Then when I came back for Dad’s funeral and I saw how much love you had for Nicky…” I stopped and took a deep breath. I squeezed Joey’s hand tightly. “I can’t help it,” I cried. “I’m in love with you.”
I leaned against the bed and wept softly. Even though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I’d finally confessed what I’d kept hidden for so many years.
“Good morning, Dr. Carpenter.” I slowly opened my eyes when I heard a voice. Groggily, I looked into the face of a strange man.
“I’m Dr. Singh,” the stranger said with a smile. “How are you feeling this morning?” His voice had a thick accent, and it was difficult for me to understand.
“Where am I?” I tried to sit up, but he touched my shoulder and gently pushed me back onto the bed.
“You’re in the hospital,” he informed me. “Do you recall anything that has happened to you?”
Happened to me? What has happened to me? I looked down and noticed tubes running into my arm. My chest felt heavy, and it was then I saw bandages taped to it. What has happened to me?
Coach Arnold. Doug. Travis, Jason. It was beginning to come back to me. I’d been shot! I sat up once again and shouted, “Where’s my son? Where is Nicky?”
“Shhh,” the doctor said soothingly as he patted my shoulder. “Your son is quite all right. He’s safe.” I lay back down as my chest began to hurt with immense pain.
“What’s wrong with me?” Panic began to seize me. I suddenly remembered stepping in front of Travis and being shot by Arnold.
“You were shot in the chest,” the doctor replied. Just then a nurse came in and began turning off machines beside my bed.
“Am I going to be all right?” Again, I looked wildly around the room. For the first time my mind was beginning to comprehend what was going on around me. I looked down at the bandages on my chest.
“You’re going to be fine,” he said reassuringly. “Right now you need plenty of rest.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Four days!” I could only begin to comprehend what had occurred during that time. I laid my head back and tried to piece together what had happened.
“How is Doug?” My heart began to pound. One of the last things I could remember was him falling back onto the floor.
“He’s doing very well,” the doctor replied. “He’s home now.”
“Thank God,” I replied. I turned and faced him, now too tired to move. “And the other boys?”
He patted me gently on my shoulder. “Because of you, they weren’t hurt.” I closed my eyes as memories of the shooting flooded my mind. A monitor began to beep loudly, and I could hear the doctor speaking to the nurse. She inserted a needle into a tube running into my arm, and seconds later I fell into deep sleep.
“He’s looking better.” I was awakened by a female voice. Someone leaned down and kissed my cheek.
“Hey, Joey.” Another voice, this time a male’s. Once again, lips gently touched my forehead. I slowly opened my eyes. Before me stood Star and Gene.
“Hey,” said Star as she gently ran her hand over my head. “How are you feeling today?”
“Like shit,” I responded. I tried to sit up, but she stopped me.
“Don’t move, Joey,” she said. “You’ll pull your stitches loose.” Pain shot through my chest, and I winced in pain.
Star asked worriedly, “Do you want me to call for a nurse?”
“No,” I responded. “They’ll just put me to sleep again. I want to try and stay awake.” I looked past Star and saw Gene standing by the door looking worriedly at me.
“Hi, Gene.” He walked over and took my hand and squeezed it. He looked down and suddenly pulled his hand away.
“Hi, Joey,” he said softly. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” Suddenly, thoughts came to my mind.
“Thanks for being here last night,” I said. A surprised expression appeared on his face. Star looked at him questioningly.
“You were here last night?” she asked. He seemed surprised that I remembered.
“I don’t remember much,” I said, “but it was nice to know someone was with me.” I watched as his face began to redden.
“You didn’t tell me you were here last night,” Star whispered to Gene. “Why didn’t you come get me?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I was just walking around and I ended up here.” He suddenly turned and went into the restroom.
“Is he all right?” I asked.
“He’s been worried sick about you,” she said. “We all have. He hasn’t left Nicky’s side since… your accident.”
“How is Nicky?” I asked excitedly. “When can I see him?”
“We’re working that out now with the doctor,” she said. “We wanted to be sure you were better before we brought him to the room. Like I said, Gene’s been like a protective hen when it comes to Nicky.” She smiled and ran her hand across my face.
“You need a shave,” she laughed.
“Do I look that bad?”
“No,” she smiled. “You look wonderful.” Just then Joey emerged from the restroom. His eyes were red and puffy. I held out my hand to him. He walked over tentatively and took it in his.
“Thanks for taking care of Nicky for me,” I said appreciatively.
“It was nothing,” he responded timidly. I squeezed his hand more firmly.
“Yes it was,” I insisted. “He means the world to me.”
Gene looked down sadly at me. “I know,” he said. He released my hand, walked over and took a seat by the window. I looked at Star, but she just shrugged her shoulders.
“How bad was I shot?” A stunned expression appeared on Star’s face.
“The doctor hasn’t talked to you?”
“Not really,” I said. “I’ve been in la la land for several days. This is the longest I’ve managed to stay awake without being put back to sleep.”
“Perhaps the doctor should talk to you,” replied Star worriedly.
“Was there any permanent damage?”
“I don’t know,” responded Star. “I don’t think so. We’ve been so worried about you just staying alive to think…” Suddenly, she stopped. “I’m saying too much. The doctor should tell you all this.”
I laid my head back and closed my eyes momentarily. From what Star had indicated, my injuries seemed to have been extensive, especially since it sounded like I had been in a live or die situation.
She took my hand and squeezed it tightly. “You’re going to be all right now, Joey,” she said reassuringly. “There have been so many people praying for you.”
I opened my eyes and looked into her face. “You mean I almost died?” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Yes, Joey,” she said as she squeezed my hand. Gene got up from his seat, walked to the other side of the bed and grabbed my other hand.
“You’re going to be all right now, Joey,” he said as he held my hand. “I promised Nicky you’d pull through this.” He leaned down, pulled my head to his and held me. Star rubbed his back gently. It surprised me when Gene whispered in my ear, “You’ve got to be all right.” He then kissed me on my cheek.
“Wow!” Those were the only words that came out of my mouth when Dr. Singh described my injuries. All I heard was him rattling off a bunch of organs. Lung, liver, bladder, stomach, colon. Was there any part of my body the bullet had not hit?
“You’re lucky the bullet didn’t penetrate your heart,” Dr. Singh stated, as if reading my mind. “Or we might not be having this conversation right now.”
“Will I fully recover?” I asked. With as much damage as there was to my body, I couldn’t see how I could come out of this without permanent damage.
“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I’m worried about the bladder. We’ve had a catheter in you. Once we remove it, we have to see if your bladder works properly.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Then we may be looking at looking at more surgery.”
“Yes,” he replied. “I may have to do an urostomy.”
“Your urine will bypass your bladder and go into a bag.”
I laid my head back and sighed. I remembered years ago when I was working the streets, a client of mine had a bag on him. He couldn’t get an erection, but he’d pay to watch me masturbate. Once I asked him why, and he lifted his shirt and showed me the small bag that was half-full of piss. I felt so sorry for him that I only charged him half the price I did for others.
I sat back and let out a deep sigh. “Don’t worry, Dr. Carpenter. After what happened to you, you’re very lucky to be alive today. We’ll just have to wait and see how your body heals.”
It was difficult catching up with everything that had happened over the past several days. Earlier in the morning a detective had come to my room to interview me, and he informed me of Coach Arnold’s death.
I had mixed emotions about what had happened to him. On one hand, I felt that he had taken the easy way out by having the police shoot him. But then, I felt relieved that the boys wouldn’t have to face him in court and testify against him. I’m sure a good defense attorney would have tried to tarnish theirs and my reputations.
As I was now aware, the shooting had become of national interest. Star had informed me that every major news agency was attempting to interview me. In many people’s eyes I was a hero. To others, I was a gay school administrator. There seemed to be a national debate as to whether I was corrupting students with my sinful lifestyle. One televangelist even went so far as to say I should be imprisoned.
I turned and looked pleadingly at Dr. Singh. “When can I see my son? I’m feeling much better.”
He looked down at my chart and read it. After clearing his throat, he said, “I don’t see any reason why he can’t see you tomorrow.” However, he warned, “But only for a short time. An emotional reunion like that will tire you out quickly.”
“I understand,” I replied. “I just want to know he’s all right.”
He started to laugh. “Every time I see him, he’s being carefully guarded by Ms. Wendelmeirer and Mr. Albright. I don’t think the Marines could get to him.”
“Good,” I said as I laid my head back. I couldn’t understand why Gene had taken such as interest in Nicky. From what I’d heard from others, it sounded like he had become Nicky’s surrogate father while I was in the hospital.
“Ouch!” Joey winced as I scraped the razor against his thick stubble.
“Sorry,” I apologized.
“You sure you’ve done this before?” He looked up and smiled.
“On me,” I laughed as I looked into his brown eyes. “Doing someone else is different, you know.”
“Well, just don’t slit my throat,” he joked. “I didn’t survive a gunshot only to have you kill me.”
His words saddened me. He’d been through so much, yet he was able to joke about it.
“I’m sorry, Gene,” he said as he grabbed my hand and wrapped his around it tightly.
I looked down at him. “I could never hurt you,” I replied. “Never.” He laid back and I continued to shave him, but the lighthearted atmosphere we had shared earlier was gone.
Nicky was visiting him soon, and he wanted to look presentable. He had asked me to help him shave and comb his hair. When I entered the room, he was cheerful and excited. Now, I had ruined his excitement.
“How about a goatee?” I asked. I had shaved the side of his face, and I was getting ready to do his chin, but I was surprised how handsome he looked with the beginnings of a goatee. It suited his face perfectly.
“Really?” he asked. “I’ve never thought about it before.”
“It would make you more handsome than you already are,” I replied without thinking. He gave me a puzzled look.
“And what would you know about a man being handsome,” he laughed.
I looked down at him and smiled. “You’d be surprised.” I then began the task of sculpting a perfect goatee for him. He didn’t say anything, but several times he’d look up and our eyes would meet.
I had applied hair spray and was putting the finishing touches on his hair when he shouted, “I have to pee!”
“Okay,” I laughed. “You have to pee. I’ve never seen anyone become so excited about going to the bathroom.”
“No,” he said excitedly. “You don’t understand.” He looked around the room.
“Quick,” he shouted. “Get me a bedpan.” I got up and started searching the room. I finally found one under the sink. When I turned, he had removed the cover and pulled back his nightgown. He was tugging at his cock.
“Here, Gene,” he said excitedly. “Put it here.” I walked over and positioned the bedpan under his cock. He tugged on it several times, and finally piss began to flow into the bedpan.
“Thank you, Jesus!” he shouted loudly. I laughed as I watched him excitedly pee.
“What is going on?” I asked.
“Dr. Singh told me that if my bladder didn’t work, I’d have to wear a bag,” he said. “Look, I can pee! I can pee!”
I watched in amazement as he pulled his cock from the bedpan and stroked it a couple of times. We both watched as it began to harden. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was the first time I’d ever seen him naked, and he was stroking his cock in front of me to get it hard.
“It works!” He shrieked. “Look, Gene! It works!” I stood mesmerized. He looked up and then quickly covered himself.
“Sorry,” he apologized. “I got carried away.” I couldn’t help but laugh as his face reddened brightly.
“It’s okay, Joey,” I laughed. “I enjoyed the show.”