I'm lying in my hospital bed after an emergency appendectomy. Worse is that I had the attack while eating lunch with my boss at a good restaurant. I remember the agonizing pain and little more until I woke up in this room. The humiliation comes from the fact that it's my first job and I began work just last month. Now I've got to take a couple of weeks off and I'm bored silly, not to mention lonely. I'm in a semi-private room but the other bed is empty. I hate TV and that's all left to me as a diversion. The boss came by to see me yesterday, but despite my begging him to bring my laptop and let me do some work, he told me not until the doctor told him I was fit.
Nobody believes me when I tell them I'm a fast healer and feel great already. Okay, so I have a little pain from the incision, but crumbs! What's so strenuous about writing a contract proposal? I nod off to be awakened by the clatter of a gurney being pushed into the room.
The orderlies lift someone into the other bed, and leave, so I drift back off. I awaken when the nurse pushes the bed table around and plops a tray on it. Ugh! It's the second day, but they're still giving me some sort of pap that's mushy and tasteless. I glance across and see a teenaged kid in the other bed. His tray holds a meal that makes me salivate, hospital food or not.
His right leg has a rod extending from above his knee to the ankle, with pins at each end sticking into his leg which is suspended in a sling hanging from a bar across the bed. He's thin with pale skin and thick black hair, unusually attractive. He hasn't yet looked my way.
"Care to trade dinners?"
He looks at me warily, glances at my tray, and shakes his head.
Not much of a talker, I guess, so I spoon up some of the pap. It's as bad as it was yesterday, but I didn't feel like eating then. Now, I'm ravenous enough to sell my soul for a steak and a baked potato loaded with sour cream and chives. I choke some of it down before pushing the tray aside. Meanwhile, the kid is shoveling his dinner down as if it's cordon bleu. When he finishes, he burps. He glances at me and mutters, "Sorry."
"Don't be. At least you got something fit to eat."
When the nurse picks up our trays after giving me a lecture about how little I've eaten, the kid says, "You care if I turn on the TV?"
"Not at all." It's equipped with pillow speakers, so I turn mine off. Dawson's Creek is just beginning and the kid seems absorbed. I pick up a news magazine I bought from the cart the pink lady pushes around twice a day.
I can't help noticing the TV from time to time, then set the magazine aside and turn my speaker on. Just as I guessed from the action taking place, one of the kids in the show is gay. He's talking about it openly with one of his friends, who appears accepting. When the friend puts his arm around the gay boy's shoulders, I hear a quiet sniffle from the other bed. My roommate is reaching for a tissue, tears running down his cheeks.
I'm wondering what the empathy is, but wait until the program ends and he switches the TV off.
"You seemed to like Dawson's Creek."
"First time I've seen it. Seems to be well produced and acted."
"Wish life was good as that, but it ain't."
"Don't guess TV can afford to be too real, or people wouldn't watch. It's all fantasy and escapism."
"Wish I could escape," he says bitterly and turns his head away.
I don't know why, but I suddenly feel a strong compassion for this kid though he says nothing more.
The next morning, the pink lady comes by with her cart. It's stocked with new magazines, so I buy a morning paper and the new issue of a home design magazine. I normally read it at the office, but know I won't get to see it for a while. I do basic design and contract proposals for a large-scale developer.
She pushes the cart over to the kid's bed. He starts to reach for a muscle builders magazine, but drops his hand and shakes his head. I'm guessing he has no money, so I say, "Go head, I'll get it."
A few minutes later, a burley man with a furious expression storms into the room, grabs the magazine out of the kid's hands and throws it across the room. "Who told you you could have that, you worthless little faggot," he yells.
I see the kid cringe. "That's my magazine and I don't appreciate having it torn up before I can read it," I snarl.
He picks it up and throws it at me. "Read it then," he snaps, then turns back to the kid. "I ought to whup your worthless ass. Wasting my money being here. Weren't nothing wrong with you. Now them meddling bastards from welfare are on my ass. You get home, you get your stuff and get out." With that, he leaves as precipitously as he came.
The kid turns his face to the wall, but with the shaking of his shoulders, I can tell he's sobbing quietly. All I can think of is how I would have loved to have hit that guy on the head with the enamel urinal in my night stand, preferably with it filled.
The kid must have gone to sleep, for I see the nurse shaking him gently. "Here's your lunch, Chris. I'll raise the bed for you."
"Don't want none," he mumbles, but she pays him no attention. She sets my tray in front of me - more pap. As soon as she leaves, he begins to pick at the meal, quite a contrast to the way he ate last night.
The orderly comes in about two to give me a sponge bath. It feels good. When he's done he pulls the curtain back before handing me the top of my clean pyjamas. I see the kid look over at me, then his look of surprise. I ask the orderly to hand the magazine back to the kid when he turns to bathe him. Again, he's careless about drawing the curtain. I hear him whistle and look over to see the kid's back is crisscrossed with old scars, and new bruises. The orderly is surprisingly gentle as he bathes the kid. When he leaves, the kid looks at me. "Thanks for giving the magazine back. I wish I had a build like you."
"Guess I'm lucky, because I don't work at it that much. Just some swimming. I worked for a farm supply store when I was in school. Lifting those fifty-pound bags of grain all day put some muscles on me. You like to work out?"
"I ain't much into sports. I like blading, but only done it twice. Ain't got no blades of my own."
"You mean those in-line skates I see the kids on?"
"I'd like to try that at least once. Looks a lot like ice-skating. I enjoy that when I can get to a rink."
"Ain't that harder? I mean them skinny little blades on ice?"
"They're hollow ground so there are two edges which are quite sharp. They cut into the ice." I grin. "Of course it's easy to bust your ass."
"I guess, but them guys that play hockey are sure good. Looks like fun."
"My ankles are too weak for hockey skates. If you've noticed, those guys have thick ankles."
"I guess. My name's Chris."
"I'm Trevor. Was that your dad?" I'm immediately sorry I asked, for Chris flinches.
"Yeah. I don't know what I'm gonna do when they let me out of here. I hope he don't throw my stuff out before I get it. I hope he ain't home either, or he'll beat me agin."
I see tears in his eyes. "You heard 'im. I can't do nothin' right. He hates me cause I ain't big enough to help him on the truck."
"He drives a big tractor trailer rig, and sometimes he has to unload stuff. I'm glad I ain't strong enough, cause I like school and he'd make me quit to help 'im."
"Is that why he called you a fag?"
Chris blushes. I think for a moment he isn't going to answer, then he shakes his head. "He caught me and a guy I know from school together. He kicked me down the stairs, that's how come my leg's busted."
"He shouldn't have done that. It's not your fault you like guys better than girls."
"How you know?"
"Because I'm gay. I'm not out so let this be our secret, okay?"
Chris gives me a tiny smile. It transforms his face. "You're okay, Trevor."
Now that he knows and seems to trust me, Chris tells me a story that breaks my heart. It's a shame someone hasn't called the cops on his father for the constant abuse he's given his son.
The next day they have me walking. I'm not surprised that I feel fine. Like I said, I heal fast. When I come back from my exercise, Chris asks me to shut the door and stand by his bed so he can see my build. After I take off my pyjama top he strokes my chest and abs. "You're beautiful, Trev. I wish I had a bod like yours."
I stroke his hair. "You're a nice looking young man, Chris. All you need is to put on some weight and start getting some exercise. How old are you?"
"Fifteen. I'll be sixteen next month."
I feel suddenly tired, so I get back in bed and go to sleep. Being awakened by the nurse bringing my dinner is worth it. Real food at last! It may not be gourmet, but after the pap it tastes that way to me.
Two days later, the doctor tells me I can go home, but not to lift anything heavy for the next week. I tell him I have a desk job, so he tells me I can return to work if I take it easy. I tell Chris goodbye.
He looks at me with moist eyes. "I like you lots, Trev. Come back to see me. Please?"
"I'll be happy to. You've been a good roommate, and I like you a lot." I slip a twenty into the drawer of his nightstand. "Get yourself something else to read. Is there anything I can bring you when I come?"
"Naw, man. Just seeing you will be enough. Ain't nobody else cares if I live or die."
"I care, Chris." I bend over and kiss him on the forehead. He's still crying softly when I leave.
I see him every other day for the next week, then the room is empty. The nurse tells me he's been released. I wish I knew where he lived, so I could see if he's all right. I know he'll be on crutches for a while.
Two days later I get a call at my desk from one of the nurses I had. She tells me Chris is back in the hospital and asking for me. As soon as I can get away, I drive there and go up the floor I was on.
The nurse sees me. "I'm so glad you came. He's in bad shape."
The moment I walk through the door Chris holds out his arms and begins to sob. I hold him until he's quiet. "What happened, Chris?"
He lifts the sheet aside so I can see that his right leg has been amputated above the knee.
"I'm so sorry, Chris. What happened?"
Between sniffles he tells me that when they released him from the hospital he managed to walk all the way across town on his crutches and was getting his things together when his father came home. It seems he jammed some of Chris' things in an old backpack and threw it down the stairs, all the while swearing at Chris to get out and never come back. When Chris couldn't move fast enough on his crutches to suit him, his father pushed him down the stairs.
By now he's crying again. I'm trying to comfort him as best I can when a young policeman I know slightly comes in. "That you, Trevor? Didn't expect to see you here."
I let Chris go and straighten up. "Chris and I shared a room a few weeks back and got to know each other. The nurse called me. You want to speak to him?"
He holds up a ragged backpack. "We found this at his house. I figured he'd want it."
Chris manages a tiny smile. "Thanks. I don't know if I got everything or not, but I sure need what's in there."
"Can I speak to you outside for a minute, Bill?" I ask the cop.
"Sure. Hope you're better soon, Chris." He grins. "We got your old man in jail."
"Keep him 'til he rots."
I follow Bill out into the hall. "Any chance you can let me in the house to see if there's anything else that belongs to Chris?"
"Ain't supposed to, but I still got a key from locking the place up. I just got off duty, so we can go now. Just keep it quiet."
"Let me ask Chris if there's anything I should look for special."
After talking with Chris for a moment, I learn he's been saving what money he could and where he's hidden it. He also wants the picture of his mother from his room, and anything else I see that's his.
I ride with Bill since he offers to drive and knows where the house is. "What's going to happen to Chris now?"
"Don't know. By the time this all comes to court he'll be sixteen. In this state that's legal age, so he won't be taken care of by child welfare. I wish somebody had called us before so we could have saved him all those beatings." He shakes his head. "You should of seen the sergeant when he saw those scars on the kid's back. I mean Sarge has seen about everything, but if the guys hadn't already hauled his old man off I expect Sarge would of killed him. I've never seen him so mad. He's getting' up a little purse from the guys at the station to try to help the kid out."
"That's good of you. You know why they had to take Chris' leg?"
The ambulance medics said when he went down the stairs it tore that rod out and one of the pins tore an artery so badly it couldn't be fixed. Cuttin' his leg off was the only way. Here we are."
The house is a basic dump. Bill finally gets one small light to work and we climb the stairs, feeling them shake under us. Using a cigarette lighter in the darkness because none of the lights work, he takes me to Chris' room, and switches on the one weak bulb. Considering what I've seen of the rest of the house, it's immaculate except for the stuff his father has thrown around. There are a few clothes, his schoolbooks and several paperbacks - a few of them gay. I gather them up and put them in a box Bill has brought along. I finally locate the loose board in the back of the closet and pull out an old cookie tin.
I take it and sit down on the bed. "Bill, come count this with me. It's money Chris has somehow saved."
Bill verifies my count. The boy has managed to save a little over five hundred dollars. "Don't know how he did it, but it makes me feel better that he's got a little something," Bill says as I stuff the money back in the tin.
"At least he's tried to keep his things clean and orderly. God, I feel so sorry for him."
"I do, too. Guess we've got everything."
I look around and see the small snapshot of a young woman in a cheap frame on the dresser. I pick it up. "We have now. Let's go."
While Bill is locking the door, a man comes over from the next house. "What you all doin' in there? Williams is gonna be mad as hell when he finds out."
"I'm a police officer. The boy's in the hospital with his leg cut off, thanks to that son of a bitch. We're getting his things for 'im."
The man shakes his head. "Williams ain't gonna like it."
"And how come you're so damned concerned with what he's gonna like?"
"We kind of look out fer each other in this neighborhood, so I was wonderin' who was in the house."
Bill's temper gets the best of him. "If you're so goddamned concerned, why the hell didn't you call us when he was beatin' the shit out of a young kid? Take your nosy ass back home before I run you in for interfering with police business."
I can see under the dome light that Bill's face is still red when we get in his car. "Concerned, shit!" He snarls.
While he's driving me back to the hospital I make a sudden decision. "Bill, when they let him out he's going to need care for a while. Does he have any place to go?"
"Not that I know of. That's what's got the sarge worried. Seems his kid goes to school with Chris and says he's a good kid."
"What if he comes to live with me? I've got twin beds. He can have one."
"You willing to do that? I mean you only spent a few days in the same room with him. You don't owe him nothing."
"No. But he's a nice kid, he likes school, and I wouldn't mind having him around for a while, at least until he's well enough to take care of himself. There's got to be a lot of good in Chris. You saw how neat his room was."
"I figured him for a good kid when we carried him to the hospital last time. I know he must have been hurting like hell, but he never whimpered once. It's damn nice of you to want to help him. The sarge will be glad to hear it, cause I'll vouch for you."
"Thanks, Bill. I appreciate it."
Bill carries the box containing Chris' things up to his room. Chris' face lights up. "You got 'em." He motions me over and whispers, "You get my money?"
"And the picture, too. Bill helped me count it so you'd know I didn't take any of it."
"Aw, I trust you, Trevor."
"What you want to do with it, Chris. You shouldn't keep that much money here."
"Will you keep it for me 'til I get outta here?"
"I'll be glad to. I'll put it in the bank for you, so it will be safe. Want me to take your other stuff to my place as well?"
"You'll do that? Thanks, Trevor."
"Visiting hours are over. All visitors please leave." The system announces.
Chris holds out his arms. "Come back to see me."
I hug him. "I'll come every evening when I leave work. If you want anything, tell Nurse Andrews and she'll call me."
"Just long as you come. That's all I want." He looks at Bill. "Thanks for lettin' Trevor get my stuff from home."
"Glad to, Chris. Mind if I come see you, too?"
"You will? That's great."
Since Bill has a small studio flat on the floor below mine, he follows me home and puts Chris' things by the bed he will have.
"Thanks for everything, Bill. Got time for a beer?"
"Just one. I gotta go in early tomorrow."
The next evening I'm just finishing the frozen dinner I nuked when there's a knock at my door. It's Bill.
"You going to see Chris tonight?"
"Just about to leave."
"Can I ride with you? My car's acting a little funny so I gotta take it to the shop tomorrow."
"Glad to have you."
Chris starts to smile the minute we walk into his room. "Guess what? They let me up today. I'm gonna be walking every day." Then his face clouds. "The doctor said I could go home the end of next week, but I ain't got no place to go."
"You have a place, Chris."
He looks hopeful. "Where?"
"My flat, if you want. You'll be going back to school, too."
He holds out his arms and I bend to let him hug me. "For real?"
"For real. We'll work out something while I'm at work."
"I love you, man."
"You sure made that kid happy," Bill comments as we're walking back to my car.
Bill with me most evenings, I visit Chris regularly. Nurse Andrews tells me our visits have done more to help him than anything else. She says he brags to everyone about his two best friends.
Bill has the early shift and I've given him a key to my flat, so he picks Chris up from the hospital the afternoon he's released. When I get home, I find Bill has him all settled in. He's ordered pizza because Chris asked for it. After we've eaten there's a knock at my door. Bill surprises me by saying he'll get it. I help Chris up and we get into the living room as Bill admits a large man in a police sergeant's uniform. He introduces Sgt. Andrews to me and Chris, telling us that the sergeant's wife is the nurse I like so much.
After a few minutes chat, Sgt. Andrews pulls an envelope from his pocket and hands it to Chris. "Son, the men at the station feel awful bad about what's happened to you, so we put together a little something to help you out."
The envelope contains nearly two hundred dollars. Chris looks dumbfounded. "All those cops giving me this?"
"Yes, son. We wanted to help. Use it wisely."
Forgetting, Chris jumps up to shake the sergeant's hand. Bill's fast action keeps him from falling. "Thank you, sir. And thank them all for me." He hands me the money. "Trevor's gonna put it in the bank for me 'til I need it. He's lettin' me stay here for now."
"I'm glad for you, son, Mr. Kenneston is a good man. When you can get around real well, I hope he'll bring you to the station to meet the men."
"I will, sir. I wanna thank them all."
"They'll appreciate that. I'll be going' now. See you tomorrow, Bill."
"Sure thing, Sarge. Thanks for bringing this by."
"I'd better be going, too." Bill nods toward the door, so I follow him out into the hall. "What you going to do with Chris while you're at work tomorrow? Don't look like he should be alone just yet."
"I'm taking him to the office with me. He likes to read, so he can do that."
"Wish I could stay with him, but I got the early shift. Want me to pick him up when I get off?"
"That will help. Thanks."
Chris has found a book in my small collection he wants to read, so I tell him to save it for tomorrow. By the time I help him bathe and get him in bed, I'm ready to turn in myself, because I'll have to help him in the morning and fix breakfast for us both.
I'm lucky there's a small sofa in my office. I get Chris settled with his book and go to work. Bill stops by for him about three-thirty. They've hardly left when my phone rings. It's my boss and he's not exactly happy when he tells me to come to his office.
"What my employees do after work is none of my business, but what was that kid doing in your office today?"
I explain the circumstances, and that he will need help for a few more days.
"This is a business, not a nursing home. Worse was that policeman coming for him. People see that and they'll wonder what kind of business I'm running."
"Officer West lives in the same building as I, so he'll be stopping by to take Chris home on the days he has an early shift. We're doing our best to help the boy make some kind of life for himself with one leg."
"I don't like it at all. I don't want him here interrupting your work."
"He doesn't, sir. He reads and when he needed to relieve himself I did also, on my usual break. I wasted none of my work time."
"How long is this to go on?"
"Until his doctor says he can go back to school."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, sir. You'll have my resignation on your desk when I leave today."
He looks astonished. "You care that much for some kid you've picked up from God knows where?"
"Yes, sir, I do. And I have the backing of all the men at the police station. Chris is a damn fine kid, and he's also of age if that's what's bothering you."
"I still don't like it, but since he'll be going back to school soon I guess I can live with it. Just make damn sure the level of your work doesn't fall off. I need those estimates finished, the deadline is close on three of them."
"They'll be ready tomorrow and I'll keep my work up to date."
"See that you do."
By now I'm ready to quit, but I know I'll never find another job that pays as well as this one, and I'm going to need the money for Chris and me.
By good luck Bill has a couple of days off the next week, so he stays with Chris. The regular visits he has to make to the doctor are done on my lunch hour if Bill is working, so my boss can't complain, though my stomach does. Chris and I grab a sandwich on the way back to work, and eat it in my office with coffee from the office pot.
We're all relieved when the doctor tells Chris there's no reason he can't return to school if he's careful about his stump. He's steady on his crutches now, so I'm not too worried about him. I drop him off each morning and the school has a van to accommodate handicapped students that he rides home. He has a lot of catching up to do. I can help him with his math and science, and, thankfully, Bill is good at English and history.
Bill surprises me one evening when Chris leaves us to take his bath. "Are you gay, Trev?"
I've gotten to know him well enough I think he can be trusted, so I answer, "Yes, and so's Chris. He told me when we roomed together."
"Then I'm glad he has you. I'm not gay, but it makes no difference to me that you are."
"I'm glad, because both Chris and I think the world of you. But you've never mentioned seeing anyone. I hope all your help with Chris hasn't taken your time from dating."
His eyes bore into mine. "Do you find me attractive, Trev?"
"To be honest, very. Why?"
"Because you've never made a move on me."
"I never saw any sign you would be interested, and you just told me you're straight."
"Every time I see you hug Chris and sort of cuddle him, it tears me up inside cause I've got nobody to love me either. I had cancer when I was about Chris' age and they…" he drops his eyes and I see the sudden pain, "they castrated me. How can I get any pleasure in dating or think about marrying when I have no sex function? Being with you guys is as close as I'll ever come to enjoying a real family or having a kid." He wipes his eyes. "Sorry. I just wanted you to know why I've been hanging around so much."
"Oh, God, buddy. I'm so sorry." I put my arm around him. "You're always welcome here, Bill. Chris thinks a lot of you, and so do I. Right now I'm in a little bit of a bind, because while Chris and I sleep together, he's making a few friends at school, and I want him to feel free to bring them home if he wants. It would look funny if he didn't have a room of his own, but I can't spring for a bigger flat just now. I've been thinking, how would you feel about pooling our rent and getting a three bedrooom flat."
"You want me to move in with you?"
"If you don't mind giving up some of your privacy."
Bill grabs me in a crushing hug. "Let's go for it!"
"Even if it gets out you're living with a gay man and a kid?"
"The guys on the force somehow found out why I don't date. It makes them uncomfortable so they stopped asking me to hang around with them. If we do find a place together, will you hug me when I need it?"
"Damn right, buddy. Chris will, too."
The first of the month we move into the larger flat. Chris is happy Bill is with us and he's making good grades in school. Bill and I have started saving what we can for the kid to go on to college when he graduates. After that maybe we can afford a leg for him, though Chris says his crutches are no problem.
I'm thankful now for that damned appendix of mine. It created a happy loving family from three lost souls.