Now That You're Here - The College Years
By the time they got to the hospital, both Brian and Justin were quietly lost in thought. They quickly made their way to the emergency room and found Zac pacing the waiting room with tears streaming down his face. Justin raced to his side.
“Hey, how is he?”
“I don’t know,” Zac cried as he pulled Justin into a tight hug. “They won’t tell me anything because I’m not family. I was going to call his parents and have them give permission for me to be next of kin until they can get out here, but I don’t have their number on me.”
“Shhh…it’s okay. I’ll call them now. But he’s…I mean…how…what happened?”
“I’m not even sure. He was supposed to be home two hours ago. We had plans to go out tonight. When he didn’t show up, I called his cell phone. Campus police answered. Jason was already being loaded into the ambulance. The guy told me that they found him…” A sob escaped and Zac couldn’t go on.
“It’s okay,” Brian said, jumping in and taking Zac into his arms. “Babe, why don’t you call his parents now so they can work on getting a flight out? When you’re done, I’ll call Chris and Zan. They’ll want to know what’s going on.”
Justin just nodded and pulled out his phone as he headed towards the doors. Brian pulled back and looked at Zac closely. “Why don’t you go splash some water on your face? The girl behind the admissions desk is in my psych class. I’ll go see if she’ll tell me anything.”
“Thanks,” Zac whispered.
Brian watched him go then walked over to where Stephanie was sitting, typing away on her keyboard. “Hey Steph.”
“Brian, what are you doing here?”
“A friend of mine is here. Jason Meyers? He was attacked on campus?”
“Oh shit, yeah. He was brought in a little while ago. The nurse was hoping to get some information out of him but he’s been in and out of consciousness since his arrival. I just got back from my break so I don’t know if they got what they needed.”
“Well, his boyfriend is out here, as well as his best friend. What do you need to know?”
“The nurses were trying to get the number of his parents so they could be notified.”
“They’re being notified as we speak. Justin just went outside to call them. He’s known the family his entire life. How is he? I mean…I know you’re not supposed to give out any information, but…”
Stephanie looked around and made sure no one was around. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll find out what I can.”
“Thanks,” Brian replied with relief. He left the desk and walked back to the waiting area just as Zac came out of the bathroom. “Stephanie is going to find out what’s going on.”
“Oh, thank God,” Zac sighed with relief. “I’m going crazy here. He has to be okay, Brian. He has to be.”
“I know, Buddy.”
Justin came back a few minutes later, his face damp with tears. “They’re on their way to the airport now. They’re hoping to be able to catch a flight right away. Any news yet?”
“Not yet, but the girl at the desk is in my psych class so she’s going to find out what she can. I’ll wait until we know something and then call home.”
The three of them fell silent after that while they waited for news. It seemed to take forever before Stephanie appeared before them looking grim. “They just took him down for x-rays. He finally regained consciousness, which is good, but he’s been pretty badly beaten. They won’t know the extent of his injuries until they’re finished running the tests. Now that he’s awake though, you should be able to see him. Once he’s back from x-ray that is. I’ll check with the doctor and let you know when you can see him.”
“Thank you so much, Steph,” Brian said.
“Just remember this when I need someone to copy off of in class,” Stephanie teased.
“You got it,” Brian agreed.
Once Stephanie was gone, the three of them fell back into silence, each one lost in thought. Brian wasn’t only terrified for his friend. Now that some of the initial shock had worn off, the enormity of the situation was starting to sink in. The attack took place on campus. Someone entered their space and brutally attacked an innocent person, and unless Jason knew who it was, that person was still out there. It made the thought of returning to classes on Monday pretty scary. Not to mention that Justin had a late class on Monday nights. There was no way Brian was going to let him leave the class alone at night and take the shuttle by himself.
It was close to an hour later when Stephanie called out to Brian. Jason was back from x-ray and just finishing up with the police. He’d finally be able to see visitors while they waited for the results of the tests. They jumped up from their seats and hurried back to where Jason had been resting. Zac couldn’t help the gasp of surprise when he saw his boyfriend lying in the hospital bed. The sound alerted Jason to his guests.
“Hey guys,” Jason muttered softly, his voice scratchy from the ordeal.
“Jas,” Zac cried as he raced to Jason’s side and carefully took his hand. The sight of his boyfriend covered in cuts and bruises tore at his heart. “Oh my God, are you okay?”
“Um…I think so. They have me on some pretty strong painkillers so I don’t really feel much of anything right now, which is probably a good thing. The doctor said that he’d let me know what’s going on as soon as he got all the test results back, but that he was definitely going to admit me for observation.”
“Jas,” Justin began softly, taking his other, unoccupied hand. “I talked to your mom and dad. They’re going to catch the first flight out.”
“Thanks. They’re probably freaking out, huh?”
“Yeah, pretty much. Maybe I should go call them and let them know that I’ve seen you and that you’re okay,” Justin suggested.
“Um…Zac, do you think you could call them for me? I kind of want to talk to Justin for a minute,” Jason said. He could see the hurt that crossed Zac’s face and felt bad, but he needed to talk to someone and the only one he could even imagine talking to was Justin. “I’m sorry Z, please don’t be mad.”
Zac shook his head and did his best to smile, although he doubted it looked genuine. “I’m not mad. I’ll take Justin’s phone and call them while Brian calls Chris and Zan. I’ll give you about ten minutes, okay?”
“Thanks Z. Give me a kiss before you go?”
Zac leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on Jason’s lips, careful not to put any pressure on the cut that was there. “We’ll be back.”
Zac took Justin’s phone and then walked out of the room, not bothering to see if Brian was behind him. He stalked back to the waiting room and through the doors, thankful when he got his first breath of fresh air. He kept walking towards the parking lot, ignoring Brian’s calls as he went. He was almost to his car when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey Zac, wait up. I know you’re hurt, but he didn’t mean anything by it,” Brian said as he stood in front of Zac.
“No, of course not. He just went through a traumatic ordeal. His parents are over 2000 miles away, and he’s known Justin his whole life. It’s not surprising that he’d reach out to him. Cut him some slack. I’m sure it has nothing to do with you.”
Zac sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s just…I want to be the one he needs, you know?”
“Yeah, I know. And you will be. I imagine that after a trauma like this, he’s going to need all of us.”
“Damn Bri, where you’d learn this stuff?” Zac teased before sobering. “You know, you’re pretty smart when it comes to figuring people out.”
“It comes from all those hours I spent with Megan. You can’t pour your heart out to a shrink for years and not learn a thing or two. Now you’d better call the Meyers and see if you can catch them before they get on a plane. Maybe you can ease their mind before takeoff. I’ll call Chris and Zan.”
“Alright, and thanks Brian. Now’s not the time for me to be freaking out. Jason needs me to be there for him.”
“That’s what friends are for,” Brian said as he hugged his friend.
Once they were alone, Jason looked at Justin and let his tears fall. “Oh Jus.”
Justin was horrified by his friend’s breakdown. He pulled up a chair and sat down, taking both of Jason’s hands in his. “What is it? Are you okay? Do you need me to get the doctor?”
Jason couldn’t seem to stop the tears, but he shook his head to let Justin know that he didn’t need a doctor. All he really needed was to turn back time. He needed to go back to the moment right before he left class and take another route, maybe walk out with the rest of the class instead of hanging back to ask his professor a question. He needed to erase the horrible moments that left him changed forever.
Justin didn’t know what to do. Jason was a wreck and it broke his heart to see his friend like that. “Shhh…Jas, it’s okay. It’s over now. You’re safe. Please don’t cry.”
Jason heard Justin’s plea and did his best to calm down. He knew he didn’t have much time before Zac and Brian returned and he needed to say it. He had to say it out loud. “Jus, I was so scared. He was so strong and he threw me down like I weighed nothing at all. After all those years of swimming and working out at the gym, none of it matter. I couldn’t get him off me.”
“I don’t think it works that way. The element of surprise, the fear…it gives them the advantage over their victims. It’s not your fault, but it’s okay. It’s all over now.”
“No, it’s not. You don’t understand, Jus.”
“Well no, I’ve never been attacked like this but…”
“He hurt me, Jus.”
“I know Jas, I…”
“No…listen to what I’m saying. He hurt me.” Jason could see the confusion on his friend’s face and knew he’d have to say the words. He’d have to spell it out for him. Of course he would. Even on Justin’s best day, his mind wouldn’t automatically go to such a dark place. Up until two hours ago, his wouldn’t have either. “After he got the pleasure of hitting me and kicking me, I was laying on the ground and he…he climbed on top of me and he…he ripped my pants off and he…”
Realization dawned suddenly and Justin’s whole body went cold as he fought the urge to throw up. “Oh God, Jason…”
“Why Jus? Why did he do it?” Jason cried. “He’d already hurt me. He’d already violated me by attacking me and hurting me just for the fun of it. Why did he have to…I’ve never done that before, you know? Zac and I, we’ve been waiting for the right moment. All of those times we were fooling around and I kept making him wait. I told him that I wanted it to be special; that I wanted to wait until the perfect moment. I always imagined it happening while we were on vacation somewhere. Maybe some place warm. This bastard took that from us. Why did he do it?”
Justin took Jason in his arms as he tried to wrap his mind around what his best friend had been through. He’d thought the worst thing about the night had been the beating, but that scumbag didn’t stop there. He had to…God, Justin couldn’t even think about it. As Jason sobbed in his arms, his own tears were falling freely. How do people recover from something like this? How does a person put something so painful and horrifying behind them and move on? Justin didn’t have any words of comfort for his friend so he just continued to hold him as he fought to regain his composure.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” Jason begged when his tears finally subsided. “I don’t want Zac to know what happened. I don’t want him to look at me differently.”
“Jas, Zac wouldn’t do that. What happened to you is not your fault. He’d have no reason to look at you any differently.”
“Please Jus…I just don’t want him to know.”
Justin could see the desperation in Jason’s eyes and nodded. “Okay, I won’t say a word, but please think about talking to him. Zac loves you and is going to be by your side through this. He should know exactly what you’re dealing with.”
“I just…I just can’t.”
Before Justin could say anything more on the subject, Brian and Zac walked back in with grim expressions on their faces. “I managed to catch your parents right before they got on their flight so they know you’re awake. They’ll be here as soon as they can,” Zac offered.
“Yeah, and Chris was ready to jump in the car and drive right up, but I talked him out of it. I figured that by the time they got here, visiting hours would be over. I’m sure the hospital will make an exception for your parents, but not your friends’ guardians. I’m going to call them in the morning and let them know what’s going on. They figured you’d be out of commission until at least after the holidays so they offered up the house for you to stay in while you recover. Unless you’re planning on flying back to Pittsburgh with your parents, of course. But the offer is there if you need it,” Brian said.
“Thanks guys, and thank Chris when you talk to him again. I haven’t even thought about what happens next. I can tell you right now that I wouldn’t be opposed to staying away from campus for awhile. I really don’t want to…well, I guess I’ll figure things out as I go.”
“So, do you know who…um…who did this?” Zac finally asked, still slightly shocked by how badly his boyfriend was bruised.
“No, I don’t know him. I did see his face, though. I told the cops that I could pick him out of a line-up or whatever, but I don’t remember seeing him before today,” Jason replied.
“Was he a student, do you think?” Brian asked curiously.
“I’m not sure. He could be, but he was definitely older than us. I’d say mid 20’s at least.”
“Well, did you…” Zac began.
“Listen, would you mind if we not talk about it right now? I’m sorry, but this pain medication is making me so tired and I’ve already answered a million questions for the cops. I just really don’t want to think about it anymore right now.”
“Of course you don’t,” Justin jumped in, being the only other one in the room that knew the true extent of what Jason had been through. “We’re just curious, but it’s okay. Consider the subject dropped. So, can you believe that we only have another month until our first semester is over? I personally can’t wait to move back home for awhile and let the parental units wait on me again.”
Justin’s statement did its job, breaking the tension in the room as everyone laughed at his joke. Not long after that, the nurse came back in and shooed everyone away. Jason had some more tests that needed to be done. Brian and Justin said their goodbyes, while Zac promised to be out in the waiting room. He had no intention of leaving anytime soon. Zac walked Brian and Justin to the jeep and said goodbye before heading back inside. After a quick phone call to his mother to tell her what happened and get some motherly support, he went back to where Jason had been and took a seat while he waited for his boyfriend’s return. It was going to be a long night.
As Zander pulled into the driveway after an extremely long day at work, he couldn’t help but smile over how good things were going in his life. He and Chris were stronger than ever, Sophia was thriving, Brian and Justin were excelling in school and business at the bookstore was booming. He was worried that places like his were going to end up closing down due to electronic readers and on line shopping, but so far things were still going strong. In fact, one of the reasons he was so late getting home on a Friday night was because he had a meeting with his landlord. The candle shop next door was closing and after careful consideration, Zan had decided that he wanted to take it over. He didn’t need more room for books. Instead he wanted to turn the left side of the shop into an internet café. He figured that if he couldn’t beat modern technology, he’d join it. He was even going to put in a small stage where local talent could perform on open mic nights to help pull in more customers. Business may be good, but realistically he knew that regular bookstores were going to be obsolete. He didn’t want to lose his livelihood when the time came.
His landlord seemed very interested in his plans, and agreed to consider allowing him to knock down the wall and expand. Now all Zan had to do was have an architect draw up the plans so he could submit them for approval. He couldn’t wait to share his news with Chris. Glancing at his watch, he was surprised to see that it was after eight. Poor Chris had been alone with Sophia all afternoon since Steve was running the shop and Zan stayed for his meeting. Grabbing his cell phone, Zan made his way inside. Chris was sitting alone in the living room lost in thought.
“Hey Babe, what’s going on? Is everything alright?” he asked as he approached his partner.
“Brian called a little while ago. Jason was attacked on campus earlier today. He was beat up pretty bad,” Chris told him softly.
“Oh my God, is he alright?”
“Yeah, I guess so. They were still running tests, but he was awake and coherent when Brian saw him. They’re admitting him for observation. I guess we’ll find out more tomorrow. All I could think about when Brian told me was that I was glad that it wasn’t him or Justin. And now I feel so guilty for thinking that. I mean, I’m glad it wasn’t Brian or Justin, but Jason? He’s a part of our family, too. I want to go find the piece of shit that did this and choke the life out of him.”
“Babe, there’s no need to feel guilty. I think it’s only natural that you’d be relieved that it wasn’t our boys. It’s not like you’re happy that it was Jason. God, how horrible. Do they know who did it? Has anyone been arrested?”
“I don’t know. Brian wasn’t sure of the details. He just wanted to let us know what happened. He’s going to call tomorrow and let me know what’s going on. I wanted to jump in the car and drive up there tonight, but that would be pointless. By the time we got there, we wouldn’t be able to see him anyway. I’m assuming that Jason will be taking a few days off at least. I told Brian that Jason could stay here through the holiday if he wanted to. I would imagine he wouldn’t want to be on campus for awhile.”
“Of course he can, unless Jeff and Karen want to take him home. I just can’t believe…wow. Poor Jason. I hope they get the bastard that did this,” Zan replied. “Have you eaten anything? I haven’t eaten since this morning and although I’m not as hungry as I was before you told me what happened to Jason, I still need to eat. Wanna join me?”
“I’m not hungry, but I’ll keep you company in the kitchen while you eat. I made stew in the crockpot today. All you have to do is heat it up,” Chris told him.
“That sounds good. Let’s go,” Zan said as he got up and headed towards the kitchen with Chris following right behind him. “How was Sophia today? I hate not being able to see her before bed.”
“She was perfect, as always,” Chris beamed with pride. “It still amazes me how awesome she is after everything she’s been through in her short life. There are some papers in her backpack that you need to look over. The school’s having some kind of parents’ day in a couple of weeks. She was pretty upset at first. She thought she couldn’t go because she didn’t have any parents. She said both of hers are dead. It broke my heart.”
“Oh, how horrible,” Zan said, his heart going out to his little sister. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her that even though you’re technically her brother, she could think of us as a second set of parents, stepping in for her mom and dad because they couldn’t be here with her any longer. That seemed to cheer her up.”
Zander looked at Chris for a moment and then put down the dish he’d been holding to take his partner in his arms and hug him tight. “I love you so much.”
“Um…okay, I love you too,” Chris said as he hugged back. “But um…did I do something that I don’t know about to earn this special declaration? Not that I’m complaining in any way.”
“You are just the sweetest and kindest man I have ever met and I’m so happy that I get to share my life with you. What you said to Sophia, the way you accepted her into our home and take care of her as if she was your own is just amazing.”
“Babe, she is my own. From the moment we agreed to take her in and give her a home, she became my family as much as she is yours. That’s what we do around here, isn’t it? Open up our home and hearts to anyone who needs it? You got the ball rolling when Brian arrived. I’m just following in your footsteps,” Chris replied softly.
“Well then, I guess we really are perfect for each other.”
“I never doubted that for a second,” Chris said before taking Zander’s mouth in a heated kiss. It was two hours later before Zander managed to eat his stew.
Brian finished locking up the apartment and turned off all the lights before going into the bedroom. Justin was still lying on the bed, lost in thought. He hadn’t said more than a handful of words since they left the hospital and Brian was really starting to worry about him.
“Babe, I’m going to jump in the shower,” Brian said as he began stripping off his clothes. “Any chance you want to come in and wash my back?” he teased.
“No,” Justin mumbled without emotion.
“Jus, are you alright?” Brian asked as he walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “You haven’t said much since we left the hospital. I know what happened to Jason was horrible, but he’s going to be fine. A little bit of bed rest with his boyfriend waiting on him hand and foot and he’ll be as good as new.”
“It’s not going to be that simple,” Justin said softly. He promised Jason he would keep his secret, but he knew he had to share what happened with someone. The knowledge was eating him alive. “Bri, Jason wasn’t just beaten up. He was raped.”
Brian felt a wave of nausea wash over him as he absorbed what Justin had just said. “He…oh my God.”
“Yeah, that’s why he wanted to talk to me alone before. He told me, but he doesn’t want anyone else to know. I don’t even know if he’s going to tell his parents. And I feel bad going behind his back and telling you, but I needed to talk to someone. Please don’t say anything to anyone. He’ll never trust me again if he finds out I told you,” Justin pleaded.
“Come here,” Brian said as he took Justin in his arms. “You can tell me anything, Justin. You know that. I’d never say anything. God, poor Jason. He must be devastated. I can’t even imagine how horrible that was for him.”
“I know,” Justin replied. “And to make things worse…if that’s even possible…he’s never had, you know, real s-e-x before. He and Zac were waiting for the right time. He feels so violated; like that asshole took something from him and I guess he did. I mean, my first time with you was amazing. It was one of the best moments in my life and now Jason and Zac will never have that. No matter how much time has passed, the first time Jason bottoms for someone, that asshole is going to be right there with them.”
“Wow, I don’t even know what to say? I…shit…”
“God, Brian, he’s my best friend in the world…aside from you of course…but I’ve known him forever. We used to play together in our playpens. Now he’s hurting and there’s nothing I can do for him. Nothing I can do to make it better,” Justin cried, once again allowing the tears to fall.
Brian understood the feeling of helplessness at that moment as he held his boyfriend and let him cry. There was nothing that Brian could do to make it better for either of them and he hated it. All he could do was be there for Justin and support him while he did his best to support his friend.
Jason was lying in bed staring at the ceiling when the nurse came back in. It was late. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but Zac had been gone for hours. Since then the nurses had been in and out regularly, checking his vitals and making sure that he didn’t need anything. His parents were due any minute, although he wasn’t sure if he was ready to face them just yet. He still hadn’t decided whether he was going to tell them the truth about what happened. Telling Justin had been hard enough, but seeing the look on his mother’s face while she learned the news wasn’t something that he felt he was capable of at the moment. The doctor had assured him that since he was eighteen, his medical history fell under doctor/patient confidentiality and that his parents wouldn’t learn anything that Jason himself didn’t tell them. He almost wished that wasn’t the case. A huge part of him wanted them to know. He wanted them to love him and care for him and make it all better, just like they used to do when he was a little boy and something hurt him. But the other part of him, the part that knew the realities of life, wanted to keep what happened to him a secret. He knew that there was nothing anyone could do to make it all better and he was too ashamed to admit that he allowed this guy to…
“Fuck!” he shouted, startling the nurse.
“Jason honey, are you alright?” the nurse asked after she jumped at his outburst.
“Yeah, I’m sorry…I was just…”
“It’s okay, my heart will start beating normally again soon,” she teased, trying to lighten her patient’s mood. “Would you like something to help you sleep? I could page the doctor for you.”
“No, that’s okay. My parents should be here soon. They are allowed to see me, right? The nurse in the emergency room said it would be okay. They’re flying in from Pittsburgh,” Jason explained, suddenly worried.
“Yeah, it’ll be fine. Especially since you don’t have a roommate at the moment. We usually don’t like family coming by after visiting hours are over, be we make exceptions in certain cases. They’ll have to come through the ER since it’s the only door that stays unlocked after hours, but someone will call us and let us know when they arrive. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you,” Jason sighed with relief.
“Do you need anything while I’m here? More water? A small snack, maybe?”
“No thanks. I’m okay.”
“Alright, ring if you need anything and I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”
Jason nodded and then resumed staring at the ceiling. He didn’t know how much time had passed before there was a soft knock at the door followed by his parents’ appearance. Jason was completely unprepared for the feelings that rushed over him at the sight of his mother, her expression a mixture of fear and sadness.
“Mom,” he cried as he opened his arms, thankful when she wasted no time in engulfing him in one of her famous hugs.
“Oh my baby,” Karen cried as she gently cradled her son.
Jason was aware of his father’s hand on his back, but he couldn’t say or do anything other than hold onto his mother. It was all too much. He had thought that his admission and breakdown to Justin had been emotional, but this…he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t stop the sobs that were wracking his body. Even hearing the nurse come back in to see what the commotion was couldn’t stop his grief as he clung to his mother like a lifeline. He could barely hear the exchange between the nurse and his father.
“Has he been like this all night?” Jeff asked with concern.
“No, not at all. He had some emotional moments, but nothing like this. I know he’s been very quiet and lost in thought. I’m going to page his doctor and get an order for a sedative. See if you can calm him down a bit. He’s going to end up hurting himself,” the nurse said before disappearing, presumably to page the doctor.
“Jason, buddy,” Jeff began as he went back to rubbing his son’s back. “I know it’s been a hard day, but you need to calm down a little before you make yourself sick.”
Karen pulled back slightly, as far as her distraught son would allow, and tried to pull herself together for her son’s sake. “Your father’s right, sweetheart. We’re here now, and we’re going to help you through this, I promise. But you have to calm down, baby.”
Jason knew they were right. His broken ribs were throbbing from the way he threw himself at his mother. It was just so hard to reign in his emotions once he let them out. He pulled away and carefully leaned back on his pillows, making sure to keep a hold on his mother’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Hey, don’t apologize baby. You’ve been through so much. There’s nothing wrong with letting it all out. I just don’t want you to make yourself feel worse,” Karen said softly as she held her son’s hand and rubbed his arm in a gentle motion, just like she did when he was small. Her face was still damp with tears, but at least they stopped falling for the moment. She would have thought she’d be all cried out by now. She hadn’t been able to stop since the horrible call they received from Justin hours earlier. “So how are you? What did the doctor say?”
“Well,” Jason began, suddenly making his decision on how much to share. They were his parents, his family; they needed to know the truth. “Aside from numerous cuts and bruises, I’ve got three broken ribs, a sprained ankle and some…minor rectal tearing.”
“Some minor…what? Why…” Karen trailed off as the meaning of Jason’s words started sinking in. “No…that’s…no.”
Jason saw the horror on both his parents’ faces and had to fight to keep from breaking down again. “Mom, please don’t cry…Mom?”
“No…not my baby,” Karen cried as she released Jason and buried her face in her hands.
Jason looked to his father for help only to find him ashen and lost in thought. “Dad?” Jason called softly. He got no response. “Dad!”
“Huh?” Jeff said, shaking himself from his thoughts.
“Dad, can you…”
Jeff realized what Jason was asking and took his wife in his arms. “Shhh, it’s gonna be okay, honey.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I shouldn’t have said anything…”
Karen pulled away from Jeff suddenly. “Oh baby, I’m the one who’s sorry. What am I doing? This isn’t about me. You…are you…I don’t even know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Jason replied tearfully. “But I could use another hug.”
“Oh baby, you can have as many as you need,” Karen cried as she once again took her son in her arms.
Jason felt himself being wrapped back up in his mother’s arms and pushed all the bad thoughts out of his head. He’d be forced to face the bitter reality of what happened to him soon enough. For just a few moments he wanted to pretend to be little again, he wanted to allow himself to believe that his mother was going to make it all better, just like she did when he was young.
When Chris walked through the door with his arms full of shopping bags, he saw Zander in the kitchen talking on the phone. He quietly placed the bags down as he listened to the one sided conversation.
“I promise it’s not an imposition. We’re just happy we can help…when are they releasing him…we’ll make sure everything is set up for him…why don’t I call the hotel for you and make your reservations…it’s really no trouble…okay, I guess I’ll see you later this afternoon.”
As soon as Zander put down the phone, Chris went to him and kissed his softly. “I take it by the sound of it that Jason’s going to be staying here for awhile?”
“Yeah. Karen and Jeff tried to get him to go back to Pittsburgh, but he doesn’t want to go. The dorms aren’t an option right now and a hotel room isn’t necessarily a good place to recover. Karen is devastated that he doesn’t want to stay with them, but Jeff made her see that staying here with us is almost like being with family. I offered to give up our room so that Jeff and Karen can stay here, but they refused to put us out. Jeff said that we’re doing enough just taking care of their son. They don’t want to impose anymore than they already are.”
“But it’s not an imposition. We’d love to have them here,” Chris insisted.
“I know. That’s what I told him. He still refused. I’m going to book them in the Holiday Inn. At least they’ll be close by. I’m not sure how long they’re staying in town. They had booked a cruise for Thanksgiving since both Jason and his sister didn’t plan on going home for the holiday, but they’re considering cancelling. I invited them to come here if they decide to stick around.”
“I still can’t believe this happened. We send our kids off to college so that they can make something of themselves, not so they can get hurt.”
“Babe, the world can be a dangerous place. Whether it’s on a college campus or a city street, life just happens. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. We have no control over it. All we can do is be thankful that he’s going to be okay, and remind our own boys how important it is to be careful when they’re out,” Zan said, once again thinking about how close to home this was. “So anyway, Jason has a sprained ankle as well as three broken ribs. I think the best scenario is to put him up in your office so he doesn’t have to go up the stairs. I'm glad that when we bought the new bed for Sophia, we decided to keep the extra bed in the storage room in the basement. I never really thought we’d have to use it, but Jason would never be comfortable on an air mattress.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let me go get the rest of the bags. Then you can start putting the food away while I go pack up some of my office and see if I can make some more room in there for him. I’ll have to move my small filing cabinet and the laptop into the bedroom for now, I guess.”
“You’re not upset, are you? I mean, I guess we can work something else out for him so you don’t have to give up your space. Maybe he can just crash on the couch until he can manage the stairs better,” Zan suggested.
“No, it’s fine,” Chris insisted. “I was just thinking out loud on what I needed to move out. Jason is more than welcome to stay in my office for as long as he needs to. I just want to make sure I get out everything that I might need so I don’t have to disturb him. I’ve got a deadline coming up so I’m going have to continue working every day.”
“Will you be able to work out of the bedroom…maybe he shouldn’t…”
“It’s okay,” Chris said, effectively cutting Zander off. “I’ll be fine. I want Jason to be as comfortable as possible while he’s recovering…” before Chris could finished, Sophia came running into the kitchen.
“Chris…it’s about time you got here,” she screeched.
“It is?” Chris replied gently as he squatted down to her level. “And why is that, pumpkin?”
“Because I wanna go swimming and Zander said that he’s too busy to go with me right now. You’ll go with me, won’t you? Pleeease Chris…please go swimming with me.”
Chris couldn't help breaking into a huge smile. Everything was so exaggerated in the life of a nine year old girl. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll go swimming with you if you help me with something first. How does that sound?”
“What do you need help with?”
“Well, do you remember Brian and Justin’s friend Jason?”
“Well he got hurt so he’s going to be staying with us for awhile. And since all of the bedrooms already have people in them, he’s going to stay in my office. I need to go in there and clean up a little bit to make room for him. Think you can help me with that?”
“Aww…poor Jason. I can help you, Chris. I wanna help,” Sophia insisted. “We can make the room all nice and clean for him so he can get better faster.”
Zander watched with love as his little sister forgot all about her own wishes in order to help someone else. It was a beautiful sight to see. “I’ll tell you what, sweetheart. How about if you and Chris go start cleaning while I finish up what I’m doing. Then we can all go swimming. How does that sound?”
“Yay! I loooove when we all go swimming,” Sophia cheered.
“Alright then,” Chris said. “Come with me, pumpkin. I have a few more bags to bring in from the car and then we’ll get cleaning.”
Zander watched them go and once again thought about how lucky he was. He had the greatest family a man could ever ask for. What happened to Jason was devastating, but they would all get through it and come out stronger than ever, because that’s what families did.
End of part 4
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