Lights shone over them, the glare blinding Kyp. “Freeze.” Kyp couldn’t get up, so that wasn’t a problem, but did anyone actually freeze when they were told to? The guy who’d knocked his ass down took off running, and the one tangled with Brandon wasn’t far behind him.
One of the two security guards yelling at them took off after them, his belt jingling as his heavier booted steps thudded down the sidewalk.
Kyp rested his head against the top of a step. He groaned. Everything hurt, and he was having a hard time breathing.
“Are you okay?” Brandon asked.
“I need to check on my friend. Those guys attacked us, not the other way around.”
“He shouldn’t be moved if he landed on those stairs.” The guard came closer, and Kyp opened his eyes. The older man leaned over. “Do you need medical help?”
Damn it! Kyp didn’t want to say yes, but he didn’t want to move his legs, even though his back was throbbing and it felt like his head was bleeding. He grit his teeth, keeping the pitiful sounds of pain back. “Yes.”
“Kyp? Shit. Are you okay? Can you move your legs? Can you feel your legs?”
Hell yes, he could feel them. “I’m not paralyzed.”
The radio on the guy’s belt squawked. “Got one of them.”
“Good. I’m going to call medical for these two.”
“I’ll see you back at the office.”
Brandon crouched down next to Kyp, touching him gently. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have pissed them off.”
The guard finished calling for an ambulance and tucked his radio back on his belt. “What did you do?”
Brandon bristled. “Didn’t put up with being harassed because I’m a fag, not that being in the GSA means I’m gay,” he spit out. “Or maybe it’s the costume I’m wearing. Or his. We’re not dressed up like some frat boys in togas—which are ironically more dress-like than most men’s costumes—so we’re fair game for the meat-head haters.”
“Look, I am just trying to find out what happened.”
Kyp was tired of listening to Brandon snap at the guard, and he was really tired of waiting for emergency services. “Shouldn’t they be here?” Kyp needed the drugs, the good ones. He could be paralyzed for all they knew, or his spinal column could be injured and the swelling could proceed at a rapid pace and paralyze him by impinging on his spinal cord.
Now Kyp was starting to worry. He had enough trouble walking and keeping his balance, dealing with the pain from the neuropathy, the lovely leftover of chemo during his mid-teen years… but he could still walk.
“Holy shit!” The door into the building slammed shut. “What happened?”
“Someone attacked us,” Brandon told whoever came out of the party.
“Damn homophobes. So much for a zero-violence policy and tolerance program.”
The pain was growing steadily worse, and Kyp really didn’t want to be on these damn stairs anymore. It was cold, and wet with the slushy snow, and Kyp loved his leather coat but now he was thinking about his thick ski jacket and wishing he’d picked a simpler costume. A crowd began to pour out of the building.
“Don’t let them cut my jacket off,” Kyp told Brandon.
“What?” He leaned closer. “I couldn’t hear you.”
Kyp’s teeth were chattering, and that was hurting his head worse. “Don’t l-let them cut my coat.”
He rolled his eyes. “Should you be worrying about that right now?”
“Yes!” Kyp’s whole body tensed, and he groaned again.
Finally, sirens grew and the crowd got quieter. As soon as the paramedics were next to Kyp and Brandon, the security guard started up the stairs and began asking for witnesses.
“Sir, can you tell us what happened?” One paramedic began shining a light in Brandon’s eyes. Kyp got a far more hands-on exam.
“Does your neck hurt?”
“Everything hurts,” Kyp complained. Before he knew it, his neck was immobilized. The back of his head was definitely bleeding.
The paramedic kept feeing along Kyp’s body. He yelped as soon as the woman touched his legs.
“I had cancer. I’ve got neuropathy in both legs. Touch hurts anytime it flares up.” He didn’t want to lose the leather pants, but he shuddered at the thought of them trying to pull his pants down. They could cut those off.
“How long have you been in remission.”
“Remission? Cancer?” Brandon butted into the conversation. “You have cancer.”
“Had cancer. I’ve been clear for about three years.”
“Okay, I know it hurts, but can you move your feet for me? Push against my hands. Good.” He did his best. “Now lift your toes toward your knees. Good.”
“We going to need the backboard,” the second paramedic asked.
“Possible spinal injuries, so yes.”
“I can move my legs,” Kyp objected. He just didn’t want to.
“You fell against several stairs, and you’re in severe pain that can be masking other injuries.” She looked up at her partner. “We’re going to need the backboard. I don’t think this guy is getting up on his own anyway.”
“Kyp,” he reminded her.
“I’ll be right back,” the guy said.
The female paramedic went back to checking Kyp over, putting a blood pressure cuff over his arm. Brandon sank down on the stairs on the other side of him. “Are you okay?” Kyp asked.
“Yeah, no, I’m fine. Just a black eye.” Brandon fidgeted. “Are you okay?” he echoed.
“I don’t think so.” Kyp ground his teeth together. “It hurts.”
“Give me a second, and I can help with that.” The paramedic began fiddling with some vials. Thank God for pain medicine.
“If I thought they would get physical like that, or that you couldn’t defend yourself, I would’ve just walked away. I’m sorry, Kyp.”
“Me too.” Kyp wished he was some strong guy who could stand up to bullies, but he’d never been able to. He couldn’t do P.E. or sports, he couldn’t wrestle around with friends—if he’d had any to wrestle around with—and he certainly couldn’t fight off homophobic twats.
The paramedics wouldn’t let Brandon come with him. Honestly, after the embarrassing wail Kyp let out when they turned him onto the backboard and strapped him down, he’d rather be alone. The pain medicine couldn’t stop his nerves from misfiring, making it feel like the straps around his legs were rubbing his skin raw. It was agonizing.
A potential spinal or neck injury jumped him to the head of the line at the emergency room, so he was inundated with questions, poked and prodded, and sent down to a dim basement for tests. It was like the techs couldn’t take blood or put him through a scan without making his pain spike.
“Hey, Mom. You’re here,” Kyp said. “Hey.”
“Oh, baby.” His mom pushed through the curtains. She brushed his hair back. “How are you feeling?”
“Not good.” The room was spinning, his back and legs were still on fire, and his head ached where the scrape on the back pressed against the cardboard thin pillow. He could move his legs, but even wiggling his toes hurt deep his in his back, and Kyp couldn’t stop worrying that all his work was going to be wiped away.
“What happened?” his dad asked.
“Some guys attacked us.” Kyp blinked. “I don’t know why.”
“And now is not the time to be asking that,” Kyp’s mom said. She leaned down to kiss his forehead. “I’m going to talk to the nurses, and see when the doctor is going to be back.” She pushed the curtains aside, and his dad sat down in the chair next to his narrow bed.
“It was just a dance.” Kyp stared at the ceiling. “I’m sorry you had to come down here.”
“I’m sorry you’re in the hospital. This is what we’ve been afraid of, and it’s not like the world is going to become a more accepting place in the next few days. I wish I taught you how to protect yourself better.”
Kyp tried to look at his dad, but he couldn’t turn his head with the collar on. "It’s not your fault, Dad. And this is an accepting city, and the college does work hard to provide an open environment. But some people are just jerks. I think they caught one."
“One of the guys who hurt you?” Kyp’s dad narrowed his eyes and nodded once. “Good. We’re going to want to press charges.”
“Uh huh.” Kyp closed his eyes. His head was throbbing, and he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. Of course, that meant his mom pushed open the curtains and behind her was both a nurse and the doctor.
“Hello again, Mr. Dugan. How are you feeling?" the doctor asked.
“It hurts,” Kyp admitted again.
“Unfortunately, that is because a lot of your pain is from the irritated nerves. What would you say your pain is at right now on a scale of one to ten?”
“A seven.” He just wanted it to stop. The pain was making him nauseated and being forced to lay flat on the hard exam bed wasn’t helping.
The doctor scribbled something on the tablet in his hand. “I’m going to have the nurse give you something right now.” The nurse began messing with the IV cord, and then she began to unstrap the collar around his neck. Kyp took a deep breath and turned his head from side to side slowly. That felt so much better.
“You do have some bruising to your back and legs, but it’s nothing serious. I’m more worried about your pain levels, and I want to see if we can get this nerve activity to settle back down. I’m going to admit you to the ICU, because oral medication just won’t be adequate. I’d like to keep you under observation for at least twenty-four hours.”
It wasn’t like being in the hospital was something Kyp wasn’t used to. He’d spent far too many days on the children’s ward as a teen. And the tests doctors put him through often meant spending time there. That didn’t make it any easier to be told he was going to have to stay. Kyp sighed. "Okay." Warmth spread through him, and it’s became hard to keep his eyes open.
“Why don’t you get some rest now, Mr. Dugan, and will have you upstairs and in a room as soon as we can.”
It was hard to try to actually get some sleep, even though they drugged him, and the emergency room was full of alarms and voices constantly calling out to each other, or yelling in pain. The most he managed was an uneasy doze. A man in blue scrubs, and his nurse finally came in with news they had a room for him.
“We’ll be back first thing in the morning. We love you.” Kyp’s mom patted his hand and kissed him on the forehead again.
“Love you too.” Kyp went cross-eyed watching her get closer, and his dad chuckled. Kyp smiled weakly.
“Good night, son.” His dad gently squeezed his shoulder after his mom moved away. “Do what they tell you to, okay?”
His parents left, and Kyp had to close his eyes as watching the ceiling tiles as they rolled his bed toward the elevator was making them sick. The last thing he wanted to do was throw up.
The next day brought good and bad news. The campus security officers had released Brandon and Kyp’s attacker to the city police, and he’d given up his accomplice. They were both going to be charged with a hate crime. Brandon didn’t come by the hospital, but he texted Kyp to see if he was okay. He managed to hide most of the damage to his eye with some makeup, at least enough that he could do his shift at the library.
Some of the pain and Kyp’s back and legs faded. They weaned him off the IV medications, and on to some oral pain pills. They made him groggy as hell, and they didn’t control all the pain, but it was good enough. Kyp wanted out of the hospital as soon as it was possible.
Gibson showed up as soon as visiting hours began. Kyp’s dad had just left to go get coffee, so he was able to come right into Kyp’s room. "Holy hell, man, you should hear the rumors going around campus!”
Kyp’s mom cleared her throat.
“Oh, sorry!” Gibson apologized.
“That’s all right,” she said. “I don’t think we need to talk about any speculation right now, or pass along any rumors. Kyp deserves some privacy.”
“Well, I have been telling everyone that no, Kyp did not get stabbed, but I haven’t been giving out any more information than that."
Kyp’s mouth dropped open. “Stabbed?”
Gibson dropped in the chair his dad had left beside Kyp’s bed. “Yeah, apparently two neo-Nazis attacked you, and Brandon ran off.”
“No, he didn’t,” Kyp protested. “He stayed right there the whole time.”
“I know, but you know how things get going. The club officers met with the security department last night after you guys were attacked, and they gave us the details. I can’t believe those two idiots actually thought they were going to get away with hurting you.”
“They might not have,” Kyp said, “but Brandon was pretty vocal about taunting them back when they started in on us. I could tell they’d been drinking.”
“Yeah, that’s what the security officer said. Alcohol makes people stupid.” Gibson grinned when Kyp’s mom made a noise. “I know, shock of shockers, right? I’m really not passing any of this along to anyone else,” Gibson assured her, “but I thought Kyp should know since he’ll probably hear all the rumors as soon as he gets back to campus.”
“Oh no, he’s coming home with us.”
“Mom! I can’t just come home. I have classes and mid-terms coming up.”
“And how are you going to manage when you are all doped up and in pain?”
The last thing Kyp wanted to do was go home with his parents. He didn’t want to fail out of school immediately and have to shelve this year and start again next fall. “It’s not that bad. The school is handicap accessible so I don’t have to climb any stairs, and the pain pills aren’t knocking me out. I can do this, Mom.”
“I’m sure Brandon will help. And we’re roommates, so I don’t mind helping Kyp when I’m not in class. And our friends will help too. Between all of us, we should be able to help him get to and from class if he needs help, books from the library, pick up groceries, take him to any appointments he needs.”
Kyp almost wanted to refuse when Gibson listed off all the things he was probably going to need help with, but he hated the thought of going home more. “I’ll be okay.” He’d fake it, if he had to. He’d done it before, he could do it again.
“Don’t fuss, dear. Kyp will manage.” Kyp’s dad walked in. Gibson stood up and shook his hand. “And thank you for offering to help our son.”
Gibson shrugged. “We’re friends. Besides, he has good taste in movies.”
Kyp and Gibson shared a smile.
“I don’t know….”
“Mom, I’ll be fine.” Kyp would say it as many times as he had to. Hopefully the doctor would discharge him soon so he wouldn’t have to keep up appearances so he could reassure her. More than anything, Kyp wanted to take a nap in his own bed without nurses and other staff constantly bothering him.
Even if it wasn’t his pillowtop double bed.
Gibson left to go to class at ten. Kyp’s parents sat with him until the doctor finally came in.
“What’s the verdict?” Kyp asked. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but he had to face it head on.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to nerve pain, there’s no real tests we can do to know for certain what damage an injury has done or how much you might recover. Only you can say what your pain level is. I am going to recommend that you rest and slowly readjust to the activities of your daily life as possible. I will also give you orders to meet with a physical therapist. There are studies that show some physical activity could help reverse the effects of neuropathy.
“Your therapist can help you figure out what you can safely do, but let your pain guide you. If it hurts too much, stop and rest or try something else.”
“Okay. But I can go back to school?” Kyp held his breath.
“As long as you feel you can. I’ll give you some new prescriptions for painkillers. Make sure you follow the directions, and do not take more than prescribed. Many drug addictions begin with prescription painkillers, and you’re too young to go down that road.”
“He won’t,” Kyp’s dad said.
“I’m sure. If you managed to beat cancer, you can do this. Consider it a temporary setback.”
Kyp desperately hoped the doctor’s words were true.
“Oh, my God. I thought she’d never leave.” Kyp groaned. She’d picked up two more pillows and an extra soft blanket, so his bed really did resemble a nest. A new laptop table, so he could work in bed, was tucked between his bed and the nightstand.
He had two new prescriptions on the nightstand along with several books, a bottle of water, and his phone on the charger. It had survived his fall but died while he was at the hospital. It surprised him when he had several texts asking if he was okay from people he’d partnered with for projects but never really thought of as friends.
Maybe he had more than he thought. He didn’t have the energy to answer them though. The trip from the hospital had exhausted what little he’d managed to fake having so his mom would go home without dragging him with her. “I’m exhausted.”
“Let me close the curtains.” Gibson covered the window, blocking the weak sunlight that managed to penetrate the heavy gray cloud cover.
“I have a meeting with Sam and the dean at four. If you need me to get anything, let me know. I can pick up something for dinner on the way back,” Gibson offered. He shucked off his shirt and shoes and climbed into his bed. He stuffed a pillow behind his head and yawned. “But a nap sounds good right now.”