“What the FUCK was that!?” Mitch yelled jumping to his feet. He grabbed the railing that was preventing him from running on to the field. “That’s a Bull SHIT move!” He spat. Brye and Ryan stood to their feet as well, Brye, breathing anger while Ryan stood unable to move, his was a feeling, not of anger but one of fear.
While Joel’s father and brother stood yelling profanity at the field of players and coaches, Ryan was in awe… silenced, his eyes focused on the field, focused on Joel who had not moved since his body hit the ground. It was as if Ryan witnessed the whole thing in slow motion.
Joel running, fast on his feet, the ball tucked under his arm as he dodged the players from the other team ready to stop him at any means. Thinking quickly he looks for his wide receiver, Emmett Banks who is opened and passes the ball. He stands there for a second watching Banks running for a touch-down unaware of the ”train wreck”, the 250 lb tackle heading his way….he didn’t see it coming.
“What happened?” Janice asked noticing the commotion from crowds standing on their feet. She and Olivia were so engrossed in their conversation they didn’t see the play.
“That God-damn-“ He waved his arms through the air.
“Um…Mitch.’ Ryan swallowed the lump lodged in his throat. “Joel’s not moving.” Mitch’s rant was interrupted when Ryan nudged him.
“Huh?” Mitch sounded annoyed, eyes still focused on the game.
“…Dad something is wrong with Joel, he’s not moving.” Brye nodded to the field.
“What’s wrong?” Olivia asked standing behind Brye looking over his shoulder.
“It’s Joel.” He answered not taking his eyes off his brother.
“I’ve gotta go to him.” Ryan said as he frantically started pushing his way past Mitch and the other spectators sitting beside them. His voice, shaky and panic-stricken.
“Ryan wait!…” Mitch called out to Ryan who was already half way down the stairs taking a few at a time. Mitch grabbed his wife’s hand dragging her behind him. Janice took two steps to Mitch’s one in an effort to keep up with him, with Brye and Olivia following close behind.
Ryan held on the railing to keep from falling down the stairs taking two and three at a time. He ran under bleachers instinctively turning to the left forcing his way through the crowed breezeway. His breathing, heavy, and his vision blurred due to the tears brimming his eyes ready to fall any second, his mind on one thing and one thing only…. Joel.
Ryan was brought out of his trance abruptly when he felt a firm grip on his arm.
“Hold on, I can’t let you on the field.” The young security guard informed him as he crossed his arms over his chest defiantly blocking Ryan’s way.
Just as Ryan was about to protest, Mitch, Janice, Brye and Olivia caught up to him, all struggling to catch their breath.
“That’s my son out there!” He shouted pointing to Joel who was now surrounded by a team of doctors and his coach. The security guard looked behind him then back to the family. In a clam voice… as calm as he could, giving the circumstance instructed Mitch to go ahead.
“Okay sir, you can go, but I can only let one family member on the field, and I’m not supposed to do that.” He pointed out nodding to Mitch then added, “Joel is cool, I like him…” He stepped aside allowing him to pass. Mitch looked to his wife then to Ryan resting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Ryan tried to force a smile but failed. He placed his hand on top of Mitch’s gripping it tightly.
“Go…” He choked out chewing nervously in the inside of his cheek. Janice held Ryan tightly as they watched Mitch run onto the field.
“This had to be a bad dream.” Ryan thought as he scanned the football field. In front of him, so close and yet so far from his grasp was his boyfriend being placed on a stretcher, his only comfort was knowing he was not alone…his father was with him.
To the left of him were his and Joel’s friends being led away by security like common criminals, arms pulled tightly behind their backs, it took every security guard working to subdue the rowdy team members fighting on the field. It took three to hold Tank alone.
Brye stepped up behind Ryan placing his hand on his friends shoulder. “Hey, let’s go…” He said softly. “We need to get to the hospital.”
“I’ll drive…” Olivia offered pulling her keys from her purse.
“That’s a good idea.” Janice smiled sadly taking Ryan by the hand. “Come on son.”
They reached the parking lot just in time to see the ambulance pulling off. They could see Mitch inside busily helping the paramedics. Ryan stood there motionless feeling helpless as he watched the ambulance getting further and further from his sight.
~*~*~ late into the night.
Janice caressed her husband’s back lovingly as they waited in Joel’s room for word from the doctor.
“He’s going to be alright, he’s a fighter, he’s your son he knows no other way to be.” She whispered softly in his ear, wiping away the tears that streamed down her cheeks.
Mitch forced an agreeing nod, though he was not so sure, he didn’t want to burden his wife with his concerns. All he knew at this moment was his son lay in this bed hooked up to machines that monitored his blood pressure, his heart rate and his breathing, they were the only signs that his son was alive, there was no movement of his fingers, no flickering under his eyelids…nothing.
“Look at our boy.” He choked out a heavy sob, he sniffed trying to wipe away his tears.
Janice laced their fingers together tightly. She rested her wearying head against his shoulder squeezing him within her secure embrace. “I know baby.” She sighed.
“Just a couple of hours ago he was giving me shit.” He laughed humorlessly. “About my gray hair, calling me his old man.” He gasped, “What the hell happened?”
“It was an accident.”
“You think so Janice, because I don’t.”
“What do mean?” She questioned with concern.
“I mean, Joel had passed the ball.” He said eyeing his wife, “There was no need to tackle him. It just seems fishy to me.”
“No…” Janice gasped, placing her hand to her mouth. “Are you saying someone did this to our son on purpose…I don’t believe you, I won’t.”
“Then you explain it to me. I talked to Melvin and he feels the same way.”
Their conversation was interrupted when they heard someone enter the room.
Mitch stood to his feet quickly. “Dr. Levy, how’s my boy?” Mitch asked his voice still shaky. The doctor smiled warmly to Janice then back to Mitch as he made his way over to his patient’s bed. He picked up the chart, flipping through the pages, nodding every now and then. He sat the chart down at the foot of the bed and checked the monitors.
“Joel is a lucky young man.” He said as he picked up the chart again.
“We know, he’s a fighter.” Mitch agreed reaching for his wife’s hand. “So is he going to be alright?” He asked his voice hopeful.
“Well…um, have a seat.” He motioned to Mitch. “We’ve put Joel in an induced coma. We wanted the swelling to go down. He has a few cracked ribs, but that’s not our concern.” He paused briefly with a heavy sigh.
“What?” Janice asked with worry.
He pressed his lips together tightly. “Your son has suffered what is known as SIS Second Impact Syndrome, diffuse brain swelling and a thin subdural hematoma.” He paused making sure they understood what he was saying.
“Second…does that mean he had an injury before?” Janice asked.
“It would appear so, maybe he just blow it off, um… never complained, because with a concussion there is usually headaches involved.
“Oh my god….” A frantic gasp erupted from Joel’s parents.
“What are you really saying, give it to me straight.” Mitch said looking at his son, then back to the doctor. “Will he come out of this okay?” He swallowed thickly.
“Joel will be fine, the body is amazing, and he’s young.”
“But…the CT scan also showed there is a blood clot located in a place where if you try to do surgery, he could suffer permanent damage.”
“Such as?” Mitch interrupted.
Dr. Levy sighed looking to his patient, then back to his parents. “…If something goes wrong he could lose his sight, his ability to walk, even death, several things play a factor in this. It’s just too risky.”
“Then fine…You... you said my boy will be okay so don’t’ do the surgery.” Mitch laughed nervously. “What’s the big deal, Joel will be okay.” He said convincingly.
“Yes, he will be fine if we don’t do the surgery. There’s a treatment we can do that will slowly dissolve the clot, But.”
“But?” Mitch questioned again with a slight irritation evident in his tone.
“Mr. Masterson, Joel can’t ever take another hit like that, ever again.”
“Okay…” Mitch agreed.
“No, Mr. Masterson…never.” He stated emphatically. Joel’s football career is over, as a player anyway.”
Mitch was silent as if he didn’t hear or understand what the doctor had just said. He placed his hand over Joel’s and sighed. He knew his son’s dreams of being a professional football player. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head as tears streamed down his face. Janice wept silently resting her head on his back.
“Joel is going to be fine.” She smiled as a loving mother would, she didn’t care about college, or professional football, all she cared about was her baby was going to be alright.”
The doctor looked at Mitch, “Do you understand what I just said?”
“Yes, of course we do.” Janice spoke out. “Who cares about football, Joel is going to be alright, and that’s all the matters.”
“Janice…”Mitch spoke softly, taking his wife by the hand. “Joel is going to be devastated.” He sighed as he slowly ran his tongue over his top lip.
“What do you mean?” She questioned knitting her brows together.
“Football has been his life since his was able to hold one in his tiny little fingers. And to tell him he can’t play the game he loves so much is going to kill him.” Mitch rested his head in his hand.
“What!?” Brye’s eyes widen with shock, his mouth agape, “Joel can’t play football?” He questioned incredulously as he walked numbly over to his to his parents and the doctor.
He looked down at his big brother who lay still in the bed, unaware of what was going on around him. Unaware that fate had dictated his future. Brye hugged his father for support.
“Dad?” Tears brimmed his eyes that would fall at the slightest blink.
“I know son.” Mitch combed his fingers through his son’s hair.
“Um…I’m going to give you all sometime alone.” Dr. Levy smiled sadly. “I’ll come back to check on Joel in a bit.” He nodded to Mitch. He placed a consoling hand on Janice’s shoulder. ‘Mrs. Masterson...I’m so sorry” He glance over to Joel before turning to leave. Janice released the breath she was holding, wiping away the tears that flowed uncontrollably.
“Football is his life, his dream, dad, how are we going to tell him he can’t ever play again?”
“He’ll have to accept it.” Janice said faintly as she sniffed wiping her nose. “It’s too dangerous.” She shrugged her shoulder defiantly. “I’ve got my son and that’s all that matters.”
”But that’s not all Janice.” Mitch stated his voice slightly elevated.
“You know Mitch, there’s more to life than just football.” Janice stood up angrily.
“I just hate that you act as if he won’t be able to deal with this.” She glared at him. “You know this would not have happened if you didn’t push him so hard.”
“What!...How is this my fault?”
“You…you pushed him…Be a man…be a man you always told, play hard…play rough.” She spat.
“Janice, what are you saying...? I love my son.”
“Oh really, even after he told you he was gay.”
“Oh my god.” Mitch ran his hand roughly down his chin shaking his head, looking at his wife in disbelief with hurt in his eyes. “Is that what you think, that I pushed him to play football because he told me he was gay?”
“Mom…dad?” Brye looked at his parents with total confusion.
“No…” Mitch looked to Brye, “You mother has been with me all our adult life, and to think... No to say something like this is absurd, and proves she doesn’t know me at all.”
Mitch walked up to Janice who had her face buried in the palm of her hands hearing agonizing cries bubbling forth. He slowly removed her hands reviling her tear stained cheeks looking her intently in her eyes. “I know you’re upset, I’m gonna go get us some coffee.” He said before kissing her softly on the cheek, Janice was very protective of her boys even with their own father and as hurt, as he was by that statement he knew she was being irrational and didn’t mean it, pain, hurt and fear can bring division among the closest families.
“You want anything son?” He asked quietly.
Brye shook his head no, sitting down on the bed next to Joel taking his hand into his own.
“Oh dad?” He called over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off his brother.
“The guys are out in the lobby, you might want to go talk to them, they’ve been here all night.”
“Mom do you mind if Ryan comes in, he’s outside the door.”
“I’ll send him in.” Mitch answered before she could speak, knowing her the way he did, he knew it was fine. He glanced lovingly at his wife as he opened the door.
Ryan stood in the doorway. He felt as if his feet were cemented to the floor. Shoving his hands in the pocket of his jeans, he slowly walked over to Brye and his mother.
Janice looked over her shoulder reaching her hand out to his. She could tell this was hard for him, as hard as it was for everyone. “Hey…”
“Hey…” Ryan whispered, “How’s he doing?” Ryan asked nervously while biting his lower lip.
“He’s gonna be fine.” She replied.
Brye shook his head stepping back from the bed allowing Ryan to take his place. “He is going to fine.” Brye answered placing his hand on Ryan’s shoulder reassuringly.
“Good…” Ryan nodded slowly. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He bit his thumbnail nervously before looking at Joel. He sighed as he stepped closed to the bed, he looked like an angel…his angel.
“What’s going on…why is he like this?” Ryan asked over his shoulder, though not taking his eyes off Joel.
“They put him in a coma, till the swelling goes down.” Janice answered. She stood beside Ryan placing her arm around his shoulder.
“Yes, they do it sometimes to patients with injuries such as his.” Janice said.
“Yeah…”Brye sighed coming his fingers though is hair. “Ryan, Joel will be fine, as long as he never… as long as he doesn’t…” Brye stopped, struggling to find the right words. He did not know how to explain it.
“As long as he doesn’t what?” Ryan asked, taking Joel’s hand in his. He breathed hitched at first contact. A single tear streamed down his cheek. Ryan knew at that moment, Joel was the one. Just touching him made, his body feel alive…awaked just as it did this afternoon when they made love. Ryan placed a shaky hand over his mouth trying to choke back the tears.
“Maybe we should go find your father.” Janice motioned to Brye. He smiled sadly taking her hand.
“Ryan, will you be okay alone?” Brye asked softly leaning over his shoulder. He got the message that his mom wanted to give Ryan some alone time with Joel. She could see Ryan cared for her son, and from the look in his eyes, she saw love. She knew it; because that’s the same way, she looked at Mitch.
“I’ll be fine.” Ryan pulled the chair that was against the wall close to the bed with one hand never letting go of Joel’s with the other and sat down. Janice squeezed Brye’s hand, glancing over her shoulder as they slowly closed the door giving Ryan alone time with Joel.
Janice walked into the waiting area and was astound by what she saw. The room was packed… standing room only; most of them were teammates, who looked pretty beat up from the fight, along with a few of Joel’s close friends, all hoping for good news about their friend.
She glanced sadly around the room absorbing it all in. Over in the corner was Tank who sat with his back slumped against the wall examining his bruised knuckles, as he ran his tongue over the cut on his lip.
“Emmett and Jaxson sat on the floor back to back supporting their tired, aching bodies against each other. Emmett had a cut above right eye, while Jaxson had a dark red ring around his.
“Where’s my husband?” She asked quietly using the back of her hand to push away the stray strains of hair in her beautiful sad blue eyes. Brye released her hand and walked over to sit down next to Olivia. She smiled kindly as she scooted over making room for him.
“Mrs. Masterson, your husband and Coach Jackson went for coffee.” A young man leaning against the wall informed her.
“Thank you…” she nodded slowly.
“How’s Joel?” Tank asked with concern.
“He’s gonna be fine Melvin.” She answered, “How are you?” She asked drawing her brows together noticing the cut on his lower lip.
“I’m just fine ma’am…you should see the other dude.” He chuckled, his laugh slowly faded when he noticed the sad frown on her face. He cleared his throat, sighed, and leaned back against the wall.
“Thank you guys for coming, but you should go home, there’s nothing you can do until he wakes up.”
“If it’s all the same to you ma’am I’m staying.” Jaxson raised his hand, giving a short nod.
“Me too…” Emmett echoed Jaxson. Tank and the others nodded in agreement.
“Okay then.” Janice smiled warmly, feeling all the love and support coming from Joel’s friends. “Guess we should order pizza.”
“Um…” Olivia raised her hand, “We’ve already took care of that, everyone chipped in, we ordered ten large pizzas, one thin wheat crust veggie, we substituted pesto for the cheese for you and Mitch. They should be here in five minutes. We’re staying.” She said adamantly sitting back crossing one leg over the other. Janice nodded quickly using the tips of her fingers to wipe away the tears streaming down her face.
Ryan looked around the room, he checked he monitor, looking lovingly at Joel, before checking the IV drip.
Gently squeezing Joel’s hand, he smiled, breathing a heavy sigh, “It seems like they have everything in order.” He combed his fingers through his hair. He wiped the tears that were falling down his cheeks with the back of his hand, placing it over his mouth while squeezing his eyes shut.
“Joel…” He leaned over and whispered in his boyfriend’s ear. “Can you hear me…I don’t know if you can, nor do I care because I’m gonna talk to you anyway.” He tenderly caressed Joel’s hand, holding his breath as he noticed the monitor speed up slightly.
“Maybe you can hear me.” He said excitedly scooting closer to his boyfriend. “I was so scared Joel.” He breathed heavily, “I thought I had lost you. Um…he hit you so hard. You told me once that after taking so many hits you don’t feel it, well at that moment I prayed it was true.” Ryan sniffed as he ran his fingers gingerly through Joel’s hair.
“Oh and I wanted to tell you, you were right…you are the love of my life and when you wake up, you’re going to get sick of hearing me say it.” He smiled softly. He leaned forward slowly as if he was sneaking and pressed his lips firmly against Joel’s warm soft mouth.
The heart monitor sped up on the initial contact which frightened Ryan at first, but then he relaxed and whispered. “I liked it too and there’s more where that came from when you wake up.”
Brye opened the door, and stuck his head inside, “Hey Ryan, mom said come and get some pizza.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“She knew you would say that,” He laughed, “And she said you can come back after you eat.”
Ryan sighed knowing this was a battle he could not win, so he conceded. “I’ll back Joel.” He whispered in his ear, before kissing him again.
Brye held the door open allowing Ryan to exit, but not before looking longinglyover his shoulder at his sleeping prince.
He eased the door open and stepped inside. The room was dark and quiet; the only sound that could be heard was the beeping coming from the monitors. He chewed nervously on the inside of his cheek as he walked slowly over to Joel’s bed. He looked warily over his shoulder before sitting down on the chair previously occupied by Ryan. Stroking his hand gently he leaned forward and kissed him.
“Hey you…how are feeling?” Jace asked as he caressed Joel’s cheek with the pad of his thumb, “I thought he would never leave, but don’t worry I’m here and I’ll take good care of you.” He smiled.