She stood quietly in the doorway observing the man she loved, the man who at this moment carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, completely broken, the man she loved since she was a young girl.
She leaned against the wall remembering the first time she laid eyes on him. She was a freshman in high school… and he was a senior in college. It was at Lincoln Park on a warm July evening, at the Give Peace a Chance Rally. She smiled thinking back, his hair was longer then hers, and he wore a pair of grungy denim jeans with a tie-dyed dashiki worn under a leather-fringed vest. He gave a powerful speech that wowed the crowd, her included, and he has been wowing her every since.
Mitchell was a great father to her sons, a wonderful loving husband, and the only man she would ever love. She knew he loved her and their sons more than life itself and she felt so ashamed for saying such horrible things to him, knowing in her heart it that was not true.
She walked over quietly, gently placing her small hand on his shoulder. “Hey?” She whispered softly in his ear, “There you are.”
“Oh hey.” Mitch replied looking briefly over his shoulder before looking back out the window. “How are you?”
“Okay I guess.” She answered caressing her husband’s shoulder. “The pizza is here.” She said kindly.
“I’m not hungry.”
Janice laughed softly, “That’s what Ryan said too. But not the other boys, they have empty pizza boxes all over the place, and Olivia, man, that girl can eat.” She laughed.
Mitch nodded forcing a smile as he rested his chin in the palm of his hand. “What about you… did you eat?” He asked.
“Nah, I’m not hungry either.” She sighed. “Mitch, Joel is going to be fine you know that right?”
“And Mitch, about what I said, I didn’t-“
“Shhh….” Mitch interrupted her, “I know baby.” He turned to face his beautiful wife pulling her petite body onto his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head against his chest. They sat there in comfortable silence consoling each other as they always did in troubling times.
Mitch kissed her softly on the lips and sighed, “You know, you were right Jan, I did push him.”
“No... Let me finish. I pushed him, but not for the reasons you might think. Do you remember when he came out to us?”
“UmHum…” Janice smiled fondly.
“It was like he was telling us he had just learned how to whistle or something.” Mitch chuckled. “He gave new meaning to the word proud.”
“Yes he did, remember he said he did research on it, so he knew he was gay.” She laughed shaking her head at the thought of Joel calling a family meeting to inform them of his sexual preference.
“That son of ours.”
“He’s amazing.” Janice said fondly.
“Yes, he is which is why I was so hard on him. The world can be cruel Janice and not so accepting. True we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
“I mean I want him to be able to stand for himself, defend himself if need be. I’ve told him and Brye, you have to stand for something or-“
“You fall for anything.” Janice finished her husband’s sentence; she had heard that from Mitch all her life with him, which was his creed to live by.
“Exactly…I know he has wonderful friends who accept him and his lifestyle.”
“How could they not, Joel is a take me or leave me kind of guy.” Janice admitted matter of factly.
“That he is…that he is. And Football is a dream of his, and as their father it’s my privilege...my honor to support him and Brye, run alongside them in as they chase their dreams, whatever they might be. And Joel’s dream has been ripped from him and he doesn’t even know it yet.” He sighed heavily.
“I understand, but he has other talents, he mentioned he wanted to go into film too baby.”
“I know Janice, but I’m scared for him, I just don’t want him to be disappointed.”
“He’ll be okay, we will help him.” She stated adamantly, yet with love and concern as only a mother could. Mitch nodded in agreement, as his wife stood her ground, her son was alive and going to be okay, and that’s all that mattered to her.
“So…” Ryan picked a rock up off the ground and skipped it across the hospital parking lot. “Tell me the truth, what did the doctors really say?” He asked turning to his best friend who was sitting next to him; he squinted trying to block the sun that was shining in his eyes.
He and Brye were sitting on the curb in front of the hospital. They both needed some air and some alone time from the rest of the crew that was waiting inside.
“Well….” He hesitated for a moment thoughtfully trying to find the right words once again. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. “Ryan, Joel is going to be fine physically that is… but the doctors say he should never play football again.”
“Oh…” Ryan brought his hands to his face in prayer form as he absorbed the words. He breathed in and out slowly. “Okaay…” He said faintly, his hand still covering his mouth.
“You know this is going to kill him.” Brye stated sadly.
“I know it’s going to be a shock at first, we’ve talked about his career, I know he wants to be a professional football player, but I think you are underestimating him Brye, Joel is strong if nothing else.” Brye agreed with a quick nod. “He’ll bounce back, he has no choice.” Ryan stated with conviction in his voice.
Brye laughed, “You sound like my mother.” He said placing his hand on Ryan’s shoulder.
“Brye…” Ryan sighed, “I love him.”
Brye’s eyes widen with shock, “Wow…love is a pretty strong word don’t you think?” He questioned scratching behind his ear.
“Maybe, to some, but not to me.” Ryan shrugged his shoulder as he picked up another rock and tossed it across the parking lot. “It’s something about him and it’s not his football career. It’s his confidence, his patience. He’s so cool,” Ryan said with a faraway look in his eyes. "He’s smart. He has the greatest since of humor, and he gets me. And from this point on, I want to spend the rest of my life with him. From the moment he touched me, I knew.”
"Wow..." Brye said in awe.
Ryan chuckled, "Not like that...I mean touched me, not sexually. Really touched me...the moment he knocked me off my feet." Ryan fondly remembered.
“No, I understand.” Brye smiled glancing at his friend. “It’s like that with Olivia, not love,” He clarified, “not yet anyway… but I really like her.”
“Yeah, I like her too, Jaxson did well with that one.” Ryan laughed. “How does he know her anyway?”
“He mentors her little brother.”
“Really….Jaxson.” Ryan asked with surprise, “We are talking about, ‘Hello losers’ “Ryan used air quotes…”Jaxson right?” He asked in disbelief.
“The one and only. Their father is overseas in the military and Jaxson volunteers at the boys club in his spare time.
“Wow…” Ryan chuckled with amazement.
“Jaxson is pretty cool…crazy but cool.” Brye laughed.
“Well…” Ryan placed his hand on Brye’s shoulder using him for support as he stood up and stretched. “We better get back inside I need to check on Joel.” Ryan extended his hand to Brye and helped him to stand.
“Ryan you’re the best, I knew I made the right decision choosing Joel for you.” Brye teased.
“Yeah, you did.” Ryan smiled with a click of the tongue. They placed their arms around each other’s shoulder and headed back inside.
Jace adjusted Joel’s covers making sure he was warm. He sat back and sighed, as he watched Joel sleep, or so he thought.
“You know Joel, I’m sorry I had to do this, but I knew no other way.” He confessed. “I have to admit, I could not watch the game knowing what was going to happen, I mean watching you hurt and all, but don’t worry baby I will take good care of you, you will see you don’t need anyone but me, well and your parents, I like them, your dad is a trip.” He laughed. “And given time they will come to like me too when they see how much I love you and how well I take care of you.” He ran his fingers through the front of Joel’s short-cropped bangs.
“And don’t worry love I’ll even be nice to that brat brother of yours; I know how much he means to you. I just wish you didn’t want to hang out with those buddies of yours; they are a bad influence on you, always wanting to hook up with random chicks… finding guys for you to fuck.” He said angrily.
“You might not understand why I did this, but you will. I had to show you, I’m the one you need…I’m the one who really cares about you. Ryan is no good for you, he’s a wuss, he’s pathetic, he’s not strong like me, he’ll make you weak. I could deal with the other guys you fucked around on me with, but this one…Ryan was different, yes I said was.” He smiled his voice now clam again. He has to go; he doesn’t know how to handle a man like you." He smiled as he crossed one leg over the other.
“I can see us now, Joel and Jace Masterson, Oh sure I’ll take your last name, He laughed as if he was really having a conversation with Joel. “Jace Masterson sounds so sweet as it rolls off the tongue. I wouldn’t expect you to give up yours, I mean you are already a household word, anyone who watches college football, knows Joel Masterson. I actually did you a favor. After yesterday the College world is a buzz about what happened, and when you recover, you will be on top and I’ll be right by your side, where I belong.”
Jace was so engrossed in his conversation he didn’t hear someone enter the room.
“Jace…” Ryan stood in the doorway of Joel’s room. “How did you get in here?” He questioned his voice laced with suspicion.
“Oh hey Ryan.” Jace stood up turning away from Joel. He watched Ryan enter the room cautiously. “I came to see Joel.”
“Um…I didn’t see you come in and I was right outside the door.” Ryan nodded behind him. As he eyed Jace.
“Well, you were talking and I didn’t want to interrupt.” He replied, “But what’s the big deal, I can’t come see Joel?” He asked defensively stepping closer to Ryan. “Joel and I are close, we share something special together whether you like it or not.”
Ryan looked over Jace’s shoulder at Joel then back to Jace. “You know Jace I don’t know what you had or think you had with Joel, but that’s all over he’s with me now.”
“What I think I had…” Jace retorted. “Listen Ryan I don’t want to get into this here, we don’t want to wake and upset Joel.”
“Wake Joel…you idiot Joel’s not sleeping, he’s in a coma.”
“What?” Jace asked looking back over his shoulder. “…A coma.” He repeated faintly running his shaking fingers through his hair nervously.
“Yeah…” Ryan sidestepped Jace who stood there flabbergasted. He pulled the covers down a little not wanting Joel to be too warm.
“What happened…I mean-“ Jace asked in a daze.
“The hit Joel took will probably be his last one; the doctors said he can’t take another hit like that.” Ryan explained sadly looking over at his boyfriend before turning his attention back to Jace.
“What?” Jace questioned, the sound of panic setting in.
“It was a bad play, I mean Joel didn’t even have the ball when he was hit, Mitch, Joel’s father thinks something’s up.”
“What do you mean…something’s up?”
“They want to investigate, re-watch the footage of the game.”
“Shit…” Jace mouthed. His heart beat rapidly inside his chest as if it were going to bust through at any minute. 'He promised he wasn’t going to hurt him, that was not a part of the deal.' He thought to himself as he watched Ryan cater to Joel. He sighed thinking; he wanted Joel injured just enough where he would need help getting around, where he could show Joel that he truly loved him.
“Um…I’ve gotta go…” Jace announced hurriedly. “Is it okay to come back and visit him?”
Ryan nodded and smiled, he knew he and Jace had their differences, but he also knew Jace was one of Joel’s friends and far be it for him to keep away any friends of Joel’s at a time like this.
Jace forced a smile and turned to leave, “Ryan, I’m truly sorry.” He frowned as he shoved his hand into the pocket of his jeans.
Once outside the room Jace ran down the hall away from everyone and snatched his cell phone from his pocket. His hand shook uncontrollably as he scanned his contacts. He found the one he was looking for and hit talk.
“Shit…shit…shit.” He chanted as his call went to voicemail. “Fuck...Hey things are bad…really bad call me ASAP Damnit.” He snapped the phone shut gripping it tightly in his hand as he fell back against the wall. He looked to his left then to his right before using the back of his hand to wipe away the tears that brimmed his eyes before they fell.
~*~*~*~One week later
Ryan sat in the corner, one leg tucked underneath him, his laptop on the small serving table in front of him. To the left of it was a half-eaten bag of chili-cheese Fritos, a diet coke and a supersized snicker bar and across the room to his right was his boyfriend.
Ryan managed not to miss any classes since Joel’s accident, but everyday after class and swim practice his evenings were spent here in Joel’s room. All the nurses attending to Joel knew him by name. The one on the evening shift even ordered an extra dinner tray each night and brought it to Ryan.
The guys from the team visited everyday as well and would usually stay until they were kicked out for being too loud. The staff members always managed to let Ryan stay however pass visiting hours.
Mitch, Janice, Brye, and Olivia were there every day as well. Mitch and his wife had their daily conferences with Joel’s doctors going over his test results and his progress. They stopped giving him the Pentobarbital three days ago in effort to slowly bring him out of his coma while administering him with Tissue Plasminogen Activators to dissolve the blood clot in his brain.
Ryan pecked away on his keypad deep in concentration when he thought he heard his name. He stopped abruptly and listened closely.
“Ryan?” He whispered through a scratchy, groggy voice.
Ryan quickly pushed the table away and frantically ran to Joel’s bedside.
“Joel…” He cried, “You’re awake.” He laughed as tears of joy streamed down his face.
“Hey…” Joel tried to swallow the dryness attacking his throat. He pointed to the yellow pitcher on the window seal.
Ryan looked over to the window, “Oh my god…let me get you some water.” He hurriedly grabbed the small cup and poured the water spilling more than he was getting into the cup due to his hands shaking uncontrollably.
“Here.” He helped Joel lift his head with one hand while holding the cup to his mouth with the other. Dry gulps could be heard before Ryan felt Joel pull his head back indicating he had enough.
“Oh my god…oh my god.” Ryan cried burying his face in Joel’s chest as he sobbed desperately.
“Hey…” Joel stroked Ryan’s head consolingly.
Ryan lifted his head grabbing Joel’s hand peppering it with kisses. “You scared me to death.”
“How do you feel?” Ryan asked intentionally avoiding Joel’s question for the moment.
He sighed heavily, “I feel like I was hit by a Mac truck. My head hurts so badly.” He said grabbing his temples.
“Let me go get the nurse.” Ryan said as he turned to walk away.
“No!” Joel grabbed him by the arm. “Not yet, I want to know what happened.”
“What do you remember?” Ryan asked setting back down in the chair beside Joel’s bed.
“Nothing.” Joel admitted closing his eyes desperately trying to remember.
“But you remember me?”
“Of course, how could I forget you?” Joel laughed trying to lighten the mood.
“What’s your mom and dad’s name?” Ryan quizzed.
“What is this?” Joel protested.
“Just answer the question please.”
“Okay…okay…” Joel laughed. “Owww…”
“I’m going to get the nurse.” Ryan said standing to his feet.
“No…okay its Mitchell and Janice Masterson, and I have a brother named Brye. See happy now? Just tell me what happened.”
Ryan frowned and sat back in the chair. “I really should get the nurse Joel.”
“You will in a minute. Tell me.” He pleaded.
Ryan sighed, “Well during the Indiana game you took a hard hit and it landed you in the hospital, and Joel I was really scared.” Ryan said faintly.
“I’m sorry babe.” Joel smiled softly, “Football is a contact sport, it’s a part of it. It’s what I do.” He reached for Ryan’s hand lacing their fingers together. “How long have I been here?”
“A little over a week.”
“A week…damn.” Joel said running his fingers through his now slightly longer hair.
“Yes…a week.” Ryan confirmed.
“My mom is probably fit to be tied.”
“She and everyone else. Tank, Jaxson, Emmett, Brye, Olivia, the coach, me and your dad of course.” Ryan went down the list.
“The nurses have to put half the team out of here every night.” Ryan informed him. “The hang out is not the frat house, its room 222, at Chicago Memorial.” Ryan laughed causing Joel to laugh along.
Ryan pressed his lips together looking adoringly at the brunette. He sighed combing his fingers through his blond tress. “You know Joel; I promised you something while you were out.”
“Really what?” Joel eyed Ryan, with his stunning blue eyes; even though he had been in a coma, his eyes still pierced Ryan’s soul.
“That I would tell you something.”
“That you truly are the love of my life, I love you Joel.” Ryan whispered shyly taking Joel’s hand into his.
There was a moment of silence for two beats causing Ryan to wonder if he should have confessed his feelings to Joel. Maybe it was too soon; maybe he should have kept his feelings for Joel to himself.
“Wow…I’m a little disappointed.” Joel sighed.
“Really?” Ryan questioned his heart breaking into a million pieces at that very moment.
“Yeah…” Joel admitted. “You see Ryan I might not remember a lot of things right now, but one thing I do remember is falling in love with you, and that’s a first for me,” He noted. “And I wanted to tell you first.” He smiled disappointedly.
Ryan breathed a sigh of relief placing his hand over his heart. “You scared me for a moment.”
“Why, Ryan you are amazing, how could I not fall in love with you?” Joel asked with a smile. “Owww….” His smile faded, replaced with an agonizing cry as he grabbed his head with both hands.
“Joel!” Ryan yelled frantically, “I’m going to get the nurse.” Ryan called over his shoulder as he ran toward the door.