Chapter 16

Every step towards that hospital drinking fountain felt like an eternity spent in terror. And if these few moments can be stretched out into infinity, just imaginewhat it's going to feel like when I'm thrown in PRISON! A rapist, they'll call me. A monster. By the time I reached that fountain my stomach was trembling too violently for me to feel confident taking more than a sip or two, for fear that I'd bring it right back up.

Is this how my life comes to an end? Is this how I deconstruct and destroy everything that I've ever had? It all happened so fast. Somehow I got so wrapped up in the good things that I stopped looking out for the bad. Dustin and I were happy. We talked, we laughed, we looked out for one another. We felt so normal and natural with our relationship that it was easy to forget just how abnormal and unnatural it really was. Well...to other people, anyway. Dustin and I stepped outside of the social 'hive-mind' and that's just not allowed. I'm going to be punished if this continues to unravel. Punished hard.

The cool water touched my lips, which were so heated I'm surprised that wisps of steam didn't rise above me as a result. Funny how I was almost breaking a sweat while my blood was running so cold.

How much time did I really expect this little distraction to buy me? I mean, I was going to have to go back to the nurse's desk eventually. If I take too long she's just going to come looking for me. So I might as well try to come up with a good story, right? I mean...a teenaged boy came over to my apartment, spent the night, stripped naked, was taking a shower and accidentally...oh my GOD this sounds so WRONG! She's going to know something's off. I'm going to look her in the eye and the whole ordeal is going to unfold right in front of her. Shit.

As I inhaled deeply and started my walk back to the place where I may be facing a fate worse than death...I saw the sunlight pouring in through the automatic doors in front of me. Just past the front desk...just a few hurried steps away...was possible freedom. She'd probably be too busy to randomly look up and recognize me if I just nonchalantly passed by the front desk and the waiting room, just to escape to the bright sunshine and freedom of the sunlight just on the other side of that glass door. It's even got a sensor on it. It would open for me automatically. What's she going to do? Chase down my automobile like some kind of killer robot from the future? I could leave. I could run out of here and not look back until I saw Dustin come back to work with a clean bill of health. We could pretend it never happened. We might even laugh about it someday.

That's what I was thinking about as I kept trying to casually place one foot in front of the other. I could make a break for it. I could walk right past her and she'd have no way to find me ever again. I could do it, you know? I really could! That open exit was sooooo inviting.

I was coming to the end of that hall wall...the only thing camouflaging me from the nurses behind the desk. A bright sunshine future ahead, and bleak and dismal set of circumstances just to my left. Even *I* didn't know what decision I was going to make until the last minute.

"Sir? Excuse me! Sir?" The nurse called out the moment she saw me. Fuck! I guess she was keeping an eye out for me. Perhaps already clued in on my royally suspicious behavior.

The exit doors were so close. I could have made a run for it and gotten away easy. But for how long? She had seen my face. Not to mention that I was probably on every hospital surveillance camera in existence since I first dragged Dustin out of my car in the parking lot.

But...more than anything...I know that I couldn't just completely 'ditch' my sweetheart here in the hospital without knowing that he was ok first. I wouldn't be able to drive more than a few blocks without worrying about his well being. His safety. I was terrified, sure...but this wasn't about me. It was about Dustin. And while the temptation to charge out of those front doors like an escaped cheetah from the zoo was gripping my shoulders and pushing me forward...I didn't run.

I closed my eyes for a moment, letting out a long sigh, and I turned to give the nurse the information that she was looking for.

"Sorry." I said. "I left my...shirt out in the parking lot. I was using it to pad the spot on his head but we dropped it in the race to get him in here. I just figured...maybe I could go grab it really quick."

She gave me a sideways look at first. Then she said, "If you don't mind, I'd like to get a few more details from you first before you go back outside. It's important that we document everything that happened here today, ok?" I was afraid she'd say that. But I nodded anyway. I dragged my sorry ass back to the front desk, my head down, my every breath feeling as though it was covering my struggling lungs with a thin layer of emotional ice. And I tried to maintain my cool as she started asking me questions.

Where did the incident happen? Why? How long ago? She asked me if I had his insurance information, or if I could be listed as a parent or guardian for Dustin. They gave me this 'clipboard' of questions that they wanted me to answer. Questions that might seem simple and unchallenging to your average person...but to me? They were the most invasive questions ever written on a legal document. I scoured over them as if every inquiry was a cleverly worded 'trap' for me to fall for and end up in handcuffs. It took me much longer to fill out than they thought it would.

I can't believe I'm doing this. I can't believe this happened to us.

But...the whole time, I kept thinking about Dustin in the back room somewhere with his head throbbing. I mean, were they watching him? Making sure he wasn't going to sleep or trying to walk on his own. Should I go up to the desk and get the nurse to take special care of him? He's stubborn. He's not going to just listen to what they tell him to do. He's going to try to get up and walkout of here as though nothing is wrong. She should be watching him. Or at least telling somebody else to keep an eye on him. What kind of operation are they running here???

Finally, someone handed the nurse some papers, which she looked over extensively for a few uncomfortable minutes before saying, "Ok. This is what we're looking at here." She said, turning to the side to share a few notes with me. "We're going to take some x-rays to be sure, but from what we can tell so far, this is just a really severe bump on the head that needs some treatment and tender loving care. Ok?" That alone caused me to sigh with such relief that I nearly lost balance in my already wobbly legs. "We're going to keep him overnight to monitor him for any changes and just make sure that he's not suffering from any blunt force trauma that we haven't locked onto yet. But, for the most part, your friend should be ok in a day or two. Despite a few headaches and a rather nasty bruise on the noggin."

"Oh God! THANK YOU!!! that's the best news I've ever heard!" I grinned, more out of misplaced panic than anything else.

"Yes, well...I'd really like to get our paperwork started on this. Do you have any contact with a parent or guardian? It's important that we call them in and get them to become an immediate part of this process." She said.

My cold blood was now turning to jagged shards of ice as it traveled through my veins.

She began walking back to the desk, but it was hard to get my feet to follow her. I sighed out loud, and just tried to keep my head down so I wouldn't have to look her directly in the eye. "May I see your Driver's License or State ID please?" I guess it's a good thing I got another one of those when I did, huh? "Ok, Mr. Walters, now you said that you didn't have any insurance information on the patient, is that correct?"

"Yes. I mean...no. I don't have any idea about...that stuff."

She wrote some stuff down and then typed a few things in on her keyboard. What was she typing? I couldn't see her screen. Was she alerting the police? Was she typing 'We've got another pervert here, boys! Come pick him up'? She handed me a clipboard and a pen. "I just need you to fill out this form, starting here at the top with your full name and address and down to your signature right here."

My voice, shaky, I asked, "Is all of this really necessary?"

"Well, we have to have a record of Dustin being checked in by a second party, treatment given, etcetera, etcetera. And of course his parents will have to be notified immediately." I think I stopped breathing. Literally stopped breathing. "You did say you had a home phone number that we could use to contact them, correct?" I nodded slightly. "Ok, why don't you go ahead and write that number down for me in the 'emergency contact' box. That way we can give them a call and let them know what's going on." My hand was trembling so badly that my handwriting was almost illegible. "Now you said that your relation to the patient was 'friend', correct?"

"Yes..." I almost whimpered when I said it. I could practically feel the eyes of every person sitting in that waiting area staring at me. Possibly listening to my every word. Analyzing my body language. I was reminded of Edgar Allan Poe's, 'Tell Tale Heart'. I don't think I've ever really appreciated the terror that his words brought to that particular situation until I was standing at that desk, filling out that form, answering her questions, all while having my heartbeat pound on my eardrums without mercy. I was so clueless as to where this was going.

She typed some information into a few more sections of her report. "And how old is Dustin? Twelve? Thirteen?"

"He's fourteen, actually." Then I was quick to add. "He'll be fifteen in a couple of months, though." As though that was any better when it came to us being sexually involved.

More typing. The sound of her fingers on that keyboard were driving me insane. "Ok. So, can you just give me a brief description of what happened here? You said he slipped and hit his head? Is that correct?"

"Yes. That's correct." I replied. More typing.

"And this happened where?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Was this in the kitchen? In the bathroom? Where did the incident take place?" She asked.

"Oh...umm, it was in the bathroom."

"Was this at your house or his house?"

My throat was beginning to constrict on me. Almost as if to silently tell me to SHUT UP before I incriminate myself even further. But I couldn't just decline the question. That looks more suspicious than ever. "It was at my house. Well, my apartment."

More typing.

"So he slipped and hit his head on what? The counter? Bathtub?"

"I'm not really sure, but I think it was the sink." I said.

"Ok. Hit his head on the sink. Yeah, that's got to hurt, right?" She smiled, her fingers typing more details of my sinful crime into her computer. Making it official. A document that's going to last forever in Dustin's medical records. Even when they finally let me out of 'Ass Rape Prison'...it'll still be there. I peeked back over my shoulder to see who was watching or possibly eavesdropping. They looked normal enough, but the paranoia hadn't decreased any. She must have seen the worried look on my face, because she stopped typing and said, "Don't look so stressed out. These things happen. The blessing is that you got him here and we're able to check him out to make sure that he's back to normal as soon as possible. Ok? You'd be surprised how many people end up with complications when they try to fix these things themselves. You did the right thing bringing him in."

"Yeah. Thanks..." I mumbled. "Is it ok if I go back and see him? Just for a second?"

She took the clipboard with my information on it and then typed the rest of her protocol into the system before saying, "Just give me a moment to go back and see if the doctor on staff is done with him, and I'll let you know. Feel free to have a seat right over there, Mr. Walters."

I thanked her again, and then wandered aimlessly to one of the empty seats surrounding me. The second I sat down and put my face in my hands as I thought about what an absolute clusterfuck of a day this has been so far. How could I let this happen? Why didn't I remind Dustin again about the slippery rug? Why do I even HAVE a slippery rug? All those paychecks I've gotten over the past six months or so, I could have bought a new rug. Instead of wasting my money on garbage, I could have been making my apartment safer for a teenage boy to spend some time there without nearly killing himself! I really hope he's ok. I really hope that I haven't scarred him for life in some way. I'd never forgive myself if I put some sort of permanent flaw in the presentation of his boyish beauty to everyone else around him. I'd totally HATE myself! Like...forever.

What are they doing back there? What are they asking him? What if his story doesn't match up to the one I just told the nurse? We probably should have worked that out before we got here, but I was so hysterical over the fact that he was hurt that I didn't think about it. Not clearly, anyway. Things are going to get really sticky if he tries to lie about what happened in order to protect me.

Oh God, how did I get myself into this?

"Eric Walters?" The woman behind the desk called out after about fifteen minutes or so. I looked up, and she told me, "If you'll follow me, I can take you back now."

I stood up on wobbly legs and cautiously walked over to where she was. She gave me a warm smile and led me behind the counter to the many rooms in the back. No separate rooms with doors or anything. Just a few partition walls and a curtain for visual privacy. I didn't know what to feel as I walked back there. Should I be worried about arrested on the spot? Or should I be more worried that Dustin was going to have some sort of a disfigurement and that he was in pain because of me and my stupidity? It was the biggest personal conflict that I've ever dealt with in my life, because while self preservation holds us all hostage to some degree...I couldn't imagine what my life with be worth without Dustin to share it with. So...I guess my self preservation instincts were now expanding to accept his wellbeing as a part of my natural responsibility. I never expected to love this boy so much. I never thought the feelings would end up running so deep.

Then...the nurse stopped at one of the little sectioned off spaces and pulled the curtain back...and my heart felt like it suddenly had a giant, heavy, stone right in the middle of it! There was my sweetheart...laying in a bed with a hospital gown on, a bandage on his head and his shiny blond hair pushed back as he gave me a silly grin.

My first instinct was to rush over and hug him tight, kissing him on the lips as I fought off a few stray tears...but I couldn't. That wouldn't be appropriate. Not here, in their world. So I swallowed the emotion and just took a moment to appreciate the fact that he was looking better than he did when I brought him in. "Hey..." I sniffled quietly.

"S'up?" He grinned. Wow...he's still breathtaking. Even when he's injured.

The nurse said, "I'll give you two a few minutes. Just come and see me at the front desk when you're done." Then she turned to Dustin and said, "I'm going to call your mom and dad and let them know you're ok, alright?" Dustin nodded and she left, closing the curtain behind her.

The second she was gone, Dustin tried to sit upright in the bed and I lunged forward to hold him down. "No no no....what are you doing? Lay back."

"I wanna sit up." He said.

"You're already sitting up!" I told him, noticing the angle of the bed and the pillows behind him.

"I'm FINE! If anything, the pain in my bruise was starting to go away until they started 'poking' at it." He told me. Then he reached up to peel a bit of the tape off of his bandage to lift up one end. "Dude, check it out!"

What I saw nearly made me burst into tears! There was a GROSS knot sticking out on the side of his head! It had darkened considerably since they took him back here. Purple and blue and surrounded by a disgusting yellow tint. Dried blood was on the bandage and I felt so weak that I had to sit down in a small chair beside the bed. "Oh my God, Dustin. Oh my...oh my God..."

"Hehehe, WHAT? I think it's wicked!" He giggled. "I wanted them to leave a mirror in here so I could look at it some more, but they told me to stop messing with the bandages so they wouldn't let me have it."

"And yet, the FIRST thing you do when I come back here is start messing with the bandages again." I said.

"It's ok. I just wanted to show you my bump. Isn't it neat?"

"NO! It's NOT neat! Nothing about this is OK!" I said, my fear and worry now turning to frustration and anger. "Dustin, this is serious. You hear me? You could have really been hurt today, and it's all because you don't LISTEN! How many times have I told you about that rug? Huh? How many???" I slipped into 'daddy' mode without really thinking about it, and I couldn't stop myself...even when I saw Dustin's smile start to dim considerably. "You have to be more CAREFUL about this stuff. I MEAN it! What would have happened if I hadn't gotten you here in time? What would have happened if you slipped a few inches to the left? Or to the right? Goddammit, Dustin! When I tell you to be careful, I'm not doing it to boss you around or treat you like a baby! I do it because I CARE about you, and I don't want you hurt! Why are you so fucking STUBBORN??? You need to get this stuff through your head! You need to LISTEN to me when I tell you something!!!"

I was flying so far off the rails that I forgot to keep my voice down so nobody else in the hospital partitions could hear us. But, more than that, I was so wrapped up in disciplining Dustin and being an asshole that I hardly noticed his eyes watering up...his once kissable lips pouting as his young and vulnerable heart practically broke in half right in front of me.

"I'm sorry..." He whimpered softly. "I guess I ruined everything again."

"Don't! Ok? I'm not saying that you ruined anything."

"Yes, you are."

"Dustin, I'm not mad at you."

"Yes, you are." He said, looking away from me. "I slipped and got hurt and fucked up everything. You didn't even want me to come over, did you? But I came over anyway. This is all my fault."

Grrrr! He's not allowed to pull this when I'm SO fucking worried about him in this...


Wait. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Relax.

Dustin is fourteen. I was fourteen once. Hell, I once broke my arm in two places after falling out of Mrs. Houston's backyard tree. A million warnings about climbing it came prior from both of my parents and I ignored every last one of them. It's just...ugh!!! It fucking SUCKS being on the other side of this situation!

"I didn't mean to fall, ok?" Dustin sniffled.

With a heavy sigh, I said, "I know you didn't. I know, ok? Just...I can't stand to see you hurt. I'm trying to keep you safe. Can't you understand that?"

He tried to hide his face from me as the first two streams of tears rolled down his cheeks. He used his hand to wipe them away, but he wasn't being as secretive about it as he thinks he was. With a sniffle, he said, "I'll understand if you're upset with me. If you want to wait until later to yell at me..."

"I'm not gonna 'yell' at you. You just...you really scared me, Dustin." I said, standing up and hugging him around his slender shoulders, giving him a light kiss on the forehead. "I just need you to stop being so invincible all the time and take what I say with a bit more than a grain of salt. Ok?" I kissed him again. "This is all my fault. I'm going to buy a new rug tomorrow morning. A good one."

"No, don't do it tomorrow." He said. Then he confused me by whining, "I wanna go with you. I'll pick you out a good one." What? The kids laying in the hospital with a bruise on his head, and he wants to go rug shopping with me? Sometimes I find it really hard to figure this kid out.

"Um...ok. We can do that, I guess." I said, not knowing how else to respond.

"You promise you're not mad at me for getting hurt?" He said, nuzzling his head into my chest, wrapping his arms delicately around me, almost as if he half expected me to reject his affections in some way.

"I promise, babe." I whispered. "I love you more than you can imagine, Dustin. You mean everything to me." I hugged him so tight that I heard his breath escape him in a tiny little yelp and I let him go for fear that my emotions were causing me to overdo the affection thing a bit.

It was then that the nurse came back to pull the curtain aside, and she said, "Dustin? I talked to your mother and she's understandably worried about you. She's on her way, and your father won't be far behind. Ok?" She gave us the rundown of how things were going to proceed from there on, but as soon as she left us alone...Dustin and I both knew that there were some spontaneous decisions to be made.

He looked me in the eye, and even though we were holding hands at the time, he said, "Go." I shook my head, but he said, "Seriously, Eric...just go. I'm fine. Look at me. It's ok."

"I should stay. At least until your parents get here."

"You and I both know that's not the greatest of ideas." He smirked. "I'm not going to say anything. We were hanging out, I slipped, I hit my head. End of story."

"What did I tell you about lying to your parents?" I said.

"Don't be so 'extra', dude. If they respond to the bump on my head the way YOU did, they'll be so happy that I'm not in a friggin' coma they won't think to ask a whole lot of deep questions about it. Just....just go. Ok? Please?"

A half hour ago, all I wanted to do was run away. Now it hurt my heart to let go of his hand.

"You call me when you get home. Ok? The second you get a chance. And if they keep longer than overnight, I'll come back and visit you tomorrow. Alright?"

"Bring me a cheeseburger! Like one of those jalapeno bacon burger thingies from..."

"No! Hehehe! I will come visit you, and you will sit right here in this bed and eat hospital food so you can know what it tastes like and vow never to come back here again." I snickered.

"You're no fun." He smiled. "GO, already! I'm never gonna get a handsome doctor to take advantage of me and fondle my goodies with you standing there. Go away!"

It felt so good to see some semblance of the boy that I had grown to love with my whole heart, that I actually began to get a bit misty eyed myself. The emotion got clogged up in the back of my throat, and with a sudden, uncontrollable impulse, I leaned forward and grabbed both sides of Dustin's face and gave him a brief, a 'safe', kiss on the lips. I whispered, "I love you, babe."

He was so touched and taken off guard, that another tear rolled down his right cheek. "I love you TOO! Sooooo much!" He could experience joy to the point of pain sometimes. I loved that about him.

"Let these good folks take care of you, ok?" I sniffled.

"I will."

"And STOP messing with that bandage!"

"Alright, already! Geez!" Then he smirked and said, "Still...it looks pretty cool, doesn't it? I know you think it looks cool. You just don't wanna say so."

I rolled my eyes. "Get some rest, doofus."

"M'kay..." He said, and Dustin gave me the dreamiest smile ever as I exited through the curtain. Was this it? Can I untangle my nerves now and hope for a pleasant and consequence free ending to this ordeal?

Just as I was walking back out to the front of the nurse's desk, I noticed a man and a woman briskly walking into the waiting room and hurrying over to the desk.

I don't know how I knew it was them...I just knew. Something about their combined appearance was so familiar. Traits that I recognized in Dustin's gleaming blue eyes, in his easy going smile, in his soft features and carefree gestures. I don't know...I could just 'tell'. You know?

The last thing I heard as I snuck away from the front desk was the nurse asking their names, and Dustin's mother saying, "Hunter. Last name, Hunter. Is he here in the back? Can we see him? What happened?"

I shamefully used the distraction of a duo of concerned parents to make my escape. I didn't feel good about it, I just didn't know what else to do in this situation. What would somebody else do? I mean, is there some easy answer that I'm not seeing here?

As soon as those automatic doors to the hospital opened up for me, I felt like I could breathe freely again. The cool wind on my skin, cooling off my fevered panic attack. I knew that this wasn't the solution to anything, but for right now, I've got some time to think. That's a LOT more than I had when I got here.

Taking my phone out, I immediately called Jack.

"Dude, I need your help! Can we meet up?"