Everybody's Wounded - 15. Chapter 15
Looking back, I’m amazed at how calm I was. I guess all those years of first aid courses and leadership training and camp counselling and helping to coach younger kids just kicked in, and when the need for calm was there, my mind was cold and clear. I pressed *5 to check the time and date of Luc’s call – and breathed an enormous sigh of relief to discover it was less than an hour ago. Then I called a cab, and on my way down stairs, called Josh’s cell.
“Hey,” he said softly, and even through my sense of urgency I could recognize his pleasure in hearing my voice, and felt a swift stab of joy in it. “Where are you? I thought you weren’t back until tomorrow night!”
“I got back early,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. Are you at home? I need you.”
“Yes, I’m here. What is it? What can I do?” No innuendo. He’d picked up something in my voice, and he reflected back concern.
“Get into Luc’s apartment,” I said. “Now. Be prepared to break the fucking door down if you have to, but get in there. And be ready to call 911.”
“Scott, what’s going on?”
I had reached the main door and looked out into the night. The fog was thick, and there was no sign of a cab. “I think he may have tried to kill himself, Josh. Just get in there, ok?”
“Dear God. What– !”
“He left a message on my room phone. It sounds like a suicide note. He knew I wasn’t supposed to be back until tomorrow night. I checked the time and date stamp – he called less than an hour ago. Just get down there. Please.”
“I’m already on my way.”
“I’ve got a taxi coming. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Hang on, ok?”
I could hear the concern in his voice, and as scared as I was, it was comforting. “Yeah. Thanks. I’m on my way.”
Seven minutes later my taxi still hadn’t arrived, and Josh called me back. The cold, hard calm that had allowed me to act was fading as I paced helplessly in front of the residence, peering through the fog.
“He’s unconscious, but he’s breathing. There’s an ambulance on the way.”
“I’m here with him, Scott. I’ve got him, ok? I’ve got him.”
He called again when the ambulance arrived, doing his best to reassure me.
- Between the wait for the taxi and the fog that had settled low, it was another half hour before I got there myself. It was Josh’s voice I found myself hanging on to, like a safety line pulling me through the fog towards him. Towards Luc.
Josh was waiting for me there, watching calmly. I just walked into his arms and let him pull me against him, feeling like someone had let all the air out of my lungs. He held me for a moment, as my forehead dropped to his shoulder, and I turned into the side of his neck. I just stood there against him, breathing, letting my heart calm. Somehow even the rasp of his evening shadow was comforting.
“We’re going to stay down here,” he said, speaking softly against my ear. “The paramedics are working on him. They don’t need an audience. Once they bring him down, we’ll go up and close up the condo, and then I’ll drive you to the hospital. Ok?”
I nodded slowly. “Did you talk to him at all?” I asked. “Did he say anything?”
His hand pressed a warm circle between my shoulder blades. “He wasn’t conscious, Scott. They were intubating him when I came down to wait for you.”
“Fuck,” I muttered, exhaling hard. “What–.” I looked at him helplessly, unable to make myself ask.
“Pills,” he said. “A lot of pills. An entire bottle of Tylenol, from what we could tell. With a lot of booze.”
“Booze?” I said. “Luc? Luc doesn’t drink.”
“And that may have saved his life. He vomited up a lot of the tablets.”
“That’s good, right?”
“It can’t be bad.” For a second, he paused uncertainly. Then his jaw tightened and he continued. “But that’s not all, Big Guy. He also slit his wrists. The left one…”
Dear God. I thought of his hands. Those beautiful, long fingers on the piano. Trailing down my stomach. His left hand…
“God, no,” I said softly.
Josh’s fingers pressed into my shoulder.
A few minutes later, we heard the elevator doors open, and two paramedics guided a stretcher swiftly and purposefully out of the elevator and across the lobby. I walked beside it, as close as I could get.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Luc. He looked so small and still, the black curls framing his pale face, his head carefully propped with pillows. There was some kind of tube shoved down his throat, and one paramedic was holding a bag that compressed air into and out of his lungs. His eyes were closed, his skin was grey, and the reek of vomit and alcohol was strong. He had an IV in one arm, and both his wrists were heavily bandaged.
I wanted to reach out and touch him, but there was no time for that. There was no time for anything.
As they steered him outside, I sobbed.
“It would be helpful if you could find his wallet with his health information,” one of the paramedics, the one not on the bag, said over his shoulder as the lobby doors open and they headed out into the fog.
And then they were out the door, and Josh was leading me to the elevator, keeping an arm firmly around my shoulders as we rode up to Luc’s floor. There was comfort in his touch, comfort and warmth and strength, and I let myself lean into it.
Two police officers were waiting for us in the apartment. They nodded at Josh, who introduced me to them, explaining I was the one who had picked up the message.
They asked me a few questions – times, the general content of the message – then headed off as we made our way inside to look for Luc’s health information. Josh guided me directly to Luc’s bedroom, trying to keep me away from the living room. The piano bench was knocked over, and he couldn’t prevent me from seeing the blood on the keys, or the pool of vomit and blood on the floor.
“We should clean up,” I said numbly as he pushed me through to Luc’s room.
“We should go to the hospital,” he said firmly. “I’ve already talked to the super about having it cleaned up. He’ll arrange something for tomorrow.”
I found Luc’s wallet on the corner of his desk, and went through it to make sure his health card was there before shoving it into my pocket.
“Take his cell too,” said Josh. “He’ll probably have his family’s numbers programmed in.”
I didn’t want to think about calling his family, so I just did it.
It was almost midnight before a doctor came out to talk to us. He was a young guy, and he looked like shit. Weariness weighed down his shoulders, and I found myself wondering how long it had been since he’d slept.
“You with Luc Bedard?” he asked wearily.
“I’m Dr. Matthews,” he said, pushing his hair out of his face. “You’re friend’s going to make it. I pumped his stomach, did a charcoal lavage. It’s a good thing you got him here so fast; he’d ingested a lot of Tylenol, and he could have destroyed his liver. Fortunately, his stomach didn’t tolerate all the booze he used to wash it down, and he puked up a lot of it. His levels are highish, but I think he’s going to be all right. No signs of his having aspirated any vomit, but we’ll have to watch for that.”
“What about his wrists?” I asked.
The doctor sighed. “Everyone worries about the wrists, but it’s a damned inefficient way to kill yourself. Almost never works. Arteries are deep, and after the initial blood loss, the muscles constrict. His right wrist is fine; I’ve sewn it up. The left one’s a mess. He didn’t get an artery, but there’s a lot of muscle, nerve and tendon damage. I’ve cleaned it out and stitched it up for now, but he’ll need surgery. Maybe more than one.” He shrugged. “I’ve got a plastics guy coming in tomorrow.”
“Can I see him?”
He looked at me doubtfully. “Are you his brother?”
I thought about lying. I really did. But I guess I thought about it too long, because he knew.
“No,” I said finally. “I’m his... I’m his friend. He left the message on my phone.”
“I’m sorry, only family members can sit with him in ICU at this hour.”
“Please,” I said firmly. “I need to see him, just for a few minutes. I – I feel responsible, somehow.”
Suddenly I was aware of Josh behind me once again, his hand on the back of my neck. “You are not responsible for this, babe,” he said against my ear.
Then he turned to the doctor, who was watching the two of us with a curious expression on his face. I realized he’d heard Josh’s unconscious endearment, and I saw him look from Josh’s face to mine, from Josh’s hand curled warm against my neck, to my own hands which I realized were gripped into fists at my side.
But Josh was totally calm. “Can you just let him go in for a few moments?” Josh asked. “Luc’s a student. He has no family here. Scott’s kind of – as close as it gets until we can contact them.”
The doctor sighed heavily, and shook his head. “All right,” he said. “Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t, but we’ll try it. He’s conscious, but he’s not saying much. Maybe he’ll talk to you.”
I thanked him, and he put his hand on my arm.
“Look. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think your friend is going to need a lot of support. This was no cry for help. I don’t think he intended to survive. This is not going to be easy. He may be grateful that he failed – but he may not. He may be very angry and very embarrassed and very scared. You up for that?”
“Yeah,” I said. “We’re up for that.”
But Josh tightened his fingers on my neck for a second, and then he took his hand away. “I think it would be better if you went in there alone,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want to go with you, but I’m not sure he’ll want to see me.”
And I knew he was right.
There were four beds in the Intensive Care unit, and Luke was in the far corner. His eyes were closed, and a motherly middle aged nurse was checking on him.
“It’s ok, Hon,” she said, making some notations on the chart at the foot of his bed. “He’s just resting. Go sit with him. He needs it.” And then, to my surprise, she gave me a little hug and pushed me up towards the head of the bed.
He looked deathly pale in the dimmed blue hospital light. They’d stripped him and cleaned him up, and a white cotton blanket was tucked under his armpits. He had an IV in each arm; one dripping a unit of blood, the other, a clear fluid to hydrate him. His chest was bare. I stared at it, the fine black hairs against the white skin. I couldn’t help but remember him in candlelight, how I’d run my hands over him. I had been so careful with him, so slow. Now I could see where spots had been shaved bare so they could attach the electrodes that hooked him up to the various monitors surrounding him. They seemed obscene.
I lay my hand gently against his skin for a second, just below his throat, and felt his warmth, his breathing, the beat of his heart. And then I was shocked to realize that I could still see the marks that my mouth had left on his skin. They were fading now, but unmistakable. Tears burned at the back of my throat.
“Everything’s going to be ok,” I whispered. “I promise.”
It was a promise I had no idea how I’d keep.
I knew from his breathing that he was awake, and that he knew I was there, but he didn’t open his eyes. I pulled over a chair and sat with my arms leaning on the bed and my head beside his shoulder. It took maybe five minutes or so, but eventually he spoke.
And what he said, in a painful voice hardly more than a whisper, broke my heart. Because what he said was, “I’m sorry.” And he lifted his bandaged right hand to touch the side of my face.
What do you say? I looked down into those pale blue eyes, wanting to take all the pain from them, but feeling so helpless. I mean, he’d said he loved me, and somehow that had made him do this to himself.
Did that make me responsible for this?
“Fuck, Luke,” I said, taking his hand and squeezing it gently. “If I hadn’t decided to come back –. I don’t want you to die. I don’t want you to want to die.”
His hand in mine was very still. “I don’t think I want to die,” he said slowly, his eyes focusing on mine for a second, then wandering off somewhere to my right. “I just want to stop hurting.”
A few moments passed. Then he asked me if his parents knew.
“No, I don’t think so. There hasn’t been time for anyone to be notified. Do you want me to call them?”
“No!” He actually gripped my hand for a second. “Please.”
Then he closed his eyes and we just stayed like that, his good hand still in mine, my face on the pillow beside his, until the nurse came over, and said I had to leave. I pushed the curls back off his forehead once more, and kissed it.
He opened his eyes and looked at me for a second. Then he turned away.
Josh was waiting for me.
For an instant, I felt guilty because he had made it possible for me to be with Luc – and I’d forgotten him. I’d gone into Luc, and sat with him, and not thought of Josh at all.
But mostly, I felt an enormous sense of relief that he was there, just there.
Because when he looked up as the door closed behind me and his eyes met mine, a flash of recognition passed between us so intense it almost took my breath away.
He had such a presence for me, this man. Even silent, even waiting, he had a way of being that just –was. Solid and real and without expectation, his was a strength that emanated from his very presence. Just seeing him there calmed me. I slumped into the seat beside him, and his hand grazed mine.
“How is he?” he asked, his voice low and concerned.
I thought about it. “Sad,” I said finally. “Almost unbearably sad. He asked me not to tell his parents.”
“Have they been informed?”
I shook my head. “He turned 19 a couple of weeks ago. But – his brother.”
“He left a message for his brother.”
“How do you know?”
His hand was still on mine, warm and real and amazingly comforting. Anchoring me somehow. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket with my other hand, dialled into my room phone, entered my password, and at the “you have one saved message” prompt, hit 1 and handed Josh the phone.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch his face as he listened to Luc’s message, but I turned my hand under his so that we were palm to palm. His fingers laced up through mine, and his grip tightened.
It was only when he flipped my phone shut that I was able to look at him. His calm was firmly in place – and totally betrayed by the grip of his fingers. He raised my hand to his mouth and kissed it.
“Do you want to stay here?” he asked.
I shook my head. “They want him to sleep. I can’t see him again until tomorrow.”
“Come on, then. I’ll take you home.”
The home took me to, without asking, without telling, was his.
His bed had already seen us through three nights: one of passion, two of pain. A dynamic of comfort had been forged in it, a dynamic of who did the holding and who was held, of who did the comforting and who was comforted.
And now – now we both ached.
Luc was lying in a hospital bed, and I couldn’t help but feel at least some responsibility, no matter what he – or Josh – said.
And Josh – Josh still had his own brutal ghost to lay to rest.
I had used the bathroom first, and I lay on my back, on what had already become my side of the bed, and closed my eyes, listening for him. When he came in, I didn’t open my eyes, didn’t watch his long, lithe body glide across the room to me. Through closed eyes I knew when the light went out, and through the rustle of bedding and the movement of the mattress, I knew when he was beside me.
He didn’t touch me.
Finally, I reached out to find him lying there on his back as well, and knew that he, like me, was suddenly uncertain, with no idea of how to touch me, how to be with me, in this pain.
After a few moments, I turned on my side toward him, and reached out an arm. He began to turn, to press his back against me so I could spoon him, and I realized that he’d been waiting for me to decide who most needed to comfort and who to be comforted.
“No,” I said, reaching my arm across his chest, pulling him back toward me. “Don’t turn away. Don’t –“
I couldn’t say what I felt. I just pulled close to him, and lay my head on his chest, over his heart.
“Hold me,” I said as my arms tightened around him, and I listened to the slow, steady beat of his heart. “Just hold me.”
His hand slid up the back of my neck, his fingers buried in my hair. “You know I’m here,” he said.
I turned my head a little, kissed his chest, just there, in the darkness. “I know,” I said, settling again with my cheek over the spot I had just kissed.
At first, we held on hard, clutching at each other, as if somehow we could use the strength and warmth of each other’s bodies as shields against the pain in our hearts. But eventually we quieted, and our grips calmed and loosened. As we lay there, we were able to put both Luc and Graham away from our bed. For a while, and for the first time, it was just the two of us there, alone together, hurting and healing, comforting and comforted.
From where I lay against his chest, I turned my head, breathing in the scent of his skin, and eventually I ventured to taste. He inhaled sharply, and I smiled into the darkness. It seemed only right to allow myself to explore, chest to nipple, nipple to belly, and down, down, to where his hardness pulsed, waiting. His hands were on my head, his fingers anxious, his breath coming in fast little spurts of wonder.
I had barely taken him in my mouth when he cried out softly and came, sweet and hot. It was a gift, I think, not just the liquid essence of him against my tongue, but the speed of it. Because it allowed him then to love me slowly, so very slowly, down my body with such exquisite softness, such exquisite purpose. And when finally, finally, he took me in his mouth, I was helpless to do anything but wait for what he offered.
And very slowly, very sweetly, he made love to me.
It took a long, long time before he allowed the heat of his mouth to lead me to the edge and beyond; a long, long time of pleasure that was at once daring and very, very safe. And after I came, he laid there, his cheek on my belly, holding me in his mouth as I softened and shrank, and eventually slipped out.
I listened to the night, to my breathing, to his, and to the distant throb of wind and ocean beyond the window. He had made it so pure, so sweet, so good, that despite everything, being with him like that was easy and right, and just the taste of him soothed my soul for a little while.
His breath on my tender skin of my stomach was warm and slow and even, and after a while I realized that he had fallen asleep. And finally, finally, so did I, with the comforting weight of his head on my belly, and my balls still delicately cradled in his hand.
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