Steve's funeral was held on Friday in the little chapel of the mortuary. Both Steve and Sammie had obviously misjudged how many people would attend. All the seats were filled and a group of people stood in the back with no place left to sit.
As per Steve's wishes, he was cremated. The urn and a picture of Steve looking young, healthy, and vibrant were on a table at the front of the room. Steve had not wanted his friends to remember him as the thin frail cancer patient he had become, but as the man he was before.
Troy gave the eulogy. Everyone agreed that he summed up Steve's life and achievements both eloquently and with compassion. Steve would have been proud.
At the reception held after the service, Sammie was approached again and again by total strangers wanting to tell him how Steve had made an impact in their lives. Most were former patients Steve had counseled; a few were co-workers from different social service offices he had worked in.
"He was the first person to really believe in me, you don't know what that was like. To have someone saying that I mattered."
"Steve helped me fill out the applications for financial aid. I wasn't even going to go to college and he sat me down, talked to me, and then helped me with all the forms. My parents didn't give a rat's ass, but Steve, he really did care."
"I can't even imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn't met Steve."
This went on for some time. Finally the chapel cleared out and the group of friends went to Sammie's apartment to share a drink and remember their friend.
"Wow, did you see all those people?" Joel asked. They were all seated in the living room, a bucket of ice and two wine bottles sat on the coffee table.
"Yeah, I really hope he knew how many lives he changed. It’s not something he would have ever mentioned, but I hope he knew," Sammie said.
"He changed all of ours, that's for sure—you know how he’d always get us moving whether we wanted to or not," Lisa added.
"Amen to that," Terri agreed.
Tyler smiled, "He was an amazing counselor. He had great insight."
Everyone looked at Tyler, who shrugged and explained. "I was his final patient, and yeah, he changed my life too."
"To Steve," Troy said, raising his glass.
"To Steve," everyone else joined in to toast the man.
The six friends sat around sipping wine and swapping stories for the next few hours, until finally the wine was gone and their tongues has grown tired.
Lisa and Terri were the first to leave, Joel and Troy following not long after. Sammie and Tyler sat back down on the sofa after everyone had left. "It's so quiet," Sammie remarked. "You know, this is the first time we've been alone in this apartment since Steve was in the hospital."
"Yeah, it is."
"I feel so lost, Tyler." Sammie had tears in his eyes.
"It's okay, Sammie."
"I don't know what I would do if you weren't here. I can't imagine being here alone right now."
"If I weren't here you still wouldn't be alone. Your friends wouldn't have left you here alone, they would have stayed," Tyler reassured him.
"Still, I'm glad you're here."
"I'm glad I'm here too."
"Make love to me? I need to feel something beside this pain. I don't want to feel so empty."
"Yeah, come on, let's go to bed."
For the next few hours Tyler did everything he could to take away Sammie's heartache.
Saturday morning Sammie awoke with a start. The first thought that came to his mind was Steve. Steve never slept through the night anymore. Sammie sat up in bed, then realized he was in fact in bed, not on the sofa. The events of the week came back to him and he lay back down. He glanced over at Tyler, who lay awake watching him. "Sorry."
"S'okay," Tyler said. Sammie had done this every morning since Steve's death. Tyler had hoped that after the funeral it would pass, that Sammie would quit waking up every few hours, thinking he needed to check on Steve, but old habits die hard, and sometimes not so old ones break the hardest.
"I'm going to go make coffee,” Sammie said, getting out of bed.
"Make enough for me," Tyler said, stretching like a cat.
"Let's do something,” Sammie said over coffee at the kitchen table.
"I don't know, go some where."
"I don't know, just out of here. I don't want to sit in this apartment anymore."
"I know, lets drive to Kansas City, get some ridiculously expensive hotel room, or maybe even a bed and breakfast and spend the night. Maybe go out to some clubs, or casinos. I don't know, just be somewhere else."
"Okay, but I have to be at work on Monday," Tyler reminded.
"So, we'll come back tomorrow. Kansas City isn't that far."
"Let's go get ready then."
Tyler offered to drive and seemed surprised when Sammie agreed.
"You know where you're going?" Sammie asked as Tyler pulled out of the parking garage.
"To the interstate," Tyler smirked.
"Good, then I think I will close my eyes and try to get some sleep."
Sammie couldn't remember the last time he slept for more than a few hours without waking up. The last week he felt he had barely slept at all. He lay his seat back and closed his eyes, letting the hum of the car lull him to sleep.
"Sammie? Sammie, wake up. I don't know where to go."
"Hmm?" Sammie sat up, trying to focus on what Tyler was asking.
"We're just getting to KC, where do I go?"
"Wow, I slept the whole way?"
"Yeah, and snored so loud I couldn't even hear the radio," Tyler teased. "Feeling better?"
"I'm not sure yet."
"So which exit should I take?" Tyler asked again.
"Um, let's just go to the mid town area, maybe we'll stay in The Plaza shopping district."
"Oh, I've heard of that. Isn't that where all the ritzy stores and restaurants are?"
"Yeah, that's the place."
"Too bad it's not Christmastime. We could take a ride in one of the hansom cabs I’ve heard they have there."
"I think they have them all year, actually."
Sammie and Tyler ended up finding a four star hotel in the downtown area that was within easy driving distance of The Plaza. After checking in and unpacking the car, Tyler announced he was hungry.
"Well, then let's drive to some over priced restaurant and feed you."
"And ride in a carriage?" Tyler asked hopefully.
"You really want to do that?"
"Okay, if we find one we'll ride in it."
They spent the afternoon walking around The Plaza, eating at the promised ridiculously over priced restaurant, window-shopping, and even riding in a hansom cab.
Sammie could tell Tyler was having a blast, and Sammie had to admit it was doing him good to be out in the world again after spending so many weeks holed up in his apartment with Steve and the cancer. It had totally taken over Sammie's life, not that he was sorry that he had taken Steve back in and nursed him through. It was just a fact, Steve's cancer had tainted everything thing Sammie did, every thought he had, every decision he made. It seemed strange to not have that hanging over him now. Now he just had this huge empty spot in his heart. At least he had Tyler to help him go on.
"What do you say we go back and enjoy that ridiculously expensive hotel room you just paid for?" Tyler asked with a mischievous smile.
"Okay, sounds like a plan." Sammie would never admit it, but he was still incredibly tired, and lounging around in the hotel room sounded heavenly.
After they had ordered room service, made love and taken a long hot shower, Tyler and Sammie were curled up together on the bed trying to find something to watch on TV.
"It's just like at home, there's nothing on," Sammie grumbled, not that he really minded.
"It's just as well," Tyler said.
"Sammie, um, I don't know how to start..."
"Start what?" Sammie suddenly felt a little apprehensive.
"I'm ready to tell you."
"Yeah, you know, about me. That is if you’re ready to hear it."
"Yeah, I'm ready, but why now, I mean you don't have to tell..."
Tyler shook his head. "I promised Steve. He wanted me to tell you weeks ago, but I convinced him that you didn't need any more on your plate. So he made me promise that I would tell you after his funeral. He said it would give you something else to worry over, that you weren't happy unless you had someone to fuss over," Tyler chuckled nervously.
"He said that? The jerk." Sammie smiled quietly, picturing Steve as he said that—it was so like him; he could tell this was hard for Tyler; that he was putting up a brave front. "Well, no matter what you told Steve, there is no pressure here, you don't have to tell me anything."
"I promised Steve I would tell you..." he paused, closing his eyes and taking in a deep breath. "So shut up and listen, okay?"
Sammie nodded, chewing on his bottom lip.
"Every Tuesday, I have to go report to my... I um... Fuck. I'm a registered sex offender, I have to report to my parole officer every week."
Sammie frown "How are you...? How can that...?" he started.
Tyler shook his head. "It's stupid, really. I had just turned seventeen and my boyfriend was fifteen. So I was above the age of consent, he wasn't. His parents walked in on us, he was giving me a blowjob. They freaked and pressed charges." Tyler stopped and licked his lips nervously. "The kicker is that if I have been straight, if I had been with a girl, it would have fallen under the Romeo and Juliet law and I would have gotten a slap on the wrist, but, well, I got ten years in medium security."
"Yeah, ten years. I had been out less than six months when I met you."
"What about your parents?"
Tyler shook his head. "Before the other day, I hadn't spoke to either of them since before the trial."
Sammie's head was swimming. Did this sort of thing really happen? Then suddenly Sammie remembered reading about it in the papers; it had been a big case back then with saturation coverage. The trial had turned into a media circus and the gay community had been outraged. Tyler’s parents just abandoned him there. It all made sense now; Tyler's seeming so naive and yet so hardened at the same time. Of course, in prison he had been cut off from so much of the real world, yet exposed to so much Sammie couldn't even imagine. "Your scars? They’re from there?"
Tyler's eyes filled with tears, "I wasn't even eighteen yet when I went in. Can you imagine me, at eighteen, with my blond hair and blue eyes? I was this naive little kid and I got passed around like a piece of meat." He took in a deep breath as if to steel himself up for the rest of the story. "Then one day John decided he wanted a turn. After that no one else was allowed to have me, I was his. He marked me with this tattoo." Tyler pulled up his sleeve showing the tattoo on his bicep. "See, that's a J and there's the K. His initials kinda swirled together."
Sammie nodded and swallowed, hard. He had seen the tattoo numerous times but had never made out the initials until Tyler pointed it out. "And the rest?" he was almost afraid of the answers.
Tyler had a vacant, haunted look in his eyes as he spoke; he looked out the window, but wasn’t seeing. "The cigarette burns were from the times I pissed him off. He had to keep me in line, you know.
"I tried to get away from him later, when I was older, but it's kinda hard to escape from someone when you are all confined. Unless someone else would take me in, protect me... No one would, they were all afraid of him... The first time he hauled me back to his cell and carved his initials into my hip. The second time he stabbed me with a shank, said I made him look weak, that it looked bad, me trying to get away from him.
"When I got out of the hospital I went back to his cell. Where else could I go? I stayed until I was paroled. I was afraid to tell you, and then when we started getting involved, getting closer…God, I was afraid of losing something I thought could maybe become good and…”
Sammie pulled Tyler to him. "Hey," he whispered, puling Tyler to him. "It’s okay."
A sob broke from Tyler's throat as he fell into Sammie's arms.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Sammie whispered. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Author note: Tyler’s past is loosely based on a case in Kansas. Here are three links to read on the horrific story. Google Matt Limon for more