Okay, pain is good. Pain is nature's way of saying 'I'm hurt, but I'm alive, now get me the hell out of here'.
Nature on the other hand, can be a bitch.
I couldn't move.
Panic flared and I tried to shout. Nothing emerged. More panic. My heart slammed into my chest so hard I could barely breath. My chest screamed in agony.
Something warm and wet trickled down my forehead. I licked my lips and tasted blood. My adrenaline rush faded, leaving me feeling dizzy and slow. I tried to move again, this time in small increments.
Arms first. I brushed my thigh and was able to touch my chest with my right arm. So far so good. The left wasn't there. When I tried to move it was like sending a message into a void. No response. Then I realized my left arm was pinned between my body and the driver's side door where I had been thrown in the crash.
Okay, get it uncrushed and things should start working again. My legs moved sluggishly but they did move. Thank God. So far it didn't look like anything was broken. I hadn't been moving fast when I'd been ambushed by the tree, which was probably why I was still among the living. I manage to brace my legs against the floor board and inch my bruised body into a more or less upright position.
At least I'd been wearing my seat belt. The ancient vehicle had no concept of air bags in its lineage which explained the pain and the bruising.
My body was fast awakening into one massive all over ache. Now that everybody realized the body still lived, each of the various parts were clamoring for attention. My fuzzy brain just interpreted it all the same way. Pain. Throbbing, mind numbing pain.
As I became more conscious I grew aware of external sounds. Rain was still pounding on the roof, thunder still rumbled, but now it seemed distant, as though the storm had done what it came to do and could move on.
Feeling started coming back into my left arm. I immediately began to regret it. And I also suspected I was wrong about not breaking anything. I was very much afraid my arm was indeed fractured. I needed to get to a hospital.
A whole new issue began crowding in on me.
I was in the middle of nowhere. How was I going to get out of here?
I leaned forward slightly, sucking in air as the agony in my arm surged to new levels, but managing to reach with my good hand for the key ring still in the ignition. I cranked it and wasn't surprised to hear nothing. I was afraid the old beast had given up the ghost for good this time. I tried one more time just to be sure but there wasn't even a click. I let my hand drop away from the key and my forehead touched the steering wheel. Despair enveloped me. How was I going to get out of here?
Nobody knew where I was. Nobody was going to miss me for a while that I could see. It was the weekend. I had made no plans with anyone. There was no place that if I didn't show up someone was going to get concerned. This section of road I was on led nowhere except Lynx Woods. No one else would have any reason to travel it. I could easily go missing until Monday.
With the temperatures at night dropping into the single digits I was very afraid I might not make it that long. Exposure was a very real concern here.
I had to leave the truck and walk to where I stood a better chance of being spotted. It took me several tries but I finally managed to release the seatbelt. Then I twisted and tried to pop the driver's door open. My arm shrieked in agony and a gray pall settled over my vision. I had to struggle not to black out. I had to get out, pain or no pain. I edged around a little more, using my legs and butt to move me, trying to avoid jarring the arm.
Waves of nausea assaulted me and a cold sweat broke out on my forehead, stinging the cuts on my face. I persisted, centimeter by centimeter until I could wrap my good hand around the door handle. I jabbed down on it.
It didn't move.
Don't do this to me. That would be a rotten trick, to trap me in this ancient piece of junk to freeze to death. I bunched the muscles of my arm and pressed down with all my strength. The handle swung down and out and the door popped open, spilling me out onto the ground.
I screamed as my broken arm folded up under me and took my weight. This time there was no neat fade to black. This time I passed out cold.
I awoke to find myself lying in a puddle of muddy, sour smelling water. I rolled away from it, onto my good side and managed to prop myself up against the side of the Landrover. My head felt woozy and I wondered if it was a good idea to try to stand.
"Gotta get moving, buddy," I forced myself to speak aloud. Concentrating on the sound of my own voice. "Up and at 'em. Nap time's over. Move."
I grabbed the rear door handle and using the truck as a brace I dragged myself to my feet. At first my feet didn't want to stay under me, but eventually they got the hang of what I wanted from them and they kept me upright. More or less.
The command to walk might have elicited giggles if anyone had been listening to me anymore. I stayed where I was, leaning against the Landrover, swaying drunkenly on my traitorous feet.
My teeth were chattering together and I knew I had to get moving. I forced my feet to take shuffling steps.
I might be moving like a drunken sailor after six years at sea, but I was moving. My first major obstacle was to get around the tree that had caused this whole mess. I gritted my teeth and held my arm to my chest to minimize the jolting it took at each step and edge around the black bulk in the middle of the road. I nearly fell twice, each time I grabbed a branch and stayed upright. Then I was around it and nothing lay before me but clear road.
I more or less kept to a straight line down the middle of it. I couldn't have told you how fast I moved or how long I was out there. I only know it's an experience I never want to repeat.
He never told me his name. My good Samaritan appeared ahead of me what seemed like days after I had left the wreckage of my truck but was probably only an hour or so. The beat up old Ford he drove shook and grumbled as he pulled to stop in front of me and threw open the driver's door.
"You're one sorry lookin' son of a bitch," he greeted me and gently took hold of my good arm. "And you're a long way from the nearest hospital, which I'd say is a real shame, cause if anyone needed a hospital real bad, it's you."
I couldn't have agreed with him more.
He talked non-stop during the act of getting me into the warm cab of his pickup, and all through the ride to the hospital too. I would have married him and raised his children if he had wanted me to.
And he never even told me his name.
At the hospital he got an orderly to help me into a wheelchair then with quiet aplomb he said, "Well, I have to get back to the missus. She'll be wondering what's kept me. You take care of yourself, now. Here?"
And he was gone in a plume of oily smoke.
"Who the hell was he?" the orderly demanded. He started wheeling me inside. "He shouldn't just be dropping you off. He should have come in and got you admitted. Who is he, your dad?"
"Don't know," I managed to say around numb, swollen lips. "He found me... I had an accident..."
"Car accident? Hit and run? Did he run into you? Is that why he was in such a hurry to leave?"
"No," I whispered, knowing I'd never be able to get him to understand. "Hit a tree."
We were inside the hospital now. Someone gently lifted me out of the wheelchair and got me up onto a Gurney. Someone else began cutting away my shirt. I could hear them talking. Their voices were moving further away from me every second. I was suddenly very tired. It was impossible to keep my eyes open.
I drifted off.
At least this time I was warm.
I awoke slowly, blinking with growing awareness of my surroundings. I finally opened my eyes all the way and realized I was in a hospital room.
Michael sat in a chair beside my bed, reading Women's Wear Daily with a disbelieving look on his face. When I moved he dropped the magazine and was at my side in an instance.
"Ty! Jesus, man, I thought you were never going to wake up."
"Hey, aren't you the one always telling me I need my beauty sleep?"
"Not enough sleep in the world for you, sugar," Michael said, the same thing he said every time we told that lame joke. But his voice broke when he said it and he had unformed tears in his eyes.
"Aw, Michael... It's not even broken they say. Just dislocated..."
Then I did something I've never done before. I broke down and started crying. I bawled like a baby.
Instantly Michael sat on the bed and took me in his arms. He clucked at me like a damned mother hen and damned if I didn't respond to him. My tears subsided to a tickle and I had a soft hitch in my voice when I spoke again.
"I thought I was dead," I whispered. "I was sure I'd never get out of there."
"Shhh, baby. You're safe now. You'll be all better soon."
"You know what the worst of it was?" I struggled into a sitting position but never let go of Michael. I clung to him like he was a lifeline. "Knowing that there was no one who would even notice I was gone. I could have sat out there for days and not one person would have said, 'Hey, anyone know where Tyler is?' How did I fuck up my life so badly, Michael? Can you tell me that?"
"You didn't fuck up, hon. You just forgot who your friends are. Even Kat was asking after you. Just stop shutting us out, and I guarantee you the next time you decide to dance with a tree, someone will notice you're not around."
I held him and felt his surprisingly strong arms around my shoulder. Had he always been that strong and I hadn't noticed? "You're a lot smarter than I ever gave you credit for, aren't you?"
"Hey, you didn't want smart from me. What we had wasn't about that. We both knew that going in. I would have died my hair blond." Michael patted his brown curly head. "But why mess with perfection? Face it, Ty, you wanted eye candy."
I winced. True or not, who wants to hear it laid out so baldly?
"What about Donny? What does he want?"
"Funny thing, Donny and I started out as just friends. I know you used to think we were fucking all the time but in the beginning all we did was talk. Well, I talked and he listened. Then it's like I woke up one day and saw this gorgeous hunk in place of my friend and he was looking at me the same way, and the rest, as they say, is history."
No doubt Donny had earned the right to hear Michael's story and it had helped forge a stronger bond with them. I suddenly found I envied Donny.
Michael saw the look on my face and kissed me. "Listen sugar. You can't go on like this. Tearing yourself apart. You have to tell Charlie what he means to you and let him know you're there for him, but you can't tie yourself into knots waiting for a man who hides from himself. Tell him and move on."
"Tell him and move on." My throat felt suddenly dry. Give up on the idea of Charlie and me? Could I really do that? "But --"
"If he loves you as much as I think he does he'll come through," Michael said firmly.
I guess that's what it always comes down to, isn't it? Is someone's love strong enough to carry them through? My love for Charlie could raise mountains, but if he wasn't willing to accept it, what difference did it make?
I felt the tears start again and this time Michael held me while I cried and didn't try to stop me. Maybe he knew I needed them. I thought I heard the door open but before I could react Michael said fiercely,
"Can't you just leave us alone?"
The door shut again and I knew we were alone in the room.
"Michael --" I said in a strangled voice.
"Hush. Silly cow can go somewhere else to peddle her pills."
He cradled me in his arms, his head resting on mine. I felt strangely comforted by this reversal of roles.
"I'm there for you, Ty. You were always good to me. I won't forget that. Neither will Donny."
"Good to you? How the hell can you say that? I was the bastard who kept you around as a convenient fuck --"
"For two years I was safe, Ty. For two years I wasn't afraid of going home. You have no idea how wonderful that is after everything I've... well, after everything. Plus I never would have met Donny and got a chance to be friends. Because of that we can be more than friends. But it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for you." He kissed the top of my head. "So shut the fuck up about what a bastard you were. You don't know what a real bastard is."
I thought the damned tears were going to come again. The drugs must be making me maudlin. As though to prove my point I was swept up in a massive, jaw splitting yawn.
"You need to get some rest, sugar."
"You're right." Suddenly I could barely keep my eyes open. "Will you come and see me again?"
"Sugar, I'll be here to take you home tomorrow. They won't be keeping you. Not when they need these beds for sick people."
He tucked me in and leaned down to press his warm mouth to mine. I kissed him back with a fervor that startled both of us.
"Baby, if I wasn't a married man, you'd be giving the next nurse brave enough to walk in here a real eyeful. Now cut that out."
I laughed shakily but lay back down on the bed as instructed. He straightened my covers again but refrained from any contact.
"I love you, Ty. You take care of yourself."
"You too, Michael. And if Donny doesn't take care of you, then you know you're always welcome at my place. And not as eye candy, either."
Michael's beautiful face lit up. He blew me a kiss then slipped out of the room.
I burrowed into the stiff hospital sheets as best I could and within minutes I was out of it.
[More to come]
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