Chapter Sixteen


Warning: This chapter contains scenes of death and violence that some readers may find upsetting.

I couldn't see anything at first. All I knew was pain in my head. There was so much smoke and for a moment I couldn't move. It was hard to breathe and I was in a panic. What had happened? Where were my friends? Well one of those questions was all too easy to answer. A bomb had happened. I'd heard the sound before. This one was a considerable amount larger than the last one but it was still a bomb.

My friends. That was the question that scared the hell out of me. My friends were my world and if anything had happened to any of them I didn't know what I would do. Then I heard the screaming. I didn't know who it was or where they were but I could hear the pitiful, anguished sounds of voices calling out for friends and help. I started to cry then. Fear really set in when I heard those voices. It was real. Someone had bombed the university and it was probably the same person who had bombed the lockers at the high school.

"Tommy!" I could hear Nick scream. "Don't try to move, Tommy. There's a beam across your stomach."

I looked up into his soot covered face and just knew that I was dreaming. He wasn't there. I was dead and this was my hell. There was no way that anyone could have survived that explosion. My mind knew this was the truth. My brain was playing tricks on me. It was just that last electric synapse firing to fuel one last feeble fantasy.

I turned my head and all the proof that I needed to know that I really was in hell was the sight of Maria's bloody face lying not so far from me. Her mouth was twisted into a horror filled silent scream and her eyes were closed. She had to be dead. There was so much blood that I just knew she couldn't be alive.

Greg was on my other side. He looked better than Maria but he didn't look alive either. I sobbed with the anguish that washed over me and as I took in air I started to cough again. The smoke was so thick that I was surprised that I could see anyone. My coughing quickly turned to choking and hen finally darkness came again. Was it possible to die once more after you'd already died?

I was ripped back to consciousness by rough hands pulling on my arms. I opened my eyes to look up into a masked face. My first instinct was to scream in fear but my mind at least registered the fact that this was a fireman or a paramedic. I was being saved. But how could you save a dead person? The more he pushed and pulled at me the less convinced of my own death I became. The pain in my mid section made me start to believe that I was very much alive. Then it was like an enormous weight was lifted from my body that I hadn't noticed until it was gone and darkness claimed me again.

When I opened my eyes again I saw the night sky above me. There were huge white clouds obscuring the black night. Fat, wet snowflakes were falling from those clouds, hitting my face and I swear I heard them sizzle. It kept me conscious, those little pricks of pain in my face and neck. I was alive all right, but I nearly wished I wasn't as the pain continued to coarse through my body.

Where was everyone? Were they all dead? A hard sob escaped me, making my ribs scream in agony as that thought ran through my head. Nick! Nick was alive. I'd heard him talking to me. I'd seen his face. Where was Nick? I tried to look around for him but I couldn't move my head. More fear pumped through me as I thought of the ramifications of not being able to move my head. As more fear spread over me so did darkness once again and I welcomed it.

It was the sound of my own voice that woke me again. I guess I was already awake but it was like a fog had lifted from my mind when I heard myself asking about my friends. I was in an ambulance and there were paramedics looking me over. They wouldn't answer my questions about my friends though. That made me angry but I was too tired to argue further. I just kept asking about my friends all the way to the hospital.

At the hospital I was put on oxygen and left alone in a room with another patient. He had dark hair and was sleeping peacefully in the bed near the windows. I was trying hard to fight the darkness that kept teasing the corners of my vision but I wasn't successful. It enveloped me like a warm blanket and I drifted again.

When I opened my eyes again the sun had come up. I had no idea how long I had been asleep that time but I suspected that I had been sedated. My room mate was not in his bed when I looked over so I assumed he'd either been released or was having some sort of test done. At that point I didn't really care. I had just noticed that the oxygen mask had been removed and I was starving.

A pang of guilt washed over me as I thought of food. I still didn't know anything about my friends and I was thinking about food. I wished that someone would come into my room and tell me what was going on. Were they all dead? The explosion had been so powerful that I was starting to fear that they were. Who had done this? I couldn't believe that it had happened. Was it the same person that had bombed the lockers at the high school? If it was how would we ever find out who was behind this?

Then the door to my room opened and Brian walked into the room. The tears in his eyes told me all I needed to know and then I was crying with him. He walked over and pulled the folding chair close to my bed to sit beside me. He reached for my hand and just laid his head on my chest and cried silently. I put my other hand on his head and tried hard not to lose it completely.

"Ian's dead, Tommy," he moaned, and I lost my battle. "He was right next to where the bomb went off. They said he was killed instantly. His mother and brothers are on their way to Storyville."

"I'm so sorry, Brian," I sobbed.

"I just can't believe this happened, Tommy," he said, lifting up to sit upright. The pain in his face was unbearable. "So many people are dead. Who could have done this?"

"Who . . . who else?" I asked, not really sure that I wanted to know the answer.

"From what I've been told and overheard, Thad and Phillip are both dead," he said through his tears. "Charlie Granger died twenty minutes ago."

"Oh my God," I cried though it came out more like a cracked moan.

"Nick is in the waiting room with Greg," he said. "They wouldn't let any one else in here but me."

"I'm glad you're here," I said. "But I just can't believe it."

"I know," he said, wiping his eyes. "Tyler called an hour ago. His plane will be in the air soon. He's coming back."

"But is it safe for anyone to come here?" I asked.

"Tommy, we can't worry about that right now," he said. "We have to find out about the others. The one's I told you about are the only ones I've heard about. I heard about Thad and Phillip from Nick but that was all he knew. The only reason I know about Ian is because he was brought here."

"Where is everyone else?" I asked. Surely they'd all come to Mercy General. It was the closest hospital to the university.

Before he could answer a doctor came into my room. He was younger than any doctor I'd ever seen before but what he had to say made me feel slightly better. His name was Doctor Daniels and he was releasing me from the hospital. He told me that I had suffered some smoke inhalation and a few bumps and scrapes. In other words, I looked much worse than I was.

I got dressed and Brian and I went to the waiting room to sit with Nick. I was happy to see that Greg was with him. His left arm was in a cast and he looked like he'd been on the receiving end of about thirty punches to his face but he was alive.

"Tommy," he said, trying to smile when he saw us. "I was worried."

"I've been worried about you, too," I said as we took seats next to them. "Any word on anyone else?"

"I've told him about Ian, Phillip, Charlie and Thad," said Brian. "Those were the only ones I knew about."

"Well I know that Wendy is about to be released," said Nick. "Ben and Steve were taken to surgery last night. I haven't heard anything more about them. I do know that Vince is in critical condition. Maria is in surgery as well."

"What about Andy and Leo?" I asked.

"Andy is fine," said Nick. "He's upstairs with his parents in the surgery waiting room. The last I knew Leo was with my mom and dad."

"Where are you parents?" Greg asked.

"With the Meyers family upstairs," he said. "I stayed down here to wait for Tommy. One of the nurses told me that you were being released."

We went up to the surgery waiting room after that. I was so happy to see Wendy already there. Leo and Noah were sitting with Mike and Sharon. I walked right over to Tom and Shirley only to be crushed in a hug by Shirley. She was crying and she nearly cut off my oxygen supply.

"Oh, Tommy," she said as she clutched me. "They wouldn't let us in to see you now that you're eighteen. We told them that we had been your guardians but they wouldn't listen."

"It's ok, Shirley," I said, trying to pull myself out of her embrace. "How's Ben?"

"There's been no word yet," said Tom as he hugged me as well. "Both Vince and Steve are also in surgery."

"This is unbelievable," I said as I started to cry again. Shirley moved right in to hug me again.

"Don't think about it right now, Tommy," she said. "Just know that they're all going to make it. We have to believe that."

"Who besides Phillip, Charlie, Thad and Ian didn't make it?" I demanded when Shirley let go of me again.

"A boy named Loren Miller was killed," said Tom. "The RA from your dorm was killed as well."

"Mike?" I asked in confusion. "What was he doing there to begin with?"

"We don't know," said Shirley. "There's a lot about what happened that we don't know."

"The press is everywhere," said Tom. "It's hindering the investigation. All we know for sure is that the gymnasium and auditorium buildings are in ruin."

"Oh my God," I said, covering my mouth and sinking into a chair. This was so much worse than the bombs in the lockers. Someone had really tried to kill everyone this time.

"Now Tommy don't," said Mike. "This isn't going to help you right now. Let's try to be strong for Ben."

"Why did this happen?" I asked. "Why can't people just stop trying to kill all of us?"

"Tommy," moaned Shirley, crushing me in another hug. "Oh, Tommy."

I was too stunned to say anything else. I couldn't believe this was happening. It felt like a horrible nightmare that I just couldn't wake up from. I didn't understand why anyone would hate us enough to do this. We weren't hurting anyone. Our sexuality wasn't hurting anyone. We had just as much right to live as everyone else, but someone didn't agree.

We sat there in pained silence for another hour before a surgeon came out to tell us that Ben had come through surgery just fine. He was in recovery and someone would let the Meyers know when they could see him. Then someone came to tell us about Dustin. He was out of surgery but it was touch and go. I couldn't believe it.

Finally Greg and Nick convinced me to go home. I was so exhausted and upset that I didn't argue much. They weren't going to let me in to see anyone anyway. We headed for the parking lot where Greg's car was. Evidently he'd returned to the house at some point. I didn't have time to think much about the fact that he had his car because as soon as we got outside the press surrounded us.

They were everywhere. News trucks from networks that I remembered from the coverage of the Hartman trial along with some that I didn't recognize lined the street in front of the hospital. None were blocking entrances to the lots in front of the hospital but the reporters and cameramen were. Questions were screamed at us and almost all of them called me by name.

"Get me out of here," I said to Nick, and he and Greg took me by the arm and pulled me through the throng of reporters to Greg's car. The reporters followed us but we got to the car safely. After Greg pulled out of the parking space he drove slowly, pushing the throng back.

We were silent as we drove to the house. I started to think about my friends that were now dead and started to cry again. Nick must have noticed because he put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed lightly. I just couldn't believe it had happened. Who would do this? I couldn't think of anyone that wasn't currently in prison that would want us dead.

Then I wondered why again. Why did this happen? I was starting to think that all of it was my fault. Maybe violence and death were my destiny. Was I destined to live through one violent event after another and lose people I cared about each time? How much more of this could I take?

"Tommy, are you all right?" Greg asked without even taking his eyes off the road.

"No," I replied. "I just don't know how much more of this I can take."

"This isn't going to get any easier any time soon," Nick said softly. "With the media here it won't be easy to get over any of this."

"But what's next?" I asked. "First the lockers at the high school and then this. What's next? When is this freak ever going to just leave us alone?"

Neither of them had an answer for me. The truth was that I didn't expect them to have an answer. There was no answer to that question because we didn't know who was doing this or why he or she was doing it. I couldn't even think of a viable suspect. I didn't know of anyone that hated any of us enough to try to kill so many people.

When we got to the house the reporters were already there. Greg pulled into the driveway and we ran into the house without talking to the press at all. I wished they'd just go away and let us deal with this. It wasn't like it was going to be easy for any of us to deal with this under normal circumstances let alone with cameras and microphones thrust in our faces everywhere we went.

The television was no escape from it either. It was on all of the major networks. Even the local channels were running stories about the explosion and the deaths. We learned from the television that fifteen people were dead. We knew some of the people on that list, but I didn't think we knew all of them. A local anchor informed us that there would be a candlelight vigil at the bomb site the very next evening. He said that a construction crew was already working on clearing debris and getting the area cleaned up a bit.

I couldn't believe how fast they were doing it. A vigil wasn't a bad idea but I didn't know if I wanted to be there or not. I just wanted to go to bed and cry. Instead I let Greg make hot chocolate for each of us and sat in the living room with them to watch the coverage. I could still see the group of reporters through the living room window. From the looks of the crowd it was getting bigger. They would probably never leave me alone now. What they didn't understand was that this time it wasn't just about me. There were others involved now.

Then I saw a live report from Meg's front yard. It was then that I knew that the media also knew that this wasn't just about me. They would be invading everyone's lives until they got their story. It was sick and I hated it. Seeing Meg's devastated face as she talked about Phillip made me cry again. I wished the media would just go away. Then I them ask her something that made me sit up and pay close attention to the television.

"Ms. Conners, when did you first learn that your ex-husband was the bomber?" asked a female reporter. I couldn't tell which one because the camera was pointed at Meg.

"Leave us alone!" cried Meg. "My son is dead and you people want to talk about my ex-husband? He's a mass murderer! Go to the police and ask them about Paul!"

"Paul Conners did this?" I asked, turning to look at the stunned faces of my friends.

"That's the first time I heard that," said Nick with wide eyes.

"Me too," added Greg.

Then the front door burst open and I could hear reporters screaming questions at whoever it was that had entered the house. I bolted off the couch and was in the hall way in seconds. Then I was lost in Tyler's crushing embrace as Greg rushed to close the door and keep the reporters from coming inside.

"Tommy, I was so scared that you were killed in the explosion," he said as he gripped me. "Even after I talked to Nick I just couldn't get it out of my head."

"I'm fine," I said, clutching him just as tightly as he clutched me.

"It's so awful, Tommy," he said.

We made our way back the living room where Tyler and I continued to at least touch each other continuously. I hadn't realized it until I saw him but it seemed like I would never see him again. I guess from the way he was clutching my hand he had felt a similar sentiment about me.

Andy, Shirley and Tom came to the house as the sun began to set. I got hugs from each of them before they told me that Ben was awake and doing fine. Wendy came after we had all attempted to eat supper without much success. She hugged all of us and we all had another cry as we sort of celebrated being alive. By the time Tyler and I crawled into bed that night I was hugged out. I wasn't too hugged out to clutch him all night. I believe the sun was about to come up when my eyes finally closed and I drifted off to sleep.

Storyville 3