Chapter Seventeen

The Vigil

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

The light came in through the window and I was instantly awake. At first I didn't even remember what had happened. Tyler's presence in the bed with me and his tight embrace reminded me of the reality of the situation and made me want to cry all over again. Why would Paul Conners want to kill us all? I knew that he wasn't exactly thrilled about his son's sexuality but I didn't think for a minute that he hated homosexuals enough to do what he'd done.

He'd killed his own son with that bomb. Phillip, Charlie, Ian, Thad and Loren were dead. I couldn't figure out why Mike Mallory had even been there. He wasn't a member of the GSA and he certainly disliked homosexuals. There was no point in trying to wrap my mind around his attendance at that point. It had cost him his life and now he was another name on a list of casualties.

Fifteen people had been killed by one man's twisted hatred. It was sick and horrifying to not find it unbelievable that something like this could happen. I lived in the world after all. I'd seen one news story after another about senseless violence, school shootings, bombs, suicide pilots and just about every other atrocity. What was so unbelievable is that it had happened in Storyville; that it had happened to people I knew and loved. What was even more unbelievable was that someone I had at least a passing acquaintance with was the man responsible for fifteen deaths and the destruction of so many lives.

Tyler's stirring in the bed beside me broke my train of thought. I looked at him to find that he was looking back at me. I didn't like the haunted look in his eyes, but I imagined that my own look wasn't much better. I leaned closer and kissed him lightly. I held him just a little tighter for a moment and just reveled in the feel of his heart beating under mine.

"Morning," he said softly after a moment of cuddling.

"Morning, Cutie," I replied.

"Think we should get out of bed?" he asked.

"Probably," I sighed. "I don't want to though."

"Well we can't be selfish today," he said. "There are other people here that need us to be with them."

"Right," I sighed again. "Let's get up and get ready for the day."

As I stepped into the shower it occurred to me that this was the time that Tyler and I were supposed to be really getting to know each other. We were supposed to be having fun discovering all the little quirks in each other and figuring out how to live with each other. It wasn't fair that we were robbed of this time. I hadn't wanted our relationship to begin with tragedy.

Once we were both showered and dressed we went downstairs to find Leo and Brian in the living room. I walked straight to my brother and hugged him when he stood up. I held him tight and felt him shudder in my embrace. He didn't say anything and I knew that nothing I could say would make him feel better. He'd lost his life partner and nothing I could say would take away the pain from that.

"I couldn't go to the apartment without him, Tommy," he said when we let go of each other. "I just couldn't do it."

"It's all right," I said, sitting down beside him. "You'll stay here for as long as you need. We're family, Brian. We'll stick together."

"Andy and Gage have breakfast ready," said Greg as he came into the living room. "They're setting it up in the dining room."

We all went to the dining room and sat down silently. Nothing was said as we passed the plate of pancakes around the table and then the plate of sausage. Gage walked around the table filling glasses with juice while Andy followed with coffee. It just felt unreal to me to be sitting at the dining room table letting the smell of the food entice my stomach.

We ate silently. No one really knew what to say. At least I knew that I didn't know what to say. Each person in that room had been affected by the bombing. We'd all lost someone be it family or friend. What was there to say to each other that wouldn't sound silly or forced? I suppose I could have talked about how guilty it made me feel to be enjoying pancakes and sausage when my friends were dead. That really wouldn't have been a great table conversation at that time though.

After breakfast Greg and I cleared the table and washed the dishes. We did that silently as well. We actually made a good team in the clean up department. I washed the dishes and he dried them and put them away. He didn't ask where anything went. He just kept going until he found the right places for everything. When we were done I cleaned out the sink while he wiped off the stove and counter.

We drove back to the hospital in three cars. The press was still outside when we left the house but we paid no attention to them. We just made our silent journey back to the place were the people we cared about were fighting for their lives.

We each got a hug from Shirley when we got there. Wendy was there with her parents and everyone hugged us or shook our hands. Ben was doing much better and I was allowed to see him for the first time. He was propped up in his bed watching the coverage of the bombing on television. He didn't smile when I came into the room and I noticed the wet tracks on his face from the tears he'd shed.

"Glad you're all right, Tommy," he said without looking at me as I sat down in the chair beside his bed. "I was worried about you when I finally woke up."

"They were only letting family in to see you at that point," I said. "But I'm glad that you're going to be all right, too."

"They told me about Phillip this morning," he said as fresh tears fell from his eyes. "And about Paul."

"Yeah," I said, because I couldn't think of anything better to say.

"I want to leave Storyville and never come back, Tommy," he said. "I don't think I can stand to be here anymore."

"I know what you mean," I said. "I just don't know where to go."

"Well I know that I can't wait to get out of here and go back to school," he said. "That will at least get me out of Storyville for a while."

"Yeah," I said. My heart was breaking just hearing him say these things. It would mean that we would be farther apart than ever before. He hadn't said it but I could hear the truth in his voice. He wanted away from all of it. That included me.

"Where will you go?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Like I said there isn't anywhere for me to go."

"You know that you could just go to Chicago with me," he said softly. "I really wish you would."

I started to cry then. I'd misread what he'd been saying at the beginning. He didn't want away from me. I was so happy to know that but at the same time I knew that I couldn't go to school in Chicago. He would be leaving as soon as he was released from the hospital but I had to stay here for a while yet. There were things I had to do before I could leave. I just knew that Chicago wasn't far enough away for me.

"You don't have to," he said. "I just want you to be safe, Tommy. I know that this had nothing to do with you or Steve, but . . ."

"I know," I sighed. "I have to admit that I thought it did at first."

"Paul said that he was trying to kill Dustin," he said bitterly. "He said that on television. He was trying to kill Dustin."

"I know," I sighed again.

"Pretty hateful don't you think?" he asked.

"It is," I replied.

"And he went and killed his own son just because he's a bastard with a narrow mind and a grudge," he said.

"Ben, this isn't going to get us anywhere," I cautioned.

"No, but if I don't talk about it I'm going to go nuts," he said. "I heard about Charlie, too. They told me about Charlie and Phillip at the same time. I guess they thought that it would soften the blow if they told me about them both instead of waiting to tell me about one of them later."

"How much do you know?" I asked cautiously.

"I know it all," he said. "What they haven't told me I get from CNN."

"Yeah," I said lamely.

"Fifteen people," he said with a shaking voice. "He killed fifteen people."

"Hatred is an awful thing," I said.

"Hatred killed my friends," he said, and then we were both crying.

We didn't say anything for a while. Wendy came in a few minutes later and I took my leave. I loved them both but I just couldn't talk about it anymore. I didn't want to talk about it. There was no point. It had happened and there was nothing we could do to undo the damage.

Back in the waiting room everyone was talking about the vigil. I still didn't want to go, but Tyler seemed to want to. I knew that if he wanted to go then I would go too. Everyone in the waiting room was planning to go so if I didn't go it wouldn't look right. I just didn't know if I was ready for another group of people. It just seemed so soon to me.

I also knew that the press would cover the vigil. I didn't want to be interviewed again. The last time I was interviewed I'd lost Steve. I didn't want to lose Tyler for the same reason. I knew that they were two different people with very different personalities but I was still nervous about it.

Then I caught my own image on the television. I turned and watched as a reporter talked about the trial of Reverend Hartman, the stoning and the bombs in the lockers at Storyville High. Clips of different interviews I had given at the time were played and I could do nothing but stare at the screen. I felt Tyler's hand on my shoulder as I watched but it did nothing to calm me down. When it was over I dared to look at Leo and Noah. They both looked haunted and guilty.

Every hour the national news programs ran clips of the old interviews. They were calling all of that Storyville's first brush with hatred, and I was the star. I hated it. I finally just stopped paying attention to the screen. When I couldn't stand listening to the television anymore I got up and walked out of the waiting room.

Tyler and Brian followed me to the little coffee shop on the first floor. We sat there in silence for a few minutes just staring at our coffee cups. This bombing had nothing to do with me at all, but the press was making it seem like it had everything to do with me. The world would believe whatever the press wanted them to believe and once again I would be thrust into the limelight over a tragedy that should have been left alone.

"This isn't going to quiet down any time soon is it?" Brian asked, looking directly at me.

"It doesn't look like it," I said. "With my face on the screen and so much talk about what happened a year ago I think this story sill be the main event on the news programs for a while."

"They need to just leave you alone," said Tyler, and I loved him for it immediately.

"They aren't going to leave me alone though," I said. "I'm connected to this tragedy and they're going to make the world know it."

"But it wasn't about you," said Brian.

"Does that matter?" I asked. "I was big news last year. It wasn't just about me then either. They sure didn't focus on Steve, Mark and Rick for long though did they? No, it was me. They wanted to talk to me. They wanted me to tell them the story of what happened. They wanted me to tell them how it felt to be hated by a group of people. Now they'll just continue to drag it all out again."

"This sucks," said Brian. "It's wrong."

"Of course it's wrong," said Tyler. "It's the news. Being wrong is what makes the news so popular."

"Let's not talk about it anymore," I sighed. "I want to talk to both of you about something that Ben said. It got me thinking."

"What did he say?" Brian asked.

"He said he wants to leave Storyville and never come back," I said. "I have to admit that it sounds wonderful. He wanted me to come with him to school in Chicago, but I don't think that's far enough for my taste. I want to leave but I want both of you to come with me."

"Where would we go?" Tyler asked. "I'm not even a citizen yet."

"We'll go to Florida," said Brian. "Tommy and I are both originally from there. I was born there at least. It's far enough away. Isn't it?"

I thought about that one for a moment. Florida was far enough away. It would be a good chance to start over. I liked the idea actually. The fact that Brian and Tyler would come with me made it even better. I liked it more and more as I continued to think about it.

"Florida sounds good," I said finally. "As long as we're all in."

"Well as long as I can go to school there I'm in," said Tyler. "My staying in America depends on me being in school. I have a Student Visa."

"Oh we'll go to school in Florida all right," Brian said. "In fact I'll start looking into it tonight."

"Well we'd probably better get back," said Tyler. "They'll come looking for us if we don't."

"Yeah," I said, draining my coffee cup. "Let's go."

"Are we all going to the vigil tonight?" Brian asked as we walked back to the elevators.

"I think we have to," I said. "If we're not there what will people say?"

"Who cares what they say?" Tyler asked. "I want to go, though."

"We're going," I said as the elevator doors closed.

Back in the waiting room I saw that the news had moved on to coverage of the actual bombing. The sight of the Gymnasium Building and Auditorium in ruin made my breath catch in my throat. From the looks of the destruction it was a miracle that any of us survived it. It made my knees weak just looking at it. That was where they wanted to hold the vigil. Could they have that cleaned up by night fall?

They talked about the vigil next. I found out from the news that we would all meet in the parking lot of the Student Services building and make our way over to the bomb site. We would carry our candles with us as we walked. It sounded like an orchestrated event to me but I knew there was no way I couldn't go.

Mike and Sharon arrived with lunch for everyone. Sharon had made what looked like a thousand sandwiches. Mike had bought bags of chips and there was soda and tea for everyone. I ate a sandwich and drank a soda but I didn't actually taste any of it. I was too busy thinking about the vigil.

"Tommy, I made sure that you can get in to see Steve if you want," Sharon said when she walked over to where I was sitting with Tyler and Brian. "I know that the two of you haven't exactly been speaking to each other but I thought . . ."

"Thank you, Sharon," I said, cutting her off. I actually wanted to see Steve. I didn't know what condition he was in but I felt like I had to see him. I didn't understand why it had taken so long for me to even think about it. I just hoped that Tyler would understand.

Sharon led me down the hall to Steve's room. She didn't go inside with me, but she hugged me before I went in. It felt strange to be in her arms. I'd been angry with her for so long. Maybe now was the time to set aside my anger and just get on with life without being so angry with anyone.

I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I got inside Steve's room. He wasn't conscious for one thing. There were burns on his arms. I knew what they were even with the bandages. His face was black and blue and his legs were in casts. I let go of a shaky breath that I hadn't even been aware that I was holding as I sat down in the chair next to his bed.

Even after everything that had happened between us the sight of him like this hurt. I took his hand in mine and just sat there. I thought of all of the really great times we'd had together and just held his hand. I wondered why he'd left me the way he did. It had hurt like nothing else had hurt in my life at the time. I didn't understand then and I certainly hadn't come to any sort of understanding since.

My taking his hand must have woke him up because the next thing I knew he was looking at me through blood shot eyes. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at me. It was almost too much for me to take but I looked him in the eye without faltering.

"Bud," he said with a hoarse voice.

"Hello, Steve," I said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like a building fell on me," he said. "What are you doing here?"

"Sharon made sure that I could get in to see you," I said.


"I don't know why she did it," I replied.

"No," he said, blinking back his tears. "Why are you here?"

"I wanted to see you," I said. "I guess I just wanted to make sure that you were alive."

It was a surreal conversation. It was almost like a dream as I sat there looking into his eyes. Why had I come in to see him? There wasn't anything to gain from it for either of us. I guess my initial answer was the correct one. I really did just want to make sure that he was alive.

"I'm so sorry, Bud," he said. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

"Don't," I said quickly. "That doesn't matter anymore."

"It does to me," he said. "I was stupid and I'm sorry."

"I accept your apology," I said.

"I love you, Tommy," he said, and then he was crying. "I never stopped. I just got scared and I couldn't stay with you. I know that I hurt you and you probably hate me for it. I wish I could go back and do things differently but I can't."

"I don't hate you, Steve," I said slowly. "You were a huge part of my life. We had great times together and you helped me through one of the most difficult times of my life. How could I hate you?"

"But you don't love me anymore," he said softly.

"I'll always love you, Steve," I said honestly. "I don't know of anything that could make me not love you anymore. I just don't love you the same way I did."

"Can we stop being angry at each other?" he asked. "Can we try to be friends?"

"I'll do my best, Steve," I said. "It might be difficult for a while, but I'll do my best."

"Thank you, Bud," he said and then his eyes slowly closed and he was sleeping again.

I sat there with his hand in mine for a few more minutes just thinking about everything we'd been through together. No I didn't hate him. He'd hurt me but no one is perfect. I could accept that he'd been scared. I could even accept that he was sorry. Our relationship was just another casualty of hatred. Could I be his friend? I wasn't sure about that but I was going to make good on my promise. I would try.

"How is he?" Tyler asked as I came back into the waiting room. He had a worried look in his eyes so I wrapped my arms around him.

"Steve is going to be all right," I replied. "You have nothing to worry about, Cutie. I'm with you. You're not going to lose me."

"I needed to hear that," he said, holding me tighter.

"I just need you to understand that Steve and I are still a big part of each other's lives," I said quietly. "We're going to try to be friends instead of being angry at each other. He knows that things will never be like they were but I promised to try to be his friend."

"I understand," he said.

"Are you guys ready to head over to the school?" Brian asked. "It's almost time for the vigil to start."

"I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be," I said, letting go of Tyler.

We made our way down to Brian's car in silence. Greg joined us as well and I saw that Wendy, Leo and Noah were going together. When we got to the school we saw a mob of cars. Brian parked six blocks from the parking lot and we walked.

They had a bunch of tables set up in front of the building with candles and flashlights. Each of us were given a candle and a holder that looked like a regular paper cup with a candlestick inserted in from the bottom. We put our candles in the holders and lit them. Each of us took a flashlight that hung around our necks. I guess we were supposed to use these if the candles went out.

We walked in a line toward the recently cleaned up bomb site. There were fifteen poster sized pictures of those that had died in the bombing. The sight of Thad's football picture caused me to lose the fractional hold on my tears. Phillip's smiling face looked back at me from one of those posters with Charlie's face in the one beside it. This was too much for me. I didn't think I could take this.

We came to a stop in front of the posters. I saw Meg and her sons as well as Dustin's mother and Keith. There were so many people there and some were leaving flowers, teddy bears and balloons in front of the poster of their fallen loved one. I just stood there and cried.

The dean of students was standing at a portable podium with a candle in his hand as he looked out at the sea of people who had shown up. Cameras flashed everywhere, but the press kept silent. No questions were screamed at us or anything like that. The scene was completely silent save for the occasional sigh or sob from the crowd of mourners. The sun set on us and our candles glowed.

"I stand here today to help say goodbye to fifteen young men and women," said Mr. Stratton, the dean. "It chills my heart to know that the hatred of one person has destroyed the lives of so many. There are no real words that can comfort the hearts that are broken because of this tragedy. I stand before you saddened and humble."

His speech was stopped cold by the sound of gun fire. Pandemonium broke loose at the sound of the first shot. I screamed in horror as Tyler slumped against me. I caught him before he fell and we sank to the ground, dropping our candles. He'd been shot. The front of his shirt was covered with blood, and I held him as I sobbed. More and more shots rang out in the darkness as people tried to flee. The hellish hatred wasn't over.

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