Chapter Nineteen

The Hateful Past

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

I had about three seconds of fear filled ignorance until my eyes focused on the other people in the coffee house. The coffee house wasn't busy. There were only two customers besides Brian sitting at the bar. The tables were empty. Jamie Halliwell was crouching behind the bar, and the two patrons had jumped from their stools and hit the floor. One of them I didn't know. He was about my age with dark wavy hair that had been cut short. His dark eyes were filled with fear as he stared at the man behind me.

The other patron was a person I knew very well. The head of dark hair was down. A tattooed arm covered the face, but as he peeked over the edge of his arm and our eyes met I knew those gray eyes. He flinched when I looked him in the eye and I wondered where all of his bravado had gone. Perhaps it was the fact that a man with a rifle was behind me and could shoot him at any time, but I thought it had more to do with coming face to face with me.

Then those gray eyes focused on the madman behind me and the arm came all the way down. Jason Cox stood slowly, but he never took his eyes off the man with the rifle. I moved further into the coffee house and started to turn around to see who my would be killer was when Jason said his name.

"Abraham," he said in a pained voice. "What are you doing?"

"Revenge," said the man behind me. "This has all been about revenge, little brother. I thought this fag would die when that moron bombed the university. He didn't. Stupid idiot killed his own son. Then I tried to get him at that wimpy vigil, but his friends got in the way. Killed two of them, though."

"Why, Abraham?" Jason asked. I had to admit he looked repulsed, but I believed it was probably all an act. This was part of some grand act for my benefit.

"Because of what he did to you," Abraham said. "Because of him, you went to prison. Because of him you got raped!"

"Abe, no!" he cried as I gasped. "None of that is Tommy's fault, Abe. It was my own fault. I'm the one who attacked Tommy. That's what I went to prison for. I couldn't keep my mouth shut there and then they got me. That wasn't Tommy's fault either. Abe this was all my own fault. Tommy didn't do anything."

"It is his fault, damn it!" cried Abraham. "All of it is. I tried to kill him and his little faggy friends a year ago. I put bombs in their lockers, and they still got away!"

"You bombed the lockers at the school?" Jason asked in a pained voice.  "Abe, you're going to go to jail for all of this.  You killed people!"

"Fags!" he cried. "I killed a couple of fags. Who cares about that?"

"Abe, you can't do this," said Jason. "I don't want this. I never wanted anyone to die. I did my time for the crime that I committed, Abe. It was my fault. Stop this before you get killed."

"Nobody's gonna get killed but him, Squirt," said Abraham. "Now don't try to stop me."

I had to do something. The weight of his revelation shocked me to the core, but I had to do something. He'd killed Leo and Noah and shot Wendy and Tyler! He wanted to shoot me too. I couldn't just stand there and let it happen. Then I was moving. Fast. I flipped around and kicked my leg out. It was a stupid move on my part not knowing exactly where he was. His voice had sounded like he was right behind me, but fear and shock could have made that a deception.

He was right behind me though, and my foot connected with the barrel of the rifle as I spun around. The rifle clattered to the floor, but thankfully it didn't fire. Then I got a look at Abraham Cox. He had the same dark hair and gray eyes as his younger brother, but his hair was long and tangled. His chin was covered with a goatee that was long and bushy. His eyes were wild and his mouth was slightly open.

Then he moved as well. He grabbed my foot and shoved backward until I hit the floor. Then he dove at me. I rolled out of the way just in time, but he grabbed me and pulled me back toward him. Then he was punching me in the back, sending agony up my spine.

I heard Jason before I saw him. He shot forward, grabbing the fallen rifle as he moved. Then the barrel was against Abraham's head. Jason had tears running down his face as he pointed the weapon at his brother. In a sickening moment I hoped that he would just pull the trigger.

"Abe, stop!" he cried. "Let him go!"

"Jase, don't tell me they turned you," said Abraham without letting go of me. "Don't tell me you're a fag now, too!"

Then the rifle fired. It was so close to me that the sound nearly broke my ear drums. My head started to hum with the reverberation of the shot gun blast. I did notice that Abraham's fists slowly let go of my shirt and arm. I scooted away from him slowly. The pain in my back was almost unbearable.

"Jason, put the gun down," I heard Jamie say as my world went black.

When I opened my eyes again I saw a hated familiar sight: a plastic covered fluorescent light set in a plain white tiled ceiling. I smelled the smell of antiseptic and pine cleaner. I could feel the rough surface of the thin blanket that covered me. Turning my head I saw a pail yellow curtain with a mesh net at the top that could be pulled to give me some measure of privacy. I was once again in a hospital.

I thought about how many times I'd opened my eyes to this same discovery. I had woken up in a hospital bed more times in the days since we'd moved to Storyville than any other time in my life. The first time had been because of a strange physical and psychosomatic reaction to the news of my mother's death. The second had been the result of my own dogged determination to ignore her death. The third had been because of a man who claimed to love God and for that reason had sentenced me and Steve to death by stoning. Then there had been the bombing that had started off this latest rein of terror in my life. Now here I was again, waking up in a hospital room that looked almost exactly like each of the others past.

I looked to my other side and found my brother asleep in the chair beside my bed. My heart ached as I looked at him. He'd suffered so much. First with the loss of his mother and step-father and then losing his lover. I had only known Ian for a short time, but I could see how much he and Brian had loved each other.

We'd both lost so much in our lives. We were truly brothers. As I watched him sleep I thought about his agreement to leave Storyville with me and Tyler when all of this was over. Was it over? Were we free to leave now? I hoped so. Surely there would be questions about what had happened at DH3. I didn't really remember much about what had happened. I did remember Abraham Cox saying that he had been the ones to put the bombs in our lockers the year before. That had shocked me, but I was sure I could figure out what twisted logic had lain behind that action.

I decided that I didn't want to stay in the hospital. However it hurt so bad when I tried to sit up that my head began to swim and I thought better of my decision. I slowly lay back down and willed the stars to stop circling my head as tears filled my eyes. Abraham Cox had beat me good it seemed. That's when I remembered him pummeling his fists into my back over and over again and kicking me at the same time. I moaned as I thought about that. Why hadn't I fought back?

"Tommy?" Brian inquired groggily as he sat up straighter in the chair and stretched.

"I'm here," I said through gritted teeth. "What did he do to me?"

"Bruised a few ribs," Brian replied through a yawn. "Doctor said you'd be in a little pain for a while. Your back is all black and blue."

"A little pain?" I asked. "I'd hate to have to find out what a lot of pain would be."

"Uh, Tommy," he said, sitting up even straighter and looking fully awake. "There's someone who has been asking to see you, but none of us would let him in here without talking to you first."

"Who?" I asked, looking at the serious look in his eyes.

"Jason Cox," he replied. "He's been asking about you at the nurse's station like every hour."

"What does he want to see me for?" I asked.

"Well you do know that he killed his brother to stop him from hurting you, right?" he asked.

"I remember that," I said. "I was wrapped in a killer embrace with Abraham when Jason shot him."

"Well he hasn't been arrested," he said. "He told the police all about what Abraham had said and done. They asked him about his connection to you and he told them the truth but said that he never wanted you dead and his brother was wrong."

"That's all well and good," I said, remembering the knife he'd tried to stab me with. "He tried to kill me once himself."

"Well maybe something has changed for him," Brian said cautiously. "I don't know, Tommy, but he seemed sincere. He was a basket case after he shot his brother. That's to be expected, but he kept asking all of us if you were all right."

"I'll see him," I said, deciding on the spot. If he really had changed then I wanted to see it with my own eyes. We would never be friends, but at least I wouldn't have to keep looking over my shoulder now that I knew he was out of prison. Enemies were best kept close.

"A boy named Grady Lakeland has asked to see you, too," he said. "He was with us at DH3."

"I know Grady," I replied. "He lives down the street from us. I'll see him first."

Brian went to get Grady as soon as the doctor came into the room. I was told again about my bruised ribs and condition of my back. He said that there was no permanent damage and that I'd be fine in time. Bruised ribs took a while to stop hurting so I'd be very uncomfortable for a while. I assured him that I would deal with that.

Grady came into my room just as the lunch tray was being served. I'd been brought into the hospital the day before and had been sedated so I slept through the day and night and missed breakfast. It wasn't until I saw the tray and smelled the food that I realized I was hungry.

"I'm glad you're all right, Tommy," Grady said, sitting in the chair that Brian had vacated to go and talk to him. "I was a little worried."

"I'll be fine," I assured him. "How are you?"

"Shaken, I guess," he said with a small smile. "I never expected to have a rifle pointed at me."

"Well maybe that stuff is all over now," I said. "I don't know how much more I could take."

"I hear that," he said. "I don't think I could have lived through half of what's happened to you."

"You're stronger than you give yourself credit for," I informed him. "When Abraham shot out the mirror behind the bar you didn't have a heart attack."

"I nearly did," he chuckled. "Believe me it was a close one."

"Yeah, it was pretty close for me, too," I said.

"Well I should probably go," he said. "My dad wants me at home, and CJ is waiting for me."

"Tell CJ that I said hello," I told him. "And you take it easy, Grady. Thanks for coming to see me."

"Any time, Tommy," he said with a smile.

I started to eat my bland food after Grady left. No one came in for a while so I actually got most of it ate. I stopped when the door opened and Jason Cox came into the room. He looked scared for some reason. That threw me more than his being in the room. I sighed as well as I could with my hurt ribs.

"Hey," he said, standing at the end of my bed.

"What do you want, Jason?" I asked.

"I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for what happened," he said. "Everything."

"What brought on this change in attitude?" I asked, unable to keep the bite out of my voice.

"You have every right to hate me, Tommy," he said. "I just want you to know that I don't hate you anymore. I was wrong before. So wrong. I swear that I didn't know what Abraham was doing."

"You shot your brother," I said, wincing as I said it. I didn't really want to wound him.

"I had to," he said. "If I hadn't he would have just kept killing people."

"Well I thank you for probably saving my life," I said. "I don't know what brought on your change of heart, but I guess I'm glad for that too."

"I learned a lot in prison," he said. "I learned that people are people for one thing. It doesn't matter what they do or how."

"Jason, I don't want to hear about your enlightenment," I said. "I'm sorry, but you and I aren't friends. We will never be friends and that's fine. We don't have to be enemies anymore either. Thank you for what you did. I know it must be doing a number on you, but thank you."

"Well I'm glad you're all right," he said, and then he left the room.

I thought about it for a little bit and decided that I was right to say we didn't have to be enemies anymore. The Jason Cox that walked into my room that day looked broken, and I knew a bit about what it meant to be broken. I didn't want to hate him anymore, but I certainly couldn't be his friend.

Then the door opened and I got the best surprise. Tyler walked into the room with a huge grin on his face. His arm was in a sling, but he was alive. I was so happy to see him that I tried to sit up again and was rewarded with another brow beating bout of pain from my ribs.

"Don't do that, silly," he said with another grin. "The doctor told us about your ribs. That had to hurt."

"Ooh," I said, breathing heavily. "When I can get up I'm going to whip your butt."

"Promise?" he laughed.

"Get over here," I said.

"Do me a favor," he said as he came and sat in the chair beside my bed. "Stop getting hurt."

"I'll do my best," I chuckled. "How's your shoulder?"

"Hurts like a . . ." he stopped and smiled. "You know."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm having a similar problem with my ribs."

"With everything going on I forgive you for not coming to see me," he said smartly.

"Hey!" I cried. "They wouldn't let me in to see you. They said it had to be approved by your parents. That never happened."

"Yeah, my parents aren't exactly comfortable with my sexuality," he said. "They wanted me to come home."

"Are you going?" I asked. I would understand if he did. I mean being around me had got him shot.

"Are you crazy?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "I'm moving to Florida with you and Brian. We're going to get jobs at Disney, and I'm going to be Aladdin."

"Right," I laughed. "Thanks, Cutie."

"For what?"

"Never mind," I said, shaking my head as the door opened again and Steve wheeled himself in.

"I didn't mean to interrupt anything," he said. "I just wanted to come and make sure you're all right, Tommy."

"Come on in, Steve," I said, deciding to put into motion our plan to be friends. "You've met Tyler."

"Yeah," he said with a smile. "How's it going, Tyler?"

"I'm surviving," he said. "Nice to see that you are too."

"Thanks," he said.

"How are you feeling, Steve?" I asked.

"Getting better every day," he said. "Dustin and Vince are both out of the hospital completely now."

"That's great," I replied happily. "How is Maria?"

"She's great," he said. "And the explosion didn't . . ."

"Didn't what?" I asked when he faltered.

"I don't know if I'm supposed to tell anyone or not," he said. "You can't say anything. But Maria was pregnant before the explosion."

"Oh my God," I said, alarmed. "She didn't . . ."

"No!" he said quickly. "That's just it. The baby is doing fine."

"That's great news," I said with a smile.

"I hear you're moving to Florida," he said, shocking me.

"How did you hear that?" I asked.

"Tommy, this is Storyville," he laughed. "Seriously, Brian has been saying it to anyone who will sit still and listen. They're been pretty supportive with Ian's death, though. Even Shirley hasn't said much."

"Well we are moving to Florida just as soon as we figure things out," I said. "It'll be a bit yet."

"Well I hope we'll write to each other, Bud," he said sadly.

"We will," I replied. "We're friends, aren't we?"

"Yeah we are," he said with a big smile as the telephone rang.

"Hello?" I asked when I answered, shrugging at Steve and Tyler.

"Tommy, this is Skyler Thomas," said the voice on the telephone. "I just wanted to call you and let you know that I understand how it feels to be the center of attention over something that should be personal and private. I just want you to know that I'm sorry for what's happened to you and that I'm thinking of you."

"Thank you, Skyler," I replied with a shaking voice. I couldn't believe he actually called me. "It means a lot to me to know that someone really understands."

"Well I want to invite you to Florida for some down time after this," he said. "I have three shows left in the tour and then I'm heading home for a little down time of my own. Just know that Kevin and I would love to have you come and spend some time with us to get away from everything."

"I think I might just take you up on that," I said, though I couldn't believe it. "I have one condition."

"Name it," replied Skyler.

"I want to bring Tyler and Brian with me," I said and watched as Tyler's eyes grew wide. He didn't know what I was talking about but he must have guessed that it had something to do with seeing Skyler Thomas.

"Of course you will bring Tyler and Brian," said Skyler with a chuckle. "I wouldn't have it any other way. I'll contact you when I get back to Orlando and we'll set it all up."

"That sounds good," I replied. "Thank you so much."

"No thanks necessary, Tommy," he said. "Just know that the good times in your life are far from over. I'll talk to you soon."

"Thanks again," I said. "Bye, Skyler."

I looked at my friends without being able to say a word. I couldn't believe it.

Storyville 3