“It’s finally here,” I thought. I had been waiting for this day for almost three months now. Three months of laying in this hospital bed day after day, the same routine over and over again.
Tuck had been great about it, though. I don’t know what I would have done without him. He knew how horrible it was for me to stay trapped in bed all this time and tried to make the best of the situation. We had gotten to know each other pretty well by this time, so he could easily go rent a movie that suited me perfectly or flip through the channels on the TV and stop at my favorite program. Plus, those rare periods of time when almost no other nurses were on the floor and we got to “express our feelings” towards one another helped out a lot too. In fact, those times were amazing. I’d never experienced something so intense as I had with him. No girl had ever done for me what Tuck had. I began to see him less as a nurse more and more every day. He still had to help me through some of the most embarrassing and intimate parts of being a quad, but I thought “who better to know me this personally than Tuck?” The relationship we were building was growing stronger by the day. I had never felt this way about anyone…ever.
It kind of scared me the day that I realized I loved him. In the past when I’d thought about the future, I had never, EVER imagined it being with a guy. I wasn’t a gay-hater or anything like that, but it just wasn’t an option. As much as I liked Ollie I’d never had the slightest inclination to get it on with him. But with Tuck, it was different. Maybe it was the fact that he cared for almost every need I had day in and day out. Maybe it was just his personality and the way I felt when he was holding me. Whatever it was, I knew I cared for him more deeply than anyone ever before.
So on the day my halo was scheduled to be taken off, I’d planned on having the guys come up to the hospital to celebrate, then having Tuck all to myself for the rest of the afternoon. Everything went as planned that morning. My halo was removed at 9:30, then Ollie, Emmett, and Zane showed up about eleven. Tuck had already bathed and dressed me. This time I actually got to wear the sweatshirt now that the halo was gone. The only remaining evidence that a halo had ever been on me in the first place were the two, small holes in my upper forehead where the screws had been. Those had been covered with band-aids. Now all I had to wear was a soft, spongy neck brace which I got to take off for several hours during the day.
Ollie was parking the car while the guys were walking up the stairs on the way to my room. Tuck briskly walked in making last minute preparations. After checking to ensure my leg bag wasn’t full he scanned my face, making sure there weren’t any nicks from the razor he had just shaved me with.
The thing is, he had already checked me over twice in the past ten minutes. Tuck seem unusually fussy over my appearance today, which seemed dumb since it was just the guys. He walked over to the window and opened the blinds, letting as much light in as possible. He glanced back over at me before coming over to the bed and running his fingers through my hair. What I at first mistook for a sign of affection was actually an attempt to style my hair.
“What’s with you today, Tuck? You’ve never been so concerned about the way I look. What’s going on?”
He pursed his lips but didn’t say anything. “You just wait an' see. It’s a surprise.”
I hadn’t expected anything but the removal of my halo to be on the agenda today. So instead of excitement over this “surprise”, I began to feel anxious. Then there was a knock on the door. Tuck gave me a quick glance over before walking over to answer the door. There stood Ollie, Emmett, and Zane; each holding a wrapped gift in their hands. Zane was balancing both his gift and a small cake.
“Well,” Tuck began, “because of your accident and all the commotion that caused, your 22nd birthday went unnoticed. And we just cant have that. So we were all waiting for a special occasion, like today’s, before throwing you a mini-happy birthday/no-more-halo party all in one day.” He offered me a jittery smile before continuing. “But…we have another surprise for you today.”
He paused for a moment, looking me in the eyes with his clear, hazel ones. Tuck then walked into the hallway and motioned for someone to come near. I turned my weak neck a bit, straining to see who he was beaconing. In the next instance that followed, my mother, father, and Sid, all who I had not seen in over five years, stepped through the doorway and into my hospital room.
One second my mother was in the doorway, the next she was holding my face in between her hands, kissing my forehead over and over again. I was still in shock and had no idea how to respond to this. “Oh my goodness, Skelly, what have you gone and done to yourself?” she asked in between kisses.
But just as quickly as the kisses began they abruptly stopped. Still holding my face in between her hands she pulled her face away, which had grown dark and serious. “Skelton Shepherd, I don’t even have the words to tell you right now how much pain and heartache you’ve put me and your father through all these years. Why didn’t you ever call and let us know you were okay? We had no idea for years if you were even alive! How could you just run away and never look back?” She began lightly rubbing her thumb over one of my band-aids. “Skelly, I have prayed for your safe return home every single night for years now. I love you, son. How could you turn your back on your family, on me, after one, nasty fight? You were still our son and we loved you very much. How could you run away from that?”
Tears had already sprung to her eyes and were falling on her red, button-up blouse. Her meticulously styled, black hair always looked so good with red. I had forgotten just how beautiful my mother really was. I had always thought she looked like a mother from the fifties. It could have been the hairstyle, or the bright red lipstick which had become her signature color. But here she was, five years later and just as stunning.
All the guilt I had never felt during the five years of no contact with her or my family came flooding into me at that very moment. I had been selfish. The fight had been with my dad, not my mother. The least I could have done was called her on her birthday or Christmas. I closed my eyes, relishing her touch for the moment. “Oh Skelly,” she crooned. “All that doesn’t matter now. The important thing is that, with the help of your nurse, Tuck, we found you. We can make up for those lost five years. Our family finally feels complete after so long, especially having you and your brother together again.”
That’s when I looked over at Sid for the first time. He hadn’t changed much. His hair was longer, almost shaggy. And he had definitely started working out cause his arms had bulked up. Noticing his muscular arms suddenly made me feel insecure about my own. I looked down at them. Unbeknownst to me, my mother was now holding my curled, left hand and rubbing her other hand up and down that forearm. I looked up at her face, trying to detect the slightest hint of disgust she might have from holding my lifeless hand. But her eyes were only filled with affection. This brought on a new and stronger wave of guilt at having discarded my own mother so easily and for so many years. If I could have hugged her, I would have.
Sensing this, I think, she lowered her face down to my hand and kissed it. Only Tuck had so openly been so comfortable with my body and I was filled with emotion. I probably would have cried, as usual, had I not been keeping my father in mind. I looked back over to the doorway, where he and Sid were both leaning against the frame, arms crossed.
“How have you been, Skelly?” my father spoke up. He had grown a light beard which was flecked with grey. “How are you feeling now?”
The tension in the room rose almost immediately. It was then that I realized no matter how many years had gone by, my father was still the same asshole who needed to shit on me in order to assert his dominance. And all he had done was ask me how I was feeling. But that was just it…how I was feeling... “Well, Dad. I don’t feel much of anything below my shoulders. So, I guess not too good.”
He kept a steady gaze on me as my mother started talking. “Oh god, Skelly. Tuck told us what happened to you. I promise we’re going to do everything we can to make life for you as comfortable and accessible as possible.” The sincerity in her eyes was overwhelming. “So you can’t feel me rubbing your arm right now, honey?”
“Only if you rub above my bicep. I can feel everything from there up. Below that, and I can’t tell.” Sid rustled in the corner. “So you can’t feel anything below that? Nothing at all?” I knew he wanted an honest answer, but I wasn’t about to explain in front of everybody about how limp my dick was or how I needed a tube in it because I couldn’t control my piss.
My mother turned around to look at Sid. “Don’t worry about what he can’t feel, Sid. Starting tomorrow his therapy will focus on what he can feel.” She turned to look at me again. “I’m going to be there with you every step of the way so that I can prepare the house especially for your needs. We’re already re-modeling the living room to make it cozier, like your room.”
I was slack-jawed for a moment before I stammered out, “What…what do you mean? I’m going to be living with you guys again?”
Her eyes widened. “Well…honey. You can’t take care of yourself, now can you?”
I looked up at the ceiling, feeling a little dizzy. “Uh, I guess I really hadn’t thought about it.” The truth was, I’d been hoping Tuck would ask me to move in with him after I started rehab. He hadn’t yet, though, so I couldn’t defend not moving in with them. I didn’t really have any other options besides a nursing home. And that was no option at all compared to living at home again.
The room grew silent. I realized that none of my friends had said anything in a long time. I figured they were intimidated by my family; mainly my dad. Ollie’s hair was still a vibrant blue; his bullring gleaming in the fluorescent light. Emmett’s tattoos seemed to pop in the bright light, covering the length of both of his arms. I looked down at the few tattoos I had on my own arms. They looked distorted due to the wasted muscle. For the first time, I wished I hadn’t gotten them. They only seemed to draw negative attention to my arms now. It was hard for me to be proud of them when they were only making my withered arms more noticeable. My hair was no longer a vivid red. The color had grown out through my duration at the hospital and was now back to its natural black. I got Tuck to keep it close-shaven so I wouldn’t have to worry about styling it.
It was Tuck who finally broke the heavy silence by turning everyone’s attention to the cake and gifts. “Well, as everyone here knows, today is a little celebration to commemorate Skelly’s 22nd birthday, which went by unnoticed because of his accident and everything that entailed. So I’ve asked you all to be here today so that we can visit with Skelly and try to make up for lost time.”
My mother quietly whispered, “There’s no way this can make up for missing your 18th through 22nd birthdays. I’ll never get those back.” I almost felt as if she were deliberately trying to make me feel guilty at that moment but soon put it out of my head.
Emmett, Zane, and Ollie all unwrapped the presents they had come up with in front of me. The gifts consisted of a CD player, the newest George Carlin book, and a DVD collection of my favorite anime, Hellsing. I couldn’t help but notice that all the things they got me could be used without much assistance from other people, save the book. I knew I should have admired the consideration behind this, but it depressed me since the usual gifts would have been composed of new guitar picks and strings or a video game. I thanked them as Tuck set them off to the side.
“Well who’s ready for cake?” He took the plastic covering off the chocolate cake with ‘Happy 22nd’ written in blue icing across the top. I watched as he cut the cake into little squares, already decided that I would save mine for later. There was no way I was going to be fed birthday cake in front of everyone that knew me.
But Tuck put a slice on a plate and handed it to my mom, who was still leaning against the railings on my bed, with the intent for her to feed me. I shot him a dirty look before my mom even knew what was going on. He ignored my hateful glare and kept passing out cake.
My mother looked a little flustered for a second once she realized that she was supposed to feed me. She took a quick glimpse down at my hands sitting quietly in my lap before composing herself and taking control. She put a bit of cake on the fork and expertly guided it to my mouth, letting me have just enough time to make sure all the cake was in my mouth before pulling the fork away and preparing another bite. This was kind of awkward at first, but not between me and my mom. I actually felt closer to her while this was happening.
While I was chewing, I looked around the room at everyone else. No one was looking at me. All eyes were down, facing their plates. Their efforts to not make me feel uncomfortable by looking away just made the situation worse. I would have rather them seen what was happening and still kept up the conversation. At least that way, though things may have been awkward at first, the tension would have lessened as everyone became more comfortable with the circumstances.
After everyone had finished with their cake and the small talk began to dwindle Tuck announced that it was the first day of my real therapy and politely shooed everyone away. My father and Sid walked out the door without so much as a good bye, while my mother lingered even longer than Ollie and the rest of the guys before leaving. Tearing up, she reached out one of her hands and comfortingly rubbed my shoulder. “I’ll be coming up here as much as the hospital lets me, Skelly. I really and truly am going to try to make for lost time.” She reached around to grab her purse before she brought her face even closer to mine. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen your face in over five years…my heart was broken when I realized you weren’t coming back, not even for Christmases.”
All the bad shit I should have been feeling throughout the five years was settling inside me all at once. I really had been an asshole. “I’m going to learn how to take good care of you. Tuck’s going to show me how. Tomorrow I’ll be here for you second therapy session. Your father’s going to come sometimes too.”
That was something I hadn’t even thought about happening. “What? Dad’s going to come? I…I don’t think that’s going to be a good idea.”
“Honey, all that bad stuff between you and your father is a thing of the past. He’s going to try his best to communicate better with you so that you two can have a working relationship when you come home. After all, he’s going to be your other primary caregiver. I wont be around all the time.”
This was horrible news. I couldn’t even fathom my father doing the daily things that Tuck did for me. “But, what about Tuck?”
“Well what about him, honey? He’s only your nurse for the time being. Once you’re home you wont need him anymore now that you’ve got your father and me.”
This devastated me. I hadn’t even thought about Tuck not being there. I had gotten so comfortable with Tuck, it scared me to think of having to do the same embarrassing shit as before, only this time with my parents. In that moment, despite my blue, happy pill, I was the most depressed I’d been since things had started looking up once Tuck had come into the picture.
“Oh Skelly, you still have a while to stay here before you come home. You’ll have plenty of time to spend with him. Don’t look so sad, you’ll have Sid to talk to once you’re back at home.” She smiled, trying to cheer me up. But nothing was going to help. In fact, she made it worse simply by comparing Sid to Tuck. There was no comparison; Sid was a douche bag, Tuck was the most amazing person in my life. “I can see that you’re tired. Try to rest up some before Tuck takes you down to therapy. I’ll be back tomorrow to help with that. I love you, Skelly.”
She bent down, kissed my forehead, then waved before shutting the door.
To be continued...