Authors: J. Roman
Dread settled into the pit of my stomach. Something was not normal about this conversation. I mean, none of it was normal
, but it seemed particularly intense at the moment. The niggling feeling just wouldn’t leave me alone.
I stopped walking and jogged back to my uncles. “Can we pick up Jason on the way home?” I asked.
Uncle Mark looked at me. “Is everything all right?”
“He’s having problems at his place and needs somewhere to go. Just for the night,” I added. I begged them internally to understand. I couldn’t explain it to them if they asked because Jason wouldn’t let me, but it was all I really wanted to do.
Uncle Charlie and Uncle Mark exchanged a look. It was weird how they did that. It was like they were talking to one another without saying a word. Finally, Uncle Mark nodded. “Okay. We’ll pick him up in about two hours. Is that going to work? Or do we need to go get him now?”
“Can we please go get him now?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if Jason would hold it together long enough for us to finish our picnic.
“Danny, take Christian for Charlie. We’ll be back in a little bit, okay?” He handed the baby off to Danny and kissed Uncle Charlie on the cheek.
“You have the keys?” Uncle Charlie asked. Uncle Mark nodded. “Drive safe.”
I texted Jason rapidly.
I’m on my way
was his only reply.
It took us five minutes to get back to the car, and I was already a ball of nerves by the time we pulled onto the winding road that led back down out of the parkway and to the turnoff for the highway. It was going to take us forever to get there.
“What is Jason going through, Tommy? I know you think you’re helping him by keeping his secrets, but you’re not. If something bad is happening, there are people who can help,” Uncle Mark said as we began our slow descent. “
I shook my head. “I can’t, Uncle Mark. I wish I could. Trust me. I just can’t. If I do, I’ll lose him.”
“If it’s dangerous, Tommy, you might lose him if you don’t tell.” I hated when grown-ups talked like they knew everything. Uncle Mark couldn’t possibly know what it was like for Jason, or for me for that matter. I had been under so much stress since he’d come back into my life. The first time it hadn’t been bearable. The weeks of breakup were only that, a break. I couldn’t abandon him to his fate any more than I could stop loving the hell out of his crazy ass.
Uncle Mark sighed at my silence but didn’t say anything else.
was on the curb where I usually picked him up, but something was definitely wrong. He was curled on his side with his hoodie up. I’d only seen him like that once before and that had been when his stepdad had hurt him, beat him up so that his torso was one big bruise. My chest tightened, and my heart pounded so loudly I thought surely Uncle Mark could hear the incessant drumbeat.
“Is that Jason?” he asked as he put the car in park.
“Yeah. I’ll get him. He probably doesn’t recognize the car.” Uncle Mark was looking around like he had been dropped in the middle of hell, and I could understand where he got the impression. Jason lived in the most run-down apartments in town. The pavement was broken everywhere, and the steps that led up to the second floor were rusted through in some places. Gang graffiti and a combination of old and souped-up cars were crammed in the parking lot. The music was audible even through the doors, pounding with a mixture of about four different kinds of radio madness. His eyes lit on the blue kiddie pool at the end of the bottom row of apartments that was filled with beer cans.
“Uh-huh. Be quick.”
I opened my door and rolled out of the car. “Hey, baby, we’re here.” He didn’t move at first and that made my stomach twist. What was wrong? Finally he moved, slowly. He pushed himself to a sitting position and looked up. Instant rage blinded me. The right side of his face was one big ugly bruise, and his eyes were filled with pain.
“Jason… Jesus, what happened?” I knelt on the ground beside him and tried to pull him into my arms.
He grimaced. “He hit my mom. He wanted to do me again after I texted you, and she said no and started yelling, and he hit her. The fucker.” He was ungodly pale where he wasn’t bruised. “I couldn’t let him hit her like that. I mean, she’s not much of a mom, but she’s mine. Yah know?” He swayed and leaned into me. I wrapped my arm around him. This couldn’t be shrugged off, not by any stretch. This couldn’t be hidden. “Stomach hurts,” he warned before upchucking all over my lap. I gagged at the smell and turned my head as the warmth soaked my jeans. “Sorry,” he murmured, dragging his hoodie over his head and using it to mop up my lap. “I’m so sorry. Jeans are hard to clean. Expensive too. Laundromat always eats the quarters.”
“Jason?” My eyes were riveted on his arms and neck. His entire body looked like he’d been dragged behind a car. He was only in a thin black wifebeater shirt, and every inch of skin was blackened.
His hands continued to scrub my pants, oblivious to my concern. “He sure can hit hard. You think he was a boxer in high school? Do high schools have boxing?” He seemed listless, and that more than anything scared me. I’d seen guys on the wrestling team with concussions, and their eyes looked like Jason’s, dilated and glassy.
“Where is he? Where is your mom?” I asked. I was dimly aware of Uncle Mark opening the driver’s door and hurrying toward us.
“Don’t know. Mom took his truck while we were brawling.” He giggled like that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. He grimaced and wrapped his arms around his stomach. “Hurts, Tommy. Hurts real bad.”
“She left you?” I asked in disgust. She’d enraged his stepdad and had left Jason to deal with it? I thought of several choice words to describe her in my head, “bitch” the milder of my selections.
“I don’t know. Hurts.” His eyes shifted from me and went up. “Hi, Mark. Please, don’t be mad.” He vomited again; there was blood in the yellow soup this time.
“We need to get him to a hospital,” Uncle Mark said, a quiet horror in his voice.
!” he shouted, crab-crawling backward. “No hospitals!” My vision blurred, and it took me a minute to realize I was crying. Then he slumped over, limp.
Uncle Mark reached for him and yelled at the same time. “Fuck!” I’d never heard him curse like that before. “Help me, Tommy. Grab his legs, and be careful.”
I shook. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. We’ve got to get him to the doctor.”
We got him to the car, and between the two of us, we managed to wrestle his dead weight into the backseat. I crawled in after him to keep him on the seat, holding his head in my lap. “Jason, wake up,” I said, tapping his cheek lightly. “Come on, baby. Wake up.” I wiped the tears from my cheeks in annoyance. I couldn’t break right now. Tears were stupid.
Uncle Mark dialed 911 from the driver’s seat. “I have a seventeen-year-old boy in my backseat who has been severely injured. I don’t know by what. We’re on our way to the hospital now…. He was throwing up and complaining of pain…. He’s unconscious now. We’re ten minutes from the hospital.” He paused, listening to what the lady on the other end of the phone was saying. “He’s my nephew’s boyfriend. His name is Jason Strummer. We were going to pick him up for a family picnic. Tommy, take the phone, tell her what you know,” Uncle Mark said, holding up the phone so I could grab it.
“Hello?” My voice cracked as I answered.
“Hi, Tommy. My name is Miranda from 911 dispatch. What happened?” She sounded nice, like my mom, but stern too, like when I didn’t clean my room when I was supposed to. I let out a sob.
“I know it’s hard, Tommy, but I need you to tell me everything you know.”
I let it out. I let it all out, from the rape and continued abuse, to Jonathan’s threats, to what I knew about tonight. I was hoarse and we were pulling into the emergency vehicle lane when the words finally stopped.
“We’re here,” I said.
“All right. They should be waiting on you. You did good, Tommy. You did very good.”
I hung up the phone as Uncle Mark threw the car in park, and a bunch of people in scrubs came out with a hospital bed. I helped them get Jason onto it as they talked rapid-fire to one another.
“Seventeen-year-old male, unconscious, severe bruising. Possible ruptured spleen, concussion, blunt force trauma to extremities and a dropping BP,” one of the guys said as he held onto Jason’s wrist. I moved with them, jogging to keep up with them. Uncle Mark was right there beside me. Jason’s eyes fluttered, opened, and then he panicked. He struggled, and they had to hold him down as he screamed, fighting them as they tried to get an IV in his arm.
“Jason,” I sobbed, scared to death by what was happening.
“We need a sedative over here! I need both of you to wait here,” one of the trauma doctors said, motioning to the waiting room. “I’ll send someone out to you as soon as we know what’s going on and he’s stabilized.”
Uncle Mark led me over to the seats the doctor indicated, and we sat in the uncomfortable chairs. My butt went numb almost instantly, but its numbness couldn’t compare to what I was feeling inside. Was this really happening? Everything had been peachy earlier. The break was just starting, and everything was all right. Jason was getting better. He was going to make a stand soon. I guessed it was too late for that.
“I have to call someone to pick up the boys.” Uncle Mark got out his phone and dialed. I barely paid any attention as Uncle Mark called Dana, his coworker, to go pick up the rest of our family before he called Uncle Charlie and recounted the whole horrible event.
The minutes ticked on, and we didn’t speak. I was lost in the what-ifs in my head. If I would’ve broken Jason’s silence for him, he wouldn’t be in the hospital right now. Or maybe he would have been. He was reckless at times. Maybe he would’ve hated me. He still might.
“You should’ve said something, Tommy,” Uncle Mark said quietly. “You should’ve told us what he was going through.”
I swallowed past the lump in my throat. The vomit on my jeans made my stomach roil. “I know. He just made me promise that I wouldn’t. I thought I had everything under control, and then when he left I didn’t have to anymore. I’m sorry.” I felt like I had a hundred-pound weight sitting on my chest. “I’m so freaking sorry.”
Uncle Mark put his hand on my back and rubbed in slow circles. “No matter what happens, Tommy, this isn’t your fault. None of this is your fault. And it isn’t Jason’s fault. What that man did was terrible, and there is a special place in hell designated for him.”
“He’s going to be all right,” I said stubbornly. “He’s got to be all right.”
“I don’t know, son. Let’s just wait and see what the doctors say.”
The waiting was awful. I paced, I went to the water fountain, I went to the desk and badgered the receptionist. Every minute that ticked by was like a parade of days. Two hours later, a doctor came out to talk to us.
“You’re waiting on Jason Strummer?” he asked, his pale blue scrubs the only real identifying characteristic about him. He was otherwise pretty nondescript—brown hair, brown eyes, medium build.
“Yes,” Uncle Mark said, standing up. I followed suit and watched as the doctor shook my uncle’s hand.
“How is he?” I blurted, unable to help myself.
The doctor’s eyes flicked to me before shifting back to my uncle. “He’s about to go into surgery, but he’s stable. He had a ruptured spleen in addition to his concussion and is bleeding pretty severely into his abdomen. He’s got some cracked ribs and a broken forearm as well as some other relatively minor injuries, but that’s the worst of it. He’s going to need some recovery time after surgery, and he’s going to be hurting for a while. He’ll need some counseling to deal with the sexual assault. We have a Joshua St. James on file for his emergency medical contact. Is that correct?”
“That’s Kevin’s dad,” I said. “He’s Jason’s other family.”
“Are you his family as well? I need someone to sign a release form to allow us to operate.”
My uncle shook his head. “He’s been staying with us, but he left a couple weeks ago to go back home. We have no legal right to sign it. His legal family is who did this to him.”
The doctor nodded. “I’ll get the social worker on staff to sign off on it, then. The police are finishing up with him now, and they’ll want to talk to you.” He shook my uncle’s hand again. “I’ll have someone call his emergency contact and tell you when he’s been taken up to a room.”
“Thank you,” my uncle said, sitting back down as the man walked off. He looked at me. “Do you have Kevin’s number?”
“Call him and let him know what is going on. I’m assuming that if Jason had his family listed as his emergency contacts, they’ll want to know what is happening.” He motioned toward the automatic doors. “Step out if you’re going to be a minute.” He hadn’t stepped out, but I wasn’t going to argue with him. I took my cell phone and headed outside into the cold. What a day it had been already. I dialed Kevin’s number and waited. It wasn’t too big of a surprise when he answered on the second ring.
“Jason’s in the hospital.”
There was a pause on the other line. “What?”
“Yeah. His stepdad. We’re with him now, but your dad is listed on the emergency contacts. He’ll probably be getting a phone call.”
Kevin let out a string of curses. “Tell me everything.” I did as rapidly as I could. “I’m going to talk to my parents. I’ll see you in a minute. We’ll be coming. My dad is going to freak.” He hung up before I got a chance to reply. For the first time in a long time, I prayed. There wasn’t anything else I could do.
and I took sleep shifts in the lobby. Since the police were still doing their thing, they wouldn’t let anyone go up to his room, but we kept a vigil in the hospital, waiting for news. We knew he’d made it out of surgery, knew he had come out of recovery, and was resting in his room. But I don’t think any of us believed it. We just wanted to see for ourselves that he was okay. My Uncle Charlie had showed up around the same time Kevin’s family had, and the adults had almost instantly fallen into a discussion of what Jason’s future would hold, instructing Kevin and I away so their debate could continue in relative privacy. Left to ourselves, Kevin and I fell into our own discussion of the boy who’d brought us together.