Authors: Kade Boehme,Allison Cassatta
He was on the verge of admitting to enjoying the night and the way it felt to hold on to Hunter. Before he could make himself cop to the confession, a head popped in the door. “Breakfast.”
The head disappeared and the door closed. They had all of about five minutes before someone came back to remind them yet again it was time to eat. “You think you can stomach the food today?” Riley asked.
Hunter groaned. “Fuck, I hope. I’m starving, and knowing these bastards, if I don’t keep something down today, they’ll give me a feeding tube.”
Riley wrinkled his nose.
The bedsprings squeaked when Riley pushed up to his feet, and Hunter immediately followed, though his movements were much slower and more measured. He still looked like hell and probably felt ten times worse. Riley held the door, waiting for Hunter to step out into the cruel, cruel common area first.
Trays were passed around, loaded down with food that might’ve been appealing to someone who appreciated it a little more. Riley wasn’t very interested, but it was fun to watch Hunter scarf down every bite he could, then chase it all with a bottle of OJ. It might’ve been Riley’s imagination, but he would’ve sworn some of the color came back to Hunter’s cheeks right then.
After breakfast, there were a few hours left to kill before the vilest torture Hartfield liked to inflict on its inhabitants—group. Those who didn’t speak were nagged and prodded to share their feelings like the other helpless souls condemned to that place. Those who did always shared way more than any sane person would tell a group of strangers, leaving the strangers in that weird place between feeling sorry for the confessor and fearing for their own lives. That sharing bullshit was for the birds, but because some doctor thought it was a good idea, there they were, sitting in a circle and watching the second hand of the clock slowly tick by.
At least Riley had Hunter beside him this time. Before, he sat there alone with his eyes trained on the floor, counting the speckles in the linoleum. He always lost count somewhere around five hundred… ten minutes after group started. He still kept his head down and his chin tucked, silently praying no eye contact would keep them from busting him out.
“You plan on sharing with us today?”
Riley shook his head.
The good doctor launched into a long-winded diatribe about the importance of opening up to people.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
Her voice became distant chatter the longer she carried on. He got this speech from her about once a month, maybe twice. She’d let him slide a few times, then get back in his shit again. Like he could ever forget how important being in touch with his feelings was to his emotional stability.
“I don’t think so.”
The doctor frowned at him. “Since it’s your first time, I’ll let you get away with not speaking. But don’t follow Riley’s example too much.” She shot a pointed look Riley’s way. “People who don’t participate in their own health end up here a lot longer than they should.” She turned her attention back to Hunter. “We can save it for our private session.”
When she’d moved on to the next guy, Hunter grimaced at the thought of a private session getting his mind picked. He’d spent a long time putting a lot of shit away where he intended for it to stay. Why in the hell did people
on trying to drag it all out into the light? Couldn’t they just leave well enough alone?
He felt a nudge and turned to see Riley smiling at him, rolling his eyes. “You’re making a dumb face,” Riley whispered. “Stop thinking so hard.”
“I thought that’s what we were here to do,” Hunter said, tone mocking as he nodded toward the doctor.
“Well, I do it wrong anyways. But I’m a lifer, so it’s not like it matters either way.”
What the fuck?
Hunter snapped his head to stare at Riley. Riley’s smile faded, and he looked distinctly uncomfortable. He obviously hadn’t intended to tell Hunter he was a lifer. A lifer? Really? He didn’t seem that crazy. He seemed almost normal, aside from his touchy thing the night before—which Hunter wasn’t complaining about—and his night terrors.
“Riley, Hunter, you may not want to share, but can we please be respectful of the others who would like to?” the doctor scolded. Hunter glanced her way and noticed that not only was she glaring, but several of the other guys in the group were looking put out.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Hunter said. Riley sat quietly, still looking uncomfortable. Now Hunter was even more intrigued. He really wanted to know his roommate’s story. But for now, Riley was looking so unhappy, and he’d just gone out of his way to pull Hunter out of his own head.
He nudged Riley with his elbow. Riley turned a scowl on him. With a shit-eating grin, Hunter said, “You’re making a dumb face. Stop thinking so hard.”
Riley snorted and shoved Hunter gently.
“Okay, Hunter and Riley! If you’re going to keep being disruptive just go back to your room!”
Riley turned to Hunter and held up a hand for a high five, which Hunter obliged, confused. “What are we high-fiving?”
“That took less time than usual. Usually have to sit through half the group hour before I get told to go to my room. It took us fifteen minutes. We’re a good team.”
Hunter laughed at that, loud.
“Go!” the doctor scolded as an orderly came to collect them. They walked down the hall, the orderly complaining about Hunter encouraging Riley, though Hunter wasn’t sure if it wasn’t the other way around.
“You’re gonna get me in so much trouble,” Hunter accused playfully once the door was shut behind them.
Riley shrugged. “Well, it gets boring here. Gotta have fun somehow.”
“You’re so quiet when you’re not making trouble, you’d never guess how devious you really are.”
“Not many people know. You’re just special.” Riley said the words like they were nothing, but something told Hunter they actually held a lot of weight. He didn’t have Riley figured out all that well yet, but he did think he wouldn’t be far off in thinking Riley didn’t get along with just anyone the way he did Hunter. He could see it in Riley’s eyes, even if it was the smallest change. He was much more comfortable when the door to the room was shut and it was just the two of them.
Hunter liked thinking that maybe that had a little to do with him, and he didn’t know why.
Because you’re the idiot who’s crushing on a crazy person while you’re in the nuthouse.
Not just any crazy person, but a fucking
. Not like it took a rocket scientist to figure out what that meant. Hell, maybe his sister was right. Maybe Hunter was crazy.
the orderly called down the hallway. Riley knew that scruffy voice, actually looked forward to hearing it, because a night with Old Hairless Walter meant a night of freedom. Wally was the kind of guy who didn’t strive for shit, not even keeping the patients safe. Nope. He’d rather jerk his junk while pretending to watch the surveillance monitors than keep peace and order for the crazies. Again, that meant freedom for the few people who knew where to go and how to get there, and as far as Riley knew, he was the only person who had a key.
“How are you holding up over there?” he asked when he heard the faint clicking of teeth chattering. Hunter was shivering again. Not uncommon considering the place turned into a giant freezer when Wally came on shift. A man that rotund would melt otherwise.
“I’m f-fucking f-freezing,” Hunter stuttered.
“I could um… keep you warm.” The sudden heat in Riley’s face could’ve ignited a bonfire in the middle of the room.
“Wait one minute,” Riley said. “Wally’ll come by in a minute to make sure we’re all tucked in and behaving ourselves.” He rolled his eyes. “Then I will.”
And by the way, waiting blows.
Two taps at the door, then Wally’s bubbly, round face appeared in the window. His forehead had a sheen to it, like all the work of walking down the hallway made him burst into an uncontrollable sweat. Sprigs of the little hair he had left stuck straight up in the air. Like, what the hell was he hanging on to it for? Why not go glow dome by now?
Everything about Wally was disgusting, but he was the one person in the world Riley thanked God for every time his smelly ass waddled down the hall. His beady eyes jerked Hunter’s way, then Riley’s. He didn’t bother walking in the room and making either one of them speak like all the other orderlies did.
Not that Riley was complaining.
After Wally disappeared from sight, Riley didn’t think twice about climbing into Hunter’s bed and squeezing in behind him. He was about to pull Hunter into his arms when Hunter made the move for him. His roommate burrowed into the curve of Riley’s chest, cheek to Riley’s sternum. A soft moan trickled up between them right before Hunter relaxed in his arms.
Riley would’ve totally given his left nut to turn this innocent cuddling into a marathon make-out session with the cutest boy to walk through this place since Andy. Lips. Tongues. Exploring hands. Damn.
A twitch down below reeled Riley back in. His mind was taking this way too far already. Last time he’d gotten involved with another guy in the suicide ward, the guy had killed himself and left Riley all alone in that shithole. What if Hunter did the same?
“So, about that secret place I was telling you about….”
Hunter raised his head, looking up at Riley with intrigue.
“Tonight’s the night. If you’re down to go.”
“Tonight’s the night? What is this, a spy movie?”
“Horror movie, spy movie…. Are you one of those trapped in some schizo alternate reality?”
Hunter scowled. “Whatever. I can’t help that you talk like you do.”
“Stop giving me shit.” Riley shook his head. “Wally makes sneaking out easy, and he only works a few nights a week, so we won’t be able to do this a lot. So do you wanna go or not?”
“I feel like shit, Riley. I don’t know….”
“Yeah. DT’s. We’ve been through this. They give you the Valium?”
“Well, that’s all you get, and they’re still going to make you get up and be active. You can’t just lie here being miserable. But if you’d rather not, I get it.”
Hunter still seemed conflicted. Riley decided to just be honest, though he wasn’t sure what made him be so forward. “I was really hoping to show you….”
Hunter sighed, but it was clear he was giving in. So telling someone how you felt really did work, it seemed. Hunter scooted into a sitting position and looked down at Riley. “Okay. Show me your Disneyland.”
Begrudgingly, Riley pulled his arms back and climbed out of the bed. As soon as he left Hunter alone, the subtle shivering started again, and for a moment, Riley gave a second thought to his plan to get Hunter up and out of that bed. He had to remind himself this was for Hunter too. Lying around being miserable wasn’t going to do him any good.
“I still have a hoodie,” Riley said, heading toward the chest of drawers on his side of the room. It had four drawers, mostly empty—save for the changes of hospital-issue shirts and pants, socks and underwear, and the shitty deodorant that didn’t smell so hot and felt even worse on the skin. But in the bottom drawer was a single gray hoodie, given to Riley when he’d gotten sick after Andy’s death. He pulled it out and handed it over, then waited patiently for Hunter to take it.
He helped Hunter get both arms into the sleeves and the hoodie zipped up tight. They were facing each other again, so close, mere inches, and so far away from sharing a kiss. Riley couldn’t remember the last time he’d craved something so badly.
“Better?” he asked softly, voice rasping more than he’d expected it to.
“Good.” Riley smiled. It felt good to be able to do something to help Hunter feel better. “We have to be quiet and stick to the dark, okay? I know Wally’s not watching the monitors, but if he sees a shadow or something, it might get his attention. Okay?”
Hunter’s lips turned up just slightly. “Well, you did promise adventure.”
“Yeah, and that’s what we’ll get… but I don’t want to get us caught. I don’t want them taking you away,” Riley blurted before he had enough sense to think about what he was saying. “I mean—”
Light laughter cut him off. Hunter was smiling, and not just a stupid, amused grin because of Riley’s total foot-in-mouth moment. Nope. This smile looked a hell of lot like the same smile Andy would give him when Riley said something Andy liked to call cute. Riley still hated that damn word.
“What?” Riley’s cheeks burned a bit hotter.
“Nothing. You’re just cute when you get flustered.”
“Nah. I’m fucking with you.” Hunter’s gaze swept up and down Riley’s body. “You’re hot.”
“Oh.” Riley’s face definitely flamed at that. Then Hunter had to ruin it.