Halloween Prank by Grant Bentley
Zombie! © Daniel Hollister — used with permission.

Halloween Prank

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

I’m twenty six. I’m a high school Math teacher in a small town about half an hour from Calgary. I moved to the city two years ago to allow myself a nightlife and some anonymity. I moved into an older neighbourhood where the population is predominantly empty nesters. Most are in their forties and fifties, very friendly, easy to get along with and quiet. There are couple of families with kids, and a small walk-up apartment building with mostly young guys living in it, but they too tend to be friendly and quiet.

It’s not surprising then that Halloween is no exception, and also tends to be quiet. Where some neighbourhoods have several hundred little trick or treaters, we might get twenty or thirty. Even though it was on a Friday night, this year appeared to be no different. It was nine forty five and I had seen twenty one kids. There might be a few more, but it wasn’t likely as there were seldom any kids coming to the door after nine or nine thirty.

I was ready to turn the front light off and kick back and finally relax when my doorbell started to ring non-stop as if someone were leaning on it. Now, I had worked all day and been up and down handing out treats since I got home, so it had been a very long day. I was way past tired and became instantly angry. ‘Who the hell leans on the doorbell like that?’ I said to myself. Halloween or not, someone was going to get an earful when I opened the door.

I stormed down the hall and yanked the door open. Standing there was a boy about fifteen or sixteen made up as a zombie, big gouges out of his face with blood all down his chin and neck and onto his shirt and jacket. If I hadn’t been so angry, I would have taken the time to admire what was easily as good as any professional makeup job. Instead, I glared at him and said, “What the hell?”

He just stared at me without any change of expression. I was about to tie into him for ringing my doorbell the way he had and for being way too old to be out Halloweening, when his eyes rolled back, and he fell forward through the door and into my entryway.

‘Okay, this is crap,’ I thought, ‘I’m not in the mood for some kid’s stupid Halloween prank at nearly ten o’clock.’ I had to admit, though, I was torn between being angry as hell or impressed as hell. As a Halloween prank, it was a pretty damn good one. He and his buddies had done an outstanding job. The whole effect with the makeup and knife sticking out of his back looked pretty awesome. But the amount of fake blood was seriously overdone. It was everywhere.

I’m sure my prankster was expecting me to totally freak out, but no such luck kiddo. I waited for him to jump up and run off shouting, “Ha Ha. Gotcha man!” or something equally annoying. But, it never happened.

When he didn’t move after several seconds, I began to get nervous. I tentatively reached down to shake his shoulder and let him know the joke was over when I realized the amount of fake blood was increasing — quickly. It wasn’t fake, it was real blood!

“Oh my God!” I shouted to no one in particular.

This was no prank, this boy had really been stabbed and he was going to die right here in my entryway if I didn’t move fast. I ran to the phone, grabbed it and dialled 911 as I ran back to the boy. I knew you should use pressure to stop bleeding but how the hell do you do that when there’s a knife there? I was very close to going into a full scale panic attack when the dispatcher came on.

“A boy’s been stabbed! He’s bleeding badly! The knife is still in his back! I don’t know what to do! He’s going to die!” I frantically yelled into the phone.

The dispatcher was excellent. He spoke in a very calm voice and told me an ambulance and paramedics would here in less than five minutes. He didn’t even ask where I lived. I guess they get the address from the phone number, I don’t know. He asked me a couple of questions like, how old the boy appeared to be, and some other questions I can’t remember anymore. The calmness of his voice did actually help to calm me down, unfortunately not very much. He asked me to feel for a pulse, so I felt the boy’s neck for a pulse and could feel a very weak one. He said that was good. It meant he hadn’t lost too much blood and the paramedics had a good chance of saving him. I’m not sure if that was true or not or just a way of helping me calm down some more. If it was, it worked, though God knows what I would have done if there had been no pulse.

The worst thing was that there was nothing I could do. I was squatting there watching this boy bleed to death. All I could do for him was stroke his hair and tell him he was going to be okay as the paramedics would be here in a minute. I had never felt so helpless. Where the hell were they????

After a couple of minutes, I could hear the sirens in the distance. A minute later they were here and there were two paramedics running across my lawn. The look of concern on their faces was very evident. I quickly got out of their way to let them do their job.

Less than a minute after the ambulance arrived, there were two police cars pulling up in front of the house. There were three police officers, two in the first car and one in the second. About thirty seconds later, there was a television news van complete with cameraman and reporter in front of the house across the street. One of the officers came directly over to me, one went over to the boy and the paramedics, stood back, watched them work and jotted down a few notes on a pad, and the third started moving people back away from the scene, including the news crew. It seemed like half the city had converged on my front sidewalk in a matter of seconds.

The officer that came over to me introduced himself to me as Constable Moore. He asked me if I could give him a brief explanation of what happened. I started to explain what happened, but I found it difficult to keep my attention focused on him. I couldn’t take my eyes off the paramedics who were working on the boy and I kept wondering what was taking them so long. However, I did manage to explain, in bits and pieces, the events of the last ten or fifteen minutes. He was very good and didn’t pressure me. He paused several times to allow me to see what was happening. He also helped me to regulate my breathing and calm down more than once.

The paramedics worked on the boy for what seemed like forever. I’m sure it was actually more like five minutes though, before they moved him onto the stretcher, carried him to the ambulance and sped off, sirens and lights going full tilt.

After they left, I was able to calm down a little more. I did remember a couple of other things about the boy. I had seen him walking by my house quite often in the last month or so, probably on his way home from work or practice. At least I thought it was him, although it was hard to be sure because of the makeup. If it was him, I was also pretty sure I had seen him go into the small, walk-up apartment on the corner. Constable Moore thanked me and said that would also help in their investigation.

Unfortunately, my house was now a crime scene and I wouldn’t be able to enter it again until the police had completed their investigation. Constable Moore asked me if there was someone I could call. It wasn’t so much that I needed somewhere to spend the night. I could stay in a hotel. It was more that he was concerned that I shouldn’t be alone after everything that had just happened and the state I was in. I phoned Scotty, a close friend of mine, told him briefly what happened and asked him if he could come and pick me up. Within minutes, he was here.

By then there were already several police vehicles in front of the house. They even seemed to have a complete forensics lab in a large van. Constable Moore asked me if I needed anything out of the house. I asked for my keys that were on the stand by the door. He got them for me and asked if I had a spare key so they could lock the house up when they were done. Scotty had one and gave it to him. As we turned to leave, Constable Moore was approached by a small group of kids who got into a very animated conversation with him. I hoped they were friends of the boy and had some idea about what had happened.

As Constable Moore was now preoccupied, the other two officers walked Scotty and me to Scotty’s car and stood between the news crew and us. Twice before I noticed one or both of them intercept the news crew before they could get to me. I would be forever grateful to them for that, and for escorting us to the car, as I have no idea how or even if I would have been able to respond to their questions.

It wasn’t until I was in the car with Scotty, where I wasn’t caught up in all the activity, no one was asking me questions and vying for my attention, that it all came down on me. I suddenly felt overwhelmed and fell apart completely. Scotty wrapped his arms around me and just held me. Finally, after about five minutes, I was able to somewhat pull myself together.

“He was just a boy,” I exclaimed, “How could anyone do that to a boy?”

“I don’t know Mike,” Scotty answered, “I just don’t know.”

At this point, I just couldn’t think anymore and leaned back in the seat, covered my eyes with my palms, and gave a huge sigh.

“Come on, you need to get out of here,” Scotty said as he started the car.

We drove in silence to his place. I felt completely exhausted. I had no energy left. I didn’t even have the energy to cry anymore. Scotty parked in his garage and walked around, opened my door and helped me get out of the car and walk into the house. He fluffed up a pillow, helped me lay back on the sofa and then sat on the floor beside me and stroked my arm. Neither of us said anything. I couldn’t. I just needed to know he was there and he knew that. I don’t know how long I stared at the ceiling before I finally fell asleep.

The next thing I knew, it was nine thirty the next morning and I could smell fresh coffee brewing and bacon cooking. I managed to rouse myself up off the sofa and make my way to the bathroom. When I looked in the mirror, it was like I had aged ten years. My eyes were red, puffy, and bloodshot. My cheeks looked pale in spite of a day’s growth of beard. To put it mildly, I looked like hell. I felt like hell too.

As I made my way into the kitchen, Scotty was busy cooking up a storm.

“Morning,” he said, “Breakfast will just be a minute.”

“I don’t know if I can eat anything,” I said as I poured myself a coffee.

“I know you’re still upset,” he said, “But starving yourself is only going to make you feel worse.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I responded, “But I can’t get the picture of him laying there out of my mind.”

Scotty walked over and gave me a hug. “I know,” he said and he held for a minute or so, then gave me a squeeze and added, “Come on, sit down and eat. Then after breakfast, we can go over to the hospital and find out how he’s doing.”

“What if he didn’t make it?” I asked, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle that.”

“Don’t even think about that,” he said, “We have one of the best ER’s in the country. They work miracles.”

“I hope you’re right,” I replied as I sat down at the table.

“Besides, he’s young and strong and kids have a lot of resilience. That’ll be on his side too,” he said as he put a plate of food in front of me.

We didn’t talk much more as we ate breakfast. It was delicious, but it was all I could do to force it down. After we finished eating, we drove over to the hospital. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I prayed most of the way there. As soon as we arrived, we went to the main desk and asked the receptionist about the boy who had been admitted last night after being stabbed. I told her I was the one who discovered him and called the ambulance and we just wanted to know how he was doing. She apologized and told us she wasn’t free to give out any information other than that he was in the ICU or Intensive Care Unit. She said the nurses there might be able to help and gave us directions.

I couldn’t help but smile a little smile… he was still alive. Scotty smiled back and gave my shoulder a squeeze. As we walked into the ICU, the first person we saw was Constable Moore. As soon as he saw us walk in he came right over.

“Constable Moore. How is the boy?” I asked, “Is he going to be alright?”

“They’re still not sure,” he replied, “He lost a lot of blood and was in surgery for five hours last night. He’s listed in critical condition but I just talked to the doctors and they said everything went very well. They seem pretty positive. Another fifteen minutes though, and they’re not sure they would have been able to save him, so your quick action probably saved his life.”

“Thank goodness,” I said, “I was so worried.”

“He’s not out of the woods yet, but it sounds promising at the moment, thank God,” he said, “But I better back to the precinct. It’s been a long night.”

“You can’t still be on duty?” Scotty queried.

“No, I’ve been off duty since nine, but I wanted to know how he was doing,” he replied.

“Do you know who did it?” I asked.

“We’ve made an arrest, but I can’t say any more just yet,” he responded.

“Well thank you so much for all you’ve done,” I said.

“Just doing my job,” he said.

“Coming here and waiting an hour and a half hour to see how he’s doing is more than just doing your job,” I remarked.

He just smiled and said, “Yeah, maybe, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing you here again as well.”

He started for the door, but just before he got there he turned and came back. “Sorry, I almost forgot. Here’s your key. You’re free to go home anytime. The forensics crew are finished there now.”

“Thanks,” both Scotty and I said and he was off.

I felt so relieved. The boy was going to be alright, or at least, it sounded like he would be. That’s all I needed to know. Since Scotty and I weren’t relatives, we knew no one would give us any more information on his condition, so there was little point hanging around the hospital. Just as we were ready to leave, a young man, who appeared to be in his early twenties, approached us.

“I’m sorry, but I overheard you talking to Constable Moore. I’m Steve’s brother, Trent,” he said, “I just want to thank you for all you did. You saved his life. Thank you. I don’t know what I would do if I lost him.”

“I’m Mike. This is Scotty,” I said, “I didn’t really do much. Just called 911.”

“You may not think it’s much, but my brother is alive because of you. And, you obviously care enough to come to the hospital to see how he is. That’s more than ‘just calling 911’ as far as I’m concerned,” he said as he reached out to shake my hand.

“Thanks,” I said as I shook his hand.

“You here alone?” Scotty asked.

“Yeah,” he replied as tears filled his already red eyes.

“Why don’t you come with us for a coffee and something to eat then?” Scotty asked.

“I don’t want to leave Steve,” he said.

“We can just go downstairs. It’s like two minutes away,” Scotty responded, “You can let the nurses know where you’ll be if they need you or if anything changes.”

He thought it over for a few seconds, then smiled and replied, “Thanks, yeah, maybe I will. I haven’t eaten since dinner last night and I wouldn’t mind having someone to talk to right now.”

He quickly walked over to the nurses’ station, told them where he would be, and we were off to the hospital’s cafeteria. Once there, Scotty and I just ordered coffee as we had eaten breakfast not too long ago. Trent ordered coffee and what appeared to be ham, scrambled eggs, and hash browns. We sat quietly for a few minutes as I think Trent was hungrier than he thought and was putting the food away quite quickly.

When he was nearly finished his breakfast, he stopped and looked at us. “I still don’t know how to thank you enough. I honestly don’t think I would want to live if I ever lost Steve. It’s just been him and me for the past year since our Mom died,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“Thanks,” he responded, “We lived with our stepfather for a while, but he never wanted us around when Mom was alive, so he sure as hell didn’t want us around after she was gone. It took a while to save up the damage deposit and everything, but we finally got an apartment just down the street from you.”

“I’ve seen Steve walk by my place nearly every day,” I said.

“Yeah, probably after work. He works part-time at Home Depot,” he responded, “Steve is still in high school though. He wanted to quit and get a full-time job but I wouldn’t let him. If you don’t have your diploma you won’t get anywhere in today’s world.”

“That’s true,” Scotty said.

“I’ve been working at Future Shop selling mostly computers and accessories. I’m hoping to be able to go to university sometime, but right now, I have other priorities, like getting Steve through high school.”

“Every kid should have a big brother like you,” I told him, “Not many guys would do what you’re doing.”

“Thanks,” he replied, “I promised Mom I would look out for him.”

“I’m still impressed,” I said, “My brother doesn’t even know or care if I exist.”

“I’m sorry,” he responded, “I can’t imagine life without Steve,” then looking at his watch, he said, “I better get back up there.”

“We’ll come with you,” I said, “You could probably use the company and we want to see how Steve’s doing as well.”

“Thanks,” he said and smiled at us.

Once we got back up to the ICU, Trent went straight to the nurses’ station. He came back with a smile. “Steve’s still listed as critical, but they’ve upgraded his status to critical but stable. Unless something totally unforeseen happens, they’re pretty sure he’s going to be okay.”

“Thank goodness,” I exclaimed.

“Yeah,” he said as he flopped down in a chair and the tears started to flow.

I pulled a chair up beside him, sat and put my arm around him. He just leaned into me and wept. After a few minutes, he lifted his head and looked at me. “Sorry,” he said smiling, “I just got your shirt all wet.”

“It’ll dry,” I said with a smile, “But I think you needed that.”

“Yeah,” he said, “Thanks.”

We sat quietly for a while, each of us lost in our thoughts.

“You okay?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he replied, “A little tired, but I’m good.”

A few more minutes went by before Scotty asked, “Constable Moore said they arrested someone. Did he give you any idea as to what happened?”

“He didn’t say much, except they arrested a guy like you said,” he replied, “Most of what I know, I found out from Jason. Actually, he just left a couple of hours ago. I guess Steve was at a Halloween party at Jason’s friend’s place, a few doors down from you. The party was crashed by a bunch of older guys who were drunk and stoned when they got there. Since they were older and bigger, everyone kinda backed off and left them alone. They should have phoned the police right away, but I guess they were afraid of some sort of retaliation later.

“But, when the guys started getting rowdy and wrecking stuff, Steve, being Steve, stood up and told them to leave or he was calling the cops. One guy started pushing him around, then grabbed him, threw him out the door and then went after him. When the guy came back in a couple of minutes later, he said something to his friends and they took off. One of the girls, Sheila, ran out and got their licence number as they drove off.

“When Steve didn’t come back, some of them went looking for him. That’s when they saw the ambulance and police at your place. Jason got close enough to see it was Steve. He ran and got me but by then the ambulance had left, so we ran back, got his car and drove right here. Sheila and some others went over to your place to tell the police what they knew and give them the licence number.”

“We saw them as we were leaving, I think,” I said, “I’m glad they got the guy.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t help Steve right now,” he said.

“And you’re not helping him by staying here and trying to stay awake until he’s ready to go home,” a young nurse said to Trent with a smile, “You need to go home and get some rest. The doctors know what they’re doing. Getting yourself all run down isn’t helping Steve or you.”

“I can’t,” he replied, “I have to be here so I know how is.”

“Look, I promise to phone and let you know if there is any change and you can be back here in what? Ten minutes?” she said, “But if you keep this up, you’re going to end up being admitted yourself. You have to take a break and get some rest.”

“I can’t be alone right now,” he said, “I need to be here for myself as much as for Steve.”

“Why don’t you come home with Scotty and me?” I suggested, “That way, you won’t be alone and we’ll be there to drive you back anytime. I can give the desk my number to phone if there are any changes.”

“I don’t know,” he replied, “You’ve already been put out enough by this. I don’t want to impose on you anymore.”

“At this point, I feel like I have a stake in this too,” I said, “I’ll be back and forth to see how he’s doing anyway.”

“Come on sweetie,” the nurse said, “You have to rest and now you’ll have someone there to support you.”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes and smiled. “Okay, I’ll go, but you have to phone if there is ANY change, promise?” he said to the nurse.

“I promise,” she said.

“Can I see him for a sec before we go?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said, “Come with me.”

Trent came back, tears freely flowing, “He looks so helpless,” he said.

“I know,” I said as I put my arm around his shoulders, “But he’s in the best ICU in the country. They’ll take good care of him.”

“Okay, let’s go before I change my mind,” he said.

We led him out to the car, got him settled in and drove home in silence. Once we got to my place and got out of the car, he froze and just stared at my front door. I put my arm around his shoulders and led him around to the back door. We entered the kitchen and I asked him if he wanted a coffee or if he was hungry.

“No thanks,” he said, “If I’m supposed to rest, I should probably try to do that.”

“You’re right,” I said as I led him to the spare bedroom.

“Would you mind if I rested on the sofa?” he asked, “It’s just…I would feel closer to you guys than in the bedroom.”

“Of course,” I replied.

He lay down on the sofa. I got him a pillow and a blanket. Within five minutes, he was sound asleep. I think he had been running on pure adrenalin and didn’t realize just how exhausted he was. Scotty and I sat around visiting and discussing the night’s events for a couple of hours before Scotty decided he better go home and get some work done.

It was seven the next morning before Trent woke up and moved again. Actually, I think he would have slept longer except the phone rang. I quickly answered it but I was too late. When I glanced over, he was already sitting up. It was a call from one of the nurses at the hospital. She asked for Trent. I looked at him and handed him the phone. He looked terrified and I don’t think I looked much better. After listening for a few seconds, a huge smile broke out on his face as he thanked her for calling.

“He’s going to be alright!” he exclaimed with a huge grin, “They upgraded him to serious and stable. The nurse said the only reason he’s not awake is because they’re keeping him sedated so he doesn’t move around too much.”

“That’s wonderful,” I exclaimed giving him a hug, “You want a coffee here or you want to wait until we get to the hospital?”

“I can wait,” he replied, “I just want to see Steve.”

“Okay, let’s go then,” I said.

As we were getting in my car, he turned to me and said, “Thank you. I really appreciate all your help. You have no idea how much.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied, “I think I’m just as anxious to see him get better as you are at this point.”

“I know you are,” he said, “I’m not sure why you care so much but I’m glad you do.”

“Well it could have something to do with the way he chose to introduce himself. Although I wish he would have picked a better way to win my heart,” I responded with a smile.

“It’s so good to hear you say that,” he said, “I know you’ll just love him when you get to know him. He has to be one of the sweetest guys around, and I’m not being biased either.”

“No I’m sure you’re not,” I said with a grin.

Five minutes later, we were walking into the ICU. The nurse that had called saw us and came right over.

“You can go in and see him if you want,” she said, “He’ll be sleeping. The doctor wants to keep him sedated for another couple of days. He wants him to heal a little more and doesn’t want him moving too much and tearing any stitches out.”

I stood back and was about to sit down in the waiting room to wait for Trent when the nurse said, “You can go in as well if want. You’re related, right?” and she grinned, spun around and walked off.

“Coming?” Trent asked.

“Yeah, I’m right behind you,” I replied.

We quietly walked into the room and stood by his bed. He looked so quiet and peaceful lying there. Trent walked to one side of the bed and took his hand.

“Hey bud,” he said as a tear rolled down his cheek, “You’re gonna be okay. You’ll be able to come home soon.”

Then he looked at me and grinned. “He just squeezed my hand,” he mouthed and pointed to his hand. I couldn’t help but give him a huge grin back.

“Mike’s here,” he said, “The guy who called 911 and saved you.”

Immediately his other hand moved. Trent looked at me, grinned, nodded, and pointed towards it. I reached out and took his hand in mine. I felt a squeeze. It was very weak, but it was a squeeze. I gently squeezed back.

“Hey Steve,” I said and he squeezed my hand again. I couldn’t help but feel totally elated. He knew who we were…well knowing Trent was a given, but he seemed to know who I was too. Obviously my voice wasn’t familiar but he reacted when Trent said I called 911. Even though he was very heavily sedated, he seemed to know what was going on. I had no doubts now, he was going to be alright.

We spent an hour with him until a nurse came in and said they were going to run some tests and it would be best if he were allowed to rest for an hour or so after. That gave us a chance to go for coffee and lunch since neither of us had eaten yet. We both said we would be back and Trent gave him a kiss on the forehead.

As soon as we were out of the room, Trent said, “I can’t believe he knew we were there. I mean he squeezed our hands.”

“I know,” I said with a grin.

“That must mean he remembers you,” Trent stated.

“He may not remember me specifically, but it looks like he probably remembers some of what happened,” I said.

We got to the cafeteria and got a coffee and some lunch. Mine was supposed to be shepherd’s pie and Trent’s was meatloaf and mashed potatoes. They looked kinda the same to me, but both of us were in high spirits after the morning’s events with Steve, and food was food. As we were eating, Constable Moore walked in.

“Hi,” I said, “Grab some food and join us.”

“Hi,” he responded, “Be right there.”

“How’s Steve doing?” was the first thing he asked as he sat down.

“Great,” Trent exclaimed, “He’s being sedated so he doesn’t move around until he heals some more. But he knew us. He squeezed our hands when we spoke to him.”

“That’s great news,” he said smiling.

“So you here for the great cuisine?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he said laughing, “It was lunchtime and I was in the neighbourhood, so I thought I might as well see how Steve was doing and grab some food at the same time.”

“Thank you, I appreciate your concern,” Trent told him.

“You’re welcome,” he replied, “It’s cases like Steve’s that remind me why I joined the force in the first place.”

“You know, too often we lose track of how important you guys are and how much you care,” I responded.

“Thanks,” he said.

We continued our meal and chatted for about an hour before he had to return to duty and we decided to go back up and see how Steve was doing. He was sleeping when we got there, so we sat in the waiting room and chatted for a while. At about three I decided I had better think about setting up for tomorrow’s classes as I hadn’t even thought about it all weekend. I asked Trent if he would be okay. He assured me he would be fine now he knew Steve was going to be okay. I gave him a quick hug and told him I would be in touch later today and headed home.

As soon as I walked in the door, the phone rang. It was Scotty wanting to know how Steve was. I think he was as thrilled as I was to hear that Steve was definitely on the road to recovery. Trent called a little later to let me know that there was steady improvement although he was still being sedated.

Monday was back to work. It was an unusual day. Both my house and I had been on the eleven o’clock news on Friday and the six o’clock news on Saturday. Of course every class wanted a minute-by-minute recap of exactly what happened and was the kid who was stabbed going to be okay? After a while, the day just became a blur. I don’t think we did a lot of math.

As soon as I got home, I changed and drove over to the hospital. Trent and I stayed with Steve for and hour or so and then went downstairs to eat. We pretty much repeated the same procedure for the next couple of days. As I reached the ICU on Thursday, I was approached by one of the nurses. She gave me a big smile and said, “He’s awake.”

“Oh that’s wonderful news,” I exclaimed, “Thank you.”

“Trent’s in there with him now,” she said, “Just go on in. They’ll be thrilled to see you.”

I was suddenly nervous. I don’t know why. But, my fears were short-lived. As soon as I walked into the room, Steve’s eyes lit up, a huge smile appeared on his face and he held his hand out towards me. I couldn’t help but smile back as I stepped over to his bed and took his hand.

“Hey,” I said, “It’s so good to see you awake.”

His eyes teared a little as he said, “Hey, Mike. It’s so good to be awake. I owe you my life man, thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied, “You really gave us a scare for a while there though.”

“Sorry about that,” he said with a grin.

“It’s not your fault the guy was a psychopath,” I said.

“Yeah, but I should have known better than to take on some asshole like him,” he responded.

“As long as you’re going to be okay. That’s all that matters now,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied, “Trent tells me you’ve been taking care of him and you’ve been up here everyday with him to see me.”

“Yeah, well he was in no shape to be left on his own after you got hurt and I sort of became attached to him after that,” I said grinning at Trent and he blushed, “and there was no way I could rest until I knew you were going to be okay.”

“You have no idea how much we both appreciate all you have done for us,” Trent stated.

“Now you know I’m going to be okay, you still going to come and see me everyday?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied and squeezed his hand.

“Good,” he said.

“But you need to find a better way to make new friends,” I said with a laugh.

“No kidding,” he responded with a smile.

We chatted for about half an hour before his doctor came in and asked us if he could borrow Steve for an hour or so to check him over and make sure everything was healing nicely.

As I had work tomorrow, I said bye to Steve, gave him a gentle hug, and told him I’d see him tomorrow. Trent and I then went downstairs for a coffee and a bite to eat. Trent was going back up to sit with Steve until he fell asleep.

It was another three days before he was moved from the ICU to a regular room. I had been in to see him every day as I promised. Quite often it was just me, as Trent had to go back to work, and worked in the evenings until nine. It actually worked out okay though, as Trent could be with him for most of the day, and I could be with him in the evening.

Once he was out of ICU and he could have visitors other than family, he was seldom alone anyway. Jason came in every day as did Sheila, and I got to know them quite well. Also, about twenty other friends were in an out on any given afternoon or evening. Several of his teachers had been in to see him as well.

One evening, about a week after he had been moved from ICU, it was just the two of us and we were sitting there chatting when he stopped and looked at me with a nervous look on his face.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied.

“Okay,” I responded, “Then what’s on your mind? You look a little nervous.”

“I’m not sure if I should ask this,” he said, “But I’ve noticed your ring.”

“Oh, which one?” I asked, knowing full well which one.

“Well,” he said sheepishly, “The one with the lambda symbol on it.”

“Okay,” I replied, “What about it?”

“Are you wearing it for symbolic reasons or just because you like it?” he asked.

“Symbolic reasons,” I replied.

“So, you’re….” He paused.

“Gay?” I finished for him.

“I’m sorry, it’s really none of my business, but yeah,” he responded.

“Yeah, I am,” I answered, “You okay with that?”

“Oh yeah,” he replied with a smile.

“So, you just curious or is there a motive behind your question?” I asked.

“Well, promise you won’t say anything?” he said.

“Promise,” I said.

“Can I ask you something else first?” he asked.

“Okay,” I responded as the curiosity began to get to me.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked as his face turned bright red.

“No,” I answered nervously.

“Neither does Trent,” he said with a shy smile.

“Oh really?” I said.

“Please don’t let on I said anything,” he pleaded, “I don’t know how you feel, if you like him even, and I have no right to say this, but he likes you… a lot.”

“Oh,” was all I could think of the say.

“I’m sorry,” he said as tears began to fill his eyes, “Now I’ve gone and made things uncomfortable for you. Look, just forget I opened my big mouth. Okay?”

“So Trent likes me?” I asked without showing any expression.

“Look, I’m sorry. I need to learn when to mind my own business, but yeah,” he replied as a tear rolled down his cheek.

“Does he like to dance?” I asked as a small smile began to appear on my face.

He looked at me for a second or two before a smile began to appear on his face too. “Does that mean you like him too?”

“Well yeah, but only if he can dance,” I replied with a grin.

“Oh he can. He loves to dance… and he’s good, too,” he exclaimed, “I watch him practise in front of the mirror when he… doesn’t… know… I’m there…. Oh shit, there I go saying too much again.”

“I won’t tell him you said anything,” I said with a grin, “Promise.”

“So, seriously,” he said, “You do like him don’t you.”

“Yes,” I said, “I do like him… a lot.”

“Good,” he said with a big smile, “Trent has been through so much… losing our mom… dealing with our stepfather and taking the brunt of his anger trying to protect me from him. I know he wants to go to university and he’s given it up for me. He needs something good to happen to him. He’s sacrificed so much and I just want him to be happy. He deserves to be happy.”

“He is a pretty amazing guy,” I said, “I already figured that out watching him with you.”

“Yeah, he’s the best,” he said.

“So if I invited him to dinner at Alfredo’s and dancing at Twisted after, you think he would say yes?” I asked.

“We might have to work up to that,” he said with a big grin, “You see, I’m the only one who knows he’s gay. He’ll be so pissed if he finds out I told you.”

“You aren’t making this very easy,” I said, “He’s gay, he likes me a lot, but he doesn’t want me to know?”

“He wants you to know,” he said, “At least he would if he was sure you were gay too. But, he already warned me that it’s his decision and he doesn’t want me to get involved. But, I know him, and even if he knew you were gay, he might be too unsure of himself and shy to tell you.”

“Okay,” I said, “So where does that leave us then?”

“Well,” he said grinning, “Now you know, so maybe we can hint around and work him until he breaks down and tells you.”

“Does he know you have this evil, manipulative streak?” I asked laughing.

“Hasn’t got a clue,” he responded with a grin.

The next afternoon, I got a call from Steve. Partly to announce that he was allowed to get up and wander around the hospital ward, and partly to tell me that Trent had the evening off so he would be there, and I should wear something ‘gay’.

“Wear something ‘gay’?” I asked laughing.

“Well yeah,” he said quite seriously, “You must have something ‘gay’ you can wear.”

“I could wrap myself up in my rainbow flag,” I said still laughing.

“Come on, be serious,” he pleaded.

“Sorry,” I said trying to stifle my laughing, “But when you said wear something ‘gay’, it sounded so… gay.”

“Shut up,” he said with a chuckle.

“Besides, if I wear something ‘gay’, he’s going to know something’s ‘up’,” I said, “He’s not stupid.”

“Yeah I know,” he said sounding dejected, “I just want to get you guys together so bad.”

“Okay,” I said, “Tell you what, I’ll wear my Matthew Shepard Foundation ‘Erase Hate’ T-shirt under an open regular shirt. That way it might not seem so obvious. But, if he catches on and you catch crap, it’s not my fault. Okay?”

“Okay,” he replied with a little too much excitement in his voice for my comfort.

“Don’t you go starting something neither one of us can finish,” I warned him.

“I won’t,” he said, “This is too important to screw up.”

“God, I can’t believe this,” I said laughing, “I’ve got my own personal matchmaker.”

“Uh huh,” he replied with a chuckle, “So you’ll be here at five?”

“I’ll be there at five,” I responded.

“Cool, see you then,” he said.

“See you then,” I said and we hung up.

At five after five, I walked into his room. Trent was already there and they were looking at his chart that normally hangs on the end of his bed.

“Hi,” they both said as I walked in.

“Guess what,” Steve said, “They think I can go home early next week.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said excitedly, “I can’t wait to get out of here. It’s been nearly three weeks.”

“I guess it has,” I said.

“It’s going to be so good to finally have him home again,” Trent said.

It was at that point that my shirt must have opened a bit, because I noticed Trent was looking directly at my chest and the words ‘Erase Hate’. I almost held my breath waiting for some sort of reaction, but he quickly turned his eyes back to the chart. I moved over beside Steve so I could see what they were reading and the three of us quietly read the doctor’s notes on his progress over the last few days.

“So,” Steve said, “I can go down to the cafeteria now. Do you guys want to go for a coffee or something?”

“I could use a coffee,” I said.

“Yeah, so could I,” Trent said as he glanced at my shirt again.

The three of us got up, Steve hung the chart back up and we headed for the nurses’ station so Steve could let them know where he was going. We took the elevator down to the main floor and walked into the cafeteria. Steve found a table while Trent and I went to get the coffee and a cinnamon bun for each of us.

We sat and chatted for several minutes about Steve’s upcoming release from the hospital among other things. Then he looked at my shirt, smiled and said, “That’s a cool shirt. ‘Erase Hate’, that’s a cool slogan, I like that.”

I noticed Trent immediately tense up. “You know we should probably be getting back up there before they wonder where you went,” he said.

“We’ve been gone ten minutes,” Steve responded, “And I told them where we were going. If they want me, they can come and get me.”

I decided it was time to change subjects away from my shirt or getting back to his room. “How’s work been going?” I asked Trent, “You been busy or has the economic downturn affected sales?”

He paused for a second or two before responding. “Actually I haven’t noticed a big difference. We still seem to be selling as many electronics as before, although sales of some of the really big ticket items are down a bit.”

“That’s not too bad then,” I said, “One thing, the economy doesn’t have much effect on my job at the moment. Although if they carry through with their threats of cutbacks next year, our class sizes could start to get hard to manage.”

We got ourselves a second coffee and got back into some normal harmless chatting again until we got the big warning that visiting hours were over in five minutes. We walked Steve back up to his room, said goodnight and gave him a hug, and the two of us were off. Since I had driven over and Trent didn’t have a car, I offered him a ride home. Considering his reaction to my shirt, I was afraid he might refuse, but he didn’t.

We drove home in silence. Trent was gazing out the side window most of the way. When we got to their apartment building I assumed he would simply thank me for the ride, say goodnight and leave. Instead, he said, “It’s early, you want to come up for a drink?”

“Yeah, I’d love to,” I responded and shut the car off.

We walked up the two flights to their apartment and he unlocked the door, stepped back and waved me in.

“It’s not much,” he said, “But it’s home.”

I looked around. It was small, but immaculate. It had a tiny kitchen with the dining/living room combined. It was a one bedroom-plus den, so basically, it was a two bedroom apartment.

“This is okay,” I said, sounding impressed.

“Yeah,” he replied, “It’s actually perfect for us… cheap… small… and easy to keep clean.”

“The easy to keep clean part is always good,” I said laughing.

He grabbed us a lime cooler each and sat down at the table. I got the hint and sat down at the other end of the table. We each had several sips of our drinks before the silence started to become uncomfortable.

I was trying to think of something to say to break the silence when he finally he said, “I like the shirt.”

“Thanks,” I said, “I hope I live to see the day when a slogan like this isn’t meaningful anymore.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you,” he said.

“I’m not,” I replied.

“You ever feel scared?” he asked.

“Yeah, sometimes,” I said.

“Sometimes I feel so scared, I just want to scream until it goes away,” he said, “But it never goes away does it?”

“No, it never goes away,” I said as our eyes met.

“Did you have a hard time accepting it?” he asked, “I mean, when you first figured it out, did you just want to run and jump off the nearest bridge?”

“It scared the hell out of me,” I said, “I lost my brother because of it. He hasn’t spoken to me in eight years. But, no, I never wanted to end my life. I was different from the other guys, yeah, but I was still the same ‘me’ I had always been.”

“I know that now, well I’m getting there, but when I was fourteen, it was devastating,” he said, “If it hadn’t been for the fact that I couldn’t leave Steve alone with our asshole stepfather, I don’t know.”

“You really love him don’t you?” I said.

“More than anything,” he replied.

“He’s real easy to love isn’t he?” I said more than asked.

That got me a smile. “I told you,” he said.

“Yeah you did,” I said. Then, after pausing for a few seconds, I added, “He’s not the only one.”

Our eyes met again and I noticed his were now filling with tears. “You’re right,” he said, “He’s not the only one.”

The next evening we arrived at the hospital at our normal time, five o’clock. As we approached Steve’s door, Trent looked at me, smiled and then laced his fingers through mine.

The “Yes!!!!” that resounded from Steve’s lips as we walked into the room I think could have been heard throughout the entire hospital.