Joe stepped to one side to let the nurse by, then walked over to my bed. The other officer stepped just inside the door and stopped.
“How ya' doin', Sport?” Joe asked as he tousled my hair.
“Ok, I guess, Joe. Actually, I don't know. Mom and Dad said I'd probably be released this afternoon and the nurse said the same thing. No one will tell me anything about Derrick. Well, the nurse said he was in intensive care, but that's all. Do you know anything?”
“Care if I sit down?” Joe asked.
“Sorry, forgot my manners. Officer, you grab the other chair. Take a load off your feet.” I said when I noticed the other officer was still standing just inside the door.
“Guess I have forgotten mine as well,” Joe said. “Tom, this is Officer Hightower.”
“Officer,” I said extending my hand, “what brings you to my sickbed?”
“Officer Hightower is a special investigator for the department. We had a deck collapse over on Conley this week and several people were hurt. A building inspector got a royal ass chewing because an investigation revealed the deck was not up to code.“
“Everyone assumed the same was probably true in your case as well since the steps and landing are new. As soon as the EMS reported the accident, the chief inspector rushed to the scene and started a very close inspection of the stairs and landing. He called an Atlanta inspector to go over his work and both reached the same conclusion. They were surprised, but everything was as it should be. Of course, it would have been good if the railing had been stronger, but it was strong enough to meet code and withstand ordinary use. Both inspectors felt Derrick was thrown against with considerable force.”
“Further, there was absolutely not reason for your fall that anyone could see. Someone suggested you and Derrick were fighting and pushed each other causing your falls. Sounded reasonable, but I told the chief I know you two well enough to bet my pension on that not being true. I thought you might have been doing something else and fallen off the landing”--Joe looked at me and winked--”but in that case, both would have fallen the same way.”
“Since I know you two, the Chief loaned me to Officer Hightower and we went over first thing this morning and looked over the scene of the accident again. Officer Hightower, tell Tom what we found.”
“Tom, are you sure you can remember nothing?”
“I remember Derrick and I going up the steps. We were saying good night when the porch light came on blinding me, and that's it. I remember nothing after that.”
“I wish you remembered more,” Officer Hightower said. “I looked at the stairs and landing and I don't see how the accident happened. Something is missing, but I don't know what.” While Officer Hightower was speaking, he was paged and took off his shoulder mike and said, “Hightower. I'm at the hospital. Give me a minute,” he said as he stepped in the hall.
“Tom, you and Derrick were saying goodnight when the porch light came on?”
“Exactly HOW were you saying goodnight? As if I didn't know.”
“Probably exactly as you would think. He was leaning against the landing rail and I was kinda leaning on him, Derrick had just said something and I started kissing him and the light came on, then nothing.”
Officer Hightower stepped back in the room and said, “Tom, you sure you're not holding back something?”
“Yes, sir, I'm sure.” I replied.
“That was the Chief, Joe. Someone called the station and said we should take a real serious look into the accident in which those two boys were hurt. Seems the caller said it was not an accident and a stepfather was involved. Tom, help us out here.”
“Guys, believe me, I wish I could. If a stepfather is involved, it has to be the Major. I know he is in town—he was at the opening game yesterday. He asked about taking me and Derrick out to dinner, but we told him we'd take a rain check since we were tired after a hard game. He said he'd see us tomorrow and left. Well, before he left, he told Derrick they were staying at the downtown Marriott and asked him to call about when they could get together with him today. 'It's Saturday,' he said, and 'Your mom and I want to take you shopping.' That's all I know.”
“Well, we can check on that. I just can't believe you and Derrick were carrying on hot enough to knock each other off the landing.”
“Joe,” I practically yelled. I knew I was turning bright red and also knew Joe was not the only officer in the room.
“Never mind Hightower,” Joe laughed. “He's straight, but gay friendly Trey says.”
“Yeah,” Officer Hightower said, “I'm not gay, but I know enough to know you guys would have killed each other had your making out done the damage to that landing. And from what Joe tells me, I don't think Derrick shoved you down the stairs.”
When Officer Hightower said that, I saw an image flash across my mind—like a movie clip behind my eyes. “I don't know who or what or how,” I said, “but I was shoved. Someone shoved me and it wasn't Derrick.”
“Maybe you're beginning to remember,” Joe said. “I sure hope so. Well, we've got to go. I'll give you a call at home tonight to see how you are doing and if you remember more.”
After the two were gone I could kick myself. I had asked about Derrick and neither had answered my question. Not only that, but they gave no indication they were going to or had questioned him.
A doctor came in right after lunch, introduced himself and after checking a few things said, “I see no reason you can't go on home. If you get to feeling dizzy, faint, start seeing double, anything really weird, give the hospital a call. You had a pretty severe knock on the head, but you seem ok. Your scalp wound was not serious, oh, it bled like mad, they always do, but a few stitches took care of that. You'll need to come back in a week to get it checked and the stitches out or go to your family doctor. Any questions?”
“Not about me,” I answered, “but no one will tell me anything about Derrick who was hurt in the same accident.”
“You are friends?”
“Best friends. Very best friends.”
“Son, all I can tell you is that he is in ICU in very critical condition. You both were unconscious when you came in and Dr. Ellis took care of him. You might walk up and see him before you leave.”
Mom and Dad came as the doctor was leaving and he told them the same things he had told me. “I'll have the nurse bring instructions for his care. One of you can help him get dressed and the other might want to go downstairs and get him checked out.”
Dad went downstairs and Mom said she'd help me get dressed. I told her I didn't need any help, but found out I might not have needed help, but it was welcomed. I was so sore having someone help get me dressed saved a lot of pain.
When I was dressed I said, “Mom, I want to see Derrick.”
“I hope you can,” she replied. “His mother and stepfather were most unpleasant when your dad and I asked about him.”
We left the room and headed to the elevators. I looked at the directory and saw ICU was on floor seven. When we reached the ICU, Derrick's mother and stepfather were sitting in the waiting room. I walked in and asked, “How is Derrick?”
Derrick's mother started crying and the Major jumped up, got right in my face and said, “You god damn honkie faggot, he would have been all right if you had kept your hands off him. How he is is none of your fucking business and you better not show up here again. Now get your faggot ass out of here!”
I looked around the Major at Derrick's mother and asked, “Ms. Culpepper, how's...”
“Can't you hear, boy? Nobody has anything to say to you and nobody wants you around. Now leave!” Derrick's mom said through clinched teeth.
Mom put her arm around my shoulders and led me away.
When I got home, I dialed Gram's number, hoping she was alone. She was.
“Grams, it's Tom,” I said after bracing myself for another tirade.
Grams started crying softly, then said, “I'm sorry, Tom. I'm having a hard time keeping it together.”
“Me to,” I said. “Grams, I tried to see Derrick or at least find out something. The Major and Derrick's mom were ready to throw me out of the hospital. They were very nasty to Mom and Dad.”
“I know. I guess it's up to me to tell you what we know, what we have been told. When Derrick fell, he landed on the back of his neck. Tom, his neck snapped. There is very little hope that he will live...”
I dropped the phone and shouted, “NO! NO! Not Derrick!”
Mom and Dad came running into the room, Mom grabbing me and Dad picking up the phone.
I was screaming, crying, flailing about. Mom finally got me calmed down a bit and by the time she had, my head was pounding, I was seeing flashes of light before my eyes and then everything went black.
When I regained consciousness, I was in my bed. Mom was placing cool cloths on my forehead. As soon as she was sure I was awake, she said, “Tom, your dad talked with Grams. Honey, she is really hurting. Tom, Derrick may live as a vegetable, that's the best that can be hoped for, if that's good. His mother and stepfather are barring anyone from seeing him, having anything to do with him. They won't even let Grams see him. I know you'd like to see him, say goodbye if that's to be, but I don't see how.
“Mom, Derrick is strong, tough. He'll pull through, wait and see.”
Mom didn't argue with me and as soon as the words were out of my mouth I remembered what she had said, “At best, he will live as a vegetable.”
I started weeping silent tears, tears for what might have been, for my beautiful Derrick, for Grams and for myself. I reached out to Mom and she held me close, my head on her shoulder, until I had cried myself to sleep—escaping what I could not face.
When I woke up, I imagined I heard Grams' voice. I got up, put on my robe and walked downstairs to the living room. When I got there I saw Grams sitting, talking with Mom and Dad. Dad looked up and said, “Tom, good. You need to be in on this.”
When I was seated, Dad said, “Tom, Grams has just been told Derrick is brain dead. Since she is his legal guardian and has power of attorney for his medical care, she has the final say in what is done. The Major and Mrs. Culpepper are challenging her on the matter, but she wanted to talk with people who loved Derrick as she did and not as a way to massage their own ego.”
“The situation is this. Derrick is brain dead. That will not change. He is, presently, on life support. He is an organ donor and the longer he is on life support, the less chance his organs can be used. He has to be checked three times, twelve hours apart by three doctors—at least that's what the doctor told Grams he would do—then the machines can be turned off. Grams wants you to have a say in what's done. Now I'm calling a lawyer for Grams,” Dad concluded.
“Then there is no hope, none at all?”
“None,” Grams said. “I was worried about his living as a vegetable. I hoped and prayed that would not happen. Even if it has to be this way, better he die than to live like that.”
I nodded agreement. “Grams, I do want to say goodbye. I have to say goodbye. I have to see him one last time.”
“Me too,” Grams said.
“You haven't seen him?” I asked, surprised.
“No, when I tried, that bitch my son married and her tin horn soldier had me thrown out of the hospital. He was shouting, 'If you had been worth a damn, you'd kept him away from that honkie faggot.' Tom, I didn't want to cause a scene so I came home and called the hospital and reminded them I was Derrick's guardian and all reports were to be made to me. I decided I would save my bullets for one great battle and that battle would include making sure you saw my baby before we let him go.”
“Thanks, Grams,” I said.
She hugged me and said, “Tom, I didn't understand your love for each other. I guess it was unnatural, but you loved him with all your heart and he loved you the same. Don't see how that can be bad.” Clearly she had known the true nature of our relationship.
While we were talking, Dad had been on the phone. At one point I hear our fax machine start up. Grams and I had nothing else to say, I guess, so we just sat quietly, lost in our own thoughts.
It was fifteen or twenty minutes before Dad came back. When he did, he said, “Grams, Barry Smith is our lawyer and I asked him about the situation. I faxed him the agreement giving your guardianship and power of attorney in regard to Derrick's medical treatment. He is of the opinion that if the matter gets into court, the agreement will be declared invalid. However, he does think he can get an injunction to, in effect, recognize your guardianship until it can be tried in court.”
“We know that Derrick will be declared dead”—I couldn't completely choke back a sob, neither could Grams--”in twelve to eighteen hours. Since you and Tom just want to say goodbye to Derrick, right?--” we both nodded— “then why not ask Barry to hold off filing until in the morning? That way, you will get to say your goodbye's before a challenge can be lodged against the injunction.”
“Dad, there's a problem. I think the Major will physically block my seeing Derrick. I'm sure he will.”
“Derrick talked a lot about a police officer. Joe? Yeah, Joe. I think he might handle the Major for us,” Grams said. “I need to talk with him anyway.”
Dad called Mr. Smith back and told him to go ahead as they had discussed. Grams asked him to take her home after asking if he could pick her up when we were going to see Derrick. Dad assured her he would.
Grams hugged me and said, “It's hard to lose someone you love. I know.”
I wasn't feeling very well, I mean, I wasn't sick, just tired, confused and all I wanted to do was sleep. I knew it was my way of avoiding unpleasantness—I had done it since I was very young—but why should I stay awake when all I could do was suffer?
Mom finally said it was ok for me to go to sleep so I went upstairs and crawled in bed. Derrick had stayed with me two nights ago and we had to change the sheets in the middle of the night. That happened often enough until a part of my closet became a linen closet. Mom said since I was using them, I could wash them and keep them myself.
When I crawled into bed, I was overcome with sorrow. The scent of Derrick, my love, my life, was still in the sheets. I started weeping again and cried until I thought I'd run out of tears, then cried some more. I finally cried myself to sleep.
I don't know how long I had been asleep when I woke up. Joe was sitting by my bed and he asked, “Tom, can't you remember some more of what happened? It's all very strange, somethings not right, but that's all I can say about it.”
I closed my eyes, trying to force myself to remember. Suddenly I did remember something. “Yes, I do remember,” I answered. “I was leaning on Derrick, kissing him and the porch light came on. Someone shouted or screamed and the next thing I know, I was falling down the stairs and I heard something break, I guess the landing rail. Then there was blackness.”
When I opened my eyes, Joe was gone. “He's going to do something about Derrick being hurt,” I told myself. I could remember no more and went back to sleep.
When I woke up again, it was 7:30 and beginning to get dark. I went downstairs and found Mom and Dad sitting in the den, watching the news.
“Have a good nap?” Mom asked.
“Yes. And it helped me remember. I was glad I could help Joe out.”
“Help Joe?” Dad asked, puzzled.
“Yeah. I told him some more. I remembered some more.”
“You told him when?” Dad asked.
“Couple, three hours ago. You know, when he was here.”
“Tom, Joe hasn't been here since this morning. You must have been dreaming.”
“He was here sitting by my bed. I saw him.”
“Son, you were dreaming. Your mom and I have been right here and Joe hasn't been around. Sorry. But you did remember something else?”
“Yeah. You sure Joe wasn't here?”
“We're sure,” Mom said. “But if you think you have remembered more, give him a call.”
I called Joe and when I asked him if he had been at our house, he said he hadn't. “But I had a strong feeling that I needed to come by,” he said. “I thought you had more to tell me.”
“I do, can you come over?”
“Sure. I'm in the middle of a solitary supper. As soon as I finish, I'll be right over.
I felt exhausted again and went on upstairs and crawled back in bed.
I was about half asleep when I heard Joe downstairs. I was so slow, I heard Joe bounding up the stairs as I got my robe on.
“We can talk here if you like,” Joe said, and I nodded. I sat in my desk chair and gave Joe the overstuffed chair I loved and Mom hated.
“Joe, I think I remembered something more,” I said and then told him about what I had dreamed.
“You sure you weren't just dreaming,” he asked.
“I'm sure I was dreaming,” I answered. “But not JUST dreaming; I know that's what happened. I can't seem to remember the voice, just the shouting. I never saw whoever it was who came out on that porch, but whoever it was, was responsible for my falling down the steps and for Derrick's crashing thorough that rail. I know it.”
“Makes sense,” Joe said. “You know who it was too, don't you?”
“I am sure it was the Major. I am positive, but could I swear to that? No, I couldn't. I never saw him and I can't remember the voice. But who else could it have been?”
“Was he even at Ms. Murphy's? You said earlier he was staying at the Marriott downtown.”
“That's what he had told Derrick, but who else would have been at Grams? Who else knew about Derrick and me? Who else would have screamed and called me a honkie faggot?”
“Someone called you a honkie faggot?” Joe asked.
“Did I say that?” I asked and Joe nodded. “Hate to say it Joe, but that's what the Major called me today when I went up to ICU. I may well have gotten that confused with whatever was said last night. I don't know.”
“No way to check that, I can think of,” Joe said. “But I can check to see if the Major was at Grams' place.”
I was sure if the Major had been at Grams, he was responsible for his stepson's death. I was sure of it.
While we were talking, Dad came to my room and when we finished, he told Joe about the injunction Grams was seeking and asked about him being present when she and I went to say goodbye to Derrick.
“I'll be there and I'll make sure at least one other officer is there. Even if the Major had nothing to do with Derrick's death, he is perfectly capable of causing real trouble from what I have heard.”
Joe talked awhile longer and left, saying he was going to see Grams.
Mom brought me something to eat and gave me a sleeping pill to take, which I did, and was soon asleep.