Oh God, how did I get myself into this?
"Eric Walters?" The woman behind the desk called out after about fifteen minutes or so. I looked up, and she told me, "If you'll follow me, I can take you back now."
I stood up on wobbly legs and cautiously walked over to where she was. She gave me a warm smile and led me behind the counter to the many rooms in the back. No separate rooms with doors or anything. Just a few partition walls and a curtain for visual privacy. I didn't know what to feel as I walked back there. Should I be worried about arrested on the spot? Or should I be more worried that Dustin was going to have some sort of a disfigurement and that he was in pain because of me and my stupidity? It was the biggest personal conflict that I've ever dealt with in my life, because while self preservation holds us all hostage to some degree...I couldn't imagine what my life with be worth without Dustin to share it with. So...I guess my self preservation instincts were now expanding to accept his wellbeing as a part of my natural responsibility. I never expected to love this boy so much. I never thought the feelings would end up running so deep.
Then...the nurse stopped at one of the little sectioned off spaces and pulled the curtain back...and my heart felt like it suddenly had a giant, heavy, stone right in the middle of it! There was my sweetheart...laying in a bed with a hospital gown on, a bandage on his head and his shiny blond hair pushed back as he gave me a silly grin.
My first instinct was to rush over and hug him tight, kissing him on the lips as I fought off a few stray tears...but I couldn't. That wouldn't be appropriate. Not here, in their world. So I swallowed the emotion and just took a moment to appreciate the fact that he was looking better than he did when I brought him in. "Hey..." I sniffled quietly.
"S'up?" He grinned. Wow...he's still breathtaking. Even when he's injured.
The nurse said, "I'll give you two a few minutes. Just come and see me at the front desk when you're done." Then she turned to Dustin and said, "I'm going to call your mom and dad and let them know you're ok, alright?" Dustin nodded and she left, closing the curtain behind her.
The second she was gone, Dustin tried to sit upright in the bed and I lunged forward to hold him down. "No no no....what are you doing? Lay back."
"I wanna sit up." He said.
"You're already sitting up!" I told him, noticing the angle of the bed and the pillows behind him.
"I'm FINE! If anything, the pain in my bruise was starting to go away until they started 'poking' at it." He told me. Then he reached up to peel a bit of the tape off of his bandage to lift up one end. "Dude, check it out!"
What I saw nearly made me burst into tears! There was a GROSS knot sticking out on the side of his head! It had darkened considerably since they took him back here. Purple and blue and surrounded by a disgusting yellow tint. Dried blood was on the bandage and I felt so weak that I had to sit down in a small chair beside the bed. "Oh my God, Dustin. Oh my...oh my God..."
"Hehehe, WHAT? I think it's wicked!" He giggled. "I wanted them to leave a mirror in here so I could look at it some more, but they told me to stop messing with the bandages so they wouldn't let me have it."
"And yet, the FIRST thing you do when I come back here is start messing with the bandages again." I said.
"It's ok. I just wanted to show you my bump. Isn't it neat?"
"NO! It's NOT neat! Nothing about this is OK!" I said, my fear and worry now turning to frustration and anger. "Dustin, this is serious. You hear me? You could have really been hurt today, and it's all because you don't LISTEN! How many times have I told you about that rug? Huh? How many???" I slipped into 'daddy' mode without really thinking about it, and I couldn't stop myself...even when I saw Dustin's smile start to dim considerably. "You have to be more CAREFUL about this stuff. I MEAN it! What would have happened if I hadn't gotten you here in time? What would have happened if you slipped a few inches to the left? Or to the right? Goddammit, Dustin! When I tell you to be careful, I'm not doing it to boss you around or treat you like a baby! I do it because I CARE about you, and I don't want you hurt! Why are you so fucking STUBBORN??? You need to get this stuff through your head! You need to LISTEN to me when I tell you something!!!"
I was flying so far off the rails that I forgot to keep my voice down so nobody else in the hospital partitions could hear us. But, more than that, I was so wrapped up in disciplining Dustin and being an asshole that I hardly noticed his eyes watering up...his once kissable lips pouting as his young and vulnerable heart practically broke in half right in front of me.
"I'm sorry..." He whimpered softly. "I guess I ruined everything again."
"Don't! Ok? I'm not saying that you ruined anything."
"Yes, you are."
"Dustin, I'm not mad at you."
"Yes, you are." He said, looking away from me. "I slipped and got hurt and fucked up everything. You didn't even want me to come over, did you? But I came over anyway. This is all my fault."
Grrrr! He's not allowed to pull this when I'm SO fucking worried about him in this...
Wait. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Relax.
Dustin is fourteen. I was fourteen once. Hell, I once broke my arm in two places after falling out of Mrs. Houston's backyard tree. A million warnings about climbing it came prior from both of my parents and I ignored every last one of them. It's just...ugh!!! It fucking SUCKS being on the other side of this situation!
"I didn't mean to fall, ok?" Dustin sniffled.
With a heavy sigh, I said, "I know you didn't. I know, ok? Just...I can't stand to see you hurt. I'm trying to keep you safe. Can't you understand that?"
He tried to hide his face from me as the first two streams of tears rolled down his cheeks. He used his hand to wipe them away, but he wasn't being as secretive about it as he thinks he was. With a sniffle, he said, "I'll understand if you're upset with me. If you want to wait until later to yell at me..."
"I'm not gonna 'yell' at you. You just...you really scared me, Dustin." I said, standing up and hugging him around his slender shoulders, giving him a light kiss on the forehead. "I just need you to stop being so invincible all the time and take what I say with a bit more than a grain of salt. Ok?" I kissed him again. "This is all my fault. I'm going to buy a new rug tomorrow morning. A good one."
"No, don't do it tomorrow." He said. Then he confused me by whining, "I wanna go with you. I'll pick you out a good one." What? The kids laying in the hospital with a bruise on his head, and he wants to go rug shopping with me? Sometimes I find it really hard to figure this kid out.
"Um...ok. We can do that, I guess." I said, not knowing how else to respond.
"You promise you're not mad at me for getting hurt?" He said, nuzzling his head into my chest, wrapping his arms delicately around me, almost as if he half expected me to reject his affections in some way.
"I promise, babe." I whispered. "I love you more than you can imagine, Dustin. You mean everything to me." I hugged him so tight that I heard his breath escape him in a tiny little yelp and I let him go for fear that my emotions were causing me to overdo the affection thing a bit.
It was then that the nurse came back to pull the curtain aside, and she said, "Dustin? I talked to your mother and she's understandably worried about you. She's on her way, and your father won't be far behind. Ok?" She gave us the rundown of how things were going to proceed from there on, but as soon as she left us alone...Dustin and I both knew that there were some spontaneous decisions to be made.
He looked me in the eye, and even though we were holding hands at the time, he said, "Go." I shook my head, but he said, "Seriously, Eric...just go. I'm fine. Look at me. It's ok."
"I should stay. At least until your parents get here."
"You and I both know that's not the greatest of ideas." He smirked. "I'm not going to say anything. We were hanging out, I slipped, I hit my head. End of story."
"What did I tell you about lying to your parents?" I said.
"Don't be so 'extra', dude. If they respond to the bump on my head the way YOU did, they'll be so happy that I'm not in a friggin' coma they won't think to ask a whole lot of deep questions about it. Just....just go. Ok? Please?"
A half hour ago, all I wanted to do was run away. Now it hurt my heart to let go of his hand.
"You call me when you get home. Ok? The second you get a chance. And if they keep longer than overnight, I'll come back and visit you tomorrow. Alright?"
"Bring me a cheeseburger! Like one of those jalapeno bacon burger thingies from..."
"No! Hehehe! I will come visit you, and you will sit right here in this bed and eat hospital food so you can know what it tastes like and vow never to come back here again." I snickered.
"You're no fun." He smiled. "GO, already! I'm never gonna get a handsome doctor to take advantage of me and fondle my goodies with you standing there. Go away!"
It felt so good to see some semblance of the boy that I had grown to love with my whole heart, that I actually began to get a bit misty eyed myself. The emotion got clogged up in the back of my throat, and with a sudden, uncontrollable impulse, I leaned forward and grabbed both sides of Dustin's face and gave him a brief, a 'safe', kiss on the lips. I whispered, "I love you, babe."
He was so touched and taken off guard, that another tear rolled down his right cheek. "I love you TOO! Sooooo much!" He could experience joy to the point of pain sometimes. I loved that about him.
"Let these good folks take care of you, ok?" I sniffled.
"And STOP messing with that bandage!"
"Alright, already! Geez!" Then he smirked and said, "Still...it looks pretty cool, doesn't it? I know you think it looks cool. You just don't wanna say so."
I rolled my eyes. "Get some rest, doofus."
"M'kay..." He said, and Dustin gave me the dreamiest smile ever as I exited through the curtain. Was this it? Can I untangle my nerves now and hope for a pleasant and consequence free ending to this ordeal?
Just as I was walking back out to the front of the nurse's desk, I noticed a man and a woman briskly walking into the waiting room and hurrying over to the desk.
I don't know how I knew it was them...I just knew. Something about their combined appearance was so familiar. Traits that I recognized in Dustin's gleaming blue eyes, in his easy going smile, in his soft features and carefree gestures. I don't know...I could just 'tell'. You know?
The last thing I heard as I snuck away from the front desk was the nurse asking their names, and Dustin's mother saying, "Hunter. Last name, Hunter. Is he here in the back? Can we see him? What happened?"
I shamefully used the distraction of a duo of concerned parents to make my escape. I didn't feel good about it, I just didn't know what else to do in this situation. What would somebody else do? I mean, is there some easy answer that I'm not seeing here?
As soon as those automatic doors to the hospital opened up for me, I felt like I could breathe freely again. The cool wind on my skin, cooling off my fevered panic attack. I knew that this wasn't the solution to anything, but for right now, I've got some time to think. That's a LOT more than I had when I got here.
Taking my phone out, I immediately called Jack.
"Dude, I need your help! Can we meet up?"
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