Author’s Note

 

It’s long. Perhaps too long, and perhaps it should have been cut into pieces. But I wanted to set some things up. Things that will propel the story forward, and hopefully be intriguing, sexy, fun and interesting. The stage is set. Let’s see where Devon takes us.

 

As always, feel free to send comments to erikritler@yahoo.com. I would also like to especially thank William and Jonathan, who muddle through my drafts and help point out my vast ignorance of grammar and language use. Well, they’re very nice actually, but helped mark up and fix about 1,247 mistakes in the early drafts of the chapter. When you read my stories and don’t have to deal with figuring out why Devon is taking a thrubbing pens into his mirth, you have them to thank.

 

erik

 

 

Story so far:

 

When the earth is destroyed, millions evacuate in hundreds of massive space ships, hoping that one of four planets on their route will provide a suitable new home. The ship that takes off from one college is an odd case – it’s barely half occupied, and almost everyone on board is a college-age male.

 

Devon Chasen is one such guy, and he tries to adjust to both this new life and the fact that he’s gay. It helps that some of his friends are also gay/bi, and horny. There’s Charlie, a new friend that helps Devon form a circle jerk club, and the oversexed Zane. There’s the adorable Mike, and one of Devon’s roommates, Nick. These are just a few of the guys in a group that meets on Friday nights to fool around. Hey, there’s not much else to do.

 

Devon has great straight friends too. The ever-loyal Reid, who he’s patched things up with. And Patrick, a best friend from before the evacuation. Conner, a pre-med student now working as a doctor on the ship, is also shaping up to be a great friend.

 

And then there’s Sneak, an enigmatic boy who’s been spying on Devon and his friends, albeit with Devon’s knowledge and semi-approval. The two have started exchanging a data chip that contains video files of the boys masturbating. The last exchange had a particularly steamy encounter between Devon and Nick, which was semi-accidentally captured on tape.

 

But there is tension too. From very early on, some of the upper classmen had strong opinions about how things should be run. This was cracked down on, and things seemed ok. At least until Devon and Nick stumbled onto a large protest that devolved into a riot. Viewing from the third floor balcony, the two boys were caught in a crush of fleeing rioters and security force personnel. Devon was pushed over the rail, and fell.

 

 

Space Ship Boys

 

Chapter 12 - Hospital Blues

 

 

A bright light flickers annoyingly from above, not quite shining directly in my eyes, but close enough to be uncomfortable. I’m in an unfamiliar yellow room, lying in a bed ringed by gray-colored machines and monitors. To my left are some carts laden with medical supplies, and two floor-to-ceiling closets. In front of me is the doorway to the room, which is closed, although there is a glass window looking down a darkened hallway. The room is silent except for the whirring and clicking of the machines. I don’t know where I am, and yet I feel like I’ve been here before.

 

It’s hard to look around. A boy I don’t know is sitting in an armchair in the corner of the room. He’s curled up into the chair, his head lying on crossed arms. I can deduce that this is a hospital room – that seems obvious, but I have no idea what I’m doing here.

 

I feel my heart rate increase, and almost involuntarily I speak out. “What happened?” My voice is raspy and the question comes out louder than I intend.

 

The boy in the corner looks up. He stands and walks over to the bedside. “Are you a doctor?” I ask him.

 

He smiles, a tired smile that seems slightly sad, but reassuring. “Yeah Devon, I’m a doctor,” he says. “You had an accident, but you’re going to be okay.”

 

“Where am I?” I ask, feeling a little foolish for not knowing something so basic.

 

“You’re in the hospital,” the other boy replies, checking something on one of the monitors above my head. “Do you remember anything?”

 

“I remember that I’m Devon,” I say almost immediately. The other boy smiles again.

 

“That’s a start,” he says. “Do you remember my name?”

 

The doctor’s name doesn’t immediately come to me. He seems too young to be a doctor, not much older than me. His dark brown hair is disheveled, and although his eyes are kind they look very tired. His smile seems vaguely familiar. Familiar in that way someone can be when you’ve met them at a party and talked to them for ten minutes, then a year later you run into them on the street and wonder where you’ve seen them before.

 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember the other boy’s name. “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

 

A worried expression flickers across the doctor’s face. He tries to hide it, but I catch it. Suddenly I’m worried too, and I realize that I hurt all over. “I really hurt,” I tell him, “And I’m really scared.”

 

He takes my hand. “It’s going to be okay. I’m right here. You’re going to be okay, you just got a little scrambled.”

 

There seems to be a haze in the room, as if things grow slightly brighter and then dim again. My head hurts. An unfamiliar boy is standing to my left holding my hand. I don’t know where I am, although I surmise it’s a hospital judging from the machines. “What happened?” I ask.

 

The other boy smiles tiredly at me. “You’re in the hospital, Devon. You were in an accident, but you’re going to be okay.”

 

“Oh,” I say matter-of-factly. “I think I remember this room. The walls are really ugly. How long have I been here?”

 

“About five hours. You have a slight concussion, so things may be confusing, but you’re going to be okay.”

 

I shift my weight and searing pain shoots up my spine from every corner of my body. “I really hurt,” I say, “And I’m really scared.”

 

“I know,” the other boy says sadly.

 

I look up at a lamp that seems a little too bright, although it’s not shining directly into my eyes. I’m surprised to find that I’m lying in a hospital bed. On my right a boy is sitting, holding my hand. “What happened?” I ask.

 

“You were in an accident, Devon, but everything’s going to be ok. You fell, and you have a slight concussion. You may feel confused.”

 

I look at the other boy. He’s holding my hand, but also sponging dried blood off it, flakes of red showing dark and rust colored around my fingernails. I don’t want to ask about it. I try for something a little less scary. “How long have I been here?”

 

The other boy looks up at the wall, I assume to check the time. He thinks about it for a moment and then replies, “About seven hours. You’re a little out of it.”

 

“I think I remember this room. The walls are really ugly.” I take note that my entire body is in intense pain. “I really hurt,” I explain, “And I’m scared.”

 

“You’re going to be okay,” the other boy says. “I’m going to stay right here.”

 

I sigh, and it hurts my ribs. The lamp overhead is a little too bright. I wonder why I put a lamp right over my bed when I notice that I’m in an unfamiliar room. I don’t know how I got here, although I can tell it’s a hospital from the machines. I’m not sure if this is reassuring or not.

 

“What happened?” I ask.

 

“You were in an accident,” a kind voice startles me. Someone was standing just outside my field of vision. I’d just posed the question to the universe; I didn’t know anyone was in here with me. I jump, which turns out to be a huge mistake. Pain shoots through my back and butt and chest.

 

“Ow,” I moan. “I really hurt.”

 

The owner of the voice moves to my side and takes my hand. His smile is very reassuring, although he looks tired. “I know,” he says sympathetically. “But you’re going to be okay. You have some broken bones and a slight concussion, but I think you’re through the worst of it.”

 

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, which also results in pain. I’m really confused. “How long have I been here, Conner?” I ask.

 

My friend grins. “Hey, you remembered my name!” he says. “That’s a big improvement. Should we try for another? Can you tell me what year it is?”

 

First I wonder why remembering Conner’s name is such an accomplishment – we’ve been friends for almost a year, after all. And I question why he’s asking me what year it is. Then I realize that I have no idea what year it is, and I panic.

 

Conner sees the look in my eyes and puts a hand gently on my chest. “Ok, ok,” he says, “One step at a time. You’re just a little confused. That’s normal. You’re a lot better than you were at first.”

 

“At first?” I ask.

 

“You’ve been here for a little over nine hours. It’s almost morning. Wednesday morning.”

 

“Oh.”

 

He adjusts some of the dials and buttons on a machine over my head, but keeps his other hand pressed to my chest, which is comforting. “It will come back, little by little,” he says.

 

“I’m not sure I want it to,” I sigh, immediately regretting not keeping perfectly still.

 

* * *

 

Later I’m told about my time in the hospital, about the endless verbal loop I babble though for hours on end. Asking what happened, and then complaining about the ugly walls. Conner says I ended up on a ten minute cycle, always coming back to the beginning and having the same conversation again and again. I don’t really remember this.

 

I also ask about the accident. Conner won’t go into detail, other than explaining about my injuries and telling me that I’m going to be ok. He says he doesn’t want to stress me out, although not knowing anything feels pretty stressful. I mention this, feeling like I’m posing a rather novel argument that will get him to tell me what happened. He smiles and says I’ve made the same point at least five times before.

 

The walls really are quite ugly. I’m not sure that the dingy shade of yellow they’re painted should be allowed to exist. I mention this to Conner, who patiently listens to my opinions about the décor. “I’ve said this before, huh?” I ask, noticing Conner’s expression.

 

“About…hmm, let’s see…twenty or thirty times? Yeah, you really hate those walls.”

 

“Sorry,” I say.

 

A new voice chimes in from the doorway. “How are we doing this morning?” I’m lying flat, and it’s hard to look down. At first this concerns me, I wonder if my neck is paralyzed or something. Then I realize that there is a very uncomfortable collar holding me into place. I look down as best I can (immense pain!) to see a blonde boy in green scrubs holding a clipboard. I know him – at least, I think I do. I try to say his name. It’s in my head, right in the middle somewhere. I know it’s the correct name, and I want to say it, but somehow my mouth refuses to comply – Nathan, Ned, nail-gun is what tries to cross my lips, although I refuse to allow them to. This is really frustrating.

 

Conner looks up from some notes he’s jotting on a yellow tablet. “Oh, good morning Ian,” he says (dammit, that’s what I was trying to say!) “We’re doing better. I think he’s through the worst. What time is it?”

 

Ian glances at his wristcom, which makes me realize I’m not wearing mine. I wonder where it is, then I wonder where my clothes are. I hadn’t noticed until now that I’m in a hospital gown, but I guess that makes sense. I shiver – the things aren’t very thick. “It’s almost four,” Ian says.

 

“I thought you were on at eight?” Conner asks tiredly.

 

“Yeah, that’s the schedule,” the other boy says, “But with the extra patients I figured I’d come in early. I woke up early anyway. Have you been here all night?”

 

Conner looks at his own wristcom, as if the answer to Ian’s question required a complex calculation. “Yeah,” he answers after a few seconds. “I wanted him under observation for the first ten hours, just in case the scans were off. I’m a little worried about the memory loss, but he seems to be getting better.”

 

“Great,” Ian says, picking up an iChart hanging on the end of the bed. It’s dark enough in the room that the glare from the screen glows blue on Ian’s face. With a few flicks of his fingers he comes to the info he was looking for and stops to read it. “So, do you want me to report to you or Dr. Moreno this shift?” Ian asks.

 

Conner plops into the corner chair, running his hands through his hair in a motion that conveys that he’s almost totally exhausted. “Yeah, you’re right,” he says, “I’m beat. I should probably turn things over to Moreno. He’s here?”

 

My memory is skittered, but I recall that Doctor Moreno is the head physician, one of the members of the permanent crew who, unlike Conner and Ian, was actually a licensed medical professional before takeoff.

 

Ian makes a note on my file and then sets it back on its holder at the end of my bed. “Um...yeah,” he responds in a tone that indicates he’s talking while thinking about something else entirely. He realizes he’s doing this and snaps to attention. “Sorry. Yeah, I passed him down in MRI. It sounds like everything is stable, but he still wants the nurses on a one-to-one with the significant injuries. So I’ll be in here today. You can go get a couple of hours if you want.”

 

“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. You ok with that?” I wait a moment for the little medical drama in front of me to continue then realize Conner was asking me.

 

“What? Huh?” I ask.

 

Conner walks over to my bed so that I can see him better. “I’ve been on shift for, oh, about fifteen hours now. I should probably go get some sleep. Ian is your assigned nurse today, and he’ll be right here, if that’s okay. I can stay if you want me to.”

 

I’m still a little confused at what’s going on, and having Conner here is really comforting. Still, he looks like he’s about to drop and I don’t want to be an inconvenience. So I say it’s okay if he leaves for a bit. “Okay,” Conner says, “But you know what - I’m going to bunk out just down the hall. If you need anything, or if you get scared, tell Ian to come and get me.”

 

“Ok,” I respond weakly.

 

“And I’d like you to get a little sleep too. Think you can do that?” he asks.

 

I felt exhausted, with pain shooting through my entire body. “I don’t know,” I respond. “I really hurt.”

 

Conner looks up at the monitor above me, which I assume displays my vitals. “Hey Ian,” he says.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Let’s give him thirty milligrams of Duramorph, I think we’re ok on the head trauma. But I want you to page Moreno immediately if there’s any change.”

 

“Ok, Doctor McLaglen.”

 

Conner has been premed ever since I’d known him, but it was still weird to hear someone referring to him by his last name, much less as ‘doctor.’ “And let’s watch his temp. If it goes up, let Dr. Moreno know. He looks good on hydration – I think he’ll sleep, but it’s okay if he doesn’t.”

 

While Conner goes over some of my other stats with Ian – all of which hurt my head a little to hear – Ian preps something on a table next to me. When he turns around he’s holding a needle that looks like it’s designed for an elephant. Behind me the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of the monitor increases pace significantly.

 

Ian flashes a smile and laughs. “Sheesh, Devon. It’s like you’ve never had a shot before. Calm down, it’s not going into you. We’ve already got a port set up.”

 

Ian picks up a translucent plastic tube to my side and locates a nozzle. I can see that the tube leads down my side and to the back of my right hand, where another nozzle is taped. He gently sticks the needle into the device and I relax significantly. “I don’t like needles,” I say.

 

“Clearly,” Ian chuckles. “Your pulse jumped from eighty to one-ten right there. But you should be happy about this one. Conner’s prescribed you the good stuff. This should help with the pain.” I arched an eyebrow dubiously. Clearly Ian has never been in this much pain. I don’t care what drugs they give me – there is no way that my ribs are going to stop shooting fire.

 

But then they do. Almost immediately, which is a welcome relief but also somewhat scary. Ian looks me in the eyes. I’d forgotten how blue his eyes were, almost phosphorescent. They remind me of a day I’d spent sailing from San Diego to Catalina – the water had been that color of blue. I wonder if they’d glow in the dark.

 

“Pretty good, huh?” Ian asks me. I try to tell him that I do feel a lot better, but all I manage is a nod. Conner steps up beside Ian and I feel him squeeze my hand.

 

“Wow,” he says, “I think he’s going to go right to sleep. That’s good. I’ll update everyone in the waiting room before I crash. If he wakes up and feels ok for visitors, that’s fine, but no more than two at a time, and I don’t want anyone in here before ten.”

 

“Ok,” Ian says. He maintains eye contact with me, as if realizing that his gaze is having a hypnotic effect. Such pretty blue eyes, I think, so bright and beautiful. Still, there’s no way I’m going to fall asleep, no matter what. That was more or less the last thing I thought about before I did.

 

* * *

 

When I woke up again, Ian was sitting at a desk next to my bed reading something. I stir, wincing as pain shot its way through my body. Ian looked up at me.

 

Welcome back,” he says. “You got some sleep, that's good.”

 

Mrfph...hrmph...” I manage to mumble. My throat is extremely dry, and I'm pretty sure the taste in my mouth is something heretofore unknown to man. “Hey,” I manage to say, “Wow, I feel terrible.”

 

I bet,” Ian replies. “Here, take a sip of this.”

 

He takes a plastic cup with a blue drinking straw off the desk. I reflexively try and reach for it with my left hand, but for some reason my arm won't bend. I look down and realize that it’s in a cast. Figures.

 

Here, I'll do it,” he says, moving the straw to my lips. I lift my head to suck on the straw, which is more painful than it needs to be. The liquid in the cup isn't water – it's sweet and tastes like lemons. I'm not sure why but it's about the best thing I've ever tasted in my life; I suck down another big gulp. “Whoa, take it easy,” Ian laughs. “Small sips. I don't want you puking that back up.”

 

I want more, but heed his advice. “Thanks,” I say, my voice working better now that I'm not totally parched. I notice that Ian is wearing a different color than he was when I went to sleep. “How long was I out?”

 

You got a good seven hours, which is great. Doctor Moreno was by, and everything looks good.” Ian types something into his wristcom then turned his attention back to me.

 

Do you know what happened?” I ask.

 

Ian moves through the room gracefully, taking the cup and filling it from a white carton. “From what I hear,” he says, “You took a dive off the third floor in The Commons. Not the best idea, really, but you were lucky considering. You landed in a flower bed, and fortunately not on your head.”

 

If I’d landed on my head, maybe that would have prevented any injury all together,” I quip.

 

Ian gives me a sideways glance and a smirk. “Not really, Devon. If you had, you'd probably be having far less fun in the morgue right now. Or we could be trying to stitch your spinal cord back together, which would also be sort of, hmm, not fun.”

 

I shudder at the image. And the idea that this ship actually has a morgue. “How bad was I hurt?” I ask, wondering if I'll ever play piano again. My broken rendition of 'Heart and Soul' at one-tenth normal speed is the highlight of almost none of the parties I go to.

 

Let's see,” Ian says, walking over to a white panel on the wall. He taps it with his forefinger and a series of images appear – x-rays I would guess, presumably mine. “This is really for a doctor to go over with you, but we're all friends here. Hmm, you've got a broken shoulder, I'd guess that's where you landed – be thankful you didn't shatter it, looks like two clean fractures. No internal injuries from that, which is good. Nobody likes a punctured lung. You also broke your left forearm, and two ribs. Slight concussion. You slashed your arm up pretty good, I have no idea how you managed that. One laceration took twelve stitches, another took three. Once you’re up and around a bit more they’ll want a dental exam. Everything looked ok, but sometimes a fall like that can crack some teeth. How are you feeling?”

 

In all honesty, I’m a little dizzy from Ian’s long list of my personal injuries. “Um, I guess I feel like I fell three stories and broke my shoulder and arm and teeth and whatever else you just said.”

 

Ian gives me another smirk. “Just tell me if anything hurts too much. They don’t want to overdo it on the pain meds, but you don’t have to be a martyr.”

 

“Thanks,” I say, wondering where the fine line is between ‘searing pain’ and ‘unbearable pain,’ and how’d I’d know the difference.

 

“There he is,” chimes Conner’s voice from the doorway. I look up, again regretting even the slightest movement of my head. Conner looks considerably more well-rested than he had earlier. I’m pretty sure the same wasn’t true of me – my nose felt three sizes larger than normal.

 

“Hey,” I say, trying to muster a smile. “Ian was just telling me all about my scrapes and bruises.”

 

“Was he?” Conner asks. “Good, good. Any questions?”

 

I consider saying something sarcastic, but think better of it. “I guess just...am I going to be ok?”

 

Conner looks serious and thoughtful for a moment, which scares me a little. “You should be fine,” he finally says. “I assume Ian told you about your shoulder?” I nod and he continues. “Good. Well, you broke that in two places. You were lucky, though. Scapular fractures often coincide with internal injuries. You landed right, though, and we don’t see any damage internally. You also didn’t break it along the joint, which helps. We’ll want to keep that arm in a sling for a while, and do a weekly checkup on it, but with a little physical therapy you should heal fine. There’s a small chance that you’ll experience a slight decrease in strength or range of motion, but it’s too early to tell. And again, physical therapy will help mitigate any adverse long-term effects.

 

“You also had a mild concussion – we monitored that, and everything looks ok now, although you may experience some mild memory loss for the next week or so. Let us know if you have any severe headaches, or if anything seems off. Other than that, you have a bunch of scrapes and bruises. You’ll be pretty sore for a while, but everything should heal just fine.”

 

It’s comforting that Conner knows what he’s talking about, but the doctor speak is a little much to take in. Without really being able to control it, I feel myself tear up.

 

Conner notices, and his demeanor changes instantly. He moves to my right side and sits in the chair next to my bed, taking my hand in his. “Hey, hey,” he says very reassuringly, “What’s wrong? It’s going to be ok.”

 

I feel like I’m on the verge of totally losing it, so I take a deep breath despite the pain and fight to keep myself from bawling. I feel a pair of tears roll down either cheek, but I manage to get things under control. Once I’m a little more composed I try responding to Conner. “Sorry,” I say with a sigh, “I’m just really confused. And scared. It’s a lot to process, you know?”

 

Conner squeezes my hand. It’s probably the only part of my body he can do that to without immense pain resulting. “I know. But we’re going to get through this. Ian or I will be here around the clock, and I promise that things will get a little easier. But it will take time, ok?”

 

I nod, feeling a little sheepish at being cared for like a toddler, but also grateful for it. Conner reaches up with his free hand and brushes my bangs out of my eyes. I look him in the eyes and smile. Conner has always been a good friend.

 

“Hey, I know what might make you feel better,” he says.

 

“Peanut butter?” I ask, referring to his secret stash. Our ship was transporting many, many species of plants and animals from earth to our new home, but peanut plants had sadly been omitted from our manifest, and Conner had the only can of peanut butter I knew about on the ship.

 

“No,” he laughs, “Well, maybe later. But for right now I was thinking maybe you’d be up for some visitors? I mean, only if you want to.”

 

I hadn’t really considered that anyone would come by the hospital; I figured they’d all just wait until I got out. “Somebody is here to see me?” I ask.

 

Ian snorts from across the room. “EVERYONE is here to see you, Devon. I’m about to barricade the door to keep them out, but Conner wanted you to sleep. Your whole crew is here.”

 

Conner nods in agreement. “They are, and I think most of them have been here the whole time. You can have visitors as long as you keep it low-key, and I don’t want more than two back here at a time until you’re up and around a bit more. And you can take the neck brace off, Ian. I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for him.”

 

For some reason, thinking about my friends hanging out in the waiting area makes me both really sad and really happy. This isn’t the best mix of emotions in my current state - I start to tear up again. Conner and Ian might assume this is my reaction to Ian removing my neck brace, which hurts because I’m really sore, but once it’s off I feel a wave of relief pass through my body. Man, that f-ing thing was UNCOMFORTABLE.

 

Conner squeezes my hand. “It’s ok if you’re not up to visitors.”

 

“No, no,” I say in a low voice. “You’re right, seeing people will make me feel better. I’m just a little emotional right now.”

 

“You’re entitled.” Conner gets up, and I instantly miss the warmth of his hand in mine. “Ian and I will give you some privacy. Just have someone come get us if you need anything. Anyone you want us to send back first?”

 

I shake my head, not feeling up to deciding who should be let back first. Conner says he’ll let them sort that out. My crack medical care team disappears out the door and around the corner, leaving me on my own. It sounds silly, but I panic a little. The room somehow feels lonely and sterile the second I’m alone.

 

Fortunately, I don’t have to wait long before Zane and Nick appear in the doorway.

 

“Whoa,” Zane says, “You look like crap.” I would normally take offense, but the statement is posed in Zane’s goofy manner, and I take it as it was meant, affectionately. Both guys look exhausted. But on Zane this is uber-sexy somehow.

 

“You look like crap too,” I lie. I always think of Zane as needing to keep his ego in check. He smiles at me, as if daring me to say he’s not totally adorable.

 

“How are you feeling?” Nick asks. I say that I’m doing ok despite the injuries, and explain what Conner and Ian had discussed with me. Both guys ask if I’d mind sharing my pain meds with them – it’s lame hospital humor, but it makes me smile.

 

“You been crying?” Zane asks. It’s an oddly direct question for him, and he looks uncomfortable the moment he poses it. I don’t blame him for asking, though. I’m sure my nose and cheeks are red, and I probably have tear-tracks down the sides of my face.

 

“Not really,” I reply, sounding a little uncomfortable myself. “They had to do another physical exam right before you came in, and I’m really sore. Also, Ian needs some more practice with needles, preferably not on me.” It seems like a convincing lie.

 

“Conner says you should be up and around in a couple of days. That’s good news,” Nick says. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I feel like I could lie in bed for a month and still feel like a truck ran me down, but then I also really hate being in here. I’m also starting to tire of people discussing my condition while standing over me, which is what Zane and Nick start to do.

 

I look over at Nick and notice for the first time that his shirt is adorned with several large splatters of rust-colored dried blood. “Whoa,” I say, interrupting their conversation. “Did you get hurt?”

 

Nick looks confused so Zane points at what I’m looking at: the dried blood marks. An expression of realization crosses his face and Nick responds in a low voice. “No, ah, this is your blood Devon. You don’t remember?”

 

I shake my head. It’s scary not being able to remember something everyone seems to think I should, and also really frustrating. My eyes begin involuntarily watering up again and I fight to prevent myself from crying. If Zane and Nick notice this, they kindly don’t point it out. “I was with you when you fell,” Nick says. “You landed in one of those planters in The Commons, but still it was a long fall. I ran downstairs. I was totally sure you were...” Zane shoots Nick an expression of warning, which I pick up on. “...unconscious. But you weren’t. You actually got up and started wandering around, you don’t remember that?”

 

Again I shake my head. “Anyway, there were these fires everywhere...if you don’t remember, there was a riot and people started throwing those exploding bottles of alcohol...I mean, that was before you fell. Anyway, I was worried you were really hurt, so I made you sit down on a couch and I called for help. You kept wanting to go ‘downstairs,’ that’s what you kept saying. But I made you wait for a doctor, and when Moreno showed up we brought you here.”

 

Nick’s story is rambling and hard to follow, the hurried words of someone who’s been through too much and had too little sleep. It sounds unbelievable – riots and fires and injuries. And I don’t remember a single thing he’s talking about. I try to. First by searching my memories, which are a hazy cloud of mess.

 

Then I try physically straining to remember, tensing my body as if my recollections are stored in my calf muscles somehow. This is both UNBELIEVABLY painful and completely ineffectual - I don’t remember a thing and end up hurting so bad I want to puke. However, images of Nick naked and hunched over a computer screen flash through my mind, and I have an almost completely vivid picture of his erect dick in my mind. What’s that about?

 

I put aside the boner visions for now. “There was a fire?” I ask, still trying to remember the circumstances of my injuries.

 

“Yeah,” Nick says, visibly grateful at the change in subject. “Well, not too bad. Nothing in The Commons really burns, it’s all that flame-retardant stuff. But Steven Caine’s group had started this bonfire in the middle of the room with some bales of hay and stuff, then things got out of hand and people started throwing these makeshift bombs – bottles of vodka or something set on fire. It made everyone panic, and some people were hurt, but no one was killed, thankfully.”

 

“How’d they put them out?” I ask.

 

“No gravity,” Zane says, and I look at him curiously. He shrugs, “The sprinkler system was busted, I think. They’re looking into that. So they turned off the gravity in The Commons. Combustion puts out hot carbon dioxide as it burns oxygen. This rises off a fire because it’s lighter, which sucks in new oxygen for the fire to burn. Without gravity all the gases weigh the same, so the hot exhaust from the fire won’t rise – it just floats there right around the flames. The fire can’t get enough oxygen so it goes out.”

 

“Cool,” I say at the science lesson.

 

“It made hauling your heavy ass to the hospital a helluva lot easier,” Nick says, joking. I smile wanly. Then for no reason at all, I tear up again.

 

“Sorry,” I say, this time not ignoring the issue. “I’m a little off today.”

 

Zane and Nick exchange worried glances, probably wondering if talking about the riot had stressed me out. It had, a little, but it was also helping to hear about what happened. Still, I’m making them uncomfortable so I try to control my emotions.

 

We sit in silence for a moment, and this is perhaps the best part of the visit. It’s comforting. After ten minutes or so Zane speaks up again. “Sorry, guess we’re not great conversationalists this morning.” I smile – Zane doesn’t realize that sitting quietly beside me has been the best thing all day.

 

“The other guys are here, Devon,” Nick says. “We shouldn’t hog you to ourselves. Conner said only two people back here at a time, and I think he may have a gun or axe or something in case we violate that rule.”

 

I laugh at the image, then consider that Nick may be right. I’m reluctant to let my friends go. I say goodbye and ask them to come back to visit me later. Zane looks at me sadly and says he’ll come back later that evening, but in an uncharacteristic small voice I’d never heard him use before. Before I can ask about it, though, they’re out the door and I’m alone again.

 

My next visitors are an unlikely pair – Mike Albers and AJ Mendell. I mean ‘unlikely’ only in that I’d expect Mike and Charlie to visit me together. They seemed inseparable lately. It’s so notable that the first thing I ask is, “No Charlie?”

 

Mike doesn’t seem surprised that I’d expect Charlie to be with him. “Hey Devon, how’s it going?” he greets me. “Charlie is here, he just ran up to the bathroom. I can go get him if you want.”

 

I shake my head and Mike seems to get that I was just asking about Charlie, not necessarily summoning him.

 

“Hey, Devon,” AJ says.

 

“Hi,” I reply.

 

AJ is one of my flatmates, he bunks in A-room next door. He’s always been something of a loner, and I don’t know him all that well, although he’s a nice guy. I do know that he’s totally into music, though – especially jazz, so his next comment isn’t a surprise at all.

 

“We, uh, that is, Beck and I made this playlist for you. Beck says it should help you get better faster. I don’t know about that, but it should be fun to listen to. Where’s your com, dude?” he asks, motioning to his own wristcom, where I assume he’s uploaded some music files.

 

I smile, Beck and AJ are always trying to ‘broaden our musical horizons.’ I consider pointing to the table in the corner where my personal possessions are lying, but then I realize that my left arm is completely restrained by a cast and sling. I point right my right hand, which is still a little encumbered, being attached to an IV tube, blood pressure cuff and some odd clip things on two of my fingers.

 

“Over there,” I say.

 

AJ looks around the room then sees what I’m trying to point out. “Oh,” he says, “cool.” Walking over to my com he punches a few buttons on his own. Then he holds it in proximity to mine until a high-pitched chime sounds, indicating that there’s been a successful file transfer.

 

“Thanks,” I say.

 

“No problem,” AJ replies.

 

Mike is standing next to me. He looks worried, his brown eyes even larger than normal, which makes him seem even more of a little kid. It’s endearing. “How are you feeling?” he asks.

 

“Like I got hit by a truck,” I joke. It’s getting increasingly less funny every time I tell it, but it feels like what you’re supposed to say under the circumstances. We chat about my injuries, and I wonder how many times today I’m going to have to have this conversation. Quite a few, I’d guess. I shiver, suddenly realizing I’m a little chilled.

 

“You cold?” Mike asks. I nod. “Hey AJ,” he says, “Is there a blanket over there?”

 

People love feeling useful in a hospital, – I think it’s a coping mechanism. Mike and AJ are no exception, and the latter looks around for a blanket, first opening the drawers that are obviously intended for much smaller medical supplies and then looking in the two floor-to-ceiling closets on the side of the room, which are empty.

 

“Maybe up there?” Mike asks, pointing AJ in the direction of a cabinet above the sink very mysteriously labeled ‘linens.’ AJ sighs at having not noticed the obvious location of the bedding and walks over to the sink. He has to reach to open the doors, but when he does he finds what he’s looking for – a pile of sheets, towels and a large puke-green blanket with ugly goldenrod paisleys imprinted on it.

 

The cabinet is high enough that reaching causes AJ’s shirt to ride up his stomach. I have to look – the guy has the smoothest, best colored tan skin I’ve ever seen. Even on the verge of death (ok, so not really) I can’t help but peep at my friends. In this case, all I get is a rather nice view of a toned stomach curving up out of jeans that are riding low over a pair of dark blue undies, a red drawstring hanging lazily over the waistband of AJ’s pants.

 

“Hrph,” Mike grunts. I look up to see him eyeing me with a smile. He seems to know exactly what I’m thinking. I try to shrug, which is another painful mistake. I really need to learn to keep my shoulder still.

 

“Sorry,” I say, wincing.

 

Mike shrugs nonchalantly and rolls his eyes. I look sheepish and AJ walks over to the bed, blanket in hand. “What?” he asks, clearly feeling as though he’s been left out of a joke.

 

“Nothing,” Mike explains. “He’s just being a dork.”

 

The two gently arrange the blanket, first unfolding it like a giant green balloon and then very slowly lowering it onto me. I feel like a bit of an invalid. “Wow, that’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” says a familiar voice. Once the blanket is out of my line of sight to the door, I see a tired looking Charlie standing in the doorway.

 

“Yeah, it’s not great,” I say.

 

“Sorry,” Charlie says, “They told me Mike was back here. I had to go rinse off. I smelled like a horse barn.” I knew that Charlie’s family had owned horses, so I figured if he thought that’s how he smelled he was probably being accurate.

 

“No problem,” I say, which launches us into yet another rendition of ‘how do you feel?’ I ask why everyone looks so beat, and am told that most all of them – Mike, Charlie, Reid, Patrick, Zane, and Nick – had been hanging out in the waiting area all night. I apologize, starting to feel like a huge inconvenience. Charlie insists that it’s ok and tries to sell me on the idea that the never-ending rounds of Scrabble they’d played were so fun that the group might have elected to spend the night in the waiting room even if I hadn’t been injured. I had a hard time buying this, even in my drugged-up state of mind.

 

Charlie talked with me a little longer, and I get the sense that something is bothering him. He’s prone to moodiness, which is sometimes completely obvious and sometimes pretty subtle. I don’t like putting Charlie on the spot, but I am worried about him.

 

“You ok?” I ask him.

 

Charlie reflects on this a moment, then looks on the verge of replying when Ian steps into the room. “Sorry,” Ian says, “It’s just time to check his vitals. I’ll get out of your way in just a second.” True to his word he simply examines the monitor over my head, checks the IV, jots a few notes and heads back to the doorway. The whole maneuver takes barely twenty seconds. When he gets to the threshold he turns and clears his throat, holds up two fingers and gestures to the three boys standing in the room.

 

“Sorry,” Mike says for the group, apologizing for the violation of the ‘two visitor’ rule. AJ offers to leave, but then all three agree to go and let the next group have their turn. Mike and AJ leave first, then Charlie turns to go.

 

“Hey,” I say, stopping him in his tracks. “I meant it. Everything ok?”

 

Charlie turns and looks at me, his eyes brown and beautiful and sad, as is their way. “Yeah, Devon. I’m ok. Really. It’s just been a long night. You should rest. I want to come see you later, if that’s ok?”

 

He asks as if visitors are some huge inconvenience. “Of course it’s ok,” I say, trying to put his fears to rest. “I mean, please come back later. It’s horribly boring in here.”

 

“Deal,” Charlie says, flashing me a rare smile before leaving.

 

My next visitors are Reid and Patrick. I’m starting to feel like I’m on exhibit. Both of my friends look a little worse for wear, Reid sporting what looks to be the beginnings of a black eye and Patrick wearing a bandage over what he later tells me is a minor cut on his cheek. Images flash through my head at the sight of them – smoke and a fight and some blurry green lights, but nothing is clear or overly coherent.

 

“Hey,” Reid says affectionately. I may not remember everything about my life, but I do recall that he and I were having a fight and not speaking until recently. I am suddenly very happy we’d made up before this happened. Having him here is very comforting, maybe more comforting than any of my other visitors.

 

“Hey,” I reply, trying to make the single word convey ‘I’m really glad you’re here and I can’t get by without you and your friendship is invaluable to me.’ Like most teenagers, I feel that my ‘hey’ successfully says all of this.

 

We launch into yet another round of ‘how is Devon,’ which is getting a little repetitive. Once I insist that I’m doing okay considering, I try to change the subject, asking about Reid’s eye.

 

“Yeah, I think it’s going to look pretty awesome tomorrow,” he grins, and then winces, his face obviously a little tender. “But you should see the other guy,” he laughs.

 

Images of Reid fighting dance around the edge of my memories. I can’t quite picture things with any clarity, but I get closer than I have with any of the other events of the day before. “You were...fighting...on the security force?” I ask slowly, taking a full minute to complete the entire thought. It felt like I was right, but then I’m unsure.

 

Reid sighs contemplatively. “Yeah,” he says, “I mean, sort of. You saw me there?” he asks.

 

I don’t answer, turning to Patrick as I recall something else about the day before. “And you were there, by the bonfire. Right?”

 

Patrick looks a little nervous, glancing at Reid and then back at me, as if unsure that he was free to speak. “Yeah. But you should rest, Devon. We can talk about all of that later.”

 

Suddenly I’m angry. Whatever occurred the day before resulted in my body lying here all smashed up. And images of my friends on opposite sides of the conflict were flickering through my scattered brain, but here they were standing in my hospital room like nothing had happened. I’m in no mood to be told to rest now and ask questions later, and I tell them so.

 

“Ok, ok,” Reid says apologetically when my temper starts to flare. “We’re just concerned about you and don’t want you overdoing it. But if you feel up to it, we can talk.”

 

I nod firmly, Patrick starts talking. “Well, you probably know that there was a demonstration last night that led to...well...I guess you’d have to call it a riot.” I don’t remember much, but from what I’ve pieced together from everyone, a demonstration followed by fires and bombs and mass panic would seem to qualify as a riot.

 

“The demonstration started peacefully enough. It was another one of Steven Caine’s protests, you know?”

 

I didn’t know, and say as much. Reid explains, “Well, you know the whole deal with how his group is unhappy about how things are run. It started with the job assignments, and then spread to issues about the election, living assignments, even food distribution.”

 

I chime in. “Hey, I apologized PROFUSELY for ‘Tuna Surprise Tuesday’.”

 

I’d expected a chuckle out of either Reid or Patrick, but I’m disappointed. Reid continues, barely acknowledging my joke. “At first he had a small group of followers. Now there are several hundred, and they’re getting angrier. About everything. They’ve been having demonstrations in The Commons on Friday nights, which is their right. Then they started doing them several times a week, like the one last night. Until now, none have gotten...out of hand.”

 

I think about it; I’d noticed more tenseness on the ship recently, but nothing on the scale Reid was talking about. “I didn’t know things were that bad,” I said.

 

“I think most Friday nights your mind is on...other things,” Reid says, smiling, and I swear I catch him glancing down at my blanket-clad crotch. Patrick displays a sideways smirk, which makes me blush. Reid and Patrick seem to both know about my ‘club,’ and while they haven’t ever overtly made fun of me, this seems to be an occasion for a small exception.

 

“Anyway,” Patrick says in a very official tone, breaking the awkward moment. “The point is, we knew you weren’t really interested or concerned about all of this, and that’s a good thing. The contention on the ship is...stressful. To the crew, to Eden. To everyone. And it’s annoying. We may be on this ship for another eighteen years, so it would really behoove everyone to get along.”

 

I’m confused, and I’m sure my face reveals this fact. “But the two of you were demonstrating last night, right?” I ask.

 

Reid and Patrick share a questioning glance, and then Reid shrugs. It makes me uncomfortable, even more so when Reid walks over to the door and closes it, first looking to see if there is anyone around. Apparently satisfied he crosses back to my bedside, speaking in a hushed tone.

 

“We weren’t sure how to tell you all of this, Devon, and honestly this isn’t my first choice. I’m worried about stressing you out, but Conner says you’re going to be fine and there’s nothing to worry about. I’m also worried about you keeping this all confidential, not because I don’t trust you, but because you’re a little out of it right now.”

 

Patrick adds, “It’s really important that you don’t talk about this to anyone. Not Conner, or Zane, or the other guys. Not even to Charlie.”

 

The notion of a secret so great that I can’t share it with anyone immediately weighs on me, and I question whether it would be better to have a secret I knew I had to keep or remain happily clueless. I don’t like either choice, but it’s not a hard choice to make.

 

“That’s fine,” I say in a firm voice, almost annoyed that my loyalty would be questioned by these two. “I can keep things quiet.”

 

“I know you can, Devon. You’re my best friend. You saved my life. We just don’t know that you should HAVE to keep a secret. But now you’re involved and we think it would be unfair to keep you in the dark.”

 

“Okay,” I say.

 

“There’s something going on,” Patrick explains. “Something we don’t quite understand. There seems to be something we’re missing, about why there’s so much contention.”

 

“What do you mean?” I ask.

 

Reid continues, twirling one of my IV leads between his fingers as he speaks. “Things have gotten progressively worse, and we have to wonder why. At first it was just a dozen guys bitching about shit detail, which seems innocent enough. Then there were fifty griping about the idea of a brig on the ship, and then two hundred annoyed about the rations. Things aren’t all that bad, by any reasonable measure, but at every step we seem to be coming back to the same thing – Steve Caine making people angrier and angrier.”

 

“The guy’s a total dickwad,” I snort, “What can you do?”

 

“I’m afraid it isn’t as simple as that,” Patrick says, sounding tired. “We can’t simply dismiss him. We’re all stuck on this ship, and we’re all dependent on one another. What happened last night – the fact that you’re hurt – is evidence of this. We can’t have five hundred guys refusing to work, or fighting with five hundred other guys. It could lead to anarchy.”

 

“You think Steven Caine wants chaos?” I ask.

 

Reid shrugs. “That’s the question. What does he want? The rules we live by here can be annoying, but they’re not THAT bad. Look at the other ships – talk to your friends out there. A lot of them are WAY overcrowded, and on much more severe rations. And Steven knows this, so we have to question why he’s riling everyone up.”

 

“And there are other concerns,” Patrick says. “The more vocal his followers get the more effort the crew has to put into maintaining order. At first it was Eden’s security force. I have no idea what sort of other restrictions will be necessary after last night, but they’re sure to only make things worse. Unfortunately, the more rules that are needed, the more people will be likely to listen to Caine’s bullshit. It’s not good.”

 

I sigh deeply, plunging my head as deeply into the pillow as I can get it, and with only a little neck pain – whoopie. This is just what I needed on my mind – political contention, infighting, angst. Why can’t people just fucking get along? All I want out of life right now is to go to work, make my tuna surprise casseroles, do my shit duties, then go home and get blown by one of my friends. Is it too much to ask everyone else to do the same?

 

Patrick lays a hand on my (unwounded) shoulder, sympathizing. “We didn’t want to pile all of this on you,” he says, “especially not so soon after your injury, but you asked. And we didn’t want to keep you in the dark considering the next week or two.”

 

I arch an eyebrow. “Huh?”

 

Reid sighs, again apparently reluctant to burden me with the details. “There are a group of us...not many, but a few, who wonder how this can be made better. What can be done to ramp things down a bit. Nothing seems to be satisfying Steven or his group, and this seems to be making the crew and Eden respond even more extremely.”

 

“It’s not good,” Patrick says thoughtfully. “And we’re mostly all college students. You would think some of us would know our history better. Two groups exerting increasingly drastic pressure on one another almost always leads to an undesirable end.”

 

Reid looks at him in an annoyed manner, silently chastising him for taking the conversation into the academic. “Sorry,” Patrick says, “The point is that we need to learn more about what is causing all of this. Because as of right now, it doesn’t quite make sense.”

 

“So you joined opposite sides?” I ask, increasingly confused.

 

“Precisely,” Patrick says, as if everything has been explained.

 

Reid can see that it hasn’t and elaborates. “What Patrick means is that we’re getting more involved, trying to figure things out. We both joined the security force – me out in the open and Patrick in secret. He’s starting to get involved with Steven’s group, going to meetings and that sort of thing. Hopefully this can provide some insight into what’s going on.”

 

“It sounds sort of crazy,” I say bluntly.

 

Reid looks worried. “It may be,” he says, continuing to play with the various clear tubes I’m hooked to. I watch this nervously, hoping he doesn’t absentmindedly rip the port out of my hand. “But it’s all we can think right now. If Patrick can get into the group, maybe he can figure out what they’re really so upset about. Then we can take that to Eden and see if we can start to work towards a compromise.”

 

Reid working as a security guard, Patrick volunteering to be a de facto spy, it’s all a little much for a guy following an unsuccessful bout with gravity. I suddenly feel very tired.

 

Patrick seems to notice this. “We can talk about this later. You need your rest. We just wanted to explain why you saw us...well, why you saw us on opposite sides yesterday. And why you’ll see us more at odds with each other soon.”

 

“What do you mean?” I ask hoarsely.

 

Reid again looks uncertain, but then answers my question. “Patrick will be associating more and more with Steven’s group. To make that work, he and I are going to have a ‘falling out.’ We’d planned to start that this week...” I instantly put on what I assume is perceived as a very confused and hurt expression. Reid continues, “Don’t worry, we were going to talk to you before we did anything. Anyway, he and I are going to get into an ongoing argument about things, and make it seem like our friendship is under a lot of strain.”

 

“But it won’t be,” Patrick says, patting my shoulder reassuringly. “It just needs to seem to be. And I’ll need to move out.”

 

The statement takes a moment to register. “Move out?” I ask.

 

“Yeah,” Patrick says sympathetically. “Sorry, bud, but I need to seem completely pissed off at the world, like most of Steven’s guys. Reid and I plan to have some fights in public, then I’ll request reassignment. At least for now. Hopefully it won’t be permanent. And we’ll delay things now, obviously – wait for you to get home and feel a little better.”

 

I don’t have a response for this. Not even remotely. Yesterday I was a happy-go-lucky gay boy in search of fun times, and today I’m wounded, broken, and being told that my best friends are going to have a huge fake fight so that they can get to the bottom of some annoying teenage angst that’s apparently spreading like a virus through our little community.

 

All of this I could probably deal with under better circumstances, but in my current condition it’s too much. Living with five guys in one room isn’t ideal (thank god it’s not eight, like the space was designed for!), but I’d come to think of Reid, Patrick, Nick, Jacob and me as a little family. I don’t care much that my arm is smashed to pieces and that I feel like crap, but having our little unit broken up feels...unbearable.

 

Reid and Patrick both pick up on this – in my current state I’m not exactly a master at masking my emotions.

 

“You okay?” Reid asks, concerned.

 

“No,” I say, the tears I’ve been fighting back all day working their way back to the surface and then breaking through the fragile barrier I’d created for them. “This fucking sucks. I don’t want to be stuck in this fucking bed anymore, or hurt. And I don’t want you two fighting. Why does Patrick have to move out? God dammit, this is all just so...FUCK!”

 

Later I’m told that I can be quite foul-mouthed when I’m hurt. I vaguely remember my conversation with Reid and Patrick, but I’m told my rant continues with twenty-seven instances of the ‘f-word,’ nine ‘shits’ and three ‘c-words’ before petering out. I think I was venting a little, to be honest, and my friends honorably stand in my line of fire and let me vent.

 

Ultimately I calm down. “Sorry,” I say meekly, snuffling back a glob of snot.

 

“It’s ok,” Reid says, “But dude, do you kiss your boyfriend with that mouth?”

 

This gets a smile from me, even in my enraged state, both because Reid is right – I was being a little foul-mouthed – and because it felt good for my friend to be alluding to my gayness so casually.

 

“This is too much for you right now,” Patrick says. “And you need to rest. We can talk about this later. You look tired.”

 

As if Patrick’s comments set off some sort of nurse’s radar, Ian sneaks back into the room to check on me. He seems to realize he’s wandered into an emotional conversation, but doesn’t seem bothered by it. “You feeling a little tired and cranky?” he asks. I know why I’m sure I look like complete and utter shit by now. I consider arguing with him, but just nod.

 

“I think our guy could use a nap, and Conner just signed off on some more pain meds if you want them. Then we can see about lunch – anyone up for chicken nuggets and jell-o later?” Ian asks, playing the nurse roll perfectly.

 

Reid and Patrick take the cue and say goodbye.  They both look really worried after my outburst, but also like they want to postpone further talk until I feel better. For my part, I get super-drowsy and concede to Ian that I could use another shot of painkillers. And like before, the second they hit my bloodstream and my pain fades to a dull buzz, I fall immediately asleep. This time my sleep is restless, however, and fraught with thoughts about riots and contention and Reid in uniform. But I’m seventeen, and ultimately I also get in a little section of dreaming about sucking someone off and things feel a little better.

 

***

 

And so began my hospitalization. It’s probably often the case with young people who end up chained to a hospital bed, and it was no exception for me, that this ultimately resulted in a negotiation with the doctor, who in this case was also one of my best friends. I was feeling much better the evening of the first day, my stomach full of food and boredom setting in, so I mentioned to Conner that I was looking forward to getting out.

 

“I’d like to keep you at least a week, I think. We’ll see, but probably a full week.”

 

I whined about this, pointing out that we lived on a space ship. It’s not like he couldn’t make house calls for checkups. “That’s not the point,” he’d said, “You need to take it easy and give those breaks time to set. But we’ll see. I promise we won’t keep you here any longer than necessary.”

 

So I’d done what anyone would do and asked for the week to be shortened to two days. “Sorry, seven days,” Conner had said dispassionately, making some notes in my chart. “Think of it as a vacation in the least exciting hotel room in history.”

 

“Three days?” I’d asked hopefully.

 

“Seven.”

 

“Four?”

 

“Seven.”

 

“Five and three quarters?” I’d asked, raising my voice an extra octave to sound as cute as possible.

 

Conner had smiled. “Seven, and if you don’t stop it I’ll make it a month. Wait, no, then I’d have to put up with you.” He’d reached over and tousled my hair affectionately. I’d smiled and laid back against my pillow, still sore, and a little annoyed that my negotiating skills had been unsuccessful.

 

Conner got off his shift at seven, and offered to stick around. I was bored out of my mind, and it was comforting to have someone else in the room, but I didn’t want to make him stay around me all day. I told him that Zane was due to come by and could keep me company.

 

Once Conner left I immediately regretted having him go. I didn’t have a firm time when Zane would stop by, or any of the other guys for that matter, but I expected they’d come over, at least to pop their heads in, as people were finishing shifts and getting ready for dinner.

 

It therefore came as a great surprise to me when eight o’clock came around and no one had shown up, and then nine. There was an entertainment center on a swing arm on the bed, and I tried to watch a little television, but somehow the fact that I was anchored in the bed with no alternative for amusing myself made it distinctly unsatisfying.

 

Even Ian had abandoned me. He was off-shift, and while I still had a nurse assigned to me who stopped in at least once an hour, he was a rather stern looking guy I didn’t know. He had a hawk-shaped nose and dull eyes that made him seem eternally indifferent, which was verified when I tried to strike up a conversation. He grunted an acknowledgement to anything I said, but didn’t add much. I guess bedside manner is an acquired skill for some.

 

The first evening was the worst. I was still in a lot of pain, and this seemed manifested on an emotional level when none of my friends showed up. All the time that I’d lost to the knock on my head – the many hours preceding my accident – seemed to come back to me that night. Not memories of those hours, but just the raw, naked time itself, as if the universe were extending each hour I spent in bed threefold just to make sure I wasn’t gypped of any pain or suffering owing to the amnesia.

 

My arm hurt. I mean, obviously. And it made me angry. And cranky. When I fell asleep around midnight, I was channeling this into a general annoyance at everyone who’d said they’d come see me but hadn’t, and at the person who decided to paint the walls the color they were, and at the blanket on my lap, and at the universe in general. And also at cupcakes. No reason, I just thought they seemed smarmy and cloyingly sweet as a general rule. Fucking cupcakes.

 

I woke up again around four o’clock. It was weird because I swore it was late morning, and my body responded by waking up fully, ready to face the day. Then the soreness set in. FUCK!

 

“Ugh,” I groaned. My body ached and my mouth tasted like a sandwich made of week-old bread and leather.

 

I looked over to see that Conner was again curled up in the armchair in the corner, his head lying on folded arms. He stirred, and I regretted making noise that woke him. He looked at me sleepily, and although I pretended to be asleep he didn’t fall for it. Standing slowly, yawning largely in a magnificent manner, arms outstretched fully, he wiped sleep from his eyes and then walked to my bedside.

 

“You on shift already?” I whispered. I’m not sure why, it just felt appropriate to whisper because it was so late. Other than a dim lamp behind me, the room was dark.

 

“No,” he said. “I just wanted to stick around in case you needed anything. Besides, the chair is really comfortable.”

 

There were red lines running down his face, neck and arms that, if he positioned himself correctly, would display the perfect imprint of the chair’s surface down to the finest detail, so I was pretty sure he was overstating the comfort of the furniture.

 

Conner poured a fresh cup of ‘hospital drink,’ whatever it was, and offered me the straw. I gratefully accepted. Less concerned about throwing up, I gulped down the entire glass greedily. Conner poured a second and I drank that too.

 

I had to catch my breath after drinking so fast. Once I did, I off-handedly asked, “Did you always want to be a doctor?”

 

Conner looks reflective. “Yeah. I did. At least since I was in high school. I mean, I never thought it would happen like this, but I like it.”

 

“You seem good at it,” I say. Conner blushes at the compliment, which is endearing. I add a little sarcasm to lighten the moment. “I mean, I don’t feel like you sewed anything up inside me. And I’m not leaking from any orifices, that I can tell.”

 

“Well, that’s something, I guess,” he laughs.

 

Then I get serious for a moment. “But thanks...for everything,” I say.

 

Conner grabs my hand. “No problem.”

 

It may have been the ‘leaking from orifices’ comment, but suddenly I realize that I need to pee. This is really concerning because I’m still connected to several medical devices. I feel really shy about it, but I tell Conner my predicament.

 

“Um,” he says, “You don’t have to worry about that – you can just go.”

 

I have no idea what he’s talking about, I’m not sure I can sit up yet, much less get to the bathroom. I try to sit up, but then fall back into the bed. “I don’t think I can get up,” I grunt, annoyed.

 

“No, I meant you can go right here.” Conner looks a little bashful, then explains that they put a catheter in me when I first came in.

 

“Really?” I ask. “I wondered why I felt so weird down there.”

 

“We’ll take it out tomorrow, along with your IV. You should be able to start getting up and around by then. But for now I’d recommend just using the...well, just doing it in bed.”

 

Now I REALLY feel like an old man. Pee in the bed? Even with a catheter – gross. “I don’t think I can,” I say. “I’ll just hold it until morning.”

 

Conner laughs. “Are you crazy? You’ll explode.”

 

He may be right, I feel VERY uncomfortably full. Dang that second glass of lemony goodness. “Well, I’m not peeing my pants,” I say firmly.

 

This makes Conner laugh again. “It’s not peeing your pants, Devon. You aren’t even wearing pants. There’s a tube leading into a bag. Don’t worry about it. Just pee and tomorrow we’ll give you back bathroom privileges.”

 

We argue back and forth a little. Not seriously, just being silly. I say I’m afraid that the bag will fill up and pop, like some horrid water balloon filled with ‘essence of Devon.’ This gets Conner laughing, and it’s good to see. I like ‘Doctor Conner’, but I prefer my friend. It makes me smile.

 

“Ok, ok, fine,” I finally say. “I’ll go in the bag. But you can’t tell anyone, and this comes off first thing tomorrow.”

 

“Sure,” Conner says, remaining in his seat next to me. I arch an eyebrow. “What?” he asks, as if he has mustard smeared on his cheek.

 

“Well I can’t go with you sitting there,” I say.

 

Conner snorts at my prudishness. “You’re such a baby. You know, I’m sure there are some guys who’d like the ability to urinate mid-conversation without anyone knowing.”

 

“Ha, yeah, well, not me,” I assert, “ I’m not pee-shy, but I don’t want it all over me. Or in a tube leading out of me. Or whatever. I’ve always been a little OCD. It’s dirty.”

 

“That’s good to know, considering you handle all our food,” Conner points out.

 

He doesn’t seem like he’s going to get up, so I decide to just fuck it. “Fine. Here I go,” I say. And this is really embarrassing, but the moment I try to go my body refuses.

 

“Everything good?” Conner says, trying not to smile at what I’m sure is a very goofy expression of extreme concentration.

 

“Um, it’s not working,” I say.

 

“It can take a second. I could tell you a joke. About water, maybe.”

 

“I’m not sure that will help,” I say.

 

Conner isn’t deterred. “So an H2O molecule meets up with a friend, and the friend says ‘How’s things?’ ” Conner is mimicking the cadence of a stand-up comedian rather goofily. “And the molecule says ‘fine, but I seem to have picked up this extra deuterium oxide isotope,’ so the friend says – the friend says ‘Wow, heavy.’ Get it?”

 

I groan. It’s about the worst joke in the world, but its terribleness makes me laugh. “Dude, that’s SO bad,” I say, then stop mid-sentence. Suddenly I was peeing. Conner’s joke had worked.

 

“Are you going?” Conner asks, looking a little triumphant that his joke had worked.

 

“No,” I say shyly, turning red.

 

“You are, aren’t you?” he grins.

 

“Shut up,” I say childishly. “This is weird.” I let my bladder empty into what I assume is a tube leading to a bag under the bed. It’s weird, but I feel very relieved that I’d gone.

 

Conner and I talk into the morning – my internal clock seems to be off and I have no desire to go to sleep. I feel really relieved to have someone in the room with me, although I kick him out when Ian comes on shift. I’m sure being well-rested is a good thing for a doctor, and I’d hate for anyone else to suffer because I wore Conner out.

 

“Doctor McLaglen says you’d like to be disconnected this morning,” Ian says after Conner leaves. It’s still weird hearing him referred to as ‘Doctor McLaglen’.

 

“Yes, please,” I immediately say, trying not to sound too pleading. “He also said I could get out of here this morning?” I instantly regret making the statement a question.

 

Ian chuckles at me. “Nice try,” he says as he disconnects the leads from the suction cups placed in a square on my chest, and then tells me to brace myself as he rips them off one at a time. I’m rather grateful I don’t have a lot of chest hair. He takes the IV out, and for all the smack I’ve talked about his needlework, I don’t feel a thing as he removes the sharp instrument from the vein in the back of my hand.

 

“We’ll just get this catheter out, and you’ll be mobile again,” he says, lowering the blanket on me and moving to raise my hospital gown.

 

“Whoa!” I say, trying to sit up. “I can do that part.”

 

Ian looks at me uncertainly, then says dryly. “Really? With one hand? You’re just going to yank a tube leading up your penis out with one hand?”

 

I frown sheepishly. It’s hard to get used to people caring for me in this manner. I suppose he’s right – the yanking idea sounds bad. I shrug, and resolve to let this be the last insult to my manhood before getting well again. Although Ian seems to understand my embarrassment. He closes the door and pulls the window shade down before proceeding.

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful,” he says, slipping a gloved hand up under my gown. “And it’s not like it’s something I haven’t seen before,” he adds. “We all have one. Well, not everyone, I suppose.”

 

His rambling is silly, but it cuts down on the awkwardness, and before I know it the deed is done. “There we go,” he says, dropping an unlikely length of tubes and bags into a hazardous waste bin. “Feel like maybe standing up?”

 

I do, actually, although my idea of standing up – hopping out of bed and stretching and running in little circles around the room – conflicts with Ian’s, which is to take a full fifteen minutes to prep before I shakily attempt to defy gravity. In the end I manage, despite massive soreness in my chest. I ask if he thinks I’m ready for a marathon. “Maybe we can hold off on that until later,” Ian says. “For now I’m happy with the standing. Let’s get back into bed, and then this afternoon we’ll try walking a little.”

 

I grumpily agree.

 

The day passes slowly, but it’s not as bad as the night before. Conner and Ian are both working, and they seem inclined to spend a lot of time in my room. “I’m not keeping you away from other patients, am I?” I ask Ian as he takes my blood pressure for the fourth time that day.

 

“Nah,” he replies. “We were swamped the night after the riot. I hate to say it, but you were one of the worst off. Most everyone else has been released, and we’re back to normal. Just the occasional sprained ankle or whatever.”

 

Later that afternoon, I’m distracted from the TV when Conner has a bit of an argument in the hall. “...I don’t really think it’s a good idea. I’d rather tomorrow. But if you think it’s necessary,” he says, clearly a little agitated. I can’t see who he’s talking to, my shade is still drawn.

 

“How about I promise we keep it under five minutes?” A familiar voice says. I recognize it right away as belonging to Eden Stranton, Conner’s roommate and, more notably, Mayor of the civilian population.

 

“Fine, but don’t stress him out.” Conner is clearly agitated about something.

 

I don’t have to wait long to find out what. Eden enters my room along with another very unlikely visitor – Steven Caine. “Devon, how are you?” Eden says in a genteel voice, his eyes blazing blue and kind and sexy. He’s wearing a black t-shirt that, although blank, should be emblazoned with ‘MY PECS ARE PERFECT!’ in large white letters. I’m always a little uncomfortable around this ideal specimen of manhood.

 

“Um...good...I guess,” I squeak, looking awkwardly at Eden, then at Steven. Conner and the guys are one thing. I’m not sure about having these two over when I’m in a dress.

 

“Good, good,” Eden says, sounding quite sincere, then he puts on a tone that seems much more official. “Well, I don’t want to bother you too much. We’ll get to the point.” He gestures to Steven, who looks a little less genteel and a lot crankier.

 

“Uh, yeah,” Steven begins. “I’ve just been going around today, talking to anyone who was hurt Thursday night. I wanted to apologize about how things went down.”

 

“Um...ok.” I find myself unable to hide the doubt in my voice. I didn’t know Steven, but he’d made such an ass of himself since we’d left Earth I couldn’t help but know of him. He was a good looking guy, really, with green eyes and delicately arched eyebrows. I might find him attractive under other circumstances, but given what I knew about his personality he seemed really unattractive. Repulsive even. Although there seemed to be plenty of guys who liked him – he was pretty popular apparently.

 

“As you know,” he continued, “My group...my friends and I...we disagree with a lot of the way things are run, and we feel like we need to speak up about that. But it was never my...our...intention to have things spiral out of control like it did. You were hurt, and that’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable that anyone was hurt.”

 

“Ok,” I say, not sure how to respond. I don’t like Steven, but he has a way about him. He seems almost sincerely sorry, and his words do sway the way I feel about things a little.

 

“So that’s it,” he says, clapping his hands together in front of his chest annoyingly. “I just wanted to check in and see how you were, and if there’s anything I can do.”

 

“Maybe have fewer riots in the future?” I say dryly in a quiet voice.

 

Steven looks annoyed for a second, but then his expression softens. I have the distinct impression the softer visage isn’t necessarily the most honest one. He composes himself and then speaks. “You’re absolutely right,” he says, “And I think we can accomplish that. I’ve asked people to knock off the demonstrations for now, although it’s healthy for people to express their opinions.”

 

“Yeah,” I agree. “Patrick talks a lot about your meetings, about what you’re trying to accomplish,” I lie. If I have to talk to this asshole, I figure I can at least help Patrick and Reid out with their whole Mata Hari thing.

 

“Patrick Dellano?” Steven asks.

 

“Yeah, he’s my roommate,” I reply. I quickly add, “And best friend.”

 

“He’s a good guy,” Steven says, “And smart.”

 

“Ok, ok,” Conner says, ushering himself into the room with a little more volume than necessary. I’d seen him hovering just outside the door, and wondered when he’d been in to check on me. “It’s time for us to clean him up, and I think he’s had enough excitement for one afternoon.”

 

I’m grateful for the interruption, and respond by trying to look as tired as possible, which isn’t that hard. Steven and Eden agree to leave, and after another minute of apologies and well-wishes, they exit the room.

 

Once I’m sure they’re gone, I ask, “What the frell was that about?”

 

“I’m really sorry about that,” Conner replies, ignoring my use of my favorite fake swear word, ‘frell.’ “Apparently, part of Steven’s ‘punishment’ for the riot is that he has to apologize to everyone that was injured. Eden requested that specifically, and I don’t know if you could tell, but Steven is none too happy about it.”

 

“He seemed genial enough,” I say, too tired to bitch about how much of an ass the guy was.

 

Conner looks thoughtful, as if measuring his words carefully. “I guess. I’ve never quite trusted him, and I’ve known him since I was a freshman. He’s an okay guy, but only okay if he wants something from you, know what I mean?”

 

I nod.

 

Dinner that night was mac and cheese and applesauce, which suits me. I kind of like how hospital food all seems like its intended for six year-olds. I rather like mac and cheese and applesauce.

 

Conner and Ian both keep me company, even after their shifts end. And Zane finally shows up – about twenty-two hours later than promised – looking a bit sheepish and uncomfortable. I don’t give him much slack, treating him a little colder than maybe I should. After some small talk, we agree on watching a movie and everyone pulls a chair up around my bed. It’s funny how TV with friends is so different than TV alone.

 

Around eleven I’m told that it’s my bedtime. Well, eat like a six year-old, be treated like a six year-old I guess. Conner and Ian start up a discussion about which of them will stay with me overnight. Both seem a little worn out, and while I crave company in here I also want some alone time. It’s a weird paradox.

 

“You know what, guys?” I interrupt them. “In all honesty I feel a lot better, and I could use a night to myself.” I wonder if it seems like a rude request, but both guys are amiable. Conner even issues orders for the nurse to let me alone all night, which I’m appreciative of.

 

Zane is less excited about me spending the night alone. “I could stay, if you want...” he says, trailing off.

 

I try not to be overly cold, although I’m sure that I come off as a little angrier than I need to. “That’s ok. I was alone last night, and I was fine. Like I said, I’d really just like to sleep. As long as someone will be by tomorrow?”

 

“I come on at six,” Ian replies. Zane shuffled his feet; I don’t know if he picked up on my snarkiness or not, but I assume he had.

 

“Cool,” I tell Ian.

 

Falling asleep that night proves more difficult than the night before. I learn that people who sleep on their backs probably fare better in hospitals than us side-sleepers. It’s really hard to change your habits, especially when doing so is required because of a huge honking cast on your arm.

 

I fall into a light sleep, at least until awakened by the sound of someone outside my door. It’s just after two am. I snap out of sleep. My first thought is that it’s Conner coming back to take up his nightly vigil on the chair.

 

“I told you I’d be okay on my own tonight,” I groan, annoyed at being woken up just when I’d fallen asleep.

 

“Sorry,” came the soft reply. I look up to see a very bashful looking Mike in the doorway.

 

“Oh, sorry.” My voice is groggy and sounds raspy again. “I thought you were someone else.”

 

“Sorry,” Mike replies, still looking like he’s wondering whether he’s upset me.

 

I try to make up for snapping at him with humor. “So, uh, what’s a guy like you doing in a place like this at this time of night?” I ask in a cheesy voice.

 

He smiles, probably grateful I’m not going to leap out of bed and strangle him. “Sorry,” he says a third time, and I briefly consider doing just that. “I couldn’t sleep. I thought you might be lonely.”

 

“It does get a little boring in here,” I admit.

 

“How are you?” he asks, crossing the room silently in a boyish shuffle.

 

“Good as can be expected, I guess. You?”

 

“I’m really good, actually,” he says hurriedly, almost gushing. A big grin spreads across his face, then he collects himself, as if seeing him smile isn’t allowed.

 

“What?” I ask, his smile becoming infectious. My curiosity is also piqued. “What is it?”

 

Mike refused to tell me, insisting that it’s nothing. Then insisting that it’s something, but something he has to wait to tell me later. I find myself wondering if he’s found a better place to jerk off than his secret spot in the engineering section, but think better than to ask him directly.

 

“I’m sorry you got hurt,” he says in a little boy’s voice. Mike can be quite angelic when he wants to.

 

“S’ok,” I reply, half meaning it. “At least I get to eat mac and cheese every meal.”

 

“Cool!” he says.

 

Our conversation meanders. Part of my mind concentrates on the small talk, and another part wants to fall back asleep. Another wonders why Mike came down here so late. Still another can’t get the image of Mike in the vibrating room out of my head. We’d snuck in there a few weeks back, and the effect on one’s body when the engines were firing was...dramatic.

 

“Charlie and me went to that wet farm you told us about today. I didn’t see Beau, though.”

 

I smile at Mike’s childish use of grammar. He has like a 175 IQ, I’m pretty sure he’s doing it to be cute. And it is. I’d forgotten that I’d recommended the location to the duo as an ideal swimming spot – much better than the crowded pool in Bottomside. “He doesn’t come out all the time,” I explain about the whale. “He’s a little shy. I’ll introduce you next time.”

 

Mike talking about the whale tank doesn’t help a newly developing predicament I’m in. Pictures of Charlie and Mike swimming naked start to float through my brain. I imagine them wrestling in the tank, two thin, lithe bodies slipping against one another salty and slick and wet. I may be broken, beaten and stuck in this horrid bed, but I’m a teenager, dammit, and nothing can stop the march of hormones!

 

“That would be really cool. We had a lot of fun. Charlie was all like...uh...” Mike trails off, as if he’s lost his train of thought.

 

See, and this is what’s stupid about hospitals. I’m not wearing anything except a gown, and my blanket is really thin. I’d become aroused, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest secret to keep. “Uh, so Charlie was like...” Mike says, turning his attention back to me. I try to think clean thoughts, but then I flex my butt accidentally, which causes the lump in the sheets to jump visibly.

 

You know what the deal is with the boner in the room? It gets everyone’s attention off the fucking elephant.

 

“So, uh, anyway,” Mike stumbles on his words.

 

I decide to let him off the hook. I’m the one with the erection, after all. “Sorry,” I say, “I was thinking about something else.” That sounded wrong. “I mean, I’m listening, I just was thinking about you and Charlie skinny dipping.” And that was worse. I try to recover a third time, but the situation is kinda funny and I laugh through my words. “I mean, you were making me horny. No. Ah, jeez. I mean...whatever. Oh my god, this week has SUCKED.”

 

Mike smiles at me sympathetically. “Sorry.”

 

“S’ok.”

 

“So,” he says coyly. “Is that a banana in your hospital gown, or are you just happy to see me?”

 

It’s cheesy and lame and predictable, but the perfect joke considering the moment. It gets me laughing, which both hurts and makes Mike laugh too. It may be the first real laugh I’ve had since the accident.

 

“It’s good to see you smile,” Mike says, as if reading my mind.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“And I’m glad not everything was broken,” he says, placing a palm against the spot in the sheet where my dick is pressing outward. I inhale sharply.

 

“You know,” I say, “Me too. I haven’t tried it out since, well, you know.”

 

“Oh,” Mike says, a questioning look on his face. Then his eyes grow extra-wide. “Oh!” he exclaims.

 

I hadn’t been hinting, honestly, but maybe he took it as such. Mike nose-dives into my crotch, and before I can say what the flip, he’s pulled down my blanket and stuffed his head up my gown. Well, they are designed for easy access.

 

A warm hand wraps around my shaft, very shortly thereafter replaced with a pair of hot, wet lips. Mike and I learned the skill of BJs together, and after a lot of practice (a LOT) he’s definitely earned his black belt in the art. He goes to town, immediately swirling his tongue in all the right places and sucking just right.

 

“Jeez, Mike!” I gasp, hormones exploding all throughout my body. I almost want to yell at him – I’m incapacitated, for god’s sake – but then I don’t, this feels really, really good. If I move too much it hurts, but if I lay still it’s heaven.

 

“Mrph!” He says from under my gown. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but as he slides his lips up and down my pole I find myself not really caring.

 

The last forty-eight hours had been horrible. Painful, boring, scary. But this, this feels right. This feels good. My ribs are still killing me, but fuck this feels good. “Oh my god,” I gasp, “You’re so fucking good at that. Ah, ah. Oh jeez!”

 

“Mrph mue,” comes the response, which almost certainly means ‘thank you.’

 

I feel bad. I can’t really reciprocate. One of my arms is in a cast, and the other is pinned under Mike. I try to move it, thinking I might jack him off, but he slaps my hand away. I get the message – this is just for me.

 

“At least take your shirt off,” I say when he comes up for air. Mike grins widely and does one better. With a practiced maneuver he tugs off his tee, and drops his shorts to the ground so that he’s completely naked. We smile at each other.

 

I love Mike’s body. His small frame, the way his dick curves up towards the ceiling. He bends back over me, pulling my gown up above my waist, and goes back to work on my dick. I gasp and run my right hand up and down his back. This time he doesn’t protest, and moans lightly at my touch.

 

Mike’s ministrations feel great, but then I start to wonder if I’m going to be able to finish. I mean, I’ve never had problems before, but sometimes when you think about it in the middle of sex it makes it harder to climax, you know?

 

I don’t have to worry about it for long, though. Mike takes me deep into his throat and simultaneously uses his finger to apply pressure against the spot right behind my balls. It’s a secret spot, a Devon spot. One that a growing number of guys know about, now that I think of it. The pleasure shoots through my body in spasms, then feels like it’s all drawn back into that one place deep inside my body where Mike’s fingers are pressing firmly.

 

“UH!” I gasp deeply.

 

Mike feels me approaching climax and releases the pressure. It brings me inexorably to the brink of climax and then over.

 

“OH, FUCK...AH, AH, ARGHHHHHHH!” I gasp as I cum. I briefly freak out, not wanting to splatter copious amounts of semen all over my sheets – they’d be noticed by anyone who came into the room the next morning. But my fears are allayed – Mike keeps his mouth over my erupting cock, drinking in my full load.

 

It makes me thrash at the end, the pleasure too much. “Ouch!” I exclaim.

 

Mike comes back to earth, panic crossing his face. “Oh my god,” he exclaims, “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

 

I gasp for air. “No,” I laugh. “That was awesome. But I’m still a little sore.”

 

Mike walks around my bed, still naked and erect (man, what a sight!); he takes a sip from the glass on the tray next to me. “Mmmm,” he grins, “You taste like mac and cheese.”

 

I’m sure I blush at this, but I also have to laugh. Mike is hot – super hot – standing over me, boner pointing upward, drinking from the glass. “I want to see you get off,” I say, trying to put a little pleading in my voice, although I know I probably won’t have to ask twice.

 

Mike smiles and puts down the glass, then wraps his hand around his stiff erection. That’s about the time we hear the door at the end of the hall click open, followed shortly by footsteps on the hard tiled floor.

 

Mike’s eyes go wide. “Oh, shit! I’m out past curfew,” he says. “I can’t get caught. I’m totally busted!”

 

I have no idea what he’s so worried about, but he’s clearly in a panic. “Then hide, over there,” I tell him, nodding at one of the two floor-to-ceiling closets in the room. The footsteps draw closer, and Mike jack rabbits into the left closet, moving quite silently considering how fast he moves. He doesn’t bother to grab his clothes, or to cover me up for that matter. I quickly use my free hand to pull the blanket over my deflating dick.

 

A light rapping comes from the doorway, someone gently knocking. I’d expected that the night nurse had decided to check up on me despite Conner’s orders, but instead I’m greeted by a familiar voice. “Hello?”

 

I sigh. All that bustle for this. “Hey Charlie,” I say into the dark room. The door opens and closes, Charlie’s silhouette stepping inside.

 

“I thought you might be asleep,” he says.

 

“Three a.m.?” I ask sarcastically. “Nah, I’m having a party in here.”

 

“Sorry,” he replies. He doesn’t get the inside joke. I consider telling Mike that he can come out, but then I’m not sure why he hid in the first place so I keep my mouth shut. Charlie walks over to my bedside.

 

“It’s ok,” I say, trying to sound a little more grateful that he’s here. “I was up.”

 

“Cool. They have us on weird shifts,” Charlie says. “I couldn’t come by before now. I wanted to come see you yesterday, but everything is a little weird.”

 

“Yeah,” I say, “I heard about the curfew.”

 

Charlie looks surprised, as if it’s odd I should know about this already. I wonder if I’ve given something away, but then he continues speaking. “Yeah,” he says, sitting next to my bed. “It’s weird. I think things will calm down, though. Look, Devon, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

 

Charlie looks very serious. I respond to this the way I usually respond to serious – with a joke. “Dancing flamingoes?” I ask.

 

Charlie looks at me soberly for a second before realizing I’m goofing around with him. He smiles, revealing a chipped tooth I’ve always found extra-sexy on him. “No,” he laughs. “That would be good though, I guess.” He resumes his serious posturing, and this time I let him. “I needed to talk to you about Mike.”

 

I involuntarily glance over at the closets, where the very same Mike is now hiding. “Look, Charlie,” I say, not really wanting to compromise either of my friends by allowing Charlie to say something he might want to keep private, “I’m not sure that now is the best time.”

 

Charlie sighs. “Yeah, you’re right,” he says. “It’s too late to be pestering you. I’m sorry. But I can’t sleep because I feel like I’ve really messed up.”

 

“Messed up?” I ask, forgetting for a moment that it’s probably best to change the subject.

 

“Yeah,” Charlie says with a sigh, “I’m in love with Mike.”

 

A little alarm bell goes off in my head. “Charlie, I’m REALLY sure this isn’t the best time,” I say, trying to reaffirm that he should be quiet now.

 

He doesn’t seem to get the gist. “I know, I know,” he says. “The timing is shitty, you being stuck in here like this. And that’s kinda why I had to come down here tonight. I can’t sleep. I think about it all day. I’m really sorry to have to tell you this way...” I almost scream ‘shut up!’, but restrain myself, “...but Mike and I are boyfriends now.”

 

My words come gushing out. “You should really talk to Mike before...wait, what?” I ask, my preformed sentence falling apart as Charlie’s last statement sunk in.

 

Charlie looks forlorn, and grabs his hair in a fist, tugging at it in a manner he does when really stressed. “I know. This is all fucked up. I’m really sorry. I really messed up. I’m really sorry,” he rambles.

 

I’m confused, and I say so. “Wouldn’t you guys getting together be a good thing?” I ask, speaking really slowly and trying to analyze my own words as I say them, as if I’m missing something obvious.

 

Charlie stops to take in my question. “Well, yeah,” he says. “Obviously. I don’t mean THAT’S fucked up. I’m totally in love with Mike, and I think he’s totally in love with me. That’s great. Better than great. AWESOME.” He shuffles his feet on the floor, clanging a shoe against the metal leg of the chair in a slow staccato. “We did it. A bunch,” he giggles, the laugh of a teenager who is getting some and wants to share it with the world.

 

I forget about the naked Mike in the closet for a second and try to figure out what Charlie is trying to say, exactly. “Um, you’ve got me totally confused.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Charlie,” I say, trying not to sound too tired or exasperated, although I’m both. “It’s three in the morning and I’m on like forty-seven kinds of medication. You tell me you and Mike are boyfriends, but then you tell me things are a mess. Which is it? What the hell are you talking about?”

 

Realization dawns on his face. “Oh. Sorry. Am I being confusing?” I give him a wide-eyed nod that screams ‘hell yeah!’

 

He shrugs. “I just didn’t know how to tell you. It happened last week, and things have been so busy. Then this. I thought you might be...that your feelings might be hurt.”

 

Things are starting to make sense, but I want to confirm that I’m catching on. “Hurt that it’s not me?” I ask.

 

Charlie nods, and to be honest he looks like he’s about to cry, which makes me think about how important my feelings are to my friend, and that makes me want to cry. “Aww, Charlie. Come here.”

 

I wave him over and he steps closer. I take his hand in mine, it’s warm and dry and familiar. “I owe you a lot, you know? You’re one of my best friends. And I can’t say...I can’t say there wasn’t a time when I thought you might be boyfriend material.” I glance nervously at the closet. I don’t want to say anything that will offend Mike, but I want to be honest with Charlie.

 

“But you and me...well, it just developed into friendship, right? I mean, like right away. And it’s a friendship I’ll always treasure. I know that sounds like a greeting card, sorry.” Charlie smiles at this – I’m getting a little sappy.

 

I decide to cut to the crux of the issue. “It’s sweet that you were worried about me, but don’t be. I’ve always wanted the best for you, and I’ve always been a little worried about you, to be honest. Mike is one of the best guys I know. I couldn’t wish a better boyfriend for you, and I’d say that if he were standing right here.” It’s a pointed comment, so sue me.

 

Charlie smiles sweetly. “Thanks, Devon.”

 

I slap him on the chest playfully. “That’s what you’ve been so worked up about? Dude, I have like two hundred broken bones.” Charlie shrugs bashfully. He knows he gets worked up needlessly sometimes, but he also knows it’s one of the things I like about him.

 

And then he does something a little unexpected. He puts his hand on my tummy and start rubbing it in small, gentle circles. I love tummy rubs, but I’m also aware that Charlie’s (apparent) boyfriend is stashed in my closet, and since Mike has yet to emerge, I figure he must want to remain hidden from Charlie. Sigh. Life with these two dating is going to be like this, isn’t it?

 

Back to the here and now, I shake my head at Charlie. He gets the message, and asks, “What? Not in the mood? Are you sore there?”

 

I chuckle. “No, my tummy isn’t sore. It’s about the only place that isn’t. But it’s late.”

 

“Oh, laters then?” he asks.

 

“Charlie,” I hiss in as low a whisper as I can manage, “What about Mike?”

 

He doesn’t seem to get my hint to be quiet, and replies at near-normal volume. “What? Oh. Ohhhhhh...I get it. Nah, don’t worry about that. We decided to totally golden gate it.”

 

Golden gating was popular slang for having a relationship where some form of sexual play was allowed outside the relationship, but only after being pre-defined and openly discussed. In a world where you could jump online and be circle jerking with fifty other people at a moment’s notice, it was often necessary to set boundaries and expectations with your partner. Charlie meant to tell me that Mike and he had discussed this and decided what was and was not allowed.

 

“Cool,” I said. “And the two of you are cool with what you decided?” Humans are imperfect. Don’t think that many relationships didn’t end despite staying honest to the rules.

 

“Yeah, totally,” Charlie smiled. “I think being in the club helped. Gave us an idea of what was friendly sexy and what was boyfriend sexy. We’re going pretty vanilla on the golden gate stuff. Ok to stay in the club, ok to jerk and blow members. No penetration with others. Pretty standard.”

 

“How progressive,” I say in a silly voice.

 

“Indeed,” Charlie replies. “So don’t worry, you won’t be cut off. ’Specially not now.”

 

“You know, I do fine on my own,” I say, feigning hurt. “It’s not like I need the ‘underwear brigade’ coming to my rescue.” This statement might have seemed more earnest if I hadn’t been growing hard. It’s not my fault – I SWEAR. Charlie’s tummy rubbing was moving the cotton fabric of my hospital gown across the tip of my penis. What would you think would happen?

 

“In fact,” Charlie said, “Mike’s been stuck on this fantasy about you in bed with a broken arm since the accident happened. I almost had to hose him down to keep him away last night, but I told him that sort of thing is sexier in porn than real life. But don’t be surprised if he comes down here soon. I mean, I sort of encouraged him, but I told him to wait for you to heal a little. He’d be the perfect little candy-striper, right? Can you imagine that ass in those little red shorts? Oh my god.”

 

It’s cute that Charlie is fantasizing about Mike right in front of me, but I sense something beyond the sexual in the way he’s talking about him. I think my friend is in love.

 

And he’s also in my pants, I think to myself as his hand shoots up the underside of my gown and finds my half-hard dick, which he begins swinging side-to-side playfully. “Charlie, whoa, stop it!” I giggle.

 

“Looks like you might not be able to hold out for my boyfriend,” he laughs.

 

It was sexy when Mike did it, and it’s equally sexy when Charlie lifts my gown to expose my naked crotch. And like Mike, Charlie dives right in, taking my cock into his mouth without asking permission.

 

“Ahhh...wow,” I sigh, the universal signal for ‘yeah, you have permission.’

 

Dang – what is it with me and hospitals? Sneak, Mike, Charlie – do I give off some ‘violate me’ pheromone when I’m in a hospital bed?

 

I grunt and groan, and Charlie does his best to pleasure me, opting for more up and down thrusts than Mike used. I close my eyes for a few seconds, and when I open them I see that he’s pulled his shorts and underwear down so he can play with himself while blowing me.

 

“That’s so hot,” I groan. Charlie gives me a sideways glance and smiles, best he can with my dick in his mouth.

 

I am by no means a premature ejaculator. At least, I don’t think I am. I mean, I’m seventeen. I have some control, I think. Anyway, blowjobs usually get me off pretty fast, especially when the guy is really trying, and in this case Charlie really was trying. He goes a full fifteen minutes before taking a break.

 

“Wow,” he pants, “You’re taking a while tonight.”

 

I’d normally shrug, but I can’t, so I just shake my head. “Sorry. You can stop if you want.”

 

“No way!” Charlie says defiantly, and I think in a voice he means to sound like a pirate. He goes back down on my dick, this time foregoing the self-pleasure so that he can play with my balls and shaft with both hands in addition to his mouth.

 

I don’t have the heart to tell him I’m taking a while because I’d cum not a half hour earlier, and although I wonder if I’m going to be able to shoot again (hey, it’s late!), it doesn’t take long before he starts hitting my buttons just right. I writhe, and make a cooing sound I sometimes can’t avoid uttering.

 

Charlie goes faster, knowing that I’m close, and soon I’m there again. “ERGH!” I exclaim, arching my back (ow!) and letting loose. Like his boyfriend, Charlie does me the courtesy of preventing me from mussing up my sheets by swallowing my load. I am more than happy with this arrangement, and shoot off in his mouth. It’s a lighter load, but one that is no less fun to fire off.

 

“That’s my boy,” Charlie says, licking his lips.

 

I catch my breath. “Whew, thanks.”

 

“Anytime.”

 

Charlie allows his pants to drop to his ankles, clearly eager to finish things for himself. I look wistfully at my broken arm. “Sorry, dude,” I say, “I so wish I could help you out.”

 

Charlie smiles at me. “I’ll run you a tab,” he says, “but don’t think I won’t collect later on.”

 

I laugh at him, and he grabs his dick, ready to flog it mercilessly. And that’s when the door to the hallway opens and closes.

 

I roll my eyes. “You have got to be kidding me,” I say. I think it’s funny, actually, but like Mike, Charlie looks completely panicked by the noise. “Hide in the closet?” I say, uncertainly. “But the right one...left one is full.”

 

Charlie utters a quick ‘thanks’ and does exactly as I suggested, which is actually quite comical because his pants are still around his ankles, resulting in a bare-assed waddle.

 

Whoever is in the hallway is almost to my room when I remember that my gown is pushed up to my nipples, my naked not-quite-deflated penis still swinging in the wind. I hastily pull the blanket over my nudity the last possible moment before someone enters the room.

 

“Oh, you’re up.”

 

I look up to see a worried looking Nick Laskaway standing in my door. What the hell is with these guys? Doesn’t anybody visit during normal human hours anymore? I consider asking this, but stick to my classic line. “Hey.”

 

Nick crossed the room, pausing for a moment when a very audible ‘ker-thunk’ sounds from the closet. He shakes his head, maybe thinking he imagined the noise. I think about Charlie in one closet and Mike in the other, and almost have to laugh.

 

“Can’t sleep?” Nick asks.

 

“Something like that.”

 

“Oh. Hey, Devon, I need to tell you something.” Nick looks worried. There seems to be a lot of that going around.

 

“Secret boyfriend? Lost whale? Mac and cheese breath?” I ask, being silly. Nick looks scared for a moment; he might be worried I’m still suffering from head trauma. “I’m just joking,” I explain. “What’s up? Here in the hospital. At four in the morning. Where I am.” I drone on, dryly.

 

Nick apologizes profusely, and I feel bad for making a joke. He’s agitated, clearly. “I, um, I don’t know how to say this,” he says. “But I felt like you needed to hear it from me first. I...uh...the thing is...it was my fault when you fell.”

 

Nick goes on to relay the events of two nights ago, explaining how we’d stumbled across the riot and how it had been his idea to go up high to see better. And then he explained about the crush between the security guys and fleeing rioters, and how he should have caught me, kept me from going over the rail.

 

I feel bad, the guy seems like he’s about to start crying.

 

“Sheesh, Nick,” I say, trying to sound comforting. “I mean, the first thing is that I’m going to be okay. I may look like shit, but I’ll heal. And the second thing – none of this is your fault. Crap happens. I got pushed over a rail. I’ll try to stay away from mobs and railings from now on.”

 

Nick looks at me sheepishly, his brown eyes large and watery and beautiful. “Really?” he asks.

 

I answer matter-of-factly. “Well, yeah. I mean, if you fell off the third floor you’d probably stay away from rails too.”

 

Nick sighs, not sure if I’m being serious or not. “No, I meant you really mean we’re okay?”

 

“Okay?” I ask. “From what I’m told, you carried me to the hospital. Ok, so in zero gravity, but still. You were there for me when I needed you. That’s what counts, not tossing blame around for other stuff that happened. Well, unless we want to blame that douche Steven Caine.”

 

Nick looks very relieved. “Cool. ‘Cause I was sure when you found out what happened...I was sure you’d be mad as fuck, and that we wouldn’t be friends anymore.”

 

“Nope, sorry. I’m as un-mad as fuck, I guess. And we’re still friends. Always.”

 

“Cool,” Nick says, and it feels like some intangible weight exits the room. “Also, to be honest, I didn’t want to have to leave the club.” Nick smiles and blushes.

 

He’s cute, and I decide to mess with him a little. “Oh, why is that?” I ask slyly.

 

He turns a deeper shade of red. “You know....”

 

“I’m sure I have no idea,” I say, playing it coy.

 

Nick realizes I’m messing with him, but still answers my question. “Well, because it’s hot. I mean, duh. But also, you guys are like...I don’t know. I was always straight on earth, but hanging out with you guys...makes me think, I guess. Did you see Mike and Charlie last week? Oh my god, I freaking almost sprayed when they did that thing...but I should let you get to sleep.”

 

“It’s so cute how you’re shy about sex,” I say, laughing at Nick.

 

“What? No I’m not.”

 

“Yeah, you totally are. And it’s cute. Sex talk makes you instantly bashful. It always takes a little...motivation...to get you going, and then you’re like...bhew!!!” I make my best laser-pistol noise to try to signify how Nick is when horny.

 

“Dude, whatever,” my friend says, feigning annoyance but still laughing. “You didn’t complain when you were sucking me off on Tuesday.”

 

“Wait, what?” I ask, giggling and sitting up at attention.

 

Nick explains about the events that occurred directly before we’d stumbled onto the riot. And he takes his time, explaining things in excruciating detail. Now it’s my turn to blush. But at least it explains the flashes of Nick naked from earlier.

 

“What? Four times? No way!” I giggle.

 

“Yeah, totally,” Nick says. “You don’t remember?”

 

An image of Nick’s dick flashes through my mind. “Maybe a little,” I say thoughtfully. “But not enough, obviously. Sounds hot.”

 

“It was,” Nick agrees.

 

“You’ll have to show me sometime,” I joke.

 

“Anytime.”

 

I shrug. “Now’s good.” I’m totally joking. It’s the middle of the night and Nick isn’t ramped up – despite what he says I know this will make him shy. This is partially why I’m shocked when Nick immediately tosses off his clothes, unveiling a very hard and very large dick. “Uh...” I say.

 

“Told you it was hot. Look at me,” Nick says. He looks to the floor, where his clothes have joined the ones that Mike had shed earlier. “Uh, they just threw your stuff on the floor, Devon.”

 

After I’m released, I consider that I need to do two studies. First, I need to find out what makes guys throw off their clothes in this room (and whatever it is, hopefully I can bottle it). Secondly, I need to figure out why nudity keeps causing people to come through the hallway door, which is exactly what happens the moment Nick is totally naked.

 

“Oh shit!” he exclaims.

 

“And of course,” I say dryly.

 

“I should hide!” Nick exclaims.

 

“You should hide,” I say even more dryly. This is getting silly.

 

“The closet!” Nick says, moving to walk around my bed.

 

“Sorry, both full,” I tell him. He takes me at my word.

 

“What do I do?” he asks, footsteps growing ever closer.

 

I glance down at his engorged cock. “Hang a shirt on it and hope you’re mistaken for a coat rack?”

 

“DEVON!” he hisses.

 

“Fine,” I say. “Over there, in the corner.” I nod to a nook created by the bed and supply cart – a somewhat hidden corner in the room. Nick leaps over the cart, his balls flopping as he flies over it, and hunkers down behind the cart.

 

“This isn’t a great spot,” he whispers.

 

“Too late,” I whisper back. And it is. A shadow passes across the shade; someone is in the hallway about a foot from the door to the room.

 

Ian pops his head into the room. Great. I think to pretend to be asleep, but I’m too late. He sees that I’m awake.

 

“You up?” he asks.

 

“Yeah, just woke up for a little bit,” I lie.

 

Unfortunately, this seems to concern him. He enters the room. “Any pain?” he asks.

 

“No. I was sleeping fine. My clock is just all jumbled. I’ll go back to sleep. I’m pretty tired.” This last part was true.

 

“Ok,” Ian says. I notice that he’s wearing a pair of athletic shorts and a tank rather than his usual scrubs.

 

“Casual workday?” I ask.

 

Ian looks at his outfit and then laughs. “Nah. I’m not on for another two hours, but I like to work out in the morning. I wanted to check in, though. See how you were.”

 

“Cool. Well, have a good workout,” I say.

 

“Ok,” he replies. I figure he’ll head off to the gym, but he glances down at my blanket, which is all askew. “Here, let me fix that for you,” he offers.

 

“No!” I exclaim, a little too sharply to be comfortable. My gown is still up around my chest, and I don’t want Ian seeing that. I mean, he saw it before, but whatever. “I mean, it’s fine. I sleep weird.”

 

“Okay,” he says. “Let me at least get you another one in case you get cold.”

 

Ian reaches for the closet door, one of which hides Mike and the other of which hides Charlie. “I’m fine!” I exclaim, again a little too loud for comfort.

 

Ian isn’t stupid. He can sense I’m being a weirdo. “Devon, are you ok? You seem a little high-strung.”

 

“Bad dreams?” I shrug.

 

Ian’s response is sympathetic. “Aww...sorry to hear that. Let me take your blood pressure.”

 

It so happens that I have a naked friend hiding in just about every corner of the room, and it so happens that Nick is hanging out (literally) behind the cart that houses the blood pressure checker.

 

“You know what?” I say a little forcefully. “I’m just a little bwew-bwew-bwew” (I make the universal signal for crazy by twirling my forefinger around my temple) “after some weird dreams. If we can hold off on that until later I’d appreciate it. I just want to go back to sleep.”

 

“Um...ok,” Ian says uncertainly. “If you say so. I’ll be down at the gym for a couple of hours. Sleep if you can. Call me if you need anything. Here, take your com.”

 

Ian picks up my wristcom from the table at the entrance to the room. It’s lying next to a vase of red sunflowers, which I hadn’t noticed before. Or maybe I had, I was a little bizonkers this week. “Oh. Looks like Beck left you more music,” Ian says, bringing the com over to the bedside table where I can reach it. He sets it down, along with a blue data chip.

 

I recognize it instantly, and it’s not from Beck. “Where’d that come from?” I ask.

 

“Over there,” Ian says. “Conner didn’t want you on your com yesterday, but you seem okay enough to have it back.”

 

“No, I mean the chip,” I clarify.

 

“Um, it was with the com. You know, your roommate is crazy,” Ian says, referring to my flatmate Beck, who is in fact a little crazy. “He’s emailed me at least five times asking about music in the room, and about suggested playlists. He doesn’t seem to think you’ll get better unless we play the right stuff.”

 

“Yeah, he’s weird.” I agree, letting Ian think the chip is full of Beck’s music.

 

“Anyway, unless you need anything else, I’ll be off.”

 

“Yeah, cool. See you this afternoon. I mean, tomorrow. I mean, this morning.”

 

Ian gives me a weird smile before turning to leave the room. I’m pretty sure he’s going to report my behavior to Conner later. Great. He pauses at the doorway, lingering for a long moment. I’m afraid that Mike or Charlie or Nick has made a noise, but then Ian leaves for the gym and all is quiet again.

 

Nick stands up once he’s sure Ian is gone. “Wow, that was close,” he says.

 

I roll my eyes. Then I almost start giggling. Everything suddenly seems very silly.

 

“Where were we?” Nick asks, hopping over the cart, his dick still very erect.

 

“You still have a boner,” I laugh.

 

Nick looks down. “Yeah. And you will too, in a sec.”

 

He reaches into my lap, but I stop his grab with my one good hand. “What?” he asks playfully, seemingly a little hurt that I’m not instantly up for some play.

 

And then it hits me. My first real laugh since I got here. The whole world seems hilarious, and while it hurts LIKE HELL, it feels great. I eventually try to compose myself enough to speak, which isn’t easy. “Heh, heh. You guys...heh...too funny. Oh my god this is ridiculous. Everyone out...ha, ha...everyone out, now.”

 

Nick looks at me curiously, then nearly jumps out of his skin when the closet door swings open, revealing a sardonic looking Charlie, still sporting that ‘nude from ankles to waist’ look.

 

The other closet remains closed. “I said everyone,” I enunciate with a little more force.

 

This time both Charlie and Nick jump when the other door opens, revealing a naked Mike. Poor guy, he’s been in there for over an hour. I think he’s actually shivering.

 

Mike and Charlie look at one another suspiciously. “What are you doing in the closet naked?” Charlie asks Mike, who shrugs and smiles bashfully.

 

I figure that of anyone in the room, I had the best point of view for the evening’s events, so I try to explain to my three friends how we came to this point. I try not to laugh at them too much, partially out of respect and partially because it really hurts when I laugh. The boys all get dressed, but not before offering to ‘help me out’ one more time.

 

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I say in exasperation. “It’s almost five in the morning. Besides, I already got off twice. I’m beat.”

 

Charlie and Mike take me at my word, but Nick, who has stuffed his oversized boner back into his pants, looks a little regretful that I’m not up for fun. “Are you sure?” he asks one last time.

 

“You know what?” I ask. “You were just going on about that thing these two did at the last meeting. I’m going out on a limb here, but I bet if you ask them really, really nicely, they’d take you upstairs for a special one-time viewing of that very same thing.”

 

Nick looks at me with dubious skepticism, at first slightly annoyed by my patronizing tone. But when he looks up at Charlie and Mike, who have put their arms over one another, and sees that they’re eyeing him in coy agreement with my suggestion, he smiles. “Maybe you’re right,” he says, lacing up his shoes.

 

I send the three off for what I later hear is a very entertaining morning, still laughing a little at how silly my friends can be. And maybe this is why I’m able to fall asleep. (Although I’d also put money on the fact that it was so late. I mean early. Whatever.)

 

When I wake up again it’s late morning, and both Conner and Ian are on duty. This makes me feel better about my third day in the hospital, but not so much that I don’t try to convince Conner to cut my stay short by a couple of days. He refuses, again threatening to keep me longer. It works. I shut up about it.

 

It’s not until lunchtime (mac and cheese!) that I remember the blue data chip that had mysteriously appeared with my possessions. It almost seemed like a dream, but I remembered and snatch my com from the table. The blue chip was the very one that Sneak and I had been trading back and forth. I press it into the slot on the side of my com and pull up the file tables. I’m not sure what I’ll find, and maybe that’s part of the fun.

 

Sadly, there were no new video files. Just the three I’d made for Sneak, and the three he’d made for me. I sighed. I hadn’t had time to view the third one in detail, and I’m sure I will at some point while sitting here in the hospital, but it won’t be as much fun with my arm in a cast – you know what I mean?

 

I back out of Sneak’s directory on the disk and see that there’s a new text file in the root directory. Curiously, I open it. There I find a message from Sneak:

 

 

Devon,

 

I’m sorry you got hurt. I wasn’t sure how to tell you this. I feel like I should come and visit you in the hospital, but then we have a sort of weird thing going on. I wouldn’t know how to introduce myself, if that makes sense. Life feels weird sometimes.

 

Also, thanks for the movie. OMG, that was WILD. I’m assuming that wasn’t staged - the look on your face. Priceless.

 

Anyway, I hope you feel better soon. I’ll make some more movies for you later, but I wanted to tell you that I was sorry you got hurt. The flowers are from me. Feel better.

 

Sneak

 

PS: Thanks for the undies.

 

 

It’s not a profoundly revelatory message, although it does draw my attention to a vase of red sunflowers in the corner. Aww, that’s cute. And a little weird, like most everything Sneak does. But it’s good to know he cares.

 

“You doing ok?” I look up. Ian is standing in the doorway, making his hourly check on me. “You look a little down.”

 

I think about it for a minute and then respond. “Nah. Just tired. I just got a really nice email, though.”

 

“Cool,” he says, then leaves to give me some privacy.

 

I look down at the blue chip sticking very slightly out of its slot in the side of my com and think about Sneak. And then something else flashes through my memory. Blue chip. Blue. But why am I remembering blue?

 

Then it hits me. “Thanks for the undies”. That’s what Sneak had said. I’d left him a pair of navy blue underwear right before the riot. At least, I think it was right before the riot. I couldn’t quite place the timing, but I definitely remember that at some point in the last week I’d gone upstairs and left Sneak a pair of underwear that Charlie had made, along with the chip.

 

And then I’d seen that same pair of underwear again.

 

I remember because it was very distinct – navy blue briefs with a bright red drawstring that extended out of two eyelets in the side. Very different, but sexy. I’d noted that when Mike had given them to me – that’s right, I’d gotten them from Mike, promising to pay Charlie later.

 

And then I’d seen them again. But where?

 

An image flashes through my mind. A tee-shirt riding up, revealing a bright red drawstring extending over the side of a pair of jeans.

 

“Crap, that’s it,” I say out loud to an empty room. I’d seen those exact briefs on my flatmate AJ when he’d come to visit. “AJ is Sneak,” I say. I hadn’t been trying to uncover my stalker’s secret identity, but I’d done it. He was busted, all because of a red drawstring.

 

I lay back against my pillow, wondering what I should do with this new information. And also wondering why I’d lain on my boxy wristcom when my back was so bruised and sensitive.

 

“Ouch!”

 

 

To be continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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