Level One Trauma
There is a smell that lingers on a person the day after they spent the night before drinking a large amount of alcohol. It isn’t what one would necessarily consider malodorous or foul, but it isn’t exactly a pleasant scent either.
It’s something distinct.
Susan Elizabeth Dupree detected the definitive stench of used booze emanating from the overstuffed pores of one of the women sitting on either side of her, and she was willing to wager the mortgage on her home that the scent was not drifting from Trystan’s mother.
The usually elegantly featured lady was to Susan’s right, grasping her hand in a tight, vice-like grip from which Susan desperately wanted to break free but allowed to continue as deep, emotional pain was apparent in the woman’s face; every wrinkle was more pronounced and visible than usual, lines on a road-mapped countenance of utter and complete shock.
To Susan’s left sat Parker Matheson, the source — Susan was almost fully certain — of the strong odor of at least one pint of cheap vodka that was currently sweating its way to the surface of her pale and waxy skin. Every inhalation that filled Susan’s nasal passages with the knowledge of one of her closest friend’s unexpectedly re-activated alcoholism sent an intense wave of suppressed anger from the top of her head to the soles of her feet.
This was a fine time to discover that Parker had not only imbibed again after an extensive period of sobriety, but that she had apparently choked down what Susan assumed to be a rather massive quantity. In spite of the rage that threatened to find its way past her lips (Of all times, Parker, she thought, of all times…), Susan clenched her jaw and fought the urge to scream any words out loud. The emergency room waiting area of one of Shreveport’s more colorfully populated hospitals was the last place for such a confrontation as the one she planned to have with Parker at the first appropriate opportunity. Besides, Susan knew that she needed to clear her head in order to think of a way to break away from Trystan’s mother and the other members of the motley crowd that continued to grow in both number and in strength.
There were people surrounding them that Susan didn’t even slightly recognize, and the faces of these strangers — some known to Parker, some to Mrs. Van Meyer, some shaking hands with and comforting even more of those whom Susan had never laid eyes on — was having an obviously profound effect on the trembling woman squeezing Susan’s right hand. She hoped it brought Mrs. Van Meyer some comfort to know that so many people cared so deeply for her son.
Susan had always known that Trystan was a typical Aquarius: tons of friends from every walk of life. There were the Bohemians and the Conservatives. The people he’d once partied hard with and those he’d met in his magnanimous life since going into rehab. Every member of the private firm where he worked had arrived earlier when Parker had gone outside to make phone calls and to “get the prayer train moving” while smoking cigarettes and grappling with the sudden, shocking news that one of the people in her closest circle of friends was currently ensnared by a crack team of medical professionals working with tireless determination to undo the damage that he had seemingly inflicted on himself. When Parker had returned to her post beside Susan, she had briefly pulled her phone from her pocket, stared at the screen for a moment, then switched it to silent mode before shoving it dejectedly face down on the seat of the empty chair beside her. Parker hadn’t gone outside again. She’d made all the phone calls she needed.
In the concerned, frightened, and hushed whispers surrounding them, Susan found herself unable to think, to make sense of the events of the morning, or to concoct a justifiable reason to extract herself from the watchful repose beside Melora Van Meyer. That need was further convoluted by the fact that she would also require a reason to pull Parker away with her so that she could hand over one of the two crumpled envelopes stuffed deep into her pocket, two of the three she’d snatched from the table at the top of the stairs leading to Trystan’s bedroom after the ambulance had rushed his blood-soaked and nearly lifeless body down Gladstone Boulevard in the direction of the hospital where she now sat.
“I don’t understand.” The words were just as much a question as they were a simple statement of fact, and they were the first that Susan had heard come from the trembling, pasty white lips of Trystan’s distraught mother. She was clutching the third envelope, still unopened.
Susan suddenly noticed that the envelope’s exterior was marred with brownish smears of blood. Looking down at herself, she realized that she was as well. She had managed to spackle her clothes with deep shades of crimson as she fought to pull Trystan from the floor of his shower and wrap his wrists and forearms with towels while trying to dial 911. She needed to clean herself up. Maybe asking Parker to accompany her to the bathroom was the best way to get her friend alone and away from everyone.
She decided to wait just a bit longer before making her move.
“Everything has been going so well for him,” Melora Van Meyer stammered, more tears streaming down her cheeks. “He was happy with work, he’s been on track ever since he’s been going to those meetings… He’s just seemed so happy. I even thought that he might be seeing someone, but wasn’t ready to introduce him yet.”
No kidding, Susan thought as her eyes rose surreptitiously to linger briefly on the attractive young man seated in a chair across from the trio. He had been in the emergency room longer than anyone except Susan, having spent several minutes in a seeming argument with the surly staff that was blocking everyone in the lobby from whatever life-saving techniques were taking place in the great beyond behind them. When he left the information area, he sat on the far side of the room for a few moments. Susan had watched as his eyes scanned the entire visiting area and settled on Susan and Mrs. Van Meyer momentarily. In that instant, recognition shot across his face and he made a move to stand and come in their direction, but he had quickly sat back down, in an obvious mental conundrum. It wasn’t until Parker arrived, dashing toward the information desk that he had risen again and moved in her direction. When the two hugged, Susan immediately knew that this incredibly attractive — albeit slightly bookish and nerdy — young man was one of the secrets that Trystan had been keeping.
Susan had watched as he and Parker exchanged a brief dialogue and Parker’s eyes searched the room, finding Susan, and then uttering something to the young man which led to him nodding in agreement. Susan had felt some level of fury as she assumed that Parker knew something about Trystan that she didn’t. That anger had been compounded when she first smelled alcohol on Parker’s breath, and it was only growing to a nearly unstoppable level as she listened to Mrs. Van Meyer speculate as to the true cause of the scene Susan had found earlier that morning when she shoved into the house on Gladstone and found Trystan in a barely conscious, dying mess on the floor of his shower.
Still clutching the blood-smeared envelope that she’d yet to open, as if reading its contents could finalize the mission her son had set out to complete, Mrs. Van Meyer released Susan’s hand and stared down at the object that obviously held Trystan’s suicide note. “I thought he was happy,” she repeated, her tears falling onto the smear of blood and pooling the paper and the deep red stain into a shade that was more than slightly pink.
“Was there something going on that I don’t know about?” Her eyes were pleading with her son’s two best friends.
Realizing that she was likely thinking the worst, that Trystan had gone back to his old coping mechanisms of drugs and alcohol, Susan emphatically replied: “No, ma’am. This is just as big a shock to us.” But she wasn’t so sure. Clearly, there were things in Trystan’s life that he hadn’t told her about. And if Parker was drinking again, who was to say that Trystan wasn’t as well? Still, she did her best to maintain a look of certainty. “He was happy, Mrs. Van Meyer. He was incredibly happy.”
“Well, there’s all that stuff with his roommate,” Parker interjected.
Susan shot her a quick, silencing stare and Parker sat back against the chair.
“What stuff with his roommate?” Mrs. Van Meyer looked out toward the throng of people gathered in the waiting area, most of them obviously there to wait for news of her son’s condition. “Is he here?”
Susan reached out to take her hand again. “It was nothing. Nothing at all. They just had a fight. A spat, really. Just roommate stuff.”
Mrs. Van Meyer did her best to regain her composure before suddenly tearing her hand away from Susan’s and ripping open the envelope to begin reading.
Susan took the opportunity and stood up. “I’m gonna go to the lady’s room and clean myself up a little.” She looked over at Parker who stood up and asked if she’d like her to come along.
Susan nodded and turned to move toward the information area to ask for an update, although she knew that they would have already heard if there was one. As she walked toward the desk, Parker in tow, Susan noticed that the bookish and nerdy guy rose from his chair, staring in the direction of Mrs. Van Meyer. Susan stopped her trek toward Information and turned toward him.
“Are you a friend of Trystan’s?” Susan asked.
Walker looked at her and nodded his head with a bit of uncertainty. Susan’s heart warmed instantly as she realized that, if he was the person who had been keeping her best friend happy these past few weeks, he was likely in as much pain and fear as the rest of them.
Susan jerked her head at Mrs. Van Meyer, “that’s his mother. Do you mind sitting with her for a few minutes while we go get cleaned up?”
He was visibly tense, but he moved toward his boyfriend’s mother as the woman continued reading the suicide note.
Once she and Parker were safely out of earshot, she began talking. “Is that who I think it is?”
Parker was trying to keep pace with her. “That’s Walker Stevens. He’s a friend of Tryst’s.”
“Boyfriend?” Susan asked.
“I dunno,” Parker replied. “I introduced them at the Maker’s Fair, but I don’t know whatever happened with it. I think they were seeing each other, though.” She paused as they rounded a corner. “You know how Trystan is—”
Parker’s voice broke abruptly as Susan stopped in her tracks, reaching her hand out to clutch Parker’s.
In spite of her anger at Parker — for possibly knowing more about their best friend than she did, for having relapsed, and for showing up in the emergency room with a hangover that she hadn’t even bothered trying to mask — they were still two parts of a circle of three close friends.
Parker twisted her head toward Susan, saw that she was staring straight ahead, and followed her gaze to see what it was that she was staring at.
Her stomach dropped for reasons different from those that were obviously upsetting Susan.
The object in Susan’s sights was no more than fifteen feet in front of them.
And he was looking back at them with a combination of confusion and concern, holding a pink routing slip in his hand.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Susan muttered the words through her teeth.
Bryan Blackthorne began moving steadily in their direction….
Everyone living in the region covered by the 318 area code assumes that the temperamental weather characteristic of the northwestern parishes of Louisiana gives them a climate that makes them terminally unique. The cliches about it are as abundant as the varieties of King Cakes that flood bakery windows when Mardi Gras season rolls around and pastry chefs begin developing new and innovative ways of presenting the traditional treats.
If you don’t like the weather in Shreveport, wait around a minute…
You know you’re from Shreveport if you’ve ever used central air and central heat in the same day…
You know you’re in Shreveport if you’ve ever worn shorts at Christmas…
The sayings were true enough, but what was even more distinguishing and somewhat specific to the area was that a day could start out filled with balmy sunshine and plans for spending the afternoon on one of Caddo Parish’s many lakes, only to send boaters and sportsmen fleeing for shelter when the winds suddenly change and the skies open up with tempests that rapidly descend from positively horrific to downright deadly.
As late-morning Thursday found its footing in the sky over Shreveport’s Level Onetrauma center, the sun was burning down with all the force of a typical, late summer in northern Louisiana.
None of the men and women hurrying frantically to and from the adjacent parking lots or bearing the brunt of the heat on the front sidewalks as they sucked down tremendous amounts of nicotine could have any idea that there were clouds not far beyond the horizon.
And that those clouds would bring with them a storm of turbulent change unlike anything the citizens of Shreveport-Bossier had ever seen.
Walker Stevens watched Parker move away with the girl he recognized from all of Trystan’s Facebook status updates and check-ins as the other third of the menage a trois friendship of which Trystan spoke so highly. So, that’s the apple of his eye, Walker thought, as Susan and Parker rounded a corner, casually escaping from the increasing melee of people in the massive waiting area outside the hospital’s emergency room. As the two figures disappeared from his view, Walker let his eyelids close, inhaled deeply and held his breath before turning his attention to his boyfriend’s mother.
Suddenly finding himself feeling hyper self-conscious in a way that he hadn’t been since he first shook hands with the son of the woman he had always envisioned meeting under a variety of other circumstances, none of them even closely related to the one at which he presently found himself, Walker felt his cheeks blossom with color and a light glaze of perspiration tickle his forehead. In situations like this, when he felt like any and all eyes that might cast their gaze upon him would be full of possible criticism and judgment, he never knew what to do with his hands. He vacillated between the idea of striding the remaining steps toward the woman — her head bent down over what appeared to be a very engrossing piece of mail — with his arms gliding back and forth at either hip and just shoving both deep into his pockets, burying them to the wrist. He opted for the less casual appearance since this was far from a casual scene and he slid his fingertips into the recesses of his jeans, feeling the thick, cotton material cling to the skin of his sweaty palms and somehow affix his fingers to the flesh of his outer thighs.
Mrs. Van Meyer didn’t even seem to notice him as he stood just inside her bubble for a moment, clearly near enough for her to realize his presence. When he saw that her eyes weren’t moving from the paper grasped in her hands, he spun around to sit in the chair that Susan had occupied before she and Parker headed to the bathroom. His hands remained in his pockets and his eyes searched the room as he thought of what he was to say to a woman whose son had just tried to kill himself —a fact that Walker hadn’t known for certain until he’d seen Parker enter the emergency room lobby earlier. Before that, Walker had only known that something very terrible had happened.
What does one say to a woman in such a position?
Um, you don’t know me, but I’ve been sleeping with your son for a while — spying on him, too; in fact, I whack off to watching him through my telescope just as often as he takes my meat…
Of course, he doesn’t know that, and I don’t know what he’d do if he ever found out…
And I think I’m in love with him… He’s the first thing I think about when I open my eyes every morning — before I open my eyes, actually. And he’s the last thing I think about before I fall asleep every night. In fact… lately… I’ve mostly fallen asleep beside him…
And he’s wanted to introduce the two of us, Mrs. Van Meyer. You and I… but I just wasn’t ready yet…
And right now, I’m really sorry that I made him keep me a secret…
And I’m really confused about this whole thing. I just don’t understand why he would do something like this. Why would he try to kill himself? I thought we were gonna be happy…
I really was in it for the long-haul. I just didn’t know that I needed to say it sooner…
What if it’s too late?
“I don’t understand,” Melora Van Meyer exhaled flatly as she dropped her hands to her lap along with the slightly blood-stained paper that Walker realized must be Trystan’s suicide note. He looked down toward the page, recognized that the writing on its face was, in fact, Trystan’s, then looked back up into the waiting room. He felt that reading what was written on the paper would be something of a breech of trust, a robbery of confidence. If the words had just been read by his mother, then they couldn’t possibly be meant for him, but he deeply wanted to know whether the letter held a clue as to what could have happened, what had driven the man he loved to such a sudden, desperate act.
They sat side-by-side in silence for several minutes, and the quiet between them became something of a comfort to Walker. He felt as if he was sharing a private moment of grief with one of the few people who knew his boyfriend in a way that he never would. There was a sister, too, Walker remembered. And a brother. Both of them lived in other states, and Trystan had often told him that part of the reason that he was closer to his mother now than ever before was because they were the only family that they had in a two-hundred mile radius. Trystan’s father had died suddenly just after he’d turned twenty-one, and the death had brought havoc on the family for several years. It was at time that Trystan had really fallen into what he often referred to as “the garden of nocturnal delights.” He waited tables. He bartended. And he got drunk. And high. “Work to party, party to work,” Trystan had told him. And after his stint in rehab two years before, Trystan told him that the family bonds had begun to heal. At a greater and more profound rate with his mother than his brother and sister. Walker wondered if they were on their way, or if they were waiting to hear the same outcome for which everyone else gathered in the lobby was waiting. Was Trystan going to pull through this? Would the doctors be able to save him?
And why? What the hell had happened? Walker’s racing mind settled back into the present, and he fought the urge to reach out, to grasp Trystan’s mother’s hand, and to offer whatever words of condolence and compassion he could find.
It was Mrs. Van Meyer who eventually broke the ice. “Who are you here for?”
Walker turned his head in her direction. “Ma’am?”
That was when she turned her gaze to meet his and he saw her up-close, for the first time.
She was a beautiful woman, older and with an appearance that was obviously more strained due to the events of the past several hours, but her features were undoubtedly of the same genetic composition that had created the face of the man he had laid beside and watched sleep so many nights before. Trystan and his mother had the same fair complexion, the same shade of blond hair, the same eyes; however, where Trystan’s were mostly blue (sometimes green — they changed shades depending on the color of his shirt, and his mood), his mother’s were the deepest, most comforting emerald gems Walker had ever seen.
He’d always thought that Trystan had the coolest eyes. Now he knew where he got them.
“Are you here with a sick relative?” Melora Van Meyer seemed to be at a loss for anything other than managing some form of small talk. Walker mused that it was probably to take her mind off of having read what her son had planned to be the last words he would ever express toward her.
“Um…” Walker broke eye contact and his head twisted in the direction of a sudden commotion that had erupted as the emergency room doors sliced the steady conversational din of the waiting room and a swarm of emergency medical personnel — at least a half dozen paramedics and just as many police officers and firefighters in tow — pushed and pulled a stretcher topped with a heap of a bloody mass toward the second set of doors leading into the life-saving area where Trystan was also being worked on.
Walker caught small bits of the dialogue transpiring between the EMT’s as his eyes fixed on the long strands of blond hair flying in the breeze from the head laying motionless on the stretcher. His stare followed the streaked blond locks as his ears picked up pieces of the rushed conversation among the men wearing matching navy blue shirts and pants…
“…multiple stab wounds….”
“looks like a drug deal gone bad…”
As quickly as their entrance had quieted the room, the silence ended as the cacophony of catastrophe departed. Walker found himself breathing a silent prayer through his already cluttered brain that the woman on the stretcher — whoever she was and whatever circumstances had led to her joining his boyfriend somewhere beyond those ominous doors — would be okay.
Stricken by the incredible amount of blood, Walker couldn’t help thinking about the blood on the suicide note and wondered how much blood Trystan must have lost.
Had it been that much?
As much as a woman suffering from multiple stab wounds and a collapsed lung in a drug deal gone bad?
Susan’s shirt and upper body had been covered with it, and Walker wondered if she had been the one to find him or if she had arrived at the same time as the paramedics and ridden in the ambulance with him. Did they even allow people to do that? His brain was filled with far more questions than answers and he allowed the silence to remain between he and Mrs. Van Meyer, briefly forgetting what she had asked him before the entrance of the first responders.
Walker’s brain was spinning with memories of the morning…
…finishing his shower…
…pressing the button to try to call Trystan… no answer…
…realizing that none of the messages had been opened…
…taking intermittent peeks through the telescope to see if the blinds of Trystan’s windows had been opened…
…and the sick, sad, unshakable feeling that something was wrong in that upstairs room across the connecting backyards that separated Trystan’s room from Walker’s…
He’d heard the sirens approach from the distance, and he had known the sirens were headed toward the house on Gladstone. Despite his concern, his fear, and the overwhelming sense that the sirens were coming for the love of his life, it had taken several minutes for Walker to think clearly enough to dress hurriedly and hop behind the wheel of his truck to spin the vehicle around the block to the tall, green house that stood so unnaturally quiet, so lacking in life.
By the time he’d arrived, the ambulance was already screaming toward Fairfield, preparing to make a swift series of turns toward Kings Highway and the hospital. Walker had remained behind the wheel of his truck. Staring off into space. Seeing nothing. Knowing nothing other than that something very terrible had happened.
And knowing that, somehow, it had something to do with the text messages he had received earlier that morning.
Trystan had once told him about Susan, about the strange feelings she got, the odd visions of the future that she had that too often came to fruition. “You get that kind of thing with people,” Trystan had told him. “Ya know? That special kinda connection with certain people, the people you love, the people you know a little better than others. Close friends. Family. Lovers, I guess. It’s like that thing that happens between twins, when one of them gets cut and the other feels the pain at the exact same instant. When you really let somebody in and let them sink their claws into your heart, you’re connected. You know things about them right when they happen, even when you’re a hundred miles away.”
Walker wondered if the bond that had come to exist between the two of them had grown so strong, and powerful enough that Walker had developed some sort of keen insight such as that which Trystan insisted existed inside of Susan all the time.
And he wondered if Trystan’s mother had that same sort of bond with her son. He wondered what she was thinking right now.
Brought back to the here-and-now of the hospital waiting room, Walker reconnected with reality, turned his face back toward Mrs. Van Meyer and decided it was as good a time as any. They were surrounded by violence, pain, blood, and death. And he’d be damned if he went through it all alone. Damned if he’d let his boyfriend’s mother go through it alone either.
“Mrs. Van Meyer?” Walker watched her turn her head slowly, quizzically back to him, and their eyes met. He felt a sudden, magnificently heavy boulder lift from his chest, and he reached out to take her hand, the other still clutching Trystan’s suicide note.
Looking a bit confused but grateful, Melora Van Meyer allowed the young man on whom she had never before laid eyes to follow through with the incredibly intimate gesture. She seemed to welcome it even. And he felt a bit of sparkling electricity as his fingers entwined with hers.
“I’m Walker,” he told her, his eyes filling with tears and spilling over the lids to fall down his cheeks. “I’m here… for Trystan…” His voice trailed off.
In spite of the fact that there was so much more that he wanted to say, he just couldn’t force the words to come out.
“I see,” she replied. And then, after a moment: “You’re a friend of my son’s.” It was a simple, declarative statement, not a question. And Walker wondered if he should elaborate on the actual depth of their relationship. Keeping his hand in hers, she turned her face away and sat back in the rather uncomfortable chair, appearing somewhat relieved that someone who knew her youngest child was with her.
They were silent again for some time.
“Trystan’s brother lives up in Fayetteville,” her voice was raspy, somewhat labored. Obviously filled with pain. “He’s got three boys, but he’s trying to get down here as soon as possible. Just hoping that I have some good news for him before he gets here. And his sister was trying to get a flight, but it all happened so fast. I didn’t know what to tell either one of them.”
After another long pause in her dialogue, she again uttered the same words that she’d spoken after looking up from the suicide note: “I don’t understand.”
“Me neither,” still holding her hand, Walker allowed his body to relax a little and he sat back in the chair, letting whatever positive energy that could possibly exist between the two of them to just be.
“How do you know Trystan?”
With the inevitable question posed to him, Walker felt a knot resurface in his stomach.
It’s now or never, he thought, but the words he started to form were abruptly cut off by the opening of those ominous double doors that separated the congested lobby from the emergent triage area beyond.
A young woman dressed in scrubs was looking around the room, obviously somewhat mesmerized by the motley conglomeration of men and women that populated the area. She was accustomed to a full emergency room, but this group of people was positively schizophrenic.
“I’m looking for the family of Trystan Van Meyer,” the woman said.
Walker felt a tremendous sense of fear settle over the entire room as the lobby fell into a sudden silence so thick with expectation that they could almost hear the simultaneous, rapid heartbeats of everyone present.
Mrs. Van Meyer squeezed his hand with what Walker took to be a gesture of finality as she rose to unsteady feet and met the gaze of the emergency room nurse.
“I’m his mother,” she said as she released Walker’s hand and moved swiftly in the nurse’s direction.
As she moved away from him, Walker noticed that she was still clutching the suicide note.
“Helluva mornin, folks… helluva mornin’!” Dr. Daniel Sheridan was standing at the busy nurses’ station, surrounded by an assortment of medical personnel who were only just then having the opportunity to take a breather from the tumultuous activity that had bombarded the emergency room earlier, just as everyone was finishing their second cups of coffee and preparing to make the normal rounds of kidney stones, angina, and possible CVA’s — the usual hodge podge of medically emergent conditions associated with practicing the medical arts in a major metropolitan hospital — when the humdrum had been broken with a series of major traumas.
“Haven’t seen this much blood in one shift since that three car pile-up over the fourth of July,” Sheridan exclaimed to no one in particular. He was an obvious adrenaline junky. And, like so many others in his chosen profession, Dr. Sheridan was a true sucker for racing the clock to save lives. Stitching knife wounds and repairing gunshot holes and reattaching limbs — the re-establishment of hope… it was one of the two most exciting types of experiences he lived for.
Unfortunately, this morning had been mostly unsuccessful.
But such were the ways of life for their kind.
“Can you hand me a death certificate?” He pointed the question in the direction of a nurse who was grasping a cigarette and a lighter in one of her still-shaking hands. Pausing mid-stride, clearly irritated that her plan to take a quick break was being postponed, the nurse slipped the contents of her hand into the pocket of her scrubs and turned toward one of the cabinets in the nurses’ station.
“Oh, wait!” He interrupted her as she bent down over one of the file drawers, fishing for the document he’d requested.
He just wanted to watch her bend over one more time. And the only way to get her to do that was to have her stand up straight before again arching her back forward to give him another slice of her heavenly body.
He was trying to remember her name.
Something short and sweet and to the point, he thought as he admired the way the seat of her scrubs stretched around her nicely shaped ass. He remembered that she’d been a student nurse there before coming to work at the Shoe full time, one of those rare hires right out of school and straight to the ED. She had a nice rack and looked like she took care of herself, in spite of the officious smoking habit. He’d like to give her a real reason to smoke…right after he’d spent a while letting her take a few licks from his rigid rod of resilience.
As Liz-or-Beth-with-the-perfect-ass rose back up from the cabinet, Sheridan made eye contact and managed half of the dazzling smile that had an eighty percent return in effectiveness when used if he was trying to score with one of the hot nurses who worked the ER. She turned in his direction, seemingly more irritated than before. He didn’t know that he’d developed a reputation among the nursing staff and some of the other emergency room personnel. Where he envisioned himself as an award-winning cocksmith that any female would be honored to achieve bragging rights after experiencing, word had gotten out that he was really just an award-winning asshole with nothing more to offer than a quick, after-work booty call and far more narcissistic egotism than actual sexual prowess.
Sheridan gambled on the name, certain that proving that he paid attention would only score him points. “Beth?”
The nurse stared back at him, visibly unmoved.
“The name’s Blair, doc,” she said flatly. “It was Blair half an hour ago when you asked me to get you a PEC, too. And it’ll still be Blair once this shift is over and I head home. To my fiance.”
The smile disappeared from Dr. Sheridan’s face and the beginnings of the erection (along with the thoughts of whether or not he could get her to let him go doggy-style on her) shriveled to nothing.
He exhaled, a little bit exasperated and a whole lot pissed at her attitude. Bitch, he thought, as he wiggled his index finger in a motion that suggested she should just get the damn death certificate and hand it over.
Blair bent back down over the drawer, found the page he requested, then used her knee to slam the drawer closed. Handing him the document, she brushed past him and headed back in the direction of the exit from the emergency area.
“Enjoy your break,” he muttered under his breath as he set the form down on the counter, retrieved a pen from his lapel pocket, and began filling in the empty spaces of the death certificate.
Dr. Sheridan let his brain move back just as quickly from its overwhelmingly insatiable sex drive to the work at hand.
Damn shame, he thought, as his pen scrawled across the page. For time of death, he checked his watch, estimated that he needed to subtract about ten minutes and etched the proper hour and minute on the page.
When he reached the space for CAUSE OF DEATH, he paused for a moment before writing the words: “Exsanguination. Massive, uncontrollable blood loss.”
He finished filling in the paper, clicked his pen, and placed it back in the pocket of his lapel before moving away from the nurses’ station at the heart of Shreveport’s Level One Trauma Center.
As Blair reached a secluded area, away from the sight of anyone who might object to her breaking the hospital’s strict, non-smoking policy, the first clouds began to swim across the horizon into Shreveport and the sun was temporarily obscured from the sky.
Perception Vs. Truth and Other Matters of Life and Death
Deep down, Bryan Blackthorne believed that he would always see himself as the more-than-slightly-pudgy kid that he’d been throughout his adolescence. Even with the positive attention he’d sought (and slowly gained) during the latter portion of his days at Magnet and subsequent years in college — the dramatic weight loss, his eventual eye for detail, and the mindset that he developed toward physical fitness — he’d never see himself as the Jared Leto character to which he had been compared in high school. He often wondered if he hadn’t developed some form of chronic body dysmorphic disorder that he’d never actually addressed in a manner that experts would deem psychologically healthy.
Bryan worked out nearly every day, spent more than what some might consider an ordinate amount of time pushing his endurance beyond its peak levels, and often found himself in a state of feeling more than slightly off-kilter if he didn’t get a full five or six miles of a run worked into his schedule every other day, if not daily. In fact, it was this mental obsession and compulsive focus on the appearance of his arms and legs, his pecs and his obliques, that led to a constant feeling of self-consciousness when he interacted with people, but it was especially present when he interacted with people that had known him since the days of his youth, when he imagined that all of his worst flaws had been more apparent than ever.
Bryan believed that these people saw him as the fat kid that he’d been for so many years.
It was with this notion — of being judged and somewhat exposed for all his frail, low self-esteem — that he stood before Susan and Parker as he attempted to surreptitiously stuff the pale pink slip of paper into his pocket.
He couldn’t imagine what cosmic quirk in a universe that too often pokes an ironic finger in the chest of its most favored human beings for some perverse form of black humored entertainment might have been at work and found it necessary to juxtapose his exit from having his junk checked over for a litany of sexually transmitted diseases with a chance encounter with someone he had believed could have possibly transmitted any one of said diseases to him.
Life is sometimes really clever, sometimes really cruel, but most of the time, it’s just funny.
Bryan was actually running on a high from having been told that he did not have any visual signs of any venereal diseases. Just to be safe, the doctor had ordered him to another part of the hospital for a lab test and told Bryan that he’d schedule him back for the results at the beginning of next week. In the meantime, he was encouraged to get an HIV test, which he had politely refused before promising to follow up with one if the results of the ensuing lab test — which Bryan assumed would be urine and possibly blood — yielded no definitive, diagnose-able determination. “Pain like that,” the doctor had told him, “is a sign that something is wrong.”
No shit, Bryan had thought, as he agreed to return the following week to discuss further examination if necessary.
As Bryan pulled his empty hand from pushing the paper deep down into the pocket of his slightly wrinkled, flat-front khakis, he moved in the direction of Parker and Susan, noticing that their expressions — both stunned and confused, with matching, frowning looks of bewilderment — reflected the feeling he had in his stomach.
Being Magnet kids, they had all grown up together, going to school with each other for their entire academic lives.
The three of them — Bryan, Susan, and Parker — had been very close in high school, and they had maintained varying degrees of slightly waxing and waning kinship as they’d progressed throughout their twenties and the onset of the decade that followed. They were three members of a group of mostly social outcasts that had found a special kind of enduring friendship in one another as they had spent time together, laughing and crying and sharing memories and experiences at the Karma Cup, a now defunct coffee house beside the Centenary College campus that was their shared refuge from the disinterested folks who otherwise populated their lives. In those days of the late nineties, their group had vowed that they would always remain together, no matter where higher education might take them.
The first rifts in those bonds, which included several other friends not presently gathered in that hospital hallway, had come when Parker had encouraged them all to attend their first rave together and Bryan had not only refused to drop a hit of Ecstasy with the rest of them, but had also developed a somewhat pious attitude toward Parker, the one he had considered the resident ring leader in any and all of the collectively bad decisions that they made. In the years that followed, Bryan had grown to resent Parker, her lack of drive, her lack of ambition, and her constant, free-wheeling idealism. Parker’s first intervention, at the age of twenty-two, had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Angry, sleep deprived, and obviously high from a variety of unknown substances, she had lashed out at Bryan more than anyone else present, and she had thrown things in his face that she claimed to know he would rather keep just as secret as he always had. Knowing full well that Parker very likely did, in fact, know about certain aspects of his personal life that Bryan would prefer to keep hidden, he had angrily left the intervention and flatly refused to return for the second group effort that had taken place just a few years ago, the conjoined anomaly of friends and family that had resulted in Parker’s agreement to go into rehab.
In fact, Bryan had built such a deep-seeded resentment toward one of his closest childhood friends that the only time he had interacted with Parker in the past ten years had been just a few months before, when the universe had played another one of her weird, sardonic jokes on him and led he and Parker to be together for an encounter that neither had ever imagined would actually occur. Bryan still wasn’t sure what to think about that experience, and he wasn’t about to consider its possible ramifications — something he had done consistently in the weeks that followed — right now.
Susan Dupree, on the other hand, had a long, pleasant history with Bryan Blackthorne.
The two had remained close friends and sounding boards for each other’s myriad hair-brained ideas throughout their adult years. It was only recently when Susan, in a moment of drunken recklessness, and Bryan, in the middle of a personal, non-disclosed existential life crisis in conscience, had wound up in bed together. Neither could bear to look at the other after that, and both were filled with massive levels of shame, guilt, and remorse. They both knew, from their own individual perceptions and life experiences, that there were others in both of their worlds — individually and collectively — who would consider their regrettable sexual act to be the ultimate, unforgivable sin.
In any level of relationship, and in every human interaction, there are always three sides to everything taking place. There is what one person believes, what the other person perceives, and then there is that last, elusive, but most substantial tidbit: that which is really taking place.
As Parker rushed to embrace Bryan, she assumed that he had arrived after hearing about Trystan. After the oddly begotten experience that she had shared with him some months before, she had gained a new respect for him and she speculated that he must be experiencing his own form of shock after hearing that Trystan had attempted suicide.
As Susan remained stoically in the same spot in which she had frozen upon first seeing Bryan, she assumed the same as Parker (he’s here for Trystan); however, she found her erratic emotional state compounded by the fact that she was quite possibly pregnant with his child, an idea suddenly made all the more real by the fact that he was there — she had previously forgotten that she’d asked to meet with him later that day to discuss her potential state of fecundity.
As Bryan reciprocated Parker’s hug, he saw the blood on Susan’s arms and clothing.
And wondered what the hell had happened.
The hardest part of the job, he thought, having to tell the family.
Detective Brent Peters didn’t relish what he was about to do, so he had taken some extra time to wait for the cute little RN to return to the nurses’ station. She had a certain calming appearance and she exuded an air of consummate professionalism that Peters found both appealing and endearing.
He had watched her scamper off with a cigarette in her hand, and he had decided to let her have her break before they got down to the business at hand: notification of next of kin.
After a period of time that seemed far too short to leave the building, smoke, and return to her department, Peters saw the nurse swiftly headed back to the station. When she arrived, Peters offered her a slight smile and asked casually if she felt better.
“I’m sorry?” Blair asked, picking up a clipboard from the counter top and meeting his gaze.
Detective Peters shook his head as if to say “never mind” and moved in her direction as Blair began writing furiously on her notes while everything was still fresh in her mind. The rest of her shift was going to be engulfed in paperwork, as was always the case with the death of a patient — especially one that was going to be labelled a homicide. The only other patient she’d been assigned had been rushed to surgery once they’d gotten the bleeding under control in the ER.
She was now down to one dead and one in critical condition — status not promising — somewhere on the floors towering over her head.
“So, what’ve we got on Jane Doe,” he asked.
Never taking her eyes from the notes she was scrawling across the pages atop her clipboard, Blair corrected him: “Not a Jane Doe, officer.”
“Brent,” Peters replied. “Call me Brent.”
“Not a Jane Doe, Brent,” Blair stated emphatically, emphasizing his name with a hint of sarcasm. Peters thought he noticed her roll her eyes ever-so-slightly.
Finishing her note, Blair put down the clipboard and reached into the pocket of her scrubs. She produced a bloody card from its interior and handed it over to the detective.
“You’ve just contaminated evidence,” Peters admonished unconvincingly as he regarded the face of the spattered driver’s licence.
“I was trying to save her life,” Blair leaned against the counter, craning her neck slightly forward to look down at the face of the license as the cop shook his head and took a deep breath.
Yep, this is the part of the job that sucks the most, Detective Peters thought again as he moved away from the nurses’ station, re-reading the name on the front of the ID. He would later remember that he’d had a brief and fleeting thought, a question really, as to whether or not this was Nate’s wife.
He memorized the name on the license and stuck it in his pocket.
It was an easy one… Dupree.
Katherine Cheryl Dupree.
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate
Below the name of the examining physician, the examination date, and the examination time…
Below the name and address of the patient, the qualifying data that included race, sex, date of birth, and marital status…
Below the information related to the nearest relative…
There was a block of information detailing the findings of the examination.
The history of the present illness, which included the reasons for admission, actions, threats, and behaviors were written as follows:
“34 y/o WM w/no known history of mental illness, admitted to ED w/multiple, apparently self-inflicted vertical lacerations to both wrists and forearms — Bleeding controlled, but patient became combative and verbally aggressive with paramedics — Verbally expressed that he ‘just wanted to die.‘”
Physical findings, which included medical history and current medications, were listed:
“NKDA — No Known Medical Issues — UA obtained by catheter negative for all toxicities — Stomach contents empty — BAC negative – WM appears to be in above-average state of physical health — Self-inflicted lacerations surgically sutured and controlled — Patient currently sedated in ED in soft restraints.”
Mood, affect, and psychological orientation were listed in the box denoted for mental condition:
“Heavily sedated — blunted affect of altered LOC — Verbal and physical expression of suicidal ideation with a clear plan yields necessity for commitment — A lesser level of care is inappropriate at this time.”
The paper was signed by the treating physician. It was a legally binding document that would hold up in any court in any parish in the state of Louisiana.
Every state in the nation has its own form of emergency psychological review.
It seems that three days is the amount of time that someone, somewhere, at some point deemed an adequate period for the evaluation of a person who is a threat to themselves, a threat to others, or otherwise so gravely disabled that he or she warrants legal commitment to a facility until they are subsequently deemed stable enough for release.
Patients can be actively or passively suicidal — with or without a plan.
They may be actively or passively homicidal, making statements of implied harm against friends or family or co-workers.
They may be actively hallucinating — responding to visual, auditory, or tactile internal stimulation.
They may be delusional, filled with deep-seeded paranoia that people are out to cause them harm.
Their alcohol and/or drug use might be so pervasive and indiscriminate that not doing something to protect them would result in their eventual demise through self-induced destruction.
They could also be regular people, with no prior history of mystifying psychological transgressions, who suddenly find themselves in a moment of such stupefying desperation that their judgment becomes clouded and they end up signed in for a full three consecutive days of emergency observation.
Having spent six years of his professional life working in the admissions department of one of Shreveport’s facilities well known for the treatment of acute psychiatric situations, Trystan was adequately schooled in the protocol involved in being committed.
In some states, the document for such cases was called a 5150. In others, simply a 72-hour-hold. In the state of Louisiana, the form was known as a PEC, a Physician’s Emergency Certificate, and it forced the doctor who signed it (in this case, Dr. Daniel Sheridan) to seek placement for the individual whose name was written at the top of the box containing all vital statistics (in this case, Trystan Alexander Van Meyer) if the hospital in which the patient finds himself is for some reason unable to provide a safe space for such treatment; otherwise, the facility violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA — truly, a very bad thing.
As he lay on the not-entirely-unpleasant recovery room bed, Trystan was fully aware of a long list of possibilities, probabilities, and harsh realities that swam through his brain amid the fury of routine activities being performed by the men and women in the room surrounding him.
As they checked the lines of plastic tubing flowing toward and away from his body, examining and re-examining knobs and bags and punching buttons on the machine linked to the sticky leads glued to various points on his exposed chest, Trystan’s mind raced.
Possibility: he had done some sort of permanent damage to his brain or other vital organs. But could brain damaged people ever think about things like this? He’d once wondered what it would be like to fall into a vegetative state, how it felt to become devoid of normal EEG activity.
Would he still be able to think?
And could all these higher ordered processes occur in spite of the fact that conversations were taking place over whether or not to switch things off. His father had been vegetative after the aneurysm that killed him in ten days time, and though Trystan had always believed that his dad could hear and feel him as the respiratory therapists removed the ventilator and the nurse began the potent morphine-based means of assisted death, Trystan preferred to think that the rational, reasoning bits of his father’s cognitive awareness had vanished the instant the brain bleed began. No, Trystan thought, if there’s mental repercussions, they are of some currently indeterminate degree.
Probability: he would be committed to this (having no insurance — indigent, in hospital business office speak — and suffering from major, traumatic lacerations to both arms, he was fairly certain that he knew where he was even though he’d drifted into semi-consciousness in the shower and total unconsciousness at the hands of the paramedics) or some other spot. Since that was bound to happen, he found himself hoping that he would remain in-house, regardless of what other people would be like on the hospital’s infamous tenth floor. He preferred not to be transported to a unit in the institution where he once worked.
Harsh reality: in spite of the endless thoughts, he was well aware of the fact that he was heavily sedated, groggier than he felt like he should be. He couldn’t tell what time of day it was and couldn’t possibly determine how long he’d been out before coming to the point of being just alert and oriented enough to start thinking five steps ahead of where he was at present, something with which he had been struggling for quite some time.
Trystan was not the type of guy who could just relax and take it easy. He was always thinking, feeling, wondering, and doing. In spite of the fact that he was an avid reader, even the ability to sit down and focus on anything written by any one of his favorite writers was something of a chore. There was always something to clean, some task to finish, a call to return, a text reply to be sent, or a meeting to make. There was a list of the inevitable work-related projects that required his attention and an assortment of extracurricular commitments to which he had to adhere. He worried about his friends and his family members, their sordid love lives and their unbearably horrible decisions. The thoughts and safety of the men and women in his life were often at the forefront of the constant flux of his concerns, and it was usually only very late in the evening, sometime well after the sun had gone down and sleep was only a few blissful moments from his reach, that he was able to live in the moment, to think and to pray and to just allow himself to be.
Harsh reality: he was fully engulfed in innumerable thoughts such as these and he was totally prevented from doing anything to quiet his mind by being a human doing instead of a human being.
Ironic, he thought. His pals with the Refuge Meditation Group would probably get a kick out of him coming to this sudden, certain realization (God finds a way of making us stop and listen) even if it were under such circumstances as these.
Possibility: he’d been out long enough that everyone who knew him and everyone that he knew was fully aware that he’d tried to kill himself and was now somewhere at the outskirts of the oubliette of oblivion that existed for the purgatory of attempted suicides, waiting to see him, waiting to talk with him, waiting to ask him why he’d done it.
He found his mind wondering to John Milton and Paradise Lost.
He wondered if his soul was now doomed, a notion that he hadn’t had time to consider before writing the notes and finding the razor and making his decision to just say “fuck it” and leave the rest of the world to sort out all their hurts and fears and dilemmas and to just let it all go and “slide down the surface of things” as Bret Easton Ellis would write.
Abandon all hope, you who enter here, he smiled as the words suddenly found their way to the forefront of his mind.
That wasn’t Milton, though, was it?
No, you dumb shit. That’s good ole Dante.
He smiled briefly at the thought, then quickly made the smirk spreading across his lips disappear. No reason to give them any more fodder for their psychiatric assessments and nursing paperwork.
He may be suicidal, but he certainly wasn’t nutty.
Probability: he wasn’t in his own, secret circle of hell. He was alive.
Harsh reality: he’d failed at the whole offing himself thing. And he had a lot of explaining to do.
Trystan suddenly became aware that most of the scrub-ensconced men and women had vacated the room. He tried to lift himself up, realized that he barely had the strength to do so, and felt an incredible pain at the crown of his head.
That was when he noticed the soft, cottony straps wrapped around the massive bandages on both arms…. and his rather terrified looking mother standing just inside the doorway.
Possibility: everything that he had attempted to die to protect was about to be totally exposed.
Jamie Hernandez was late for the meeting with her adviser regarding plans for the coming fall semester. The campus of Centenary College was less than a ten minute walk from the two-story quad-plex on Prospect that was inhabited by her and three fellow students, all of whom she had gotten to know rather well throughout the past three years. Jamie was going to need every second of that ten minutes to make it all the way to her adviser’s office, and even then, she would still be at least five minutes late.
The girl who lived directly below her was an avid pot smoker who generally kept to herself, but was a fascinating conversationalist if you caught her on just the right day and with just the right supply of kind bud.
In the other downstairs apartment was an incredibly attractive nurse who had recently graduated, passed the NCLEX, and nailed the job she’d talked incessantly about aspiring to acquire during one of the housemates’ impromptu supper gatherings.
Jamie didn’t know either of the girls who lived on the first floor as well as she did the chick who lived across the hall.
As she pivoted away from turning the deadbolt on her apartment door, she had the strange notion that she was not alone in the immense, carpeted stairwell filled with an assortment of greenery for which all the tenants shared responsibility. She shook off the temporary feeling of unease as she stuffed her keys in her purse.
Pausing briefly before moving toward the stairs to descend to the ground floor and out the front door, something caught her eye from where it rested on the mat just outside the apartment across the landing from her own.
It was a laptop.
The cord was neatly wrapped and bound with a twist-tie, laying neatly on top of the computer’s closed screen. Jamie’s first thought was that one of her neighbor’s friends had come to return it and just left it outside the door.
Strange, she thought. Parker Matheson had been out of town for a few days and Jamie wasn’t sure if she’d gotten back to Shreveport yet. You’d think whoever had borrowed the laptop would know that and not just leave it hanging out here.
She started to tap on the door to let Parker know that the expensive piece of equipment was outside, but she decided that she was already late, wasn’t even sure that Parker was back in town, and didn’t want to get locked into any small talk that would make her even more tardy for the important advising appointment should Parker answer the door.
Jamie decided that if the laptop were still there when she returned, she’d carry it into her own apartment until she saw Parker to hand it over. She had no idea that the computer, its contents, and the many secrets it contained was the very key to a long list of cataclysmic events currently taking place in the lives of several men and women in and around the entire community.
She jogged down the steps and out the front door.
It was early afternoon on Thursday, the sky had grown increasingly overcast, and the city of Shreveport was alive with lunchtime activity.
And a New Character Emerges in the 318
As he sped the black Jetta east on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway, the possibility of getting pulled over for reckless driving and paying attention to traffic signals were two things farthest from his mind. At present, all thoughts and attention were focused on making it to his apartment and pulling himself together with some last-minute finishing touches before the guy he’d spent the morning plotting this pending dalliance of promiscuity with arrived to fulfill all the profane promises he’d made. He’d managed to squeeze some extra time into his normally one hour lunch by giving his boss a list of some bullshit errands that he couldn’t possibly wait until the weekend to complete. And judging by the turgid erection pressed against the inner leg of his slacks and the familiar, warm dampness that already drenched the seat of his pants, he was going to need every available second if he was going to maximize the forthcoming experience that he anticipated.
Patrick Trudeau was one hot, twenty-three-year-old piece of ass. Tipping the scale at just over 180 and standing at a comfortable 5’11, he was actually a veritable da Vincistatue. Roped with the apparently puffy but solidly maintained musculature of an underwear model and sporting a perfectly coiffed, sleek dark hair cut a la David Beckham, Patrick was totally aware of the second glances and lustful stares from men and women alike in his daily life. He literally absorbed the positive attention and undressing eyes that fed his monumental ego. A devoted member of the Shreveport gym crowd, he spent several hours every week pumping and pushing and pulling his way to physical perfection, not for the sake of good health, but for the sake of good sex.
And sex was the thing he liked best in life.
It wasn’t the only thing he ever thought about, but it was the first thing that occurred to him when he woke up every morning and the last thing on his mind before he closed his eyes every night.
In all fairness, it wasn’t necessarily all about sex for him, but when he discovered that true love and intimacy were almost impossible to come by in the biggest small town on the planet, he made up his mind to just roll with the flow and take things as they were.
And take them, he did.
In massive quantities.
Play it as it lays; it was his motto.
Nearly every move that he made — from the items he stacked in his basket at theBrookshire’s on Line Avenue to the products he kept from the Birchboxes delivered to his office — was considered and selected and acted upon in the hopes of it helping elongate the ever-lengthening yardstick of notches on his four-poster bed.
It wasn’t that Patrick wouldn’t rather be in love (meet someone in a library, go out on some dates, get to know more about him than his cock size and preferred sexual position, settle down, adopt rescue puppies), it was just that he’d become jaded to the idea at a very early age. He wasn’t so certain that true love existed outside of Nicholas Sparks novels and the latest rom-coms showing at the Boardwalk. Besides, who wants to settle down when there are so many beautiful, sexy, and voraciously boned-up guys around in need to pleasure?
Patrick jerked the car down to first gear, applying his feet to the break and the clutch as the light in front of Cindie’s refused to stay green and he was forced to abide by the rules of the road and come to a complete stop. He seized a hands-free moment from the gearshift and reached down to grip the tight-fitting cloth of his gray, tweed pants and tug the material away from his body, making room for more comfort against the rigidity of an erection that would not go away. He had Enigma blaring from his speakers — perfect music to really set the tone of his mood for the impending lunchtime power screw. In spite of himself, he was briefly overcome by the intrusive thoughts of “what if” that cropped up every time he was getting ready to hook up with a new dude.
What if this is the one, Patty-ole-boy?
The perfect guy with the perfect body and the perfect smile? The one with the hot job and the great life? The one who actually wants to hang out later, even after you’re finished sweating out the sexual escapade?
The images that raced through his mind were always the same: the door opens, the dude walks in, they shake hands and lock eyes, and that sudden, electrical connection hits them both simultaneously… so they decide that they’re not gonna do it, that a shared chemistry like this is too good to waste on a quick nut… they make plans for dinner and suddenly they’re sharing an apartment and a grocery store cart… and they’re getting married, and “hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon…”
As the light changed to green, Patrick shook the impossible thought from his brain and reminded himself that this was real life. Real life in Shreveport, no less; and in Shreveport, the gay fairy tale never seemed to come true. Guys weren’t looking for health, wealth, happiness, and prosperity. They weren’t looking for a partner. They didn’t want a mate. And there was no such thing as long-lasting love via monogamy. The guys around here wanted to “receive blowjobs (which meant that they really wanted to give them)” and dole out butt sex (which meant that they really wanted to take it). They wanted lubed-up hand stroking and perfectly timed mutual masturbation sessions that ended in both bodies sprayed with sweat and sex. They had girlfriends, were “on the DL,” “TOTALLY discreet,” “bi-curious,” “not exchanging face pics,” had never “done this before,” and — what Patrick noticed had become an increasingly common thread — were married.
Nope, romance was not for him. And because he couldn’t find love, Patrick had learned to take (and to accept) something else.
Turning off the highway onto a side street stretching toward the southern side of the river, he looked down briefly as the sound of an incoming text interrupted the sound ofSadeness oozing from the Spotify app connected via auxiliary cable to the jack in theJetta‘s system. “Be there in ten minutes,” the message displayed across the screen of his phone. Patrick smiled, quickly slid his thumb against the face of the device to type out “Fuck yeah, man” and then tossed his cell back to the passenger seat as the sounds of sex and chanting circa 1990 resumed.
The phone number, one with a 903 area code, fit in with the texter’s explanation that he was in Shreveport for business from somewhere in east Texas, where he had a wife and a family. To be fair, though, Patrick didn’t know if it was true and didn’t care if it was true. All he cared about was whether or not the guy who had messaged him from a Craigslist post that morning was the actual embodiment of the photos he’d sent. If so, they were both in for a real treat.
He quickly maneuvered his car into a slot close to his building and whipped the parking break up as he ripped his cell phone off the aux cable and pushed the door open to jump out into the dense, early afternoon air that had become positively swampy in the short drive from the practice to his place. Moving with speed, Patrick began loosening his tie and unbuttoning the top buttons of the crisp white oxford as he headed to his apartment, key in hand and ready to slide into the lock on the front door. As he reached the front steps, he lifted his shoulder to smear the light perspiration that was already glazing his forehead. It annoyed him. He didn’t want any sweat to come until he was naked with his approaching, equally sweaty gentleman caller.
Once inside, Patrick tossed his keys and phone to the table to the right of the door and lifted the collar of his shirt to pull off the argyle tie and unbutton the rest of his shirt. The nameless hook-up had told him to be undressed so that they could get started as soon as he arrived. Only too happy to oblige with the demand, Patrick pulled himself free from the shirt and draped it over the back of one of the bar stools in the sparsely, but tastefully decorated dining area. He slid his shoes off, ran to his bedroom, and quickly returned with all the essentials. He set the purple, economy-sized bottle ofAstroglide on the bar and tossed a wrapped condom beside it (a Magnum, of course). Dashing to the bathroom as he removed his tweed pants and placed them carefully on the counter to avoid wrinkles, he reached for his cologne to spritz his neck and then lifted the waistband of the silky boxer-briefs to throw a bit of the woodsy scent on his prized possession. There was nothing that could spoil a casual hook-up such as this one more than encountering any foul or musky odors, and the steadily climbing summer heat wasn’t doing much to prevent that from happening. The flesh from the base of his recently shaved penis tingled in the spot where the liquid landed, but the slight burn did nothing to diminish the boner that was now more present than ever.
As he placed the cologne back on the bathroom counter, he heard a light knock on the door. He smiled widely in the mirror, making sure that his teeth were gleamingly white and that he looked even sexier than in the photos he’d sent to encourage the interaction that was moments from beginning.
Patrick left the bathroom and — instilling himself with all the necessary composure he needed — he swaggered in the direction of the door. He pulled it all the way open, not really caring that he was standing there, on the other side, in only a pair of underwear that were practically see-through, highlighting the massive bulge sporting itself in full view of any neighbors who could possibly be walking by.
“I thought I told you to be totally undressed when I got here,” the visitor stated this flatly, his voice a monotone, free of any inflection and replete with a definitively demanding deliverance. Patrick stepped backward, as if to allow the gentleman just outside to step indoors.
Instead of entering the apartment, the new arrival remained on the front step, pulling off his Aviator glasses and proving that he was even better looking in person than in the photos, but otherwise exactly the same guy. Patrick felt a rush of exhilaration as any speck of nervousness that he may have been feeling totally vanished. Patrick smiled his best, most mischievous grin, and began “Come on i-”
“I’m waiting,” the visitor insisted, cutting Patrick off.
“Are you serious?” Patrick felt a corner of his smile vanish, but he felt like he was game for anything.
“Naked, Patty,” the visitor’s demeanor was harsh, disciplinary, and rather strict.
“It’s Patrick,” he replied.
Then, taking a brief glance in every possible direction, Patrick hooked his thumbs into the waist of his boxer-briefs and bent forward as he slid the underwear down to his ankles. Rising back to full height, he made no move to cover himself in spite of the fact that anyone walking by would see his rather impressive endowment standing at full attention and ready to rock. Using his left foot, he kicked the shorts toward the living room carpet and backed up more to allow his visitor to enter the room, which he did.
Less than thirty seconds after the door closed behind Patrick’s guest, the two had begun engaging in a variety of filthy sexual acts.
Less than half an hour after that, Patrick was dead.
The Interview (Part Two)
The following is the second part of the extensive interview Parker Matheson conducted with Trystan Van Meyer. It was transcribed and saved to Parker’s laptop prior to its theft…
Interview Number: 001 — Subject: Trystan Van Meyer — Date: Saturday, May 11, 2013 — Part Two
Trystan: Promiscuous? (a long pause) I’m pretty sure that this is the part of the interview that I really don’t want people to know about….
At this point, the conversation meets with a lengthy silence. The duration of this break in the dialogue lasts for approximately forty-five seconds. During the intermission, one can infer that either one of the two persons involved stands up and walks to another end of the room. From the sound of heavy footfalls and the subject matter leading up to the break, the assumption is that Trystan Van Meyer is quietly deliberating, attempting to find some courage to continue as he paces the room.
Parker: We’ve sort of strayed from the format, but it’s all happened organically. I want you to keep talking, if you’re cool with that. I mean, you’re giving me ideas for how the other interviews will go.
Trystan: It’s cool.
He exhales rather loudly and the sounds of footsteps head back in the direction of the recording device. Someone (Trystan?) is heard sitting down.
Trystan: Parker, how long have we known each other?
Parker: Ewww… I dunno… All together, maybe twenty, twenty-five years. Since we were kids. Look, Trystan, I’m trying to do this deal like I told you I would. As objectively as possible. I think it’s better that we just act as if you are a totally anonymous subject.
Trystan: But I’m not… Parker, you know who some of these people are. Ya know that, right?
Parker: Some of the dudes you’ve mentioned? Yeah, I have some thoughts…
Trystan: Did you know about me and Bryan?
Parker: (clearing her throat) Bryan Blackthorne?
Trystan: What other Bryan is there, Parker?
Parker: I suspected. I mean, we all did.
Trystan: Who is we?
Parker: Well, me… Susan… Bryan’s sister, Claudia…
Trystan: (interrupting Parker) She walked in on us, Claudia, I mean. In high school. She walked in on me and Bryan in his pool house. He and I had been swimming after school and we’d both gone into the pool house to change out of our suits, and we started messing around. And the next thing I knew, I was going down on him, and Claudia just walked right in.
Parker: What happened?
Trystan: Absolutely nothing. She just walked right back out. And we were all going to the movies later that night. She never brought it up. Never acted any differently. It doesn’t surprise me that she said something to you guys.
Parker: Oh! She never said anything about that. Not to me, at least.
Trystan: You just said she suspected.
Parker: She was part of the conversations. Trystan, it only made sense. You and Bryan were always together. Even when he was dating that insufferable bitch. Even when she would come back in town from Louisiana School. I remember all the fights they used to get into about all the time you and him spent together.
Trystan: (snickering) I guess it wasn’t the very best kept secret.
Parker: Did you love him?
Trystan: At the time, yeah, I thought I did. Still do sometimes. I think about him a lot.
Parker: Do you ever see him?
Trystan: Of course. Not like before, though.
Parker: Do you ever talk about it? About what happened between the two of you?
Trystan: Parker, it went on for years. Off and on. We’d start back up on holiday breaks from school. When both of us were back in town. We’d bump into each other at the mall or at the grocery store or at the movies and all of the sudden, it was like no time had passed. But every time, it was like another little piece of the magic was gone… Anyway, I guess he’s being straight now.
Parker: Do you think he’s really straight, or just fooling himself?
Trystan: I honestly think that Bryan Blackthorne is one of those rare birds who is truly, at heart, bisexual. I have no doubt that he’s attracted to women, always has been. But I know that what we had was something real. It wasn’t all about sex — well, not all the time. I mean, we’d fall asleep in each other’s arms. He’d always call me on my birthday. He was always around. And I was always around him. And there were plenty of times that we’d lay on his bed, watching movies, and end up spending hours making out. Just making out. No sex. Just two dudes who really couldn’t get enough of each other. Man… he was such a good kisser…
Parker: Bryan and I haven’t exactly been on speaking terms in a long time. I mean, we’re civil when we bump into each other in public, but that’s about it. When’s the last time you saw him?
Trystan: I’ve seen him around. I mean, like I said, I see him all the time. At Rhino. At the Maker’s Fair. The Revel. Shows at Bear’s. Out and about. That’s what happens when you live in this weird, liberal bubble in Shreveport. You can’t really intentionally avoid anyone for too long. You’re always bound to run into each other. Even when somebody moves away, they always end up in the same places when they’re back in town.
Parker: True. What happened? Bryan just didn’t want to commit to the whole being out and gay and in a relationship thing?
Trystan: For the most part…no, he didn’t. But then… he did. At one point, he did. After all those years of fluctuating in and out of whatever it was that we had between us. He was ready. But I was in my bad place then. A really bad place. And you know how Bryan is about the whole drug thing…
Parker: Dude! He literally got up and walked out of my intervention! And that was the end of something, Tryst. It was really… things haven’t been the same since, now that I think about it. And I remember when we were all so close.
Trystan: Well, we had a similar experience. All the ins and outs and back and forths and on-again, off-again… Sometimes it was fifty-fifty and we were both all in. And then there were other times that it was more like seventy-thirty. Sometimes I was the seventy, sometimes I was the thirty. But at the very end, when the whole thing reached the jumping off point, it was more like… I dunno… ninety-ten. Bryan was the ninety. I wasn’t even capable of being the full ten.
Parker: (after another extended period of silence) To be honest, you’re kinda blowin’ my mind. I mean, I knew that there was something going on between the two of you in high school, but I had no idea that it kept going after that… but you’ve both been in relationships since then!
Trystan: Bryan has been in relationships, Parker. I’ve just dated and hooked up with a long line of bad ideas… Until now…
Parker: Until now? Are you gonna tell me who the mystery guy is?
Trystan: Don’t be coy, Parker. You don’t wear it well. You know goddamn well who the mystery guy is. You introduced us.
Parker: …Walker… (a smile can be heard in her voice and one assumes that Trystan is affirming Parker’s guess).
Trystan can be heard picking up his water and gulping audibly.
Trystan: You asked earlier. About promiscuity. I’m assuming you want some dirt for your interview.
Parker: (laughing nervously) I don’t want dirt, and most of what we’re talking about wasn’t even outlined in my questions. But I am interested in your genesis. I want to know what it’s like to be gay and in Shreveport. What it feels like to be a gay man and how you express your sexuality.
Trystan: Well, that’s gonna involve giving you a little dirt then, Parker.
Parker: Okay. No more questions. Just talk. Real talk.
The conversation reaches yet another pregnant pause. Parker interrupts the silence.
Parker: Do you want me to turn off the recorder?
They are both quiet again for some time.
The silence is almost deafening on the recording. Not even their breathing can be heard.
Trystan: Twenty years, you said? We’ve known each other for twenty years?
Parker: Closer to twenty-five. Trystan, I’ve known you since elementary school.
Trystan: Parker, what if I told you that I have secrets. That there are some things that I’ve never told anybody. Things that I think if I told you…they’d make you feel differently about me.
Parker: (her voice is deliberate and emphatic) There’s nothing that could ever possibly make me feel any differently about you, Trystan. You and Susan… you are two of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Trystan laughs suddenly.
The sound is almost inappropriate and out-of-context, even for the overly sensitive and deep personal exchange of information taking place.
Parker: What’s funny about that?
Trystan: Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just… Susan. I can’t imagine how Susan would react if —
Parker: Susan loves you, Trystan. She’d never look at you any differently. She could never love you any less.
Trystan: Well… maybe you’re right. But there are things about me, things that I’ve done, that I’ve never told anybody about. Things that are so bad that when I think about them, I feel like I’m thinking about a different person.
Parker: We all have sides that we keep hidden.
Trystan: But not like this. These are things that I swore I’d take to my grave. I don’t know what the fuck I’m thinking, Parker. I mean, this is shit that I always said I’d rather die than have anybody find out. And Walker? Parker, Walker’s the first right thing I’ve ever done in my life, and even though I’m trying to be as honest with him as I possibly can, I can’t imagine what he’d do if he ever found out. If he ever knew the real me. How tainted and bad I am. And Susan! Jesus… if Susan ever found out about this stuff…
Parker: It’s not like you ever screwed around with any of her boyfriends… did you?
Trystan: No. Not her boyfriends…
The sound of a cigarette being lit and Trystan loudly exhaling is heard.
Trystan: I cannot believe I am about to tell you this… I need a break first. Mind if we turn off the recorder for a minute?
Parker: Sure, I need to charge my phone anyway.
The recording disconnects briefly before starting back up again.
Parker: Okay, you ready?
Parker: And you’re sure you want to put all this on tape?
Trystan: Why not? It’s not like anyone other than you is ever going to hear it.
Parker: Absolutely not.
The now-familiar sound of another cigarette being lit.
Trystan: Okay, well, there are these… parties…
Trystan: Yeah… well… they’re secret parties. They take place right in here in Shreveport. And you can’t just show up. You’ve gotta know somebody who knows somebody. And you’ve gotta be invited. And you’ve kinda gotta meet certain physical requirements to get in.
Parker: Like orgies? Do you mean like swing parties?
Trystan: …eh… sort of… but not totally…
Another long pause; the sound of Trystan organizing his thoughts and finding the right words can almost be heard over the recording.
Trystan: Let me back up a little and explain how I got to be in a place where I came to be invited to one of these deals. I think you need a little more background to understand all of this.
Parker: Go for it…
To Be Continued…