ALEX and Brian half carried me down the sidewalk as I tried to keep up with them and failed miserably. A crappy, fucked-up van sat idling in the driveway. As we got closer, an older guy got out and threw open the side door. It rolled back, making a loud bang as it locked into place. The noise sounded funny, like the ringing of a huge bell, and I started to laugh. My chest hurt, making it hard to laugh and breathe at the same time, so I slowed down. Alex raced ahead of me and jumped into the van, holding his arms out as he turned and knelt on the floor.
“Give him to me—you have to go!” Alex cried and attempted to pull me into the van, but I clung to Brian. I wanted him to go too. I didn’t want him to leave me alone again.
“Jamie, honey, I’ll be there as soon as I can. Go with Alex. I love you,” Brian said as he tried to break my hold. He kissed me on the forehead, letting his lips linger. I knew how he felt—I didn’t want to let go either.
“Brian, he can’t figure out where we went. We have to go!” Alex jerked me backward, and the pain in my back screamed as I landed on the floor of the van in his arms. I yelled for Brian, but he was already sprinting back toward the house. The old guy told him to go around to the back of the house as he slammed the door shut, cutting off my view of Brian. I didn’t understand why Brian couldn’t come with us. It made me mad that they hurt me and took him away. I didn’t want to go without him.
“I want Brian,” I whimpered as Alex scooted back against the opposite wall and pulled me against his thin chest. Scared about what would happen next, I curled up into him and closed my eyes. The van started to move, and I wanted to scream that I didn’t understand, but it was Alex. Alex wouldn’t hurt me. He wrapped a blanket around the front of my shoulders and then held me tightly against his chest. I could tell he was trying to keep the movement of the vehicle from jostling and jarring me, but I bounced on the floor with each bump and pothole anyway. The drugs dulled the pain in my stomach and back, but I could still feel it.
“It will be okay,” he whispered as he held my face against his chest and rubbed the back of my head with his thumb. Gently, he stroked my short hair, and it felt good even though I’d started to lose my buzz. I didn’t understand how that could happen when I’d taken so much. Maybe I was dying. I didn’t want to die. If it had to happen, I could deal with that, but I wanted to see Brian first. I had to tell him that I loved him and to be happy. I just wanted him to be happy.
“Want Brian…. Don’t want to die alone,” I murmured against Alex’s shirt and felt him tighten his arms around me. Kissing the top of my head, he began to rock back and forth almost imperceptibly.
“I won’t let you die, Jamie,” he said into my hair as the engine gunned and the van sped up. For the first time since the ride began, I wondered where we were going. Then I wondered if Brian would come, too, and why Alex was holding me instead of him. Thinking about Brian made my heart hurt, but I couldn’t understand why.
“I took so much…. He made me take so much…. My chest hurts.”
“Leo, maybe we should take him to a hospital,” Alex said over my head to the driver. “He said that his chest hurts.”
“Is he having trouble breathing?” The man’s voice sounded tense, and I looked up to see his eyes flickering to me in the rearview mirror. They were warm and brown like my Brian’s eyes. God, I wished Brian were there with me. I missed him so much. Alex put his hand on my chest, and I snuggled closer to him as the van turned. I felt safe sitting there against him. It was a feeling that I didn’t quite remember.
“No, I don’t think so. His breathing is even, but it’s a little faster than mine.”
“Okay, just hold on to him until we get to the boarding house. If he starts to feel sick, I put a bucket back there with you. If he starts having trouble breathing, don’t keep it a secret. We’re almost there.”
I zoned out then, the fog taking over my brain. As I shook and swayed from the ride, I wondered if the man was talking about me. I didn’t think I’d get sick, but did he really think I’d stop breathing? My stomach prickled even as my head swam. Then the man was talking again, and I felt even more confused.
“Pete, we’re almost there. Unlock the back door; I don’t want anyone to see us bring him in. I don’t know if he’ll be able to walk, so we may need your help to get him upstairs…. Yeah, it’s bad…. No, Brian and Mike will follow in a little while when it’s safe…. Yeah, I have them both with me…. Thanks, Pete.” He flipped the phone closed against his leg and put it back into his pocket. Alex shifted underneath me, moving because my elbow was jammed into his ribs.
“Thank you for helping him, Leo,” Alex said, and I felt him stroke my cheek as he held me against him. Leo took a deep breath and let it out slowly but didn’t turn from the road as he spoke.
“Brian and Mike are my boys. I’d do anything in my power to help them,” Leo told him in a low, gruff voice. “But taking him was the easy part. Patching him up, helping him beat his addiction, keeping O’Dell from finding him—those are going to be the real challenges.” At the name O’Dell, my whole body tensed, but I felt so confused, and I didn’t know why. My breaths came faster, heavier, and my heart, which already felt like it would leap from my chest, sped.
“Jamie, honey, it’s okay. We won’t let anything happen to you. Please, calm down,” Alex whispered and rubbed a hand up and down my back, lightly, as if he was afraid of hurting me. His voice soothed me, but I still couldn’t remember why I felt so scared. I was so tired of feeling scared all the time.
“We’re here,” Leo announced, and we pulled around a rather small and shabby-looking building. The light coming into the van dimmed as we stopped. Leo opened his door and looked around when he got out of the van, then closed the door behind him quickly. When the larger van door opened, he stood there with two guys I didn’t recognize. Cool air rushed in from outside, and I suddenly realized I was sweating. Between the heat and being in Alex’s arms under a blanket, I felt like the temperature had jumped a hundred degrees in the van. My vision swam, and I shook my head, trying to clear it.
“Come on, hon,” Alex said and pushed me toward the door. My legs slid over the edge of the doorway, and I felt my feet land on the ground. My head spun wildly, and I had just enough time to spread my knees before I threw up between my feet. The smell made my stomach lurch like I might be sick again as Alex rubbed my back.
“Better there than on the stairs,” Leo said with a sigh. “Okay, get him up. He’ll feel better inside where it’s cooler.” Alex pushed me forward while the two strange men each grabbed one of my arms and hoisted me up. They wrapped an arm around each of their shoulders, and for a few minutes, I was weightless. It took a minute, but I finally got my feet under me when we reached the stairs. Each stair that we climbed felt exactly the same. I put one foot up, and the two men lifted me until I stood solidly on the step. I put my foot on the next stair, and they helped me onto it. By the time we reached the first landing, cold sweat drenched my face, and I felt like I might throw up again.
“Please, just leave me here. I can’t…,” I started, but they were already lifting me onto the first stair of the second flight. The stairwell shifted, though it could have just been me, and I lost my footing. Alex grabbed my hips and helped to steady me.
“It’s okay, kid, we’re almost there,” the guy on my left said quietly in my ear as we moved up yet another step. My vision may have been tunneling, but that light at the top looked really fucking far away. My heart pounded in my chest, and there just wasn’t enough air in the small space for me to breathe. I couldn’t get my lungs to pull the air in anymore, and I started to wheeze. The dizziness got worse.
“Fuck, his breathing is getting worse. Hey, Alex, you need to get in front, slide in around Andy, and get his legs.” I couldn’t tell who had said it. The stairwell had started to spin, but we stopped moving, and I felt them crowd close to me. A small body moved past one of the guys, and my feet were lifted off the stairs. They carried me the rest of the way up and then halfway down a narrow hall. Alex dropped my legs long enough to unlock the door and open it before they took me in. The two guys dropped down on either side of me on the bed and then pushed me back onto something soft. Then the van driver—Leo—put his face right in front of mine, and I tried to focus on it.
“Breathe, Jamie. Slow breaths in and out… come on, kid,” he said and took a few deep breaths as if he wanted to show me what to do. I locked my eyes on his and sucked the air into my lungs. As he released his breath, I blew mine out, and then again. After a moment, my vision started to clear, and I could see we were in a small bedroom. It looked completely wrong for the warehouse-style building I thought I saw as we drove up, but I couldn’t trust anything right then. Tired, overwhelmed, and fucked up on drugs, I just didn’t have the ability to think.
“That’s good, just relax.” I closed my eyes and kept breathing in and out in synch with Leo. Until his phone rang. My eyes popped open, and I saw him check the display before answering.
“Yeah, babe,” came his curt answer as he held the phone up to his ear. “Yeah, he’s in the kid’s room. We just got him in.” Leo paused to listen to the tinny voice on the other end of the line. “He’s okay too. Are you guys on your way?” As he paid attention to the conversation, his eyes snapped up to Alex, and he nodded. “Okay, here, kid.” I thought he would hand the phone to me, but instead he gave it to Alex.
“Mike?” Alex said quietly. “Yeah, I’m okay. What about you guys? He didn’t hurt you, did he?” I couldn’t quite focus on what he said after that. My chest hurt, and I still felt so dizzy. Instead, as his mouth continued to move, I tried to breathe.
“Jamie, hon, Brian’s coming. They’ll be here in a few minutes,” Alex said as he handed the phone back to Leo. I felt happy again because Brian would be there soon. I tried to watch Alex as he moved over to the dresser and opened one of the drawers. After a minute of moving things around, he came back with a little computer. “He wants to video chat with his dad when he gets here. He told me to boot it up and try to start the chat,” Alex told no one in particular as he opened the computer. I couldn’t even care enough to be curious.
“I’m here. Is Brian there yet?” a low voice asked from the computer’s speakers. It sounded familiar, but the pain had started to come back, and I didn’t feel so good.
“No, Dr. Schreiber, he’s on his way. What can I do?” Alex asked, and I looked up to see him staring intently at the screen. That’s right. Alex had said Brian wanted to talk to his dad, who was a doctor. I hoped Brian wasn’t sick.
“Turn the computer around so I can see him,” Richard instructed, and soon I was looking at Brian’s father on the screen. “Okay, Alex, I need for you to get his clothes off. Cut them if you have to. I need to be able to see his injuries.”
“Leo, do you have a big pair of scissors?” Alex asked, but before Leo could answer, I sat up and pulled my shirt up.
“I can undress myself,” I said and hissed when the material stuck to the burn on my stomach. Very carefully, I pulled the cloth away and felt it separate from my skin. When I pulled my shirt over my head, I heard a sharp sound but ignored it because I knew how my body looked. As much as I hated it, Alex had to help me get my jeans off, exposing just how weak I was. I couldn’t get the fucking button undone because of the way my hands shook, and it was hard to lift my ass up to pull them down. Everything hurt, and I just had no more strength.
While I reclined back against the pillows, Alex held the laptop over my body with that damn camera on me as he helped Richard with his inspection. After he’d seen my feet, Richard asked me to roll onto my side, which I did with difficulty, and Alex repeated the process with my back.
“Jamie, how did you sustain the burn on your stomach?” Richard asked as Alex held the laptop next to me. My eyes flickered to the angry blisters on my stomach and then to the computer screen.
“What does that mean?” Richard asked, sounding confused. My eyes closed again as I tried to think, and then I opened them and held Alex’s gaze, willing him to understand.
“He hit you with hot lasagna?” Alex asked with a slight nod, and I nodded back.
“What did you take, and how much?” Richard’s voice sounded businesslike as it came through the small computer speakers. I tried to think, to come up with an answer to his question.
“We were at the apartment, and he told me I had to shoot. My stash was gone. It hurt so much. I went in the bedroom to get dressed and found two Es and took those.”
“Did you take anything else?” Alex asked gently. “Did Steven give you anything?”
“Yeah, he said I needed to fuck. He gave me coke, a lot of coke.”
“How many lines, hon?” Alex stroked my hair as I looked at his face. His eyes looked so scared. I didn’t want Alex to be scared.
“Uhm… three, I think. I started to feel sick after two, but he told me not to be a pussy and just do them. But….”
“But what, Jamie?” Richard asked. It helped that he sounded concerned rather than angry. I didn’t know if I could explain if he were mad. I didn’t want anyone to be mad at me.
“But I don’t feel it. I feel confused and tired and sad. Why don’t I feel high? Is it because I’m… I’m gonna die?” The question was out before I could stop it. Alex’s face went from caring to horrified in an instant.
“No, that’s not why you don’t feel high.” Richard paused like he was trying to decide how to explain. Relieved even though my head was fucking spinning, I tried to focus on his voice. “The cocaine is canceling out the effect of the ecstasy. You have a lot of drugs in your system, and that’s dangerous, but it’s the type of drugs you took that are making you feel that—” The bedroom door opened, and suddenly Alex jumped off the bed as Brian and Mike hurried into the room. Brian and Alex charged past each other, and Brian put his hands on either side of my face. Alex hurried over to Mike and threw his arms around Mike’s neck.
“Are you alright?” Mike asked Alex and kissed him gently. Alex nodded and pulled Mike to the bed, where they sat at the end.
“Oh God, Jamie,” Brian whispered against my neck as he held me. “I thought he was going to kill you. I’ve never been so scared.” The room fell silent, and Brian kissed my forehead before wiping the wetness from his face.
“I’m okay,” I told him, trying to make him feel better. I didn’t want my Brian to feel bad. I loved him so much.
“Brian, he’s not okay,” Richard said from the computer, and Brian’s head turned to look at the screen. “You need to get him to a hospital.”
“Dad, they could call his father. O’Dell could have someone checking the hospitals, looking for him. We can’t take him to a hospital unless there’s no other way.”
Richard and Brian looked at each other over the computer screen, and finally Richard nodded. “Okay, son, but you’re doing to have to clean and dress his injuries. Can you do that?”
Brian nodded. “For Jamie, I can do anything.”
“I’ll send you a list of the supplies you’re going to need. But judging from that burn alone, he’s going to need stronger pain medication than I can prescribe across state lines.” At that, Leo took a step forward. With a deep breath and a look around the room, he spoke.
“I can get you street oxy,” he said, while Brian and Mike stared at him. “What? I work with a lot of addicts at the center. You think I don’t know any dealers? Besides, oxy isn’t Jamie’s drug of choice; it won’t show up on anyone’s radar. Will that do, doc?”
“That wouldn’t be my preferred way to do it—you can’t count on the strength or quality of illegal drugs—but if you refuse to take him to the hospital, it’s the most humane. Brian, you’re going to have to debride that burn, and it’s going to hurt him badly. He’s going to need something.” Brian looked at Leo and nodded. Leo pulled out his phone and started to dial as he left the room.
“We can’t give him that stuff while he’s already got so many drugs in his system, can we?” Brian asked as his hand slid down into mine, linking our fingers together. I loved how that felt. It made me happy.
“No, you can’t. When would he have taken it?”
“When did he get to the studio?” Brian asked Mike and Alex, who looked at each other with blank expressions. I didn’t even know what time it was then, so I couldn’t answer.
“Wait, check your phone. What time did you call Leo? He would have gotten to the studio about ten minutes earlier, and it takes twenty minutes to get to the studio from their building. We can safely say no later than half an hour before you called Leo,” Mike explained, and Brian pulled out his cell phone.
“It’s been about two hours since he took the drugs,” Brian told his father.
“Okay, you’re going to need to wait at least four to six hours before you give him anything. You can’t debride the burn until he’s been given pain meds. I’m going to e-mail you the list of supplies. Someone is going to need to be with Jamie every minute to monitor his breathing and make sure he doesn’t choke on his vomit. Do you have someone that can go to a pharmacy and pick these things up for you?” Richard asked, and Brian looked up at Mike.
“Of course I will,” Mike said without hesitation.
“I’ll go too,” Alex offered, but Mike shut him down.
“You will not. If he followed me and Brian, he could be out there. I’m not letting that fucker anywhere near you,” he said fiercely, and Alex laid his head on Mike’s shoulder as they sat on the bed holding hands.
“Will you stay on with me while I do what you need me to do?” Brian asked, his voice trembling.
“I’ll be right here,” Richard assured him. “But Brian, if he stops breathing, you have to call an ambulance and you have to tell them exactly what he took. Do you understand? If you don’t, his father or this other guy won’t matter because he’ll die. He has enough drugs in his system to stop his heart.” A tear slid down Brian’s face as he told Richard he understood.
The computer dinged, and Brian sat up. He did something to the computer and then looked up.
“Okay, my dad sent the list of stuff we’re going to need. Mike, can you take my laptop downstairs and hook it up to the printer? Dad, we’re going to disconnect until we get what we need. I’ll call you when we’re ready,” Brian said, taking charge. He said goodbye to his father before handing the laptop to Mike. Mike, Alex, and the other two guys from earlier all left together. Leo hadn’t returned, so Brian and I were alone. He continued to sit next to me on the bed, holding my hand. I rested my head on his shoulder just to be closer to him.
“No matter what happens, promise me you won’t ever forget,” I told him, and he squeezed me tighter, making me wince. If there really was a chance that I could die, I had to make sure he knew that. I didn’t want him to wonder how I felt—ever. I loved him so much.
“I’m not going to let you die, Jamie.” The pain in Brian’s voice told me that he was just as scared as I was. He could say the words all he wanted, but he had no more control over the situation than I did.
“I’m so tired,” I said and closed my eyes. Brian shifted on the bed, and after a minute, I heard him talking, but it wasn’t to me.
“Dad, can he sleep?” I opened my eyes, blinking slowly, and saw him on the phone. “I won’t leave him. I’ll sit right here with my hand on his chest.” Brian’s voice cracked, and the bad feeling came back. I had made Brian sad. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll text you and check in every hour…. Yes.”
“Honey, Dad says you can sleep if you want to,” Brian whispered, and a chuckle bubbled up from my chest.
“What?” Brian asked and tilted my face up so that I was looking at him. His answering smile was angelic, and I moved my face closer to kiss him.
“You called me ‘honey’… I like that,” I told him with another short laugh.
“You get through this, and I’ll call you whatever you want, sweetheart,” he said, suddenly serious. He stroked my face lightly, and I scooted down a little in the bed to rest. Laying my head on his hip, I felt him playing with my hair.
“I love you,” I told him but fell asleep before I heard his reply.