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reclaiming austin

Chapter Twenty Five

March 16 2007

Austin called Nate while I was doing the laundry that night. I heard the bawdy banter going on and after a time he called out, “Hey Babe, what’s happening on Saturday?”
I made a face. “You mean other than that we’re both working?” I heard him say that into the phone.
I brought the laundry out and Austin looked up to me. “What’s the chance we can get away next weekend, at least for the evening?”
I thought a moment then said, “Well, if it’s important we can take a little time off, but we both work evenings.”
“Nate wants to know if a bachelor party is a good reason to take off.” Austin asked repeating what Nate had told him.
I looked at him funny and said “Yeah, but why do you need me? I thought he was taking you out boob watching.” He held the phone out so Nate could hear me.
Austin pulled the phone in when I was done and listened then turned to me. “Nate wants you to come too since, technically, you’re a bachelor too. He says down at Zuma Beach they have girls and dude strippers and he said it was usually a free for all.”
I made a face, and said, loud enough for Nate to hear, “And what’s Nate gunna do when some big stud comes over and begins shaking his ass at one of us?”
Austin smiled as he listened, “He says he’ll make gay jokes about you to the rest of us.”
I shrugged and smiled at Austin, “Yeah, we can go.” Then louder, I said, “But if he makes a fag joke I’m throwing him over the balcony.”
Austin listened with a big smile, “Nate says if you’re nice he might even take his shirt off and dance for you.”
I laughed. “Tell him to behave himself cause my boyfriend is bigger and meaner than me and would get real jealous if he caught Nate flirting with me.”
Austin pulled the phone away and insisted, “FIANCEE! NOT boyfriend, and PLEASE! Everyone knows you’re meaner than a rabid ‘possum caught in a trashcan.”
Austin went back to talk to Nate. “Yeah man, two weeks, we’ll keep it clear [pause] You want the addresses and phone numbers of our other friends or you want us to organize it?” He then listened a moment then said, “Ok, let’s do dinner here tomorrow and we’ll get those numbers to you.”

So the next night not only did Nate come over, but Austin had invited Natasha and Cole over as well, I was leery of this decision, but assumed Austin would know how Nate would react to a plus sized African American Drag queen and her white blue-collar boyfriend. I mean Nate was just barely dealing with two white southern guys being together. This interracial stuff, not to mention the gender disparity… I figured Nate was gunna freak!
I was quietly surprised though. Nate was a perfect gentleman, although clearly uncomfortable. Despite the discomfort, he, Cole and Austin bonded in that weird MALE way that usually escapes me.
“Ohhh don’t worry about it honey.” Natasha said to me as they got up talking about some football team or another, “They’ll belch a few times, make some arm pit sounds, talk about sports and how much we oppress them. It’s quite sad really.” She said softly as she rolled her eyes.
Austin later served a stew he’d made of beef brisket braised in red wine and garlic. I was beginning to worry that Austin was going to leave me for some male culinary student; or worse, some Julia Childs wanna be with a thing for young athletes. Just as I was thinking about this, Nate began to gush about how good the stew was. After dinner, Austin brought out a cheesecake he’d made and just gave me a dirty glare when I took a desert plate.
“Ohhh NO you don’t!” Natasha, Nate, and Austin said at the same time!
“Hey!!!!” I protested, though I was keenly aware of how amusing it was for Natasha, Austin and Nate to all be in agreement on anything. Cole as usual just sat there and smiled quietly. I think he secretly knew my teasing was meant to get them all riled up.
So I had coffee and sat there quietly as they complimented Austin trying to pretend the cheesecake wasn’t as good as it looked, Finally Austin said, “Ok you, go test your blood sugar.” After I finished, he asked, “What was your sugar count?”
I told him it was “112” and he said, “Ok, here,” Austin cut a slice so thin I could have read a newspaper through it and gave me the plate.
“Thank you honey.” I said as I nursed the cheesecake.
“Why are you letting HIM have sweets?” Nate asked, bewildered.
“Nate, his blood sugar was fine, and it’s a tiny piece. If his sugar gets a little high, I’ll make him run with Thunder later-that’ll burn off a few hundred calories.”
I gave him a sour look and turned to Natasha, “A few days ago and I woulda had a perfectly fine way of blowing some calories.” I paused before adding, “So to speak”… and then drank my coffee giving Austin a blank stare.
“Am I gunna hafta hose you down every night?” Austin asked as he poured himself another cup of coffee.
I looked over at Nate who was desperately trying not to listen and said. “We’ll discus it later honey… Why don’t you and Nate work out the details for the stag party while I walk Natasha and Cole back to their house.”
When I got back from across the back yard, Austin and Nate were deep in discussion about the itinerary for the bachelor party. I poured a cup of coffee and went over to our living room and played with Thunder while Tempest turned her back to us and sat on the TV, staring at the wall.

Over the next two weeks, the party evolved into a late bachelor party for Ryan and Michael, and a co-bachelor party for Phil and Korma. Despite the fact that there would be male strippers at the club, Korma, Cynthia, Melissa, and a few other girls all decided to hold a local “Bachelorette party instead. Korma insisted it would be far too tame to interest me and that I should go with the guys. Nate and Austin had a long conversation about inviting some of Austin’s old friends he hadn’t seen since High School. Austin stepped over to me, put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Nate, if you think they’ll be cool with me and my partner, go ahead, but fuck’n make sure they know how many fuck’n gay men will be at this party.”
Nate nodded and started writing in his book, crossing off quite a few names. “Listen, Austin, I’ve seen a few of them gay guys you hang with, BIG guys like you… if Alex, small as he is, can flip me around like a G.I. Joe doll and almost kill me with no effort-shiiit!” Nate said crossing off a few more names. “Most of these fucks are ass wipes anyway!”

A week before our party, Nate came to see the Tellers perform at the Seattle Scene. He walked in with Austin and I KNEW Austin had helped him dress. He was wearing one of Austin’s teal shirts and he looked good. I was in the middle of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” when they walked in, so I smiled and noticed Henna going over to give Austin a big hug. Marika sang back up for me and as always, Robert was a wizard on keyboard. When our set was over, I went over to give Austin a kiss and thank Nate for coming over.
“Alex, Dude, WOW!!! I had no idea you were so fuck’n good!” He gushed. I thanked him as Henna handed me an Iced Latte made with Sweet-n-Low. Nate asked, “Alex, can I make a request?” Austin began laughing. He must have known what Nate was going to ask.
‘Sure man, whatchya wanna hear?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve always loved Sweet Home Alabama.” By Lynard Skynard.” I had never considered doing what I thought of as a redneck theme song, but as I had to admit, it was a pleasant tune with some good Gospel vocals in it.
“That’s been his favorite song since we were little kids,” Austin added.
I decided to add it to my repertoire. “Yeah man. I can’t perform it tonight cause we haven’t practiced it, But I’ll do it for you soon . . . I promise.”
Nate and Austin sat back down then and in the next set, Marika did her cover of ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ again. She always awed the audience with her wide range of vocals, from high soprano to notes so low I feared she’d break the concrete we stood on. She was dressed in a pearlized magenta dress and blond beehive wig, worn in tribute to Dusty Springfield.
Nate was adamant that he had to meet Marika, to tell her how much he enjoyed her music. He gushed, telling her how good she had been when she did her Dusty Springfield numbers and Bacharach songs, although Austin later confirmed my suspicion that he probably had never heard of either Springfield or Bacharach. I’d volunteered to come in Thursday to do a solo act since Marika was doing the show solo that weekend during the Bachelor party. And we’d all be at the wedding for Phil and Korma the following Sunday.

Thursday I did a set of songs I hadn’t done in several years. I played the entire repertoire from the ‘Violent Femmes’ ADD IT UP Album, An album that was a little dated, but worked well for Acoustic guitar. The album sound track was an integral part of what I went through growing up. Tiago came in to run the drums for me, but otherwise I was up there alone. I made a joke at the beginning of the performance that this was my version of “Alex Johnson Unplugged”.
The day of the Party, we got ready early. We used Michael Waters’ minivan and picked up my Michael and Jason after Ryan and his Michael; we were supposed to pick up Nathan last of all at Jacob’s Bar and Grille on Lake Munroe outside Sanford. First, we picked up Glen as Phil, Dan, and Dennis made plans to meet us in Orlando at Little Saigon where we planned to eat dinner. I wanted Tiago and Robert to be there too, however, they couldn’t take off like I did. The tellers had another singer, but only one drummer and lets face it, we all totally relied on Robert’s skills these days. Christian, Dan, Brandon, and Billy all arranged to meet us at Little Saigon as well.
After we got Glen, we drove over the bridge to pick up Nate, who was waiting for us at Jacob’s Bar and Grille. It was a run down cement block and wooden building out in the palmetto clad shore of Lake Munroe set back on a driveway of bleached white ground clam and snail shells. This was once a common stratum here in central Florida, now mostly replaced by concrete or asphalt. Weeds and nettles grew in the parking lot- precariously holding onto life in the hostile environment.
Nice Michael said we should order drinks since he was driving. Glen argued, “NO WAY! It’s your Bachelor party too. I’ll be the designated driver.”
I spoke up, and sang “HELLO! Diabetic boy here, I CAN’T drink, so let me drive.” After the heads turned to look at me I said, “No need for two of us to go sober.” Glen readily agreed and Michael handed me the keys.
“Doesn’t seem right you being sober at your very own bachelor party,” Jason said as he climbed out.
“I’ll get the bitch stoned when we go to my place later!” My Michael said, as he squeezed my shoulder. “She can’t hold her alcohol anyway. She’d land up trying to get everyone taller than her in bed.” Michael said as the van door closed.
“Wait, that’s everyone out side China…” Jason said innocently, playing right into Michael’s twisted joke,
“EXACTLY!” Michael said triumphantly to a great round of laughter.
Inside the cedar-lined tavern, it was evident what kind of crowed usually hung out here by the rank acrid smell of stale cigarette smoke and the posters of half naked women with race cars on the walls. There were about a half dozen men in the back playing pool and the lone bartender looked up, surprised to see so many men were coming in so early. I also imagine he was surprised by how clean cut and neat we all looked as the regulars, including Nathan, were all dressed in torn ripped jeans and old Rock-n-Roll concert t-shirts. We walked in and up to the bar and almost everyone there ordered a Bud long neck, trying to fit in and assuming there wouldn’t be any imported beer. The only light in the dim place came from a few bare bulbs over the bar, a small windows that looked over the swamp behind the place, a few neon beer signs on the walls and the big green light hanging over the pool table.
The cue ball broke the balls racked on the pool table and Nate’s voice rang out, “Hey Ass holes, you finally got here.”
“BITE ME!” Austin called out, making a few of the other guys, chuckle. When the bartender asked what I waned, Austin spoke up “Get him a diet coke please.” When I got a funny look from the bartender I shrugged with a smile.
Ryan and Michael walked over and got us a table. I met Nate as he was walking up to us. “I just started a game, we got time?” He asked.
“Sure”, I said, “Hey, where are the bathrooms at?” Nate pointed towards a wooden wall built from the wall behind the pool table.
As I walked over by the regulars Nate had been playing with, I heard Nate call out, “Hey Ass holes, nonna ya’all better move no balls around.”
The bathroom could barely be called a bathroom. It had bare plumbing and the walls that may have been papered at some time in the distant past, were now dank and moldy. Wads of toilet paper and cigarette packs littered the floor soaking up the piss. The place, coincidently, smelled of old urine and stale tobacco. I did what I needed and used my elbow to flush the urinal. After carefully washing my hands, I walked out since there were no paper towels or electric dryers.
I opened the door and a ratty looking blondish guy about 6’1” with a cigarette hanging from his lip stepped in front of me, I knew the posture well as I’d faced it repeatedly in High School.
“Hey Faggot,” he sneered, “you afraid a beer would ruin that purty figure?” I noticed his dark blond mullet and ‘Free Mustache Ride’ shirt.
“I’m a diabetic.” I said flatly, wondering if the boys were going to notice what was going on.

“Well, I bet Dave here,” He said indicating a long haired guy with reddish locks and a few tattoos, “That you was a little faggot when you passed by. Izzat right? You a faggot?”
I surprised him when I puffed out my chest and said flatly, “I’m as queer as a redneck with good grammar!” I met his eyes and defiantly stood my ground. Instinctively, my brain switched over to combat mode. I was aware of how far away my friends were, where his friends were, what was laying around that could be used as weapons, and the fact that his right fist was clenched and his right shoulder was pulling back.
“Gabe, block the door!” Mullet ordered as he pulled back and cocked his fist. His moves were slow and undisciplined, his fighting clumsy and predictable. When his fist shot out, even with great force behind it, I pivoted out of his way and it went to empty air.
“Jesus Jesse, cut it out.” The guy named Gabe said as he got up off his stool.
Jesse recovered and spit out his cigarette, preparing to strike with his right arm once again. I heard my friends coming over as Jesse launched his next attack, I saw an opening he made and decided to try a move I’d practiced but never used. I pivoted out of the way again, but reached up and took his right hand in my two hands. I used his momentum and pulled his fist, continuing it the direction he began, as I was over extending him, I took his arm, pulling him off balance and redirected it in an Aikido throw I had been taught my senior year by Collin. I brought his hand under his armpit flipping his body through the air and he landed on his back on the dirty floor. His friends jumped up and I could tell from their expressions and the sounds I heard, that my friends were behind me.
“Jesse, what the FUCK are you doing?” Nate asked angrily as he marched up besides me. I released Jesse and despite his sudden impact, he was getting to his feet.
“Fuck you Nate, you’re probably another queer like that one and that other friend of yours.” Jesse dusted off his hands on his jeans. “HE” Jesse said pointing at me, “was making eyes at me and trying to flirt.”
“BulLSHIT, you’re an ugly fuck and he wouldn’t be caught dead wasting his time looking at a fuck like you!” Nate raged.
Jesse shouted, “You calling me fucking liar?”
“Yeah fuck face, wanna make somethin’ of it?” Nate challenged from beside me defiantly with his chest puffed out and his arms thrown down at his side with his palms facing out.
“Just a second.” my Michael said loudly. I turned half way to see him using his arm to block Ryan and Austin and the other guys from getting any closer. “If this guy says Alex was flirting with him, I think this is just between the two of them. And I think it’s time for him to teach that shit a lesson.” Michael said looking straight at me. I knew he meant that ‘I would teach Jesse a lesson.’ Of course, the locals assumed he meant I was going to learn the lesson due to my size. “OK!” Michael called out loudly, “This is a one on one fight, no weapons or friends helping out,” Michael lowered his arm to reveal my friends, who with the exception of Nate, were much taller and better built than the regulars. “If y’all get involved, so do we!”
Jesse got up in my face and puffed his chest out with the Bravado bullies use in schoolyards. “Come on Bruce lee, Show me what ya got!” I bowed my head slightly, smiling inside, knowing he thought he could get the best of me. He brought his hand down towards my head. I blocked, redirecting his fist and when his arm passed, I used my left hand to push behind his elbow and the momentum spun him away from me. I kicked the back of his calf and sent him down on his knees. Slamming my right arm pit down on his shoulder, I wrapped my arm around his neck, bringing my thumb back towards my left shoulder, catching him in what we call ‘Hadaka Jime’ in Judo, the same sleeper hold I had used on Nathan months before. I locked my right hand in my left elbow crock and squeezed until Jesse stopped struggling.
“That’s what he got me with!” Nate called out proudly. Jesse’s hands stopped reaching for my face and I felt his body go limp, So, I let him drop unceremoniously to the floor.
I stood up and looked at Gabe. He was unsure, trying to decide if he should attack but a young blond with them let out a loud yell and attacked from my side. I pivoted out of his tackle and he stumbled past me. I turned to face him and he stood up and got in an awkward Tae Kwon Do stance, One leg facing me bent at the knee and his other leg behind him as he faced me. I heard a loud thump and saw Gabe’s head seem to snap back before he dropped. I wasn’t sure what happened, but Gabe stopped moving.
The blond then launched a silly side-kick. I moved inside and the kick passed by my head so I lifted my arm and caught his leg over my shoulder as I pivoted in and swept my right foot across the floor catching his rear leg, the one he was balanced on. As I held his one leg in the air over my shoulder and his other leg was removed, he fell quickly and hard to the floor. He lay stunned a moment then began to try and get up, when he raised himself so his legs were under him as he tried to stand, I did a small side kick aimed at his knee. His knee dislocated with a wet sound, like meat being pulled apart, followed by a loud pop. He was quiet from the shock but I knew when the pain hit, he’d be screaming his lungs out. I barely noticed Jesse regain consciousness and dart out the front door to escape, I assumed. Only the sudden sunlight and the ringing bells gave any indication of his flight to the parking lot.
Dave, the last guy, had his hands up in surrender, “We’re cool man, we’re cool!” he said, backing up as I turned to face him.
The bartender cleared his throat and we turned to see he had a shotgun, “It’s time all y’all left the premises, NOW!” The shotgun wasn’t aimed at us, but the implication was apparent. We headed towards the door and Dave went over to see what was wrong with Gabe.

Nate immediately got in my face excitedly “DUUUDE, you just kicked their mother-fucking asses!” He said excitedly. I was feeling a little lightheaded and just asked, “But, uhhh, what happened to that Gabe guy? I didn’t even get close to him.” I asked, confused, as I was herded to the door. Austin, who was by my side said “I saw him picking up a pool stick to attack you, so I threw a cue ball at him.”
“AUSTIN!” I said excitedly, “You coulda killed him!”
“Michael told him no weapons.” Austin said defensively as though I were a parent scolding him.
My lungs were so happy to have fresh air in them once again. But because of the bright winter sun, Austin dropped his shades off his head into his eyes as we walked out from the overhang and I took mine from my shirt pocket and put them on; Nate was walking in the lead of our little group weaving back and forth excitedly as he spoke animatedly. The Michaels and Ryan were already at the mini- van.
“Jesse, what the fuck…” Nate began saying when a loud explosion cut off his words as a spray of red erupted from his head like a volcano going off. The warm wet spray covered one side of Austin and rained down on me.
My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Suddenly, Nate, who had been leading us out, collapsed backwards and I caught him in my arms. Confused, I held him a second and gently lowered him to the ground. His face was almost gone.
It had all happened in a millisecond and before it had even registered, I heard commotion and looked up to see my Michael at the side of a big black pick up truck, taking something long, black, and cylindrical out of the drivers side window. His fist slammed the guy in the face as the pole was being yanked out.
I heard Austin’s voice, “Nate! NATE!!!” He yelled from behind me. Ryan and Ryan’s Michael rushed over and grabbed Austin as he ran past me, trying to hold him back, away from the guy in the truck. I looked down and realized the body at my feet had once been Nate. I stared at the corpse bleeding onto the ground and tried to reconstruct his face in my head, suddenly I realized Glen was there, and he was asking me questions. I saw the look of shock on his face as the world went dark. The last thing I remember was the impact of my knees hitting the ground.

“Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson.” A voice I didn’t know was repeating my name. When I opened my eyes, I saw a young male medic, asking how I was. I tried to sit up but he pushed me down by my chest, “Just rest a minute Mr. Johnson, you passed out from low blood sugar. We gave you a shot of glycogen, but your blood sugar was only 23 you’ll need to eat something soon.”
“How long was I out?” I managed to ask. Austin walked over with a cop beside him. “Austin, what’s going on?” I asked, noticing the blood and gore on his face and the bandage under his eye.
“Easy honey, you scared the shit out of us.”
I saw the cuffs on his hands. “What’s going on? Why are you handcuffed?” I started to panic; looking at the cop. Everything was lost for the moment and I tried to grasp what he was saying.
“The police are trying to reconstruct what happened, and who did what, who actually killed Nate.” Austin said with almost rote like detachment.
“WHAT??? Nate’s dead?” The fog began to lift.
“Jesse shot him baby, we thought he’d shot you too when you fainted.” Austin said with a far way look.
“W-w-why is Austin hand cuffed if that other guy killed Nate?” I asked panicking.
“Sir, he nearly killed the gentleman inside the bar.” He said taking out another pair of handcuffs. “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll also need to be restrained until we sort this all out too. The Evac is taking you to the hospital but we’ll be sending an officer with you and you’ll have to remain cuffed in the mean time.”
He approached tentatively and cuffed my hand to the bars of the stretcher I was on. I was looking around wide-eyed, still not sure, what was happening.
“Is that really necessary?” Austin asked, as he was lead away. He spoke over his shoulder promising, “Its ok Honey, we just have to go the hospital for a bit, we’ll be together soon.” I panicked and was looking around trying to figure out how to get out of this when a small woman with mousy brown hair and a police uniform came over from behind me,
“Mr. Johnson, Please relax” She said, “My name is Lieutenant. Corbin, I’ll be accompanying you over to the hospital. You aren’t under arrest, but we feel we need to keep an eye on you and your friends until the facts are sorted out and we see how Mr. Cardino is doing. If he dies, we’ll need to charge your boyfriend. Just relax for now though, we’ll be there in a few minutes.” She got in the Ambulance and helped load my stretcher.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” I said. “What the hell’s going on? I don’t remember what happened.”
“Mr. Johnson, the details are still a little sketchy, but I’ll try to answer any questions I can.” She offered. “How are the guys I fought with?” I asked first.
The petite woman got a big grin, “Mr. Johnson, you really showed them a thing or two; I’ll bet they’ll never treat a homosexual like that again.” She said almost like congratulation, before adding, “For a little guy-you kicked their asses good!” I thought then that she might be a Lesbian.
“But they’re all ok?”
“Well Mr. Macmurphy will be going to jail I suspect and Mr. Galtree will be in a cast and will need pain killers for quite a while, but yes, they’re all alright.” I lay back, “But what about that Gabe guy that Austin beaned?” I asked.
“He was still unconscious when we put him on the ambulance, but he was breathing on his own. We won’t know more until we get to the hospital, but I think we’re writing it up as self defense.”
“But what happened to Austin?” I asked. “What was wrong with his face? Why did he have a band aid under his eye?”
“Austin was standing behind your friend Nate and apparently, a some of the buck shot hit him in the face. It was nothing serious. The doctors will remove the shots at the hospital. It’s probable that he’ll have some scaring though.”
“Why did I pass out,” I asked feeling ashamed.
The medic answered. “Mr. Johnson, what you experienced was due to your diabetes. When you get excited and your adrenaline kicks in, and it depletes your entire store of energy, errr- ‘calories’. When the threat is over, you have no reserves left and your injected insulin is still looking for something to work on. Add to that your emotional state, seeing your friend killed and well, it’s no wonder you passed out.”
I laid back and rested, trying to imagine what my friends were going through. We were taken to a medical center in Sanford and as the EMT and a Doctor talked, a nurse took my blood sugar then gave me an I.V. and a glass of Orange juice and some gram crackers spread with peanut butter. From my stretcher I saw an orderly taking the blond kid whose leg I’d broken past me on a stretcher, he was unconscious now and I assumed on his way to get his leg set or x-rayed. I later learned from Lt. Corbin the blonde’s name was Dennis Galtree.
I was kept awake a few hours but about 8:00pm my mother showed up, worried sick. “Ohhh Alex, I’m sorry…” She said tears in her eyes as she came over. I told her what happened and asked if she knew anything about Austin. “He’s the one who called me. I stopped by your house to pick up fresh clothing for both of you. He’s ok, they’re transferring him to the police station now after he changes into clean clothes.” She then handed me a set of my old clothing, light blue shirt with denim shorts for me to change into.
She sat with me until 11:00 when I was released to Lt. Corbin to go to the police station. She took me to a dank room with a long dirty mirror on one wall that I knew was a two-way mirror. I was asked a series of questions by a different officer about what happened going back to my fight with Nathan at my old apartment. He focused on what I’d seen and remembered from this afternoon.
After they finished, I was escorted later to a waiting room to join my Mother, Austin’s mom, Dennis, Phil, Ryan and his Michael, Glen, Dan, my Michael, and a very worried Austin, whose face had been cleaned and a fresh bandage applied under his eye. He was now wearing a clean red striped shirt and jeans. I’d been told that I wasn’t under arrest but should remain in the area. When I walked in my family and friends mobbed me. They were worried and wanted to know what had happened. I didn’t want to talk about it; I didn’t want to remember what happened. I was feeling overwhelmed by the mass of people around me and when I saw my mom I pressed against her, telling everyone I wanted to leave and go home with Austin. Mom told Dennis to get Austin and meet us out at her Car. Dennis had seen my paranoid reaction to the crowd and stood with my mom as a guard and allowed me to slip behind his immense shoulders and out the door.
Sitting in my Mom’s car there was a rap on my window. It was Austin but the crowd had followed him out. I unlocked the door and moved over so he could get in and as soon as the door opened, people began asking questions. Dennis and then my Michael tried to calm the people down.
Austin slipped in and closed the door. “You ok baby?” He asked me in the dark car.
I leaned into his shoulder and said “I-I-I don’t know. H-how can you tell after all this?” Austin snorted and put his arms around me.
Mom got in and started the car, “Before we leave, do we need to get anyone else a ride?”
“No, they’ll take care of each other,” Austin answered, “and my Mom can drive the rest home.” He pulled me against him and kissed the top of my head, “I think we need to get Alex home and showered and we need to test his sugar,”
I moaned softly as I leaned into Austin, “Baby, what happened to our ‘no more drama’ agreement?”
Austin hugged me tight against him and whispered in my hair, “I don’t know baby, I really don’t know.” He said as he kissed my head.
Mom asked what the doctors at the hospital had said. After I explained, I asked Austin what happened to him. “Not much, the nurse took two buckshot pellets from my left cheek and cleaned the wound. I may need to see a plastic surgeon in the future-it’s too soon to tell.”

When we arrived at home, I invited Mom in but she said she needed to get home. She had run out the door the instant Austin called. We said goodbye and inside the house, I looked over at the answering machine. It had 19 messages blinking in bright red. I was reaching over to answer it when Austin grabbed my arm, “YOU go test your sugar!” He shoved me gently towards the kitchen. He sat down and listened to the messages. My sugar was low so I made a sandwich. I was eating it when I walked out to listen to the messages with Austin.
Most were friends who had heard what had happened, Mrs. Tremere asked us to call her house before eleven or after six the next morning. Henna and Jorge called, Marika, Tiago, and Robert called, Even Mr. Riley called. Ryan and Michael called and asked us to call as soon as we got home, no matter how late, as they hadn’t had a chance to talk with us at the police station. After the machine was finally done, Austin called Ryan and Michael and told them that Gabe had lived but he would likely have brain damage. He said I had been released and they’d removed the buckshot from his face. He said he was very lucky it hadn’t hit his eye.
After their brief conversation, Austin hung up the receiver, looked at me and then looked at the floor. “I need to go tell Nathan’s family what happened, I-I-I think I’ll just stay at my Moms tonight since I’ll have to be there tomorrow anyways to help…” At that point, he began to cry. Tears just rolled down his face and his body was wrecked with sobs. Seeing him threatened the numbness that had engulfed me, but I tried to be strong. I whispered platitudes and moved over to hold him.
When I reached for him, he recoiled as though my touch were venomous. “I-I-I’ve got to go.” He said as he pulled away from me and went to the room, the storm passed over him almost as quickly as it had struck. I didn’t want to impose on him, he was right; he had to go tell Nathan’s family, in case they didn’t know what had happened, but the thought of being alone filled me with dread. I wasn’t sure whom to turn to, My Michael, Ryan and his Michael or my mom. I even thought about Marika. Finally, I called over to Natasha’s house and told her what happened and asked if I could come over for the night. She told me if I didn’t get over there immediately, she would come get me. I wasn't going to get a choice.
So when Austin came out with a back pack full of clothing and toiletries, he just nodded in my direction and walked to the door with his head down, “I’ll see you in a few days, I’ll try to call to let you know what’s going on. Make sure you take care of Thunder.” He said before leaving. His mood was so dark and he seemed so far away, it occurred to me that his words could be a final goodbye.

Natasha and Cole sat with me and I gave a longer version of what had happened. When I talked about Nathan congratulating me, I burst out sobbing. Not just tears, it was full out nose running, drooling sobs. After twenty minutes, I began to recompose my self and finished the story, telling them about Austin leaving and how afraid I was that he was leaving for good.
“Alex, the boy just lost his best friend. Two months ago, he lost his other best friend and last month he lost his father. I can’t even imagine what that’s doing to his psyche. Give that poor boy a break. He’s got a LOT of shit to sort through. My GOD! After all he’s been through this year, including you being in a coma for a week and that sadist in Gainesville, it’s a fucking miracle he’s not in a padded cell!” Natasha said as she handed me a wet cloth to wipe my eyes.
“Alex, he’s a good guy.” Cole said simply, he didn’t elaborate. He didn’t have to. I knew what he meant.

The next morning as I ate breakfast with Natasha and Cole, She went to answer the phone and was in the next room a while then came back in to hang up the phone, “That was Tiago, he said the funeral service for Nathan is Tuesday at 11am and he gave me the address.” She said pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“How’d Tiago know that already?” I asked.
“Phil told him. Phil was over at Nathan’s house this morning.”
“Oh…” I said wondering how Austin was. Cole reached over and mussed my hair. He didn’t say anything, but once again, he didn’t have to.


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