The Human Condition Ch. 07byjfinn©
I went over to the triple-sized shower stall and turned on the dual jets. Okay, I admit it-this was the real reason we'd bought this house. The architect apparently had a water fetish.
Not only was the shower huge, it had a built-in bench and enough hoses and gadgets to fulfill any fantasies our vivid imaginations could think up. And the shower wasn't the only thing the designer had added. The master bath also had a 6 by 6 foot Jacuzzi and a sauna. The first time Joe had seen these toys, his eyes had lit up and I'd known that it didn't matter if the kitchen tiles were turquoise and the taps gold. We had found our home.
I stepped into the shower for the second time that morning. The hot water beat down on my shoulders and I sighed from the feeling as clouds of steam rose up to envelope me in a blanket of warmth. I reached for the shampoo as Joe stepped into the enclosure. He took the shampoo out of my hand and poured a big dollop of it into his palm.
"I thought you were all done?" I said, eying him suspiciously.
He grinned. "Yeah, but you had to take two, so I thought fair was fair."
Joe pushed me gently until my head was under the jets. I waited while the water did its job, then stepped back. He reached up and massaged the shampoo into my scalp.
"Mmmm, that feels good," I murmured as his strong hands worked their magic.
If Joe had any kind of fetish, this was it: he loved to shampoo my hair. Well... actually anybody's hair, if I was honest about it. But now, I was the lucky one who reaped the benefits of his little hobby.
It was Betsy who'd turned him on to the pleasure. That long, curly hair of hers had been gorgeous, but those tresses were a time-consuming, royal pain in the ass. Joe'd told me that he'd spent so much time waiting for her to get out of the bathroom, that he finally decided it was a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" situation, and he'd started to help her with the chore. It wasn't long before this shampoo ritual was one of the high points of their relationship. After they broke up, he'd continued the tradition with all his girlfriends... and eventually with me.
Joe had been nervous, almost embarrassed, when he'd first admitted this to me, but I told him it didn't matter. It was the truth. I didn't mind that I wasn't the first lover he'd played this game with-as long as I stayed the last.
"Do you remember the first time I did this?" Joe could still read my mind.
"With Betsy?" I asked, my eyes still closed.
"No," he said, still gently massaging my scalp. "With you."
Okay, so he wasn't perfect at it. Still, it was close.
"Yeah," I chuckled softly. "I'll never forget it. Jesus, I was so scared."
"You were scared?" He massaged harder and I bit back a groan of contentment. "Think of me! I didn't know what the fuck was happening."
I opened my eyes, then looked over my shoulder at him and raised my eyebrows.
He grinned back sheepishly. "Okay, I knew, I just wasn't ready to admit it." He kissed me lightly on the mouth, his hands still tangled in my soapy hair. "But I'm real glad you..."
"...and Betsy." I couldn't help it; I had to add that.
"...and Betsy," Joe sighed and agreed, "pointed out the error of my ways."
So was I, I thought, though at the time, I wasn't sure at all...
February 15, 1989
I never heard the details about exactly what happened on that Saturday morning. Lucy, Beau, Kevin and some of the others who were involved told me bits and pieces, but the only one who knew the whole story was Joe, and to this day, he refuses to talk about it. All he's ever said was that the minute he walked into my apartment, he felt there was something terribly wrong.
In the end, though, it was Kevin who finally put all the pieces together and figured out where I was. Joe called him first, after he'd gotten to my empty apartment around 2AM. He didn't know Cam's number and he was hoping Kevin had it.
Kevin - being no fool - could tell from the tone in Joe's voice that it wouldn't be a good idea at all to let him talk to Cam. Even if I was there and fine, Kevin had this feeling things could get ugly. Like I said, Kevin was smart, and he'd already noticed things about Joe's behavior that I'd completely missed. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Kevin told Joe that he'd call Cam and get back to him. He had a little bit of trouble convincing him to go for this, but he finally managed by suggesting that Joe check with Lucy and see if she knew anything. They could kill two birds with one stone. Joe reluctantly agreed, and Kevin hung up and called Cam.
He wasn't exactly worried at that point. Kevin figured I'd maybe overslept or something. But when Cam answered and curtly told him he didn't know and didn't care where I was, alarm bells went off.
He figured there was no way he should pass that message on to Joe. Cam hadn't been exactly forthcoming on the phone, but Kevin thought he might be able to do better if he saw him in person. Of all my friends, Kevin got along with Cam best. Cam respected his work at the center, and had even volunteered some time down there to help with the legal problems that always follow runaways. Kevin was grateful to him and they'd struck up a cordial, if not close, acquaintance. So if anybody was going to get Cam to come clean about the last night's events, it was Kevin.
He showed up at Cam's door ten minutes later. Cam was a little belligerent, but he didn't refuse to talk to Kevin. He did, however, make it clear that he thought the whole thing was an utter waste of time.
So Cam told him what he knew, but that seemed to lead nowhere. When Kevin insisted, Cam had dug around until he found Randall's phone number, who in turn gave them Elliot's. But Elliot wasn't home when they tried him, and the boy, Andrew, had vanished.
Apparently, Cam hadn't taken advantage of his part of the boyfriend exchange. Once he'd gotten Andrew in the car, he'd told him it was nothing personal, but he wasn't in the mood. He asked him if he wanted Cam to take him home, but Andrew had said no and asked to be dropped off at a friend's.
Cam didn't know the friend's name, and the apartment complex he lived in was huge. Cam wasn't sure which building Andrew had gone into, since they all looked alike to him. Kevin tried to pin him down, but the only thing he could remember was the building faced a clubhouse and one of the windows had a block "M" blanket in it instead of a curtain. Not exactly a great clue; half the students at the U of M used school memorabilia like that as decorations.
Kevin thanked Cam anyway and asked to use his phone. He knew that Joe was probably chomping at the bit by now and only hoped that Lucy had been able to keep him from going completely crazy. The phone was picked up on the first ring. Joe answered and Kevin explained briefly that Cam and I had parted ways fairly early the night before. Then, he told him about Andrew and Elliot, going into as little detail as possible.
Joe exploded. In between threats about what he was going to do to Cam if he ever saw him again, he told Kevin he was going to go look for Andrew. Kev tried to explain how impossible that would be, but Joe insisted. Kevin agreed to meet Joe at the complex. He couldn't let him do it alone, no matter how hopeless he personally thought it would be.
They started knocking on doors. Eventually, even Joe realized how long this would take. It didn't mean he was ready to give up though. He called Beau and Abdul and Kevin did the same with some other friends, and eventually they collected a posse to help.
Now it was both Joe and Kevin who were being labeled as alarmists, but as the hours evaporated and there was still no sign of me, everybody caught the panic bug. Betsy had a friend at the hospital check admissions and Kevin got a hold of a police detective he knew from his work at the kid's center. The cop was sympathetic and said he'd put out some feelers, but there was nothing he could do officially because I hadn't been missing long enough for the police to become involved.
It was Beau who finally knocked on the right door in the apartment complex. A young man named Charles opened it and reluctantly admitted that Andrew had spent the night with him. Beau called down the hall to Abdul to find Joe and then he stepped inside the apartment.
At first, Andrew didn't want to talk to him. As the room filled up with my friends, he grew increasingly frightened and hostile. Kevin showed up and ordered everybody else out. Then he took Andrew into the bedroom and started to plead with him. Fifteen minutes later he walked out of the apartment with a white face and a slip of paper with an address on it.
Joe would have gone himself by then, but Kevin convinced him to wait until he could get his cop buddy to meet him. It was decided that Beau and Abdul would also go along. Size and numbers might be necessary. The rest of the group said they'd wait to hear from the other four. They said their goodbyes, leaving Joe and the rest of the group to wait in the apartment complex's parking lot for Kevin's pet detective, Bob Hoyle.
As I said though, I didn't know any of this at the time. To be truthful, there wasn't much I was aware of by then, including what was being done to my body. The pain had become too great to distinguish individual sources. Elliot had been very efficient in dealing it out. Even so, he hadn't succeeded in breaking me.
Hey, don't get the idea I was Rambo. I cried, I screamed, and I tried to reason with him. But I never pretended I liked it, never begged him for more, nor would I admit that he had bested me, even though somewhere in my head I knew that would've probably make it easier.
Because that was what he wanted. It wasn't enough for him to just do what he did to me; he needed me to approve of it, too. And that I couldn't do. I'm afraid this only made him more determined, and he used all his resources to make me change my mind. Strangely, in the end, it wasn't me who lost control, but Elliot.
Through swollen lids, I'd watched the man I'd labeled as mild, turn into a monster. I'd unleashed his demons by my refusal to give in to him. Maybe if I'd been smarter about it, I would have pretended for a while, and maybe I'd have been able to get away with a beating and a little rough sex. Now, I had the feeling that we'd traveled too far down this road. He could never release me. Not only was I an example of his failure, but I was dangerous. I knew what he was capable of, and I couldn't be trusted to keep my mouth shut.
He turned his back on me and I saw his shoulders were shaking. He was grappling with a decision. I thought dully that I knew what it was going to be. I was almost out of time. Elliot turned around again and I glimpsed what was in his hands. It was blurry, but even through my dulled vision, I could see a sharp metallic edge that glinted as it came towards me.
"Oh, Jesus, Joe," I thought or even may have said out loud, "you have to come now."
He did. They all did. There was the splinter of wood and the crash of breaking glass. Shouts sounded in the house and there was another bang as the door of the dungeon imploded under Abdul's weight. I sagged against the chains that held me and waited.
"Put it down!" a voice I didn't recognized ordered.
I opened my eyes just as Elliot backed into a corner and started to babble. "Get out of here! This is private property! I'll call the police! I'll have you arrested!" He screamed like a man possessed, waving his arms wildly.
"I am the police." The voice again and now I saw it was connected to a curly-haired blonde who looked more like a little kid than an avenging angel. Then I saw the expression on his face and changed my mind.
"Oh, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ!" Abdul, who never swore, repeated over and over.
The room was crowded now. Abdul had been first, then the man who said he was a cop. I saw Beau and Kevin frozen in shock as they took in the contents of the room. But where was Joe?
I felt hands gently slide around my torso, lifting me up, taking away the terrible strain on my shoulders. I groaned in relief and pain as cramps seized my stretched muscles.
"Shh, Mike." Joe said softly. "It's okay, buddy, it's okay now. I'm here. He won't hurt you anymore."
He barked at Kevin to find the keys, and together they got me down off of the rack. I was naked and bloody and Joe held onto me like he would never let go. When I was finally released, he half-carried/half-dragged me to the bed where he sat and cradled me in his arms.
He never stopped talking to me, soothing me, telling me it was over. He held my head to his chest and I could feel his heart. For the first time I started to sob. My chest convulsed as my lungs, starved for hours by the constricted position I'd been in, tried to take in too much air at once. I could barely move my arms, but my fingers clutched at Joe, making sure he was real and not some hallucination.
The rest of the room faded as I tried to concentrate on the man who was holding me. Over and over he repeated his mantra: I was safe, he wouldn't leave, I wasn't alone.
Neither of us saw the look that Kevin gave Beau or the nod that answered him. Neither of us saw the way the other men in the room avoided looking at us, giving us time together that they were sure we needed.
There was a scuffle in the corner of the room. Elliot, in a burst of desperation, tried to use the knife he'd been holding when my friends had entered the room. It gave Abdul the opportunity he'd wanted. His huge fist shot out and in one blow he shattered Elliot's jaw. He would have finished the job, but the cop put his hand on his arm.
"Thanks, but I think you got him."
"I don't know about that," Ab argued, "he still looks dangerous to me."
Both men looked down at Elliot who was cowering on the floor. The detective looked sideways at Abdul who shrugged and reluctantly moved away, out of the range of temptation.
Beau took over as guard while Bob the cop went in search of a phone. A few minutes later Bob was back. He said the police were on their way along with an ambulance.
"I want to get Mike out of this room." Joe spoke to the others for the first time since he'd seen me.
Abdul and Kevin came over to help him, but he shrugged them away. He held me tightly in his arms, and carried me out of the room. Somewhere in my scrambled brain, a memory stirred.
"I'm sorry," I croaked into his ear.
"This wasn't your fault," Joe responded fiercely.
"No, not about that." I started to laugh and then shuddered as the pain hit me again. "You were right-I didn't think you could do it. Carry me, that is."
Joe looked down at me, puzzled. Then his own memory kicked in, and he knew I was talking about the first night we met. He smiled tightly and gripped me harder.
He made it to the living room and sat down on the couch with me still draped on his lap. There was an afghan and he put it around me. He pulled me closer and I felt the heat from him start to seep into my bones. Suddenly I felt exhausted, as if I'd been up for days.
"I knew you'd come," I whispered.
I felt him tense up. My hair, tangled and damp with sweat, had fallen over my face. I felt Joe's hand reach up and smooth it behind my ear.
"When are you going to break down and cut this mess?" His voice was gruff, but his hand continued to stroke my head that was resting on his shoulder.
Neither of us said anymore. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I heard distant voices and sirens, and then someone was trying to separate me from Joe. I resisted until he whispered it was okay, I was safe now, and that he wouldn't leave me. It was only the last part that convinced me to finally relax my grip.
I was loaded onto a gurney and taken out to the waiting ambulance. Joe walked beside me, talking to me the whole time. When he jumped into the back of the van with me, someone started to protest, but I heard Kevin's voice and the objections ended. Joe sat beside me and told me to hold his hand and squeeze tight when the bumps in the road got too much for me.
The ride seemed to take forever, and I drifted in and out of consciousness. When we got to the hospital, Joe finally had to stay back. I saw him looking after me as they whisked me into the emergency room. As I watched, Betsy ran up to him and grabbed his arm. I tried to lift my hand, but there was something wrong with my shoulders and I didn't quite manage it.
In spite of my pain and exhaustion, I couldn't help but recognize the deja vu quality of this whole scenario. It had been a little over three years since Joe and I had acted this out before. Then, it had brought about the beginning of our friendship; now, I had a feeling as I thought of him with Betsy, it might well mark the end of it. Not good thoughts.
Funny, but the whole time I was in that room with Elliot, I'd seemed to have forgotten Joe's telling me he'd be leaving. Now it came back to me with a rush of pain that had nothing to do with what I'd just gone through. Tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes and the young intern who was examining me misunderstood and ordered some pain medication. He didn't realize where I hurt couldn't be numbed by a narcotic.
The next couple hours are something I'd rather forget, so I'm not going to tell you the details of the further indignities that were inflicted on me. It's enough to say that it hurt like hell and was incredibly humiliating to boot. When they were finally done, poking, prodding, x-raying and stitching me, they admitted me to a room.
It was a private, which sort of surprised me, but I was in no condition, nor was I inclined, to question it. Although I was full of painkillers, I hadn't slept since I'd been on that couch in Joe's arms. I was exhausted, but I wasn't sure I wanted to chance sleep. The possibilities of what awaited me in my dreams scared the Hell out of me.
I closed my eyes and tried to relax. I heard the door swing open, but I didn't have the energy to look and see who it was. A hand reached down and grabbed mine. I squeezed reflexively.
"Hey Mike," Kevin said. "How're you doing?"
I opened my eyes and saw him smiling down at me. Joe stood beside him. He was trying to smile too, but he wasn't as successful as Kevin.
"I've been better," I croaked.
"I believe that," Kevin grimaced. He looked around and found a chair and pulled it up next to me.
Joe just stood there. He was taking in the contraption they had me in and all the tubes and bandages I was sporting. He swallowed hard like he was trying to get enough saliva in his mouth to speak.
"Hi," was all he finally managed.
"Hi, yourself," I whispered.
"They, uh... have you in a Stryker," he continued.
"Is that what it's called?"
Joe nodded. "That's what you're lying on anyway. The frame is a circle bed. They use this a lot with patients with pressure spots-that's bed sores to you-or for orthopedic cases. That's why there's a hole cut out in the mattress and the circle can turn so they can flip you onto another one without pulling on you."
The nurses had already explained all this to me and why I was in this strange bed. Elliot's first slash on my ass had been a lulu: it had taken a couple hundred stitches and had been a complicated closure because the cut was incredibly deep. It was a miracle he hadn't severed more nerves and muscles than he had. Apparently it had something to do with the angle of his swing, something I guess I had to be grateful for. Even so, the wound would have been excruciating to lie on, plus that could have hindered the healing process. But I couldn't lie on my stomach, either, because one of Elliot's little toys, or maybe his fists, had bruised the hell out of my testicles. This bed had been their only option.
Still, I let Joe explain it all to me again. It seemed to put him at ease; talking about the medical equipment was something he was familiar with doing from his orderly days. He finally finished, looked around, found another chair and pulled it up on the right, the opposite side from Kevin. He sat back and relaxed, but stiffened at Kevin's next sentence.