Drew fought to remember a time in his life when he was light. He’d been the heavy kid since before he could remember, and when he started his long, slow journey with the weights in his garage, he’d only gotten heavier. And, at that, he wasn’t slow. Football had taught him to move. His coaches called him “light on his feet,” meaning he was fast, but at this very moment, Drew knew he was light, weightless, like air, and slow, like the growth of the grass under his fingers.
At least, he thought it was grass under his fingers, his body, but he could not be sure, and something troubled his thoughts about grass, wet grass somewhere, sometime. It was in the dark and the grass had dragged at his feet so that he had to be helped along. Helped along by….
Drew pulled back, shied away from that memory, for that was where the pain lived, and he was free from it, for now. Also, the further he could move away from the source of pain, be became lighter and slower, which was sort of blissful, at the moment, yet it was a strangely thoughtful moment, too, one that made him whisper,
“So, am I dead?” he asked, as though to himself. That thought made a degree of sense. His heavy body had been the source of his pain, like the stray images of faces that sought to pull him back into the memory his body housed. Pain lives in our bodies, as does joy, and no one can tell which is deeper. It all depends on the time, the great “now” that is our only reality.
“I don’t think so, but, maybe, yeah, a little,” Kyle answered, and the sound was different than Kyle’s voice had been of late.
“A little dead?” Drew whispered back.
“Maybe,” came Kyle’s cautious reply. “But I think I know where we are.”
Not wanting to see, Drew didn’t struggle to open his eyes. He stayed in the dark, listening to a breeze blow through a nearby tree.
“Where, then?” Drew asked, deciding to take Kyle’s word for it.
“I’m pretty sure it’s Evergreen Cemetery, somewhere in the back. I think, maybe, it’s where I’ll be buried,” Kyle said.
“Not me? Not my grave?” Drew asked.
“No, bud. Your body is still in my old twin bed, beside my body in its hospital bed. In fact, and I figure you’re alive,” Kyle answered.
“But we’re in Evergreen, huh?” Drew asked.
“Yeah. Looks it. When I first came to Durrett, I could look out the window of Miss Farris’s English class up on the third floor and see this spot. I saw it but never looked at it, you know? It was always just there, and I never thought I’d go there, here, I mean. Now, though, it ain’t that bad a spot.”
Drew certainly thought it was a good spot, for he was free from pain. But since Kyle’s voice sounded different this time, Drew wanted to see. So, he began to try and open his eyes, and he failed. It was as though he sought to move all the weight he had ever lifted.
After a futile struggle, he said, “Can you help me open my eyes?”
“Okay,” Kyle said, and Drew sensed a gentle pressure where he thought maybe his eyes would be and a tingle, like a spark go through them. At once, he saw above him a blue sky, with sparse clouds, tinged with orange and red. There was a sunset going on, in the west, darkening towards night, and Drew lifted his weightless noggin to look at it. Beside him, glowing in the light of a setting sun, sat Kyle Jensen, as big as life. Dressed in his jeans and chucks, Kyle wore his Durrett football jersey. He gave Drew a smile, and Drew sat up. He was dressed like Kyle, in his home jersey, as though they’d both be in the a game later. His own body sort of glowed, like Kyle’s did, and he found that he could rise with ease, when Kyle gave him his hand.
As they looked at the sunset, showing above the rise on which I 65 traffic passed, Drew asked, “You look good, like you always did before…before…. How come I can see you now?”
“I don’t know, really, although, like I said, you are in a bed beside me in my room, and I didn’t have any way to talk to you, until just now,” Kyle said.
“Weren’t you always able to just, you know, find me?”
“Yeah, but not since you got out of the hospital and my folks took you and your Mom in to live with them—us, I mean,” Kyle said. His words cracked open the door on Drew’s memory of what had happened, but he closed it again by turning away. It would be better, he thought, if Kyle just told him. ‘Kyle can give it to me the way I ought to see it,” he thought.
“I’m really glad that Mom is at your house. But, I need you to tell me how I got here, what happened. It isn’t that I can’t recall. It’s just…too much,” Drew said.
“Dr. Stevenson shot you, man. But what really put you so far in the hole was blood loss. You probably should have had MaryBeth take you straight to the hospital, instead of to the Floyd’s place.”
“I guess I wasn’t thinking too clearly.”
“But you did get her out of there, and with all that their neighbors heard in your challenge to her Dad, well, it caused quite a stir. Mary Beth told the cops about what her Dad did to me. And, both of her parents ran off, emptied their bank accounts that next morning and are gone, vanished. Cops found the car at the airport. I don’t know how much cash they had, but those two have disappeared, like ghosts.”
“Like us, you mean?” Drew asked, smiling.
“No! We aren’t ghosts—yet,” Kyle replied with another smile. “I know I don’t have long, with what they did to me, but you, if you can wake up, will recover. And between MaryBeth, your Mom, Emma, and my folks, you’re getting their best care, although it takes most of them together to move you.”
Drew didn’t know if he could blush, outside of his body like he was, but the embarrassment was acute. Fleeting images of being bathed and having his clothes and sheets changed, especially by MaryBeth and Emma, was too much. Those thoughts, he pushed away, choosing to think, instead, about what Kyle said about his own ghostly status.
Could he face life without Kyle around, even as a ghostly voice? He turned away, looking at the shadow of one tall tree, away on the other side of the expressway, on a yard off of Berkley Square. It looked as tall as a redwood. It was so tall that its branches, way up, grew in bunches that looked like plateaus reaching higher and higher. Drew had stood, once, at its base, until the homeowner, the father of a very pretty girl in Drew’s class, had come out and asked him to leave. Drew complied, of course, but for him that tree always looked like a set of steps leading up and up, to heaven, maybe, or just away. He had even seen it when looking out of Durrett’s third floor windows, like evidence of an unknown country, where marvelous things existed, just below the rise of the expressway, just out of his sight. Kyle had looked toward the cemetery, but Drew had looked to the tree.
And, as though reading Drew’s thoughts, Kyle said, “It’s just a matter of time, buddy. I don’t know if the cops can prove how they did it, but I’m sure that they did me in. I just don’t know if I’ll still be able to talk to you, or you to hear me, like we’ve been doing.”
“How much time are we taking about?” Drew asked, avoiding the topic of Kyle, gone.
“For me, I don’t know. For you and how much time you’ve been gone, I think you were in the hospital with a cop guarding you for almost a week, and you’ve been missing, to me, for another six days after that. It’s Friday again. Look, the lights on the field are on. We play Western tonight.”
Drew turned in the direction of Durrett, its buildings and incinerator tower appearing as dark outlines behind the stadium’s glowing lights, like shadows of the life he had lived before. He heard strains of brass music and imagined the pep band warming up on the sidelines, while the players stretched on the field.
“You think we’ll win?” Drew asked.
“You know,” Kyle said, winking at him, “I think we already have. You and I, anyways. And what with your story out, now, I think the team will win, too.”
“My story…out?” Drew whispered.
“Well, mine, and your’s and MaryBeth’s, really. The whole thing came out, what with all the visitors you had in the hospital. Doug Smith has been over to visit both of us at my house several times each week. That Doug, well, he must believe in you, ‘cause he got your story in the newspaper. He left a couple of copies at home, and I read them, as much as I could. The point is, he has seen in you much of what I see in you, so, I think, your life will be different when you wake up.”
Kyle turned to him, grabbed his wrist in his own hands and squeezed. “So, you’ve got to wake up, Drew,” he said, and he glowed brighter. “It will not feel good, but you gotta do it. In fact it has to happen…now.”
A wave of pain passed through Drew as Kyle spoke. It started deep in his head, around the memories of his own voice yelling for Mary Beth to come down, around the three claps of thunder that the gunshots left in his memory. It spread through the rest of his body, awakening in his guts, so he had to get to empty his bowels. Inside his bones, it was as though needles, then nails, were pressed into them. His dormant muscles woke, twisting to spasms of pain that made him clench his eyes. His jaws tightened and then opened, as did his staring eyes, and he gave a great cry like an ancient warrior going into battle.
He fought his way his way back into his body, inch by inch. Drew’s eyes opened to minimal light in the room, and MaryBeth’s shadowed face stared at down at him, her eyes wide with fear tinged with delight. Emma was there, too, and both were calling his name. Struggling to move his arms, the pain mounted higher. Every move was agony, so that it was hard to hear MaryBeth and Emma’s urgent pleas for him to stay still.
“Let me get’im,” a deeper voice said, and Marty Floyd’s smiling dark face was there, his strong hands under Drew’s arms, lifting him into a siting position. And thought the agony was awful, Drew did not stop trying to rise.
“My feet…floor,”Drew gasped, and Emma grabbed his ankles and moved his legs out to the edge, grunting with their weight. Every movement Drew made caused him to quiver, but he held onto Marty with the one arm that did not hurt as bad as the other, and he pulled.
“Easy, easy, big man,” Marty crooned, his head alongside Drew’s.
“Get me…toilet,” Drew managed.
“It’s a long…trip,” Marty said, staggering as Drew’s weight wavered in his arms.
His own weight on his feet woke them to protest, but they weren’t injured, only weakened. So, one step at a time, he let Marty guide him, dimly aware of the faces all around him, faces that lit with surprise and joy. His Mom, whose hands fairly flew in excitement, Kyle’s parents, Emma and Mary Beth, each trying to help Marty bear his weight, were there around him, as though they floated in a misty air.
“You got it, Drew,” Marty’s voice rasped at his side. “It’s just this door. Two more steps.”
Another face swam into sudden focus in Drew’s eyes. It took him a minute to recall him. The white hair, dark eyes and skin, and the name tag, “Jorge,” made it clear. The angel was there, and Drew reached out for his hand, feeling the strength of its touch. For a moment, he stood still and steady, looking into those dark eyes, at the brilliance of the wings that filled the hallway.
“Brave steps, into a new life, quiet one,” Jorge said in a soft voice as he began to glow and drift away into a bright mist.
“Thank you,” Drew whispered.
“You’re welcome,” Marty said at his side. It made both Drew and Jorge smile.
“Protect your gift,” Jorge said as he left Drew’s sight. The words echoed in his head like a warning and a blessing, both at once. It made him unsteady again to watch the angel fade, but he made it into the bathroom, Marty at his side and MaryBeth dragging the IV pole that held the bag of fluids. Though it hurt, he managed to drag the needle out of his arm, pulling the hairs on his arm as the tape gave way. MaryBeth grabbed it from him and let it drain into the sink, as Drew sat down on the toilet.
“Kinda crowded in here,” Drew whispered, and MaryBeth blushed and nodded, pushed the pole out the door and let it close.
“Let me just help with those pajama pants,” Marty said. Drew let him and returned to his seat.
“I think I can manage,” Drew said, though he was quite light headed.
“I’ll be just out here,” Marty said, “to help you get back in bed.”
All the voices of their voices spoke in hushed whispers outside the door as Drew sat and let his body function. He heard his name on all their lips, and his heart warmed to be there in their care.
“I…I love you…all,” Drew called through the door.
“Good one, buddy. Well done,” Kyle said at his side. “You’re home now.You’re gonna make it.”
The days trickled by, and slowly, Drew got stronger. The nurse who visited him and Kyle admonished him to take it easy, but Drew knew that he needed to move to get stronger, so as much as he could, he helped them take care of Kyle, whose body grew leaner, weaker, less like the powerful boy who came to Drew at night, when they could talk freely, when everyone else had gone to bed. Marty was there many days, and often, when he wasn’t able to come, his father did, and one day, just before Drew was ready to go back to school again, the elder Floyd brought news that the charges against Drew had been dismissed. The police had not found the substance used to poison Kyle, but they had enough evidence to conclude that the Stevensons were guilty of abusing their daughter and plotting to kill Kyle Jensen. Mr. Floyd had also spoken with Drew’s father, who had agreed to get some help for his drinking problem.
“I wish I could pay you, for all you have done, sir,” Drew said.
“You have, son, in becoming a brother to Marty. Getting to know you has changed him in ways I had only dared to hope for. For that, I am in your debt,” he replied.
“What is going to happen with my Mom?”
“Well, she is free to go back home, when she wants to, but I don’t know what she will choose to do. It’s all up to her—and you, I suspect. The Jensens have told me that she has a place here with you for as long as she, and you—need one. They are good people,” he replied, rising to go, “but no one can solve anyone else’s problems, can they?”
“No, sir. I guess they can’t.”
“You managed it better than most, though, with Mary Beth, I mean.”
“I had to try, sir, for Kyle,” Drew said.
“You two still talking?” Mr, Floyd asked.
“Yes, sir, though not as much. He’s quieter now, and I miss him,” Drew answered. Mr. Floyd sighed at the inevitability of loss, hugged him tight, shook his head, and made for the door.
His parting left Drew curiously anxious, but after he helped Emma and Mary Beth get Kyle ready for the night, Drew read aloud from Tolkien’s work, as he did most nights now. Often, Mary Beth would listen, but this night, she stayed close to Emma in the room they shared, as though she remembered too much of all she’d been through. That was happening less and less as the days wore on, which made Drew glad, and it made his time with her more and more special. As surprising as it always was to him, he knew that she wanted to be with him, and he was sure that he wanted to be with her.
Soon, that night, Drew grew sleepy, and went to bed, not having heard anything from Kyle. Drew had a great deal of school work on which he’d have to catch up, so he put the book aside and turned out the light.
Drew’s dreams were full of worry, though. In them, he wandered Durrett’s halls, in his skivvies, carrying every school book he owned, even his Tolkien books. He wandered from room to room, carrying the burden of his books and the laughter of other kids seeing him in his underwear.
Those dreams went on and got darker, until he was running, breathless and barefoot, in a sweat, unable to find where he needed to be. Such dreams come with an obsessive desire to get somewhere, do something, and Drew remained trapped in the halls of nightmare-Durrett, when he only wanted to get back to the safety of his garage. And he could not. The way there was barred to him. Every way was barred to him. And ultimately, something was after him, trying to pull away the books he carried. It got most of them, ripping them into confetti. He saved his Tolkien books, though hands snatched at him from dark recesses, and he found that even his strong arms were beginning to get overburdened by the attacks. And all he could do was dodge the grasping hands of shadow that sought to steal his books.
The hands came out of the shadows, where a pale face leered at him as it grasped his copy of The Lord of the Rings, just about to tear if from his fingers. He yelled out, and it became a sound in the waking world; it became Kyle’s voice crying out in alarm. It was his living voice, too, not the disembodied one, for it was raw from not having been used. Drew was sure of it, even through the fog of sleep. And as his eyes adjusted to the meager light, he rose to his feet to look at a strange tableau: Dr. Stevenson stood with eyes wide in terror, while in his right hand was a syringe. He faced the side of Drew’s bed. Drew realized in a flash that MaryBeth’s father had come to inject him with the same sick poison that was killing Kyle Jensen.
Drew was sure it was Stevenson, despite the growth of stubble on his face and the rough, dark clothing he wore to sneak into the house. But Kyle had gone back onto the wrack of his diseased brain and emaciated body to come to Drew’s aid. He sat upright in his bed leaning out, with both of his hands locked on to Stevenson’s wrist. His hands locked and squeezed so hard that Drew thought he could hear the bones in the doctor’s arm cracking. But for Stevenson, Drew saw, the doctor’s worst pain was looking in Kyle’s staring eyes, just inches away. Kyle’s gaunt face held eyes of purest intent. He did not want to kill but to see the eyes of his killer, and under their gaze, Stevenson, who could not look away, began to moan, as though he looked into the vast well of emptiness and saw the darkness of his fear-driven heart.
Kyle’s dry lips cracked opened and with the last strength of his body, he whispered,
“I loved her. I forgive you,”as the bones of Stevenson’s wrist shattered under Kyle’s steel grip. He let go and collapsed into Drew’s arms, as Stevenson’s moans became a strangled cry.
Mary Beth screamed from the doorway and ran to Kyle’s side. Drew pried the syringe from his attacker’s hand and hurled it onto his bed. Kyle collapsed, falling into Drew’s arms. Stevenson cried out once, and dropped atop the syringe on the bed, yelling wordlessly before he, too, fell silent. A tumult of voices rose in the house.
When Drew rolled him over, the empty syringe protruded from Stevenson’s chest. Drew felt for a pulse in the man’s arm, then in his neck, and found nothing. MaryBeth moved to hold Drew and Kyle both in her arms. She shivered and cried while she held them and would not let them go.
Knowing them now, most people would never know what Drew and MaryBeth went through in the years since 1970. They would not know that Kyle died on the morning of Halloween that year, for that was long ago, and people don’t have the luxury of always being around. Some may wonder how they have stayed together all these years, through the ups and downs, through school, and work and kids. Some may marvel at the love that a beautiful woman has for a brutal looking man, but that doesn’t matter in the presence of miracles. However, hope, sacrifice, and love never go away, though they bind us together, flying in the face of time.