Friday, June 15, 2007

Paying the Piper

Tuesday, May 29, 2007, 11:59am
St. Francis Hospital

So much for me going to work. I wouldn't have been able to concentrate, anyway.

"I'm just warning you. He doesn't look too good," Tim says as we round the last corner before Chris's room, our shoes squeaking rhythmically across the shiny floor.

I was there, I saw him right after it happened. While it was happening, actually. How bad could he really be?

I make a right turn at room 322 and freeze dead in my tracks, standing statue-still as I feel my skin turn instantly cold.

His face is so hideously bruised that I barely recognize him.

It's funny how the mind works. It will make up all sorts of crazy shit when it really doesn't want to believe something. Why is Chris wearing a mask?, I find myself thinking.

Dad and Janet stop talking and look up at me, their faces a mixture of "I hate you" and "How could you?"

"Hello, Steven," my father manages, finally. He and Janet walk past me and down the hall, with Tim close behind, leaving Chris and I alone.

"Hey, Twinkie," he says, in a scratchy voice.

"D-- did I do this?" I ask.

"It's from my nose. The bruising spread to my face. It happens sometimes. I have a subconjunctival hemorrhage too."


"The whites of my eyes are all bloody. See?" He says, pointing to his face like a young boy showing off a scab.

"Chris, look, I--"

"Steve," he says, in his usual softspoken way, and I stop to listen. "I was miserable. And jealous of what you and Tim have. I was just trying to ruin it so you would be as pissed off as I was."

"When I heard what you did, I--kinda felt like you would have actually done it. That you would have had sex with Tim, if you could have."

"I don't know, man. I wasn't thinking that far ahead. It was very impulsive."

"Well, it hurt to think my brother could do that."

"I don't blame you. I don't blame you for any of this," he says, softly. "I probably deserved it."

He turns his swollen eyes to me, and between the dark purple bruises and his Bassett Hound-like expression, I have to look away.

"I want to make it up to you and Tim. I told her, too. I want to earn your respect back. I mean it."

"Just get better, man."

"I'm trying." He brings a plastic cup to his mouth and takes a shaky sip.

"I guess you told Janet about what you did. Right?"

He nods slowly. "She basically isn't speaking to me. She says if it wasn't for the baby she would have divorced me."

"Did you tell her about--"

"Irene? Do I look retarded to you?"

"No. Bruised, but not retarded."

"Fuck you," he laughs.


"I know everyone is still mad, but I want us to talk things over. If you have something you want to say, say it now," Dad says.

"I--" I begin.

"First of all," Dad says, "Chris, I don't know what the hell got into you, but Tim is just like a daughter to me, and you hurt me just as much as you hurt her and Steve. How could you do such a thing?"

"I'm sorry, Dad. And I already apologized to Tim. And Steve."

"And Steve, since when do you beat up your brother?!" Dad says.

"I was wrong for handling it that way, and I want to say I am sorry for letting the family down. I--"

Obviously he's heard enough from me, and he cuts me off. "Tim, do you have anything you want to say, since you were the victim here?"

"I spoke to Chris, and Steve, and I let them know my concerns."

"Do you forgive them?"

"I... of course I do. I just, Chris kind of surprised me, and Steve--"

"What do you mean, he surprised you?" Janet sneers, sweeping her chestnut hair from her eyes. She stares unflinchingly at Tim, and the rest of us follow suit. The question seems innocent enough, but her voice is pure anger.

"I-- he, just, didn't seem like the kind of person who would do that," Tim says, clearly choosing her words carefully.

"So what does that tell you?" Janet says, staring harder.

"You think this is my fault?" Tim says.

"I can't understand why he would do that!" Janet says, mockingly, batting her eyes at the ceiling. "Gee Tim, could it be the way you were dressed?"

Tim's eyes narrow. "What did you say?"

"You have a nice body! We get it! You don't have to rub our faces in it!"

"It was a pool party!" Tim shouts.

"That doesn't mean you have to walk around with your tits hanging out!" Janet shrieks.

I turn to Chris. He's already looking at me.

Somehow, though his eyes are bloody, I can see the same serene look I've seen five hundred times before, the look of a man who can handle any crisis easily. Without a word, I know it's time to get to work.

I stand up, and to my surprise, Chris does too, swinging his legs briskly over the side of the bed and hopping to his feet in one swift motion. He walks over to Janet, grabbing her raised forearms in his hands. The room falls silent as they hug.

"Let's go for a walk, Tim," I say, and we head for the hallway.