In the aftermath of the Homecoming Dance, a great rift has opened between Mark and Blake, one that began with the refusal of a dance. New alliances are strengthened and old ones reinforced. Mark makes his choice when he decides to move out of the Davis home, back to George’s house… and Todd. Clay does his best to give Blake what he needs, even if that should entail choosing Mark. Todd’s mother steps in to nurse George back to health, and that bond only deepens. Will Mark do what he just told Blake he couldn’t, and give Todd his ring? Will Clay show Blake that he’s the better man? And will new student Taylor Andrews throw a monkey wrench into Mark’s plans in ways he can’t even imagine?
New alliances will be forged and tested, and emotions will run rampant in ways no one has foreseen.
Mark Wittington could barely see, his vision blurry with hot tears. He’d just broken up with his boyfriend, Blake, at the Homecoming Dance. He lost Blake because Mark had refused to come out. Just as he was still reeling from that tragedy, he’d received the crushing news that his grandpa had been rushed to the hospital. It was all too much for the teenager to bear.
His longtime childhood friend, Todd Benson, held his arm firmly on one side, and Todd’s mother, Katie, held the other as they guided him out of New Liberty High School and into the parking lot.
“Did you say they’re taking him to Madison General Hospital?” Mark still couldn’t wrap his head around the news. He couldn’t seem to retain information for longer than a minute at a time.
“Yes, it’s the closest one. You two be careful. Todd, call me. Mark, I’m so sorry, honey.”
Mark shook his head. “Thanks, Mrs. B.”
Todd never relinquished his hold on Mark. He guided him to his pick-up and helped him inside the cab, then raced around to his side and started it up. He rubbed Mark’s quivering shoulder. “Shhh…it’ll be all right. George’s a tough old codger.”
“Todd…it’s more than that. Blake and I broke up.” Just saying the words made it all real. It’d been Mark’s choice, though. He could’ve turned it all around, but out of fear, he’d chosen not to. That decision had broken both his heart and Blake’s, and now he sat in the aftermath of regret.
“Oh my god…Mark, I’m so sorry.”
“Now this, with Grandpa…what the hell, Todd? I don’t even know what’s wrong with him!”
“We’ll find out real soon. Calm down, we’ll get there.” He patted Mark’s shoulder and offered him a smile.
Mark looked at the clock. It was almost nine PM. Two hours ago, he and Blake had been happily joking around, trying to pin flowers on each other, posing for photos, line dancing. Now…there was only heartbreak and pain…and that included his surly grandfather, George Wittington, seventy-one years old. His mind spun at the thought of a hundred different ailments the old man might have. He shut his eyes to stop the dizzying onslaught.
This was his second trip to Madison today. The first had been for a far happier reason—he’d gone to reserve a motel room for his and Blake’s use after the dance. A surprise for his boyfriend. And he’d bought him a gift for his birthday, too, while he was there—a book of poetry by his namesake, William Blake. He tried not to think about these things, but they wore a path through his brain, one that wouldn’t end. It seemed like forever until the brilliantly lit signs that indicated the hospital entrance finally came into view. They pulled into the ER parking lot and ran inside.
Mark rushed to the nurses’ station which dominated the emergency room lobby. Other people sat in rows of chairs, but he ignored them, intent on the woman behind the desk. “Excuse me, my grandfather was just rushed here. George Wittington.”
The slim, black lady cocked her head and looked at the charts on the desk before her. “Yessir, he was just brought in a few minutes ago. You say you’re his grandson?”
“Yes, ma’am. Mark Wittington.”
“Give us a few minutes to take a look at him, then we’ll call you. Have a seat.” She waved to the chairs. Mark glanced at them, then back to her.
“Is he all right?” He had to know or he felt like he just might die.
“I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to give out that information. Someone will be with you as soon as they can.”
Todd put an arm about Mark’s shoulder, and together they found two seats as isolated from the rest of the waiting patients as they could get.
Mark slumped back against Todd, closing his eyes. His stomach churned, his head hurt, and the lights seemed overly bright to his suddenly sensitive eyes, especially after the dimness of the dance hall, and then the darkness they’d driven through.
Todd kept talking to him. He wasn’t even sure what the other boy was saying, but it didn’t matter. Just the sound of his voice was keeping Mark sane. It felt like forever, but it might have been forty-five minutes when the nurse called him back up to the desk.
“He’s in room ten, right around the corner. You can go on back now.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” He cast a quick glance at Todd, who was right behind him. “Coming?”
“Yeah, of course.”
They hurried through the emergency room doors, counting the rooms, found the room in question and walked in. There Mark’s grandfather lay in the bed, a very large splint on his leg and a few bandages scattered about his arms and face. Mark rushed to his bedside. He wanted to hug him, but he was afraid to hurt him.
“What happened, Grandpa?”
“Hey, Mark! Todd, how are you, boy?”
“Just fine, sir. The question is—how are you?”
“What happened?” Mark repeated, desperate to know. He carefully sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at the menacing splint.
“Broke my confounded leg on that damn step. Remember the one you always skipped over? Well, it musta run outta time, ‘cause it collapsed like a pile of feathers under my foot.”
“What were you doing out in the dark, Grandpa?” Mark wanted to know.
“The damn light went out. Musta been a sign. I took a step and my leg shot straight on through. Sent me to the ground, face first, but my leg stayed behind. Hurts like the devil, it does!”
“Did they give you anything for the pain?”