A persistent, annoying sound kept infiltrating my mind. I’d manage to shut it out successfully for a while, only to have it edge its way back in.
What is that noise? Maybe I can find it and make it stop. Ugh—that’ll require opening my eyes and my eyelids feel so heavy. I don’t think they’ve ever felt this heavy.
The beep-beep-beep got louder, or maybe I was just more aware of it. And something smelled strange. Not dirty, but not pleasant either. Like a deep, chemical smell.
What is that? Did we get a new alarm clock? We’ve never needed one. Clark’s body has the amazing ability to know what time it is even when he’s asleep, so he hasn’t ever let us sleep too late.
Maybe I can reach it and make it stop. Don’t need to open my eyes for that, just need to lift my arm. Oh, that feels heavy too. And it aches. Why does my arm ache? It’s not just my arm; my legs hurt too, both of them. And my chest feels so tight, almost like it’s burning. What in the hell is going on?
Clark. I need Clark. He’ll make it better.
I tried to call out to him, but my tongue felt thick and heavy and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton. I forced myself to concentrate every ounce of energy I had on my tongue, my mouth. If I could get just one word out, it’d all be better. He’d make it better.
My voice sounded weak and broken, completely foreign to my ears.
“Oh my God, Noah. Noah? Can you hear me? Are you awake?”
Pain and exhaustion turned into anger in the blink of an eye. That is, if I could blink my eye, which I can’t, because blinking requires opening and opening requires eye strength that I apparently don’t have. Wait, I can lift twice my body weight and I just complained about the strength of my eyelids? Seriously? Anyway, the point is that wasn’t Clark’s voice. Well, the plus side of anger is adrenaline, and that gave me strength for more words.
“What did you do, Ben? Where’s Clark? What did you do to Clark?”
As my brain began to clear, panic gripped me. Deep, breath-stealing, heart-pounding, sweat-inducing panic. I couldn’t move my body, couldn’t open my eyes, and my lover wasn’t there. It was the last one that really terrified me.
“If you hurt him, Ben…I swear I’ll kill you. What in the hell did you do to Clark?”
My voice sounded stronger and the beeping noise was louder, or maybe faster, I wasn’t sure. With significant effort, I finally managed to pry my eyes open.
A dull, grayish shade of white. Everything. The walls, the acoustic tile ceilings, the fluorescent lights, the sheets, they were all a dingy white color.
Where in the hell am I? Television anchored to the wall, a metal tray beneath it, and a door next to that. Coarse, heavy, white sheets covered me. Oh, and don’t forget the beeping. The ever-present beeping.
“I didn’t do anything. You were in an accident, Noah. You’ve been out for weeks. I’ve been so worried. Thank goodness you’re finally awake.”
He grasped my hand and I willed my eyes to focus on my brother’s face. His normally perfect hair was messy, his shirt wrinkled, and his eyes wet with unshed tears. All of those things were unusual for my brother, but what I noticed most of all was that he looked older, not just a so-tired-that-his-face-looks-haggard type of older, though that was there too. But it was more than that. His movie-star face looked years older.
It had been two years since I’d last seen my brother, which would make him, what? Twenty-eight next month, just a couple of months younger than Clark. Did he really age that much in two years? Wait, did he say weeks? I blinked my eyes and made myself focus on what mattered.
“Where is Clark?”
My brother looked anxious and surprised.
“Damn it, Ben! Answer me! What’s wrong with him? Where is he? Was he in the accident? I want to see him. I need to see him. Where is Clark?”
The panic was almost blinding. I couldn’t breathe. Then everything started going black.
There’s no way Clark would leave me alone in a hospital unless he was… No.
I wouldn’t even let myself finish that thought. The beeping was closer together, incessant, almost like one long sound with no separation.
“What’s going on in here? Oh! He’s awake. I’ll page the doctor.”
A portly woman in pink scrubs pushed her way past my brother, reached above my head, and turned a dial on a machine next to me, successfully managing to stop that god-awful beeping noise. Halle-fricken-lujah.
“Mr. Forman? Can you hear me?”
I closed my eyes, forced myself to breath more slowly, then focused on the nurse.
“Of course I can hear you. Please, can you tell me where my partner is? Clark Lehman. Is he a patient here? Is he okay? I need to see him. Please.”
She looked confused, opened her mouth to answer, and then…
“Mr. Forman. It’s wonderful to see you awake. I’m Dr. Garcia.”
A dark-haired man in charcoal dress slacks, a blue button-down shirt, and a white lab coat took a penlight from his pocket and shined it in my eyes.
“Can you follow this light, Mr. Forman?”
The light moved from side to side. I humored him for about five seconds, before I went back to my question.
“Garcia. Dr. Garcia.”
“Right. Listen, Dr. Garcia, I’ll be happy to follow your light or whatever, but first I need someone to tell me where my partner is. I’m starting to freak out here, man. His name is Clark Lehman. He should be here. I know he’d be here if he could. I need to know if something happened to Clark.”
I felt the tears building up behind my eyes. He couldn’t be. Not possible. I’d know it if he was.
I swallowed and forced myself to continue.
“Is he…is Clark dead?”
Even saying the words hurt. An all-consuming, can’t-feel-anything-else, see-no-reason-to-go-on-living kind of hurt. I closed my eyes to ease the pain and fell back into the darkness.