Someday Out Of the Blue

By LittleBuddhaTW


Special thanks to Kitty (PiscesRising) from for editing!





When Ryan and I ran into the hospital, I was once again accosted by the strong smell of disinfectant. And added to the intense sense of anxiety and trepidation I was already feeling, it was like hitting a brick wall of nightmares and bad memories. But the knowledge that something was wrong with Toby was enough to make me suck it up, grow a set, and keep running, with Ryan hot on my tail.

I had been a little disappointed in myself when I had woken up Ryan that morning and told him that his mom called and said we had to get down to the hospital right away. For some reason, I was half-expecting him to say it was "no big deal" or something like that. He'd been acting so weird lately that I wasn't really sure what to expect from him anymore.

But he surprised me, and was out of bed, dressed, and in his car even faster than I was. I'd never seen him drive like such a lunatic, either, running through several red lights and almost getting blindsided by a bread truck on the drive over to the hospital. Fortunately, though, we ended up making it there in one piece.

Maggie was waiting for us by the reception desk, and she looked almost as terrible as I was feeling. Just from the expression on her face, I could tell that it was very bad news. But after running across the parking lot and dodging people left and right as we ran through the halls, I was so out of breath that I couldn't speak. The fact that I was on the verge of a full-scale panic attack wasn't helping, either, and I felt as though I might faint at any moment.

"Where's Toby?" Ryan demanded. "What's going on? Where's my brother?"

Again, I was surprised at how upset Ryan was. It was like he'd made a 180 degree shift in personality since the night before. Perhaps I'd underestimated him.

I was still gasping for air and couldn't say a word, so I was just waiting for Maggie to reveal the bad news ... that Toby was dead. I was almost certain that I'd have a complete mental breakdown once I heard those words come out of her mouth, and was hoping that she had the sedatives at the ready. I would be needing them.

"Boys, let's go into the waiting room over there and talk," she said, her voice sounding tired and sad. But she wasn't bawling her eyes out like I'd have expected if she'd just lost her own son. Maybe she got her crying over and done with before we got there, or maybe she was just trying to put on a brave face for us.

"Just tell us now," Ryan demanded, his voice beginning to crack.

"Come on now, boys. Just come with me and I'll explain everything," she said.

She ushered us into the waiting room, Ryan following along impatiently, and motioned for us to sit down on the sofa.

"What's happened to Toby?" I finally managed to spit out. "Where is he? What's wrong? Is he ok?"

The questions were just flowing out of my mouth like word vomit. I wanted answers, and I wanted them now!

"Toby's fine," Maggie said, with a forced smile. "We finally managed to get his fever under control. He's still very weak, and has a slight fever, but he's doing much better now."

"Couldn't you have told us that over the phone, instead of worrying us sick and us almost getting into a car wreck on the way over here?" Ryan asked, obviously very unhappy with his mother.

While Ryan seemed angry, I was just relieved. Toby wasn't dead! But it wasn't exactly Maggie's fault that we had panicked and almost gotten ourselves killed.

"Uhhh ... Ry," I said sheepishly. "I kind of freaked out as soon as I heard your mom say 'it's serious,' and hung up the phone. I'm sorry."

"It's ok, sweetie," Maggie said, gently patting my knee. "Toby isn't the reason I called you down here, anyway, boys."

As she was talking, Maggie wiped a stray tear from her face with the back of her hand. If Toby was ok, then why was Maggie so upset? Toby wasn't gone ... that was supposed to be good news!

"Then what the hell's going on?" Ryan practically shouted.

"Sweetie, it's Mikey. He was in a serious car accident and was brought in shortly after midnight," she said.

"What? Is he ok? What happened?" I asked, my panic returning in full force. What the hell could have happened? And why was Mikey out driving after midnight? Wasn't he supposed to be grounded?

"Boys, the doctors worked on him for several hours, trying to repair the damage, but we lost him. I'm so sorry," she said, as more tears flowed down her face.

WHAT?!?! Mikey was dead? How in the hell could this have happened?!  It was such a surprise, so unexpected, that my brain was having trouble processing this new information. I had myself all worked up and prepared to hear the devastating news about Toby. How could it be Mikey? I had just seen Mikey the day before at school. Sure, he was still depressed and withdrawn and all ... but he was alive! However, I felt incredibly torn inside. I was ecstatic that Toby was alive, but at the same time, totally heart-broken that Mikey was gone. I didn't really know what I should be feeling at that moment.

I looked over at Ryan, and he was as white as a sheet, his eyes completely blank. Before I could reach over to grab his hand, he fell off of the sofa onto the ground and started wailing. I'd never heard such a horrible, high-pitched, heart-wrenching sound before, nor had I ever seen him break down like this. It sounded almost inhuman. And it terrified me. I was the one who was supposed to be having the breakdown, not Ryan!

My concern for my boyfriend outweighed anything else I was feeling at the moment, so I jumped off the sofa and rushed to Ryan's side, wrapping him in a tight hug and holding on to him as he sobbed and shook uncontrollably. As soon as Maggie joined us on the floor and wrapped her arms around both of us, the waterworks began to flow freely from my eyes as well, with Maggie the only one holding us together at that moment.

Our hysterics weren't stopping, so Maggie announced that she was going to give each of us a Valium and put us in a room for a few hours to calm down. Then, she said, there was a police officer who needed to speak with us, and he would explain everything. Even though I wanted to know what had happened right away, I also knew that in my current state, I probably wouldn't have been able to focus on what he was saying. I knew I needed to get it together first.

And Ryan ... what was I going to do about him? How could I take care of my boyfriend when I was such an emotional wreck, too? And what about the rest of our friends? And why in the hell did we need to talk to the police? Maggie said it was a car wreck, and we obviously hadn't been there. We were both sound asleep in bed. In fact, we hadn't seen Mikey since the day before at school So what could this possibly have to do with us? It was all just too much to think about, my brain churning a hundred miles a minute ... and when it finally became too much to take, I fainted.




When I woke up, I was lying on a hard cot in a dimly lit room. I felt a little groggy, but not too bad. I turned my head to look around and saw Ryan on a cot next to me. His eyes were open, but he was just lying there staring at the ceiling. Unfortunately, I realized that none of what had happened that morning had been a dream. Mikey was dead.

I felt slightly calmer than before, no doubt as a result of something they had given me. Since Ryan was no longer in hysterics, he'd most likely received the same medication. But despite my feeling calmer, the pain and sadness I felt was still there, ripping my heart to shreds. Mikey had been one of my best friends, and we'd grown even closer over the past couple of months. And he was Ryan's best friend.

As all of these thoughts and emotions were running through my head, the door to the room opened and I saw Maggie poke her head in.

"Are you two feeling any better?" she asked gently.

"Yeah, I think so," I said.

"Good. Now why don't you come with me, and you can speak with the detective. He'll fill you in on what happened, and he also has some questions for you," she said.

I felt my head swim a bit when I got up off my cot, but managed to steady myself. I noticed that Ryan still wasn't moving, so I went over to help him up. He didn't resist, but he didn't help much, either. It was almost as if he'd become catatonic. I hooked my arm around his, and led him out of the room. He was walking on his own, but he just seemed ... gone. It was scary.

After leading us quickly through a maze of hallways, Maggie showed us into what appeared to be a small, sparsely decorated office, with nothing more than a metal desk and several chairs. Sitting at the desk was a familiar face -- Detective Franz, the police officer who had been working on my rape and assault case. We hadn't heard much from him in a while, as they hadn't come up with any leads yet as to who my assailant had been.

"Connor Matthews, it's good to see you again," the scruffy looking detective said. "I hear you're in a good place now. I'm very happy for you. I just wish we could be meeting again under better circumstances.

I just nodded and helped Ryan sit down on one of the uncomfortable-looking chairs, and then took my own seat next to him.

"So can you tell us what happened?" I asked. Part of me was curious, but another part wasn't so sure I really wanted to know.

Detective Franz began shuffling some papers around on the desk, then took a sip of coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. He looked about as tired as the rest of us.

"Well, I'll tell you what the facts are as we know them right now, based on what I gathered from the deceased's parents," he began.

"His name is ... was ... Mikey," I interjected, somewhat angrily.

The detective just nodded and gave me a weak smile.

"Anyway," he continued. "There was apparently a pretty serious fight between Mikey and his parents at around midnight. Lots of yelling, screaming, and throwing things. Shortly thereafter, Mikey ran out of the house, got into his car, and drove off. About thirty minutes later, a passing motorist called 9-1-1 to report a car had slammed into a telephone pole. When the paramedics arrived, Mikey was in pretty bad shape. He was already unconscious and barely clinging to life. He was still alive when they brought him to the hospital, but the doctors were unable to save him. The internal damage his body sustained was too serious. I'm very sorry."

I was too stunned to speak, and as I glanced over at Ryan, he was just staring at the blank wall.

"We're not sure yet whether to classify his death as an accident or suicide," Detective Franz said. "That's why I wanted to talk to the two of you, since you were very close to him, and we know that he confided a lot in you recently."

"It doesn't really matter which one it was, though," I shouted. "Whether it was an accident or he killed himself, it was his fucking parents who drove him to it, just because they don't like that their son is a faggot. Those goddam fucking bastards!"

"Calm down now, Connor," the detective said gently. "His parents are also very distraught over this whole thing. They said the exact same thing you just did. They blame themselves for this. His mother had to be sedated, and his father broke down sobbing hysterically. In fact, his dad even asked to be arrested."

He damn well should be arrested, that fucking sonofabitch! I thought to myself. It was a little too late to feel regret. Mikey was already dead. They should have thought about that before they treated him like shit!

"Do you know if Mikey was contemplating suicide, or did he say anything to you recently, leave a note with you, or anything like that?" the detective prodded.

"He mentioned it briefly to me one time, the night his parents found out he was gay and threw him out of the house," I said, not even trying to keep the disdain from my voice. "But I don't think he was serious. He was just really upset. And I made him promise that he would never, ever do anything like that."

"Thanks for that information, Connor," Detective Franz said. "Right now, we're leaning in the direction of calling this an unfortunate accident. He was obviously very upset when he left, and that may have caused him to drive recklessly. There was no suicide note found, and the preliminary analysis of the forensic evidence on the scene, such as tire marks, leads us to believe that it was probably just that ... an accident. Unfortunately, since there were no eyewitnesses, we may never know for sure."

I didn't think Mikey would have committed suicide. It wasn't like him. But for some reason, that wasn't really important to me, since I'd already convinced myself that he had been killed by his parents, whether he drove into that telephone post intentionally or not. That's all I could think about at that moment. And I was pissed! I hoped they had police officers around Mikey's parents, because if I saw them, I was gonna open up a can of whoop-ass and lay the smackdown on them!

Because of their ignorance and hatred, they had taken a wonderful, beautiful person from this world ... and for nothing. It was their fault, but since it was just an "accident," they would never be punished for what they had done. They would get to go on living their lives, and Mikey would never get to enjoy his. He didn't even get to enjoy it while he was alive. His parents had made sure of that, ever since they found out that he was gay ... and even before that, since they forced him to live in an environment where he couldn't be open about who he really was.

"And since I've got you here already, Connor," the detective interjected, "I just wanted to let you know that we're still working on your case. We've come up with a few new leads recently, and we're checking them out. However, they're out-of-state, so it may take a while, having to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies and the FBI."

"Do you think you're gonna catch the guy?" I asked. Even though I was more worried about Ryan and Toby, I was still curious as to what was going on with my case. I hadn't heard any news in a while.

"We're doing our best, Connor," he answered. "We'll let you know as soon as we have something more substantial."

"Thanks," I mumbled. I didn't like the thought of that man continuing to run around free. I wasn't so much afraid of him coming after me again. As far as I knew, he didn't know my name, nor where I lived. But I was scared of what he might do to other kids out there.

As Detective Franz walked us to the door of the small office, he put his hand on my shoulder and spoke softly to me.

"Connor, it looks like your friend is having a tough time dealing with this."

I didn't know exactly what to tell him. How could anyone not be having a tough time dealing with something like this?

"Well, I'm sure he's in good hands with you and Dr. McCormack," he said, with a sympathetic smile.

Exiting the office, I noticed Mikey's parents sitting in the waiting room, holding each other and crying. I couldn't bring myself to feel any pity for them, though. Sure, maybe now they regretted it. Maybe now they realized how stupid, closed-minded, and bigoted they'd been. Maybe now they realized that a parent's love should be unconditional. But it was too late for that. Mikey was gone, and no matter how bad they felt about what they'd done, nothing would ever, ever bring him back.

When we met back up with Maggie in the cafeteria, it was shortly after ten o'clock, so I figured we'd be missing school that day. Ryan was still out of it, and I had to hold on to him as we were walking, help him sit down, and try to get him to drink some coffee. Even the hot liquid didn't seem to help him snap out of it.

"How're you boys holding up?" Maggie asked.

"Not so good. I'm not sure if it's really even hit me yet ... but I'm worried about Ryan. He hasn't said a word since we woke up. He just seems really out of it," I answered.

Maggie stood up and walked over to stand in front of Ryan, then took a pen light out of her lab coat pocket and shined it in Ryan's eyes. He blinked at the bright light, so he was obviously still with it ... sort of ... but he didn't say anything. I was starting to get extremely worried. Why wasn't he talking? Why hadn't he shown any kind of reaction at all since we'd woken up?

"Ryan, sweetie?" Maggie prodded him gently, placing her hands on either side of Ryan's face and looking him in the eyes. "Can you tell me how you're feeling?"

I could hear Ryan take a breath and let it out slowly, but he made no other response, and his eyes appeared glazed over. If I wasn't still feeling the effects of the medication the doctor had given me earlier, I probably would have had a panic attack right then.

Maggie smoothed back Ryan's hair and kissed him on the cheek. As she turned back toward me, I could hear the exhaustion in her voice.

"Connor, honey, keep an eye on him. He's probably just very upset right now, with everything going on with Toby and now Mikey. But if he doesn't snap out of it later, I'll have someone come check on him."

I nodded and then asked, "Does Toby know about Mikey yet? Can we go see him?"

"Yeah, I told Toby while you boys were talking with the detective. He took it really hard. I didn't want to tell him, considering the condition he's in right now, but I felt I had to. You boys can go see him if you want."

When we got to Toby's room, with me half-carrying, half-dragging Ryan the whole way, we found him sitting up in bed. Other than the fact that he was sobbing softly, he did look a little better than the day before. He wasn't sweating profusely, and a little color had returned to his face. But he still looked very weak and sickly.

I sat Ryan down in one of the comfy chairs, wondering if I was going to end up having an invalid for a boyfriend, and then made my way over to sit down next to Toby on his bed. Neither of us said a word, just immediately grabbed a hold of each other and began sobbing loudly again. I had no idea how long we sat there, clinging to each other as if for dear life.

Mikey had been very special to Ryan and me, but in some ways, he'd had an even deeper relationship with Toby. I couldn't even imagine how hearing the news had hit Toby, especially considering his already fragile state. I also wondered who was going to break the news to the rest of our friends. Although I really didn't want to, Ryan and Toby obviously weren't in any condition to do that right now.

I eventually let go of Toby and stepped out into the hall to make a few phone calls, leaving messages on everyone's cell phones to call me as soon as they got off for lunch. Natalie was the first one to call me, but even though they were all sitting together in the cafeteria at school, I insisted on speaking to each of them individually. For some reason, it seemed like the right thing to do. But nothing could have ever prepared me for how difficult that task would be.

As could be expected, everyone was totally devastated, and there were lots and lots of tears. I had no idea how, or if, any of us could recover from losing one of our best friends. There would always be an empty place there, not just at the lunch table, but every time we hung out together, as well as in all of our hearts. It seemed to me that a wound like that would never heal.

I also couldn't help but feel that I had somehow failed to save Mikey. I should have tried to do more. It gave me some comfort, though, that the twins shared my feelings in that respect. They also blamed themselves for not doing more or pushing their mom to do something to get Mikey out of there. But I couldn't hold them responsible. I only blamed myself, and I especially blamed Mikey's parents.

We ended up spending the rest of the day with Toby. It was probably one of the most miserable days of my life. Ryan hadn't said a single word the whole time. It was like he had completely shut down. Toby and I both cried off and on throughout the day. The only good news was that Toby was feeling better. His doctors seemed to think he was out of the woods for now and would be able to begin his treatments again soon. But I was still worried about him.

The chance of Toby dying was still there, looming over us, even though Maggie had said that other than his recent episode, it appeared that he had been responding to his treatments pretty well, and they would know more in a few weeks when they ran some more tests. If the results were good, they could reduce the medication, and he would start to feel better. We could only hope.

I took a short break from my bedside vigil with Toby and made my way to the hospital's small chapel. I wasn't sure how I ended up there, because I'd never been religious, and I'd had my fair share of "disagreements" with God over the years. He had abandoned me. Even so, I still held out a little hope that He wouldn't abandon the people I loved.

The next thing I knew, I found myself kneeling in one of the pews, saying a quiet prayer. That was something I couldn't remember ever having done before.

"Please, God, I don't even know if you're listening, or if you even care about me. Just please watch over Toby and Ryan. I would do anything to protect them, so please don't forsake them like you did with me. If you'll do that, I'll try to find it in my heart to forgive you for all the shit you made me live through for all those years. And if Mikey's up there with you now, please take extra good care of him. He's one of the most wonderful people I know. He's never known love before, and I was just hoping that maybe you could show him what that's like. He doesn't deserve to feel alone anymore. Amen."

After sitting there in quiet reflection for a few more minutes, I got up and made my way back to Toby's room, still not completely believing what I had just done. I had actually prayed.

During the afternoon, one of the psychiatrists that Maggie knew at the hospital came in to check on Ryan. At eight o'clock, as we were getting ready to leave, Maggie handed me a small bottle of pills and told me to give one to Ryan before we went to bed. I was also to take one if I felt myself starting to have another breakdown.

Since Maggie had to continue working -- which, honestly, never bothered me, since I was not the type that like to be mothered, and I still had some issues with women in general, which Dr. Frazier said was to be expected, considering the relationship I had with my own mother -- I drove the two of us home. Once we got there, I had to help Ryan get showered, brush his teeth for him, and put him to bed. I also gave him one of the pills, hoping that would help him sleep a little better. He really was out of it. What was I going to do if he didn't snap out of it soon? How could I take care of both Toby and Ryan all by myself? Sure, Maggie was there, but she was always working, and she was so exhausted herself, I wasn't sure how much more she could take.

After I had tucked Ryan in, I didn't know what to do with myself. I wasn't tired. Part of me felt like I needed to talk to someone, maybe Cody or the twins, or even Natalie. She'd always been one of the most compassionate members of our group and a very good listener. But I was too afraid to leave my boyfriend alone. So I stayed with him to make sure he was okay, although I didn't end up getting much sleep. To say that it had been a horrible day couldn't even being to describe what I was feeing inside ... empty, scared, depressed, and angry. The anger was mostly directed at Mikey's parents.



I hadn't been to a funeral since my grandmother's death, and the thought of having to go through that again was terrifying. It had only been four days since Mikey had died, and those four days were basically a blur. We spent lots of time with Toby, and he and Ryan spent a lot of time hugging. I was glad to see that, especially after weeks of Ryan acting so distant from his brother. But despite that outward display of affection, Ryan still wasn't talking much -- only a few words here and there. And because he was still really sick, Toby would have to stay in the hospital and wouldn't be able to attend Mikey's funeral.

Two days before, I had received a call from Natalie, asking me if I would sing at the funeral. Apparently, Mikey's mom had gone to her and Tuwanda and asked if they would sing a song for Mikey at the funeral. They had agreed, although they insisted that I sing with them, and that I also perform something on my own for Mikey. I wasn't very keen on the idea, since I wasn't sure I could hold myself together enough to do it, but Natalie eventually talked me into it ... or rather, guilted me into it. I also didn't particularly like the idea of doing anything that had been requested by his evil bitch of a mother. I handled that part, though, by telling myself that it was for Mikey, and not for his parents.

I'd been racking my brain, trying to think of what I could sing. I obviously couldn't play something that I would normally play at any other performance, and I'd never performed at a funeral before. I wasn't exactly sure what would be appropriate. By the night before, I still hadn't decided. Of course, I'd considered singing Elton John's "Candle In the Wind," but that would have been too cheesy. I had to come up with something better than that.

As Maggie was helping me tie my tie the morning of the funeral, I saw a pale, haggard, and scared little boy looking back at me in the mirror. I couldn't decide if I was more depressed about Mikey's death, or angry at his parents for having been the cause of it, at least in my mind. Sure, they had shown remorse at the hospital. They had appeared just as devastated as anyone else. But to me, it was too little, too late.

Maggie had taken Ryan and me to the mall the previous night to buy new suits to wear. We got matching black suits, white dress shirts, and ties, although while I'd picked out a subdued, dark purple tie, Ryan had opted for red. That was one suit I was hoping that I would never, ever have to put on again.

"You look very handsome, sweetie," Maggie said, as she finished tying my tie.

"I don't know if I can go through with this," I sighed.

"Sure you can, Connor," she said gently, as she adjusted the knot on my tie and looked me over appraisingly.

Ryan was now able to walk on his own, so we all piled into Maggie's car and made our way over to the Lutheran church where the services were to be held. It was a very large and beautiful building, and even more so on the inside. Even though I wasn't a religious person, I was still able to appreciate the beauty and sanctity of the place as I walked inside. The entire church was decorated with flowers, which filled the room with a sweet scent, and I noticed the Steinway baby grand piano near the front that I would apparently be playing when it came time for my brief performance. The microphone and amplifiers had already been hooked up. I just hoped the piano was in tune.

There were already a lot of people there, all dressed in black, and many of them weeping. I also noticed the closed casket at the front of the church, with a large, smiling photograph of Mikey that appeared to have been taken several years ago sitting on an easel to the right. He looked so happy in that picture, which was such a stark contrast to the way he had been over the past couple of months. I hoped that he was happy again, wherever he was now.

As we began to make our way through the crowds of grieving people to find a pew, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. When I turned to see who it was, I saw Tatyana starting intently at me. I was a little surprised that she was dressed in a very normal-looking black dress. I guess she did have some sense of decorum when it came to certain things. I didn't see Cody, though.

"Uhhh ... hi, Tatyana," I stammered. "Thanks for coming."

"You have an incredible inner strength, friend of Cody," she said, in a commanding tone. "You have it inside of you, but you hide it away and try to deny it. Now is the time to let it out!"

I cringed slightly as I felt her spittle land on my face. She was really worked up.

"I don't know if I can. All of this ... it's just ... it's just too much," I stammered, on the verge of tears again.

Without warning, she slapped me across the face.

"Everything happens for a reason, Connor," she said sharply. "I told you that before. We all have a responsibility, a weight that we must carry for others sometimes. This is part of the weight that you must carry right now. Now do it!"

And with that, she disappeared back into the crowd, leaving me standing there dumbfounded.

After collecting myself and finding the rest of our group, we found several empty seats and sat down, with Ryan seated between Maggie and me. I was pleased when I noticed Cody sit down on my right, although his mother had mysteriously vanished. It was comforting when he held on to my right hand. I was holding Ryan's hand with my left. The difference between the two was very noticeable. While Cody's grip was strong and reassuring, squeezing my hand gently every so often, Ryan's grip felt lifeless, and I doubted if he'd even notice if I took my hand away.

I didn't pay much attention to the funeral service and found myself daydreaming during many of the rites and hymns, partly because I didn't understand them, and also because I was so nervous about my performance. I was a little surprised when the reverend gave his sermon, and it wasn't filled with the kind of "fire and brimstone" I had been expecting. Of course, it was very religious in nature, but in an appropriate way.

Following the sermon, there were several brief and emotional eulogies given by Mikey's parents and friends. Then Natalie, Tuwanda, and I were ushered up to the front of the church, where we proceeded to sing an a capella version of the traditional Christian hymn, "Abide With Me." I wasn't much into religious or spiritual music, but as far as hymns went, I thought it was both beautiful and uplifting. And as we were singing, our three  very different voices blending together in perfect harmony, I noticed how incredible the acoustics in the large church were.

As soon as we finished, I quickly walked over to the piano and sat down, adjusting the microphone. For the first time ever, there was no applause as I got ready to play, but I didn't really expect any either. I was absolutely terrified that I would break down and cry, or hit a wrong note, during my performance. But I realized that Mikey had been strong for me before, when I needed him, so now I needed to be strong for him. I had no other choice. Tatyana was right. And it wasn't just for Mikey. If I could take the burden of all of those people's grief and carry it on my shoulders for just a few minutes, then that was my responsibility, my obligation to Mikey, and my tribute to him.

I hadn't decided on what to sing until we had been sitting in the pews, and it suddenly came to me. I decided to play Elton John's "One More Arrow," a beautiful and touching song about the death of Elton's lyricist's, Bernie Taupin's, father. It was an exceptionally difficult piece to perform, as it was sung almost entirely in falsetto. I was literally praying, as I sat there preparing to play, that I could sing that high and my voice wouldn't crack. But it was such a perfect song, with incredibly moving lyrics. I couldn't think of anything more appropriate to sing for Mikey.

He said I want to grow up
And look like Robert Mitchum
And I hope that when I'm gone
There'll be some say that I miss him
He must have been romantic
He must have sensed adventure
And I feel the steel of his strong will
In the frame around his picture

And he's one more arrow flying through the air
One more arrow landing in a shady spot somewhere
Where the days and nights blend into one
And he can always feel the sun
Through the soft brown earth that holds him
Forever always young

He could have been a boxer
But the fight game seemed so dirty
We argued once, he knocked me down
And he cried when he thought he'd hurt me
Strictly from the old school
He was quiet about his pain
And if one in ten could be that brave
I would never hate again ...

Each time my left hand struck the bass line, I could feel it reverberate throughout the entire room, sending chills up and down my spine. The acoustics really were amazing, and the sound of the piano and my voice filled the entire room. The song turned out to be perfect, and my voice didn't crack once. I didn't break down while I was singing, either, but as soon as I finished playing the last chords, the tears finally came, and Cody had to rush over and help me back to my seat.

With Ryan totally out of it, and Toby still sick, I'd had a feeling I'd end up needing to lean on Cody quite a bit. And it was incredible how strong he was being, even after basically being dumped by Toby, who he had admitted to being in love with. That boy never ceased to amaze me. He was the most selfless person I knew. But after singing the most vocally challenging song I had ever attempted, the first thing I could think about was having a cigarette ... which was strange, since I didn't even smoke. But I really needed one right about then.

After the show, many people -- most of whom I didn't know at all -- came up to me to tell me how beautifully I sang and played the piano. I was just glad that I hadn't screwed up, and I didn't feel like dealing with flattery at that moment. I needed to get out of there and go home. I was so emotionally drained, and I wanted to go to my room, by myself, and cry until I had no more tears left to shed.

I saw Dominic on the way out of the church, and he looked just about as miserable as I felt. He had really liked Mikey, but because of the circumstances, he had never had the opportunity to pursue the kind of relationship he had wanted with him. I felt that I needed to say something to Dominic, but I couldn't find the words. So I just nodded at him and attempted a weak smile as we passed each other.

Then I walked out the door and quickly headed toward the parking lot so I could get home and have a good, long cry. I hoped that one day soon I would be able to find the right words to say to Dominic, though. God only knew what he was feeling, and how he was reacting to all of this. It was all just too fucking much, and life was just so fucking unfair.

As Ryan and I got into the car, I noticed a pack of Toby's cigarettes on the floor of the passenger's side. Without even thinking, I grabbed one and lit it up. After coughing and choking a few times, I eventually got the hang off it, and inhaled several deep drags. Smoking was one of the worst possible things for my singing voice, but I needed it so badly right then. I had never smoked before in my life, and Ryan knew that, but as I sat there puffing away, he didn't even flinch.



As if having to perform at Mikey's funeral wasn't difficult enough, playing at the school's memorial service for Mikey, on the second to last day before summer vacation, was going to be just as hard ... or worse. I wouldn't even have agreed to do it if it hadn't been for Cody offering to perform a song with me. When the band director, Mr. Johnson, came and asked me what kind of stage arrangements I needed, I was too out of it to know how to reply. Fortunately, Cody jumped in and told him to have the Kurzweil digital piano set up in the center of the stage, with a single, soft white spotlight shining on me and the piano. Simple and tasteful. Once again, Cody was there to save the day.

Natalie had taken care of my outfit, taking one of my black suits that I usually wore for my performances and stitching a beautiful, intricate flower pattern on the right sleeve. Underneath that, I wore a plain black shirt, along with a black Nehru hat and plain black sunglasses. I was almost positive that I was going to start crying again, and I didn't want anyone to see my tears.

The one thing that I could be happy about that day was that Toby had been released from the hospital, and Maggie was allowing him to attend the school's memorial service since he couldn't be at Mikey's funeral. As I peered out from the side of the stage, I saw Toby and all of our friends sitting in the front row. Ryan was there, too, and Toby was holding his hand tightly. He still looked completely lost.

After speeches from the principal, some of Mikey's teachers, and a few of his classmates and friends, the principal announced that I would be performing a couple of songs in remembrance of Mikey.

As the lights in the auditorium dimmed, the slow, melancholy synthesized orchestral introduction that Cody had helped me to pre-program began to play, the wistful, sad melody playing over the speakers. When the introduction began to fade, I made my way onto the stage and walked over to the piano, barely noticing the polite applause from the audience.

I sat down at the piano and adjusted the microphone, as usual, although I didn't need it yet, since I started in immediately on a beautiful yet sad instrumental piece by Elton John, "Song For Guy," with the synthesized orchestral effects from the MIDI player, combined with the slow, haunting melody, creating an ethereal effect. I kept my eyes closed as I played, my fingers gliding smoothly across the keys, and letting the haunting music take me to another place, the place that I retreated to whenever things got to be too much for me to handle.

When the song ended and I was brought back to reality, Cody came onto the stage, carrying his acoustic guitar, and sat on a stool by the piano. I didn't want to perform the same song I had done at the funeral. In fact, considering how emotional of an experience that was for me, I didn't think I would ever be able to play that song again. Instead, we had chosen an incredibly moving song by Beth Nielsen Chapman, "Sand and Water." As Cody and I began to play the opening chords, we were in perfect harmony, and I began to sing the touching, heart-felt lyrics with as much passion and emotion as I could, without driving myself to the point of tears.

All alone, I didn't like the feeling
All alone, I sat and cried
All alone, I had to find some meaning
In the center of the pain I felt inside

All alone, I came into this world
All alone, I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water, and a million years gone by

I will see you in the light of a thousand suns
I will hear you in the sound of the waves
I will know you when I come, as we all will come,
Through the doors, beyond the grave

All alone, I heal this heart of sorrow
All alone, I live each day
Flesh and bone, I'm just
Bursting towards tomorrow
And the love you sent my heart still finds its way

All alone, I came into this world
All alone, I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water, and a million years gone by ...

The song was incredibly poignant, and expressed perfectly how I was feeling at that moment, both about the loss of Mikey, as well as the lesson on the transience of life I had learned from Toby's illness. As we finished, we received a large round of applause, which made me feel uncomfortable. I didn't think applause was appropriate at a time like this. There was absolutely nothing to applaud about.

Cody then left the stage and rejoined our friends in the front row. I managed to find the strength to say a few words into the microphone.

"Thank you so much for coming, everyone. This has been a hard time on all of us, especially those who were closest to Mikey. This next one is from me to all of you. Please don't ever take your friends, or the people you love, for granted."

I then started in on an extremely slow, melancholic, and soulful rendition of Dionne Warwick's famous "That's What Friends Are For," filled mostly with synthesized strings from the MIDI player, while I just played some simple chords and melody, and sang -- although by that point, from straining my voice so hard singing falsetto at Mikey's funeral, and from performing the previous song, my voice sounded a little raspy. But the raw sound of my vocals, accompanied with the stirring effects of the synthesized strings and stripped-down melody, seemed to add even more passion and angst to the song. When I finally finished, the audience gave another loud round of applause, rising to their feet. Again, I thought it was undeserved and unnecessary. I quickly bowed in acknowledgment and made my way off the stage, breaking down into tears once again as soon as I was out of view.

After that, I vowed never to perform on stage again.




Between the news of Mikey's death, the funeral, the memorial service at school, and now Toby finally coming home, I was drained, physically and emotionally. But not even I could compare to the mess that Ryan had become. Somehow, we all managed to make it through our finals, including Toby, even though the idiotic principal decided that it would be alright to interrupt them with the memorial service. Ryan didn't do so hot, but he still managed to pass. I was surprised that he was even able to take his finals, considering the condition he was in.

The atmosphere around the school those last few days before the summer vacation was thick with grief. The school had arranged to have extra counselors come in to talk with any students who needed it. It was mostly girls who went to see them, but there were a few boys who did, too. Surprisingly, even the homophobe jerks who had given Mikey and some of the other gay kids a hard time kept their mouths shut during those few days. Everyone just seemed to be walking around in a daze.

Mikey hadn't been the most popular kid in school, and he wasn't a jock or anything, but because of his sweet personality -- and good looks -- he was well-known and liked, despite the few jerks who gave him a hard time occasionally about being the "school fag." And since to many people he wasn't just some face in the yearbook, but someone with whom they had had some sort of personal contact over the past two years, that made it even more difficult. The kids in GSA were probably upset the most, and Miss Oh had a counselor come in to talk to everyone during our final meeting.

And ever since the day Mikey had died, Ryan had become unusually clingy. I didn't mind at all, but it wasn't really like him. Usually, I was the one who clung to him. But now, he was stuck to me like super glue wherever I went. The problem was, he still wasn't saying much. I knew that he needed to talk and get whatever it was off his chest, but whenever I tried to ask him what he was thinking or feeling, he clammed up. But I wasn't stupid, and I knew that eventually the dam would burst. I just wasn't sure how bad it was going to be when it did.

Maggie was also worried about Ryan's condition and asked me if I had any suggestions as to how to handle it. I was a little surprised that she would ask me, considering that she was a doctor, and I wasn't in exactly the most stable of emotional states at the time, either. Maybe that's because I actually talked about how I was feeling with Toby, Cody, the twins, and Tatyana.

"I don't really understand why you're asking me about this," I said to Maggie, when she brought the subject up.

"Well, I feel really bad about this, Connor, but ever since Toby's diagnosis, I haven't really been paying attention to much besides work and taking care of him. I think you know what's going on with Ryan right now a lot better than I do," she said, looking guilty.

"He has his psychiatrist that he goes to see once a month because of his ADD, right?" I asked.

"Yes, but that doctor specializes in ADD. I'm not sure he'd be the best at handling this," she said. "Maybe I should look into finding someone else for him to go to."

"I don't know," I said hesitantly. "He still hasn't had a whole lot of time to get over it. Maybe we should wait another week or two and see if he snaps out of it. Plus, I don't think he'd be all that willing to go see another shrink."

And so that was that. We decided to try the "wait and see" approach, but I wasn't convinced that would work. I was really worried during those first couple of weeks. On top of that, even though Toby was home from the hospital, he was still sick, and had just gotten another strong dose of chemotherapy, making him sick all over again. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as the last time, but I now had to divide my time between tending to him and keeping an eye on Ryan.

On the bright side, Ryan seemed to have gotten over his denial issues with Toby and had started spending more time with him. He wasn't really talking to him, but at least he wasn't avoiding him when he was sick. Most of the time he just sat quietly in Toby's room, watching television with him or spacing out. I was still in charge of emptying Toby's pail and wiping him down with the washcloth.

With everything that had happened, I hadn't really had much of a chance to talk with Cody, either -- except for at the funeral and memorial service at school -- and I was worried about how he was dealing with his apparent break up with Toby. Although nothing had been confirmed by either of them, from what I had witnessed in the hospital that day, I assumed that's what had happened. So I felt like I should try to be there for him, but at the same time, I needed him, too.

And in addition to all of these people that I had to worry about, I was also getting ready to start my job at the piano store in about a week. I'd decided to take a week or two off once school let out, so I could at least have a little breather. I was most definitely in need of one, with all of the stress that had been placed on me. The manager of the piano store turned out to be very flexible and said I could start whenever I was ready. I was hoping that I could get things at home more under control before I began at the store, though. With Maggie working all the time, someone had to be around to keep an eye on Ryan and Toby. If things weren't any better by the time I had to start my job, though, I wasn't sure what we were going to do. It just seemed like things were falling apart all around me.

As for my own grieving, I did that on my own time. I tried to be strong for Ryan and Toby. They weren't in any condition to deal with me. Fortunately, I still had Dr. Frazier to talk to, a few phone conversations with the twins, and I had also moved my Wurlitzer piano into the basement, so I could go down there late at night and play without disturbing anyone. I ended up doing that almost every night after Ryan fell asleep. I'd tip-toe downstairs, tinker away at the piano for a while, and then break down in tears. I wanted to be able to fix everything, but I didn't know how.