Later that night, around 11:30pm
"Be a good boy, now, Johnny. Remember what I told you before? Don't think I haven't forgotten."
His grip on my jaw tightens. Just when I think it's about to shatter he moves his hand down to my neck and squeezes. I choke. His other hand is still pushing against my stomach. He leans forward, resting his forehead on the wall. He's so close, I can feel his jaw move on my cheek when he talks.
"You ruined my life, Johnny. 15 years... you took my life away from me."
I can feel him take a deep breath. I can't breath. My lungs feel like they're going to explode. He lifts his head from the wall and looks at me curiously. Suddenly his face softens and he gives me a small, almost loving smile before leaning in and planting a delicate kiss on my lips. I close my eyes and try to turn away, but he releases his hold on my neck and holds my head in place. I want to die.
"Look at you...so beautiful."
I whimper, and he rewards it with a sharp slap across the face.
"Look at me!"
My eyes shoot open. The soft look is gone, replaced with a look of loathing and malice. And then his hands are on my hips and I'm being pulled from the wall and slammed against a sink. His rough hands spin me around so my sore stomach is pressed against the unyielding porcelain. Oh God, what's happening, what is he doing? I need help. I want to scream, but all I can do is gasp and cough. Fingers are digging into my waist, searching, clawing, pulling. Instinctively, I try to push his hands away. Both our movements are getting desperate. He's against me now, his breath feels hot and disgusting on the back of my neck.
"15 years Johnny...15 years..."
He's trying to pull my scrubs bottoms down, but they're tied too tight. He can't loosen the knot. Please God, don't let this happen. Please...someone help me.
Muffled voices are coming from somewhere, somewhere else...His fingers stop clawing and he stiffens. Suddenly I feel him pull away, there are footsteps and voices. The door knob is rattling, it's opening - shouts, rustling, and he's gone. He's gone.
"Hey, shhhh...it's okay buddy. Shhhh..."
I'm sitting up in bed. I'm out of breath and shaking. I can feel sweat on the back of my neck. My mouth feels like cotton. I was dreaming. I was remembering.
"You okay, little brother?"
Dan is kneeling on the floor next to my bed with a hand on my knee. I nod numbly and rub my face with my hand.
"Sorry...did I wake you up?" I whisper.
"Don't worry about it."
We're both silent for a moment. I can hear a clock ticking somewhere in the apartment and I wonder who else is awake...who else heard me. What did I sound like? My stomach is unwinding itself after waking up in a panic, leaving my limbs feeling heavy. Exhaustion forces me to lie back down. I fling an arm over my eyes and let the other arm hang over the side of my bed.
"Is anyone else awake?"
"I don't think so."
"Were you dreaming about...him?"
"About today? Remembering?"
I nod again.
"How bad was it?"
I swallow. My mouth tastes disgusting. I wish I had some water.
"Could have been worse."
We both know what I mean.
"Is everyone freaking out?" My voice sounds raspy.
Dan sighs. "Don't worry about everyone else, Johnny. Just..." his hand slips into mine, "Just go back to sleep. I'll be right here."
I find that I'm too tired to say anything, so I lightly squeeze his hand in response and allow myself to relax into my pillow. With Dan in the room I feel safe, and I can already feel sleep once again taking over.
"Do you have an extra pillow?"
I blindly reach next to me and throw my extra pillow over the edge of the bed. The muffled "Mmmpf" sound tells me my aim is better than usual, and I got my brother right in the face. Nice.
"Thanks, little brother."
"Shut up and go to sleep."
"Do I have to hold your hand all night?"
"Can I have a blanket?"
"JD, you awake?"
"I heard you talking."
I prop myself up on one elbow and squint into the darkness of my room. I can barely make out Elliot's outline. Even her silhouette looks like a bundle of nervous energy. The clock glows 11:56.
I wonder what she's still doing here. Doesn't she have to work in the morning? Great, now I'm feeling guilty. She's going to lose sleep over this. At least I'm not the only one.
I now have an Elliot shaped lump half on my lap and half on Dan.
"Hey Elliot." Dan sleepily mumbles. "Coming to join us? There's plenty of room next to me, sweet thing."
"Sorry, Dan. What are you doing on the floor?"
"Waiting for you."
Elliot groaned and crawled up onto the bed and flopped down on the other side of me, away from Dan.
"Go back to sleep, Dan." I hiss at him.
"You okay, JD?" Elliot whispers.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I didn't need that leg anyway."
She snorts and lightly swats my arm before wiggling under the covers.
"Yeah, I didn't think so. It's not like you ever use that one anyway."
I chuckle and move my arm to try to swat her back. Instead my hand brushes her hand and she quickly grabs a hold of it. There was something desperate in the movement. The air shifts around us, changing from lighthearted banter to something more solemn. Elliot moves a little, and then she nestles her head against my neck. Her hair tickles my face. I didn't even flinch! I'd do a dance of joy if I wasn't so comfortable right now, snuggled up with one of my favorite people.
"I love you, JD."
My eyes flutter closed against the threat of more tears. I believe her, I really do. And to think I was so convinced I was about to lose her to my nightmare. Here, with me in bed, she's closer to me than she's been for a long time.
"I love you, too..."
She squeezes my hand and I can feel her eyelashes against my neck as she closed her eyes. I smile.
"You guys awake?"
What is with everyone tonight? Oh yeah...stupid question.
Dan groans, Elliot snorts. Were they already drifting off? I'm jealous.
"Yeah, Chocolate Bear. Did we wake you up?"
"Naw, man. I haven't gone to bed yet."
I can't see, but I can tell by the shuffling noises that Turk is making his way over to the bed.
"Move over, Vanilla Bear."
"Hey Elliot, shove over."
We all shimmy across my small bed to make room for Turk who weirdly enough instantly spoons me with an arm draped across my middle. Once again – no flinching! I am so proud of me.
"Don't say it."
"No. We. Are. Not."
"And you're the big spoon."
"Will you two be quiet?!"
"We're not spooning."
"Don't be afraid to love me."
"I'm just trying not to fall off the bed."
"Elliot, move over."
A chorus of groans sound throughout the room. Once again, we all shift around to make room for one more person. I slide my hand around the top of the covers, trying to find Carla. Oooh – there she is! She's squishy.
"Bambi, watch the hands."
"Oops, sorry Carla."
"Johnny, I'm lonely."
"Not on your life, Dan."
Dan sighs dejectedly and I can hear him flop back down onto the floor. I squint at the clock again. 12:17am - officially the next day. If this is what the morning after looks like, than I could almost cry with relief. I was expecting something strained, like avoiding eye contact and awkward conversations. This is…beautiful. Nearly everyone I care about is right here in my room. I'm surrounded by love and acceptance just when I thought it would be miles away. In this moment, I feel almost content...here in the dark, listening to the sounds of my friends and family breathing around me. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I don't know what will change once the sunlight begins to break through the flimsy blinds. I don't know how my friends will look at me then, once the shadows retreat to the corners and I'm exposed and vulnerable. But right now, they're here with me. And they want to be. It's almost perfect. Now if only Dr. Cox -
"Don't even think about it, Newbie."
Author's Note: I'm so sorry this took me forever! Actually, once I sat down and wrote it, it didn't take any time at all. I know it's vastly different than all the other chapters. I wanted something on the lighter side after all the depressing trauma and angst I was throwing around. It's probably the most disappointing thing ever after such a wait...sorry. Hopefully the next chapter will be a little more in keeping with the rest of the story. Thanks for reading!