The sunrise over the Organ Mountains was something to behold. They were called the Organs because their soaring peaks resembled the large diapasons of a grand organ. The rainbow of colors that filled the morning sky, from deep violet to intense orange, lifted my spirits and energized me for the coming day. It felt like unbounded pure energy flowing onto and through me.
My own sunrise came on a Monday morning, my first day as a first-year student at New Mexico State University. I wanted to become a Civil Engineer, to create an infrastructure for all the world to use. My work would boldly stand for all to see and not be consigned to some art gallery. I was more than just a little excited.
I didn't have the opportunity to live in a college dormitory because I lived in NMSU's home city, Las Cruces, only minutes from campus. I preferred it this way, though. I wasn't gregarious enough to make new friends instantly nor easily. A few of my friends from high school were now attending NMSU, but most had gone on to jobs in the city or had moved out of state. My best friend, Jesus, was here beginning his classes in Electrical Engineering. I hoped we would have many first-year classes together.
Jesus and I met in the fourth grade and had been friends ever since. His last name was Perez, which was derived from Pedro when they changed first names to surnames. He was actually my best friend all through middle and high school. I'm six foot even and he's only one inch shorter than me. We both have jet black hair and those Hispanic deep brown eyes. His family immigrated from Guadalajara two months before mine from Toluca. Guadalajara is a major city west of Mexico City and rich in Mexican heritage. Toluca is slightly west of Mexico City and practically a suburb of it. I guess you could call us city boys.
I loved Jesus like a brother. I recall one afternoon, when we were both thirteen, we were lying on the slope of A Mountain taking in the afternoon sun. Jesus rolled over toward me and kissed me. I wasn't gay, and it kind of shocked me. I pushed him away and sat up, looking at him.
"No soy gay, Jesus," I said to him.
("I'm not gay, Jesus.")
"Lo siento, Toby. Yo pensé … yo pensé; no sé lo que pensé. Somos mejores amigos, y pensé que tal vez estaría bien."
("I'm sorry, Toby. I thought... I thought, I don't know what I thought. We're best friends, and I thought maybe it would be okay.")
Jesus turned over on his back, turning his head away from me.
"Let's speak English. I'm not gay. I don't care if you are; I really don't care."
I continued looking at Jesus for a moment.
"Please sit up and look at me."
Jesus sat up, and I threw my arms around him.
"Jesus, we're best friends, and I want us to always be."
He started to smile.
"Besides, I kinda liked the kiss," I returned, smiling at him.
We never spoke of it again, and it took a few more years for me to find out if he really was gay.
"Toby," Mom shouted. "Breakfast's ready."
My mom, Consuela, made me a special breakfast this morning for my first day at school, Huevos Rancheros, fried eggs on crispy hot tortillas with a fabulous, heated salsa on top. If you haven't tasted authentic Mexican food, your life will never be complete.
"Ready for your first day?" she asked as I sat down at the kitchen table.
"Ready as I'll ever be. My first class is another Math class, differential equations."
"Don't even tell me what that means," she said. "Better you know than me."
I drove a Ford Taurus. It looked like it'd been through a war, but it ran spectacularly. My dad was an auto mechanic and kept the engine in tip top shape. Jesus didn't have a car, so I agreed to give him a ride to school each morning. He lived only one block from my house, so it was easy for me to pick him up.
I drove to the Electrical Engineering College and dropped off Jesus before heading to the Civil Engineering building. I already knew my way around the university, having lived in Las Cruces most of my life.
We went off campus for lunch at Matteo's Mexican food restaurant. The food wss good there, but it didn't compare to my mom's. The restaurant was crowded, and you had to expect that with the huge Hispanic population in Las Cruces. Fortunately, we only had to wait ten minutes for a table.
"¿Cómo fue tu primer día?" he asked.
("How'd it go for your first day?")
"English, Jesus. We need to talk in English," I said to him.
"We only speak Spanish at home, so, I forget sometimes. I think I'm going to like it here. I actually understood what the professor was saying."
"Me too," I said back to him.
When the waiter arrived, we each ordered rice and beans with flour tortillas and ice cold horchata.
"Toby, I need to say something to you," he quietly said while looking around.
"This is not going to be easy for me to say; I don't want you to be mad at me."
"Why would I be mad at you? We've been friends too long for me to be mad."
Jesus looked down at the table for a moment and then looked back up at me.
"Toby, I'm gay. I've been trying to tell you since high school, but I was afraid you wouldn't want me as a friend anymore."
I furrowed my eyebrows.
"That's stupid, Jesus. You're my best friend and always will be."
"Did you ever suspect?"
"I did at first when you kissed me on A Mountain five years ago. I didn't care then, and I don't care now. If you really were gay, I knew you'd tell me sooner or later."
"I have a question for you, though."
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Ah… Yeah, I do."
"Can you tell me who he is?"
"His name's Peter; Peter Englestad. He's from Norway."
"Tell me how you met him. I want all the details," I curiously asked.
"We met when we were juniors at Centennial High School. He had the cutest accent. He was in my American Lit class, and we had a paper to do as a team. That's how I got to know him."
"Do you still see him?"
"Yeah. He's going to NMSU, too."
"What's he majoring in?"
"Believe it or not, he's in Civil Engineering, just like you."
"Why didn't you invite him along for lunch, then?"
"Because I wasn't out to you yet. He's in the closet, just like I am."
"Wow! I do want to meet him someday."
We sat and finished our lunch.
"See any gangbangers in any of your classes?" I asked.
"I haven't seen any yet. I'm glad they're not here."
"You used to belong a few years ago, didn't you?"
"Yeah, you knew all about that, but it's changed now. We used to be proud of our membership in a gang. It was a brotherhood, an honor thing. Today, it's all about the money; how much can they make off drugs. It's more like a business now. My dad was in the gang, so I guess that's why I joined. I quit when the brotherhood part stopped being important."
"Any problems when you quit?"
"A few, the younger kids mostly; they said I couldn't leave, but nothing came of it. I think they're going to leave me alone since they know I'm going to college. But there's one more thing."
"What's that?" I asked.
"When they approached me, and we talked, somehow I let it slip that I'm gay. They just looked at me and then walked away. I know that's going to be an issue with them."
Glancing at my watch, I noted the time and said, "We'd better get going. I don't want to be late for any class the first day," I said.
On the way back to campus, Jesus asked, "What are you doing after classes this afternoon?"
"I don't know. I don't even know if we're going to have homework on our first day."
"Well, I haven't had any from my morning classes."
"Me, neither. So, what do you want to do, if we don't have any more?"
"I'm not sure. I just want to spend some time with you."
I glanced at Jesus as I pulled into the parking lot and saw a frown on his face.
"Something's bothering you, isn't there?" I asked.
"Yeah, a little."
After I parked my car, I was about to get out, but Jesus remained seated. After a moment, he turned to me.
"Toby, I'm still worried about this gang thing. Some of those guys didn't want me to leave."
"I thought you told me you weren't worried."
"I know what I told you, but last night a white van drove by my house… three times.
"So? Why would that worry you?"
"Toby, you don't understand because you haven't been in a gang. They were scoping me out. They want to know where I go when I go out, if I was at home or not. When you picked me up this morning, that white van was parked a few houses down from mine. I hope me being gay isn't an issue with them."
"Really? I guess you need to be careful."
I didn't know how careful he needed to be. This gang stuff was starting to worry me, too.
We had planned to visit the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum that afternoon. Neither of us had been there in years and thought it would be fun to see if it had changed any. I was to drop him off at his house, drive back to mine to change clothes and then pick him up after that.
I parked in front of his house, and he jumped from my car. I was about to drive home when a white van pulled up in front of me. It backed up to me so I couldn't get out. I watched the van as two pistols emerged from the open windows.
Pop, pop… pop, pop… pop, pop.
I turned to where Jesus was running…, and I saw him fall. My face went white.
The white van sped away with tires screaming at the pavement.
I knew what had happened. I hadn't ever seen it happen before, but I knew. I kicked my door open and ran to Jesus. He was lying on his back, his legs crumpled underneath him. His body was oozing blood from the holes in his shirt. I looked at his body and began to cry. I couldn't stop.
"Nooooo!" I screamed.
Mrs. Perez most have heard either the gun shots or me screaming as she came running out the front door.
"What hap...," she started to say until she saw her son's body.
Her scream was louder and more agonizing than mine.
I already had my cell phone out of my back pocket and was dialed 911. I could hardly speak coherently what with all my crying and sniffling. I was finally able to say, 'drive-by shooting' and the address.
Jesus' body wasn't moving; he was completely limp, no lungs trying to breathe, no nothing. I knew he was dead. I sat on a step leading to their front entry, watching Ms. Perez hysterically cradling her son's body. She swayed to and fro as she clung to him.
A police car was the first to arrive followed shortly by an EMS fire truck. One police officer sat next to me while the other cordoned off the area with that bright orange tape. The EMS people were attending to Jesus' body.
"I'm Officer Carl Ramirez of the Las Cruces Police Department. May I have your name, please?" he asked.
"Tobias Martinez," I slowly answered, still looking at Jesus. "I go by Toby, though."
"Could you tell me the name of the other boy?"
"He's Jesus Perez. This is his house here," I said pointing backward at the house.
"And where do you live, Toby?"
"I live at 3410 Chimney Rock Road here in Las Cruces."
"Did you know Jesus?"
"Yes. We had been friends for years. We're going to NMSU together."
"Could you tell me what happened?"
I told him what I knew of the drive-by. "I'm sorry, but I'm so shaken that I didn't even think about getting the license plate number."
"Is that your Taurus out front?"
"Yes, sir. It's mine."
"Okay. Would you be willing to come down to the police station to give us a written statement of what happened?"
"Of course. I can do it this afternoon. But I want to go home first."
"That's okay, and I'm sorry about your friend," Officer Martinez said.
I was still shaking when I got home. Mom looked at me as I entered the front door, and her face went from a smile to a frown.
"What's the matter, Toby?" she asked. "You're shaking."
"Mom, Jesus is dead," I croaked.
"What? What happened?"
"He was killed in a drive-by-shooting in front of his house."
"Did you see it happen?"
"I was sitting in my car after I had just dropped him off. Yeah, I saw the whole thing."
Mom grabbed my in a hug.
"I'm so sorry, Toby. It must have been awful for you."
"He was my best friend," I said while my tears returned.
Mon looked up at me with sympathy in her eyes.
"Would you like something to drink?"
"I'd like a beer, but I have to go to the police station to give a statement."
"I'll have a cold one ready for when you get back. I know you're not twenty-one yet, but you could probably use one."
"Thanks, Mom. This shouldn't take too long. There really wasn't much to see."
I drove to the police station, still crying. I had to use the restroom to douse my face in cold water before I went to the front desk.
"Can I help you?" an officer asked me.
"I'm here to give a statement about the drive-by-shooting this afternoon."
"You must be Toby Martinez. Detective Garcia has been expecting you." He picked up a telephone and dialed a number.
"Sargent, Toby Martinez is here… Okay."
"Follow me please. He wants to see you in the conference room."
There was a court reporter already seated at the table when I was shown in. She sat quietly with her recording machine in front of her. Detective Garcia followed me in.
"Have a seat, Toby," he said. "The court reporter is here to take down your statement."
Detective Sargent Garcia sat across from me.
"In your own words, please tell me what happened this afternoon."
I related what I had seen and some of what I had felt. I was in tears when I had finished.
"Thank you, Toby. I know this was difficult for you, having to bring up those memories. You're a brave lad. The reporter will be back in a moment. She's going to print out what you said."
When she returned, I read my statement and signed it.
"If we ever catch who did this, you'll probably be asked to testify at the trial."
"I can do that," I said and left the police station.
Dad was home when I got there. Evidently, Mom had told him what had happened because he was on his feet in a heartbeat. He threw his arms around me, saying over and over again, "I'm so sorry, Toby, I'm so sorry."
I needed his strength because I had none. He sat beside me on the sofa. I wasn't strong like my dad, and when he put his arms around me, I had to let it all out. I buried my head in his shoulder and cried. He held me saying, "Let it out, Toby. Don't hold back." I then cried even more; my shaking causing him to hold me even tighter.
My hysteria eventually subsided to sobs and then sniffles.
"Dad, Jesus was my best friend. We lived for each other. Why did this have to happen to him?"
"I don't know. I do know, though, he meant a lot to you, Toby."
"Dad I can't speak about this anymore. I just want to go to bed. I'm not hungry for dinner, either. My emotions are getting the best of me. Can I go?" I asked them.
"Go ahead, Toby. I'm sure your dad would need that beer I saved for you," Mom said.
I headed for the hall leading to my bedroom but turned around.
"Mom, Dad, thank you for being here for me."
"We always will be," Dad said.
I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling with gunshots ringing in my head.
"Why?" I asked to the ceiling. "Why?"
Mom woke me the next morning and asked if I wanted to go to school. I thought about not going but then realized I should go. Today was not going to be a joyful day for me. My mind shifted to Jesus' boyfriend, Peter and the realization that he probably didn't yet know what happened to Jesus. I jumped from my bed, hurriedly got dressed and headed to the kitchen. Dad had already gone to work, but Mom was there frying eggs for me.
"Mom, did you know that Jesus was gay?" I asked as I sat down.
Mom was getting the bottle of orange juice from the fridge but stood up and looked at me. She had questions on her face.
"No, I didn't know. When did you find out?"
"I didn't know for certain until yesterday. We were having lunch together when he told me."
"Five years ago, he kissed me. He said he wanted to do it because of our close friendship. I thought about him being gay then but told him I didn't care; we'd still be friends. But I didn't know; he didn't tell me for sure until yesterday."
"Do his parents know?"
"I don't think so. He told me yesterday that he's still very much in the closet."
"His parents must be heartbroken. Does anybody know why the shooting happened?"
"I don't know why, but I'm going to try to find out. Jesus quit the gang he belonged to, and I think they had something to do with it. We talked about that yesterday, too."
"Toby don't get involved with this gang stuff. Let the police handle it."
I thought for a moment and then added, "Jesus had a boyfriend. I need to find him today to make sure he knows what happened."
"Just be careful, okay?"
"I will, Mom."
I asked around in my first class if anyone knew a Peter Englestad. No one knew him. I looked around the classroom for what I thought might be a Norwegian-looking guy but saw no one that looked like the stereotypes I knew. I skipped my second class and headed for the quad area outside the Civil Engineering building. There was no one there, it being class time, until I noticed a blond head sitting on a bench half-hidden by the bushes in the area. I looked at him and wondered.
I kept my eyes on him as I slowly made my way in his direction. He had his head in his hands. As I got closer to him, I faintly heard his crying. I stood before him for a moment, but he didn't notice me, so I sat down next to him. He looked up at me.
"My name's Toby Martinez," I said to him.
He then turned to me.
"You're Toby?" he asked.
Then his lips began to quiver. I saw the redness in his eyes and his tear-stained cheeks. Suddenly, he wrapped his arms around me and laid his head on my shoulder and cried. I'd guessed right: this had to be Peter.
I wrapped my arms around him and held him to me.
"It's okay, Peter. I feel the same way."
He looked up at me, still sniffling.
"I know a lot about you," he said. "Jesus talked about you all the time. I so wanted him to introduce me to you, but he said not until he came out to you. I've waited over a year to meet you. I sure didn't want it to be like this, though."
"Peter, I'm so glad to meet you too. I didn't know about you until yesterday when Jesus came out to me."
"Toby, do you know why he was killed?"
"I don't know why. All I know or suspect is, it was gang related."
"Yeah, but he quit them."
"He told me that some of the younger members didn't like him quitting."
He looked down for a moment and then looked back at me.
"I loved him; you know. We had planned our future together, and now I have nothing. He was my only friend here in the United States."
"No, not anymore. You have me now," I said to his tear-stained face.
I looked at him with sympathy; knowing what he was going through.
"Do you want to get a cup of coffee someplace," I asked.
"Yeah. I'm in no mood for school. Where do you want to go?"
"The student union's close. We can go there."
"Okay," he answered.
Peter was walking close to me and then threaded his arm through mine. I looked at him, smiled and patted his arm. I guess he needed more support than I did.
The student union was almost empty when we walked in, and a secluded table was easy to find.
"I'll get the coffee, or would you prefer a soda or something?"
"Coffee's fine with me."
I brought two coffees back with packets of creamer and sugar, set one in front of him and the other in front of me. I sat next to him.
By the expression on his face, I could tell he was trying to hold back his tears.
I placed my hand on the back of his and looked up at him.
"It's going to be okay, Peter. We'll get through this. We're both grieving right now; me for a dear friend, you for a lover."
"Thank you for being here, Toby. I couldn't do this alone."
He lifted his cup of coffee to his mouth but was shaking so badly he spilled some of it on the table.
"It's okay, Peter," I said to him. "We will get through this together," I repeated. "Do your parents know about you?"
"I've never told them, but I think they suspect. The only person I've ever brought home was Jesus."
"I'm not gay, you know."
"That's what Jesus told me. You know that kiss he gave you? He's told me that it wasn't only friendship that caused him to do that."
"I suspected as much. We never talked about it after that."
"You know he dreamed about you, that you were gay."
"Sometimes, I wish I were. My only friend was Jesus, and now you. It would make my life a lot simpler if I were gay."
"So, no girlfriend?"
"No. I've never had one."
Now, he had got me thinking. Why didn't I have a girlfriend? I was eighteen years old, and thinking back, I'd never been on a date with just a girl alone. Every time I went out, it was always with others around.
"Have you ever kissed a girl?" he asked.
"Remember what it felt like?"
"Yeah, it was wet."
I didn't like the way this conversation was going.
"Why all the personal questions?"
"I'm just trying to get to know you, that's all. So, I take it you're still a virgin."
I was taken aback by that question and didn't want to answer it. So, I took the easy way out.
"Not really. I don't know you well enough yet to tell you details."
"And if we did get to know each other that well, would you tell me?"
"Probably not. I'm sorry, but it's my personal life and it belonged to just Jesus and me."
I was starting to really like Peter. He'd just showed me he had ethics.
"Can I see you again?" I asked.
"Yeah. Why don't you come over tonight? I can introduce you to my folks."
"What time would you like?"
"We eat dinner at around six. Why don't you come over at, say, five and stay for a meal?"
"I'll be there. Oh, do you guys' dress for dinner?"
"No. We're trying to settle into the US, so it's casual. Oh, I hope you like Norwegian food."
"I've never tried it before."
"Hold on. Let me call my mom and ask her if it's okay to have a guest for dinner."
He pulled out his cell phone, dialed and waited for the answer. Then I heard just his side of the conversation.
"Yes, I heard about Jesus."
"Don't, Mom. I've already cried my heart out."
"I'm okay. Is it okay if I invite a guest for dinner tonight?"
"No. He's a friend of Jesus.' I just met him today."
"Mom, you don't have to go to such lengths."
"Well, okay then."
"Yeah, he'll be there around five."
He hung up then. Spoke to me again.
"My God, Toby. She's going to put on the cat for you. Oh, I guess it's the dog."
"What are you talking about?"
"She's planning on pouched salmon with Dijon dill sauce, sliced cucumbers, dark bread and new potatoes with mint. I almost never eat that well when I'm home."
"This sounds interesting."
Peter and I never made it to any more classes that day. We just hung with each other and talked; mostly about Jesus, himself and me. The more I hung with him, the better I was getting to know him, and I found myself liking him more and more.
I arrived at Peter's home precisely at five. Peter opened the door and ushered me in.
"Toby, this my mom, Olga, and my dad, Rudolf. Mom, Dad, this is Toby Martinez."
"We're glad to meet you, Toby. Come in and have a seat in the living room."
Their home was decorated with all kinds of Scandinavian nick-nacks. I didn't know what the symbolism for each of them was, but they were beautiful and matched their home.
"Thank you for having me on such short notice. I hope I haven't put you out."
"Nonsense, young man. We're glad to meet any friends of Peter's."
I sat on the sofa with Peter next to me while Rudolf and Olga took the two large wing-backed chairs.
"Tell us, Toby, how long have you known Peter?"
"I just met him today. We had a mutual friend in Jesus."
Ms. Englestad's head lowered, and I heard a sniffle come from her.
"Mom, Toby had been Jesus' best friend ever since the fourth grade. He knew him well."
"I'm so sorry, Toby. I just found out."
"It's alright, Mrs. Englestad," I said.
"You call me Olga from now on, Toby."
"Toby," Mr. Englestad stepped in. "To be up front with you, and to Peter, we know about the relationship Peter had with Jesus. To see him so happy fulfilled our dreams for him. Homosexuality is looked on quite differently in Norway from how it is in the US."
"I'm Catholic as is my family, and it's not accepted where I live," I said.
"But you are accepted in this house, Toby, Olga said.
"But I'm not gay," I said.
"Makes no difference. You're still welcome here," she said. "Dinner's about ready so why don't you two go upstairs and wash up. I'll call you when it's time."
Peter led me upstairs to his bedroom. I was amazed at all the video games he had.
"I've got a PS-5, if you're interested."
"I don't know man. I've only got a PS-3 at home. I won't know any of the games you have."
"You're in college; right? So, you've got to be smart. I'll teach you."
"Dinner's about ready," we heard from downstairs.
"We'd better get washed up and head downstairs. Call me anything you want, but don't call me late for dinner," Peter said.
I just realized that not only had he ethics, but also a sense of humor.
Dinner was absolutely delicious. I hoped I wasn't making a pig of myself by asking for seconds.
"Olga," I said when we had finished, "that was one of the most amazing dinners I've ever had."
I could see the smile on her face.
"Thank you, Toby. I like my men fat and happy,"
"Mom!" Peter yelled. "I'm not fat."
I had to smile at Peter. I knew his mom was making a joke. Now I knew where Peter got his humorous side. This was a happy family.
Peter and I spent the rest of the evening in his room playing video games. Well, I should say he played while I fumbled.
"It's nine o'clock, dude. I should be getting home."
"I know, Toby, but first I want to tell you something.
We both got up from the floor where we had been sitting. He approached me and put both of his arms on both my shoulders.
"You probably know I was a total wreck when I found out about Jesus. I had hit rock bottom. I didn't tell you that I was thinking of ending it for myself. I had nothing to live for… until you showed up. You put life back into me. It wasn't the words you spoke to me. It was who you are, being alive, living life."
I could now see the tears in his eyes.
"I know you haven't totally gotten over your grief, and I haven't either. The one thing you've given me is a compass. I now know which direction I'm headed. I needed that, and you gave it to me. Toby, I'm going to do something, and I hope it doesn't freak you out."
He pulled me into himself and lowered his head. He kissed me, not on the cheek that I expected, but on my lips. The kiss was soft and short.
I looked at him and wondered. My wonder was because I liked what he had done.
"I'm sorry, Toby. I shouldn't have done that, but I wanted you to know how much I appreciate who and what you are."
I grabbed him and hugged him.
"I understand, Peter. Like I said, we're in this together."
We broke apart and I fumbled at picking up my jacket. I didn't want to leave but knew I had to. I headed for the door but turned around as I got there. I put my arms around Peter for a quick hug, opened the door and walked out.
"I'll let myself out," I said.
I didn't want Peter's parents to see the tears in my eyes.
I drove home in silence, but my mind was on overload. What the fuck just happened ? I asked myself. He'd kissed me. He was the second boy to have kissed me. That wasn't it though. What it was, was that I liked it. I LIKED IT! What was wrong with me? I wasn't gay! I would have pushed any other boy away who tried to do that to me. My mind went blank for a moment until I realized why I liked it. I liked it because it was from Peter. Tears flowed down my cheeks the rest of the way home. Realization was slowly dawning.
After that, Peter and I had lunch together every day. I saw him in a few of my classes, but we didn't sit close to each other, so I didn't have a chance to talk much to him. This went on till the end of the week.
After classes on Friday, we left the campus together. Even though Peter had a car, I wound up driving him to and from school. I just liked him sitting next to me.
"How's your week been going?" I asked him on the way to his house.
"A little boring. The police came over last night to ask me a few questions about Jesus."
"I told them that he was my boyfriend, and that we had been together for over a year."
"How did they react to that?"
"They didn't. They wanted to know if any of the gang members knew that Jesus was gay. I told them that I didn't think so. We'd been pretty cautious about that. I could see the way they looked at each other. There was definitely something they weren't telling me.
Peter and I had become closer and closer as the weeks went by. It was less than a month later when I noticed that a dark shadow seemed to have overtaken our relationship. I couldn't figure out what it was. Peter seemed to pull away from me at times, and I didn't know why. Lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon, I saw the face of Jesus on my ceiling. He was staring at me with his beautiful brown eyes. I watched that image for a long time before noticing that he had begun crying. Those beautiful eyes of his had turned from contentment and delight into sorrow and grief.
I watched him, and watched him, and the tears began to flow from my own eyes. There above me was the dark shadow that was between Peter and me. It was Jesus.
"Toby, get up. I need some help." I heard my dad through my bedroom door. I had fallen asleep. My dream was the most vivid dream that I had ever had, and it wouldn't leave me. The image was gone from my ceiling but remained fixed in my head.
"I'm coming, Dad," I said to my closed door.
Dad was in the garage working on a tune-up for my car.
"What do you need, Dad?'' I asked the man leaning over my engine.
"Hold this wrench in place while I tighten the bolt next to it. Sorry but this takes three hands."
I held the wrench in place while I watched my dad work. Jesus' dark face came back to me while I was watched my dad. Jesus was forcing some thought onto me about something I had long ago forgotten. I loved my dad. Why had I ever forgotten that? He had always been there for me… just like Jesus had. My eyes glassed over thinking about Jesus.
Dad looked up at me when he was finished.
"What's wrong Toby? You're crying."
"I don't know Dad. I can't help it."
He put his wrench down, turned to me, and gripped me in a hug.
"What's wrong, Toby?" he asked again.
"I don't know. I was asleep in my room when you woke me. I was dreaming the most real dream that I have ever had."
"Let me guess. It was about Jesus; wasn't it?"
"How did you know?"
"Because you haven't let your grief fully come to the surface ever since he was killed. There's only one way for you to realize that he's dead, Toby, and that's to let your grief speak."
I cried on my dad's shoulder. No, I bawled into his shoulder. My grief had finally spoken to me, and I let it all out. Dad clung to me as I releasing what I had built up.
"Toby, everything will be okay. It takes time. Let your grief go; let it speak," my dad whispered in my ear.
My mind wandered to Jesus and then to Peter. I now had that compass that Peter spoke of. I needed to talk to Peter.
"Dad, do you think we could have Peter over for dinner tonight? I really need to talk to him."
"I was wondering why you hadn't asked him over before."
I let go of him, standing back. I was about to reveal what was holding me back from inviting Peter to our house.
"Dad, please don't take this the wrong way. Peter was Jesus' boyfriend. We're a Hispanic family and I know what the Catholic Church says about homosexuality. I was afraid that you and Mom would reject him, tell me I couldn't see him anymore."
Dad looked at me for a moment.
"Peter means a lot to you; doesn't he?"
"I don't really understand it, but yes, he does."
"Let me tell you something. Your mom and I don't believe in what the church says about homosexuality. We never have. We believe that God created man, and woman, as human beings. We believe in what Jesus said about loving everyone, gay or straight. We don't give a crap if Peter is gay or not."
My lips began to tremble again at what I had just heard.
"So, you really don't care?" I asked.
"Not at all. Invite your friend over."
"Thanks, Dad," I said and couldn't repress my smile.
"Toby, I've got one more question."
"What's that, Dad"
"Are you gay? Remember that it makes no difference to us. We will always love you."
"Dad, I'm not gay."
Dad looked at me, and I saw a smile adorn his face. He nodded his head at me.
"Dad, can I ask you why we moved to the United States? I've often wondered about this."
"I suppose it's time that you knew. I've been working for the US government for the past ten years. I can't tell you what I do; it has to do with my security clearance. Toby, this has to remain between you and me. Your mother doesn't even know. I can't tell you any more about it. Do you understand?"
The respect I had for my dad leaped over a tall building.
"I love you, Dad. I don't say that enough."
"And I don't tell you that I love you enough either. Now go call your friend."
I walked into the house on cloud nine. My dad and I hadn't spoken so openly to each other in years. No one could understand how happy I was at that moment. I ran to my bedroom and grabbed my cell phone.
"Peter, is that you?"
"Of course, it's me. You dialed my number, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I did."
"So, what's up?"
"I was wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner tonight."
"I was wondering when you were going to ask me. I had the feeling you didn't want me to meet your parents."
"You were right; I didn't. But things have changed. My dad and I had a talk this afternoon. They're not against people being gay at all. They told me they want to meet you."
"That must have been some talk."
"More than you can imagine, Peter."
"So, what time do you want me there?"
"Right now. There's a lot we need to talk about."
"What's gotten into you, Toby?"
"One word, Peter, and that word is freedom."
"I don't understand."
"Get over here, and I'll tell you all about it."
"I'm on my way."
Peter arrived at 3:30 that afternoon. When I opened the door, I saw worry on his face.
"What's going on, Toby?"
Mom and Dad came around the corner.
"You must be Peter?" Dad asked.
"Toby hasn't invited you in yet?"
"Move over, Toby. Let your friend in," Dad said laughing as he nudged me out of the way.
"Mom, Dad, this is Peter Englestad. Peter, this is my mom, Consuela, and this is my dad, Carlos."
"We're so glad to meet you, Peter," Mom said.
Peter looked at my parents with questions on his face.
"It's okay, Peter. Mom and Dad know," I said.
"They know about me?"
"Come in, Peter," Mom said. "You're welcome in our house. Dinner won't be ready for a few more hours, so why don't you two head off to Toby's room for a while and play video games or whatever boys do for a while?"
I grabbed Peter's hand and pulled him down the hallway to my room. My room was smaller than Peter's, but it still had all the essentials: double bed, desk with computer, bookcase and a window looking out on the back yard. Peter sat in the chair at my desk while I sat on my bed.
"So, what's this about freedom?" he asked.
"I was asleep on my bed and had a dream this afternoon. I dreamed about Jesus. I sort of had a breakdown after that. I hadn't let go of my grief yet. Boy, did I ever let go then. My dad was with me, and I cried my head off on his shoulder. But you know what? When I was finished, I felt a relief. That was the freedom that I was telling you about. Jesus was letting me go. I don't know how else to explain it."
Peter looked at me from his chair for the longest time.
"Don't you have anything to say?" I asked.
Peter nodded his head.
"Finally," was all he said.
He looked at me for another moment.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time, Toby."
"I know, and I'm sorry."
"Toby, can I ask you a question?"
"What do you think of me?"
"I don't know. We've only been together for a few short weeks. I'm still getting to know you."
"You know me, Toby. I've known you for the past year and a half through Jesus.
"But you were his boyfriend."
Peter jumped from the chair and stood in front of me.
"You fucking twat. You don't get it, do you?" he shouted at me.
"Jesus loved you. He didn't just love you; he was IN love with you."
"We were like brothers."
"No, you weren't. If you had your head on straight, you'd understand."
"Understand what?" I was shouted now, too
"Look at me, Toby. Do you know who I am?"
I was now confused.
"I was Jesus' second choice. He chose me because he couldn't have you. How do you think that makes me feel?"
I looked down and felt the hurt; not my hurt, but the hurt that Peter was feeling.
"You know what else Jesus told me? He knew the reason that he couldn't have you."
Now I was doubly confused.
"It's because you're so fucking deep in denial about yourself that you were hopeless; that's why he chose me."
Peter returned to his chair, put his head in his hands and wept.
I jumped up, pointed my finger at him and faced him.
"Don't you ever tell me that again. I am NOT gay."
I stormed out of my room, slamming the door behind me. I had had enough of his bullshit. I slammed the front door shut as I left and ran to the corner of the block.
I stopped and sat on the curb. I put my head in my hands and watched the streetlights come on. We didn't normally have fog because we were in the desert. But a fog was forming around the streetlight in front of me.
'You're a real idiot, you know,' the annoying voice in my head said.
"I am not. All my life, I've been straight. It's what my parents expect of me and so it's what I am."
'Get real, Toby. You know who you are.'
"Evidently, I don't"
'Yes, you do. Tell me, what do you think of Peter?' it rejoined.
"Right now, I hate him."
'Why? Is it because he was such a friend to you to tell you the truth?' the voice continued, sounding more like Jesus every moment.
"Stop it, Jesus! Just stop it."
'You haven't really answered my question. What do you think of Peter?'
I had to stop and think, really think.
Peter was really a wonderful person, I had to admit.
'Now, we're getting somewhere,' the voice said without me even voicing my thought.
I looked at the fog and there in front of me was Jesus, frowning at me.
"Go away, Jesus."
'I'm not going to go away. I'm going to be with you until that light within you shines.'
'That light of truth, that light of understanding, that light of who you are.'
"God damn you," I shouted at him. "Alright, alright, I'll tell you. I'm in love with Peter. Is that what you want to hear?"
'No, that's what you want to hear. Look, Toby. Don't you think this might be the time to tell him what you really feel about him?'
The tears were now streaming down my face.
"It's because I'm afraid. No, I'm fucking terrified."
"I'm terrified to tell him that I love him and what that means about me."
'So, it's about you, not Peter, isn't it dumbass?'
I looked up at him again.
"Yeah, it is."
'Say it, Toby.'
'Say what's in your heart, what you know to be the truth.'
"You want to hear that I'm gay?"
'No, Toby. I want you to say it. I want you to scream it to me.'
"Okay, I'm gay."
'I told you to scream it to me, Toby.'
I had to pause but decided to stand up. I stood, put my shoulders back, and looked him squarely in his hallucinatory eyes.
"I'm fucking gay," I screamed at the top of my lungs.
'Feel better now?'
"I have to tell Peter. He's the one that's got to know who I am."
'Now that you know it, it should be easy. But don't worry, Toby. He already knows.'
I looked up to the starlit sky as the fog faded and Jesus left me. I could almost see a smile in the formation of the stars. Yes, they were smiling at me.
"Thank you, Jesus," I said looking upward. "I know you're up there. Thank you for taking care of me."
I turned and ran home, my compass leading the way. I opened the door and stood in the entry way.
"Where've you been?" Mom asked. "Why'd you run out? You let Dinner get cold. What's wrong with you?"
"Just a moment, Mom. I've got something I have to do first." I ran down the hallway, opened my bedroom door and saw Peter standing in the middle of the room.
"Where've you been?" he asked.
"Figuring out who I am."
I walked over to him, grabbed him around his body and pressed my lips to his with all the love I could muster.
He broke our embrace and looked at me.
"Finally," he said and kissed me back.
Mom and Dad were standing at the doorway watching us.
"Finally," was all Dad said, but he was smiling and so was Mom.
Dinner was Mom's favorite one that she usually served only to guests. It was green chile chicken enchiladas served with Mexican rice, refried beans and a Mexican salad with avocado and red onion slices. She also served horchata to drink.
"What is all this?" Peter had to ask. "I've never had Mexican food before."
"You're in for a treat tonight, Peter. And don't worry; the green chiles are mild."
Peter took one sip of the Horchata and smiled.
"This is wonderful. What is it?"
"It's called horchata. It's a Mexican drink made from ground rice flour and sugar," I answered.
"I could drink this all night," he said.
Peter wasn't shy about asking for seconds.
"The Mexican rice is fantastic, but it fills me up too much. Could I have another helping of the beans and a couple of those flour tortillas? Oh, and please pass the butter.
"You can have all you want," Mom said.
We adjourned to the living room after dinner and sat down to relax.
"Tell me about yourself, Peter, like where you came from, and what you think of our country," Dad asked.
"I'm not very good at talking about myself," he said.
"Let me help," I joined in. "Peter's from Norway. He and his family immigrated a few years ago. He's going to NMSU, and, like me, he's studying Civil Engineering.
"So, how do you like the United States?" Dad continued.
"I love it here. It's really similar to Norway. I love the freedoms you have here. Ms. Martinez? I need to thank you for that wonderful meal. I've never had Mexican food before, but I'm sure going to talk my parents into going to Mexican restaurants now."
"That's really nice, Peter. Thank you for that."
"I really should be going, though. We've got school tomorrow."
"Thank you for coming. You're welcome here anytime," Mom said.
"I'll walk you out," Dad said.
Dad opened the front door and peered out just as a white van pulled up out front.
"Get down," he screamed at us.
Mom ducked back into the house while Peter and I dove behind the low brick wall that surrounded our porch. Dad ran inside following Mom.
Immediately, I heard the now-familiar popping sounds of gunfire, some shots taking out chunks of the brick wall in front of Peter and me.
Dad ran out the door and fired four rounds from the pistol in his hand. Dead silence followed. The van didn't move.
"Toby, call 911. Get the police over here now," Dad shouted at me.
Dad then rushed inside to check on my mom. She was okay, but totally shaken up.
Dad then quickly changed the magazine on his gun and walked slowly out to the van. He walked around it, inspecting it from all angles. He reached inside the open windows feeling around. I didn't know what he was doing. Peter and I stayed behind the brick wall with only our heads peering over the top. Dad lowed his pistol to his side from the ready and walked back to us.
"I want you boys to stay inside. There're four dead people in that van. Keep away from it," he ordered.
"What's going on, Dad? What's this about?"
Dad looked at me and then at Peter.
"They weren't after you, Toby. They were after Peter."
"What?" I shouted.
"It's over, Toby. Go inside and help your mom. I'm going to wait for the police."
Peter and I were glued to the front window as the first police car arrived and a uniformed man jumped out.
"What the hell, Carlos? This wasn't supposed to happen."
"I know, Charley. It was unexpected for me, too."
I had never met the man before, but I assumed he was the chief of police from all the gold on the brim of his hat and the sleeves of his coat.
"What's inside the van?" he asked my dad as three other police cruisers arrived.
"You've got four bodies in there."
"Did you have to kill 'em?"
"They were shooting at us. You've been in firefights before, Charley. They were after my family. I wasn't about to let that continue."
The chief took off his hat and held it to his side.
"Yeah, I know. You guys really do know your business. Now, it's up to me to explain it to the police commissioner."
He turned around and shouted to the other officers.
"Get this area cordoned off. Nobody touches anything until forensics gets here."
He then turned back to my dad.
"Can we go inside and sit down, Carlos? My people can manage what's out here."
"Yeah. I could use a cup of coffee about now," Dad said.
Peter and I turned as the two men entered the house. My mind was full of questions.
"Consuela, could you make us come coffee, please?" Dad asked.
Mom left the room as I stepped forward.
"You seem to know my dad," I said to the chief.
"Yeah, we've worked together for a number of years."
"Charley, you know my cover's blown, don't you?" my dad said.
"No, it's not. You won't be involved in my report."
"You know they're going to find out. Now, I'm gonna to be sent to another assignment."
"Sorry, but I can't let you go. You know too much. I have to approve any transfer in or out of my jurisdiction. You're staying here, friend."
"Coffee's ready," Mom said as she walked into the living room with a tray of coffee mugs and a pot of coffee.
"Thank you, Mrs. Martinez."
"Would you like some coffee cake? I have some in the kitchen."
"No. This will do, but thank you anyways," the chief said as Mom left the room.
"It's been hard keeping all this from her," Dad said to the chief.
"What in the hell is going on here?" I asked. Well, it was more like I shouted.
"Toby knows who I work for, Charley. He doesn't know what we're involved in, though, or what I do."
"Good God, Carlos. You know there's going to be retaliation, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know."
"I think you'd better get your family out of town or somewhere safe."
"Safe?" I was still yelling. "I'm not leaving here, and I'm not leaving Peter."
"I think it's not just Peter now. We need them both out of town," the chief said.
"I told you. Don't you listen to me? I'm not leaving," I shouted.
"You may be brave, Toby, but I don't want you dead. And what about Peter? Do you want him dead, too?"
My eyes were misting over.
"Stop shouting, Toby. We're right here."
I lowered my voice.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I made a promise to Peter. After Jesus died, we were both grieving. I told him that we were in this together and that we would get through this together. We're a family, Dad, and we will get through this together… as a family."
Dad got up and paced the room but then stopped in front of me. He looked down at me, and I saw his eyes. They were cold, the color of steel.
"Together? As a family, huh? We'd better get ready, boys. Peter, have you ever used a gun before?"
"Only with my dad hunting."
"I mean a pistol."
"Then, we need to go to the range. Toby, I know you can shoot, both rifle and handgun; I've taught you. Chief, we need to protect Peter. I want him here so we can do that, but his folks need to know what's happening. I need to talk to them. I'm going to ask Consuela to go to her sisters in Deming. Can you help with transportation?"
"Done," he said.
"Chief, this is between you and me. I need to let my chief know what's happening. I'm going to ask for backup. Unfortunately, you won't know who they are."
"Geez, Carlos. I don't want an army coming into town."
"There won't be an army. These will be a few handpicked men."
"What about Martin?" I asked.
"Martin's away at school in Massachusetts. He's not involved and knows nothing of this."
"Who's Martin?" Peter asked.
"He's my older brother," I said.
"What's your home phone number, Peter?" Dad asked.
He gave Dad the number and Dad started dialing and put the call on speaker for us to hear too.
"Yes, who's this?"
"I'm Toby's father, Carlos Martinez. Do you think you might come over?"
"What's this about?"
"This has to do with your son, Peter."
"Is he alright?"
"Yes, he's fine. This is important. Could you and your wife come over…please?"
"I need to know what this is about."
"I can't tell you over the phone, but, please, this is important."
"I guess we can come over, then. We should be there in about ten minutes."
Dad gave the Englestad's our address.
"Thank you, sir," and Dad pushed a button ending the call.
"They should be here in ten minutes," he said to us.
"Dad, I'm a little scared. What's going on." I asked.
"I'm sure you are, Toby. So am I."
"Carlos, you know we've been collaborating with the gangs for some time now. There's been a respect that's built up over the years," the chief said.
"I know all about it, chief. This doesn't have anything to do with the older gang members. They're out for pure profits and in return you stay away from them while they feed you information they hear about other crimes in the city. It's the younger ones that yearn for the older brotherhood they once knew. Peter's refusal to rejoin the gang infuriated them. They don't want Peter to leave, and to complicate things further, they know Peter' gay from his own slipped thoung. You know the Hispanic culture; homosexuality is frowned on, and that adds fuel to their fire.
"Where did you hear all this, Dad?" I asked. "I've never heard anything like that," I said.
"It's our job, Toby," the chief said.
We were interrupted by the front doorbell.
"That must be your parents, Peter. Wanna get the door for them?"
Mr. Englestad headed for Dad the moment Peter let them in.
"Dad, this is Carlos Martinez, Toby's dad. Mr. Martinez, this is my dad, Rudolf and my mom. Olga," Peter said introducing them.
"Thank you both for coming so quickly on such a short notice," Dad said.
"What's this about, Carlos, and why is my boy involved? And what's with the police tape all over your property?" Rudolf questioned my dad.
"Have a seat, Rudolf and Olga, and I'll try to explain."
We waited for everyone to be seated.
"You knew that Jesus used to be in the gang, didn't you?" my dad started.
"Yes, we knew that, but he quit."
"Yeah, but there are some members that didn't like the idea. Jesus was gunned down in our front yard the other day. We think that Jesus being gay was a factor in their decision to execute him. What you see out front was their attempt to get at Peter, Jesus' boyfriend."
"Oh, dear God," Olga said.
"I want you both to be aware that there is a good likelihood that they'll try again."
"Who are you? By the way you're talking, you're not just some mechanic," Rudolf asked.
"No, I'm not. I've been working with your chief of police and his anti-gang team."
"So, who do you work for?"
Dad looked toward the kitchen to see if my mom was listening.
"I work for the FBI."
"Oh, my God. You've been among us, and we didn't know?" Rudolf asked
"That's right. You weren't supposed to know."
"What about my son? You said they tried to kill him this afternoon."
"That's right, but I didn't let it happen. Rudolf, your son needs protection. My son also needs protection because he's looked upon as associating with an ex-gang member and a homosexual. That's what I need to talk to you about."
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"I don't want you to do anything. What I want is for your son to stay here. The only way I can protect him is when he's with me. I don't want you calling the police to report a missing child. The police know he's here."
Rudolf sat back in his chair and looked at his son.
"Peter, do you know what's going on?"
"Yes. I do."
"You okay with this?"
"Yes, Dad. But it's not just me. It's Toby too. He would have been killed too if Mr. Martinez hadn't stopped them."
I got up and sat next to Peter and took his hand.
Rudolf saw that and shook his head.
"I see," he said. "Is Toby your boyfriend?"
"He is now, well since this afternoon."
Rudolf turned back to my dad.
"Protect my boy, Carlos. You probably know more of what to do than I do."
"I'll do my best," Dad answered Mr. Englestad.
We sat around the house for the next two weeks with nothing happening. Missing school was hard on both of us. We'd have to make it up somehow. But we'd worry about that once we knew we were safe.
Does anyone you know how boring it can get with nothing to do? Peter and I tried to play video games, but our minds just weren't on the games. I started missing Mom's home cooked meals after only the first few days. With her safely at her sister's house, I was trying to do the cooking for us, and I was becoming more and more appreciative of my mom's skill.
We did have one break on the second day when Dad took Peter and me to a shooting range in the basement of the police station. I guess he didn't want us seen using a private range. Peter had never held a handgun before, and his eyes showed his apprehension.
"It's okay, Peter. It's just like any other weapon except you can hold it with just one hand," Dad said to him.
"How many bullets does it hold?"
"This is a Beretta nine-millimeter automatic pistol. By automatic it means that after you shoot one round, the next one is automatically ready in the chamber. It's what most police and Army personnel used only a few years ago. It's still my favorite. The extended magazine holds fifteen rounds."
"What do I do?" Peter asked.
"First you put on these earmuffs, so you don't hurt your ears. Second, you put a target in the clips in front of you. And third you wait for the rangemaster's instructions. He'll tell you when to move your target out; he'll wait to make sure the range is clear. When you hear him say 'commence firing,' you can start shooting at you target."
"There are no bulls-eyes on that target. It's a silhouette of a man."
"That's right, Peter. It's what we're here for, to train you to shoot at a man."
Oh, God. I knew Peter was cringing.
"Remember what I told you about sighting the pistol?"
"Yeah, I remember, red dot on top of another red dot."
"And don't forget where to place your left thumb. You don't want the slide coming back and cutting your thumb."
"I won't," he said as he showed my dad how he was holding the gun."
"You're good to go, son," my dad told him."
The range had six shooting stations and they were filled with police officers.
'Targets out' we heard over the loudspeakers, and Dad showed Peter how to move the target out and stop it at the twenty-foot mark.
"That's as far as you'll ever need to shoot with a handgun," Dad told him.
'Clear' we then heard.
'Commence firing' was the last we heard as the place erupted with gunfire. Peter was slow trying to sight in on the target but finally managed to get off six rounds.
'Cease fire, the loudspeakers sounded.
Peter pulled his target back until it was in front of us.
"Oh, my God," my dad said. "Look at that."
There were six holes in the target all centered in the target's mid-section.
"I want you on my team, Peter. There are police officers who can't shoot that well."
Peter looked at me with a gleam of pride in his eyes to accompany the smile that interrupted the apprehension on his face.
We continued on the range for the rest of the afternoon. I had a chance to shoot Dad's pistol, but my shots weren't as tight as Peter's. Dad shot too, and he had only one shot outside the center of the target. We had an exciting time at the range. It was a happy family time for all of us. Yes, I now felt Peter was part of our family. Peter kept his target, admiring it all the way home.
Life returned to a boring normal for the next week, meaning Peter and I played video games while Dad ordered food from DoorDash to get a reprieve from my cooking. That was until Dad got a phone call from the chief of police. Dad immediately ordered sandbags to be placed inside the house under our front window and the windows on both sides of the front. I didn't realize Dad had so many guns in the house. He handed a handgun and three boxes of shells to both Peter and me. He also had a 12-gauge shotgun that he placed up against the front wall.
It seemed that the older gang members were pissed off at the younger members because they had jeopardized the ongoing drug trade. Many of the younger ones had left their gang and formed their own. I didn't hear what they called themselves. The bad news was that they were hellbent on getting even with us for killing their brothers. The chief said that there were about six of them that were planning on attacking us. Was I scared? You're damned right I was scared.
Peter slept with me every night. I knew he was frightened, too, because he kept as close as possible to me, not necessarily cuddling, but seemingly with a fear of losing me. I had the same fear of losing him.
Two days later, all hell broke loose.
Four cars pulled up to our house but did nothing for a few minutes. I also noticed a car at each end of our block blocking traffic. Dad ordered Peter to a side window, me to the other side window and took the front picture window for himself.
We waited and waited.
Suddenly, six people jumped from their cars and quickly crept behind the vehicles' hoods and trunks.
The gunfire that erupted was deafening. One guy in front of us had some kind of automatic weapon. Bullets sprayed the house, knocking out windows and crashing through the walls above us. It was a firestorm.
Abruptly, Dad yelled at Peter.
"Peter, you're the best shot. Take out that machine gun."
Peter rose up and with one shot, the machine gun went silent.
Dad rose up and after two shots, I saw two more guys fall backward. They never got up.
I plucked enough courage, not knowing where it came from, to aim at the fourth attacker. My first shot hit the fender in front of him. I adjusted my aim and saw him fall backward with my second shot.
Only two attackers remained.
Peter got one of them, again with a single shot.
With only one left, Dad rushed through the front door, firing at the final attacker.
Suddenly, Dad spun around and fell to the ground.
"Fuck you," I screamed, and I shot one round that hit my attacker in the shoulder.
I ran through the front door to get to my dad.
"Get in the house, Toby," my dad yelled at me. "I'm okay. Keep Peter inside too."
I turned to run until a sizzling pain in my stomach made me fall. I fell to the ground for only a second until the realization hit me that I had been shot. I looked at Dad and then looked up at the kid who had shot me.
"You mother-fucker," I said directly to him.
'I'm going to get him,' ran through my brain.
Then, I went calm. I slowly tried to get up but made it only to my knees.
"Don't let me die," I yelled out. "I have something to do. Give me ten minutes. All I need is ten minutes."
"Jesus, help me," I screamed.
"Listen to the music, Toby. It's telling you what to do."
My head filled with the chant of Chevaliers de Sangreal. I knew that music; it was by Hans Zimmer.
I looked up again and got to my feet. My hand came away from my stomach soaked in blood. I knew I was about to die, but I took one step forward, then another.
"Feel the music, Toby."
It was telling me, one step at a time.
I took another step.
I fell to my knees. The pain was excruciating.
I looked up, the music rising and slowly rose to my feet.
The music became my mantra. One step at a time. One step at a time.
"Listen, Toby. Listen closely. It's telling you that you have something to do."
One more step and then another. I was almost at the car.
I looked up and saw my attacker raise his head above the fender. He was holding his shoulder. Blood was dripping through his fingers.
One more step. The music in my head was rising in a crescendo.
I was now five feet from the car and saw him raise his handgun at me.
I was on auto pilot, the music driving me.
"You don't do this to my dad," I yelled and shot him in his forehead.
I lowered my pistol to my side… and collapsed.
"I think he's coming around," I heard someone say.
"Toby? Can you hear me, Toby?"
I didn't want to hear him and turned my head away.
"I think he's going to be alright," I again heard that voice talking.
I tried to open my eyes, but the light was too blinding. I closed them very quickly.
The next voice I heard was a familiar one. I felt a hand on mine, and it calmed me. I knew the feel of that hand on mine. I knew who it was.
"Peter? Is that you?"
"I'm right here, Toby."
I opened my eyes again, this time slowly, to see the shining face of the boy I loved.
"Oh, Peter," I said to him.
"Take it easy, Toby. You're going to be just fine."
"Where am I?"
"You're in a hospital."
"What happened to me?"
"That's a long story, Toby. You took a bullet in your stomach, and the doctors had to work on you for hours."
Then it hit me.
"Where's my dad? How is he?"
"I'm fine, son. I'm right beside Peter. I wasn't hit as badly as you were."
I reached out with my other hand and grabbed my dad's hand.
"I'm going to ask you all to leave for now. Toby has been through quite an ordeal and needs to rest," a doctor's voice said.
"I wanna stay," Peter said.
"I'm sorry, Peter. We need to let Toby rest," the doctor said.
"If you don't let Peter stay, I'm going to rip every all of these tubes out," I said.
"I think you'd better let him," my dad said.
"Alright. Peter. You let Toby sleep; you hear?" the doctor said.
I was a little restless and couldn't quite sleep.
"Aren't you tired?" Peter asked.
"Yes. But I'm so used to sleeping with you. This feels uncomfortable."
"Move over. Let me fix that."
Peter took off his shoes, socks shirt, and pants and crawled into the bed beside me. He snuggled up to me and put his arm over my chest. He was careful not to put pressure on the bandages over my stomach.
With him next to me, I was asleep in seconds.
I was awakened by the sound of the door opening. I wasn't fully awake but could hear someone talking. I could feel Peter snuggle closer to me and then lie still again.
"Doctor, come see this," I heard in a whispered female voice.
"What you're seeing is the best medicine for healing; the human touch," came from a male voice.
"Shhh. Let's not wake them."
Mom, Dad, and Peter's parents came to see me the next morning. Peter was still wrapped around me, and I had no intention of moving him. They knew we were a couple.
"How do you feel this morning, son," Dad asked me. "I was going to ask if you slept well but can see you did."
Peter groaned and tried to sit up. When he saw his mom and dad standing at the foot of the bed, he lay back and pulled the sheet over his head. His mom and dad laughed.
Dr. Shapiro, my physician, came into the room with a nurse as the laughter subsided. Dr. Shapiro looked at me while the nurse started checking my vitals: blood pressure, temperature, intravenous bags, that sort of stuff.
"How's my star patient feeling this morning," he asked me.
"I feel good except my stomach hurts a little."
"It will for a while. It could be much worse without the pain medications we're giving you. You were extremely lucky, young man. The bullet went through your stomach but missed your vital organs. Also, luckily, it missed your spine. You lost a lot of blood, but we were able to give you some back."
"When do you think I'll be able to go home?"
"Not for a few more days, I'm afraid. You still need to heal some more. I recommended that they let you sleep this morning, so you missed breakfast. Lunch should be here shortly, though."
"Any chance they'd have street tacos?" I asked.
"I doubt it," the doctor responded with a chuckle. "You're still on a liquid diet; remember?"
He checked the chart that the nurse had using to record my vitals, nodded his head and was about to leave when Dad stopped him.
"Can I speak to you for a few minutes.? In the hall, if you don't mind," Dad politely inquired.
They both walked out the door but left it slightly open. I'm not sure if that was on purpose.
"Doctor, seriously, how's my boy?"
"You boy's fine, Mr. Martinez. He needs rest right now, that's all. Hm… Is Peter his boyfriend?"
"Why, yes, he is. Why do you ask?"
"You saw them this morning. They seem to really love each other."
"Peter is a wonderful boy. I couldn't be happier that they found each other."
"Morning, Carlos. How's our boy doing?" the police chief asked as he walked over to Dad and Doctor Shapiro.
"Morning, Charley. This is Dr. Shapiro, Toby's physician. Doctor, this is our chief of police.
"Glad to meet you, sir," the chief said.
"Glad to meet you, too. Normally we don't have a police chief interested in one of our patients."
"This a special case, doctor. What that young man did yesterday was nothing short of spectacular. The amount of courage he had mustered was almost beyond belief. I've never seen or heard of such bravery before. Being shot in the stomach, like he was, he had to believe he was going to die. But that didn't stop him. It was like he was on a mission, like he had something important to get done."
"I saw it all from where I was," I heard my dad say. "I don't understand how he could have done what he did."
"I understand it," I heard Dr. Shapiro say. "I've seen it many times before in trauma patients. Everything they feared seemed to dissolve, and their mission became paramount in their minds. This has been observed over and over again with soldiers in war. Toby truly was on a mission, and nothing was going to stop him, not even his own death."
"But why did he yell out to Jesus? Jesus was killed the other day in a drive-by-shooting."
"We'll probably never know why," the doctor said.
I turned to Peter with tears in my eyes. He was also crying.
"You know why, don't you Toby?"
"We both know why."
He grabbed me and we held each other… dearly.
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