Luke guessed he must have fallen asleep, because by the time he woke again, his mum and dad were back in their usual places. In fact, he suspected that one or both of them had been at his bedside 24/7 since the day he'd been rushed in. How had he missed that they were always there for him? Even if they disagreed—fought like cats and dogs, even—they never gave up on him.
Could he say as much?
“Hello, sleepyhead." Not far away, his mum put down her book. He started to reply, but it just wouldn’t come out. Maybe he was more fragile than he knew, but overwhelmed by the realization that they were on his side. Other than his grandparents, Ryan had hardly ever been able to say the same. Crushed again by the loss, Luke started crying again. Without a word, his mum slipped onto the bed and held him as he began to unravel. Even the pain in his shoulder wasn’t enough to stop the flood once he’d started, and he shook as she held him steady. She didn’t even bother asking what was wrong.
“I…m…m…miss him…” was all could he could manage to say. It was hard to imagine life without Ry being around. Already, he was lonely.
He missed both of them—Elliott, too. He already knew that there would come a time when he would have to say more, to tell his mum and dad the truth, but it wasn’t then. His feelings were far too raw for him to explain about Ryan or Elliott or what they meant.
“Of course you do, sweetheart. There's nothing wrong in that. We miss him, too," his mum murmured, holding him close. He just cried harder. He felt his dad settle on the bed, too, and both their arms gently supported him. He wanted to tell them more, but still couldn't find either the words or the courage.
Finally, as Luke’s tears subsided, his mum tried to lighten the mood. "How about something to eat?” she asked.
Luke nodded. Wiping his eyes and pushing away the last of the shuddering sobs, he grimaced as he tried to shuffle higher. "My shoulder's bad. Can you ask them for something?" Sleeping on it after Elliott had left hadn't helped.
"I can go if you want?" Geoff said.
"No, it's okay, Hon. I'll go." Lucy eased herself up, and patted Luke's hand. "I could do with stretching my legs, and they said to let them know if he wanted something to eat.” She turned to Luke. “Simon's down in the cafeteria—I'll let him know you're awake.”
After she’d left, Geoff remained perched on the bed. "Elliott popped in earlier, you know."
Luke didn't make eye contact, though there was nothing in his dad's tone that as though they knew more than he thought they did about—. He paused, hesitating in his head to say 'relationship'. There was no relationship and, despite what Elliott had said, Luke wondered if he'd ever hear from the guy again. He kept his voice on the level.
"Yes, I know. It was nice to see him, though I was a bit too tired to talk much." It was probably better to keep it on the level rather than lie and pretend he’d been asleep, as he didn't know what Elliott might have said to them afterwards.
Geoff didn't pursue it further. Instead, he said, “Simon’s downstairs with his friend Jacko and his family. They were just on their way home from somewhere and Julius needed to stop in at the hospital.”
Luke returned a grunt, though it wasn’t meant to be surly. However, why his dad also picked that moment to then talk about something else, Luke wasn’t sure.
“Can you remember anything about what happened—that day at Ryan’s, I mean?” Geoff's tone was careful.
Luke shook his head and closed his eyes. From what Grace had said, he knew it was Sunday. He’d been in this bed for nearly a week already. Since Friday, when Todd had turned up, nothing further had been mentioned in regards to Ryan or his mum—and Luke hadn’t wanted to ask, either. Perhaps now he'd opened up a bit, his dad thought it might be okay to probe a bit more? However, Luke didn’t feel up for anything like that. Not just then—he already felt drained enough both with going through some of it with Elliott, earlier, and then with crying his eyes out.
Thankfully his dad didn’t press. Instead, he quietly began to fill in some of the blanks for Luke's sake. Eyes closed, Luke was happy just to listened. In fact, he was glad somebody was actually telling him some details at last.
“So it was Monday that..." Geoff paused a beat and seemed to be weighing up where to start—or maybe what to say and what to leave out.
"By the time we got here to the hospital, they were ready to transfer you from the ER to the operating theatre. Afterwards, after they’d worked on your shoulder, the doctors decided to keep you in a kind of induced coma for a few days as a precaution. The police officer who'd been there said you’d been in the water quite a while before he managed to pull you onto the side and start CPR. You were in a pretty poor shape, and they were more worried about how long you'd been in the water than with the bullet wound.
“Still, the good news on that front is that they think your shoulder should heal in time. With some sessions of physio, you should get most of your movement back.”
Most? What did that mean? Carefully, Luke reached with his right hand and touched the still-aching shoulder that was tightly wrapped in bandages, and images flashed across his memory of the pistol being aimed at him, and the thud as the bullet hit.
He opened his eyes again.
“There were two of them—two officers that came through the gate—what happened?” Once he'd pushed away from the edge of the pool, he'd seen everything. One officer had gone down almost immediately.
“One was killed.” Geoff sounded grim. “The second—the one they said came into the water for you—was wounded, too. Because he was injured, it appeared he had a tough time getting you out of the water.”
It was as Todd had said. 'The bastard killed both of them...and a cop, too.' Another image flashed across Luke's memory: a pale, pain-ridden face in the back of an ambulance.
Luke closed his eyes again as his dad spoke about the days he’d been unconscious; the waiting and hoping as the three of them stood vigil at his bedside day and night for the first couple of days. It was a lot to take in, and Luke felt emotionally drained, and he drifted off again.
When he awoke, he felt hungry and his stomach grumbled at the smell something that had to be coming from a covered plate sitting on a tray at the end of his bed. The three of them were all in the room this time; his dad was reading the paper nearby, his mum her book near the window, and Simon seemed to have got hold of a PSP game pad from somewhere—the soft beeps of the game carrying across the room.
He studied them silently. In his head, the yet unspoken questions were brewing—the most painful being, what were they going to say when they found out that Ryan was dead because of him? Because, as sure as hell Ry would be alive if Luke had not gone round that afternoon. And Helena Alexis would be alive, too—as would a police officer whose name he didn't even know.
There were no answers, and he tried to stretch for his beaker of water. The movement brought three pairs of eyes his direction and his dad quickly reached forward and lifted the drink closer.
His mum seemed relieved he'd woken again and said, "I think your dinner went cold. Shall I go and ask them to warm it for you? They’re bound to have a microwave somewhere."
Luke shook his head and coughed up some phlegm. "It's fine. Cold's good." His voice was beginning to feel stronger. In fact, the simple soup tasted remarkably good, and he was disappointed when the woefully inadequate bowlful was gone. There was a dessert—a jello that was a bit rubbery, and it was nowhere near as nice—but he ate that, too.
"You've had lots of friends making contact and leaving messages," Lucy said as she set about clearing up the empty plates. She smiled his direction. “You’re a popular young man!”
Luke’s eyes flicked around the room as the topic made him wonder where his phone was. “So where is my phone?”
“I’m afraid the police still have that,” Geoff said.
“Oh…” He remembered now. He'd dropped his phone in Ryan’s room while the 911 operator had been talking to him, just before attempting to climb down from the balcony. Alexis had picked it up. The man had brought it outside and, after screaming at the operator, had let it fall onto the patio slabs. The images brought further recollection to Luke—memories of falling from the balcony onto those same stones. Falling, twisting his foot, and then hobbling towards the gate as fire stabbed at his ankle.
His ankle? He’d forgotten about that. At the best, he assumed he’d sprained it. There was no bandage on it, but that didn't mean much, as the doctors might not have known he'd damaged it. He gently moved his foot under the sheets. At least it felt okay just then. Maybe it hadn't been that bad?
"Quite a few have been asking when they can come and visit. So…maybe now that you're getting better…?”
Luke shook his head. “I can’t really face any more visitors. Not yet.”
He coughed up some more phlegm. Then, after considering for a quick moment, he said, "Can I ask you something?” He closed his eyes as he tried to find the right way to explain what had happened. What was it he'd said to Elliott? That he needed to be better, more honest?
"Sure," Geoff said. He eased off the window sofa and came to sit on the bed looking expectant, going on to add for Lucy's sake, "I was telling him some of the ups and downs of the last week while you were out earlier. If you have questions, Sunshine, ask away."
Luke balked. It should have been as easy as, 'the thing is, I think I need to tell you that…well, I'm gay…Ryan was, too…', but it wasn't. He lay his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes. “What happened to my car?”
“Oh…your car? Don’t worry, it’s back at our place,” Geoff said. “And I’m sure you’ll be back behind the wheel in no time.”
“Mmmm.” Luke murmured. He felt he should ask something else, something more important sounding, so said, "Can you find out what happened to the policeman?"
* * *
By late afternoon, Luke needed to go to the bathroom again. As his digestive system kicked back into action, it was inevitable. Refusing the suggestion that he just crap into a bedpan, he was keen to try to get out of bed this time. The room was a prison and he needed space and somewhere where people weren't looking at him all the time. Maybe it was a good sign? A sign he was on the mend?
For once, both his parents seemed happy to let him try to get up. Luke shuffled to the side of the bed. All the various bags, drips and bottles came with him as he put his legs over the side and onto the floor, and made to stand.
“Ouch!” He grimaced as a new pain emanated from his foot as he tried to put weight on it. He hobbled on one leg which felt as weak as rubber before dropping back onto the bed.
"Sweetheart, what's the matter?"
“It’s my foot…it hurts.”
“Oh...” Geoff pulled a face. “They said that your ankle was swollen when you came in. They x-rayed it, and said the swelling was only a sprain, but that there seemed to be a hairline fracture on one of the bones of your foot. At the time, they didn’t seem to think it would help putting it into a cast.”
“Maybe we should get it checked again,” Lucy said.
In response to his mum's concern, Luke muttered, “I hurt it when I fell from the balcony.”
"You fell?" Her shocked tone was fairly predictable. “From the balcony?”
Despite his protestation, they called for help and made him wait until the nurse arrived.
“Let me have a look at that, Luke.” The tall male nurse, who’d even brought a wheelchair, stooped down to take a look, gently massaging Luke's ankle and then his foot with capable fingers. Luke grimaced again as pressure was applied on the outer edge of his right foot.
“What’s wrong?” Close by, Simon sounded worried.
"We're not sure.” Lucy was fretting. “He never told anyone he'd fallen."
The nurse seemed professionally competent as he examined Luke. “Well, there's not really much swelling around the ankle now, but we’ll get a doctor here to check out his foot again.”
At the assessment, Luke groaned inwardly. Not more! “I still need the toilet,” he said, shuffling to the edge again.
“Why don’t you just use a bedpan this time round?” his mum said.
Maybe it was a sign he was getting better, but Luke still adamantly refused to crap into a bowl with the rest of them just a few feet away, listening from the other side of curtain.
The nurse seemed more understanding. “Just slide into the chair, Luke.”
“But it’s only just there!” Luke muttered. The room had its own en-suite bathroom, built into the corner by the door. The nurse's patient understanding only went so far, and he held the wheelchair in place for Luke, and waited. Accepting the inevitable, Luke shuffled into the chair for the short journey. Once they were there, even the nurse had the door shut on him as Luke wanted some privacy while sitting on the toilet.
And that poor bastard, Olly Wyeman, had to live like this all the time? No wonder Olly was so pissed off with everyone, though the unwieldy utility transport Luke had been sitting in bore little resemblance to the sporty number Olly used.
Luke took his time having a dump, breathing quietly behind the closed door where, for a change, nobody was watching him. It was a moment of peace, and he studied the dark grey of the paneled door, allowing his thoughts to drift past some things and focus on others. It still seemed unthinkable that he’d no longer be popping over to Ryan’s place for a swim or to hang out together as they’d done for years. The thought of that almost set him off crying again. The floodgates from that agony might never be closed. Steadying himself, he thought about Elliott. His head told him he’d done the right thing with Elliott, but the rest of him groaned with the sadness of yet more loss. He needed to face up to a lot of things first—not the least of which, he had to own up to who and what he was. However, he had no idea how to start a conversation that scared the shit out of him.
And now, other than Simon, there was nobody to ask for help. And he couldn't get past the shame he felt for not being there at the time that Simon had needed help from him!
He buried his head in his arms, emptied his mind and drifted.
Once he was done and the nurse called to check he was okay, he still couldn’t manage to turn enough to flush away the bowl without bringing on stabbing pains in his shoulder. Another simple task for which he had to ask for help. Finally, he wriggled down the inadequate hospital nightgown and, with more help from the nurse, eased back into his wheelchair.
The nurse offered a towel. "Better?"
Luke nodded as he took the proffered towel. He liked the guy, who was both professional and discreet. On the other hand, Luke had had enough of the place by now and voiced what he was thinking. “I just want to go home.”
“Let’s just see what they say—we want to get you better, first.”
Back in the main area again, Luke stared at his bed. The idea of just getting back in wasn’t that attractive. “Can I at least go for a walk…in the chair, I mean. I need to get out of this room for a bit."
“I don’t see why not,” the nurse said. He returned his usual friendly grin. “As long as you don’t go far. I’ll just leave you all to it, and go and speak to one of the doctors about that ankle.”
“Cool! Can I push?” Simon said once the nurse had left. He took hold of the handles straight away.
Soon, they were ambling down the corridor towards the lift. It was only then that Luke realized that his mum was no longer with them. He frowned. "Where's mum gone?"
"She's with the police," his dad said. "The two detectives from the police department are back. They’ve been wanting to speak to you for a few days."
Simon pushed the chair towards what was a communal sitting area—similar, Luke could see, to the area in the children’s ward, but smaller and with a lot fewer cartoon characters.
"It's the same two that were at the hospital after the school fire," Simon said. His chuckle was gleeful. "They wanted to talk to me, too. Mum asked them if they thought I'd been there, and when they said no, she told them to—"
"They're just doing their job," Geoff interrupted.
Luke twitched. "But they want to speak to me?"
"They sure do." Geoff shrugged. "They'll want to find out what happened."
"Find out what? Do they think I killed him, now?" Luke couldn't help it and barked angrily as he came a little unglued at the edges.
Killed Ryan? He might as well have pulled the trigger!
"Hey there!" His dad looked puzzled. "Nobody's saying anything of the kind!"
Miserable, Luke hung his head. He knew this wasn’t helping, but he he’d been unable to dwell on much of anything else in the hours between sleeps. The question was, ‘what if’. What if he'd made different choices, or just pulled his fucking trousers up a few seconds sooner, like Ryan had? What if he'd just changed more quickly at home before heading out to Starbucks, or driven more quickly from the school, not stopping so long for the cop car? All he would have needed was to pick up a few more seconds somewhere! Or what if he'd not been flirting with Elliott by text messages in the first place, leaving a trail as obvious as some gay pride march! What if he'd just gone home on the Sunday with his Mum and Dad after lunch, and not stayed at Elliott's—a decision that set up a series of events ending in death.
And most of all, what if he’d just been honest with everyone months ago and told them he was gay and how he felt, because now, and because of him and his choices, Ry—and others—were dead. He reeked of guilt almost as badly as he reeked from the sweat and dirt of days without washing.
"I want a shower," he muttered.
"Well, after you’ve had your foot checked, then we can see about arranging for a wash or something?” Geoff said. “I’m not sure you’ll be able to have a shower with that bandage on your shoulder, though."
As they passed through the seating area, Luke spotted his mum, standing with two men. He guessed they were the police. There was clearly a discussion going on, and one of the detectives appeared to be speaking earnestly. Then, noticing the wheelchair party as it drew up, he shifted his attention to them and approached Geoff.
"All we need is a few minutes to talk to your son, Mr. Summers," the detective said. He looked pointedly down at the wheelchair and added, "Now that Luke seems to be up and around."
He pressed on to engage Luke directly before he could be interrupted. "Son, my name is Detective Preston, and this is Detective Willett. We were hoping you could help shed some light on what happened last Monday. It’s just a few simple questions."
"Luke is still exhausted." Lucy looked as determined as the detectives. She stepped them and Luke. "Like I told you, I think this has to wait for another time. He almost died, and he lost a close friend. He's in no fit state to be badgered, no matter how innocuous you think your questions are." From her tone Luke could tell she didn't appreciate being maneuvered around.
Preston remained just as firm.
"Ma’am, I appreciate that. As I said earlier, he’s not a suspect, but we still have quite a few loose ends to clear up. Four people died that day, including an officer—a friend...” He paused a beat, and his tone softened again. “It will only take a few moments, I promise."
"What do you think, Hon?"
Maybe Geoff was trying to find some middle ground as Lucy and the detective faced off, but Luke just wanted it over. A part of him also wanted to tell somebody the truth, though he had no idea how he would face that if that moment came. He studied the detectives. “Do you still have my phone?”
Preston nodded. “Yes son, we do. As soon as we finish our investigation, then we'll be able to release that back to you."
"Luke, you don't have to do this now if you're not up to it," Lucy persisted.
Luke started to shrug, but winced as it caught his shoulder, then muttered quietly, but loud enough for all to hear, "It's fine. I don’t mind." Especially since it would get him his phone back.
"That's great—thank you, son," Preston said, quickly grabbing what had been offered before it could be snatched away. "Perhaps we could just go find somewhere private for a moment?” He looked around to find a solution.
“In our room will be fine,” Lucy said, her abruptness indicating she was a bit ticked off. She motioned back up the corridor that led to Luke’s room. “And yes, before you ask, we will be staying.”
Inside, Geoff made to help Luke out of the chair and back into the bed, but Luke shook his head. "I'd like to stay sitting for a bit."
It took a few moments for them to gather enough seating, and they sent Simon to go and gather a couple more chairs from nearby. Luke had heard the quiet murmurs between his mum and dad, and when Simon returned Luke wasn’t surprised that his brother got no further than just setting the extra chairs out.
“Simon, maybe you should wait outside,” Geoff said.
“No way!” Simon was immediately defiant. “I want to know what happened, too!”
Lucy sounded just as firm. “Dad’s right, Simon—it’s bad enough that Luke has to go through this. You don’t have to listen to it, too.”
Simon glared at them, but they returned it with implacable steel, and waited for him to leave—which he did, carrying a face like thunder. Luke suspected his brother would be right behind the door, listening, anyway. The chairs were pulled into a circle, and, finally, they began.
Preston placed a voice recorder on the coffee table around which they were gathered. Luke was immediately unnerved.
“Just ignore it,” Preston said. “It just means we can talk without me having to worry about writing everything down.”
Luke said nothing, but shifted in his seat, eying the device with distrust. The first thing Preston did was to speak out—presumably for the recorder—describing who was present and what they planned to talk about. Then he settled back into his seat.
“Okay, Luke, we just want to find out as much as we can about that day, for you to tell us what you remember. There’s no rush. Take as long as you need. Firstly, how long had you known the Alexis family?”
At first it was just about times and places and general background. Stuff like what did Luke know about family? How often did he go to their house? That sort of thing. His mum and dad added their own recollections, and the detectives didn’t seem to mind. Then it moved on to questions relating more specifically to what Luke knew about Captain Alexis—Lucy couldn't help but add her two cents on that front!
Then it finally came to that particular day, the previous Monday. Luke suspected they'd hardly got started. So much for 'a couple of minutes'!
“You saw Ryan at school,” Preston asked, checking something in the notes he carried in a small pocket book.
“Yes.” Luke nodded. “Like always.”
“Ryan had a bruise on his face—“
“I didn’t do that!”
Preston raised his eyebrows, but carried on. “We know from our investigations that there had been a fight at an army officer’s social event that Saturday—two days earlier—between Captain Alexis and another officer. Ryan apparently got hurt, too.”
“Oh...that.” Luke was kicking himself for blurting out. “Yes, he told me.”
“When did he tell you that? At school?”
“No. At school, he just said to everyone that the other guy come off worse when we asked him about it.”
Preston and Willett glanced at each other, nodding as if this fit with what they’d learned from others.
“But he told me about it later,” Luke added. He lowered his eyes. “I think his dad used to hit him quite a lot.”
“He did WHAT?” Lucy spun to stare at Luke. Her eyes widened and she couldn’t contain herself.
Preston exhaled and he looked upset. It was hard to know whether this was news to him or not. Rather than chastise Lucy, he gave his full attention to Luke, but before he could speak, Willett interrupted him, asking, "Why did you go to the Alexis house that afternoon?"
The look on Willett’s face left Luke suspicious, but he shrugged, trying not to let anything leak from his expression. "I go round there…used to go there all the time. Like I said, Ryan was my best friend."
Willett and Preston exchanged another glance. "Your friends told us that you had a bit of a disagreement with him at school.”
Luke averted his eyes, recalling the incident in the parking lot. He guessed that's what they meant, and plenty had seen it. “It was nothing.”
Willett pressed. “Your friends say that you two had a fight in the school parking lot as you were leaving that afternoon. You hit him, knocking him down. Can you tell us what that was about?"
Both Luke's parents stared at him in surprise this time. His mum frowned. "You two had a fight? Over what?”
“It was nothing. We had a bit of an argument that’s all…over...over something stupid. That’s why I went round—to say sorry.” He felt uncomfortable being pushed onto the back foot. Why couldn’t they just stick with the main thing?
“And what was it about?”
“I don’t—” Luke stopped himself on the edge of a lie. It wasn’t the type of person he wanted to be. He continued, “Ryan took my phone and was reading my text messages. When I asked for it back, he and I started to argue. It got out of control, and…well…it just got out of hand, that’s all.”
“Luke!” Lucy still sounded disappointed, but Luke knew he’d done the right thing. Shit, you don't just suddenly forget within a few days why you hit your best friend in the face! After a pause, Preston seemed willing to let it pass and to get back on track. He gathered himself and his tone was softer and more compassionate than his colleague.
“Luke…” He paused again and made a wry face. “You know I have a son nearly your age. In my job, I get to see the worst of the worst, and I when I say I know how you feel and understand what you’re going through, I really do. I don’t blame your mom and dad from wanting to protect you. If it were my son that had been where you’ve been, I’d do exactly the same.
“The thing is, you’re the only one who knows now what happened. We can guess at some things, but only you can tell us—not just what happened, but perhaps just as important...why.”
Luke swallowed nervously. This was dangerous ground, ground that took him closer to telling the ultimate truth. He tried not to tremble as the detective continued.
“Just try to talk us through it. Take your time. You were in the Alexis house? Was Captain Alexis there, too?”
“Not when I got there, no.”
“Where did you go when you got there?”
“Upstairs—to Ry’s room.”
“His room? You and Ryan, you mean? You weren’t outside?”
“No. His mum had been in the pool. He was in his room when I came round. She answered the door and told me to go up.”
“And Captain Alexis?”
“Like I said, I didn't see him when I got there.”
“Okay…so the two of you were upstairs.” Preston paused and studied something on the notebook he was holding. “What were you doing?”
The question was awkward and Luke couldn’t hold Preston's gaze and looked down. “We were just talking about what happened at school. I’d come to apologize and I did that. He was cool with it and we put it behind us. We talked some more, and it was then that he told me how he'd got a black eye.”
"Would you say that the two of you were close," Willett asked. His dark eyes drilled into Luke making him uncomfortable.
"Yes. He was my best friend…we hung out a lot together."
“Okay, son, so what happened then?” Preston seemed eager to keep in control.
"Captain Alexis came home, he started yelling and pounding on Ryan’s door. When Ry didn’t answer it fast enough, he burst in. He was angry.”
"Angry? Do you know why?” Willett said, and again, the tone was pressing.
Luke kept the truth as simple as he could. “I know he was mad about the way Ryan had parked his truck in the driveway. He kept yelling for Ryan to move it.”
“His truck?” Willett’s eyes narrowed.
Preston nodded. “Yes—we saw that. So what happened then?”
"We were getting changed...to go in the pool."
Willett sat forward again. "This was in Ryan's room? The two of you were undressing?"
"To swim, yes.”
"And Alexis...ummm....disturbed you?"
"I was in the bathroom getting changed." Luke was able to say something that was mostly true. He had been in the bathroom. He knew he was still trying to find the right place to tell them about him and Ryan, but it wouldn’t be to say he'd been naked and standing close to Ryan, watching his best friend get a hard on!
“Ryan’s father came and kicked in the door. He sounded drunk and I was scared. He and Ryan were arguing, and I thought his dad was going to hit him, so I came out to try to stop it." Both detectives seemed happy to let him continue, so he added, "His dad told me I had to go, so we went downstairs. Ryan's mum must’ve heard the shouting and she came in. She and his dad started arguing. She was getting upset, and I wanted to leave, but he wouldn't let me.”
“Why wouldn’t he let you?” Willett pressed.
“I…I’m not sure…he was angry and drunk. He said something about being twenty years in the army…” Luke knew he wasn’t fully answering, but before Willett could press further, Preston stepped in.
“We know that Alexis had just been discharged from the army. It appears he wasn’t able to progress further in the ranks. It’s possible that was behind a lot of his anger.”
“Maybe,” Luke replied. “He was always angry about something. Ryan tried to phone for help, but his father knocked the phone away. They started fighting, then he got a gun out.”
“He? Captain Alexis got a gun out, you mean?” Preston asked.
“From a drawer?”
Luke frowned as he tried to visualize what had happened. “No, I don’t think so. I think it was his army gun from his jacket. It was nearby...in a holster. He pulled it out kept shouting and then pointed it at Ryan. He hit him with it and then they fought. Ryan shouted at me to run, but I froze. I…I thought he was going to kill him…” Suddenly the words were tumbling out of Luke’s mouth as he stumbled up to the point where the weapon went off.
"Captain Alexis kill Ryan, you mean?"
Luke nodded. "Then he hit him—punched Ry, I mean—really hard, and he fell.” Alexis had landed blows that would have knocked most anyone senseless.
“It looked like he was going to shoot him..." The words were tumbling again. "And then his mum she—” He stopped.
“Helena Alexis did what?” Preston prodded.
“She got in front of him…they were fighting...Ryan told me to run and I did…there was nothing else I could do! And then the gun went off—”
“Oh, my God…” Next to Luke, his mum gave a soft cry.
“I did what Ryan had said, and I ran for the front door.” He felt he had to explain, and even now, he felt guilty at leaving Ryan to face Alexis without him. He described how he’d tried to get out the front door, but that it had been locked.
“They were still shouting in the kitchen and then the gun went off again and it went quiet.” It was too much and Luke started shaking at the memories. His mum tried to comfort him, but it didn’t help. “What happened to Ryan?” he sobbed. “I thought he was just out cold. W…when… d…did he kill him?”
The detectives exchanged glances, perhaps wondering how much to tell Luke.
“It could have been then,” Preston said softly. "We only recovered two spent casings from the kitchen, and that fits with what you've said. It could have been that in the struggle between Alexis and his wife, that first round hit Ryan..."
Luke hung his head. There were no words.
"And Helena?" Lucy asked.
“She was hit too. She survived until the ambulance arrived, but passed away on the way to the hospital." Preston kept his eyes and Luke. "Your friend, however, was already dead...I’m terribly sorry.”
“We’ll never know what he intended,” Willett added. “It could even have been an accident.”
“An accident?” Luke was incensed by the idea as, in front of him, Willett’s dark face wasn’t far from twisting into a dismissive scowl. “AN ACCIDENT? Alexis was running around with a gun shooting at us, and you think you can call it all a FUCKING ACCIDENT?”
Next to him, Luke felt his mum stiffen, though she didn’t challenge him on his language.
“The detective didn’t mean that at all,” Preston said, hurriedly, though he cast a tight glance at his colleague, who returned it with a shrug. It seemed clear to Luke that Willett had an agenda.
“Maybe we should continue this another time.” Geoff sounded tense at the face-off. Sitting to Luke's left, he shifted in his seat.
"No. It’s okay." Luke shook his head. He didn’t want to come back to this, or these detectives…and he knew he was far from finished. Ryan deserved better—certainly better than someone like Willett.
“I didn’t know what to do. I ran upstairs to his room.”
“Ryan’s bedroom, you mean?” Preston asked.
“Can you speak your answer for the recorder, Luke?” Preston prompted, gesturing to the recording device on the table.
“Yes, I ran up the stairs to Ryan’s bedroom. I didn’t know where else to go.” Stronger now, he went on to describe calling 911 and talking to the operator. “She said go find somewhere safe, but there wasn’t anywhere. He was real close, searching all the rooms, so I tried to climb down the balcony, but I fell and hurt my ankle."
Again, his voice began to become panicky as he relived it. “I tried to get out through the back gate, but my ankle wouldn’t hold me. Then a bullet must have hit the gate post.” He felt the side of his face and could still feel the residual roughness where the wood had splintered, driving shards of wood into him.
“Yes. We recovered a bullet from the post.”
He went on to describe the hide and seek around the garden and hiding in the pool until the police officers broke through the gate. The look on the faces of both detectives was bleak as he described seeing one fall and the other wounded.
“Then Alexis fell in the water on top of me and held me under…I…I don’t remember much more…” It was a lie, he remembered every moment of screaming panic as he'd begun to drown, but he just couldn't voice it. Reaching the end now, he was shaking once more, and his mum and dad looked appalled. He hung his head, glad it was over.
“It’s important you tell us everything, Luke,” Willett said. Luke looked up, struck by the grimness of the tone.
"I think he's had enough." The tone in his mum's voice was stony.
Willett ignored her, and went on. “We still don’t understand why Ryan’s father would kill them both and then try to kill you, too.”
“What I don’t understand,” she bit back, becoming angry, “is why you seem to think in this country that it’s okay to let people have weapons in the house!”
“Captain Alexis was on active duty, and required as part of his duties to carry a sidearm. Just like police officers, Mrs. Summers,” Willett replied.
“So it was part of his duty to go around killing children, was it!" Her retort was blazing. "No wonder this country is in such a shitty bloody mess!”
Luke cowered. He’d never seen his mum like this. If there was a law against saying 'shitty' to a police officer, the look of anger in Willett would have been the precursor to handcuffs. However, Preston shot a warning glance at his partner. He turned to Lucy, raising both hands in an effort to calm things. “Please, Ma’am, we’re just trying to do our job.”
“Your job?” She couldn’t be placated. “Maybe if this brainless country wasn’t so gun happy in general, this wouldn’t have happened!”
“Mrs. Summers, this is not helping!”
“No, it’s not!” Willet sounded incensed enough to be ready to stand and start a fight. He pointed a finger, angry and accusing. “We’re not here today to justify the Second Amendment to you, ma'am, but I do want to know what happened. My friend died responding to your son’s call and his story doesn’t add up.”
He rounded on Luke again, and his eyes flashed with more accusations. Luke suspected he knew where this was going.
“John. Let me handle—” Preston was uptight, and he put his hand out to stay his partner’s antagonism.
Willett brushed it off. “No! We need to be sure. Terry’s wife and kids deserve the truth!”
"What the hell is he talking about?" Geoff swore now, too, and sounded as confused as Luke was. Preston’s face remained reluctant.
“If you won’t, I need to,” Willet said.
Geoff rounded on him, glaring. “You need to what?”
"I have the transcript here of the conversation that Captain Alexis had with the 911 operator. He said—"
"Stop!" Preston stood up and pointed at Willet. He looked fuming. “If you can’t control yourself, then you’ll need to go, Detective. I’m the lead here, and I’m handling this interview. Are. We. Clear?”
The two stared at each other. Willet looking disgusted and angry. Preston, who had remained so calm until then, looked ready to use force to get what he wanted.
It was Willet who blinked first. “Fine.” He sat back in his chair and looked away.
Preston kept his eyes on his partner for a few moments longer; then, settling back into his seat, he turned back to Luke.
“I apologize for that. At the same time, Luke, it’s true—there are some details I think we’re missing. Let’s go back to when Captain Alexis broke the door down. You said you and Ryan were changing?”
Preston glanced to Luke’s right and left as if he was pointing out that Luke’s parents were right alongside him. He seemed to choose his next words carefully. “Was there something more between you and Ryan? More than just friends?”
“No. Why?” Luke muttered as his eyes darted to his parents. They suddenly seemed very interested, and in fact, the why was easy for him to understand—as it would be for his mum and dad, especially if they got to hear the 911 tape. Willet inched forward in his seat, still holding the transcript.
Detective Preston turned to address Geoff and Lucy. “Mr. and Mrs. Summers, would you please step outside for a few minutes?”
“Are you out of ....” Lucy sputtered and turned toward her husband.
“Really? After how he acted—” Geoff pointed at Willet “—there’s no way we’re going to leave you alone with our son.”
Preston took their measure and nodded. “I understand that, but this is important. There’s something on the 911 tape I want to ask Luke about. Alone. I promise you, he’ll be fine. It will only be a few questions.”
Luke watched his mother’s lips move, but he didn’t listen to the back and forth. He knew where this was going. Part of him wanted to cower back and hide, but that was how everything had gone so wrong. Ryan deserved better.
“They deserve better.” Luke didn’t realize he’d spoken out loud until he realized everyone was looking at him.
“What?” Preston frowned. “I don’t under—”
“They can stay. You can ask whatever in front of them.” Ryan had deserved better; Elliott deserved better. Simon certainly had deserved better from him, and so should his parents.
“Are you sure?” Preston looked a little concerned, and his eyes flicked again to Luke’s parents. “Do they know?”
Luke shook his head and his eyes focused on the white sheets of his bed. “No, but they should.”
Preston’s eyelids narrowed. “You know what I’m talking about, right?”
Luke found it hard to swallow, but forced it through. He took a deep breath and let it out, slowly. It was now or never. “You want to know about Captain Alexis telling the 911 operator that I was in love with his son.”
Willet moved even closer and interrupted Luke’s flow. “Actually he said to send a body bag for the dead faggot who thinks he’s in love with my son.”
Preston jabbed a warning finger at Willet and the younger man sat back. Something had passed between the two and Willet lost much of his aggressiveness. Preston turned away from Willet and back to Luke. “Is it true?”
The detective raised an eyebrow. “All of it.”
Now that the moment had arrived, Luke didn’t feel at all prepared. His parents sat like there were needles on the seat of their chairs. It was so quiet he could hear the hum of the machines in his room. He dropped his eyes. How easy it would be to say, ‘none of it is true.’ Who could say otherwise? The crazy 911 call and the voice of a deranged killer? Ryan? Helena?
They were all gone, and, with a small lie, the accusations would all go away, too. And no one would know the truth. Ryan had tried to save Luke—the rest no one had to know.
They deserve better.
“Ryan is… was gay, but we were just friends.”
“What?” Geoff broke the silence that followed. “Ryan was…was gay?”
Luke avoided his parents and stared at Detective Preston. “Nothing happened between us, but that didn’t matter to Captain Alexis.”
“That—” Willet was cut off by a hand shoved in front of his face.
Preston continued, carefully. “Did you…had anything happened between you two before?”
Lucy was right on top of it, her tone, tight. “You be very careful with what you’re suggesting, Detective!”
Luke resisted the need to look at them and explain. That would come latter. “No, we were just friends.”
“And Captain Alexis calling you a faggot?”
“The man was acting crazy—out of control. He didn’t know it was true…he just assumed.”
Luke wanted to scream at himself. Why couldn’t he even say it now. Ryan had. Why couldn’t he do at least that much?
“Are you saying…?” Willet wasn’t going to let it go.
“Yes, I’m gay!” It was hard not to shout, not to lash out at the man. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
On either side of him, Luke could feel the waves of shock emanating from his parents as they turned to stare at him. His ears burned and he wanted to turn and tell them how sorry he was that he was such a failure, but he didn’t have the courage. Instead, he glared at Willett who seemed strangely happy that he’d ruined Luke’s life, too. As if by outing him to his parents that would make Terry and his family whole again.
Around Luke, it felt like the room froze, but his anger toward Willett stoked a fire of defiance in him. “Alexis thought there was something going on between me and Ryan…but there wasn’t.”
Preston cleared his throat, drawing the attention towards himself. “If nothing ever…happened…between you two, why did he assume you were gay?”
Around Luke, the room was on tenterhooks. Either his parents didn’t trust themselves to say anything, or they just didn’t know what to say anymore. Luke felt he had no choice but to keep going.
“Earlier, when I told you about Ryan’s father telling me to leave, but then locking the front door…”
Willett leaned forward, a hungry look on his face. “Yes?”
Preston held his hand out in front of Willett, but it only partially cooled his expression. “What happened, Luke. All of it please?”
“When Ryan’s dad burst into the bedroom, he was drunk. He had this whiskey bottle in his hand which was nearly empty. First he started to taunt Ryan about the way he dressed and about going to the Academy. He seemed to get off on insulting his own son. Ryan told him off and that made his dad even madder. He choked Ryan…around the neck.” Luke touched his own neck to add to the description. “I wanted to stop him… But I was still in the bathroom. I…I didn’t have any clothes on and….”
It sounded wrong, but he wasn’t lying.
Preston glanced at Willett, maybe waiting for something, but his partner crossed his arms and sat back with a sneer on his face. Finally, Preston asked, “You didn’t think to just put your swimsuit on?”
“I didn’t have it. We were changing when Captain Alexis started pounding on the door. I was scared—Ryan was, too. He told me to go into the bathroom and I went, but I was in such a rush, I forgot my swimsuit.” He searched their faces and saw their doubt. But it was the truth and he wasn’t going to let them drag Ryan or his mum down because they didn’t believe him.
“I told you, he used to hit Ryan all the time. Ryan must have sensed his father’s mood. Or maybe there was more to his dad punching him that weekend than Ryan had told me? I dunno, but Ryan was scared. I think… I know he was trying to protect me. But then his dad started to insult him and things went bad. He started yelling at Ry, demanding to know where I was. He knew I was there because my car was outside. So I came out of the bathroom.
“We explained we were going swimming, but then he started in on me, too. He wanted to know why I was hiding in the bathroom naked. Then started saying that, because we go to an all boys school, I was probably gay. He thought it was funny at first. I didn’t know what to say in the situation, how to reply…it was bad enough as it was… so he grabbed me by the hair and claimed I was trying to corrupt Ryan.”
“Were you?” Again there was a nasty scowl on Willett’s face. It reminded Luke of Ethan Alexis and how he talked to Ryan.
Ryan was worth ten of Ethan or you, any day, you shithead! A hundred, even!
He could almost see Willett grinding his teeth, maybe still determined to read out the 911 transcript he still had in his hands, but Preston overrode him.
“Son, we’re not judging you…”
Yeah, right…. But this time he wasn’t backing down.
“…and I’m so sorry that we have to cover this with you, but four people are dead and we have to be sure we understand why Alexis would react so violently. As I said, we understand that he was discharged from the army that day, and this may have been a contributing factor, but his commanding officer tells us that this is not an abnormal situation for officers to face. He would be receiving extensive career counseling to help in the transition. However, if you and Ryan were in some intimate relationship that Alexis wasn’t aware of up until then, it might explain a lot.”
Maybe it was a good cop, bad cop thing, but Luke warmed to Preston and mellowed his tone, though he still felt totally awkward and tied up inside having to talk about it. “No sir, we weren’t. I mean we're both gay, I mean Ryan was and I am, but we were best friends, nothing else.”
His mother made a noise and it tore at Luke’s worst fears. She’d hate him and so would his dad.
“I know it doesn’t make sense, and honestly I can’t tell you why Captain Alexis went crazy, but I swear to you, Ryan and I were just friends. Nothing ever happened between, ever.”
“But Ryan was gay?”
“Yes, sir, he was. He’d never told me until that day. It was…it was part of the reason we had a fight, earlier…at school.”
“Can you explain that?” Preston asked. “I mean, maybe Captain Alexis had found out you had hit Ryan and was reacting to that?”
“I don’t think so—he never said anything.” Luke knew he’d avoided the question.
“Ry had asked to borrow my phone to make a call, but then he started to read my text messages. When I saw him doing that, I got mad. They were private, but he saw…something and…he… he accused me of being gay. And I got scared…and mad.”
“But you just said you are.” Preston sounded confused, so Luke continued his explanation.
“I wasn’t, I mean I was, but no one knew, not even Ryan. I didn’t know he was gay, and he didn’t know I was, either, and when he read my messages, I thought he was going to out me to the school. I grabbed my phone back and told him he didn’t know anything about me.”
“And then you hit him?” Willet asked.
“Yes, but that was becau—”
“Okay, that’s enough” Geoff stood up and moved closer to Luke. Whatever else he thought, he didn’t seem shy about protecting his son. “You’ve had your chance and you’ve moved well beyond what happened at the Alexis home. If you want to ask any more questions, we’re getting a lawyer.”
Geoff ignored Preston’s plea and looked at Luke. “Not another word. You have the right not to admit to anything. So don’t say a word.”
“Mr. Summer’s…please…” Preston stood to face Geoff. “I… we can skip this part. I’m really not trying to put a charge on your son. We can move on to—”
“I said we’re done!” Raising his voice, Geoff moved between the detectives and Luke.
“Dad?” Luke’s voice trembled, but he looked up and called again. “Dad, it’s okay.”
“Luke, please let me handle this.”
“They... Ryan and his mum…they deserve to have someone hear what they did. I want to tell them what happened.”
The initial angry glare his dad gave him melted as he processed what Luke was saying. For a few moments the underlying disappointment Luke felt sure he read in his father gave way to a flicker of respect.
“Okay, but if I tell you to stop, you stop. Okay?”
“Yes, sir.” Knowing his dad had his back—even just for a few moments—was calming and helped him press on.
“Thank you, Luke.” Preston sat down, but Geoff stayed glued to Luke’s side. “Now—you were telling us what happened in the Alexis house. Can you go on?”
Luke took a deep breath and let it back out. Then he began.
“When I tried to leave, Captain Alexis locked the door and kept calling me names. Ryan—and his mum, too, then—tried to get him to stop, but Captain Alexis wouldn’t listen. He dragged me into the kitchen and Ryan tried to get him to let go of me. His dad hit him and said he knew how to take care of—” Luke couldn’t keep the detectives eyes as he described the scene, “—of faggots. Ryan was bleeding and just lost it. It was then that he told his dad that he was gay…”
Luke shook his head from side to side, distressed by the memories. “Shit…why did he have to do that?”
His dad’s calming hand rested on his shoulder, and Luke continued. “His mum told him to take it back, but it was too late. That was when it got bad.”
It had also been when Luke turned into a coward.
“His dad pulled out a gun and Ryan told me to run. I watched as he and his mom fought with his dad. Ryan shouted at me to run again…so I did. I wish I hadn't, but I did.” Luke wished he could die as he felt four pairs of eyes burning into him.
“Oh, Luke…” Beside him he couldn’t tell whether his mum’s tone was one of relief that he’d run, or disappointment that he’d abandoned his friend.
“You did the right, thing, son,” Preston said at last.
“No, I didn’t! If I’d have stayed... maybe—” Luke felt tears welling up again.
“If you’d have stayed, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Luke,” Preston held Luke’s prickling eyes and the soft compassion threatened to break him. “I can tell you now, that you would have died had you stayed. Ethan Alexis was mentally unhinged and drunk. On top of that, he was a trained soldier. You wouldn’t have stood a chance. If you’d stayed, you'd have died, too.”
“You weren't there. I could've helped…we might have stopped him. Ryan might still be—”
Preston interrupted, but still kindly. “No, son, you couldn't. I talked to people at his base who knew him and what he was like. He was a bull of a man, and he knew how to handle himself. Let me ask you something. Before you ran, did you ever once consider picking up the gun and just shooting him?”
“No! Of course not!”
“And that’s the difference between you and him, and the reason you'd have died with them if you’d stayed. Once this started, he wasn't going to stop. He shot and killed one officer and wounded another. He was cold; you're not. Pulling a trigger is a lot harder than you think, and it’s very unlikely you could have done it, even if you did get hold of the gun. His training would have told him that. You did the right thing; you have to believe that.”
Luke slumped. He knew Preston was right, but it was hard to let it go.
He was wondering what would happen now, when the door opened. One of his doctors entered, trailed by the nurse. Right at their heels was a wide-eyed Simon. Yep, he’d listened at the door.