The loud bang of the gun sent the crowd of Christmas shoppers running wildly toward the exit of the mall. Michael was shoved aside, and fell against a huge man who in turn pushed him away as he made his way to the exit. The smell of fear was all around him. He stumbled and tried to regain his balance, but was unsuccessful. He hit the floor with a hard thud and what felt like a hundred feet trampled over him. When he regained consciousness, he was covered in gift boxes and bows. Michael realized that all around him, people were just dropping their packages in their haste to escape the madness. He tried to get up, to see Ben through the crowd, but lost consciousness again before he could spot him.
Ben was frantic. He was being shoved from side to side and almost lost his balance twice. He was roughly shoved to the side again by more people pushing toward the exit. His body slammed against the window of an electronic store and it was all he could do not to slide down the smooth cold glass to the floor. His head hit the window but not with enough force to render him unconscious. He had tried to hold onto Michael's hand but the force of the crowd had quickly separated them and Michael was no where to be seen. He jumped to his feet and tried to push through the crowd, when the deafening sound of gun fire filled his ears again. Where was Michael? Ben's thoughts were in turmoil, how had this day suddenly turned into such a nightmare?
It started out simple enough. He and Michael had decided to forgo their plans of sleeping in to finish up their Christmas shopping. They only had a few more things to buy and decided that they would finish up so they could lounge around all day on what had become known as their Sunday.
Sunday was Ben's favorite day of the week. Michael had the day off, and he decided that would be the one day that he wouldn't grade papers, or work on his novel. It was his and Michael's day to just enjoy each other. They would lay in bed until noon and make love, laugh, and talk. Their stomachs would always force them out of bed, but once satisfied, they would race back to the bedroom and make love again. It had quickly become their ritual since moving in together. Ben would take the phone off the hook and Michael would turn off their cellphones so they wouldn't be disturbed. Their friends knew their routine, and eventually stopped yelling at them for being unavailable. Even Brian stopped complaining to Michael about not having his cellphone on. So, when they realized they still had a few more gifts to buy, they decided to get the shopping done. Ben wished now that they had not given up their one day. He wished with all his heart that they were still at home in their nice warm bed, snuggled together.
Michael felt a cool hand gently move across his forehead.
"Hey, are you OK?"
He managed to mumble a reply before his head exploded. He had the worst headache of his life. . He tried to get up, but a wave of nausea swept though him and he laid down again.
"It's OK," he heard. "Try to relax, you've been trampled on pretty badly."
With help, he was able to sit up against the wall. Holding his head against the pain, he suddenly, thought of Ben.
"Ben...where's Ben?" Pain shot through his head and body, he was barely holding onto consciousness.
"Who's Ben?" the woman with the cool gentle hands asked. She continually stroked his head, for which Michael was grateful. Her tenderness was doing wonders for his headache and in calming him down.
Trying to look up and around, Michael was able to choke out, "He's my boyfriend, I don't see him...something must have happened to him...I have to find him!" Michael struggled to get up. This time he made it, but as he took a few steps forward, his mind started spinning and he stumbled and fell against the wall behind him.
Trying to keep him from falling hard, the woman guided Michael's body down to the floor.
"You better sit down for a minute. I think you should go to the hospital. You took a pretty bad hit to the head. I saw the whole thing." The woman with the cool hands said.
Michael was almost frantic. "I'm not going anywhere until I find Ben!"
Holding him close, she tried again to calm him down. "Shhh...shhhh...all right...it's all right. Just relax...he's probably looking for you too, so don't worry. My name is Sara, what's yours?"
Sara knew she needed to keep Michael talking, keep him conscious until she could get him help.
"Michael," he said. Somehow he knew that she was trying to help but he was beyond reason. He needed to find Ben, needed to know that he was unhurt. Needed to feel him in his arms. Just needed him.
Sara continued to hold onto Michael. He was badly bruised, and a large lump was forming on the back of his head. He could have a concussion, he could possibly have internal injuries with the way he was holding his side. She had seen Michael go down, and knew he had been caught underfoot by many people, too scared to care what or who they were running over.
He struggled against the arms of the woman, but it wasn't long before darkness took hold of him again.
Sara continued to gently rock him, tenderly stroking his hair until she felt Michael's body go limp. She waited patiently for help, knowing that sooner or later someone would come. Knowing it was safer to stay down, where they were partially hidden by a cement garbage receptacle.
Finally..."Ma'am? Can I help? Are you all right?"
Looking up into the concerned face of a policeman, Sara let out a deep breath and sent up a grateful prayer. Michael would now get the help he needed.
"Oh thank you! I'm OK, but Michael is hurt! He was pushed down and trampled on! Please help him!"
"OK. Stay down Ma'am ... the shooter is still in the Mall. We'll get you out safely. Just stay close."
The policeman called for help and soon both Michael and Sara were outside, having been shielded by the officers. Michael was brought over to a waiting ambulance.
Placed on a stretcher, the paramedics immediately went to work checking Michael over. Sara sat on the back of an ambulance, watching their every move. Dried blood was found on the back of Michael's head, and it was then that Sara noticed the blood on her hand.
"Ma'am, you're hurt."
"No, no..I'm OK...it's from Michael's head...just help him..please."
Sara looked around, trying to see if she might see Michael's boyfriend...but there were too many people frantically looking for loved ones that she had no idea which could be Ben.
Looking back at Michael she saw that they had him in a neck brace and an IV had been started. Michael was still unconscious, his coloring white as a sheet. They were just putting him into another ambulance.
"Where are you taking him?" She asked.
"Community Hospital. Are you a relative?"
"No," she sighed. "I saw him go down, I knew he needed help."
"Well, thanks to you, he has a good fighting chance. He could have been hurt a lot worse if he hadn't gotten help."
Sara smiled softly as she watched the ambulance pull away. I don't even know his last name, she thought. Be well Michael...be well.
Having been dragged outside by the force of the crowd, Ben searched for Michael, hoping against hope that the same thing had happened to him.
He started yelling for Michael but his voice was drowned out by all the screaming around him. He franticly looked through the crowd trying to find his lover. He saw the first ambulance pull away from the curb as he was pushed through the doors into the cold December air. He tried to turn around and get back inside, when a policeman grabbed him by the arm.
"You can't go back inside. The gunman is still at large."
"But Michael is still in there, I have to get him out." Ben was struggling to get out of the cops iron grip.
"Look pal, if you don't want to be arrested, I suggest you stop resisting and keep moving."
Ben knew he wouldn't get past this particular cop, so he made his way outside trying in vain to find another way in. Suddenly, a different cop took him by the arm.
"Why don't you come over here and sit down. I'm Detective Curtis. We're going to need a statement from you. What's your name?"
"Ben...Ben Bruckner...and I have to find Michael."
A woman who had been giving her statement quickly turned around. "Did you just say your name was Ben?"
"Yes, I'm Ben, why?"
"And you have a boyfriend named Michael?"
"Yes...yes...have you seen him?" Ben asked, having grabbed a hold of her arm as if she might disappear before his eyes.
"They took your boyfriend to Community Hospital. He was knocked down by the crowd and he hit his head pretty hard." Sara gently took Ben's hand in hers. "He was trying to find you too."
"Thank you...thank you so much." Ben started to leave when Detective Curtis shouted "Wait, we need to get your statement." He took one look at Ben and said "Listen, come down to the station after you visit your friend. I was in love once too." He winked at Ben and let him go.
Time seemed to stand still as Ben tried to get out of the parking lot. Policemen worked hard to get the cars out as panic had driven people to do anything to get away. The exits were blocked every where and as the minutes ticked by, Ben became more and more worried. His mind flashing to just what could have happened, each scenario becoming more and more gruesome.
Finally after twenty minutes he was on the high way, speeding his way to the hospital, not caring but hoping he wasn't stopped. Community Hospital was only a few blocks away, but it might as well have been on the other side of the world. Road blocks had been set up, and all the time he had made in speeding, was lost in the car inspections. They were looking for possible accomplices to the shooter. Ben hit his hand against the wheel, and taking deep breaths, tried to calm down, but knew it was a futile attempt. He was worried, terribly worried.
He knew he should call Debbie, but not having any information, he didn't want to worry her unnecessarily. He wasn't up to handling her many frantic questions.
Slowly he inched closer and closer to the roadblock. Slowly he inched closer and closer to the hospital...to Michael.
Finally after numerous questions and a thorough search of his car, Ben was able to drive the last block to the hospital. Finding a parking spot proved equally difficult, it seemed that half the population of Pittsburgh were visiting the hospital!
Ben ran up to front desk of Community hospital almost knocking down a nurse. He quickly apologized to her and then turned his attention to the woman behind the desk. "I'm looking for my boyfriend. His name is Michael Novotny. We were at the mall when there was a shooting and we were separated. Someone told me he was brought here. Can you please help me?" Ben was trying really hard not to lose it, he knew it wouldn't do any good. He had to keep his wits about him if he was going to find out where they had taken Michael.
The nurse looked at the computer screen. "Novotny...Novotny...oh here he is. They took him to the ER...just down that corridor and turn right. The doctor is with him now, and I'm sure he will answer any questions you have."
"Thank you." Ben said as he ran down the hallway.
Michael was trying to sit up on the edge of the stretcher, fighting against the bonds of the nurses hands. Either she was a body builder or he was hurt a lot worse than he imagined.
"Sir, you need to keep still, we need to check the extent of your injuries."
"You don't understand, I have to find Ben! I can't stay here. He could be hurt...he could be calling for me...I have to find him!" Michael cried out, "You have to let me go...I need to find him."
"We need to take a few more tests. You could have a concussion, or, worse, you could have a fracture. Please, let me finish my examination and then I'll try to find out what happened to your friend."
Falling back in exhaustion and with pain shooting through him, Michael laid there, tears falling freely, he tried valiantly to get himself under control. "You don't understand, he's not my friend, he's my life. He's my lover, and I have to find him! I don't care about my head...I only care about him, now please give me my clothes." He made another attempt to get off the stretcher.
"Sir, we'll use restraints if we have too, please lay still. The faster we can examine you the faster you will get out of here. So please sir, you have to calm down. Yelling at me isn't going to find your lover. I promise, if you let me finish my examination, I'll take you to find your boyfriend, deal?"
Ben heard Michael yelling as he ran through the door. Michael looked up and when he spotted Ben, tears sprang immediately to his eyes. Ben ran over and crushed Michael to him. They held each other tightly. Ben placed light kisses on Michael head, murmuring softly so that only Michael could hear him,
"I thought I lost you." He held onto Michael tighter. "I love you. I love you so much." He kissed Michael's head again and squeezed him.
"I love you too Ben...I was so afraid that something happened to you. I couldn't find you...I thought you ... you...were dead!" Michael choked. Ben just held him tighter.
"I know baby, but I'm here now, and nothing happened...Thank God you're OK. I don't know what I would have done if anything had happened to you."
Ben gave way to the tears that he had been trying to suppress. He felt Michael's arms tighten around his waist. He had never felt so relieved in his life.
Michael looked up into Ben's eyes. "So did I hear you right? Did you just say you love me?" he asked with childlike innocence.
Ben looked down and kissed him fiercely. Then he pulled back and looking in his lovers eyes, "Yes, Michael, I love you with all my heart...with all that I am...forever." Ben leaned down and softly kissed Michael's lips. "I'm sorry I didn't say it sooner. I wanted to tell you for so long now, but I was afraid."
"Yes, I was afraid to say it, I was afraid that if I said it, you would be hurt. I don't want you to get hurt."
Michael eyes filled with love. "I won't leave you Ben...ever. I'll take care of you."
Ben was amazed that Michael knew exactly what he meant. Gently he rested Michael's head back on the pillow, and looking deep into his eyes, said, "That's what I don't want baby. I don't want you to feel obligated to do that."
Michael gently caressed Ben's face, tenderly smoothing out the lines of worry. "It's not an obligation, it's what I'll do if you need me ... because I love you. And who knows, by that time, they might find a cure. But, until then, I don't want you to worry about me. We love each other and that's all that matters." Sighing deeply he whispered, "I'm really glad you told me."
"I'm glad too."
The held each other for a little longer before the doctor cleared his throat. "Well, now that you've found your Ben, can I finish my examination?"
Ben and Michael both looked up at the doctor and smiled softly. Tears of happiness filling their eyes. "Sure, as long as you tell us he can go home so we don't miss our Sunday." Ben stepped back and allowed the doctor and nurses access to Michael.
Michael laid back, but his eyes never left Ben's face.
After completing his examination, the doctor turned and looked at Ben. "Well, I'm not sure what your Sunday's are normally like, but today is certainly going to be different."
Looking at Michael he said, "You not only have a concussion, but you also have countless bruises and possible internal injuries. I'm going to admit you for at least tonight to keep a strict eye on any possible internal bleeding."
Michael would have protested if he had felt any better. The pain from the examination was brutal, and the doctor had tried his best to be gentle. Michael knew that not staying the night was not an option, it was a necessity to be close to help. His head was throbbing again and it was taking all of his control not to pass out.
Ben could see the struggle in Michael's eyes. He also knew that Michael needed more help than he could give him at home. So nodding his head to the doctor, Ben accepted whatever prognosis the doctor prescribed.
Walking along with the stretcher, Ben looked up as his name was called.
It was the lady from the mall.
The stretcher stopped, Michael fought to stay awake, the sedative given just moments ago taking effect.
"Sara," he whispered. And slowly, he reached out his hand towards her. "Are you all right? Did you get hurt?"
"No," she whispered. "No, I'm fine. I'm so glad to have found you, I only knew your first name." Stroking the hair back from Michael's forehead, she leaned down to whisper, " I'm so glad that you found your boyfriend."
Smiling through the haze surrounding his eyes, Michael barely whispered, "thank you," before succumbing to the drugs.
Looking up into Ben's tear filled, though smiling eyes, Sara gently pulled him into a hug. "Keep him safe. He loves you dearly."
His tears finally spilled down, as Ben hugged her tightly. "Thank you. I don't know who you are but I feel so close to you."
Pulling back slightly, Sara caressed Ben's face saying, "Just a friend...just a friend."
And with one last soft caress to Michael's face, she turned and walked away.
Ben watched as she disappeared through a door, and looking down at Michael's sleeping face, softly sighed.
back to fiction index page