Luke awoke in a place he didn't know...if waking it was. It felt like he was deep under the water again, way down below the surface, with the pressure pushing into his ears along with indistinct sounds as he clawed upwards, inch by inch, as though through layers of dark treacle. The light that beckoned was uncertain, and he struggled to force himself towards it and to gasp a breath that would let him live.
His eyes slowly opened—the last obstacle that barred escape from the underworld—though the effort exhausted him, and his eyelids fluttered as he tried to find himself. A painful light stung his eyes and he closed them again to return to the safety of darkness.
"He's coming round." The voice was distant and slurred. It could have been his dad...or it could have been anyone. Again, sunlight from a window stung his eyes and he tried to turn to evade it.
"Thank God!" It was a voice he thought he recognized; his mum, though her voice sounded disconnected, and seemed tense. "Maybe we should let them know...in case they want to do some tests."
Luke felt completely powerless, dead to do anything other than to move his eyelids—and even that was an effort. He gave up and began to sink into the welcoming waters once again.
"Is he going to be alright?" Another voice pushed in, urgently summoning him back to reality, and Luke's brain functioned enough to tell him he recognized it. It was Simon, though Luke couldn’t make sense of why Simon would be at the Alexis house with him in the pool.
“I’ll go and let them know if they don’t already. The monitors tell them everything.” It was the first voice he’d heard.
With a brighter spark of recognition, Luke knew for certain it was his dad’s. With it, further cognition came as Luke began to realize where he was, and some of what had happened. It took a bit of time, but slowly memories came back as he pushed upwards and broke the surface once more. In fact, he began to remember far too much, and, at the same time, nowhere near enough.
Foremost, he remembered what it was like to drown, the experience of his lungs filling as he was held under the cold, chlorinated water of the pool and forced to open his mouth. Now, he felt the presence of tubes that entered his nose and constricted his throat, and he panicked, stirring his hand with what felt like an impossible task of reaching up to claw at his face and free himself.
“Okay, Luke, just relax.”
The new voice was unknown and hands held Luke's wrists as, without strength though he was, he frantically tried to tear at the tubes that were invading his nose and throat. They held him until he realized he wasn’t under water and that he was actually able to breathe freely.
He remembered more now.
He remembered dying at Ryan’s—at least it felt that way as the darkness had closed in until the world finally went black. But there had been no bright light, no long tunnels or feelings of peace and joy. Just a dark nothingness until he was retching again on the hard surface of the patio slabs. A mouth locked onto his and air was forced in. Fists thumped his chest and he had thought Alexis had come back for him. Even now, he felt the memory of the beating around his aching upper body.
More air, more thumping on his chest, and then he'd retched again, vomiting water and blood. Then, for the second time, he'd passed out.
He'd come round in what had to have been an ambulance racing across town. The sounds of the siren competed with the barking commands of a paramedic who beat at his chest again until more water erupted.
"How's the boy?"
Luke had turned his head slightly to track the voice in the speeding vehicle. Across the other side of the vehicle, he'd briefly caught sight of what seemed to be a police officer by the empty holster at his waist. He was stripped of his uniform pants, and looked pale. A bandage was being held to his leg.
Luke had closed his eyes, begging them silently to leave him be. It was so painful and he was so tired. Why couldn't they just let him sleep?
They must have reached a hospital, but it wasn't until what had to have been the ER and as they pored over him that he began to regain consciousness. He was surrounded by organized chaos, but was lucid enough to pick up odd words like anoxia and surgery. Then it had turned dark once more.
Now, in a room he didn't know, people were leaning over him and talking, though he couldn’t make any sense of what they were saying. Still, it was soothing, and he slipped beneath the surface once again.
* * *
"Okay there, Luke?"
The sound of a voice Luke didn't recognize seemed close. It brought him out of a stupor, and he forced open his eyes—more easily this time. He had no idea how much time had passed. It might have been moments, or it could have been days. Reaching towards the tubes in his nose he tried to pull at them again, but once more a hand restrained him.
"Just leave that alone for now." The voice was firm but gentle. "How are you feeling?"
How was he feeling? He had no idea how to even answer that, so just closed his eyes again.
The voice was apparently unperturbed by his reticence.
"It's going to take a while for the medication to flush out of his system, but everything looks good. Just be patient." The tone was optimistic, but it didn't seem to be directed at Luke—or make any sense—so he let it drift past him.
* * *
The third time he came too was harder. A lot harder.
His chest and shoulder throbbed as badly as his head, and he felt nauseous. The room was dimmed, and he shifted position to search for something more comfortable. He knew straightaway that he wasn't in his own bed, and it felt stuffy without his usual overhead fan. In fact, nothing in his line of sight was familiar, and as he tried to move, he became aware again of lines and pipes sprouting from both his nose and his arm. Close by, the soft beeps of monitors reminded him he was alive.
“Thirsty…” He spoke for the first time, though his voice was dry and raspy, and he swallowed on a tight throat. He had no idea if there was anyone there but was relieved to sense movement across to his right. His mum’s face came into view.
“Hey there, sleepy head…” Her worried face belied the light tones. “They said you might be awake soon. Here, take a sip of this.”
A beaker with a straw appeared near his face and he leaned enough to suck at it. Cool water trickled down his throat, which felt unnaturally obstructed as he swallowed. The water was a boon, but more than that, knowing his mum was right there almost started him crying.
"How are you feeling," she asked, coaxing him to take some more water. He lay his head back down again with the intention of trying to think what her question needed, but drifted off once more.
A few hours? A day? It was hard to tell how quickly time was passing. Each time he surfaced, there was water, his mum, dad, and sometimes Simon, all trying to be cheery and give him something to drink if he wanted it. He didn’t speak, but just listening to their chatter was comforting as he existed in an in-between world.
He woke once, and it must have been during the night. He was sweating and his dreams hadn't been good. Of the three of them, only his mum was there, stretched out on a sofa that seemed to be made up into a bed. He moved slightly, and it was enough to wake her. Soon the straw was at his lips and he sucked hungrily.
"Thirsty, eh?" She sounded light, but she looked tired. "Drink as much as you want—they said it's good for you."
He tried not to go back to sleep, knowing that the dreams would be waiting, but he couldn't help it and slipped away as she stroked his hair with gentle care.
The next time he awoke—sometime the next morning it seemed to him—he felt stronger. It was daytime, and light streamed into a room that seemed to be filled with people. Maybe it was their conversation that had awakened him?
He tried to take stock at last.
That he was in a hospital was clear, but it seemed to be a private room and not an open ward like the one Simon had been put on. Blinking, he could see both his mum and dad standing together at the end of the bed. With them were two white-coated doctors and a nurse. He was thirsty again, so turned his head to see if he could see the beaker with the straw.
They seemed to realize he was conscious, and one of the doctors said, “Well, it seems he's awake now, so why don’t we just go ahead and examine him while we're here?”
“We can probably take the tube out, too,” said the other as they conferred.
As though he were watching a TV drama, Luke watched his dad turn his direction and say, "You're sure he can breathe well enough?"
"Absolutely, Geoff. It looks like we're out of the woods with him now. His temperature and blood pressure have been stable for more than forty-eight hours. The oxygen has just been to give him a little help, but he doesn't need it now. Just give us a few minutes to sort him out, and once we’ve checked him over, why don’t we get together again to evaluate and to look at the next steps?"
Geoff? Luke wrinkled his forehead and tried to make sense of it. Had he been here so long that the doctors were on first name terms with his parents?
A curtain got pulled across, shutting out all but the doctors and the nurse.
“Okay, young man, why don’t we lift you up a bit?” said the first doctor, and Luke felt the soft whirring of the mechanism that slowly lifted the back of the bed. The sheets were drawn down and the simple hospital gown was all that covered him. That was undone at the back and folded down to leave only his groin covered—and then even that got eased down as they inspected a tube—one that he hadn’t even know was there—that was sprouting out of the end of his dick. At least that made sense of where all the water he'd been drinking had been going.
“Concentration and volume are fine," said the doctor as the nurse wrote notes on his chart. "Let’s up the fluids a bit more now. I'd really like to start him eating soon, too.”
The doctor seemed happy to let the nurse figure out the culinary details and tapped at one of the many bags that Luke could see were strung up on hooks alongside the bed. “And let’s reduce the morphine another twenty-five per cent. Everything is over the line, but I still want sats and bloods hourly throughout the day, just to be sure."
Luke blinked as his brain slowly caught up. Stable for forty-eight hours, the doctor had said.
So how long had he been here?
“Luke, we’re going to take the tube out of your nose now. It’ll feel a wee bit uncomfortable, but I’ll be as quick as I can.”
Uncomfortable hardly covered it and Luke started retching as the thick tube that tracked in through his nose was withdrawn. He vomited into the bowl that the nurse held near his mouth. Even that the doctors studied, though they seemed satisfied with what little was there.
His shoulder ached as he moved and he said, “It hurts.” It was only the second thing he'd spoken since he'd awoken in this place.
The doctor reached for a small light from his breast pocket and pointed the beam towards Luke's eyes, making him blink. Then the doctor lifted a finger. He said, "Just follow my finger, can you."
Luke did as he was asked as it traced first to the left and then to the right.
"Luke, can you tell me what school you go to?"
School? The unexpected question made no sense to Luke, but his dry, husky reply was, "The Academy."
"And can you tell me when your birthday is?"
In the same painful rasp, he got it out. In the background the other side of the curtain, he heard his mum's partly obscured cry of, "Oh, thank God for that!"
The doctor wasn't finished, and he said, "Now can you try to cough for me?” He held a stethoscope to Luke's chest and Luke did his best, though his lungs felt irritated and sore. Worse, it felt like someone had stamped on him!
“Just lean forward for me if you can, and cough again…”
"You damaged a rib during CPR, I'm afraid—a hairline fracture. There's not a lot that we can do, and it's nothing that won't heal in time. The codeine will help take the edge off it for now. Just do your best and lean forward and cough for me."
Luke did his best, though his body groaned with the pain as the cold instrument traced around his back. He damaged a rib? The doctor made it sound like it was Luke's fault!
The doctor slipped the stethoscope from his ears and glanced at his colleagues. “Well, there doesn't seem to be any sign of infection, but let’s get a chest x-ray again, just to be sure. Now—how’s that shoulder doing? Can you move your fingers for me, Luke?”
Luke looked down at his hand in apprehension at the unexpected idea that he might have lost the use of his hand, though, with relief, he saw his fingers move. The doctor seemed satisfied with his performance too, and said, “The color looks good. And how about flexing the arm at your elbow, like this…”
Fuck that hurts!
Luke grimaced at the stabbing discomfort that radiated from his shoulder as he followed the doctor’s directions, but at least he was alive enough to swear! Despite the pain, he was relieved he was able to rotate his left arm—at least at the elbow.
They did a few more tests and then covered him up prior to opening the curtains again. By then, he felt exhausted and lay back on the still-raised bed. He closed his eyes as his parents left the room with the doctors, but not before he'd spotted the Concourse Towers through the windows. He knew the local skyline well enough that it had to put him at Northside hospital—the same place they had brought Simon. It made sense if you were coming from Ryan's.
Northside. Behind his eyelids, other people and circumstances coalesced and he wondered if Estela had got her flight.
“You look like crap, and I bet you could do with a drink!”
Luke's eyes blinked open some moments later to the sound of the very familiar voice. Through the part-open door, he could hear others, too, out there alongside his mum and dad.
“I forgot to bring any beer with me,” Todd chuckled, coming closer. “Will water do?”