By Donny Mumford - Laureate Author

Published on Oct 7, 2023




The background beeping of ICU monitors has become the ever-present audio wallpaper of all hospital intensive care units. Beep, beep, beep... but twenty-one-year-old patient John Darling Jr. in Boston Medical Center's ICU is unaware of the beeping. He's also unaware that he's hooked up to one of the monitors displaying information such as his heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and intracranial pressure.

John's unaware of these things and others because he's in a coma. His prolonged loss of consciousness was caused by a traumatic head injury incurred during an automobile accident almost a month ago. In his present vegetative state, he's also unaware he's now an orphan. Tragically, his parents had perished in the accident.

It wasn't anybody's fault. On a clear, sunny day late in May, John's father was driving his wife and son, John Jr., back to their Boston hotel from Weston, Massachusetts, where they had looked at houses for sale. Mr. Darling had been promoted to regional manager and was preparing for his family to transfer to the Boston area when, while arguing with his wife about something stupid, he suffered a massive heart attack and lost consciousness. The rental Nissan Versa he was driving drove itself into a concrete overpass at sixty miles per hour. It all happened in three seconds.

John Jr.'s ICU chart indicates he's wearing a diaper, a Nasogastric feeding tube, and a urethral catheter. Information from his Wyoming driver's license indicates he's twenty-one, six feet tall, weighs one hundred sixty-seven pounds, and has blood type O-positive.

The chart doesn't mention how John is a beautiful young man with a pale peaches and cream complexion, wavy blond hair, and big dark blue eyes that go beautifully with his pure, pale, flawless complexion. It doesn't mention anything about John's hot swimmer's body either.

Before his coma, John was a smiling, shy, clean-shaven, quiet young man with a short haircut, no tattoos, and no body piercings. His same-sex sexual orientation is known only by his Duke University college roommate, Brian O'Neil. Other than Brian, John kept his sexual orientation to himself. Brian's the only one who knows he's been totally dominating John Darling sexually for over a year. Presently, both are on summer break from Duke, so Brian is unaware of John's present condition, although he's mystified as to why John hasn't returned text messages.

Yeah, well, the world keeps turning, including the daily care for this young coma patient. One aspect of the care is that nursing assistant Andy Salsbury gives John sponge baths every other day in the far corner of the ICU, and today is a sponge bath day.

While waiting for a nurse to finish what she's doing, Andy checks the items in his cart. Among other things, the cart contains a basin filled with distilled water heated to 105-115 degrees, a bottle of no-rinse Ph balanced body cleaner, no-tears shampoo, unscented body lotion, and disposable washcloths and towels. Although known as a sponge bath, Andy baths John using disposable washcloths, not sponges.

Andy has a face some might describe as sort of cute in an unusual way; he's five-feet-nine inches tall,145 pounds and has brown eyes and light blond hair that he wears in a short ponytail. He's been sporadically acting on his homosexual urges since he was fourteen. Almost eight years without ever having had an actual boyfriend.

He presently has a spotty sex life consisting of a thirty-four-year-old married man, Eugene Duper, who texts Andy once or twice a month when Eugene's wife visits her mother with their six-year-old child. Eugene calls Andy when he needs to accommodate the homosexual aspect of his bisexuality. Eugene lives in the same apartment complex as Andy, and they met while taking out the trash a few times. Something clicked, a little gaydar perhaps, and one thing led to another.

They get together in Eugene's apartment, and Andy plays the role of a dominant top to Eugene's very submissive bottom. Without his heart being in it, Andy will do some less-than-energetic spanking, then he gives a hard fucking on Eugene's ass, and it's all over in ten minutes. Eugene is usually drunk or nearly drunk.

Currently, Andy's only other sexual activity is with a high school buddy, Manny Ortiz. For four years now, once a week, Andy has met Manny at the Greyhound station on Atlantic Ave in Boston. If Manny hasn't picked up a gay traveler by nine o'clock, depending on Manny's mood, Andy will do oral sex on him or, if Manny feels like it, he'll fuck Andy for up to thirty minutes in the back of the hearse Manny drives for a funeral home.

That's presently the entire sad state of Andy's sex life. It had been better during high school when Andy was doing a lot of blowjobs. Then, at the hospital, it was better in the past when he was getting fucked every couple of days by a much older man working at the hospital's stockroom. Andy was content with the sex he was having with the stockroom supervisor, Mr. Farmer, until, unfortunately, for reasons unknown, Mr. Farmer got fired a year ago.

Standing with his cart at the foot of John Darling's bed, Andy's containing his excitement, trying to look bored. He's not bored, though. Far from it, he's excited about doing the sponge bath for John Darling Jr. but smart enough not to show his excitement to Nurse Amanda Buckley, a short, sturdy woman with thick reddish hair streaked with gray who's checking John's monitor and vital signs.

When Andy sees she's done, his brown eyes sparkle as he smiles and says in his always friendly, lisping manner, "How's our boy looking today?"

Without trying to conceal her irritation that this homosexual person is allowed to bathe incapacitated male patients, homophobic Nurse Buckley mutters, "Can't you once, just once, say something without lisping? I think you do that on purpose to get under my skin, and how about saying something different for once, Andy? Every time you see me, you ask me the same damn thing."

After spouting out that venom, she shakes her head, striding past Andy and rolling her eyes at the ceiling. Andy steps back, moving his head and shoulder affectedly, his wrist hanging limply. His feelings are hurt, and not for the first time. He knows it's childish, but he flashes his middle finger at her back when she's at the door as he lisps, "It's too bad about you flunking out of charm school, Nurse Buckley. Have a nice day."

She turns and says, "Get real! GAWD!"

When she's out the door, Andy leans down and whispers to John, "What a homophobic bitch Nurse Buckley is! I feel bad for her, though. I mean, it must be terrible being her all day, every day." John has no response to that. He has no response to anything.

Andy tries not to be overly sensitive to the nurse's nastiness, but it hurts just the same. He could get her in a lot of trouble with the HR department if he reported her, but Andy's too lovely to do that. Instead, he forgets about it and gets started on the sponge bath by rolling over a privacy screen to block off the rest of the ICU. Coma or not, John deserves privacy during his bath.

Andy's big brown eyes glisten as he pulls the covers past John's feet. His shirt sleeve pulled up a little when he did that, exposing the tattooed rainbow bracelet around his right wrist. Andy likes tattoos that support LGBTQ+, but the bracelet is his only tattoo so far. He plans on getting more, but he makes only $14.00 an hour and can't afford another tattoo right now.

Taking a deep inhale, he lets his breath out slowly, moves the hospital gown off John's body, and then holds it away from the bed. His fingers go under the diaper, checking that it's dry and the catheter tube is in place. Pubic hair is the only noticeable hair on John's torso, which is something Andy and John have in common.

Andy murmurs, "You and me, Johnny. I could be a perfect friend for you," and then he takes another gasping breath and pretends to be fluffing the pillow, leaning over and kissing John's cheek.

Controlling his breathing, he slides a waterproof sheet under John to prevent the bed sheets from getting wet, then hesitates for two seconds so his eyes can absorb everything about this very desirable young male body lying before him. The tube from John's penis and the adult diaper detracts from John's perfection, but Andy overlooks that, then puts the hospital gown in the soiled clothes bag on his cart.

Wearing gloves, he removes John's diaper, turning his head away at the smelly smear of shit, then drops the diaper in the yellow clinical waste bag inside the metal trash container with the pedal-operated lid. He mutters, "Eww," and throws the gloves in there too. Although he's supposed to, he doesn't wear gloves for John's sponge bath.

Using a washcloth, he takes his time slowly washing John's face, then his pale whitish/pink, hairless torso: his chest, belly, belly button, then his sides and left leg; then, again, walking to the other side of the bed, he washes the right leg. Breathing deeply while doing everything because his penis is very hard in his pants by now.

After taking three deep breaths, he gently washed John Darling's crotch, ass crack, and buttocks, being very aware not to do more than necessary. He's not a pervert, after all.

Blinking rapidly, he glances at John's five-inch picture-perfect penis, then watches the transparent tube from it turn pale yellow as urine flows through, accumulating in a bag on the side of the bed. He usually doesn't shave John's sparse beard but he does that today because John's having his first visitor later today. After almost a month, someone is coming to see John. It's the Darling family's attorney, Sara McCarty.

He squeezes his hard six-inch cock through his khaki pants, then changes the water, washes his hands, and uses special shampoo to wash John's hair which has grown much longer than the way John kept it. Andy likes John's hair long like this and spends time drying it, then brushes and combs it. After another deep breath, he drops the comb on the cart and smiles at how much pleasure this sponge bath gave him and, hopefully, gave John, too.

Andy lovingly spreads the unscented body lotion over John's clean, tight body using his bare hands. It's a spectacular thrill doing this, and Andy stops at one point, grimaces as his stomach muscles tighten to the max, and... ahh, he cums in his pants. "Oh, God!" he says aloud, a wave of dizziness sweeping over him, then a flash of pleasant warmth as he breathes easier, smiles again, and finishes spreading the body lotion.

His orgasm built up and built up until climaxing was inevitable. Andy leans to whisper to John, "Goddamn, that felt wonderful. Thank you so much, Darling!" Then he gets John into a new diaper and hospital gown, finishing by pulling the covers up to his chest.

This morning wasn't the first time Andy blew a load in his pants while sponge-bathing coma patient John Darling. It's the fifth or sixth time. So, yeah, Andy's getting his rocks off, but he is also taking care of John with tender, loving care, doing everything better than anyone else would take the time to do. The same can't be said of other sponge baths Andy will give today, although he does an okay job for all of them. He's not a slacker; he takes his job seriously... it's just that John is uniquely beautiful in Andy's eyes.

Anybody spending a minute or two with Andy Salsbury would know he's of a gay swishy persuasion because every move he makes, every step he takes, every word he speaks, it's as if Twinkie Andy is screaming... I'M QUEER!

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

He's a sweet, semi-girlish, proud-to-be gay young man living with two roommates, both of whom are horny, macho, straight neighborhood boys who Andy grew up with. The three share a three-bedroom, slightly run-down five-room apartment eight blocks from the hospital. That's less than half a mile to work for Andy, and he walks it. There's an MBTA stop a block from the apartment building that his roommates use to get to their jobs--a convenient apartment location for all three.

Andy dreams of a real boyfriend to replace the revolving fantasy ones he's had, John Darling being his current fantasy. That's about it for Andy's ambitions and dreams. He feels he would be the perfect person to help John experiment with any gay urges he might have, not knowing that John is fully gay already and had been his roommate's submissive bottom boy for a year before the accident.

After dragging everything out as long as he could, Andy reluctantly moved the privacy screen back against the wall, gathered up his equipment, soaps, and lotions, took a last long look at John Darling, and began pushing his cart, already looking forward to the day after tomorrow when he'd get to do it all again... BUT WAIT!

What? Did Andy's peripheral vision see John Darling open his eyes? Andy stops to stare at John, but there is no further eye movement. Still, Andy thinks he saw those dark blue eyes blink open! He's shaken up a little and conflicted because he sincerely wants John to recover fully, except when that happens, there won't be a need for him to give John sponge baths.

Convincing himself that he's seeing things, he goes about doing what he needs to do for the sticky cum in his underpants. He has clean underpants in his locker, so that's where he's going now BUT; this story isn't about CNA Andy Salsbury. Andy's an important part, but this story is ultimately about the coma patient John Darling Jr.

The Darlings are from Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Mr. Darling worked for D-Tech Corp. When he didn't show up for the scheduled meeting in the company's Boston office and then didn't return to his hotel room, the company began investigating and eventually discovered the accident on the Mass Pike and discovered the only survivor, John Jr, was an unrepresented incapacitated coma patient in the Boston Medical Center's ICU.

Hoping someone would take an interest in representing John, the investigative representative of D-Tech Corp contacted Darling's neighbors in Wyoming. All of them thought what happened to the family a horrible shame, but there was nothing they could do about it.

More investigation turned up Darling's family attorney, Sara McCarty of the Cheyenne law firm McCarty & McCarty. She will be the first person to visit John in the hospital, which is why he was shaved this morning. That was a waste of time, however, as Sara McCarty never met John Jr., so she won't know the difference, bearded or otherwise.

Sara wrote John Darling's parents' will and testimony so feels responsible for doing something for the last Darling. After all, he is the sole beneficiary of Mr. and Mrs. Darling's estate, worth over three million dollars.

Sara flew to Boston and visited John in the ICU and then waited an hour past the time of the appointment she'd made with Dr. Boris, a pompous man with a God complex. He didn't apologize for being an hour late. Instead, "I can only spare a minute for you. Let me say this: although no coma is the same, I expect this young patient to begin coming slowly out of his coma pretty soon now. I hope that helps you make your travel plans."

Doctor Boris detests discussing his patient's prognosis with non-physicians. When attorney McCarty asked for something more definitive, exhaling exasperatingly, the doctor did an exaggerated check of the time from his watch and then said, "Hmm, how can I bring this down to your, um? Um, that is... communicating important financial facts to him, generally speaking, is probably a way off. It's impossible to predict the alertness of someone coming out of a vegetative state caused by a brain injury. Patients often experience traumatic or retrograde amnesia, which often leads to the patient confabulating, so you can't know what's real and what's not from what they're saying."

Ms. McCarty mutters, "Un-huh. You're not being helpful, um... confabulating? What?"

Rolling his eyes, Dr. Boris mumbles, "Making things up to compensate for not remembering. Listen, I'm sorry, um, Ms. um...?"

She says, "McCarty, Sara McCarty."

Nodding, he mutters, "Of course. Ah, I'm late for a consultation and need to leave. Talk to Nurse Weinstein. She can set up a plan for when you can talk to the patient."

As that waste of time is going on, John Darling's brain continues healing, routinely reaching consciousness now, although only for a few minutes at a time. He's beginning to sense that he should know something. Without opening his eyes this time, John Darling tries very hard to remember something, anything, but that leads to the frightening realization that he doesn't even know his own name. He tries to return to nothingness, but the same nothingness isn't as available now that his slowly awakening consciousness is continuing to get stronger.

He thinks, 'What the hell is that constant beeping sound?'

The next day, he opens his eyes because he feels someone moving him. It's a nurse changing his bedding. He is rolled up on his side, and the sheet is pulled from under him. He notices something is in his throat, but when he tries to speak, he easily says, "Where am I?"

Someone screams, "Ahh!" It sounded like a woman! Then she yells, "Nurse Weinstein! Quickly, your coma patient is awake!"

Although he went back to sleep right away, the ICU is now on alert that their coma patient is awakening. Then, an hour later, John was conscious of a puff of breath on his face. It was Andy's puff of breath, coffee breath. Opening his eyes, John asked Andy, "Who are you?"

There was a yelp from the same young blond-headed caregiver John had seen once before. Andy said, "Omigod! You're awake! Oh, um, I'm a CNA, ah, a certified nursing assistant. Andy is my name. You know, um, I bathe you, change your diapers, and shampoo your hair."

John asks, "What? Diaper, shampoo...? What's in my throat?" and then sees a nurse with a friendly smile hovering over him. She seems thrilled about something.

Suddenly, there's a great deal of hubbub as people crowd around John's bed, scaring him. Then Nurse Buckley, the bossy, short, sturdy nurse with red hair, shoos away the slim, lisping caregiver and the other nurses. Speaking much too loudly, she tells John, "You're in Boston Medical Center, John... um, it's a hospital. You were in an automobile accident and suffered a traumatic head injury. And, ah, you've been in a coma, but we are delighted you've awakened..."

He was pleased to be able to talk and did so until he was out of breath, saying, "Boston? What the hell am I doing in Boston? Are you sure? I don't remember anything about Boston. Um, I don't remember anything about anything, but there's something in my throat. You said, John. Is that my name, John? I mean, I don't know if it is or not. Ah, oh... where are my parents? I, um..." he stops and gasps for air.

Nurse Buckley says, "Yes, your name is John Darling Jr. Please calm down, though. Go slow, relax... "

His heart pounds as he asks himself, 'Can I believe this?' Then, 'At least I'm not dead.'

Nurse Buckley asks, "Can you remember where you live, what year it is, anything?"

"No, I just told you I couldn't remember anything. The accident, though, um, what happened? This is fucked up!"

With a crying sound in his voice, he asks, "Who is fucking with me and why? What have you done to me? Why can't I remember anything? I'm, ah, extremely disoriented, and there's something in my throat."

There is no 'average recovery period' from a coma. Amnesia doesn't always result from coma, and when it does, it can last from a few minutes to a lifetime. John Darling's amnesia is retrograde, meaning he can remember new information but not what happened before the traumatic head injury. Memory is always the slowest part of the conscious mind to recover from a head injury, assuming memory ever begins returning.

Coming out of his coma, John is disoriented, agitated, angry, impulsive, and highly emotional. He doesn't understand who he is or where he is. He's unable to recall basic information such as his name, the season, or the current United States president. In the coming weeks, when exposed to the names and pictures of people in his life, he doesn't remember any of them, and he doesn't remember going to college or his dominant sex partner and roommate at Duke.

After his feeding tube was removed, as well as the urethral catheter, he sometimes acted childish, and other times was foul-mouth and unpleasant to be around. His emotional swings were unpredictable; he'd cry and be moody or angry, then be sorry for that and be pleasant. John was only consistently pleasant and cooperative when Andy was giving him a sponge bath.

Unable to remember he's gay, John's surprised when he forms an immediate, strong bond with Andy. He was confused about his powerful and visceral attraction to Andy.

He began physical therapy because his body was weak; he needed help walking and, consequently, needed to use a bedpan and continued getting sponge baths. He'd stare at Andy, enjoying the physical contact so much that he frequently got a firm penis that Andy would ignore, telling himself he was not a pervert.

He met every other day with Dr. Hinds or Dr. Arnold for psychotherapy, trying to come to terms with the reality of his ordeal and of being an orphan. His lack of grief at his parents' deaths made him feel guilty, but he couldn't remember them.

Attorney Sara McCarty returned from Wyoming to tell John, after extensive online searching, she couldn't locate any relatives of John's. That fact, plus his lack of grief over his dead parents, depressed him further. He discussed that with his doctors.

His physical therapy soon had him up and around on his own, which is wonderful except sponge baths were no longer needed. Andy made sure he talked with John every day, John listened closely to him, staring at Andy, feeling a weird but pleasant buzzing in his groin. And, yes, of course, John noticed but never mentioned Andy's lisping and exaggerated gay affectations. He knew what homosexuality was and understood that Andy was gay, continuing to forget that he was too.

He can't remember jerking off before the accident, but he assumes he did, as every male on the planet jerked off. John's been jerking off in the lavatory and enjoying the sensations. As he pulled on his dick he was reliving Andy's bed baths, quickly reaching orgasm. That was certainly curious, but he didn't dwell on it.

Then, after almost three months since the accident, John was told he'd be released from the hospital in four days. It happened so abruptly he was shaken. They explained to him that to remain a hospital patient, a patient needs to be making improvements or getting worse. He can see Dr. Hinds and Dr. Arnold as an outpatient, continuing his psychotherapy.

John told Sara he wasn't ready to leave his doctors, so he's not returning to Wyoming as they had planned, and he's not starting his senior year at Duke. If he returned to Duke now John was concerned that he wouldn't remember his roommate or friends. That might be entertaining for his fellow students, but it doesn't sound like a good time for John.

Planning on staying in Boston for the foreseeable future, he asked Sara for help setting him up with a cell phone, laptop, bank account, and credit card. Then, since money is no concern, he wanted help arranging a weekly rate for a suite at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. The hotel is one mile from the Medical Center, so John intends to live in the hotel and continue with his psychotherapy doctors while he tests living outside the hospital on his own. Walking a mile to and from the Medical Center can serve as part of his physical therapy.

Meanwhile, Andy and John have become so tight that Andy's beginning to speculate that his fantasy might come true, meaning he and John may become boyfriends. He sees how receptive John is to his affectionate touching and now believes there's a reasonably good possibility that John is gay, or at least bi. As for John, he still does not remember he was a closeted gay guy and is, therefore, confused about his feelings toward Andy, who is an obviously gay young man.

Andy's gay affectations and lisping do not turn John off at all. He feels comfortable with all of it, probably because he associates it with the only affection he's known has come from Andy. Without thinking about it in so many words, John's open to being gay like Andy. Whatever his sexual orientation was before the accident, now it's as if he's starting his life over, so what's to stop him from being gay if he feels like it? Who is there for him to keep that secret from?

When alone talking with Andy in the corner of the ICU, he'd sometimes imitated how Andy lisps and moves. Andy and John laughed and joked about that without specifically mentioning that it was gay behavior. Andy, obviously, is thrilled at their growing friendship and intimacy but has no idea how much sex they're going to have together. That will come shortly, and it's everything he's been wishing for. In fact, it'll far exceed every fantasy he's had about being John's boyfriend... his sexual dreams are about to come true!

For the present, however, John's preparing for life outside the hospital. He urges Sara to settle him in a hotel suite quickly, but she sticks to her plan that John needs to do things for himself. She will help him by talking him through the simple process, but he's an adult and must do it himself, which he grumpily does, and three days later, John is out of the hospital and walking around his two-room hotel suite, talking on his cell phone with his attorney, Ms. McCarty, who is back at her and her father's Wyoming law offices.

Sara says, "Good, you like your suite. I'm glad. Listen, John, you need to get outside and walk around the city, eat out, and get used to doing things for yourself, and blah, blah, blah...

John takes a deep breath, "Okay, I understand, and thanks, I'll try. Hey, is it okay if I call you Sara? You're like a helpful big sister to me," and he blushes, feeling like a little kid.

She's flattered by that and has grown very fond of him even though she still feels he needs to grow up and get used to doing what needs to be done on his own. She says, "Sure, John, call me Sara. I'm honored to act as your big sister. Now, make me proud, meet people, and make a new friend."

She hangs up and logs in the length of the call. Sara is sincere about helping John, but she's in the lawyer business too and is charging her normal hourly fee for time spent with her client, John Darling. This has been fully described to him, and he says he understands, but it's mor like he doesn't give a shit about the money.

John likes talking with Sara even though it's expensive, and even though she constantly nags him about one thing or another. He sees Sara and Andy as authority figures who can help him with life. With Andy, there's none of the nagging. John feels affection pouring from Andy, and he eats it up. Sara wants him to try new things, which he's considering doing, although probably not the new things Sara had in mind.

Tomorrow is Andy's twenty-second birthday, and John's nervously is taking Andy out to dinner to celebrate; plus, he wants to acknowledge all the help Andy's been giving him with a combination of a thank you and a birthday present. What to buy him, though?

When he's stumped about something, he'd usually ask Sara or Andy, but he can't do that for this. He doesn't want Sara to know about his infatuation with Andy and doesn't want to give away Andy's surprise by asking him what he'd like for a present. John's relearning how the Internet works, but instead of surfing online for gift ideas, John decided to use this as a reason to walk around Boston, looking in store windows until he saw something appropriate to buy for Andy's present. John has a lot of free time on his hands.

His first night on his own, John had dinner at McDonald's, then watched TV in his living room until eleven. Then he went to bed only to wake up every hour listening for the missing ICU's reassuring beeping sounds. Creaky and creepy night sounds replaced the beeping, and John had a poor night's sleep.

First thing in the morning, he called Andy's cell phone to hear a friendly voice but got a 'leave a message' notice. Biting his knuckle, John yelled at himself, "Grow a set of balls, John!"

He dressed quickly in sweatpants, a black T-shirt, and sneakers, intending to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant. When he looked into the restaurant, however, it was large and intimidating, so he went back to McDonald's for breakfast. Sitting inside eating his Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddle, he's positive everyone was staring at him.

Outside the restaurant, he saw a woman light a cigarette and felt a weird urge to smoke a cigarette. "What? Did I, um, do I smoke?" he asked himself aloud. The woman turned and mumbled, "Excuse me?" He shook his head and walked the mile to the Boston Medical Center.

He didn't have a medical appointment today, but he didn't know where else to go, and maybe he'd get an idea for Andy's present in a shop window along the way. Mostly, though, he needed to see Andy.

Without seeing a helpful shop window on his way to the hospital, he found it easy to slip past the reception area and through the lobby. He took an up escalator to the ICU, where he peeked in but didn't see Andy. Then he jumped when he heard Andy say, "Darling! What are you doing here?"

Turning, blushing, feeling stupid for doing this, John stuttered, "Ah, um, um, oh, I mean, dammit! Ah, I just wanted to say hi to you. I feel so fucking alone, Andy. I..."

Feeling bad for him, Andy wanted to hug him, but not right in front of the ICU, where Nurse Buckley could see them and start questioning Andy's relationship with John. He asked, "When is your appointment with Dr. Arnold? Is she helping you at all?"

John nods and mutters, "Yes, she and Dr. Hinds are helping me. Um, no appointment today, though, and I know I shouldn't be here. Ah, but I'm wondering if you'd have lunch with me? I'm sorry to lean on you so much, Andy, but I look up to you and trust you, and I, um, really like you too."

Andy says, lisping, "You can trust me to take care of you, Johnny. Everything you've been through breaks my heart. So, sure, meet me here in the cafeteria at twelve-thirty for lunch."

"Thanks." John's eyes tear up as he adds, "I wish I could hug you. Christ, you must think I'm pathetic."

"No, you're not pathetic," and he takes hold of John's arm and pulls him away from the door and around the corner. Leaning against the wall, he hugs John. John melds into him, feeling safe as he's sliding his cheek against Andy's cheek. Hugging him, Andy's head is close to John's nose, and, like a lightning bolt of brightness, John recognizes that Andy's blond hair smells like Clubman Pinard Hair Tonic.

He's startled that he recognizes that smell and asks, "What did you put in your hair, Andy?"

"Ah, some of my roommate's Clubman Hair Tonic; why? Don't you like it?"

"No, I mean, yes, it's fine, it smells good, but HOW DID I KNOW WHAT IT WAS? I can't remember anything, so how did I know what it was?"

This could be a good sign, and he hugs Andy's neck, smelling his hair again feeling his dick tighten up, he mumbles, "Jesus," as his penis becomes a hard boner.

Someone he knew, someone at college, or someone from somewhere used this hair tonic. Or maybe he or his father used it. If so, John will find that out by going through his house in Wyoming. But, no, not his father! John wouldn't get a boner smelling the hair tonic if it was a memory of his father. No, of course not, and he wouldn't give himself a boner, either! It has to be someone kind of important in John's life for him to remember the smell.

It is someone important in John's life... it was his roommate! That's Brian's favorite hair tonic, and he wears it every day. One of a billion things John doesn't remember

Andy pats John's shoulder and mutters, "You might remember more things every day from now on. Let's hope so. Look, I'm late for work. I'll see you at twelve-thirty. We'll talk about it then, Darling"

John mumbled, "Yeah, thanks. Um, see you at lunch, Andy."

Walking from the hospital, John's excited about remembering the name of the hair tonic but not sure what, if anything, it had to do with him getting a hard-on. The boner might have happened because of Andy. He makes a face, thinking again about his potent urge to kiss Andy on the mouth. Did the smell of the hair tonic bring out that strange urge?

No, that's not it! This wasn't the first time he felt the urge to kiss Andy. He's had the urge before. Goddamn, he asks himself out loud, "Am I gay or just playing at being gay because Andy, my only friend in the world, is gay?"

Quickly looking around to see if anyone heard him say that, John started walking a block to his left. He's going up a block so he can walk back to the hotel on a street he'd never been on before. Shaking his head slightly, he's thinking how good his dick felt getting hard when he was pressed against Andy's body.

Yesterday, after reading the instructions on an ATM, John withdrew five hundred dollars in cash and now he uses fourteen of those dollars to buy a red box of Marlboro cigarettes and a blue Bic disposable lighter from a CVS store. Outside the store, lighting a cigarette, he gasps at the first inhale, muttering, "Christ, how could I ever have liked this shitty taste?"

A young black guy was smoking a few yards away. He said in a challenging manner, "Hey, you! What the fuck's your problem? Were you talking to me?" John goes, "What? Um, no... sorry," and, to get away from the black guy, he goes into the next shop. It's a jewelry shop next to the CVS.

Aloud, he mutters to himself, "Stop talking out loud to yourself."

The woman behind the counter asks, "What did you say?" He turns around, and before he can respond to that, she goes, " Hey, what the...? There's no smoking in here!"

"Oh! Of course, there isn't..." John steps outside, seeing the big black guy a half block away. He rolls his eyes at how things can escalate so quickly, then steps out on the street and flicks his cigarette into the gutter. Looking back at the big front window of the jewelry shop, he says out loud, "Oh, fuck, yeah. I'll buy Andy a watch!"

Two teenage girls on bicycles almost run into him. The one with buck teeth and yellow hair says, "You need to watch your language; my little brother lives in that apartment building across the street." Then, smirking at her hefty girlfriend, making fun of John's shocked expression, they both chuckle.

John asks, "Why are you riding bikes in the street?"

The other girl, about sixteen with a whale-size ass, says, "Yo, retard, we're riding our bikes in a bike lane."

He looks confused, "A bike lane on the street?"

Nodding, she says, "Duh, that's right. Listen, you're too pretty to get your ass run over, so get out of the street."

John steps back up on the sidewalk, frowning at the teenagers' rudeness, but he can't think of anything appropriately rude to yell back at the girls. The buck teeth girl says, "Wanna go for a ride with me?"

Walking backward and shaking his head, John turns around and returns to the jewelry shop, muttering to himself, "See what happens when you say your thoughts out loud!"

Behind the counter is the same plump woman wearing big glasses with green frames, her gray hair in a bun, who yelled at him a minute ago. She asks, "What was that?"

He shook his head, "Oh, nothing. Can I look at watches? Men's watches."

Behind the counter, she walks down two sections, saying, "Certainly. Um, sorry for raising my voice about smoking in here. Seeing someone smoking a cigarette inside was a shock, ya know? What kind of watch are you looking for?"

He shrugs, "I don't know." Then, after looking at men's watches for ten minutes, John charges $399 on his debit card for a sports watch that the lady gift-wrapped for free.

Carrying a plastic bag with the watch in a snazzy-looking box, he's walking back to the hotel feeling good about how he handled the purchase of the watch. He lit another cigarette because smoking felt like something he used to do, which he did because his roommate smoked, and John did everything his roommate did. He doesn't remember that now, though.

After more than three months of not smoking, the cigarettes now tasted like shit. Still, the smell of that hair tonic and now the sense that he used to smoke are two examples of perhaps his returning memory. He says out loud, "It's about fucking time," and looks at the startled expression on a well-dressed businessman's face.

"Sorry," John mumbled to the man, then made a face at the bad taste in his mouth. Everything considered, though, he felt very encouraged about this first day on his own... so far.

"I can do this!" he said out loud, and a homeless man wearing a lot of clothing, all the clothes he owned, pushed a shopping cart full of junk next to John and said, "I'm sure you can do that, a handsome young fellow like yourself." The very fragrant homeless man smiled, his yellow teeth looking gross, as he pushed the cart past John.

To the homeless man's back, John says, "Thank you!" Then frowns and mumbles aloud, "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing..."

Inside the hotel, he sees his reflection in a mirrored column outside the hotel's gift shop. He's been shaving every two or three days using the toiletry items from home that he brought with him in his suitcase. Now he decided it was time he bought all new stuff.

He goes into the gift shop off the lobby, realizing it's more a convenience store than just a gift shop. He buys an Oral-B electric toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, comb, Gillette Pro Glide razor with a blade attached, and a spare one.

Then, after looking for Clubman Hair Tonic, to no avail, he shrugs and says, "I didn't like the smell all that much, but the boner I got felt good..." A middle-aged lady wearing a baseball cap said, "What was that, Sonny?"

John snickered, smiled, "Nothing. Sorry," and took his purchases to the register to pay, again using his debit card.

Everything costs more from the hotel gift shop than it would have at the CVS he was at earlier, but he didn't think of doing this then, and he's rich, so he doesn't care. Coming out of the gift shop, he sees a sign, 'Hotel Barbershop & Shoe Shine Booth.' There's a big red arrow pointing to the stairs on the right.

He thinks, 'I should look good for tonight's date.' Then, he asks himself out loud, "Is it a date, right? Yeah, it is... what else would it be called?"

An androgynous young man looks at John, "Well, good for you. Who's the lucky young lady?"

John grins, then snorts a short barking laugh and tells the person, "I've gotta stop talking to myself out loud. Ya know?"

The stranger smiles and mutters, "If you say so," and John skips down the steps to check out the barbershop, unsure what he'll do. Looking through the big plate glass window of the shop, he sees two barbers, one lazily cutting a middle-aged man's hair. That barber looks about eighty, and the other one looks older.

John says, "Nope!" and turns around, bumping into the androgynous stranger, who says, "Oops, my fault."

John thought, 'Hmm, that bodily contact felt good.' He mumbles, "I'm just getting used to moving around and, um, never mind..." Then he asked, "Are you going in there?" nodding at the barbershop.

"No, I was following you. I cut my own hair?"

John gawks at the stranger's nondescript hairstyle of long, straight-as-a-poker black hair below his ears and over the collar of his button-down shirt. Feeling awkward about this person following him, John mutters, "Um, why were you following me?"

Shrugging and grinning, androgynous finger-combs his long black hair straight back, then says, "I'm following you because you're the best-looking guy I've ever seen in my life. Are you staying here at the hotel?"

It's hard to guess the guy's age. He might be in his mid-twenties, he's okay looking, and an inch taller than John, who asks, "Ah, is that a normal thing to tell someone? That they're good-looking. I mean, I guess I should say thanks. And yeah, I'm staying in this hotel. I have a two-room suite."

The guy says, "The world is too much with us, eh?"

John thinks, 'What? That's a poem...'

There's a door past the barbershop that leads outside, so John goes out the door, followed by the stranger. Nervously lighting another cigarette, he inhales, makes a face at the taste, and says, "What you said about the world, um, that's a William Wordsworth poem, right? Are you implying I'm an example of materialism because I have a hotel suite?"

The guy holds out his hand, saying, "Holy shit! I'm super impressed by that! I'm Peter Tollar; you blew me away just now knowing that Wordsworth poem! I'm a senior at NYU majoring in English, which is how I knew it, but how the hell did you know that obscure bit of trivia?"

John shakes the hand Peter is holding out, mumbling, "I'm John Darling; nice to meet you, but, um, I don't know how the fuck I knew that." And it hits him like a smack in the face... another piece of memory returning.

Peter shrugs, "Well, Wordsworth was central to England's romantic revolution in poetry, so you must have somehow remembered it from high school English class. Ah, and no, it's not common for a guy to tell another guy he's the best-looking, etc. Even though you are, I was kidding you. I thought you'd laugh or something. It was stupid of me. Um, let me buy you a beer, John."

John thinks, 'Do I drink beer?' He wants to try drinking a beer with this guy so he can brag to Sara that he's already made a friend, but no, he doesn't have the balls yet to take this confident guy up on his invitation. "Thanks for the offer, Peter, but I need to, ah, get my hair cut. Another time, maybe."

Peter says, "Damn. Okay, maybe tomorrow. I'm staying here with my parents over the weekend. My sister's getting married here." Grinning, he adds, "Wow, though, I'd like to see a rich person's suite. Nice meeting you, John. Maybe you'll show me your suite tomorrow."

"Ha-ha, yeah, maybe," and they bump fists, then Peter returns to the hotel. That's where John wanted to go, but he didn't want to follow Peter back inside, so he walked around the block, smoking and carrying the little bag with the birthday present and the larger bag with his new toiletry items, saying aloud, "We didn't exchange hotel rooms or phone numbers, so... Good!"

Two women frowned at him but said nothing as they passed on the sidewalk. John chuckles to himself, then thinks he should try drinking a beer somewhere so he won't look like a dork when having a beer for the first time, probably tonight at dinner with Andy.

He had a million beers in college, but once again, he doesn't remember.

John walks six blocks without seeing a place selling alcoholic drinks, so he turns around and returns to the hotel to see if he has the balls to order a beer in the hotel bar. Going into the hotel using the side barbershop door, he looks in their window and sees the older-looking octogenarian sitting in his barber chair. John says aloud, "Why the fuck not?" and enters the shop.

He's not used to long hair. It doesn't feel right, and it sucks seeing his scraggly long hair every time he looks in a mirror. Inside the barbershop's door, John's standing there expecting the old barber sitting in his barber chair to get out of the chair and motion for John to sit in it. When that doesn't happen, John sits in one of the waiting chairs against the side wall of the shop and watches the other eighty-year-old barbers cutting the hair of a young man getting an old-fashioned flattop.

The barber doing the flattop stops and says, "Anthony! Wake up, you've got a customer," and to John, "He'll be right with you."

Some waking-up yawning sounds are coming from the dozing barber as he sits up in the chair. John, deciding, 'This blows!' picks up his two shopping bags and mumbles, "Ah, don't bother. Never mind, sorry...," and walks out of the barbershop, muttering out loud, "Bad idea."

In the elevator, John congratulates himself for extracting himself from a poorly thought-out situation. In his suite, he drops his bags, forgets about the beer, washes up in the bathroom, and thinks about changing out of his sweatpants but doesn't. Instead, he changes his shirt, combs his hair, and walks the mile to have lunch with Andy in the hospital cafeteria. He's smiling now because he'll be with Andy in a little while.

He gets there forty minutes early for lunch, so he lights another cigarette and walks around the hospital grounds smoking it, not thinking about anything special, just appreciating the nice weather and the fact that he's feeling okay. Then he does a brain exercise of visualizing what his bedroom at home looks like. As hard as he concentrates, he can't be sure the bedroom he visualizes is his bedroom. Sara will send him pictures of his house when he asks for them, and then he'll see if he's visualizing his bedroom correctly. He knows he isn't.

Brain exercises are what he's supposed to be doing as much as he can. Meditation and games like Sudoku or working puzzles, anything that requires brain activity. Things he can do on his own. To John, it feels like busy work just to be doing something because the doctors don't have any better ideas.

He smokes, sitting on a bench in a grassy area, feeling depression slipping in and trying to fight it. A young guy wearing glasses comes out of a hospital door. He looks at John sitting on the bench, makes a face, then walks to the other side of the patch of lawn and lights a cigarette.

Huh, obviously, he intended to sit on the bench but saw John sitting there and walked away. He's wearing hospital scrubs with a face mask under his chin. Mostly, John's stunned by how good-looking the guy is.

It's ironic that less than an hour ago, that guy, Peter, called John the best-looking guy he'd ever seen, and now John thinks this young guy, probably a doctor, is the most handsome guy ever. He felt a tightness in his groin as he looked over at the man. The doctor sees John staring at him and, in a challenging manner, calls over, "Can I help you with something?"

"What? No, sorry," and John looks away, blushing and realizing he tells everyone he meets he's sorry. He thinks, 'Fuck, so what?'

The good-looking doctor shakes his head and calls over, "No, my bad. Forgive me, I just, um, I'm uptight about, ah... never mind."

John steps on his cigarette butt, gets up, and says, "Here, the bench is all yours. I'm meeting someone for lunch," but he doesn't leave. Instead, he asks, "Ah, excuse me, but is there a way to the cafeteria through the door you came out of?"

The guy walks over, saying, "That's the doctor's lounge, but you can get to the cafeteria from there, sure. I'm Dr. Berry, Ryan Berry, and if you want, I'll walk you through the lounge."

Dr. Berry is an inch shorter than John and looks about nineteen years old, which can't be if he's a doctor. After challenging John about staring at him, the doctor avoids looking too hard at John."

John does a nervous grin, then mumbles, "Ah, you're a doctor, and you were smoking. Aren't you worried you'll get cancer?"

Shrugging, "Yeah, heh-heh, I heard something about that once. I'm going to stop this filthy habit pretty soon. Do you want to come with me through the doctor's lounge?"

"Um, yes, thank you!" Holding out his hand, "I'm John Darling, by the way; nice to meet you."

The doctor looks surprised, asking, "The coma patient?"

To be continued...

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Next: Chapter 2

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