We Will Remember Them: Book One

Chapter Twenty

Authors note – I know from some of the mail I've received that some of you are pretty close to a tragedy of your own. This chapter will likely be pretty emotional for those of you who have lost someone close so take a moment before you read further.

I slowly came back to life and all I could hear was Toby's voice.

"Rob are you OK?" he asked, softly but with real insistence and, when I heard him say it the second time, I realized with a growing sense of panic.

"Yeah, babe. I think so."

Mark was at the window, screaming at us. I tried opening the door but it was stuck.

"I called 911. Just sit tight! Don't move, you don't know how badly you're hurt and you could make it worse!"

I looked over at Toby who was staring straight ahead.

"Babe, are you OK?"

He cut his eyes to me, "Yeah, but my neck is kind of tweaked."

I tried to shift, but the tensioner in the seat belt was still activated and I had to release the belt before I could move to crawl over to him. As soon as I tried, I felt a shooting pain in my leg and sat back in the seat with a sharp intake of breath.

"What's wrong?" Toby asked, speaking a little slower than before.

"I think my leg is broken. I tried to move and it hurt like a motherfucker."

"Rob... I need you to listen to me... "

"Toby," I said, my eyes filling with tears as I realized what he was thinking, "Please just hang on babe. Mark says help is coming."

"I'm trying, but just in case I need you to do something for me. If anything happens to me, tell my parents I love them and that I have loved every second of the life they gave me. Tell Reese and Angie they were the best brother and sister I could have asked for..."

"Toby, please stop..." I moaned out, crying. I wasn't stupid, I knew something was desperately wrong.

"Tell Mark and Jack I love them and that they were the best friends in the world. Tell them to help each other out and look out for Reese and Angie." He took a ragged breath before he continued. "Rob, I meant everything I've ever told you. I love you so much it hurts. Please don't ever forget that and remember that you are my heart and my soul, now and forever. If anything happens to me, Jack will help you..."

Right then they started to cut away the door and the sound of wrenching metal was insane. I fought the pain in my leg and dragged myself up with my arms and shifted so I could face Toby, only to see the color completely drained from his face. Then I saw his neck which had been opened by a piece of metal that created a nasty gash, from which a steady stream of blood was being produced, an obvious pulse with every weakening beat of his heart.

I realized quickly he was bleeding out, fast, and I started to scream in panic as they pulled off the door, and pulled me out of the car. It's impossible to describe the horror and pain of seeing someones life end right before your eyes. The dread of knowing there's nothing you can do absolutely cuts you to the core. The most vital person I knew, who just moments before was holding my hand and laughing, was dying and I couldn't save him.

"Help him," I screamed at the EMTs. "He's got a neck wound and he's bleeding out! PLEASE!"

"We will, but now we need you to calm down. We're going to put you on a stretcher, please stay still."

Once they got me strapped in, they went over my condition. I felt them cut open my jeans and confirm what I already knew, that I had a broken leg and the bone had broken the skin. I started to twist to look back and saw another EMT getting out of the car from the passenger side, shaking his head as he looked at another one. Then I saw Toby, completely still and I screamed.

They kept trying to calm me down but I just kept screaming at them to help him. Seal up the wound, pump him full of blood and resuscitate. DO SOMETHING.

"Oh my God, you have to help him! TOBY," I screamed at him, reaching my hand out I tried to twist on the stretcher.

"We gotta get him sedated and on a line," I heard one of the EMTs say. "Sir, do you know your blood type?"

"O negative," I said, crying. "Please tell me he's going to be OK?"

I saw darkness in the eyes of the EMT, "I don't know yet, I have to get you stabilized and on your way before I can check him."

As I felt the stab of the needle and faded out, the last thing I saw was the black sky above me with a few clouds lit by the lights of the city.

That was the last thing I remembered from that night. When I got to the hospital they did a quick x-ray and hauled me into surgery. They did stabilize me and got my leg patched, but the MRI was bad. I had cracked ribs and all kinds of fascia torn from my neck on down, not to mention a nasty head wound and swelling. It was a miracle I didn't have more problems and internal bleeding.

Toby, poor sweet Toby,  had caught a piece of metal that had broken loose from the brush guard of the truck that hit us. It doesn't help any to know, but he was gone the moment the accident occurred. He knew it, which is why he told me what he did. In those last few moments of life, he was thinking about telling others how he felt through the one person who was with him while he was dying.

Everything else from that night, and the next couple of weeks, I'm writing from what I was told by my family and friends.

As soon as they had me loaded, Mark asked where they were taking me and called Josh. He and Lane had just left a movie at the Inwood and were about to get something to eat when he got the call.

"Hey Mark, what's up?" Josh asked, thinking nothing was wrong.

Mark was clearly crying, "Dude, I hate to do this but Toby and Rob were in an accident. It's bad. I don't think Toby is going to make it, and they just tore off with Rob in the back of an ambulance to Presbyterian. Can you get there?"

"Oh my God," Lane said.

"Yeah, I'm on my way. Thanks, Mark."

Lane started to cry and Josh had to keep him calm, reminding him they didn't know what was going on. They rushed into the emergency entrance and asked about me. He had to explain he was my stepbrother before they'd tell him anything, not that they had much information. I was hurt badly, they were going to have to operate on my leg to stop the bleeding and set the bone. I was under pretty heavy sedation and would remain that way. A doctor would come out to talk as soon as they had me stable.

Lane and Josh just sat there in the ER, Lane trying to hold it together for a despondent Josh who just sat there looking ahead. Neither of them even thought to call my mother or Neil, they were in limbo, unable to do much of anything but sit there, holding onto hope and praying.

30 minutes later my father walked in with Cat and immediately saw Josh.

"Josh, what are you doing here?" he asked.

Josh got his back up, "He's my brother, MISTER Hallstrom," he spit out, then, "Mark called me. He witnessed the accident and told me where he was."

My father relaxed, "Son, I didn't mean anything by the question, I was just surprised."

This caught Josh off guard and he relaxed a bit, "He's in surgery now. They said a doctor would be out to talk to us as soon as he was stable."

Cat ran over to hug Josh and my father asked, "Please watch her for a second? I'm going to let them know I'm here. Have you talked to Bethany yet?"

Josh's eyes went wide as he was holding onto Cat. "No, sir. I'm sorry, I've just been kind of..."

My father smiled, "It's OK, Josh. You're in shock. I'll take care of it."

My father went to the nurse's station while Josh and my sister sat down. Mark wandered in at that point and came over with Marcy, the girl he was out with that night.

Mark asked how I was, and Josh told him, then asked about Toby. Mark just bent over in the seat and started to cry as Marcy, tears streaming down her face, just looked at Josh and shook her head.

My father came back and briefly talked to Mark who told him tearfully that Toby didn't make it. Then he looked back at Josh. Josh told me later it was like all the wind had been knocked out of my father. He'd been told there'd been an accident and he'd assumed it wasn't that bad, maybe that the two of were bruised and in need of a ride. He had no idea how bad it was.

"I'm going to call his mother," he told him through teary eyes and then turned to walk out of the waiting room.

My mother and Neil were at a party when my mother felt her purse vibrate. She grabbed it only to see a missed call from my father and then a text... please call urgent.

She stepped away from the people with whom she was talking and called my father back.

"Ed, what's wrong?" she asked when he picked up.

My father's voice was shaky, something that rarely happens. My mother told me it sent a chill down her spine to hear him like that.

"Toby and Rob were in an accident..."

"Are they OK?"

"No. Rob's in surgery right now. They're trying to get him stable and all they could tell me was that he had a broken leg and was bleeding badly. I'll know more when the doctor comes out."

"What about Toby?" she asked.

He stifled a sob, "I'm not sure but from what Mark told me, he's gone."

My mother screamed, "Oh, God no!" Which brought Neil running to her.

"Bethany, just get to Dallas as fast as you can. We're at Presbyterian. I'll call as soon as I know more. I'm going to go back in and see if I can get some more information."

"Thank you, Ed. Please do whatever you can."

Neil got to her, concerned, and bent down so he could hear her better as she whispered, "Toby and Rob were in an accident. Toby didn't make it, Rob is seriously injured. How fast can we get back to Dallas?"

"Fast. Let's go."

They ran into one of the hosts on their way out and explained their hurried departure. By the time they got to the car, Neil had his pilot on the line and was telling him to get to Aspen now. They drove to the house, packed, and made their way to the airport to wait.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, the police showed up and asked for my father. Toby's parents walked in, sobbing, and my father walked over to hug them. He then introduced them to the officer. The woman who hit us had died instantly. She wasn't wearing a seatbelt and the airbag in her truck apparently didn't deploy properly. He then took the Martin's to identify Toby and my father was left to sit and wait with the others.

Three hours later a very tired looking surgeon came out and asked for the family of Rob Hallstrom. My father got up walked over, with Cat and Josh immediately behind him.

My father introduced himself, then Cat and Josh.

"Mr. Hallstrom, your son has been injured pretty badly. We have sealed the ruptured artery in his leg, set the bone, and closed up the wound. I've had him taken to imaging for an MRI to see what else we're dealing with since he's having blood pressure issues which could indicate internal bleeding. We should know more in about 30 minutes."

"Is he going to be OK?" My father asked, trying to be as calm as possible.

"Sir, I won't know more until we get those images back. If the leg is all we have to deal with, he's going to be fine but we don't know yet. I know this is hard, but please be patient. We're doing everything we can."

"Thank you, we'll be waiting." When Josh told me about this conversation, I kind of laughed at the image of my father talking to the doctor who'd just saved my life as if he worked for him.

The doctor nodded, then walked back.

My mother was just taking off at that point and my father called her to let her know the situation. 40 minutes later the doctor came back and the news was not good. There was some internal bleeding but it looked relatively minor. There was also a ton of tissue damage from the severity of the impact. Despite wearing my seatbelt and the airbags in the car, I was pretty torn up and had some swelling in my head, which probably explains why I lost consciousness immediately after the accident.

"We're going to put him into ICU and have another round of MRIs done in a few hours to check on the bleeding. If it's still an issue, we'll have to take care of it. We're hoping it will stop on its own."

"When can we see him?" Josh asked.

"They should be getting him into a bay right now. I'd give them about 30 minutes then it's going to be one at a time."

My father cleared his throat and stuck out his hand,"Thank you, doctor, for everything you've done."

It's really strange for me to write this part because while all this is going on, I was out cold. They still hadn't made the decision to put me into a coma, that would come a few hours later. No, I was still under sedation since they didn't know what they might have to do next and thought it would be better to keep me under for a few hours rather than let me experience the pain. I am eternally grateful to the professionals at Presbyterian who made that decision. When they brought me out of the coma, I was still sore and I can't imagine what it would have been like early that Sunday morning.

They started to filter in about 3 that morning. My father, then Cat, then Josh. Lane couldn't bear it after Josh told him how I looked and Mark had already left. Jack showed up about an hour later looking, from what Josh said, like he'd been crying non-stop. He came in and sat with me and just cried, from what he told me later on. Seeing me the way I was, and knowing Toby was gone, just broke him.

My mother and Neil showed up at 5. After they saw me they all sat down and waited. At one point my mother took Josh aside and asked him about the ring she'd noticed me wearing. Josh broke down as he told her Toby had asked me to marry him on Tuesday and that we were waiting to tell her and Neil when they got back. My mother cried like a baby as Josh hugged her.

At 6 that morning, they took me back to imaging and the next MRIs showed that the bleeding was stable from the earlier pictures. The doctor decided to be cautious and keep me under for another 6 hours, but the results were encouraging. He told everyone it would be a good idea to regroup around 1.

Everyone split off, with my father taking Cat back to our house and my mother, Neil, and Josh going to the condo. They'd sent texts while they'd been waiting and by that point, people were waking up. Willy was the first to call Josh. He broke down and told him he would be up with 'the guys' in a few hours. Josh made him promise not to get there before 2.

Josh got a little sleep but Lane told me later he mostly tossed and turned in bed, alternately sleeping, then waking up with a start only to cry for a little while. He finally got back out of bed around 11 and called Bruce, who'd booked a flight and was already at John Wayne getting ready to board.

Most of my father's family was in shock and Richard was on his way by that point, deciding he would play things by ear as far as the return trip. Cat told me later that MoMo looked about as distraught as she'd ever seen. It was the same with my mother's parents. My grandfather was trying to be calm but both mother and Cat could tell he wasn't himself.

The images from noon showed a slight reduction in the bleeding which meant they wouldn't have to open me back up. It was the first really good sign they'd had and they decided to move me to a regular room since I was stable.

At one, the doctor met with my father and mother, who told them things looked much better than they had when they did the first round of scans. But, there was a catch...

"We'd like your permission to put him into an induced coma..." the doctor said.

My father was having none of it, "No, absolutely not!"

"Ed, just listen," my mother said. Then, to the doctor, "There's a reason you want to do this, isn't there?"

"Mr. Hallstrom, Mrs. Hastings, your son is going to be a tremendous amount of pain for the next few weeks while his body heals. The leg alone probably wouldn't be enough, but there's the internal bleeding which needs time to clear, broken and bruised ribs and torn up soft tissue throughout his body. It's a miracle his spine is intact, to be honest with you, given the nature of the accident. Even if the pain weren't a factor, all of the injuries will heal much faster if he's not moving around trying to get comfortable.

We can give him drugs to manage the pain, but he's still going to be miserable. This way, when we bring him out, he's going to be much better able to deal with the residual pain as his injuries heal and not be uncomfortable."

My father started to speak and my mother grabbed his arm, tightly, stopping him.

"What's the risk he might not come back out of this induced coma?"

"The trauma to his brain is relatively minor, mostly swelling. We don't see any indication at this point he's going to lose any function. It's basically like putting him under general anesthesia for surgery, just a very long one. We're going to be monitoring him throughout and the coma will only continue if we keep administering the drugs. If a problem arises, we can cut them off and he'll regain consciousness on his own. There are risks, we're going intubate and there could be secondary infections. However, my recommendation is that this is the best way forward for him at this point."

"Do it," my mother said. The doctor, whose name was Thomas Graham, looked at my father who just nodded. They signed the forms for the treatment and then the doctor switched me from the sedatives I'd been on and I was down for the count.

For the next two weeks, I stayed immobilized in my bed for the most part.

During that time, my mother basically lived at Presbyterian. She'd go back to the condo, shower, and change, then come right back to the hospital. At one point Neil tried persuading her to get some sleep in a real bed and she screamed at him to leave her alone, that there was no way she was leaving her baby. Josh took his father outside and he broke down because he was incapable of doing the only thing he wanted to do, comfort his wife.

Throughout that week people kept showing up at the Martin's with notes, flowers, food... anything and everything just to pay their respects. I think it helped Linda and David deal with the loss to see how much he was loved by so many. Mark and Jack both spent a lot of time there, doing whatever they could to make things easier and dealing with some of the people who wanted to pay their respects. They also helped David with the funeral, arranging pallbearers which quickly turned into 'Who Toby liked best' to move the actual casket and then everyone else would be honorary.

My father and Cat tried to go on about things as well as they could, stopping by the hospital in the morning then spending most evenings there. My sister, normally unfazed, was pretty shaken and had problems with nightmares. She freaked out at one point on my grandfather who just let her cry it out in the waiting room away from everyone else. She told me months later in a moment of shame it had nothing to do with Toby, it was how close she'd been to losing me. I tried explaining to her that I was never really close to death, just banged up, but she wasn't having any of it. While I wasn't bleeding as badly as Toby, I'd been a lot closer to death than I wanted to even think about.

That Saturday after the accident they had Toby's funeral.

The following Thursday the doctors told my parents that things looked good and they were going to take me out of the coma by cutting the drugs back on Sunday.

"It'll take a while for them to work through his system, but he should wake up Sunday afternoon."

They were relieved and told people, which led to more people being told and as things went round and round, plans were made to be there for me coming back to reality. Much of this was unbeknownst to my parents who Dr. Graham started prepping with what to expect Saturday night as they administered the first of the graduated doses.

Dr. Graham, who my mother said was one of the most patient people she'd ever met (and whom her friend, Dr. Nelson, spoke of very highly) told my parents it would take time after I woke for me to really be responsive. I'd be groggy and a little irritable and they had to remember that, to me, it would still be that horrible night. They wanted to limit the number of people in the room to family, familiar faces, so I wouldn't feel overwhelmed. Dr. Graham had consulted with Dr. Arya and was fully aware of the GAD so he was trying to manage my treatment with that in mind.

By noon on Sunday, I was starting to show some signs of life. I remember having a dream about playing with Henry and Dan, one of those impossible things that dreams make so real. Then one about the accident. About 5:30 that afternoon I started to open my eyes.

I awoke slowly, my eyes not really wanting to focus. I didn't hear anything but I turned my head to the right and saw a blurry Cat standing there. I smiled at her.

"Oh, Cat. I had the worst dream..." and then I heard one of the machines beep. I looked over at it, then around the room and finally saw all the people there, including the Martins.

Toby's parents, both of whom looked like they'd been crying. Everyone looked like they'd been crying. My father, my mother, Neil, Josh, Lane, Cat, Richard... everyone. And at that point, I cracked as reality set back in.

It wasn't a dream, it was all real, the accident happened and Toby was gone.

"Oh, God, NO!" I screamed, letting go of all the grief and pain in one long, piercing cry that completely betrayed the loss I felt. I was hollow. Even after my voice gave out, I continued to howl silently.

The nurses came rushing back in, trying to calm me down but I kept saying in a loud whisper, "He's gone, he's gone..." and crying, completely inconsolable. One of the staff doctors finally showed up and knocked me back out. All I could do was lay back, still crying, as I fell back to sleep.

Jack was down the hall in the waiting room sitting with Ethan, Willy, and a bunch of people from Ouichita and Plano, all of whom were waiting to come see me. They all started crying when they heard that scream. They'd hoped to see me and let me know how happy they were I was getting better. Instead, they had a ringside seat to my realization that I'd lost the person I loved.

I woke up early the next morning, feeling an overwhelming sense of loss, but I was unable to express it because at the moment I was dry. I rolled my head and found my mother sleeping in the recliner next to the bed with a blanket over her. On the love seat, Josh and Lane were sleeping, quite soundly from the soft snoring coming from Josh.

I knew it was all real. This was my life and I was in it. Toby was gone and I was in the hospital with a broken leg, though as I shifted slightly on the bed I realized it wasn't just a broken leg. I stared up at the ceiling and let the loss sink in, feeling for all the world like everything was over. Like something had been severed from me. I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't come. Instead, I just kept staring up, praying for God to please give me just another few minutes with him to say goodbye without sirens and someone trying to pull me out of the damn car. Just a moment, to touch him and kiss him once more; To feel him and smell him before he was gone.

I'd been up for an hour maybe when Josh shifted and I turned my head to watch him gently move Lane so he could get up. He walked into the bathroom and peed, then came back out and finally noticed me awake. Relief washed over his face as he walked over to me, bending down and gently hugging me. He pulled back and sat on the edge of the bed, tears welling up in his eyes.

"I know there's nothing I can say," he started softly, "that's going to make any of this any better. But I'm so glad you're alive and safe. It's selfish, but I can't help it."

"I know, but I feel like a part of me is gone and right now I don't know how I'm going to go on."

Josh cleared his throat, "You're going to find a way. You need time to grieve and it's not going to be easy." His face contorted into a mix of pain and sadness. "But no matter what, there are so many people who love you, care about you, and who will help you any way you need. Not just at home, but here. You're going to get through this, just please don't give up. Please, promise me?"

I nodded my head as the tears finally started to fall. We sat there like that for another fifteen minutes or so before my mother stirred and looked over at us. She smiled at me with tears in her eyes, then got up and walked over to take Josh's place.

"I'm so sorry," she said, pushing my hair off my forehead. "I love you so much and I'd have done anything to keep you from going through this."

"I know, mom. I know..."

We sat there in silence, just the sound of the machines monitoring me keeping us company. Then it occurred to me, saying goodbye.

"Mom, have the Martin's decided when to have the funeral?" I asked, the desperation clear in my voice. If I couldn't see him one more time alive, then at least I would be able to at his funeral.

More tears fell from my mother's eyes. "Sugar, you've been in a coma about two weeks. They've already had the funeral."

And like that, the hope I'd had, of saying goodbye, was gone. She told me later it was the moment when she got really scared, that me hearing her words caused something to change in my eyes, like a light going out.

My throat was suddenly dry and all I could manage was, "OK". We sat there for another few minutes before the nurses came in with breakfast. I wasn't really hungry at first but after the first few bites, I realized I was starving. Luckily, I didn't make myself sick, I'm sure because at that point the drugs were pretty well out of my system.

My father and sister came in a little while later and I hugged them both. They couldn't stay long since Cat had school, but it was good to see them without being overwhelmed by the realization that things had changed. My father brought my computer from the house and a charger for my phone. I just asked him to put them on a table in the room as they were the last things I wanted to deal with.

Doctor Graham came in around 9:30 and talked to me, assessing if I was still a functional human being. I passed, but it was clear I was far from comfortable. He wanted to run another scan in the afternoon after they took the catheter out and he told me they'd be in to bring me some crutches so I could make my way to the bathroom without hopping.

Josh and Lane left to head back to Ouichita after lunch, leaving just me and mother for the afternoon. Occasionally, I'd cry and we'd talk about it. Dr. Arya had already told me he'd clear some time the next day and then I'd keep my regular appointment on Thursday. He also thought I should talk to a specialist about grief, someone who also had some experience with survivors guilt and PTSD. Mother and I talked about it and I told her, flat out, I didn't have survivors guilt. I just basically felt kind of hollow inside, like a piece of me had been taken out. She told me it would come back, but that I needed time to grieve. I knew she was right from dealing with Charlie's death.

Jack came by about 4:30 and brought me school work. Mother had already checked with attendance and I was OK there as long as I was back in class this week. Any more absences and I'd have to go to alternative school on Saturdays in order to not have to repeat the 10th grade, which I was absolutely not going to do.

Jack was, well, it's hard to explain. Mother thanked him for coming by, then excused herself to go 'get some coffee', I was sure so we could talk. He walked me through the assignment stuff and what I'd missed and I finally told him to sit down on the edge of the bed and take a breath, which he did.

The way he sat down was, frankly, kind of comical. He was so careful as he lowered himself to the bed, it was like he expected me to cry out in pain because of something he did inadvertently. I wanted to scream 'I'm fucking hurt, not made of glass' but thought better of it.

I reached out to him and he sniffed a bit, avoiding my eyes.

"Jack, look at me, will you?" I asked.

He just shook his head, "If I do that I'm going to break down." He paused, looking at his hands, "It's been a tough two weeks and I'm doing really well to hold it all together for the Martins and everyone else. I knew this was going to be tough, but being here with you is so much harder. If I look at you right now it's just going to crush me, OK?"

"Yeah, it's fine. And I guess I don't need to ask how you're holding up."

He snorted at that, then wiped at his eyes.

"Listen, there's something I need to tell you and I'm going to cry when I do it, but I'm not trying to upset you. Toby asked me to deliver some messages when we were in the car... he knew before I did he wasn't going to make it. He told me to tell you and Mark you were the best friends..."

"Please stop..."

"NO!" I shouted, then grabbed his arm as tightly as I could and he turned his face, finally, and focused his bloodshot eyes on me. "Toby's first thought after the accident was if I was OK and his next, after realizing he might not make it, was to give me messages for others. His last thoughts were to tell those closest to him how he felt and I'm not going to disrespect him by keeping that to myself, no matter how much it may hurt to hear. Do you get it?"

He nodded, then took a deep breath, "Go on."

"He wanted me to tell you he loved you and to thank you for being his best friend. He knew he was lucky to have you in his life and he wanted you to never forget that. He also wanted you and Mark to look out for Reese and Angie."

Jack at that point covered his eyes and slumped forward, weeping. I couldn't do much of anything but comfort him. It went on for a while and when my mother appeared at the door, I shook my head at her silently and she disappeared.

Eventually, he wound down and looked back at me.

"Thank you for the message."

I sighed, "You're welcome. I know this is tough as hell, but you needed to know how important you were to him."

He nodded back to me, then stood up.

"Are you OK?" he asked.

I met his red eyes with my own, "Not right now, no. But please don't worry, OK? It's going to take some time."

He nodded, then gave me a small smile.

Tuesday I woke up alone for which I was thankful. I had insisted mother to go to the condo and sleep. She'd been there almost the entire time I'd been asleep and she needed some time in a real bed. My father and Cat beat her to the hospital that morning.

Both of them were somber as they came in, Cat gave me a hug and father sat on the edge of the bed, bring his rough hand up to the back of my head.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked in a voice that was gravely, like he had a sinus infection. I knew it was from crying, something my father just did not do.

"Yeah, Dad, I am. I know I've got a long road ahead, but I know I'm going to be OK." I paused, my eyes starting to tear up, "I know I'm going to break down and hurt sometimes, so please just let me especially when I get home. It's going to be awhile before I'm myself again."

I asked Cat how Reese was doing and she told me he was handling things as well as you'd expect. She, for her part, was protecting him from people and just letting him work through the pain and loss. I told her it was probably a good idea, just make sure he knew she was there.

Mother came in as they were leaving, noticeably better than the night before.

About 10 am Arya came in with Dr. Foster, the PTSD specialist. My mother left to go to the waiting area while we talked. I told them how I was feeling (like that was a shock) and he asked if I'd had any issues sleeping. I told him the truth, I'd only fallen asleep once in the last two weeks so I didn't know yet. He went ahead and wrote me a small prescription for Ambien. Foster and I talked a little about what to expect as time went on.

"What I'm most concerned about are possible issues with PTSD that may be amplified by your GAD. Your normal triggers likely won't upset you too much, it'll be something weird. For some people, the sound of sirens, bells, horns, something in a piece of music, anything high pitched and melodic can trigger an event. Or it might be bumping into something. However it manifests, you need to call me immediately and we can work on treatment so that you can get a handle on things internally."

"What if I don't have any PTSD? What if nothing sets me off?"

She smiled, "Then that would be extremely good news."

Arya spoke up, "We just want to help you through what's going to be a really stressful time in your life. If there's anything you notice out of the ordinary, let us know so we can help you deal with it. It's just like your regular therapy, no detail is too small or ridiculous to be mentioned, and it's not just about normal stuff. Processing the grief you're feeling, even now, is going to be hard..."

"I know, Dr. Arya. This isn't the first time I've lost someone."

Early that afternoon, I was working on some school work when I heard a knock and looked up to see Roger Jenkins, Charlie's uncle, standing at the door to my room.

"Roger! What are you doing here?"

"Well, little man, I heard about your accident and decided to come up today to see how you were doing. I brought someone with me," he said, moving into my room so that Charlie's grandmother could come in. She quickly made her way to the side of my bed and leaned in to hug me.

"Mercy me, boy, you've grown since I saw you in November!"

I started to tear up, "Yeah, Toby..."

She reached over to hug me again as I cried.

"I've never seen someone so in love as that boy was with you. I told your momma how lucky you were to have found someone like that so early in life." She'd met Toby at Neil and my mother's anniversary party and instantly fell in love with him. The feeling was very mutual.

I managed to get out, "He liked you a lot, Mrs. Jenkins."

"I want you to listen to me, Rob. I know this hurts worse than anything, but God has a plan for you. Some people, like Charlie and Toby, aren't with us nearly long enough and we have to carry on no matter how much we miss them. It helps me to know that I'll see him again when I pass on and I know you'll see Toby again as well. Just hold what you had in your heart and don't ever forget it."

"Yes ma'am, I promise."

Roger cleared his throat at that point, "So when are they letting you out of here?"

I wiped at my eyes, "I think the tomorrow afternoon, but I'm not sure."

Roger looked at his watch, "Momma, we need to get going if we're going to beat the traffic back to Ouichita."

"Ok, son," then, looking at me, "I'm only a phone call away when you need me."

And Roger said, "So am I. Don't forget there are a lot of people who love you and are here for you."

"Thank you, both."

And they were gone leaving me, frankly, a little angry. I was glad for the visit and I still loved them, but like so many of the people who'd come to see me, they had offered advice which I didn't need or want. I was so wound up and angry at everything (God, the universe, the morning nurse, you name it) that even someone paying me a visit to check and see how I was doing could piss me off. I knew it was wrong and I behaved well in front of them, but inside I was a cauldron of red-hot bile. I knew that was something I needed to talk to Arya about and I made a mental note to bring it up on Thursday.

Late that afternoon, the Martins came by. This was the visit I was dreading more than anything because I still had a message to deliver to all of them and I just flat out didn't have the strength. My interaction with Jack the previous day had worn me out and I knew the conversation with them would be orders of magnitude worse.

Linda, David, Reese, and Angie came in and I immediately teared up. Angie came over and gave me a big hug, forgetting as only a kid can about the bruised ribs. They told me how happy they were that I was going to be ok and that they still considered me family, no matter what. I started to cry, telling them I felt the same way.

They were all curious about how I was feeling, so I told them I was still pretty sore, but not in an unbelievable amount of pain. It was the kind of conversation I'd been having with everyone who stopped by, "I'm better than I was when they brought me in, but still not 100%, etc." It's not that they're not genuine, it's the problem of What Do You Say? What questions do you ask when you're concerned about someone for whom you care without getting overly intrusive. It's all well-meaning, but it's really tiring.

Eventually, Linda ushered them out, telling them she needed to speak to me alone. She came over once the door was closed and sat on the edge of my bed.

"I wanted to talk to you about the funeral," she said, after taking a deep breath.

"Oh, Linda...."

"No, I can't imagine how upset you were with me and I wanted to explain. Your mother told me how you reacted when she told you we'd already had the funeral, and I just feel awful because I wasn't able to hold out and give you a chance to say goodbye," she finished, choking out the last few words.

"It's OK, I understand they didn't know when they were going to bring me out and I know y'all had a tough decision to make."

"Thank you," she said, as she pulled a DVD from her purse. "I know this doesn't make up for it, and I know it could be considered kind of ghoulish, but I had it recorded for you. I thought, I don't know, that it might help in some weird way to see how wonderful everyone was, especially Josh."


"He asked if he could speak for you and I told him it would be fine."

We talked a little more and she told me I needed to come by the house to pick up some things she'd set aside for me. At one point, as she was holding my hand, she felt the ring and started to sob. She told me she'd made sure he was buried wearing it, which of course sent me really over the edge. It was gut-wrenching being with this wonderful woman, whose son I loved more than my own life, but at that moment I don't think there was anyone else in the world who really understood the pain I was in or who knew that I understood hers.

About an hour after she left, I pulled the tray table where my computer sat over and put the DVD in. I didn't start crying immediately, not until Reese spoke, right after David. He was so earnest, as he always was, as he talked about the brother he loved.

Then Josh got up and I really started to cry.

"Most of you know my brother, Rob Hallstrom, is still in a coma and couldn't be with us today. My name is Josh Hastings and the Martin's were kind enough to allow me to speak on his behalf.

Rob was Toby's boyfriend, or as Toby liked to say, his future fiance and before he passed his actual fiance. I remember the first time I heard him refer to Rob that way and I remember Rob's face as he looked up, smiling, at Toby. I first met him in September after my brother had been bothering me endlessly to meet this amazing guy he was dating. I knew he was something different that first time meeting him. Older brothers always worry about their siblings, but after meeting Toby I knew I didn't need to worry anymore since Rob had found someone who loved him every bit as much as I did.

Being with them just made you feel good. They didn't fight, they didn't argue over trivial things, they were just together. Rob always said it was all Toby, that he was always so thoughtful that there wasn't anything to ever get upset about, but I knew there was something more there. Watching them exchange comments with a glance always made me smile, as did seeing Toby steal glances at Rob when he knew he wasn't looking, the barest hint of a smile on his face. We told Rob in September he was doing it, but he never once caught Toby in the act. To be honest, I don't think he ever really tried. It was probably the sweetest thing I've ever witnessed, someone so completely in love that they just wanted to make sure the object of their affection was still there.

Toby meant a lot to me and to my family. We adored him. I didn't consider him just my brother's boyfriend, I considered him a friend, someone I could talk to about things that were bothering me and someone who would, in turn, accept my advice when he was seeking counsel.

I know if my brother was here today he'd tell you all that as much as this hurts, he'd never trade an instant of the pain if it meant never having met Toby. In the all too brief time they had together, they found and nurtured the best in each other. They shared a love that will surely transcend their time on earth and while goodbye is hard, it doesn't mean forever."

I ended up pushing the computer aside and just sat there, quietly sobbing, until my mother came back in. We talked about the funeral and she told me she wanted to see it since she hadn't gone. When I asked her why, she just smiled and told me, "You're my baby and you needed me here with you." It's impossible to argue with that logic.

Despite the rules of the hospital, we decided to order some actual food because I was starving so we called in an order to Neal who graciously drove it over to the hospital and we ate together while watching TV. After they left, I worked for a few hours then went to bed.

That Wednesday, mother and my father were there bright and early to meet with Dr. Graham who was ready to release me. My father had gone pretty dramatically overboard and bought a hospital bed for one of the guest rooms downstairs so I would be 'comfortable' and wouldn't need to go up the stairs on the crutches.

By noon the paperwork was done and I was dressed and on my way back to my father's house. Home. Such as it was.

Once we got there, with my mother right behind us, I told the two of them it would be best if things got back to normal, at least on the surface, as quickly as possible. Obviously, I couldn't drive which was going to put pressure on my father so I asked my mother if it was OK if for the next few weekends she and Neil came up to Dallas on Sunday rather than me going to Ouichita.

I made a list of the clothes I needed from my room, which Cat was nice enough to bring down for me, and we had a blast cutting up a couple of pairs of pants so I could dress for school. It would be another week at least before I could put pressure on my leg, but I could move my knee and I was thankful for that. I also weighed myself and got a little depressed about the loss of 15 pounds. Before the accident, I'd hit 184 and now I was back to 175, less if you factored in the cast. I knew I could get back up, but I was upset since it would mean that I would probably be dropped back to JV. It hadn't even occurred to me that baseball was over for me that year. To be honest, it hadn't really hit that I'd lost Toby.

Oh, I knew intellectually he was gone. Emotionally it had hit me, but I wasn't dealing with it in a healthy way. I WAS ANGRY. I didn't wish it had been me and not him to die, I wished he was back or that we were both dead. And I was fucking mad as hell that neither had happened.

The anger would manifest itself in dozens of ways during the weeks ahead, most significantly snapping at people over nothing. Trying to get around on crutches, for example, presented a number of problems and required patience. I had none at that point so every little issue with the damn things required spitting out a stream of profanities, occasionally at someone if they were nearby. That they had nothing to do with whatever problem I had was irrelevant. I was on a raging boil and it showed no signs of letting up.

I talked to Jack Wednesday night and asked him if he'd be my chauffeur to school in the mornings. I hated being dependent but I hated even worse the thought of having to depend entirely on my father or Mrs. Witsun for transportation. He agreed easily, which surprised me given what we were both dealing with, but I think he just understood there wasn't anyone else I wanted. I needed him. My next option was Mark or Ethan, but I really wanted it to be Jack.

That first morning was tough. I got up and dressed for school, as well as I could, and was honestly kind of nervous. I didn't know what to expect and was hoping that things would just be kind of normal. Jack picked me up around 8:15 and we walked in right at 8:30. I went to the office to check in and let them know I was back, officially. Then with that out of the way, I crutched over to the cafetorium. Any hope I had for things being calm died as people started moving aside for me, and telling me how happy they were I was back and how sorry they were about Toby. Some of them I knew, but most of them I didn't and I held it together pretty well until I got to Carter who made me yelp as he hugged me, and I had to remind him my ribs were going to be pretty sensitive for at least another week. Ethan was a lot more delicate and so were the rest of the guys. I smiled at everyone and told them thank you. On a purely independent basis, they'd decided who was going to help me get from class to class during the day.

Everyone was going out of their way to be nice and helpful. And it made me mad. I hated that this was happening to me and I hated the looks of pity I kept getting from people. That was mixed with gratefulness to those who were going out of their way to help. Needless to say, the conflicting emotions left my head spinning.

I had my first crying jag at lunch when some of the guys started talking about varsity football next year. It was the beginning of March and several of the people at our table were going to be on v the next year. Of course, in my head, things went straight to Toby.

Toby loved football...he loved every second he was on the field, whether it was practice or a game. He'd told me he really wanted to play college and if possible pro. He was a great player to be sure, but it was good to see how much he really loved the game itself. And that's where my head went when the subject came up.

It was some pretty ugly crying. I could tell Seth and Julian were freaking out. Carter and David were the ones who got me under control and from that day forward one was on either side of me at lunch. As with Willy and Brent when Charlie was murdered, neither ever said anything to me about it, it just was.

Carter started to tell them to think before they spoke and I grabbed his arm. He looked over at me and I shook my head.

I cleared my throat looking at him, "They didn't mean anything by it, please don't get on them." Then I looked across the table. "For y'all, it's been almost three weeks since the accident and life has to go on. For me, it's been a few days. Even if that weren't the case, I'm going to be a freak for a while so please just bear with me but don't worry about what you're going to say or do. OK?"

They all nodded their heads and I noticed as I looked at Seth he was tearing up, "Seth, man, if you start to cry you're just going to send me over the edge again. It's OK, dude."

He gave me a weak smile back and Chuck said, "We need to change the subject", which made us all laugh.

The rest of the day went much like that. It's hard for people in general, and kids in particular, to know what to say or do around someone who has just suffered a heartbreaking loss. It's especially hard when the person they're trying to think about just wants to crawl back into bed and be alone for a really long time.

By the time I got to baseball practice, I was feeling a little better. Adams pulled me aside as I came in and asked how much longer I'd have the cast. I told him three to four more weeks and he said he was going to permanently move one of the JV guys up to take my spot, but that I was going to remain on varsity since I'd be able to play again before the end of the year.

"You've been through a lot and I just want you to know you're still part of this team." he said. And I broke down again, this time hugging Adams who thankfully wasn't as gruff as his brother who probably would have responded by brushing me off.

I spent practice keeping stats since moving around doing much of anything on the field or the in dugout was impossible. It gave me a chance to watch the guys, especially Jarrett Rogers who was my replacement, and really evaluate how they were working together. If you knew what to look for, you could see who didn't get along and whip them into shape. The coaches did a good job with that, but it was good to have a fresh set of eyes who knew all the people involved.

The end of the day was my appointment with Arya and Dr. Foster who listened patiently while I outlined what I was feeling, then dove deep into a few things like my anger issues. They told me it was natural and Arya was good about not making a big deal out of my apparent regression into a state of trying to do everything for myself. Foster told me flat out that the anger was a sign of the stress and gave me some exercises to deal with it.

My father picked me up from the session and it was really awkward. He just didn't know what to do... three weeks before I'd been the happiest kid in the world. Now, I was glum and kind of withdrawn, not really talkative, still hurting from the accident and feeling like a big piece of me had died. He'd just gotten comfortable with us being closer, then this came along and threw a wrench in what he knew.

We got home and ate dinner, then I went to bed early, exhausted from the day. That, in a nutshell, was what I did for about the next month. There were weekend nights when I'd get out of the house, but for the most part that was it. Sebastian and Greg would come over and watch movies with me, Ethan and some of the guys would drag me to a movie and dinner. Sometimes it would be Josh and Lane, with and without Susie, Willy, Brent, and his girlfriend Tina... there were a seemingly endless string of invitations to keep me from falling into a depression but none of them really worked. I was still depressed. There just wasn't any way to stop that, I needed time to be sad.

During March, there were people I just didn't want to be around, like Molly and Mark. We tried hanging out on Saturday and about 20 minutes into playing a game, Molly found us both crying uncontrollably. It just wasn't a good idea for us to be together. If there was anyone outside of me, Jack, or Toby's family who felt his loss, it was Mark. He was just devastated and every time the two of us were together, it always ended with us crying. It was like seeing one another MADE us see Toby and we just couldn't control the overload of sadness, the sense of loss, that rose to the surface, no matter how well we'd both thought we'd tamped it down. When we talked about the message Toby had given me for Mark, he was absolutely crushed and it crushed me having to tell him.

Though neither of us knew it, Jack was FAR worse than either of us could have imagined. But he was being stoic and keeping it tamped down. During March, I was really dependent on him and what I didn't know at the time but found out later was that he was putting up a hell of a front just to keep from upsetting me. He needed to make sure I was OK before he could really break apart.

For the first two weeks I was out of the hospital I also knew there was something I needed to do which I was dreading, delivering Toby's dying words to his family. Every time I thought about it, it knotted my stomach so badly it hurt. Even hours later, it was hard to get anything down other than water. Jack and Mark had been so completely devastated by the conversations I'd had with them, I just knew it was going to be bad when I had to talk to the Martins.

The night of March 29th, things came to a head. I got up during the night to use the bathroom and as I washed my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I couldn't hide from it anymore. That I was being a miserable, selfish bastard keeping this from them and I knew the longer I waited, the worse it was going to get.

The next morning I called Linda before school and asked if I could come by on Saturday. We'd talked a few times since I'd been released from the hospital, so I knew she had some things for me to pick up. I made a point of telling her that wasn't the reason I wanted to come by.

"Sure, why don't you come for dinner around 7?" she asked. I agreed and told my father I'd need a lift over there. He asked if he wanted me to come with him and I told him no, that this was something I needed to do on my own and it was long overdue.

I wasn't nervous that Saturday and it was a really nasty day, overcast, rainy, and darker than it usually was even for being overcast. It was weird, kind of like a Bergman movie. It just felt oppressive.

My father dropped me off at the Martin's and I crutched up to the front door, only to have it open and David came out to wave at my father. I went inside and talked to Reese and Angie, then got a huge hug from Linda.

"We're very glad you're here," she said, with a warm smile and a little moisture in her eyes.

I hugged her back as hard as I could and her, "Thank you for having me."

We both took a step back and David came back in giving me a hug.

"Well," Linda started, "I have some appetizers laid out. What would you like to drink?"

Reese spoke up, laughing, "He wants Diet Cherry DP. It's all he ever wants."

I looked over at him, "Cat's been telling stories, hasn't she." He just laughed and nodded his head.

"How about regular?" Linda asked.

"Yes, ma'am, that would be great."

We walked into the living room and helped ourselves to the food Linda had laid out on a game table, chatting about how things were going. David asked about the cast and I told him it was supposed to come off the following week, for which I was REALLY happy.

Reese told me they'd started spring training and the coach had told him he had a good shot at varsity the next year, which didn't surprise me. Toby had told me he had been working with him and relayed to me at one point that Reese was bigger at 14 than he had been.

About 20 minutes after joining us, Linda went to check on something in the kitchen, then came back and said dinner would be ready in 15 minutes. At that point,  I could feel the attack start. My breathing picked up and I had to straighten myself so I could lean over and catch my breath. Linda and David knew about the GAD, and Linda started stroking my back which calmed me down along with my exercises.

When I looked back up, I laughed a little.

"Sorry, y'all, there's something I need to do and I realized now is the time to do it and it brought on a little attack..."

David spoke up immediately, "Do I need to run you home?"

"No sir, it's the reason I asked to come over tonight. There's something I need to tell you and I'm ashamed I haven't done it sooner. It's just been hard..." I said as I started to tear up, which prompted Linda to step in.

"Sweetheart, there are four people here who love you and completely understand."

I replied, "Thanks." then took a deep breath, straightening myself back up.

"There's no easy way to tell you this, but immediately after the accident, Toby must have known something was wrong. After he made sure I was OK, he started giving me messages to relay. I told him to just be patient, that the police and ambulance would be there any moment, but he insisted. His last wish was that I tell you what he said."

I looked over at David, whose eyes were completely filled with tears. He just nodded to me.

"He wanted me to tell you both that you were the best parents anyone could have asked for and that he loved every second of the life you gave him." I paused for just a second, then looked at Reese and Angie, "He wanted you both to know you were the best brother and sister he could have asked for."

I took a second to wipe at my eyes, "I wanted you all to know how amazing he was even as he faced what he knew was the end. He wasn't terrified, he wasn't crying, he wasn't cursing. His only concern was that I tell those who were closest to him how much he loved them. And I'm sorry it's taken me almost a month to deliver that message because you all deserved to know it much sooner. I just... couldn't handle it and then, Thursday night, I realized I was being weak and selfish regarding the last words of the man I loved, and I hope you'll be able to forgive me."

There was silence, aside from some quiet crying for just a few seconds before Linda hugged me from the side. I looked over at her and saw the softness, the empathy, and the love in her eyes. It was like looking into Toby's eyes.

"Rob, we love you. There is only one person aside from us who we knew was dealing the same pain we were. Thank you for doing this and thank you for loving our son."

David cleared his throat and I looked over at him, "Son, we know what you're going through and how torn up you are. Please know how much we appreciate you coming here and telling us what you did. It means more," he stopped, stifling a sob, "than you'll ever know."

Reese and Angie came over to give him a hug, then I got up and Linda helped me into the dining room and we ate together. It was the first meal I'd had in weeks that didn't tear me up and I felt so much better about coming here, about being with them, I realized how wonderful it was to have them in my life.

After dinner, Linda brought me into the kitchen and we talked a little more. Then she brought out a box and placed it on the countertop.

"I spent a week going through his room. I'd go in, sometimes I'd even make it an hour before I had to leave and just break down and cry. I found some things that I think you'll want."

I got up and crutched over to the box as she pulled off the lid. At the top was his letter jacket, neatly folded. I lifted it out of the box, brought it to my face and inhaled deeply. Toby. For a second, it was like I could feel him behind me, wrapping me up tightly in what we'd called jokingly called a therapy hug.

I put it back down and looked at Linda.

"Are you sure you want to give me this?" I asked.

She nodded, "There are two others from when he was smaller if you can imagine that. I figured this one should be with you.

I looked back in the box and found some pictures of us which surprised me because I didn't think he'd ever printed any out. Then there was a spiral notebook.

Linda spoke up, "It's his journal. There are a bunch of them, going back to when he started writing them in fourth grade. This one," she tapped the book, "he started in August. It's all you."

I looked over at her, "You read it?"

She nodded, "Every page. Three times. When I told you how much he grew up while you were together, well, let's just say it was an understatement."

"Oh, Linda, are you sure?"

"Yes, absolutely. It needs to be with you. I had a copy made so I'd have the set. Reese will want to read it at some point, especially when he feels like he needs some advice from his brother."

I walked over and gave her a hug. We stood like that for a good ten minutes before Reese came in asking when we'd have dessert. We both laughed and got busy cutting cake.

After, Linda drove me home and helped me into the house with the box. I got the front door open and the house was completely dark.

"You going to be OK?" she asked.

I hit the lights on the panel near the door, "Yes ma'am, and thank you again for dinner."

She gave me a hug, and I closed the door behind her as she left. I then used my good arm to drag the box into my makeshift room, then spent about a minute cursing, once again, that there wasn't a panel for the automation system in it. So I trudged back to the foyer to turn off the lights. Then I noticed the light coming from my father's office.

As I slid the door open, I saw him standing behind his desk looking out the window, with a drink in his hand.

"Daddy," I asked quietly. When he didn't respond I repeated myself, a little louder, and finally got his attention.

He turned to look at me and I realized he'd been crying as he gave me a weak, but warm, smile.

"When did you get home?" he asked.

"Just now. Why are all the lights off?"

"I don't know. I guess your sister shut them off when she went to her room." he turned back to look out the window. "How was dinner?"

I shuffled in and sloppily dropped myself into one of the leather chairs facing his desk with a loud sigh.

"Exhausting, but really good. I told them what I needed to and I feel a lot better, but I'm really worn out. It's a lot harder getting around than I remember when I broke my leg last time..." and I stopped as I realized he was crying. He wasn't heaving, but I could hear it and see his shoulders move as he sobbed.

"What's wrong, daddy?"

He turned back to look at me, "Everything. I've made a perfect mess of everything. It's been eating at me since you were in the hospital but I've been holding it back and I guess it just finally hit this evening.

I never wanted any of this for you. This wasn't how it was supposed to be."

I teared up a bit and replied, "Of course you didn't. You'd be a pretty terrible person if you did." I finished, trying to make a joke. He sat down heavily in his chair and turned back to look at me across the desk.

"I just thought I was doing the right thing bringing you here, that I could give you a new start where no one knew anything, that I could protect you better than your mother could. In the end, I made things so much worse.

"I've been meaning to tell you this, but I didn't know when I should. There never seemed to be a right time and I realized tonight that I was just being a coward. Do you remember that Sunday in January when Toby told you he couldn't make it to dinner with your mother?"

I remembered. "Yes, sir. I didn't think much of it at the time, he just said he had something important he needed to do. I asked him if it was something he needed my help with and he just said no."

My father smiled, wiping at his eyes. "His plans were with me. He'd called the office earlier that week and asked if I'd have dinner with him that Sunday. He wouldn't tell me what it was about, but I figured I'd see what was on his mind.

I suggested we have dinner here and he said that was fine. He came over about 6, we ate and had a talk. He wanted to clear the air with me and to let me know how he felt. I swear, at the time, I thought the boy was full of shit. He was talking about wanting to spend his life with you, if you were willing, and asked for my permission for the two of you to marry as soon as it was possible.

I just told him you were definitely one to make up your own mind which made him laugh. Then he said, 'I know, but it's important to him and so it's important to me to have your permission.'"

I sat back in the chair, "That explains Valentines Day," I said and he nodded. "To be honest, the only thing I was worried about was that year between us graduating."

My father actually laughed a bit, "Well, you needn't have been. He told me that from the moment he saw you, he was in love with you and that he was totally confident in that. He was really so damn earnest I was impressed. I mean, I liked Toby, I really did. But that night, he was so open about you and him that it kind of shocked me. He knew you needed him and he wanted to be the one to protect you, to keep you safe, and to provide for you. I'll be honest, I kind of laughed a bit at the last part, but as for the rest... to a father, you have to understand, those words are like magic. To know that there will be someone there to take over for you after you're gone, someone who cares as much about your child as you do. But then he admitted something else. That he knew he needed you far more than you needed him."

I sat there thinking about all this. Toby had always been open and very honest about his feelings. Sometimes it could be a little overwhelming, especially when he got carried away thinking about the future. While I was thinking a day or maybe a week ahead, Toby was already thinking about where we'd be after college. His admission about needing me was one he'd already made to me, one which I thought was insane. We were together and that was it, as far as I was concerned. It wasn't until he proposed that I understood what he meant, that I made him want to be a better person (he didn't understand he did the same to me). He drew strength from me, confidence, that he knew wasn't his own. Even his mother had mentioned it at one point when we'd talked, how much he grew up while we were together.

I also realized that was about the time my father's attitude toward Toby really changed. He'd been civil to him at first, then really appeared to like him. After that Sunday though, it was like my dad suddenly considered him another son. Now, it all made sense to me.

"Daddy, really, it's OK."

"No, it's really not. Watching you go through this has been like stabbing to the heart, every day. And if I'd never fought the custody, none of it would have happened. Or maybe you'd have met Toby later and he wouldn't have died." he doubled over, hands to his head, then raised back up, "It's been giving me fits thinking about it."

I sighed, "Then stop. I wouldn't trade a moment I had with Toby for all the pain I've gone through since the accident. I know it's not fair, I know no one wanted this for me, least of all me, but I'll be damned if I regret anything. Because of him, I know what it's like to really love and be loved. You're going to have to let this go on your own. This guilt you're carrying is pure bullshit. You need to apologize to mother, Neil, and Josh for what you put them through and forget about trying to change the past."

I stood up, "I love you and the last thing I want is for you to be like this. I'm emotional enough without you bearing guilt for things out of your control. Please, get some sleep tonight and let's talk tomorrow."

I turned to walk out of the room. I made it almost to the door before I heard him.

"Rob?" he asked.

I turned back to look at him, "Yes sir?"

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, daddy."

I trudged back to my makeshift room, realizing that my plan to spend some time reading Toby's journal was shot all to hell. I made it in and closed the door before I started to cry. I collapsed onto my bed, still made from the morning, fell asleep at some point. I remember praying, before I fell asleep, for some help.

God, as it turned out, was listening and decided to step in.

 Thank you for reading, any comments can be sent to Don Cornelius