Dylan forced his most nonthreatening smile for the nurse guarding access to the ER at Brackenridge Hospital. The five-second phone call to tell him his brother had been hurt and was at the hospital hadn't given him much, but Dylan had to get to his brother, and the only way was through this pinch-faced lady behind a glass barrier.
"ID," she snapped.
Dylan wondered if she asked white boys whose brothers might be dying behind that glass wall for ID, but losing his shit now wasn't going to get him to Dare any faster. He handed over his license without rolling his eyes and didn't drum his fingers against the glass or punch through it to get to the clipboard she scanned.
"Williams, Darryl, yes. Your brother is in E12."
Dylan turned away, already scanning for a sign to take him to Darryl.
His Jordans almost slid out from under him as he turned back to face the nurse. He forced his hands to open from clenched fists.
"Your ID." She slid it back through the tray and hit a buzzer to let him through.
Dylan jammed the license into his front pocket, wishing it was as easy to tuck away all the feelings that were making him want to shove everything out of his way to get to his brother. He swallowed back the questions, the panicked guilt telling him this had to be his fault, the terror at the idea of losing the better piece of himself--everything that had been screaming through him since that phone call. He'd held it together in the cab, even while he'd struggled for breath when it seemed the air conditioner was blowing out every bit of the hot dry air of Central Texas in late April. Now, he just needed to make it through a few more seconds.
His sneakers skidded again as he found his way into the E12 cubicle. The empty space where a bed should be sent his panic into overdrive.
He ducked back out to check the number, to find someone who could tell him that he wasn't too late.
"You the brother?"
Dylan looked around for someone in scrubs or a white coat, someone with answers, but all he found was a white boy dressed in a dirt-stained T-shirt and cargo shorts sitting in a chair.
The guy lifted a backpack off the chair next to him. Darryl's backpack.
Ignoring the offer of a seat, Dylan stared at the guy who had his brother's stuff. He was sure he'd never seen him before.
Dylan nodded, neck so tight it felt like it would snap. "Where is he?"
"He's okay. They just took him for another X-ray."
"What happened?" Dare didn't have a car, took a bus to school. Hell, he spent most of his time at the library or in a lab anyway.
"He was assaulted."
"As--" Dylan stopped himself before he repeated the word like an asshole. Shit like that didn't happen to guys like Dare. "Fuck. Who-- Where was he?"
Guilt and shame delivered two quick punches to Dylan's gut, and he wished he'd grabbed a chair.
He stared at the guy who just looked back. Was the guy trying to get Dylan to admit something? Catch him in something? "So?"
The other guy folded his arms across his chest. Big arms, the orange UT shirt stretched tight around biceps, plastered to his pecs. "That's where he was assaulted."
"So what are you, some kind of hospital aide? Can you get someone who can tell me what's going on?"
"I'm the guy who heard the fight, called 911 and tried to keep them from killing him." Not a loud voice, but it got deeper and stronger as he pointed out how much Dylan owed him.
Dylan stepped closer. The other guy's lip was cut, the knuckles on his right hand bloodied and maybe some of the dirt on his face was a scrape or a bruise instead.
Darryl's rescuer stared back from blue eyes, under short hair that was somewhere between blond and brown, cut close to his head. He held out a swollen right hand. "Mike Aurietta."
Dylan ignored the hand and sank into one of the chairs. Kept them from killing him. X-rays. "How bad?"
Mike's lips twisted in a grimace, and he touched the spot on the left side as it started bleeding again. "Broken rib. His skull seems okay. He was out when the ambulance came, but breathing. They're looking at his wrist and hand now. They didn't say, but he won't be released tonight."
Dylan didn't have a medical background, but he hadn't lived through Aaron studying and bitching about trauma all those years to be completely stupid. "How long was he out?"
"Ten, maybe fifteen minutes."
Jesus, Dare, what the fuck were you doing in Webber Park after dark?
"Thanks, man. I appreciate you sticking around for him." The guy didn't take the cue and start moving. Dylan dragged Darryl's backpack over to the next empty chair, but Mike Aurietta didn't budge.
After the cab, Dylan had maybe twelve bucks until next Friday's payday, but he hauled out his wallet. "You need a cab or something?"
Mike shook his head, a half smile on his lips. "I'm good."
But he still didn't move.
"Really, Mike. We got this. Darryl has family." Not that Dylan was looking forward to that phone call. Once their older brother Aaron was here, things would be annoying, but at least it would be easier to breathe.
Mike shrugged. "I told the cops I'd hang here."
"The cops." If what had happened to Dylan's dad wasn't enough of a reason to keep a healthy distance from people who claimed to want to help, he'd had Aaron telling him for years that they could only count on each other. "Right."
"They couldn't get a statement from your brother at the time."
"Did they catch...who did it?"
"There were three of them. And when they heard the sirens, they took off. I was more worried about your brother than chasing them."
"No one asked you to. Don't put words in my mouth."
Mike leaned back in his chair, arms still crossed, but studied Dylan steadily. "The police said they haven't decided whether to file it as a hate crime."
Dylan's lungs squeezed tight again. "They were white?"
"Not like that. They were using slurs."
"Like what?" But Dylan knew what Mike was going to say. Because it was all his fault. He really had almost gotten Darryl killed and for a reason Aaron would never have seen coming.
Dylan turned to glare down the hall like that would get his brother back here faster. "Darryl isn't gay."
"Didn't seem to matter to those guys." Mike's stare burned into a spot between Dylan's shoulders.
He jumped to his feet. "I'd know, okay?"
Mike shifted in his chair, putting his hands behind his neck, showing off those massive guns. No wonder he hadn't been worried about jumping into a fight with lopsided odds. "Look who's putting words in my mouth now. Maybe if you've got a problem with it, you wouldn't know."
"I don't have a problem with it." Dylan flung himself back in his seat. "I'd just know." Dare would tell him. Like you tell Dare everywhere you stick your dick? Dylan forced away the guilt in another spate of anger. Why the fuck was it taking them so long to do a damned X-ray? Of course, the longer he didn't know how bad Dare was hurt, the longer Dylan could put off that call to Aaron. "And why the hell are you still here?"
"The cops, remember?"
"Right. Why didn't they question you then? How come they let you in here with him?" No matter what bullshit Dylan had been through with the lady out front, he didn't think the hospital would violate all that confidentiality shit just because a white boy asked them to.
"I rode with him in the ambulance."
Dylan gave him another once-over. Still nothing but a split lip, a mark on his face and the scraped knuckles. "My other brother's a paramedic. They don't just let people tag along."
"I know. But I told them I was Darryl's boyfriend."