FINAL EPISODE – 38

The drive back to Stoughton was slippery and dangerous…Link barely made it. He was drowsy and feverish…confused by the gloom, and snow squalls that attacked the windshield like rockets. Three times he pulled over..and, unable to judge his speed, nearly careened into the trees. When he finally reached the farm, Sam hadn’t returned…a relief, because all Link wanted was to get warm. He tossed logs in the stove, wrapped his body in a quilt, and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night, he was awakened by tapping on the kitchen door…a wind-whipped branch? He pulled the quilt tighter…tried to ignore it, but the noise became more insistent. Maybe Sam was locked out? Link stumbled into the kitchen. His joints ached and he would hardly breathe. He squinted through the cold glass…then jumped back. A wild face was inches away, hair swirling in the wind.

Heart pounding, he struggled to collect himself. “Wha…what do you want?”

Speechlessly, the eyes widened. “Link, it’s me.”

Holy shit! Jack Plummer! Link stood riveted, wondering if he was dreaming.

“Please let me in,” Plummer cried, “I’m freezing to death.”

Frenzied thoughts swirled in Link’s head…Jack’s leering eyes, chaos in the dorm, the savage injuries.

“Please! Open up!”

Link pulled a carving knife from the drawer and faced Plummer. “I’ll let you in,” he croaked, “but try anything and you’re dead.” It sounded ridiculous…Link stood unsteadily, and the knife felt heavy as a sledgehammer

Plummer nodded.

He unbolted the door and Plummer stepped in cautiously…took in the surroundings…stared at the boy’s quilt.

Link pointed to a chair. “Sit down and don’t move!”

Plummer lowered himself cautiously, massaged his red, chapped hands. “I was hoping to see you,” he said.

“What do you want?” Link whispered.

“Are you okay?” Plummer asked.

Link tried to focus. Everything seemed odd and dreamlike. “Why did you stab me?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Jack cried, “but when I saw you…I dunno…you betrayed me. You met the girl and left me.”

“You tormented me. It wasn’t her.”

“I love you.”

“What?”

“I love you. I did then, and still do. Your memory kept me alive.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re blessed.”

“Blessed?”

“Yes!” Plummer began to cry. “You have everything I never had…everything, but you turned cruel and pushed me away.”

“I’m not gay,” Link cried, “and you wouldn’t leave me alone.”

“Why did you fake the limp? To deceive me? To make me think you weren’t perfect?”

“What?” Link’s head was spinning. “No. It wasn’t that. I really thought one leg was shorter.”

“You didn’t do it to drive me away?”

Link tried to speak…suddenly felt drained…his legs were rubber

“Are you okay??” Jack cried.

The question echoed over and over…then only fragments…the chair toppling over…the cold, linoleum floor…

______________________________________

Link opened his eyes at County General. Ogden, Paige and Sam were leaning over him.

“He’s awake!” Paige cried,

“Thank god!” Ogden said. “Link, can you hear us?”

“Yes, Pa.”

“You gave us a scare,” Sam said.

The last thing Link remembered was Jack Plummer’s face. “Am I…okay?” he asked wondering if there were new injuries.

“Thankfully, yes,” Ogden replied. “You nearly died from pneumonia.”

“I’m not cut again?”

“No, why?”

“I dunno. After last time, I was worried.”

They stared questioningly.

“Antibiotics are doing the trick,” Ogden said with a smile. Link stared at Paige. “How come you’re already here? I though I was dreaming.”

“Ogden called. I flew all night.”

“How did I get to the hospital?”

“The police got a 911 call,” Sam explained. “Someone must have happened by. Didn’t take a thing…just dragged a mattress in front of the stove and wrapped you in blankets. EMT’s said you were burning up…104 temperature. Only thing was, the kitchen door was wide open and footprints led into the woods. Nobody could figure it.”

“Who could it have been?” Paige asked running her fingers through his hair. “Do you remember?”

Link thought of Plummer’s bewildered face. Conflicting thoughts spun in his head. Should I turn him in…a mixed-up townie like me?

“I…I…” he stammered, but couldn’t finish. Who am I to pass judgment?

“Let him rest,” Ogden said. “He’s exhausted.

“Thank god someone found you,” Paige said. “It’s a miracle.”

“I didn’t get home because of the weather,” Sam said.

Link felt drowsy. Could hardly keep his eyes open. He thought of Plummer’s fucked up life. Was he doomed to freeze in the woods? The police would certainly follow the footprints without knowing the whole story.

“Pa,” he whispered. “I need to talk to the police.” Who else could speak for Plummer? Maybe it was impulsive and crazy, but Link couldn’t live his life doing what others expected. He desperately hoped Paige and Ogden would understand. Sure, Plummer had been terribly wrong, vicious, but somebody had to be compassionate…something his mother and father never were.

THE END