Excerpt for Toby by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


A Gay short story
Alex Head

Copyright 2017 by Alex Head

Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

This ebook is licensed for your personal use. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Friday October 11, 2013

Chapter Two: Monday October 13

Chapter Three: Monday October 21

About the Author

Chapter One

Friday October 11, 2013

God, I’m tired,” Ben thought. It had been a long week, capped by an extra long Friday. Jake, scheduled to relieve him at six, had called with a family emergency, asking Ben to stay until eight. Ben glanced, again, at the clock on the wall above the coffeemaker: 7:45. Jake should get here soon.

Ben took a sip from his cup of the tinted water Nancy called coffee. She was a damn fine E.R. nurse, but she couldn’t make coffee worth shit. At least it was hot. He’d been too tired even to walk to the cafeteria for a decent cup. Perhaps it was just as well he hadn’t gotten coffee from the cafeteria; at least Nancy’s coffee wouldn’t keep him awake. As soon as this shift ended he had a whole week off. A week doing nothing. Heaven! Maybe go to the beach, if it was warm enough. October in San Francisco’s Indian summer could be hot.

He picked idly at a chip on the edge of the green Formica table top. “What’s with green and institutions?” he wondered for the thousandth time. The freshly painted walls of the break room were still the drab green that seemed to be reserved for hospitals and mental institutions. Drab as the break room was, he devoutly hoped he could stay here until Jake arrived. 

Doctor Lawson. Doctor Lawson. E.R. please. Doctor Lawson. E.R. please,” the call system blared, just as Nancy opened the door.

Ben, we need you,” she said.

What is it?” Ben asked as she led him to a cubicle.

It’s a kid. Nine, I guess. Police found him unconscious by a dumpster behind a restaurant. He’s been shot in the right forearm, nasty wound, shattered the bone, he lost a lot of blood. Nothing else I can see.”

If she didn’t see anything else, there probably wasn’t anything else.

A kid? Shit!” Ben didn’t like working with kids; he didn’t relate well with them; he never knew what to say to them. “Called Dr. Olson?” 

Of course,” Nancy said. Olson was the best orthopedic surgeon in the hospital.

The first thing Ben noticed when they got to the cubicle was the kid was thin, much too thin. The second thing was the kid’s face, perhaps the dirtiest face he’d ever seen. The only clean places on him were his broken right arm with its tourniquet and the IV site on his left arm. As best he could tell through the dirt, the kid was very pale. A nurse was holding his hand and talking to him quietly. The kid seemed to be barely conscious.

Somebody wash his face! Jesus!” Ben said, then asked “What’s he been given?”

Demerol, glucose, and a pint of plasma.”

An orderly brought a basin of water, washcloth, and towel. Ben washed the kid’s face, talking to him gently, and then examined him. He couldn’t find anything wrong except malnutrition, the shattered arm, and too much blood loss.

What do we know about what happened?”

Police got called by someone reporting gunfire. Apparently a robbery of a restaurant gone wrong. When they arrived they found the restaurant owner shot dead. It took them a while, maybe fifteen minutes, before they found the kid behind a dumpster out back. They think he’d been looking for something to eat. Best guess: the robbers shot him as they fled. He was unconscious when they found him, blood loss plus shock.”

He needs more blood. Give him whole blood, not plasma.”

I would have,” Nancy said, “but the blood bank is out again. St. Luke’s needed it.”

Oh, fuck! Not AB-negative?”

Yep. And a perfect match for you.”

This had happened before. The blood bank had a hard time keeping a supply of AB-negative blood, the rarest type. So far as he knew, Ben was the only person in the hospital who was AB-negative.

Just then Olson came in. Ben gave him a rundown while he examined the arm.

Do we know who he is?” Olsen asked.

He has his wallet and school ID. No money. His name is Toby Matthews. He’s in foster care. We’ve called the caseworker; he’s on his way.” 

Olsen finished his initial exam. “It’s a nasty one, but I think we can fix him up. No permanent damage, if we’re lucky, but that arm and hand are going to be useless for a while. I hope he’s left-handed. X-rays, then surgery, as quick as we can.”

Blood first,” Ben said. “I’ll donate.” Again.

As he was giving blood a young Asian man walked in.

Hi, I’m George Lieu.” he said. “Foster care, about Toby Matthews. Is this him? Who can fill me in?”

I’ll do it,” Ben said. “Ben Larson. Hi. I’m not doing anything else for the moment.” Except being drained.

George was stunningly handsome. Tall, slim but solid, not thin, probably in his mid twenties, a few years younger than Ben. He had the characteristically Asian black, half-hidden eyes, high cheekbones, and glossy black hair. He wore his hair long, almost shoulder length; Ben wanted to run his fingers through it. George’s skin was flawless, smooth, the color of light honey. Hell yes, Ben would talk to him!

You don’t recognize Toby?” Ben asked.

No, I’ve never seen him before. Just a photo from a couple of years back. We got a report two days ago that police had been called to his foster parents’ home. Domestic abuse. They found both adults drunk, the woman bleeding on the floor. The man is in jail and the woman recovering at home. She’s pretty much drunk all the time. No sign of Toby. We’ve been hunting for him.”

How come you don’t know him if you’re his caseworker?”

I wasn’t. His caseworker is on suspension pending an investigation. I’m sure she’ll get fired. She should. I was called in to replace her.”

What do you know about him? I’ll tell you one thing. He’s much too thin for just two days on the street.”

It’s a sad case,” George said. “Single mom, unknown father. From all we can tell she was a good mother. Two years ago she was killed crossing the street. Toby was with her.”

Oh crap! How awful! No relatives?”

None we could find. This was his second foster home in two years. The first one couldn’t deal with him being so depressed.”

Poor kid. I swear, there’s something familiar about him.”

Familiar? You’re kidding! That kid is the spitting image of you. I saw it the minute I saw the two of you. Same curly blond hair. Same green eyes. Same nose. When he grows up he’s going to be a stunner, like you.”

Ben decided to ignore the complement. The way George delivered it confirmed Ben’s suspicion that George was gay, but Ben had given up on dating. He wasn’t about to take his chances on someone as out of his league as George.

We really look alike?”

 “You’d be identical twins if you were the same age.”

I can see what you’re wondering. No. He’s not mine. No chance. I’ve never slept with a woman.”

George had guessed the handsome doctor was gay. It was nice to have his suspicions confirmed. Too bad Ben was off limits.

Nancy removed the needle from Ben’s arm, put on a bandage, and took the bag of blood over to Toby. An orderly brought Ben some apple juice.

Need anything else?” George asked.

Honestly, yes. I haven’t had anything to eat for a while. I was about to go home when Toby came in. Would it be too much trouble ...?”

Whatever you want.”

A muffin from the cafeteria would be great.”

I’ll be right back.”

As Toby was wheeled by on his way to x-ray Ben took a good look at him. Yes, he could see it now. How strange. He was glad he knew Toby wasn’t his. The resemblance was uncanny.

George returned with three muffins, a danish, and a large to-go cup of hot chocolate.

I wanted to give you a choice of muffins,” George said, “and the hot chocolate was just a guess.”

A good guess. Thank you.”

They sat together in the break room as Ben ate. George ate the danish, with a cup of Nancy’s swill. Ben’s shift was over, but he needed a bit of time to recover before driving home. George, of course, had to wait until Toby was out of surgery.

So, what happens next with Toby?” Ben asked. “Will he go back to the drunk lady with her husband in jail?”

Not a chance.” George laughed. “But it’s a real problem. At this time of night there’s nowhere I can put him except the city jail.”


Yes. Food, a bed, safety, someone to watch over him. They’ll treat him well, but I’m afraid it’ll be scary for him. Tomorrow I’ll see what I can find.”

No! Jail is wrong. No other alternative?”

Not that I can see. I’d take him for the night, but I’m not allowed to.”

Shit. .... Could I take him?” Ben was surprised to hear himself ask it.

Yes! That would be wonderful. I’ll help, that is, if you want. I’m worried about Toby. He’s been through too much. I’m afraid he’ll be hard to handle. He must be in shock now, and doped out on pain killers, but when they wear off I expect he’ll be terrified. Are you sure you’re willing to deal with him?”

Willing, yes, Ben guessed so. Able? Maybe not.

Would you help me?” Ben asked. “Could you stay the night, help me deal with him when he wakes up?”

Yes, I’d love to! I mean, I really don’t want him to wake up in a jail cell. We can’t do that to him. Let me go to his foster home and get some of his clothes and things. I’ll meet you back here. You look beat. Is there somewhere you can lie down until Toby is ready to go home? How long will it be, anyway?”

Several hours. Yes, there’s a room where I can sleep. Good idea. Thanks. I might as well go lie down now. Nancy will wake me when the kid’s out of surgery.”

Ben was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. George went to Target, fortunately open late, for a couple of cheap duffel bags, and then to Toby’s house, former house, where he packed them. In addition to plenty of clothes he added a number of Toby’s things, including a well-worn teddy bear, a picture of his mother, and his backpack with school books and papers.

He could see Toby was a reader; he had a lot of books. George wasn’t surprised, given Toby’s good grades. What was surprising was how well Toby did in school, despite his home situation. George packed several of Toby’s non-school books, and every library book he could find, including the book it looked like Toby had been reading. Toby read well above grade level, he noticed. By the time he was done both duffel bags were stuffed.

On the way back to the hospital George stopped by his apartment and packed an overnight bag for himself. At the hospital he found Toby asleep in the recovery room, Ben with him. Toby had a cast from above his right elbow to the tips of his fingers.

How is he?” he asked Ben.

He’s fine. Dr. Olsen said the surgery went well. The damage wasn’t as bad as he feared. He had to put in two steel splints where the bullet ripped through the bone.”

Is that a problem?”

Not at all. He won’t be pitching baseball right-handed for a while, but in two or three years, as he grows, the bone will knit together completely.”

So the splints will be removed?”

No. They won’t be needed, but by then the bone will have grown around them, so they’ll have to stay in place. He’ll be fine; he’ll recover full use of his arm.”

When can the cast come off?”

In two to three months. He has to have an x-ray in two weeks to check the healing, and again in a month. He can’t use his right hand at all until the cast comes off. He’s going to need a lot of help for a while, especially if he’s right handed.”

How soon can he go home?”

Soon. He’s still full of Demerol. He’ll be fine until morning, but then he’ll hurt. Dr. Olsen left this prescription for him.”

George went to the hospital pharmacy and filled the prescription. By then Toby was awake, groggy but ready to leave. They bundled him into Ben’s car.

Why don’t you follow me?” Ben asked. “I’ll pull into my garage and you can park in my driveway.”

Toby was half asleep when they got to Ben’s house. Unlike George, who lived in a small apartment, Ben had a house, one of those attractive Victorians San Franciscans call a “painted lady;” it needed paint. From the sidewalk a car-length driveway slanted down to the garage, with two floors, both with bay windows, above it. Stairs to the left of the driveway led up to the bright red front door.

Ben, carrying Toby, opened the door before George knocked. “Yes, I know the house needs painting,” Ben said by way of greeting. “I’ve been meaning to get it done since I moved in a year ago.”

Inside, doors on the right side of the hall led to the double parlor, used as living room and dining room. On the other side stairs let up to the second floor; a door under the stairs led, George guessed, down to the garage. All the walls were painted the wonderful pale gray-green-brown mutable color unimaginatively named “Riverside.” George had painted his apartment the same color; he thought the color should be named “lichen-covered-rock.”

Hardwood floors gleamed in the light from recessed halogen fixtures. In the living room above the sofa, it’s colors beautifully set off by the pale wall, was what appeared to be a large Jackson Pollock.

Pollock?” George asked.

A repro.”

It’s a good one,” George said, examining it.

Behind the dining room was the large, modern kitchen, with a powder room tucked incongruously in a corner. There were three bedrooms upstairs, but only one bath. The back bedroom was used as a storeroom, full of boxes and junk. The guest bedroom looked like it had been set up just for Toby, with a single bed, a dresser whose drawers were empty, a desk complete with desk lamp, and an almost empty bookcase and closet. They put Toby to bed and he fell right asleep. George put Toby’s teddy bear on the bed with him.

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