I didn't really answer Richie's question about his mom. Instead, I just sort of put my hand behind his head and lifted it up a bit to see if he would sit up.
"Uhhh...wait...now..." He moaned. "Justin, I can't..."
"Yes. You can." I told him.
"I get dizzy when I sit up, Justin. Seriously." He really seemed to believe that he was incapable of sitting upright on his own. "Where's my bucket? I might get sick if I..."
"You won't get sick, Richie." I said. "Not anymore. C'mon...you can do it."
He was really hesitant at first, which was understandable, considering that he's been plagued with a severe illness for nearly two years now and confined to his bed to the point where I doubt that he really knows anything else anymore. But when he looked into my eyes, and I gave him the nod, Richie struggled with himself enough to sit upright and swing his legs around to dangle over the side of the table he had been laying on. I think it surprised him a lot more than it did me...and the look of utter confusion, followed by a bit of that boyish smirk that I remembered from when we were kids...made a stray tear roll down my cheek. Causing me to hurry up and wipe it away before he was able to see it.
"What the...what the hell is going on...?" He asked, and shook his head a few times as the longish locks of his light brown hair hung down over his eyes and tickled the sides of his cheekbones. Hehehe, he was SO unfamiliar with his own hair being back to what it used to be. He was, like...swatting it away with his hands, or playing with it by threading his fingers through it. It must have felt so foreign to him after all this time.
"Listen, I've got a business to run and customers to take care of. So you two work out whatever kinks you've got happening here, and I'll be back later. Or...not. Whatever." Jeremy said, and he took a moment to feel Richie's temperature with the back of his hand. "You'll be alright kid. Welcome back to the world of the living. Well...so to speak." And then he turned to leave us alone for a bit.
"The world of the what now...?" Richie asked.
"Relax. I know that you're still feeling a little bit sore, but it'll go away in time." I told him.
"To say that I was sore would be a serious understatement, dude. My whole body feels like it's been thrown into a meat grinder and shredded to pieces." I giggled a little bit as he looked down at his bare feet, and kicked them back and forth a few times, wiggling his toes as he used his hand to brush his hair out of his eyes once again. "Dude...this is so weird. Do you think I'd be able to stand up?"
"I can't imagine why you wouldn't be."
Richie hesitated for a moment, and then pressed his palms down on the table and took a leap of faith, sliding forward and letting his bare feet hit the floor as he closed his eyes, expecting there to be consequences for it. But...as he stood firm, Richie opened one eye, and then the other, and he looked down at the floor...grinning wickedly to himself as he shifted from foot to foot, feeling what it was like to not be bedridden for ninety percent of his waking life anymore. "Omigosh! Justin...are you seeing this???"
"Yeah...I am." I replied proudly.
"Whoah..." He took a few steps forward, but I could tell that he was still a bit nervous, careful not to venture too far away from his 'bed' for fear that his legs might suddenly give way and cause him to topple over and fall to the ice cold tile below. "I can walk! I'm not even dizzy or anything!" He said, giggling freely to himself. "DUDE!!!" He took a few more steps around the table, still keeping one arm stretched out, just in case. "What the heck is going on here? I'm totally...ugh...like I'm seriously..." Annoyed by the natural length of his hair, he kept trying to shake it and brush it back and blow the loose strands away from his lips. "...What the hell, man? This is weird!"
"Just wait until you see what's waiting for you outside." I smiled.
"Outside??? What do you mean? Like...wait...can I just go out and...do stuff?"
"Hehehe, if you want to. Sure!"
"But...there are still certain times that I need to take my meds, though. They suck, but if I miss taking them..."
"Richie...no. Not anymore." I said. "No more yucky meds. No more."
He seemed so confused and suspicious about it all. But I have to admit to being overjoyed that I got to be here to assist Richie in his journey into darkness...but, like Jeremy said...I didn't want to move too fast. I think the idea of seeing the whole of creation through new eyes is about as intimidating and overwhelming as any experience that a human being can have in this life as it is. Dropping the consequences of such beauty, as well as the concept of virtual immortality at the sacrifice of the sun and the entirety of the life they had before, on them like a ton of bricks may be too much for someone to handle all at once. It creates a fracture in their very understanding of life, time, morality, and self awareness. If it were you...could you handle it all without warning?
It wasn't really something that I ever really thought about before now.
Ugh...am I really, like...a dad now? This feels so WEIRD!
"Why does everything look so...different?" Richie asked.
"Different? Like how?" I grinned.
Finally, taking his first few brave steps away from the table he's been sleeping on for the past month, Richie slowly walked towards one of the walls in the room, and I noticed his hand trembling violently as he reached out to touch the wall. His breathing increased, his heart pounding in his chest with a tantrum that he had never known before...and he just ran his fingers over the wooden surface. Feeling every groove and subtle texture with his brand new senses. "What....what is this?"
"Hehehe, it's just wood. I guess Jeremy put it up in his recovery room to make things feel a little bit more comfortable." I said. Richie looked up at the ceiling, then over to the dimly lit lamp in the corner. He was still a little shaky on his legs, but it wasn't from any level of physical strain. I think he was just lacking a bit of confidence. But it'll come with time. He sort of shook his head again, blowing the loose strands of his hair up. "Richie, will you stop with the hair, already. It's not going anywhere."
"Sorry, it's just...it feels funny..." He whispered. He walked back over to the bed and took a closer look at his pillow and blankets...his new eyes examining every fiber as he ran his fingers over the cloth as well. "Whoah..."
"Richie?" I said, but he seemed a little too preoccupied to really hear me. "Uhhh...Richie? Hehehe!"
"Huh?" He finally looked back at me. "Oh, sorry. I just...I can't explain...I..." Then he squinted slightly and walked over to me to touch my hair. "Justin...were you always this blond? Jesus!"
"I think I was." I said.
He peered in closer. "Your eyes are like SUPER blue, dude!" Then he touched the fabric of my shirt, then felt the fine down of blond hairs on my forearms, and he kept looking at me as if I was a completely different person. "This is so wild..." He whispered to himself.
"Well...it takes some getting used to, for sure. But for the next few weeks, the big 'wow' of it all is going to be a little intense."
"Intense?" He said. "Dude...I feel like my heart is going to explode."
"Ummm, that would be a bad thing." I told him. "For now though...let's go outside. There's a whole lot more to see than some wooden panels, an old blanket, and my weirdly blond colored hair. I guarantee it."
Even though I was highly excited to see his reaction to the outside world, a complete reintroduction to everything that he had ever known and accepted as reality before now...it seemed as though he was still feeling a little bit afraid of the very idea of leaving that bed, much less the room. So I tried to give him about five to ten minutes to adjust and maybe calm down a bit more.
I don't know if vampire hearts really can explode from excitement alone, but...if such a thing were possible, I imagine that this is what the beginnings of such a tragic event would look like. Hehehe, but to be honest, I thought it was adorable.
Jeremy set aside some clothes for Richie to put on earlier, and they were slightly baggy on him but I'm assuming that it was the best fit that Jeremy could find for him with his limited wardrobe supply for teens his age and mine. I led him up the stairs, where Jeremy was standing at his desk, filling in some notes and random paperwork. I wasn't sure if he was going to stop me or not from taking Richie outside, but he just gave me a nod and said, "Avoid the trains and the honking horns on the major streets, fellas. His sensitivity to stimuli is nothing to be played with. Got it?"
"Sensitivity?" Richie asked me, but I just nodded back at Jeremy in agreement.
"Got it." I said, and I walked Richie towards the elevator and let it take us back up to ground level. I noticed Richie lightly pulling at his clothes, as his sense of touch was definitely just as high strung as the rest of them at that moment. That's when the doors opened up, and even though it was night time...he put his hand up and cringed a bit to shy away from the light.
I allowed him to take the first few steps out into his brand new world, and he seemed so extremely fascinated by the clear, crisp, brilliance of it all. "Where are we?" Richie asked.
"Not far away from where we've always been, actually. You can still see the glow of the lights of the Chicago skyline from here. We're barely on the outskirts of the city."
"So...we're still here at home?"
"Pretty much, yeah." I said, and the biggest smile spread out on Richie's face, causing one of my own to blossom as well. "C'mon. Let me show you." I had to take Richie by the hand and guide him towards the door, his insecure shivers increasing as he stepped further and further away from the safety of his bed. But he followed me, regardless. Letting me know that he trusted me more in that moment than he trusted himself. It was a part of our special bond, our typical back and forth, that I had almost forgotten about once he really began to get sick. I guess a part of me was trying to detach itself for my love and affection for him...to make things easier for me when it came to the inevitable 'goodbye'.
"Wait, just...give me a second..." He said, taking some very careful steps forward as a gentle breeze raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Still playing with the unfamiliar sensation of having his hair back, almost to the point of vexation...Richie took a few more steps forward, turning his head quickly to look behind him. Then he took a few more steps, and spun around to look behind him again. "Do you hear that? What is that?"
"What is what?" I asked.
"It's like a...crackling or something. Like footsteps."
I covered my mouth to keep from laughing too loudly. "That's you, doofus." I said.
"Me? Wait, what...?"
"You're just hearing your own footsteps. In the dirt. Look at your feet."
He stared down at the ground, and then leaned forward a bit, taking in a visual inventory of every single grain of sand, dirt, debris, and little details that he had never seen before. Then he stepped forward again, grinding his foot into the dust and hearing it 'crackle' again. "This is so crazy, Freak."
"You're blown away by the look of the dirt now?" I snickered. "Try looking up at the SKY."
Richie raised his head, and then he gasped as he took a few steps backward and covered his mouth with both hands as the celestial lights from above showered him with an entirely different level of grace. One that nearly brought him to tears. "There's so....so many...so many stars." He said softly, his voice quaking. "Look! Justin, are you seeing this?" He pointed up at the night sky with his finger at first, and then opened his hand as if he could literally reach out and touch every single one of them. "This can't be real..."
"Hehehe, it is." I told him. "It's like this heavy veil has been suddenly lifted, isn't it?"
"Yeah. It's...it's a lot like that, actually. How did I not ever see this before? It's all so...different! Like, 3-D, HD, Technicolor, IMAX...but instead of just a screen...it's the whole fucking world! I imagine that this is what it must be like to be on drugs or something!" He said, mesmerized by the view. And he hadn't even seen the really COOL stuff yet. "I never could have imagined that..." Richie lowered his head from his upward gaze, and suddenly his eyes became wide as dinner plates as he looked over my right shoulder and his jaw dropped. An expression of sheer TERROR clouded his face from everything else, and he shrieked out loud as he nearly leapt out of his own skin and stumbled backwards until he had fallen flat on his back in a cloud of dust. And yet, he kept scrambling backwards, a loud scream causing his voice to crack and squeak from the strain...resulting in his sensitive ears picking up the noise and forcing him to curl up in the fetal position as he he held both sides of his head in excruciating pain!
I turned around to see Jeremy's two wolves approaching us from around the corner and I rushed over to cup my hands over Richie's ears to try to save him from his own horrific screams. "Shhhh! Dude! It's ok!"
"What the fuck are THOSE?!?!?" He squealed, only to slam his eyes tight again and increase the agony until he was nearly reaching the point of going into full blown convulsions.
"No no no...Richie! It's ok! Shhhh! Calm down!" I said, hoping that I wasn't speaking too loudly to trigger even more pain from trying to calm him down. I wasn't quite sure how Dion used his extra to shut down his emotions so effectively at a moment's notice...but I did my best to use his extra to calm my own emotions down, and then transfer it to Richie while taking some of the pain away with Bryson's extra at the same time. Luckily...it worked. Well, sort of. At least it was enough to keep him from screaming and squirming long enough for me to tell him that he was only hurting himself and that he'd be ok if he just took a few moments to breathe.
As much as others praise this whole Vampire Mimic thing to be so powerful and so precise...I doubt that I'll ever be able to find out the right concoction and combination of vampire extras to stir the proper witch's brew needed for moments like this. Moments that hit without warning.
But, for now...despite giving me one hell of a headache, it seemed to have a sedating effect on Richie that kept him still for a few seconds.
"It's ok! Seriously. Just....you've got to stay quiet until your body finishes adjusting to the change. Stop screaming." I told him.
"Stop screaming???" He said, now in a softer tone of voice. But as the wolves stepped closer, I could see that the terror in his eyes hadn't really gone anywhere yet. "They're gonna EAT us!!!"
"No, Richie...they're not gonna eat us, ok?"
"That's what wolves fucking DO!" He said in a panic! "They EAT people! Especially when they're that fucking big!"
"No...listen...these wolves? They don't eat people ok?" I said, then I added, "Ok...so maybe the ate a few people. But they're not going to eat US! I promise!" I actually reached up with both hands to pet them behind the ears while they stayed still for me to do so. "Richie...this is Torsten. And this is Grimm." Then I looked at them again. "Or...maybe this one is Torsten, and this one is Grimm? I don't know. It's difficult to tell which is which sometimes. Either way...they're friends. You're ok, Freak. I swear."
Richie was able to shake himself free from my emotional influence and he was quick to scurry away from me and hop back up to his feet, nearly hyperventilating over seeing these gigantic monsters staring back at him from the shadows.
"Do you want to pet them?" I asked. "It's totally ok..."
"Fuck NO, I don't want to 'pet' them! What the fuck is wrong with you???" He gasped, making me laugh.
"It's ok. I totally get it." I said. "You should have seen my first run in with these two. Much more chilling." I stood back up on my feet and brushed myself off. "You wanna get out of here?"
"Do I want to get away from the salivating black wolves with the glowing red eyes way out here in the boondocks where nobody can hear me fucking scream for help?" Richie asked, never taking his eyes off of them. "Yeah...I'd say that was a pretty good idea, Freak. How 'bout you?"
"C'mon. I'll take you out to show you something a little less frightening. How about that?"
"Less frightening. Yes. I could do with something a lot less capable of causing me a heart attack." And, with that said, Richie stood up and started brushing the dust off of his legs and shirt, finally finding a way to catch his breath. It was then that he saw me smiling at him, and gave me a weird look. "What?"
"Hehehe...you're standing up?" I said. "No hesitation this time."
Richie looked down at his own legs and then back up at me with a grin. "Yeah. I guess...I guess I am."
"Well now you're just showing off." I laughed.
"Maybe having you scaring the ever loving SHIT out of me helped me to find my inner potential. Hehehe!"
"Oh? Was that all it took?" I replied. "I'll keep that in mind for later."
"Please don't." And Richie timidly edged his way around Torsten and Grimm as he directed himself towards the front gate. "Nice, Monsters..." He said with a nervous tremble. The wolves growled a little bit, but not in a really menacing way. More playful than anything. Still, it caused Richie to pick up the pace and really make a beeline for the nearest exist.
"Hehehe, they really are sweet, once you get to know them, Richie." I called out.
But, without turning around, he just hollered back with, "Do NOT want to get to know them, Justin! No way! No, sir!"
Hehehe, I should probably run to catch up if I plan to keep this conversation going.
I finally have my best friend in the world back...and we've got a LOT to discuss.