Three days later and Gary was still groggy, drifty and heavily medicated. He didn't remember the accident but eyewitnesses report he was riding his bicycle at a pretty good clip when a Florist van came around the corner too wide and lurched into Gary's path from the opposite direction. The bike struck the flat-nosed van head on with Gary's face going through the front windshield. He suffered a severe concussion (even wearing a bicycle helmet), broke his jaw, sprained his neck, lost two teeth, fractured two ribs, broke his wrist, and suffered several contusions, bruises, cuts and scrapes. He had already undergone one surgery on his jaw which was now wired shut.
It was hard to know what was real and what wasn't as Gary drifted in and out of consciousness, tripping from the pain meds and experiencing weird dreams and hallucinations. He'd awake with no idea what time it was or what day it was or who had been in the room. He remembered his parents and sister, various doctors and nurses, but it was all a jumbled jig-saw puzzle mess of floating words, blurry images and garbled reality.
One night it was very quiet but Gary felt a presence in the hospital room and when he opened his eyes he wasn't sure if he was seeing a vision, a ghost, a fantasy, or if he was dreaming.
"Hello, Laurence," came a soft voice in the dark.
Lawrence was his last name but one person from his past used it as a moniker of affection – using it in reference to the great English actor Laurence Oliver when they acted together in high school. But Gary hadn't seen Jayda in a long time and why would she be showing up in his hospital room out of the blue in the middle of the night? Of course, his jaw was wired shut so he couldn't ask.
Jayda – she was as pretty now in his foggy uncertainty as he remembered her (if she was even real – maybe he was having a drug-related delusional illusion) – but as much as he liked her and as talented as she was as an actress, there was no denying that Jayda was one messed up girl in high school.
Gary fell for her, of course. How could he not? She was pretty and noticeable although she seemed to have a different hair color and style every time he saw her. Gary's friends warned that the girl was a head case and although Jayda was affectionate she was also elusive and mysterious and sometimes Gary didn't know if he had fallen for the characters she was portraying on stage or the actual Jayda – whoever she was – because there never seemed to be any reality to her.
He squinted at her in the dimness of the room trying to figure out if she was real. She was wearing a pair of jeans and an embroidered tee shirt, plus sandals.
"I know the nurse on duty," Jayda explained as she took a seat next to the hospital bed. "She's letting me visit."
Gary couldn't answer but he looked at her with amazement. It was wonderful to see her again.
"You were always so nice to me," Jayda sighed. "When I read about the accident in the paper, I just had to come see you."
He was glad she had.
"I've been thinking about how you were so accepting and patient even when I behaved like a bitch," Jayda sighed. "And how I never really told you anything about me so I thought I would tell you now." She glanced at him. "Would that be okay?"
Gary lifted his eyebrows – about the only movement he was capable of performing with his neck in a brace, his mouth wired shut, and his arms full of tubes and wires.
"Did you know I was born on Easter Sunday?" She asked. "My Dad wanted to name me Bunny!" She laughed at the memory. "I always thought maybe I could resurrect myself on my birthday! My Dad gave me the nickname 'Sunny' when I was little because apparently I was a very cheerful and happy kid." She thought about it for a moment. "I definitely didn't feel that way when I got older."
Gary thought of Jayda as the sunshine in his life and that's all he cared about when he knew her in high school.
"I guess I stopped being sunny when my parents divorced," Jayda remarked. "That was hard for me, them breaking up. My father left and my single mom worked a lot. I had a babysitter and I spent more time with her at her house than I did with my own mom at our house which is pretty sad."
Jayda thought about that for a long moment. "The babysitter had her own kid about my age – Kimmy. We were friends but we were different. She was grumpy and moody and I was upbeat and I liked doing stuff. Kimmy was happy to sit in front of the television all day." Jayda glanced at the flat screen television hanging on the wall. "You been watching TV here?"
The answer was no. His vision was still blurry and he got headaches and the motion on the screen made it worst for him so the nurses kept it off, especially since Gary was drugged up and loopy anyway.
"My mom and me went to live with my Grandma when I was around four," Jayda continued. "I think my father made my mother sell our house and split the profits. My grandmother's house was bigger but older. My grandmother was my new babysitter but she was a lot older and it was hard for her to be chasing after a kid like me who liked to explore and run and was full of energy."
Jayda was twisting her brown shoulder length hair with her finger as she thought about those times.
"Then my mother remarried and we moved out of Grandma's house," she sighed. "I felt bad about that. My step-father was very different from my read dad. I remember my real dad smoked cigarettes and drank beer and had tattoos on his arms. He went out a lot at night, gambling my mother told me later. I remember going to a pool hall with him once. My step-father was very conservative and strict. He was serious and studious and not well humored. I think he tolerated me more than anything else. That's when I started to lose some of my sunshine. He could be critical and judgmental. The house was fancy, almost like a museum or something and I was expected to be careful and well-behaved all the time. My mother enrolled me in dance though and I enjoyed that. That's probably when I got the acting bug. I was very artistic when I was in elementary school. I liked to draw and write."
Jayda scratched her chin in thought.
"When I was around seven, my mother said she was having another baby," she continued. "This didn't go over very well with me It was bad enough I had to share my mother with my step-father, now I was going to have to share her with some stinky baby? I guess that's when my rebellion started. Sure, I was being selfish but I was angry at my mother. I would like to think that I was a good big sister to Markus when he was born. I mean, there are lots of pictures of me holding him and playing so I must have been, right?"
She glanced at Gary lying in the bed looking at her. "I remember your sister," she said. "You two seemed to get along well."
It was true. Gary and his sister Gretchen, who was only eighteen months younger than him, got along very well and they remained good friends as adults.
"I wanted to be cool when I got to middle school and I wanted people to like me," Jayda said. "I was aware even then that the structure of the school social hierarchy was vitally important. I was surprised at how incredibly mean girls could be at that age and I was an easy target because I could be silly and dramatic and artsy and I guess I wasn't considered very 'cool' and that just made me all the more rebellious."
She laughed at herself over that reality. "Then my step father got a job promotion and transfer which I guess was good news because I got to start all over but it was also bad news because I had to start all over," Jayda revealed. "I made friends at the new school with a girl named Rube but then one day she dropped me like a dead fish and that really bummed me out. I think that's when I started getting depressed knowing I had been rejected by someone else besides my father and that I had enemies when Rube started talking smack about me."
Jayda sighed heavily and she looked at Gary. "I guess maybe I shouldn't tell you the next parts but if not now, when?" She asked. "I was too ashamed back in high school to tell you." She sat back in her chair. "Anyway," she said. "I had my first boyfriend around this time. Artie. I was fourteen and that's when I first became sexually aware, although Rube had told me things before. Artie was the first boy I saw cum. At first, he masturbated in front of me which I thought was gross and later he had me put him in my mouth which was what Rube had explained to me. Finally, we screwed and every time we did he cummed after like thirty seconds! It wasn't until I was with someone else that I found out that it wasn't supposed to take like thirty seconds to cum! Poor Artie! Looking back on it now, I shouldn't have been sexual at that age. I was way too young but I was rebelling and acting out and looking for love and attention and all that crap."
She sighed and made a face that Gary could barely make out in the shadows. "You probably think I'm a slut,' she said sadly. "Anyways, Artie and me didn't last all that long for obvious reasons. We'd break up and then get back together and we'd fight and argue. He'd get angry and possessive and I'd get needy and bossy. He finally dumped me for good for another girl and looking back on it now I barely even remember anything about that relationship except that it was all about discovering sex together."
Gary wasn't sure if he needed to hear that story. Fourteen was awfully young from his perspective. He was barely holding Molly Jefferson's hand when they dated at fourteen and he only kissed her a handful of times even though they 'dated' for nearly two years. He didn't like thinking about Jayda losing her innocence so young.
"So, by the time I got to high school, I was going off the deep end," Jayda disclosed. "I was getting more depressed and withdrawn. I dropped out during sophomore year and my parents tried home schooling but I didn't give a shit about anything. I'd meet guys but they were just people I drank and smoked dope with and had sex with. My mother made me go to a psychologist and I ended up in the psych ward a couple of times when I became so comatose I couldn't get out of bed or function. I was diagnosed as bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, depression, whatever. Mostly I just couldn't handle life but I knew I wasn't really crazy. Secretly, though, I figured the crazier I acted the more attention I would get. It was really how I developed my acting skills to tell you the truth."
Gary was surprised to hear how tough Jayda had it growing up. He knew there were things about her he never knew about and now he understood why Jayda had been so guarded and mysterious when she got to Hillsboro High. Kids would have been unmerciful if they knew she had been in a locked mental health unit.
"My step-father got another transfer and we ended up here," Jayda explained. "Probably saved my life because when Mr. McDonald invited me to try out for the play I found a safe place to act out all I wanted!" She glanced at him once more. "And of course, I met you, Laurence. The nicest guy I ever knew even though I was often a pain in the ass to be around. Thank God for theater. I was still struggling with a lot of issues and I had about four boyfriends not counting random hook-ups but I didn't know what I was doing. I was always at odds with my mom and I wasn't even on speaking terms with my step-father. I wasn't happy unless I was acting - especially with you."
Gary hated Jayda when she was with those guys, feeling rejected by her choosing losers instead of him who clearly loved her and would have done anything for her. But she was sitting by his hospital bed now telling him all her secrets so that had to mean she had some feelings for him, right?
"I left Hillsboro after graduation," Jayda said. "Never even said goodbye to you, did I?" She realized. "I lived with my real father in Virginia and went to college but I was smoking a lot of pot and drinking too much. I hooked up with a guy named Peter who was older and more experienced and had a good job. I fell in love with him and I moved in with him. It seems kind of silly now - I was eighteen and he was like twenty-eight but I felt all sorts of wonderful even though that turned out to be illusions because he told me to leave. I was devastated and confused. I couldn't keep it together. I got depressed and spent a few days in the psych ward again. I had to drop out of college because I couldn't concentrate on my studies."
Gary wondered what became of Jayda after high school. One day she was there and the next she wasn't but he didn't know her parents or brother well enough to ask questions and he moved on with his life even though he missed her and thought about her a lot. He went to Blue County Community College and worked in his father's print shop. Then he went into business with a friend running a bike shop and he became an avid bike rider enthusiast which - ironically - is how he ended up in a hospital bed at Blue County Medical Center with a busted face.
"A friend took me in but I was moody and it just didn't work out very well," Jayda sighed. "I bounced from one sucky minimum wage job to the next and I went to a lot of parties. And yes there were more guys and that wasn't a good idea considering my delicate emotional state. I tried to go back to school but I had a lot of anxiety and uncertainty and that didn't work out very well either."
She peered at him. "It wasn't all bad news," she said with a sarcastic laugh. "I read a lot of good books and I worked on my art and did some writing but eventually I became anxious again so I took off, hitchhiking to destinations unknown which was a pretty stupid thing to do. I remember sleeping by some train tracks out in the middle of nowhere and being really scared. I made it as far as Nebraska and got a job there for a few months but I knew I was wasting my life so I finally came home because I didn't have any money or direction."
Jayda stood from her chair and stepped close to the bed, staring down at the lump that was Gary.
"Part of me feels like a failure because of all the mistakes I've made but I really do believe that everything is finally going to be okay," she told him. "I'm living at home. I'm not fighting with my mother. I think we're actually kind of friends now. She's been generous, forgiving, understanding, and supportive. My step-father is making an effort too. I'm helping out with my kid brother. So I feel like I'm on the right path and that I'm pretty lucky. I'm clean and sober and feeling positive."
Jayda reached her hand down and brushed Gary's bangs off his forehead with affection.
"I'm even working," she smiled. "With kids as an after-school child-care counselor. I get to play like I'm a little kid again – Sunny! I think I'm learning how to feel happy again, like I'm a real sane person." She sucked in her breath. "I've never told anybody any of that before," she admitted with a fascinated look on her face, as if she had just found her soul. "But I wanted you to know that about me. I'm not sure why," she realized. "I guess it's because you're the only guy who ever really treated me right."
Jayda leaned over and kissed him on his forehead. "Get well soon, Laurence," she whispered. "I love you."
And then she was gone from the room almost as mysteriously as she had appeared and Gary still wasn't sure if it had been real or not.