His body ached. Every motion, every breath, every tiny movement brought fatigue and agony. He should have been resting in bed.
So, of course, he was acting like nothing was wrong. He was a little more surly than usual, but other than that he didn’t let it show.
Practice ended that evening with Peter’s lowering the guitar. “Michael.”
Peter lifted Mike’s guitar off him and took him by the arm. “You are going to go rest.”
Mike blinked at him. “I’m---?”
“You heard me. I’m not taking no for an answer.” HE steered Mike into the downstairs bedroom. “You are going to rest here.”
He just blinked at Peter. But he simply did not feel like arguing. At that moment, bed sounded very, very good.
He didn’t even complain about it being only six in the afternoon.
Peter tucked him in and smiled at him as his eyes closed. That warm smile was the last thing Mike clearly saw before sleep claimed him.
Two hours passed. Davy’s latest fling Bess called and they went out. “Don’t wait up,” he teased even as he wrote the numbers of the restaurant and other places down.
An earthquake had shaken Malibu Beach a month earlier and everyone had wigged out when nobody was able to get hold of Davy. So now, they all left numbers in case of emergencies.
Micky closed the door behind Davy and smiled at Peter. “In the mood for steak tonight? I’ve some thawing in the fridge.”
Peter shook his head. “I’m in a veggie fajita mood.”
“Excellent!” Micky rubbed his hands together. “I’ll make it while you go wake him.”
Peter chuckled as he put his guitar aside. “Hold up and we’ll help you make them.”
“Even better.” Micky headed toward the kitchen and Peter walked into the bedroom.
He took three steps in and froze. Mike was curled into a miserable-looking heap in the middle of the bed. What struck Peter was the sweaty slickness of Mike’s hair and how he was shivering. Peter could hear his teeth clattering together. “Michael?”
No response. Peter moved forward, calling Mike’s name twice more. There was no answer either time. Frowning, Peter reached for Mike.
His hand hovered several inches from Mike’s skin, arrested by the high heat rolling off of his friend. “Micky!” Peter screamed. “MIICKYY!”
Peter’s body was thin, but it held a strength that had to be experienced to be believed. Though both he and Micky raced from the Monkeemobile, it was smaller Peter who cradled Mike’s lanky form as effortlessly as carrying an infant.
Micky stayed behind to fill out paperwork and inform Davy. Peter was allowed to carry Mike into a treatment room and – after informing the personnel he had found Mike in this state – he was allowed to remain.
Peter assisted in stripping Mike’s sweat-soaked clothing off him. As the doctors took his temperature and nurses drew icy water to cool the Texan, Peter took off his own shirt and undershirt. Donning the shirt again, he draped the folded undershirt over Mike’s slim hips.
A nurse raised an eyebrow as she handed him a cool rag, and Peter shrugged. “He’s modest,” was all the explanation he gave.
She smiled and began to run her own cloth down Mike’s reddened legs.
“How long has he been ill?” the doctor asked.
“We didn’t know he was,” Peter said as he washed Mike’s sweat-dampened chest. “Is it bad?”
“He’s got a fever of 105.3,”the doctor informed him with an economy of words. “We have to get him cooled – now!”
Peter and the nurse redoubled their efforts with the cooling cloths. The doctor asked Peter, “Is he allergic to any painkillers?” At Peter’s headshake, he rolled Mike over and pushed something into him before he turned him back and covered him with cooled blankets.
“What did you put into him?” Peter asked.
“Tylenol suppository. It’s a potent fever reducer and it’s vital we get that fever DOWN.”
“Hundred five – that’s high….” Peter whispered.
The doctor nodded, his smile fading. “We could be facing serious complications if we don’t.”
“What … kind… of complications?” Peter asked, trembling.
The answer was chilling. “Worst case scenario? Brain damage. Or worse.”
The hellish hours passed. A visibly-shaken Davy arrived and the doctors finally evacuated Peter so they could focus on Mike.
The three couldn’t be still. Worry kept them pacing, speaking in hushed tones. When Davy saw a nurse, he would stop her – but this time it wasn’t for flirtation. He kept asng if Mike’s condition had changed.
When Mike’s doctor finally appeared in the waiting room, he found himself swarmed by three anxious young men – all talking at once! He held up his hand for silence and when they gave it to him, he spoke the sweetest words they’d heard in hours.
“Mister Nesmith’s fever broke about fifteen minutes ago.”
Cheers and whoops greeted that announcement, followed by Peter’s “So he’ll be all right, now?” When the doctor’s face fell, so did theirs. “….Doctor?” Peter whispered.
“Follow me, boys.” He led them to his office and gestured. “Sit down.” When they obeyed, the doctor sat down as well – and sighed. “He is not, by any stretch of the imagination, out of the woods yet. We’ve run some tests, and the results are pretty discouraging.”
Without hesitation, Peter’s hands reached out on either side of him. Without hesitation, both Micky and Davy took his hand, enfolding it in both of theirs. None of their eyes left the doctor’s. Once they were thus fortified Micky nodded. “Tell us.”
The doctor sighed. “Based on our findings, we have put him into a medically-induced coma, to force his body to rest and to give us some time to plan our next step.”
“Next step?” Peter asked. “Why? What—what did you find?”
The doctor licked his lips and leaned forward, steepling his hands. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this – so I’ll just give it to you straight. We’re dealing with brain damage.”
Peter drew in a sharp breath. Micky and Davy’s hands tightened on his. “How…how bad?” Davy choked out.
“Mister Nesmith’s optical nerves are not responding to any stimulus at all. His pupils are similarly non-responsive.”
Silence reigned for a few moments, then Micky gasped, “Are… are you tellin’ us…that Mike’s blind?”
Sadness creased the doctor’s forehead as he sat back. “Yes, Mister Dolenz…. That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”
“No!” Davy screamed, jerking to his feet and dropping Peter’s hand. “No, you’re wrong! He can’t be blind! He isn’t blind!” With that hanging in the air, Davy fled the office.
Peter moved to go after him, and Micky squeezed his hand. “Let him go. Once he cools off, he’ll be okay.”
Peter nodded and looked at the doctor. “So… why is he being kept in a coma?”
“The fever – such a high one for such an extended amount of time – severely taxed his system. So we put him into a coma and we will leave him there for four days.”
“So his body can get the rest it needs,” Peter nodded. “I remember you saying that…. That makes sense.”
Micky nodded at his words, then licked his lips. “But…what do we do in the meanwhile?”
The doctor wrote a name and office address on a slip of paper and pushed it toward them. “Go talk to her. I’ll call so she’ll be expecting you. Her name’s Laura Ball, and she’s the best there is.”
The pair nodded and Peter took the card. As they left the room, they saw the doctor pick up the phone. Peter turned to Micky. “Should we wait for Davy?”
“No,” Micky said gently. “He’ll find us. Let’s go talk to this Ball woman.”
Peter nodded and followed, turning the card over and over in his hands. After a moment, he whispered “It just…. doesn’t seem real, you know?”
“I know.” Micky put an arm around Peter’s shoulders and gave his friend a comforting hug. “It seems completely unreal.”
“Brain damage…” Peter’s voice shook. “That… that can’t be fixed, can it?”
“No,” Micky replied just as softly. “No, it…it can’t.”
Peter shook his head. “Blind…f-for ever…” He stopped walking, put his head in his hands, and began to weep.
Micky held him and let a few tears of his own fall.
A woman walked up to them and whispered, “Come with me. You can rest in here.” She guided them into an office, where they remained until they had regained control
“Thank you, Miss… ah…” Micky faltered.
The woman sat down and smiled at them. “Ball. My name is Laura Ball.”
Peter’s eyes widened. “We were just coming to see you!”
“I know. Doctor Cole called me. He described you and when I saw you…” She shrugged. “You needed somewhere to grieve.”
Peter shook his head. “But… nobody died.”
“A way of life did.” She leaned back in her chair. “Your friend has been irrevocably changed. Of course you’re grieving – you’re mourning the loss of what he was like and adjusting to what he will be like now.”
Micky nodded slowly. He had never ceased touching Peter – lending support as well as receiving it. “So…what is your role in all of this?”
Laura smiled. “Instructor. You live with him, correct?” At their nods, she went on, “Then you must learn what he has to. I’m to teach all of you how to live with blindness. You, too, will learn Braille, and the other skills he will. If you learn, you can reinforce our lessons at home and – ultimately – smooth your friend’s transition.”
Startled, she looked at Peter. “Excuse me?”
“He has a name. It’s Mike.”
Laura smiled at him. “Of course – please forgive me. I’ll look at his chart, read it while you’re gone. Go home, get cleaned up. Come back here at nine in the morning tomorrow – come right ot me and we’ll get started then.”
Micky frowned. “Why can’t we get started now?”
“Because you need rest and food. You’ll do Mike no good if you wear out. Go, now.” She smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sleep didn’t come easy that night. By bedtime, Davy still hadn’t returned. Both of them were starting to become worried.
It was around two AM when Micky gave up. He was tired, but his whirling thoughts and emotions were not going to permit him to rest. Throwing back the covers, he pulled on his robe and padded downstairs. Perhaps some warm milk would help….
He’d taken two steps toward the kitchen when a sound arrested him. He turned toward the downstairs bedroom and frowned. He moved closer and his heart sank when he recognised the sound.
Peter was obviously awake – and softly whimpering. Micky eased the door open and sighed.
The room was dark. Peter had not turned on the small nightlight. The doorway illuminated the fact Davy was not there. “Peter,” Micky said softly, “Why didn’t you turn on the nightlight?”
“Leave it off,” Peter whimpered. Leaving the door open, Micky moved to his side. Peter was curled into a miserable ball, shaking.
“You’re afraid,” Micky said gently, resting a hand on Peter’s back. Peter was not afraid of the dark per se, but he was afraid of being alone in the dark. “Why didn’t you turn on the nightlight?” Micky repeated.
“Wanted to see what it’s like,” Peter sniffled miserably. “It’s hell, Micky – it’s hell!” He broke out into huge, hiccupping sobs.
Micky sat on the bed and gathered his friend close. “Get it out,” he soothed, stroking Peter’s hair. “Get it all out….”
He didn’t notice – or care – that he was crying just as hard as Peter.
It was a pair of miserable Monkees that walked into Laura’s office seven hours later. She looked at them and raised an eyebrow. “Sleepless night,” she diagnosed, standing up. “Would you like to see your friend?”
The response was immediate and unanimous. Ten minutes later, they walked into the room where Mike was.
He lay unnaturally still. A breathing tube was taped to a corner of his mouth. A second tube protruded from his stomach. He was covered only by a thin hospital sheet that came to his waist. His arms were tied to the bed, each with an IV feeding into his hands.
Strangely, what upset Peter the most was the fact Mike’s hair had been combed straight across his forehead. He walked over and slid the comb from his jeans.
When he stepped back a moment later, Peter had restored the familiar flip of hair over Mike’s left eye.
Micky checked the instruments Mike was hooked up to. “Oxygen and food,’ he reported. “And I’ll bet these IV’s are what’s keeping him in the coma.”
“Three more days,” Peter sighed. His hand ghosted over Mike’s face. “But the fever’s down.” He fell silent.
Micky turned to find Peter staring at Mike’s closed ees. It didn’t take any genius to figure out what Peter was thinking.
Mike’s eyes were a beautiful chocolate brown. It broke their hearts that those eyes would only see blackness for the rest of his life.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Davy gasped and whirled. “Micky…. You scared me!”
Micky’s normally animated face was stone. His eyes were blazing. “Answer me.”
Davy sighed. “I… had to get my head together.”
“Peter’s been worried sick.” Micky glared. “You could have called.”
“Not where I was…there wasn’t a phone.”
Micky tilted his head. “So – where were you?”
He sighed again and lowered his eyes. “Benny’s.”
“Aw, Davy,” Micky sighed. “Benny’s was the slang name for St. Benjamin’s, a monastery on a hill outside of town. “This whole time?”
Davy nodded. “I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe… I-I still don’t know if I can deal!”
“Let us help you,” Peter’s voice rumbled from the doorway. Davy turned to see his other friend – unshaved, haggard looking.
“Peter,” he breathed.
“It’s real, Davy,” Peter sighed. “He really is blind. It really is forever. He needs our support now. All of our support. He needs us to learn with him.” His eyes locked onto Davy’s. “He doesn’t need your freaking out.”
Davy nodded. “You can help me – if we help you.” He gestured at Peter. “Look at you – you’ve not taken care of yourself.”
“He hasn’t,” Micky sighed.
Peter shook his head. “Michael—“
“Won’t be waking up till Friday when they pull the drugs,” Micky finished. “Your going to rest for a few hours won’t make any difference!”
Peter sighed and ran a hand along his forehead. “I’m afraid to,” he admitted softly. “Afraid if I leave him…”
Davy stepped forward. “I’ll take you home – let Micky watch over Mike.”
Peter fixed him with a look. “Do you promise you won’t run off on us again?”
“I promise,” Davy said after a moment. He held out his hand. “Let’s go.”
Micky nodded as Peter’s eyes swiveled to him. With a sigh, Peter walked to Davy and the pair of them walked out.
Micky walked in and sat by Mike. “Boy, are things changing….they’re already so different.” He reached out and brushed the hair from Mike’s closed eyes. “I wonder how much things will change once you wake up and all of us adjust to your blindness?” He sighed. “How much will things change then?”
When Peter and Davy returned, they found Micky asleep by Mike’s bedside.
His hand was closed around Mike’s limp one.
Peter looked much better. His eyes were clear and he was clean-shaven and in clean clothing. He walked over and extricated Micky’s hand.
Micky woke with a start. “Peter?”
“Yeah, it’s me.” He smiled at Micky, then over at Davy. “Now it’s his turn.”
Davy smiled back. “I’ll run him home.” Suddenly his face brightened. “That’s how I can help!”
Peter nodded, as his smile turned into a grin. “That’s right! You can be the chauffeur for us to take our shifts!”
Micky smiled. “And once Mike wakes up, you can help drive us all where we need to go!”
Davy nodded. “Something to do to help – within my ability to deal at my own pace!”
Peter hugged him. “I knew we’d find a way!”
Davy and Micky left, and Peter sat down. He lifted Mike’s limp hand and began to talk to him, telling him about the day and how everything was going.
When words failed him, Peter sang to Mike.
Even in the drug-induced coma, Mike heard it. His lips curved ever-so-slightly into a smile.
Laura smiled as the three men entered her office. She stood and held out her hand to the smaller man. I don’t believe we’ve met – I’m Laura Ball.”
“Davy Jones,” he said, shaking her hand. His eyes weren’t shining with stars – he’d seen the ring on her left hand. “Are you the one who’s going to be helping us help Mike?”
“No,” she said. “I’m the one who’s going to help all of you help yourselves.”
Peter opened his mouth to reply, but Laura’s door burst unceremoniously open and a nurse ran inside. Laura stood. “Marshall, what is it?”
“Mister Nesmith’s system burned out the drugs!” Marshall panted.
The three looked at each other. “What does that mean?” Peter asked.
Laura smiled broadly. “It means your friend’s awake!”
As it turned out, Laura had only been partially right. Mike wasn’t fully awake, but his vital signs were all showing unmistakable leanings toward waking up.
They found Doctor Cole bending over Mike. He had a huge smile as he looked up at them. “His body has apparently decided it’s rested enough. He’s burned out the drugs keeping him asleep – and rejecting further attempts to send him back there.”
“That’s…good, right?” Peter ventured.
“In a way,” Cole said, disconnecting the medication IV and giving him a hypodermic filled with nutrients. “In a way, it’s bad. Instead of having another day to adjust – you’ll only have another few hours.”
“No, that’s good too,” Peter said as he resumed his place by Mike’s side. “That way we’ll all learn together.”
Davy smiled and leaned over to Micky. “So much for Peter’s being the dummy!” he whispered.
Micky smiled at Davy, then toward where Peter sat singing softly to Mike. “C’mon, Dave – let’s go eat and leave them be awhile.”
Davy nodded and followed Micky out. Once the door closed behind him, he leaned against the wall and let his breath out in a ‘Whoosh!’.
Micky paused. “You okay?”
Davy shook his head. “It’s… it’s just becoming very real very fast.”
“You…” Micky paused, chewing on his lip. “You’re not gonna take off again, are you?”
“No.” Davy shook his head and pushed off of the wall. “No – but I have a feeling I’ll be leaning on you and Peter a lot.”
“Long as we get to lean back.” Micky’s voice was soft and sincere.
Davy studied his face, then broke into a wide smile. “Perhaps we’ll all four lean on each other.”
Micky matched his smile. “I think I’ve got one of your feelings.”
“M-hm.” He pulled Davy into a tight, brotherly hug. “I feel all of our shoulders are going to become very broad.”
Peter held Mike’s un-IV’d hand and kept up a steady soft litany of words and sob as Cole detached the tape holding the tube to Mike’s mouth. Once it was removed, Cole moved to the stomach tube.
Peter smiled at Cole after all the tubes were out. He then turned to Mike and resumed talking.
A few moments later, Cole was witness to something he would remember all his life.
Peter was singing a little piece of some nonsense song, and he stumbled over a few words.
Immediately a throaty chuckle sounded from the bed. “…missed…’gain….” The voice was rusty and weak from disuse.
“I’m trying,” Peter smiled down at the glazed-over brown eyes that had opened a mere slit. “Welcome back.”
“….not….back yet…” Mike groaned. “….real….sleepy….”
Peter squeezed his hand. “Rest, then. One of us will be here when you wake up.”
The hand weakly squeezed back. “…thanks….” Mike’s eyes slid closed once more and his breathing smoothed out after one long sigh.
Cole checked him over and moved back, smiling at Peter. “He’s in normal sleep.”
“Good,” Peter sighed as he brushed the hair from Mike’s cool forehead. “He wasn’t awake enough….”
“—To realise he can’t see?” Cole asked kindly and Peter nodded. “No, he wasn’t. But next time he will be.”
Peter drew the covers up to Mike’s shoulders and watched the sleeping man roll over and burrow under the covers till only the top of his dark hair showed. Peter ran a gentle hand over the ebony crown and softly vowed: “He won’t be alone.”
Sometime during the long night that followed, Peter dozed off. He woke to a pressure on his hand and a low, frightened whisper repeating three names over and over.
Peter raised his head and swallowed hard.
Mike was awake. His eyes were open wide and they looked straight ahead, glazed and fixed. His hand was holding Peter’s in a white-knuckled grip and his tense voice was whispering his roommates’ names.
Peter squeezed back and the whispering stopped. “It’s Peter,” he replied softly.
“Peter, what—“ Mike licked his lips and tried again. “What’s going on? Where are we? Why… why is it so dark?”
Hearing the barely concealed fright in Mike’s voice, Peter hovered his hand above Mike’s forehead for a moment. He knew he’d done it right when he pushed the hair from Mike’s forehead and Mike didn’t startle from the touch. “You’ve been ill, Michael.” His voice was infinitely gentle. “We’re at Mercy Hospital.”
“Hosp…” Mike frowned. “But it’s all—“
“I know it’s dark, Michael,” Peer went on in that same gentle tone. “Remember how bad you felt?”
Mike nodded. “But what does that—“
“You had a fever of over a hundred and five – for a long time.”
Mike frowned deeply. “But a fever that high….” Suddenly he paled. “Peter….it’s… it’s not just dark in here… is it?”
Peter hesitated, unsure of how much he should tell his friend.
But in that hesitation, Mike had his answer. He let out a strangled sob and tried to pull his hand away.
“Oh, no,” Peter snarled, the ferocity in his voice surprising even him. “No, Michael, you are not going to stump up and try to deal with this by yourself.”
“Leave me alone, Peter.”
“No. You’ve been struck blind, not stupid. You try to deal with this alone, you will be stupid and you’re not stupid, so just stop it right now!”
Mike blinked useless eyes, trying to follow that rapid-fire bit of ramble. “Uhm….Peter? What did you just say?”
“I said, let us help. That’s what brothers do – we help each other!”
“Peter…we ain’t brothers.”
“Of course we are,” Peter said, his huge smile showing in his voice. “We’re just not related by blood.”
Mike opened his mouth and Peter went on: “Family isn’t just what you’re born into. The four of us have made a family of our own right here. What happened to you has just made us band together tighter.” Seeing Mike’s expression, he added, “I can’t leave you alone, Michael. Because none of us are ever alone when we’ve got a brother who loves us.”
The dark eyes widened. The voice was a whisper. “….Peter?”
“Did you have a brain transplant?”
Peter chuckled. “No – just saying what you need to hear.”
“Is it…the truth?”
“It’s the truth,” Peter confirmed. “There’s no way in hell you’re in this alone.”
Peter saw the emotions threatening to overwhelm Mike. He stood and petted Mike’s shoulder, knowing how badly Mike would be embarrassed at anyone witnessing the inevitable. “What do you say I step out and see about breakfast, hm?”
Mike nodded, feeling himself completely unable to speak.
Peter squeezed his hand and moved toward the door. “I’ll be back, soon, then – brother.”
Peter let the door close on his heel, knowing Mike could hear the ‘thump’ and knew he was now alone. He leaned in gently and pressed his ear to the crack of the door.
His own eyes closed and silent tears coursed down his cheeks as – after a few moments – Mike’s choking sobs tore out.
Micky and Davy arrived as Mike just finished breakfast. Without making a big deal of the mess he’d made trying to feed himself, Peter handed Mike a dampened cloth.
The door bumped open as Mike was finishing up. Mike frowned. “Who’s—“
“The rest of the family,” Peter said as he took the cloth from a now-clean Mike and dropped it onto the tray.
As he felt the tray lifted from his legs, Mike smiled tightly. “Hey, Micky. Hey, Davy.”
“Family, huh?” Micky said as he crossed over and sat beside the bed. “I like the sound of that. Hey, Mike.”
“Mike,” Davy said, the slightest of tremors in his voice. He didn’t move.
Mike frowned. “Is something wrong, Dave?”
Davy met Peter’s eyes, and Peter nodded. When he looked at Micky, Micky did the same. Davy sighed. “I’m….having a little trouble with all this.”
Mike frowned deeper and his mouth opened to deliver a scathing remark – but Peter beat him to it. “Michael – he spent two days at a monastery, trying to wrap his mind around it. But he came back.”
“Peter,” Mike said softly. “Micky. Leave us alone. Davy – come here.”
“Michael –“ Peter began.
“I won’t rip him a new one. I promise.” He felt Peter squeeze his arm and then he heard footsteps – and the bang of the door against a heel. Smiling at that kind touch, he asked, “We alone?”
“We’re alone,” Davy said, and Mike heard the tension in his voice.
Mike sat up, guiding himself. “Come here. I promise I won’t yell.”
There was a pause, then tentative footfalls. “I’m here,” Davy said softly.
Mike reached out a hand and after a pause, Davy took it. “I got mad for a sec when you said it was hard for you. All I could think was it’s hard for me.”
Davy squeezed his hand but didn’t say a thing.
“It’s hard, Davy,” he whispered. “It’s all dark….”
Davy sobbed slightly. “That’s it,” he gasped. “It’s so different…it’s not going to be the same ever again…”
Mike gasped against his own tears at that point. Feeling lost and adrift, he reached up. Davy fell into his arms, and they clung to each other like two drowning men.
“Don’t leave again,” Mike gasped. “Don’t leave again! I n-need all of my brothers!”
Davy chuckled softly. “Been talking to Peter again, huh? He’s bound and determined that we’re a family.”
“I think he’s right,” Mike whispered as he let him go. “Right now, at least.”
“Hard to think of Peter as wise,” Davy sighed. “But running away wasn’t very smart of me.”
“Got that right,” Mike laughed. “Now go get ‘em before they think I’ve killed ya.”
“I won’t say a word about your breaking down,” Davy assured him.
Mike snorted. “Knowing them, they’ve been listening at the door this entire time!”
They laughed together, then Davy asked, “Want me to let them in?”
“I just said so,” he laughed. “Get going.”
Davy squeezed his hand again and left the room. Sure enough, Peter and Micky were just across the hall. “Were you two listening?”
Peter jerked his head toward Micky. “He wanted to, but I managed to talk him out of it.”
“It wasn’t easy,” Micky groused.
Davy chuckled. “He wants to see you guy---uh—“
Peter reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “It’s okay, Davy.” But his voice broke and he pushed on into Mike’s room.
Sighing, Davy ran a hand along his forehead and then spread his hands. “Can I be any stupider?”
Micky chuckled. “Do you really want me to answer that?” Davy glared at him, then caught the good humour in his eyes and chuckled.
Micky nodded. “Know what?” When Davy shook his head, Micky added, “I think we’re gonna be just fine.”
“I hope you’re right – for all our sakes.”
CONTINUE ON TO PART TWO