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 “Neep yoop.”

Slow and steady as an automaton Jake turned to look at Bruce.

“Neep yoop…ne-ep yo-o-op.”

Whew, Jake breathed a sigh as he realized Bruce was still asleep. He was dreaming, lying on his side and writhing, facing toward the wall scrunched fetal, tremors rippling down his massive frame in myoclonic waves. A girth-quake.

“Neep yoop,” the words trickling free on the back end of a shudder.

Jake stared at the man for a moment, once again feeling sorry for him. The guy was in a tough spot, not only in the present, given his restriction to quarters, but in his larger reality, by the challenges set before him. Though he never complained about his life—at least no “neep yoop’s” that Jake could assign the meaning of gripe—the man really belonged in a setting more suited to his needs. Beyond his current internment, his situation aboard the Phantom was less than ideal as Jake saw it. His mom having been a dedicated advocate for neurodevelopmental issues over the years, Jake knew there were many programs and therapeutics out there that could potentially benefit him. He was receiving none of that here.

Bruce twitched again, a stuttering neep yoop echoing quietly through the room. His movements reminded Jake of a dreaming dog—the quivering kicks and low moans—there was a note of excitement in the dramatics. But without further clues there was no way to know the variety of excitement—happy, sad or other. Was it a jaunty delight, the canine equivalent to chasing a squirrel up a tree? Was it sexual in nature, the glee of humping the neighbor’s poodle? Or was it the jolt of fear, the reflexive recoil to the stomping boot of a bitter, booze-dumbed owner. Jake had no idea which it might be, but it somehow heightened his sympathy for Bruce.

Over the years as Jake’s health had improved, he began to realize how fortunate he was. He’d been hailed into the world with a fair burden of physical problems, yes—issues possibly related to a toxic exposure his mother suffered while pregnant with him—but he was blessed to have been born into a family with the means and support to give him a privileged journey of healing. A path that, due to a range of reasons from economic to excuses, was not always easy to achieve.

Through it all, Jake had always felt different, even beyond his health-related issues. And as he stood across the dark room watching Bruce seize to his dream, something clicked. Bruce was different too. Not a freak, not a weirdo, just a bit outside the norm, a bell-curve outlier. It was subtle, but unmistakable. Jake had felt it all along but was only now able to put sense to the feeling. And he now realized that it was Bruce’s distinctiveness that he admired, the reason he’d been so drawn to him…

…He was different just the same as he was.

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