The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".
Pittsburgh, November 2005
Justin stayed at the hospital as long as he was allowed.
Michael and Ben left after lunch when it became obvious that Brian was going to be all right. But Justin stayed on because he knew he'd never be able to do anything or think about anything else until Brian was released.
During most of the afternoon Brian simply dozed while Justin read the paper, then some magazines he bought in the lobby gift shop. Justin also watched the nurses go in and out of the room, checking Brian's IV line, changing the bag of saline solution, making notes on his chart, and answering the frequent calls of Brian's coughing roommate, who seemed to press the button at least once every 20 minutes.
"Are you still here?" Brian yawned and sat up in bed. He still felt like he was underwater. "What time is it?"
Justin checked his watch. "Almost 5:00 They should be bringing your dinner pretty soon. The nurse said you could have some solid food this evening." Lunch had been a cup of clear broth and four crackers, which Brian bitched and moaned about, and then ate as soon as the attendant left the room, much to Justin's amusement.
"Fuck that." Brian squirmed. The hospital bed was no more comfortable than it had been that morning. "Don't you have a shift tonight at the Watermark?"
"I called Clarence and told him I couldn't make it." Justin set aside his magazine and pulled his chair closer to Brian's bed. "He was pissed."
"Listen, brat," said Brian, his eyes still heavy with sleep. "I'm fine. I don't want you to get into trouble with your boss. So if you want to work your shift, do it. I'm not going anywhere. There's no reason for you to sit here and waste your time watching me sack out."
"I'm staying right here," Justin said, slipping his hand into Brian's. "If Clarence doesn't like it, then screw him. I can get another waiter's job anywhere in town. So don't give me any crap about it, okay?"
"Okay," Brian said grudgingly. As much as he hated to admit it, he liked having Justin there with him. It made him feel secure. Like someone was looking out for him. Like someone really gave a shit. "What would I do without you, twat?"
"You'd be in big trouble." Justin smiled at his lover. "I keep telling you that, but you won't believe me!"
Brian heard voices laughing on the other side of the white curtain. The coughing roommate had visitors. "I'm surprised the whole fucking gang isn't here, gathering around my sick-bed like well-meaning vultures."
"They aren't here because I told Michael to call everyone and tell them to stay away. Especially Deb and Lindsay -- because you know how they are!" Justin raised his eyebrows. "And to tell them that you'd be home tomorrow, but they had better call me before they just show up at the loft. Dr. Banerjee said you needed your rest -- and I'm going to make certain you get it!"
"You're kind of a hard-ass, aren't you?" Brian said with admiration in his voice.
"I am when I have to be," Justin replied.
A man rolled a cart into the room and placed a covered tray on Brian's table. "Kinney," he stated blandly. Then he delivered another tray to the roommate and left.
"Go ahead," Brian urged. "Let's see what horrors they've served up for dinner."
Justin took the cover off the tray. "Looks like bread, mashed potatoes, and some kind of white meat." He looked closer. "It might be turkey. Or chicken. Or something with yellow gravy." Justin made a face. "And tea. And rice pudding for dessert."
"Jesus," Brian sighed. "This shit make airplane food look like haute cuisine."
"It's supposed to be bland," Justin reminded him. "To soothe your stomach."
"Give me the tea," said Brian. "With plenty of sugar. Forget the rest of it."
Justin put the teabag into the cup of semi-hot water and stirred in three packets of sugar. "You're going to eat this food, you know. All of it."
"I take back that shit I said about not minding you being here," Brian grumped.
"You never said that," Justin pointed out. "At least not out loud."
"Then erase my last comment." Brian sipped the tea. "Not enough sugar."
"That's all they brought." Justin handed Brian a fork. "You might as well start with the mystery meat and the potatoes. I'll butter your bread."
Brian took a bite and chewed tentatively. "This is surprisingly bad, even for hospital food. There's no taste at all. How about slipping out to the diner and bringing me back some lasagna and a couple of lemon squares?"
"I have a feeling that Deb will take care of that once you get back home. Remember -- Thursday is Thanksgiving. You'll be getting some real turkey then, with all the trimmings. But only if you have your strength back. So, eat this. Now."
To Justin's surprise, Brian ate the food, even the rice pudding. He must really be hungry, Justin thought, although he'd rather be forced to eat pussy than admit it.
At 8:00 an announcement came over the speakers that visiting hours were over.
"Time to toddle home, Sunshine," Brian said.
Justin stood up reluctantly and set the magazines on Brian's table. "If you're bored tonight, you can read these."
"Thanks." Yes, thought Brian, thanks for being here.
"I'll be back tomorrow to bring you home," Justin promised.
"Thank God." Brian held out his hand and Justin took it.
"Be good tonight. Don't give the nurses any shit, okay?" Justin didn't want to let go of Brian's hand.
"I'll try to behave myself," Brian replied, rolling his eyes. "As much as I possibly can."
A nurse came in with a new saline bag for Brian's IV. "You'll have to leave now, young man. It's 8:15."
Justin hesitated. The nurse was standing there, waiting for him to go. But he looked at Brian's face, which was pale and sad in the dim light of the hospital room, and his heart felt tight in his chest.
He leaned over and kissed Brian. "I love you."
Brian nodded. "I'll see you in the morning," he whispered.
"Later," said Justin. And then he was out the door.
Pittsburgh, November 2005
Justin considered stopping by the diner to pick up some food, but he was too tired. He also knew it would be hard to park on Liberty Avenue on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving. So he drove directly home from Allegheny General.
There were seven messages on his cell and six more on the loft phone. Four from Michael. Delete. Three from Deb. Delete. Two from Lindsay. He'd call her tomorrow after he brought Brian home. One from Emmett. Save for later. One from Clarence, bitching him out about canceling his shift. Delete. One from Daphne, asking if he and Brian were back from Boston yet. He'd call her when he found the time. And one from his mother.
"Justin? Darling? I thought you were coming home on Friday? Anyway, I'm checking in about Thursday. Grandma and Grandpa are flying in from Chicago with Aunt June on Wednesday night and they're all anxious to see you. We're going to eat at about 3:00, so I'd appreciate it if you got here by at least 2:00. You don't need to bring anything. Call me the first chance you get. Bye, sweetheart."
Justin sat in the silent loft, thinking.
What the fuck was he going to do? His mother expected him to be there for Thanksgiving. And his grandparents and aunt were coming, too. He hadn't seen them in over a year and he wanted to see them.
But what about Brian?
That reminded him. He took out Brian's cell -- the nurse had given him Brian's personal property to take care of when he'd been admitted to the hospital -- and checked his voicemail. More messages from Michael. Deb. Lindsay. Delete. Delete. Delete.
And one from Brian's sister.
"Brian? It's Claire. I haven't heard a thing from you about Thanksgiving. You better be planning to come this year, because I'm not going to sit with Mom all day and listen to her complain about you not showing up! Sending flowers is not enough, Brian! I know you think you can dodge these family responsibilities, but you can't! I'm sick of having to do everything! I have my job AND two kids to raise all by myself, without any help from you, or Mom, or that goddamn ex-husband of mine! Brian? You hear me? I mean it! You better get back to me."
Justin closed the cell and set it on Brian's desk. He'd never heard Claire's voice before, but the sound of it made him shudder. She sounded so angry. Poor Brian.
Now what would they do?
Deb and the gang expected them at dinner at Debbie and Carl's house. His mom expected him at the Taylor home, with all of his family. And Claire demanded that Brian show up at his mother's place.
Maybe we can just stay here, Justin thought. I could try cooking a turkey. Or we can order a take-out turkey dinner from the diner. That way we can avoid all these colliding obligations. It'll be the two of us. We don't need anyone else.
But the more he thought about it, the more Justin realized that hiding in the loft on Thanksgiving wasn't an option. But no matter what they decided, someone was going to be pissed off. Or even a lot of people.
Justin now had a bitch of a headache.
He got undressed and crawled into bed. But as tired as he was, he couldn't sleep.
Justin had never been alone in the loft all night before. Never slept in the big platform bed for the entire night without Brian next to him. Without the sound of his ragged breathing in his ear. The little wheeze his nose made. The hot press of his naked skin against Justin's ass. His strong arms enveloping Justin's body. Encircling him. Holding him. Possessing him.
Now he was horny. Fucking horny. Really fucking horny!
He closed his eyes as he worked his cock, moving his hand up and down the thick shaft. He hadn't jerked off in ages -- he hadn't needed to. Whenever his hand went to his dick, Brian had always been there to take over. Smiling his wolfish smile as he wrapped his long fingers around him. Teasing him. Tempting him. Urging him on. And then Brian's warm mouth. His lips sucking. His tongue swirling around the head of Justin's cock.
Come on, little boy. Nasty little boy. Horny little boy. Come for me.
"Ah!" Justin sighed as he spilled all over his hand and his stomach. "Brian!"
But Brian wasn't there.
Justin wiped himself off with a handful of tissues and then rolled over, falling into a fitful, lonely sleep.
All night long Brian listened to his roommate on the other side of the white curtain. Coughing. Hacking. Grumbling in his sleep. Getting up and lumbering to the bathroom to take a piss.
Next time, a private room, Brian thought. That's what he'd had at Johns Hopkins. A private room and a private duty nurse to take care of his needs. Male, of course. Young and hot. Too bad he hadn't been in any condition at the time to take full advantage of the situation.
He wondered what Justin was doing right now. Probably sound asleep. That kid could sleep through a fucking hurricane! The sleep of the innocent. The sleep of someone whose mind was at peace. Whose conscience was clear.
Some nights Brian laid in bed and watched Justin sleep. His face was always so untroubled, his eyelids almost transparent, his eyelashes dark blond against his cheek. He slept quietly, soundlessly. Sometimes he clutched at Brian in the middle of the night, nuzzling at him. Or he held a pillow against his chest, cradling it.
One weekend during the summer they'd had Gus staying at the loft. Gus was supposed to sleep on a futon next to the platform bed, but sometime during the night he'd climbed in with Brian and Justin. When Brian woke up in the morning, he saw the two boys tangled together like a pair of puppies, their arms hugging each other, their mouths open.
The night nurse came in to check Brian's IV. He was an older man who had introduced himself as Raymond at the beginning of his shift. "But you can call me Ray," he said with a grin. His dark face was worn, but kind.
Brian nodded. "I can't sleep in this place. I need to go home."
"You should be fine by the morning." Ray deftly replaced the saline bag on the metal pole and reattached the line. "Your body sure was dry. You've been sucking in this liquid like a parched flower."
"Tell me about it." Brian rubbed his eyes. "Have you been doing this long?"
"Most of my life. Can't imagine doing anything else."
Brian shook his head. "But to be surrounded by sick people all the time -- cleaning up their shit, poking into their veins, dealing with their issues -- isn't it depressing?"
"No," Ray said. "I like people. I like taking care of them. My mama always wanted me to be a doctor, but that wasn't an option back when I was coming up. So I went into the Army. Trained to be a medic. Did two tours in 'Nam. When I got out, I went to nursing school. Not a lot of men in nursing in those days, but I didn't care. I knew what I was good at -- and this is it."
"I thought I knew what I was good at, too," said Brian. "Now -- I'm not so sure."
"People get sad thoughts when they're laid up in bed," said Ray. "Being sick makes you blue. But you'll feel different when you get home. When you get a good home-cooked meal into you. When you're in your own bed."
"That's for certain," Brian agreed. "My own bed. That's what I need. And what's in it."
"Amen to that." Ray patted Brian on the shoulder. "You have a good sleep now. In the morning you should be heading home."
"Yeah," said Brian, easing back against the pillow. His eyes were feeling heavy. "Heading home. In the morning."
And soon he was asleep.
Pittsburgh, November 2005
Jennifer Taylor was surprised when she opened the kitchen door and Justin was standing there.
"Justin! What are you doing here, sweetheart?" she asked. "Why didn't you just come in?"
Justin hesitated before he walked inside. "I thought Dad might be here. I didn't see his car, but I wasn't sure."
"Your father is at the club," Jennifer said, a chill in her voice. "He's watching the game with his friends."
"Oh." Justin sat at the kitchen table. Ordinarily his mother would be making a large Sunday dinner, but she seemed to be heating up leftovers instead. "What about Molly? I haven't seen her in ages."
"She's eating at her friend Kari's house." Jennifer sat down at the table across from Justin and took his hand. It felt cold. He's not wearing his gloves, she thought. He's not taking care of himself. "It's been a long time since we've all sat down and had Sunday dinner together. And I mean all of us. Like a real family."
"I know," Justin sighed.
"That's why I'm looking forward to Thursday," Jennifer continued. "With Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt June -- it'll be like it used to be. Like... before."
Justin snorted. "You mean before I was a fag?"
"I mean before you and your father had this disagreement," Jennifer said sharply.
"Same thing." Justin rubbed his forehead. That fucking headache was back. It must be stress. Or whatever the fuck. "Listen, Mom -- I'm sorry, but I won't be coming on Thursday. I... I can't. And regardless of my problems with Dad, I won't come without Brian. Especially not now."
Jennifer stiffened. "What do you mean? Especially not now?"
"Brian's in the hospital." Justin body slumped as he said the words. "They were supposed to release him this morning, but they're keeping him another day. At least, I hope it's only one more day."
"The hospital?" Jennifer's mind was flying in all directions. "Justin, what happened in Boston? You never called me when you got back! Did he have an accident?"
"No," said Justin, his face pale. "Not an accident. He's sick, Mom."
Jennifer's heart stood still. Sick. That could mean only one thing. Her greatest fear. The thing that kept her awake night after night.
"Sick?" she said tentatively. "You mean... does he have... does he...?" She squeezed Justin's hand. "AIDS? Is that it? Have you been exposed? I knew this would happen with that man! I just knew it!"
Justin's eyes widened and he quickly pulled his hand out of her grasp. "No! Brian doesn't have AIDS! That's the first thing you think of? Because he's queer?"
"What else would I think?" Jennifer retorted. "I've heard the stories about Brian Kinney. From Debbie Horvath. And from other people, too. I've been asking around! I'm your mother, Justin, and I have a right to know how you're living your life!"
"And you think I'd risk myself? That I wouldn't be safe, all the time?" Justin said darkly. "Or that Brian would risk my life like that?"
"You tell me." Jennifer stared back at her son.
Justin looked into his mother's eyes. Then he folded his arms on the table and lay his head down on them wearily. "That's all you think about. Even you. Even my own mother. You don't understand because you don't want to understand! And you think I want to come into this house when you think that way? When Dad thinks that way? About me? About Brian? About all gay people? You think I can come and have a nice Thanksgiving dinner when it's all a fucking lie?" Justin suddenly stood. "Well, fuck YOU, Mom! That's what I say -- fuck you!"
"Justin!" Jennifer recoiled. She saw the raw anger on her son's face. And then she saw the fear.
"Brian's sick," Justin whispered. "He got sick in Boston. I took him to the hospital when we got back because he was worse. He was severely dehydrated. They did some tests. And now they want to do more. Late last night he spiked a high fever. They think he might have some kind of intestinal infection. Or an ulcer. Or... I don't know! All I know is that I want him to come home! Just... come home..."
Justin's voice failed and his face crumpled.
Jennifer got up and went to him, taking her son in her arms and holding him tightly. "It'll be all right, darling. I know it will. I'm sorry I said those things. So sorry. I'm sure Brian will be fine."
"You don't know that!" Justin gasped. He was trying not to break down. "And neither do I! Brian had cancer two years ago. What if it's back? What if that's what's wrong with him?"
"Cancer?" Jennifer was at a loss. Debbie had never told her that. No one had.
"Yes." Justin buried his face against his mother's shoulder. "I love him so fucking much! If anything happens to Brian, I'll... I'll fucking die!"
Jennifer held her son, helpless to do anything for him. It had been so easy when he was a child. Easy to wipe away his tears. Easy to make everything all better with a few soft words and a hug.
But now he was a man and the problems he faced couldn't be wiped away with a cookie and a pat on the head.
"Don't cry, darling," she breathed into Justin's ear. "You'll see. It's all right."
But neither of them believed that it really was.
©Gaedhal, February 2007.
Posted November 5, 2007.