Be Careful What You Wish For
* * *
The next time Brian woke up he was alone. He glanced around the room and found the familiarity comforting. The loft was home, but lately it had started feeling rather cold and dark. He took in the pictures on the wall and the way the earth tones all blended nicely together and knew that Justin had worked his magic on the decorating front. He waited a few minutes before struggling to get out of bed. He was still feeling weak and shaky, but felt much better compared to the last few days. A quick shower and change of clothes made all the difference and by the time he walked downstairs in search of coffee and Justin, he was almost feeling like his old self again. Margaret was in the kitchen, the smells of breakfast enveloping him the second he walked through the door.
"I thought you were only working a couple of days a week now," he said as he reached for a mug and filled it with the black liquid.
"Normally I do, but since you're not feeling so good I told Justin that I would come in every day and make sure you have enough food to put some of your weight back on," Margaret replied with a small smile. "I've missed having you around here."
"Thanks, Margaret, I kind of missed being here. And I definitely missed your cooking. What smells so good?"
"Banana pancakes. They should be ready soon. Justin ran down to the market to pick up a couple of things I needed to start dinner. I'm making a casserole so all you boys need to do is heat it up later," Margaret explained as she set down her spatula and looked at Brian carefully. "Brian, are you really okay? Justin wouldn't tell me what was wrong. He just said you were worn down and needed some rest, but I know it's more than that. I can see it in your eyes."
"See it in my eyes? What do you see?" Brian asked curiously.
"I see sadness, with a touch of fear. I know it sounds strange, but I can sense that something major is going on here. Please tell me what it is so I don't drive myself crazy thinking the worst."
Brian chuckled at Margaret's plea and was surprised to realize that he wanted to tell her the truth. A strange feeling considering that up until a couple of days ago, no one but Ted knew he was sick. "I had cancer, but I'm going to be fine. I'm worn down because I just finished up four weeks of radiation."
"Oh, my poor baby," Margaret cried as she pulled Brian into a bone-crushing hug that would put Debbie to shame. "I knew Justin wasn't telling me everything."
"Now Margaret, don't be mad at Justin. Up until I flew out here, only one person knew about it and that was because I needed help at the office. He was just keeping my secret."
"But why would you want to keep it a secret? Now's the time when you need to surround yourself with friends and family, so they can help you get well again."
"I guess I didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me," Brian admitted. "I've been taking care of myself since long before I should've been. I didn't want to admit to anyone that I needed help. It was hard enough asking Ted to cover for me at the office."
"Brian, let me explain something to you. I want you to listen to me very carefully." Margaret took the remaining pancakes out of the pan and placed them on top of the already heaping stack, then put them in the oven to keep warm before sitting down at the table and taking Brian's hand. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to take care of yourself, but you need to learn that there's also nothing wrong with needing someone from time to time. It doesn't make you weak. It just makes you human. I'm sure your family and friends back in Pittsburgh would be happy to help you out if you needed it, and goodness knows you have enough people right here in Denver that care about you. Stop being so stubborn and start leaning on someone else now and then."
Brian listened to the older woman, thinking about what she was saying, and realized that she was right. Just because he was an adult, that didn't mean that he didn't need help now and then. That got him to start thinking about Justin and how much he'd been there ever since Brian woke up in the hospital.
"Margaret, are you mad at me?" he asked.
"Mad at you? Why would I be mad at you?"
"Because I hurt Justin when I went back to Pittsburgh," Brian said softly.
"Oh, heavens no," she exclaimed. "I felt bad for both of you, but I just figured the time wasn't right. You're so busy trying to get that business of yours off the ground and Justin has his art. I'm sure that you two will be together one day."
"Why do you say that?" Brian asked curiously.
"Because you two belong together. Brian, you don't get to be my age without learning a thing or two. I see the way you look at each other," she said with a wink.
"And how do we look at each other?"
"Like you're the only two people in the room," she sighed longingly. "My Harold and I used to look at each other like that, too. We were together for almost forty years before the Lord took him away from me. Now I'm just waiting until it's my time to go join him. Believe me, Brian, when it's meant to be; it'll happen."
"But Justin deserves so much better than being stuck with someone like me," Brian replied.
"Someone like you? You mean stuck with someone who cares about him and will do anything to make him happy? All Justin needs is someone to love him and he already has that in you, whether you want to admit to it yet or not. Give him that, and everything else will fall into place."
Justin stood on the other side of the wall, wiping at the tears that sprang to his eyes. He'd been shamelessly listening to the conversation and hoped that Brian was listening as well. Margaret was right. All he needed was Brian's love. If he had that, he'd be able to handle just about anything. Deciding that eavesdropping wasn't really his style, he walked into the kitchen with a smile.
"Here you go, Maggie. Hey Brian, how're you feeling?"
"Better," Brian assured him. "You didn't happen to get a box of those cookies I like, did you?"
"Oh, you mean the ones that you always say you don't need but then eat in one sitting?" Justin asked with a knowing smirk. "There just happens to be a box with your name on them in that bag."
"I do not eat them all in one sitting. And if I remember correctly, you always seem to have your hand in the box," Brian replied indignantly.
"I have one, maybe two, before you gobble them all up."
"I don't gobble. Turkeys gobble."
"Whatever you say, Brian," Justin laughed.
"Why don't you two go out back by the garden for awhile? The fresh air will do Brian some good," Margaret suggested as she shooed Justin away.
"That sounds like a good idea, but you better give Ted a call first. He wasn't happy when he found out you flew out here," Justin said.
"Ted's never happy, but I guess I should call and let him know I'll be staying here for awhile." Brian stood up and started towards the door. "I'll meet you outside."
Justin waited until he heard the sound of Brian going up the stairs before turning to Maggie. "He really has lost a lot of weight, hasn't he?"
"Cancer will do that to a person," she replied, laughing at the shocked look on his face. "Don't worry. I asked him what was wrong and he told me. That poor man hasn't had it easy since leaving here, has he? I wish I had known he was sick. I would've flown to Pittsburgh myself to take care of him."
"You and me both," Justin sighed. "I don't know what to do with him. He's too stubborn for his own good."
"Justin, when you told me that things between the two of you didn't work out, I can't say I was surprised. Anyone with eyes can see that he has a lot of deep issues lying underneath that rough exterior. I felt so bad for both of you. But things are different now. He's different now."
"He is? How do you figure that?" Justin asked curiously.
"Brian's just gone through a life threatening illness. An ordeal like that tends to make people see things differently. I'm not saying that everything he's ever believed in is gone, but I do think that he's looking at his life in a different light. All you have to do is stay close and show him what a wonderful person you are. Everything else will fall into place."
"I hope you're right. I really love him, Maggie."
"I know you do, Honey. And I'd bet the farm that he loves you, too. Now get out of my kitchen and let me get cooking. Otherwise dinner's going to turn into tomorrow's breakfast," she teased.
Justin laughed, but did as she said and went outside to wait for Brian.
Brian went upstairs and grabbed his cell phone. Luckily Justin had remembered to charge it for him. He called Ted and got the reaction he'd been expecting.
"What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have a death wish? Or are you just trying to kill me?" Ted yelled as soon as he answered the phone.
"I'm fine, thanks for asking," Brian quipped. "Relax, Theodore. It was stupid of me to hop a plane on Friday, but I needed to get out here and see what was going on," Brian replied calmly.
"You could've at least given yourself a couple of days to recoup. As it turned out, you weren't able to do anything this weekend anyway, were you? Shit, Bri, why do you have to be so stubborn?"
"It's in the genes. Look, I need you to do me a favor. Give Amanda a call and let her know what's going on. I'm still not planning on telling everyone, but she should know. I just don't feel like having that conversation again right now. Tell her where I am and that if she needs me she can call me here. Otherwise, let her know that I'll be in touch during the week about how we should proceed with Matt."
"Got it, Boss," Ted replied. "How are you really doing?"
"I'm doing okay. Justin's keeping a close eye on me," Brian assured him.
"I bet he is," Ted chuckled. "You know, Brian; he was really worried about you. He's a good guy. Maybe you should give him a chance."
"Love advice from you, Ted? Why doesn't that sound reassuring?"
"Go ahead and make jokes, but Blake and I are stronger than ever," Ted pointed out. "Look, obviously it's none of my business…"
"No, it's not."
"But…you seemed different when you were with him. More human. That's not necessarily a bad trait."
"Are you done butting into my personal life now, Theodore?"
"Yep. That's all I wanted to say."
"Good, now go do as I asked. I cut your paycheck, remember?"
"Well, technically I cut my own, but I know what you mean. Take it easy, okay, Bri? I'll take care of things on this end for as long as you need me to," Ted promised.
"Thanks. I'll call you in a few days."
Once Brian was done with his call, he turned off his cell phone. He wasn't ready to accept calls from anyone in the family just yet and since both offices knew where to reach him, there was no need to leave it on. Then he went downstairs and joined Justin in the garden. It was a beautiful day and Brian enjoyed being outside. A short time later, Margaret called them in for breakfast, but it didn't take long for Brian to get tired. The radiation really zapped the energy he used to have.
Justin noticed Brian's eyes becoming droopy and knew that the morning had worn him out. "Brian, why don't you go upstairs and lay down for awhile? You look beat."
"I'm okay," Brian replied between yawns. "Besides, I really need to get to the office. I can't let things keep going like they have been or I'll be out of business."
"Stubborn as always, I see," Justin chuckled. "Look, I have some work I need to do in the studio. Go take a little nap and when I'm done I'll drive you to Kinnetik. Roger doesn't want you driving for a few days at least."
"You know, I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."
Justin wanted to point out how Brian had ended up in the hospital the last time he thought he could take care of himself, but decided not to push too hard. "I know. Just humor me, all right? I can be pretty good at taking care of people. You might just want to sit back and enjoy the attention."
"Do you give sponge baths?" Brian asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Only to the really good patients," Justin laughed. "Now get out of here."
Brian sighed, but was secretly happy with the thought of taking a nap. He was so tired, he was sure that he could fall asleep standing up if he stayed idle for any amount of time. The minute his head hit the pillow, he was sound asleep.
Justin went into his studio and reached for the phone. He needed to call Marjorie and tell her what was going on.
"Thank you for calling the Hammersmith Gallery, this is Tomas. How may I help you?"
"Hello, is Mrs. Atkins available?"
"And who, may I ask, is calling?"
"This is Justin Taylor."
"One moment please."
Justin waited, listening to the elevator music that was being piped into the phone until Marjorie picked up the line.
"Justin darling, how're you doing?"
"I'm doing okay, Marjorie. I want to apologize again for running out on you the other night."
"Nonsense. Your friend was sick and needed you. Of course you needed to leave. How's he doing?" she asked, her voice holding a touch of concern.
"He's doing okay, I guess. It turns out that he had cancer. After surgery, he went through four weeks of radiation and didn't tell me. On top of that, he flew from Pittsburgh to Denver, against doctor's orders, a few hours after his last treatment. He had to be rushed to the ER yesterday morning," Justin explained, noticing how shaky his voice was as he mentally relived the last 48 hours.
"How dreadful! Sounds like that friend of yours is a tad pigheaded."
Justin laughed at Marjorie's choice of words. "You don't know the half of it. That's why I'm calling. He's been ordered to stay here for the next couple of weeks and rest. No more flying cross country until he's had time to recover. I'm not going to be able to fly back to Chicago again until he's well and back in Pittsburgh."
"Of course not, dear. I would expect nothing less. You stay there and take care of this friend of yours. Just give me a call once he's recovered and we'll see what we can set up. After seeing your work, I'm more than confident that you're exactly what I want for my show. We'll work something out when you're ready."
"Thanks Marjorie. I really appreciate that."
Justin was relieved when he hung up the phone. He had been pretty sure that Marjorie would be okay with his need for time, but her reassurance made him feel better. He didn't want to give up the opportunity to have his work displayed at the Hammersmith Gallery, but he would've if he had to. Brian and his health were definitely more important.
Once he was sure that everything was settled, Justin threw himself into his work, allowing all the stresses of the last few days to take a back seat to his creativity. It was hours before he realized that he should go check on Brian. He cleaned his brushes and headed down the hall. He tapped gently on Brian's door, but there was no answer. He turned the knob and pushed the door open.
Brian was still asleep sprawled across the bed. Justin smiled as he looked at the disheveled heap that was Brian Kinney. The man had not bothered to take his clothes off so he slept in his jeans and T-shirt looking rumpled and sexy as hell. Justin felt himself grow hard at the sight. He had thought he had put Brian behind him since their split, but all he had to do was look at Brian and all the feelings came back.
Justin walked across the room and sat in the armchair by the window. He linked his hands in front of him, leaning his elbows on the arms of the chair, and stared at the sleeping man. He wondered if fate had sent Brian back to him, or if he was reading too much into the circumstances that had led to him being called back from Chicago. He wanted to believe that they were destined to be together, but he knew that was rather unlikely. Still … he could wish it was.
Brian stirred and turned over. "Enjoying the view?" he asked as he opened his eyes.
"Quite easy on the eyes," Justin chuckled.
"I'm glad you still think so. I'm … not what I used to be," Brian admitted with a sad look.
"Is there something that you're not telling me?" Justin asked sitting up straight in the chair.
"Um … what time is it?" Brian asked, effectively changing the subject.
"Shit! I slept the whole morning away," Brian said struggling to sit up. Everything took such effort.
"So what? You obviously needed the sleep. Your body has taken a beating from what you've told me."
"And sleep is how it repairs itself, so it's good that you slept."
"Thank you for that diagnosis, Dr. Taylor."
Justin bowed his head in defeat. "I'm just trying to look at the bright side."
"If you're going to insult me, I'll leave," Justin said standing up.
"I didn't say being a Pollyanna was a bad thing."
Justin stared at Brian for a moment, and then he smiled. "Then get your ass out of bed, Kinney. Let's go see what Margaret left us for lunch."
"I guess I could eat something," Brian said, standing slowly. He had learned that standing up too quickly made him feel woozy and he didn't like that feeling at all.
"Come on. I'll help you," Justin said throwing his arm around Brian's waist. "I can't wait until there's some actual meat there for me to hold onto.
Brian growled at him, but Justin could tell that he didn't really mean it. They sauntered out of the room and down the stairs. In the kitchen Justin found a note from Margaret that said there was a pot of soup on the stove and the makings for sandwiches in the fridge. He sat Brian down at the kitchen table and ladled out some soup. He stuck it in the microwave while he searched the fridge. By the time the microwave sounded that the soup was ready, Justin had his sandwich materials spread out on the counter.
"You're not going to make me eat one of those huge Dagwoods that you concoct. My fragile little tummy won't be able to handle it," Brian smirked.
"I'm making one for myself. Now eat your soup."
"Yes, dear." Brian began to sip his soup. It was really very good.
Justin stared at Brian for a minute. He hated when Brian used terms of endearment so flippantly, especially when Justin wanted them to be real terms of affection. He shook his head and started building his sandwich.
Brian had almost finished his soup by the time Justin sat down with a glass of iced tea and a humungous sandwich. He handed Brian a plate with a normal ham sandwich on it.
"Isn't there any turkey?" Brian asked lifting the top of his sandwich.
"Eat it, you'll like it," Justin mumbled around a mouthful of his own sandwich.
Brian grumbled but he took a bite of the sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. It was actually pretty good.
"Want some iced tea?"
Justin got up and poured another glass. He handed it to Brian and watched as the finicky eater polished off his sandwich and most of the glass of tea.
"You were hungry," Justin observed as he finished his own sandwich.
"I guess I was," Brian said looking at the empty plate. "Justin, I … I just want you to know that I appreciate everything you've done. You've gone way beyond…"
"I said shut up. I don't want your gratitude. I kind of enjoy looking after you."
"You do?" Brian asked in amazement.
"Why does that surprise you?"
"Other than Debbie, nobody much ever looked after me," Brian said softly, staring into the glass of tea.
Justin was about to say something about Brian's mother, but bit it back when he remembered how quickly that topic led to a stone wall. "I bet you never much let anybody take care of you," Justin said instead.
"Well, this time you don't have any choice. I'm taking care of you and that's all there is to it."
"Yes, sir," Brian said with a little salute.
"Are you done?" Justin asked, standing up and gathering the dishes. Brian nodded, so Justin carried all of them over to the dishwasher and loaded them in.
"I guess we can go to Kinnetik now," Brian stated.
"Or, we could take a stroll around the yard or go for a swim. Some exercise would probably be good for you."
"Will still be there tomorrow."
"Dr. Taylor says that we are going for a walk. Get up. Let's go."
Brian groaned, but he got up slowly. Some part of him knew that Justin was right. "Tomorrow we go to Kinnetik."
"If we must," Justin said taking Brian's arm and leading him out the kitchen door. He might enjoy seeing Brian, the executive, in action.
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