Now That You're Here


Chapter 26


Chris finally got Zander to head home sometime around three. As much as he liked having his partner there with him, Zan needed to get some rest. Not only did he have Justin to worry about, but the store still needed him, too. Stacey was going to help pick up the slack for awhile, but she couldn’t run the place by herself and with the only other employee in a coma, it left Between the Pages really short-handed. The hospital corridors were deserted in the early morning hours, so when the loud speaker announced a code blue in ICU as he made his way back from walking Zander to the car, Chris was able to run full speed to get to his brother’s side. For those first few minutes, he experienced a fear that surpassed anything he had felt since the news of the accident. He rushed through the doors of ICU and paused, feeling the dampness on his face as he watched hospital personnel rushing to and from the room across from Brian’s. The rush of relief nearly caused his legs to buckle beneath him.

Chris stood back and waited for a few minutes, wanting to stay out of the way as the nurses tried to save someone’s life. He knew it was ridiculous, but he felt guilty for his overwhelming relief. Guilty because someone was slowly slipping away and all he could think about was that he was so happy it wasn’t Brian. Eventually the commotion eased, and Chris could tell by the somber mood that settled over the floor that the patient didn’t make it. He slowly made his way to Brian’s room and dropped down in the chair.

“Well there goes a few more years off my life. God, Brian, when I heard the announcement for a code blue, I think my heart stopped. You have got to wake up. I really need for you to wake up.”

Chris held onto Brian’s hand, watching the machines as they worked to keep him alive, and thought about the room across the hall. It could’ve easily been Brian lying there lifeless. He could’ve easily been the one who was going to have to face saying goodbye to someone he loved. The sheer force of reality caused him to break down and cry, not only for the fear and unknown that his family was facing at the moment, but for the family of the person across the hall. He finally got up and walked out of the room and came face to face with the elderly man that he’d seen in the waiting room earlier in the night. He could tell by the lost look on the man’s face that it was his loved one that lost their battle to live.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Chris said, knowing that the words were so insignificant.

“Thank you, son. I just have to remind myself that she lived a long life. It was time for her to be with God. I’ll join her eventually,” the man replied sadly. “Is that your boy in there?”

Chris got that a lot. The age difference between them always had strangers thinking that they were father and son. “No, he’s my brother.”

“It’s a shame. He’s so young. Car accident, right? I heard the nurses talking about it.”

“Yeah,” was all Chris could say.

“Don’t give up hope. My Margaret was too tired to fight any longer. Your brother is a strong young man. He’ll pull through this. I know he will,” the old man assured him. “Now I guess I better go. I have some phone calls to make. Hang in there, son.”

“Thank you,” Chris replied. “Take care of yourself.”

The older man nodded and then walked away, leaving Chris standing there in the corridor watching him go. He thought about what the man had said. Brian was a strong, young man, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t lose his battle for life. All Chris could do was hope that he didn’t. Hope and pray that Brian was able to win the battle and live the rest of his life as he was meant to.

By six a.m. Chris was exhausted. The code blue scare was so terrifying that it caused a rush of adrenaline, but now that was over and he was fading fast. What he wouldn’t give to be able to climb into his own bed, with Zander at his side, and sleep for a week. Instead, he once again positioned himself as comfortably as he could in the hospital chair and drifted off to sleep.

Zander led Justin and Jason through the hospital halls, anxious to see Chris and Brian. He had wanted Justin to rest some more before dragging him out of the house, but Justin threatened to call a taxi, or worse yet, drive himself so Zander had no choice. As they approached the waiting room, Zander turned to Justin and smiled.

“You two stay here. I’m going to go down and get Chris. I don’t think the nurses would appreciate all of us storming down there together.”

“Okay, but please hurry,” Justin replied softly. “I really need to see Brian.”

Zander nodded and then headed down to Brian’s room. He stopped short when he walked through the door and found Chris sleeping soundly in the chair. He hated waking him, but he didn’t want to keep Justin out any longer than he had to. Despite Justin’s insistence that he was feeling okay, Zander could see how much pain he was in. After a few hours of being out and about, Justin was going to need to go home and rest. It was a good thing that Jason was there with them. He had a feeling that getting Justin to go home wasn’t going to be easy and back up was probably going to be needed.

Zander walked over to Chris and squatted down, bringing himself face to face with the sleeping man. He could see the signs of fatigue and worry, even in slumber, and wished there was something he could do to help his partner.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Zander whispered as he stroked Chris’ cheek gently.

Chris awoke with a start and glanced over at Brian before focusing on Zander. “Hey, what time is it?”

“It’s a little after nine. I kept Justin away as long as I could, but he’s down in the waiting room anxious to see Brian.”

“Wow, after nine? I actually slept for three uninterrupted hours? How did that happen?” Chris laughed as he stood up and stretched. “How’s Justin doing?”

“Well, he insists that he’s feeling fine, but he’s lying through his teeth. I can see how much pain he’s in when he thinks no one is looking. I called the orthopedist before we left the house. He’s got an appointment tomorrow afternoon. Poor Stacey is going to be exhausted when all this is over. I’m going to have to give her at least a week off with pay to thank her for all she’s done.”

“How are things going down there?”

“Okay, I guess. She’s insisting on working opening to closing today, but I feel bad. Remember when I worked twelve hour days back when I first opened? It sucked. It’s going to be a long day for her. I told her I’d open up tomorrow. She’s going to come in at noon so that I can get Justin to the doctor,” Zander explained.

“I wish I could help you out,” Chris replied. “Maybe I could leave here for a few hours and just take Justin to his appointment.”

“No, don’t worry about it. You need to be here. I have Jason to help me out if I need him to. He can bring Justin to the appointment and I’ll meet them there. The office isn’t too far from the shop.”

“Alright, but I want you to promise me that if you need anything, you’ll let me know. I want to be here for Brian, but you and Justin are my family, too. I’ll juggle what I have to if you need me,” Chris said.

“I know, and I love you for that. I have everything under control for now. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

“Okay. I could really use a cup of coffee. Why don’t we go down to the cafeteria and let Justin have some time with Brian?” Chris suggested.

“Babe,” Zander began as he took a closer look at Chris. “When was the last time you ate anything?”

“Before the accident, I guess.”

“Well then, you’d better add breakfast to the menu. You need to keep up your strength or you won’t be here for Brian. You’ll be in your own bed somewhere in this hospital. Come on.”

Zander took Chris’ hand and led him from the room. They stopped off at the waiting room and told Justin and Jason where they were going and then headed towards the elevator.

Justin immediately headed towards Brian’s room. He walked in and took a seat by the bed. Maybe it was his mind playing tricks on him, but he thought that Brian was looking a little bit better. His color seemed to be a little more normal than the day before. He could hear Jason standing by the door, but he kept his focus on Brian.

“Hey, how are you?” Justin asked as if Brian was awake and they were having an everyday conversation. “I talked to Steve this morning. He called before school to see how you were. I told him you were being as stubborn as ever and refusing to wake up. Oh, and he’s going to go talk to the principal. Zander called him this morning and told him what happened, but Steve is going to talk about picking up your assignments at the end of the week. You’re going to miss so much and you can’t screw up your senior year. Oh, and did Chris tell you that Jason is here? He said he just wanted to make sure I was okay, but I think he just wanted a vacation.”

“Hey,” Jason said teasingly. “Like this is any kind of vacation. You’re too hurt to be any fun.”

“I’ll be fun again as soon as Brian is home with me.” Justin’s laugh turned into a sob, but he fought it. He didn’t know if Brian could hear him or not, but he didn’t want to risk it. The last thing Brian needed was to hear him sobbing at his bedside…again.

“You hear that Brian? You’d better wake up so you don’t ruin my vacation,” Jason teased.

Justin laughed and was once again thankful that Jason was there with him. For the next forty minutes, Justin kept up an almost steady stream of conversation with Brian. It wasn’t easy considering he refused to mention the accident or the events since, but he managed to find topics that bordered on neutral territory. He was sad to see Chris and Zander return, because he knew that meant he was going to be forced to go home and rest. Sure enough, that was the first thing out of Zander’s mouth.

“Alright you two, let’s get going. Justin needs to lay down for awhile. Jason, did you bring down the bag that we brought?”

“Yeah, it’s over there,” Jason replied, pointing out the bag Zander had packed for Chris. The hospital offered a locker room for family members who were staying with their children. Chris fit the bill.

“I can’t wait to take a shower,” Chris admitted as he looked at the bag longingly.

“Zan, maybe we should stay here with Brian while Chris takes his shower,” Justin suggested, hoping for more time.

“Justin, Brian will be fine without me for twenty minutes while I go get cleaned up. Go home and rest. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day. I’m sure the orthopedist is going to be poking around. It probably won’t be pleasant,” Chris said.

“Thanks Chris,” Justin laughed. “Like I wasn’t stressing enough. Alright, I’ll go. But do you think I could come back after dinner? Zander doesn’t have to bring me. Jason can drive my car.”

“If you go home and rest like a good patient, we’ll all come back later tonight. Okay?” Zander countered. He planned on coming back after dinner to see Chris anyway.

“Deal,” Justin agreed. He leaned over and kissed Brian, careful not to let anyone see how much pain the move caused him. “Let’s go.”

Chris waited until everyone was gone before grabbing his bag. He walked over to Brian and told him he’d be back and then went in search of a nurse. She directed him to the shower room and he was so happy once he was finally standing under the hot spray. As he scrubbed his hair and body clean, he gave himself a moment to break down and release all the fear and worry that he’d been trying to hide. He refused to let anyone other than Zander see exactly how scared he was, but for those few minutes in the shower, while no one else was around, he gave in to his fears.

Once he was dressed again, Chris ran down to his car and stored his bag before making his way back to Brian’s side. He noticed that one of the nurses had been in and changed the bandage on Brian’s head and the one on his hand. The room had been obviously straightened as well. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to Brian, taking his hand once again. But it was different this time. Something was different. Instead of the limp hand that he’d been holding for the last two days, the hand he held gave some resistance. Trying not to get too excited, Chris reached for the bell and called the nurse’s station. One of the nurses appeared immediately.

“Is something wrong, Chris?”

“Nancy, who changed Brian’s bandages?” Chris asked.

“I did. Why? Is there a problem?”

“Well, no. This is probably going to sound crazy, but something is off. His hand isn’t as limp as it’s been. It’s almost like he’s sleeping…instead of unconscious, if that makes any sense. Maybe I’m just imagining things,” Chris admitted reluctantly.

“I didn’t notice anything, but the doctor is making rounds. I’ll track him down and have him stop in and take a look.”

“Thanks Nancy,” Chris replied as he refocused on Brian. “Come on, Buddy. Wake up for me.”

When the doctor showed up, Chris went out in the corridor while he did his exam. His heart was beating fast as he waited to hear if the doctor thought Brian was coming around. It seemed to take hours before the doctor walked out of the room.

“I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic until he actually wakes up, but his pupils were responsive to light and I definitely felt resistance when moving his limbs. Keep talking to him. If he’s starting to come around, hearing your voice might help,” the doctor told him.

“Thank you, Dr. Kelley.”

“There’s no need to thank me. I told you the other night that I’d do everything I could to make sure he pulled through this. I’m just keeping my promise.” The doctor smiled and then walked away.

Chris went back into the room and took a seat alongside Brian again. He’d been thinking while waiting for the doctor to finish his exam, trying to think of something that would make Brian open his eyes; something that would force Brian to wake up and come back to him. He wasn’t even sure if Brian could hear him, but he was just so desperate to see those hazel eyes again, that he needed to do something. With all the talking he had done since the whole ordeal started, there was one topic of conversation that he stayed clear of. Maybe mentioning Justin would give Brian the incentive to wake up.

“Hey buddy, you really need to wake up now. We have so much to talk about. Like about how you and Justin have been seeing each other behind our backs. Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you knew you could tell me anything. Did you think I wouldn’t understand? I know how irresistible those Taylor/Morgan’s are, remember? You know, Justin really loves you. He’s been so worried about you these last few days. If you can’t wake up for me, do it for him.”

Chris sighed as he watched Brian closely. He really didn’t think that talking about Justin would miraculously cause Brian to wake up, but he had been hoping. He got up from his chair and walked to the window, looking out at the city. He was still up in the air about calling his parents. A part of him felt that he had an obligation to call and tell them what happened, but every time he went to make the call, a voice inside his head stopped him from following through; a voice that left him feeling sad and insecure. Would they even care? He really needed to talk to Zander again. He needed to voice his thoughts before they drove him crazy.

Chris went back to Brian’s side and took his hand. “Hey Bri, I’m going to go make a phone call. I’ll be back soon.”

As soon as Chris reached the waiting room, he pulled out his phone and called Zander.

“Hey Babe, is everything alright?” Zander asked.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Chris replied. “Listen, can I ask you something?”

“Of course you can.”

“Do you think I’m selfish?”

“What?” Zander asked incredulously. “Chris, you are one of the least selfish people I know. How can you even ask that? Why are you even asking that?”

“I don’t know,” Chris sighed. “I was just sitting here thinking about calling my parents. I really don’t want to call them.”

“That’s completely understandable. They turned their back on Brian. They signed away their rights as if he was a title on an old car. It’s not surprising that you’re hesitant to call them. They made it clear that they didn’t want to be a part of Brian’s life; or yours. Forget I mentioned it. I just thought that maybe something like this would get them to see how important family is. If you don’t want to call them, you don’t have to.”

“But is calling them the right thing to do?”

“Chris, I don’t think there is a right or wrong in this situation. What exactly is it that you’re worried about? Are you afraid that if you call them and they refuse to come, Brian will find out and be hurt by another rejection? Because you don’t have to tell him, you know? If they don’t care, Brian never has to know you made the call,” Zander said.

“It’s not only Brian I’m worried about,” Chris said softly.

Zander could hear the sadness in Chris’ voice and suddenly realized exactly what had Chris so worried. “You don’t want to be hurt by another rejection.”

“I know it sounds stupid. I mean, it’s been years since they disowned me. I have a life of my own now; a great life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But if I call them and they refuse to come, if they refuse to even speak to me…”

“You’d once again be the gay son that they don’t want to know,” Zander finished for him.

“I am selfish. This isn’t about me. This is about Brian and what’s right for him.”

“Oh Babe, you’re not selfish. Being tossed aside for being who you are leaves scars that will stay with you for life. I’m pretty sure it’s normal for you to feel this way. There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect yourself, as well as Brian, from the pain your parents caused both of you. You lived through it twice already, when they turned their backs on you and then again when they did it to Brian. I don’t blame you for not wanting to go for a third round. No one would blame you for that. Look, Chris, I am so sorry I brought it up. I never thought about how it would make you feel to reach out to them. You’re going through so much right now. You don’t need to add to it; not for them.”

“I think…I think I’ll just wait and see what happens,” Chris said.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. Do you want me to come back and sit with you for awhile?” Zander offered.

“No, that’s okay. I’m fine. I’ll see you later when you bring Justin back,” Chris replied.

“Alright, call me if you need me. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Chris dropped down in the nearest chair and wiped away the dampness from his eyes. Zander was right. He didn’t want to go a third round with his parents, and he wouldn’t. They made their choice years before when they decided to hate their sons for being who they were born to be. Whatever happened in his or Brian’s life was none of their business. He wasn’t about to give them another chance to hurt either one of them again. With his decision made, Chris went back to Brian’s room and made himself as comfortable as he could. He was asleep within minutes.

The movement woke Chris immediately. The gentle squeeze of his hand brought him out of his sleep and out of his chair.

“Brian? Come on, Buddy. Wake up,” Chris pleaded as he watched Brian try to open his eyes. He reached for the call button without taking his eyes off Brian. “Come on, you can do it.”

“Chris?” Nancy said from the doorway.

“He’s waking up. I think he’s really waking up,” Chris exclaimed.

“I’ll go find Dr. Kelley,” Nancy said as she disappeared from the room.

Chris continued to watch as Brian’s eyes fluttered open. “That’s it, baby brother. Let me see those hazel eyes of yours.” Chris could see the dazed and confused look on Brian’s face, and he could only imagine what was going through Brian’s mind, but it didn’t matter. After two long, agonizing days, Brian was finally awake. “It’s okay, Brian. I’m right here and everything’s going to be okay now.”

As soon as Dr. Kelley arrived, Nancy escorted Chris out of the room so that the doctor could examine Brian. He paced the hallway like a caged animal, keeping his focus on the doorway at all times. He reached for his phone several times to call Zander, but forced himself to wait. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t a false alarm before getting everyone’s hopes up. The doctor finally joined him in the hallway.

“He’s awake. He’s also a little disoriented and pretty weak. I’m going to run some tests to see what’s going on, but it looks like the worst is over. He’s going to be tired and will probably be drifting in and out of sleep for the rest of the night, but don’t be alarmed. It’s normal,” Dr. Kelley assured him. “Go spend some time with him and I’ll send someone to bring him down for a CAT scan in about an hour.”

“Thanks,” Chris said before heading back to his brother’s side. “Hey, how’re you feeling?”

“I’m not sure,” Brian replied softly. “What happened?”

“It doesn’t matter right now. We can talk about it later. I’m just so happy to see you awake. You scared the hell out of me.”

“Sorry,” Brian whispered. “I’m so tired.”

“I know. Just lie there and rest. I’m going to call Zander and let him know that you’re awake. Everyone’s been really worried about you.”

Brian was asleep before Chris even got his phone out of his pocket. His hands were shaking as he dialed Zander’s number.

“Hey, Babe. Did you change your mind about wanting me there with you?” Zander asked.

“He’s awake?” Chris said immediately.

“Oh thank God,” Zander replied. “How is he?”

“Tired, confused. He just drifted off to sleep, but he’s okay.”

“Alright, let me go tell Justin and we’ll be there soon. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Chris replied before putting away his phone. He sat down in the chair and took Brian’s hand, allowing his tears to fall. But this time the tears were happy tears. Brian was finally back with them.



Zander stuffed his phone in his pocket and wiped away his tears before heading upstairs. He couldn’t wait to share the good news and get to the hospital. He knocked on Justin’s door and walked in without waiting for an answer. Both Justin and Jason were sound asleep. As much as Zander hated waking them up, there was no way he’d be able to wait downstairs while they slept.

He walked over to Justin and gently nudged his good arm. “Jus, wake up.”

“Hmmm…Zan?” Justin said sleepily.

“Come on, Jus. We have to go,” Zander replied.

“Go where?” Justin asked as he struggled to sit up.

“To the hospital. Brian woke up.”

“What?” Justin exclaimed. “He’s awake? Really? Oh my God, we have to get to the hospital.”

“I know. That’s what I said. Now take it easy before you hurt yourself. You still have a dislocated shoulder, remember?”

“Hey, what’s going on?” Jason asked from the roll-away bed that Stacey’s husband dropped off earlier.

“Brian woke up. Get up. We have to get to the hospital,” Justin ordered.

Jason looked up and whispered a thank you to the man upstairs before jumping up and grabbing his sneakers. He had no doubt that if he didn’t get ready immediately, Zander and Justin would leave him behind. Within minutes, the three of them were on their way to see for themselves that Brian was really okay and that the nightmare of the last few days was finally over.

End of part 26


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