Working My Way Back
John walked into Kinnetik like a man on a mission. Ted and Cynthia were conducting a “stand up” meeting in the middle of the floor. The employees of Kinnetik were all huddled around while a computer was running a web meeting program for the rest of the Kinnetik family.
“Ted,” John called out. Seeing the serious expression on John’s face, Ted scrambled to John’s side with Cynthia in tow. “I’m sorry to interrupt but we have a problem, a very serious problem. I have to bring Brian to the hospital.” Ted’s eyes grew incredibly large while Cynthia gasped. “It’s Justin,” John quickly added. Without further explanation John turned, heading for Brian’s office; Cynthia and Ted following closely.
“You ready for me?” Brian asked, from behind his computer without looking up. He had been reviewing contracts and new campaigns while Ted and Cynthia began the meeting. At the appropriate time, someone was supposed to get him so he could announce the third quarter bonuses.
“Brian,” John called out gently. Before Brian could respond John was at Brian’s desk in an instant, pulling him up out of his chair then hugging him tight. “There’s been an incident. Justin’s been air lifted to Allegheny General. He should be there by now. I’ll explain on the way,” John stated calmly and succinctly into Brian’s ear.
John felt a shiver of panic course through Brian’s body for a moment then the Brian that the family relied on for his strength and fortitude was back in full force. That was when John released his brother.
“Cyn, I gotta go, make my apologies to the staff. Schmidt make the bonus announcement,” Brian said as he grabbed his coat and headed toward his office door.
“Of course, Brian,” Cynthia replied with tears in her eyes.
“Yes, boss,” Ted replied. “Boss?” Ted began seeking assurance.
“I’ll call as soon as I know what the fuck happened,” Brian growled without turning around.
The brothers quickly left Kinnetik, John filling in Brian with what little he knew about what happened to Justin.
“I have to call Jennifer,” Brian stated blandly as he stared out of John’s SUV.
“Wait until we get there. For all we know Justin’s fine, sitting up and demanding to go home,” John said reasonably. Brian grunted as acknowledgement.
They were getting closer to the hospital when Brian’s phone rang.
“Brian, it’s Alex. Are you close?”
“Yes, and you’re on speaker. There’s traffic but we should be there soon,” Brian said with a cold tone to his voice. “How is he?”
“Stable. He’s breathing on his own but the swelling in his throat hasn’t gone down yet.”
“What does that mean?”
“He still needs the trach. We have him on oxygen support but don’t let that throw you. He’s breathing on his own.”
“Alex, it’s John,” he said as he leaned a little toward the phone. “We’re approaching the parking garage.”
“Meet me in the emergency department,” Alex said as he hung up and waited for the brothers’ arrival. “Oh boy.”
“Was that Brian?” Dr. Dan asked. He had just stepped outside of Justin’s bay to update Alex.
“Yes, he and John are pulling up now.”
“No change,” Dan stated with more doctor-speak. “I’m glad John is with him; he’ll keep Brian focused.”
“Don’t let Brian’s over protectiveness deceive you. I bet you when he walks in here, he will be calm, focused, almost to the point of coldness. It’s his way of dealing with things,” Alex explained.
“Like a doctor putting aside his emotions to concentrate on the problem or diagnosis at hand,” Dan remarked.
“Exactly.” Just then Alex got a faraway look on his face.
“What is it?”
“Just remembering when Justin got bashed. God, it was a lifetime ago. They thought Brian didn’t care.”
“Everyone and no one that mattered. The community,” Alex said making air quotes. “We were so judgmental back then. Especially about Brian Kinney. 'No apologies, no regrets' was his mantra. We all wanted to look like him, fuck like him, and have the balls to be like him. No one realized or cared how Justin’s attack affected Brian. I caught a glimpse of the depth of Brian’s feelings one night when he came to me for advice on how to help Justin.”
“He actually asked for help?” Dan asked.
“Well, in a Brian Kinney sort of way,” Alex smirked. “He was clueless and blaming himself for what happened to Justin.”
“I know,” Alex said with a raise of his hand. “What’s worse is that he perfected that 'I don’t give a shit about anyone but myself' attitude a long time ago. So, we believed it. Even me, and I should have known better. I judged him as a gay man not as a doctor. He was a man in love with a very sweet and very vulnerable young man who was hurt. I quickly got over myself and gave him advice.”
“It must have worked,” Dan commented.
“I guess it did,” Alex replied. Just then, Brian burst through the doors like a tornado through a forest. Alex and Dan were quickly by his side.
“I want to see him,” Brian growled in a low menacing tone.
“I’ll take you,” Alex quickly replied, followed by Dan. “Just remember he looks worse than he is,” Alex said gently. Brian pulled out his phone. “Who’re you calling?”
John took Brian’s phone out of his hand.
“I’ll do it,” John said as he shooed Brian, Alex and Dan toward Justin. John then stepped outside to make his call.
Brian walked toward the bed that held Justin. Justin was attached to tubes and wires that nearly dwarfed his slight body. Brian abruptly stopped short then reeled back. His mind took him back to the prom and to the aftermath of his grand gesture. It was as if Brian was standing at the observation window all over again.
“Brian?” Alex called out, placing a gentle hand on Brian’s back and bringing him back to the here and now.
“I’m okay,” Brian snapped. Within two strides, Brian was at Justin’s bedside. “Justin? Justin, can you hear me?” Brian pleaded then he took a deep breath. “I’m here, Sunshine, and I won’t leave you,” he whispered.
“Tell me exactly what happened,” Brian murmured as he found a patch of skin on Justin’s arm that wasn’t occupied by a tube or EKG lead. He gently rubbed Justin’s arm.
“Emily and I made plans to have lunch with Claire and Steve at this new restaurant in Bridgeton. Rachel was going to join us. She stopped by your cottage to ask Justin to come along if he had time,” began Dr. Dan.
“I left him staring at a blank canvas,” Brian mumbled.
“That’s how Rachel found him. He was just staring at a blank canvas. So, she pried him away, made him get dressed up and brought him. I’m so sorry, Brian. We suggested she ask him. If…”
Brian waved a hand. “He wouldn’t have gone if he didn’t want to,” said Brian. “What then?”
“Rachel said he sneezed the minute he walked through the door of the restaurant but nothing else. His eyes were clear, he wasn’t coughing or sneezing when he sat down at our table. He ordered the simplest item on the menu, a chicken salad. He took maybe one or two bites, coughed, began wheezing then…” Brian stopped Dan’s explanation by abruptly standing and fussing with the bedding. Facing away from Dan and Alex, they couldn’t see the tears in Brian’s eyes. Alex patted Dan’s arm.
“We’ll give you a few minutes alone while we check his blood tests,” Alex said as he led Dan away. They both held on to their doctor faces until they were well out of the way.
“Shit, now I know why they insist doctors don’t treat friends or family,” Dan stated as he stared out a window. Alex nodded. “It’s times like this I wish I still smoked,” Dan grumbled.
“Sure, I did. I enjoyed a cigar now and then,” Dan admitted in a moment of levity.
Suddenly, an overhead page caught their attention. “Dr. Wilder to the desk, please.” Dan and Alex exchanged a quick look then headed for the desk. The department clerk handed Alex a printout. Alex read it then handed the paper to Dan. As Dan was reading the results, another doctor came to the desk. The doctor snatched the printout out of Dan’s hand.
“Wilder, don’t you have enough work to do around here,” the doctor complained as he reviewed the printout. “Have you started specializing in allergies too?”
“Dan, allow me to introduce Dr. Sebastian Cabot, AG’s top immunologist and overall nice guy,” Alex snarked. “Sabby, this is Dr. Dan Morrison, Cardiologist,” Alex went on.
“Wilder, don’t call me that,” Dr. Cabot whined as he shook Dan’s hand. “Dr. Morrison, are you the person responsible for that hole in my patient’s throat?” Dr. Cabot was about Alex’s age but ten times as arrogant.
“Yes, I am. You got a problem with that?” Dr. Morrison, used to young, cocky doctors, was not a bit intimidated by the brash allergist.
“Nope. Not bad for a heart man,” Cabot said.
“Surgeon. Cardiothoracic surgeon,” Dan clarified. “Retired. Now, I’m just a country doctor,” Dan went on with a grin. Cabot sighed, rolling his eyes. “How’s Justin?”
“For a man who nearly choked to death an hour and a half ago, Mr. Taylor is doing fine. Unfortunately, it will take time to fully analyze the sample you brought me. The lab’s making it a priority, by the way. We should have some results soon. Thank you for that, Dr. Morrison.”
“Thank you, Dr. Dan. We have the added challenge of not knowing what drugs are safe to use on Mr. Taylor. He’s allergic to practically everything.”
“Don’t tell Brian that,” Alex warned.
Cabot snorted. “We’ve crossed paths before; Kinney doesn’t scare me,” Cabot stated with confidence, receiving incredulous looks in return.
“He should. Aside from his children, Justin is the most precious thing in Brian’s life,” Alex began. Before Alex could go on, Cabot raised his hand.
“I’ve had this lecture before, years ago, from Kinney, from Taylor’s mother and a host of other people including a loud mouth red head. My ears are still ringing,” said Cabot as he stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it around. Alex and Dan both chuckled knowingly.
“Look, I understand, Taylor is someone’s husband, son, and father. However, he’s also my patient. I have to weigh all options so I can treat him appropriately.”
“Which are?” Dan asked.
“Fluids, we flush him out of whatever he ingested that made him react this way. I’ll give it twenty-four hours. If it doesn’t work…”
“Dialysis?” Alex asked.
“It may be the only option,” Cabot stated as he reviewed the latest lab results. “His blood sugar is dropping,” Cabot said as he returned to Justin’s bed.
Seeing the defiance in Brian’s eyes and his unwavering demeanor, Dr. Cabot quickly decided that it was easier to work around Brian than to remove him from Justin’s side. Cabot began barking out orders and soon Justin’s lab values began to normalize.
There were a few minutes of calm until…
“I want to see my son!” A familiar voice cut through the din of the emergency department. Jennifer was directed to Justin’s bed by a nurse.
“What happened to him and why weren’t you there?” Jennifer blurted out without thinking. The glare directed at her was menacing. “Oh god, I’m sorry, Brian. I didn’t mean that.”
“We’re not joined at the hip,” Brian growled in a tone that would have had ad men scurrying out of Kinnetik in fear. “He’s his own man.”
“I know that. Deep down, I know that,” Jennifer said contritely. “But I’m his mother, and you and he have been inseparable for years and…” Jennifer cried. All she could see was her child, hurt, and she was helpless to make it better. Just as helpless as she had felt when Justin was bashed. It all came rushing back including how Jennifer tried to keep Brian away from Justin. “This time I won’t interfere,” Jennifer blurted out. “He’s your husband. I won’t stand in your way.”
“Like you could,” Brian sneered.
“Enough!” John admonished. He came through the curtain in time to hear their encounter. “This isn’t helping. As corny as this sounds, Justin needs us to stay positive; he needs our love. Not bickering or trying to place blame. This is no one’s fault.”
“He’s right,” Dr. Cabot said as he joined them. “We have some results from the remains of Justin’s lunch. It’s not conclusive but we think it was an unusual curry mixture that might have triggered his allergies.”
“Justin never liked spicy foods,” Jennifer said. “Except for his Jambalaya.”
“He only makes it mild,” Brian added softly. The anger was gone but not the fight. “So what are you doing to make him better and why isn’t he waking up?”
“Since Justin is allergic to the usual antihistamines, we’re flushing out his body. He’s healthy and in great shape. I’m hoping his own immune system will take over as we rid his body of the allergen,” Cabot explained. “As to why he’s not waking up, physically there’s no reason he shouldn’t be. He may need your services,” Cabot said as he gave Alex a poignant look. Alex narrowed his eyes.
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions,” Dr. Dan said reasonably. “It’s been less than three hours since Justin’s allergy attack. Let’s just give him some time.”
The cooler head prevailed; Dr. Cabot went back to his patient while Dan and Alex consulted John about who in the family needed to be called and what should they be told.
Rachel pulled up to the gate; she hesitated before entering her code. She shook herself as the gate swung open and then slowly drove through. As she rounded the bend and passed Emmett’s cottage, Rachel felt alone. For the first time since she and George moved onto the lane, Rachel felt alone. She drove up to the thatched cottage, parked then steeled herself for what was about to happen now.
“I wish I had stopped for earplugs,” she murmured as she got out of her car then walked to the front door. Rachel didn’t wait long. Debbie, who was enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee in her favorite chair, saw Rachel pull up. Before Rachel could knock the door opened.
“Rachel, sweetheart, you look nice. What can I do for you?” cheerfully asked Debbie.
“May I come in?” Rachel's expression was somber.
“Of course,” Deb said as she stepped back to let in the pretty red head. Rachel noted that Carl was resting in his favorite chair.
“Deb, I don’t mean to disturb you or to frighten you, but Justin’s been taken ill and is at the hospital,” Rachel stated as gently as she could.
“My Sunshine!” Debbie shrieked. Carl jumped up from his chair then came to his wife’s side. “Carl, get the car keys we have to go,” Debbie demanded. Carl shook his head. “What do you mean. No? That’s my Sunshine!” Debbie screamed.
“Babe, if I’m reading the situation correctly, we might be needed here,” Carl said firmly. “Rachel, please tell us what happened and how can we help.”
Rachel calmly related what had happened at lunch and the updates her father had given her.
“All I know is that he’s comfortable and breathing on his own. Brian is with him and so is Jennifer. The last I heard is that they’re going to run a few more tests then take him to a room. What they need from us is to hold down the fort here and take care of Bree and Patrick.”
“What about John and Bobby?” asked Carl.
“John will be staying in the city with Brian. Bobby’s in the middle of something that he can’t postpone. The kids can stay with me…”
“No, they can stay here!” Debbie interjected.
“Babe, that’s impractical and you know it. Now let Rachel finish,” Carl insisted, gently reining in his wife. Rachel smiled at Carl. “Bobby will make sure they get on the bus in the morning. And if you’d like, we can take turns supervising homework after school and snacks.”
“What about dinner? Those kids have to eat,” Debbie blurted out.
“That’s a great idea, we can take turns,” Rachel said reasonably. “I’m sure Bobby will appreciate not worrying about rushing home. This is a busy time for him.”
“We can work out the details later. For all we know, Justin could be home tomorrow,” Carl stated with confidence.
“You’re right. My Sunshine’s strong. He’ll be home any time now,” Debbie said with tears in her eyes. “I think I’ll make a casserole,” Deb said as she practically ran into the kitchen.
Carl and Rachel heard Debbie mumbling about how her kids weren’t going to starve and something about a mac and cheese casserole. The pots and pan were rattling as Carl walked Rachel out to her car.
“Now tell me the real story,” Carl demanded.
“Once a detective, always a detective,” Rachel mumbled then she gave Carl more details. “Dad said they’re trying to flush out the allergen with IV fluids because…”
“Because Justin can’t take anything. I remember. I always thought that was weird. And probably one of the reasons why Brian is so protective of him. Did Dan say how Brian is doing?”
“Dad said that Brian won’t leave Justin’s side. He just growls and grunts, so the doctors and nurses work around him,” Rachel said with a smirk.
“Sounds like Brian. He’s like a mother bear with a wounded cub. Please don’t tell him I said that.”
“Never; and god help the poor sap who tries to get between them,” Rachel said; Carl agreed.
“How are you doing?” Carl asked as he gave Rachel a hug. Rachel’s strength gave out, she cried on Carl’s shoulder for a few minutes then the fiery red head was back.
“I’ll be fine, thank you, Carl. I’m more worried about Bree.”
“She’s a smart kid. Be straight with her and she’ll be fine,” Carl suggested.
“I better go. I have to inventory my pantry and refrigerator. Those kids can eat,” Rachel said as she got into her car for the short drive up the lane to her house.
“Let me know if you want me to go to the store and don’t worry about dinner. I’m sure madam chef has it covered,” Carl said with a smile and his thumb pointing toward his cottage. He patted the top of Rachel’s car then she drove away.
Glen rolled into Justin’s room with a to-go tray holding two coffees on his lap. In the midst of the madness, Dr. Cabot admitted Justin. Brian demanded a private room, insurance be damned. AG was more than willing to accommodate one of Pittsburgh’s more than affluent, influential, and famous citizens. Justin Taylor was in a suite on the VIP floor. While Justin was transferred and made comfortable, Brian took that opportunity to utilize the ensuite restroom.
“Fuck!” Brian swore at his ragged image in the mirror.
When the flurry of medical personnel finally left Justin in peace, Brian resumed his vigil at Justin’s side. At least this time the chair was a bit more comfortable.
“Coffee?” Glen asked.
“That hospital shit? No, thanks.”
“Ah, but you forget I work here. I know where they keep the good shit. Here,” Glen held out a container. Gingerly, Brian took the offering, gave it a cursory whiff then took a sip.
“Not bad,” Brian grunted then narrowed his eyes at Glen who was sporting an annoying grin. The coffee was prepared to Brian’s unique specifications.
“Strong black coffee with a pound of sugar,” Glen sing-songed.
“My spies are everywhere. I called John,” Glen added. “How is he?” Glen asked, all joking aside. “And where’s Jennifer?”
“No change; Jennifer had a closing she couldn’t postpone. She’ll be back later.”
“Finding me clothes and making arrangements at the Plaza. They’re staying until Justin’s ready to go home,” Brian explained.
“John and Dan. John offered to drive Dan home, but he won’t go.”
“What’s wrong with the infamous loft? By the way, you owe me a tour. I’ve never had the pleasure,” Glen said with an evil twinkle in his eyes. Brian ignored the remark.
“Ben’s staying there until he and Mikey can get their act together,” Brian said with an eerie calmness. “And why the fuck isn’t Justin waking up!” Brian suddenly flew into a rage, his coffee cup nearly experiencing the brunt of it. Brian began pacing like a caged animal.
“He’s had a shock,” Glen began.
“I know that,” Brian growled, his pacing coming to an abrupt halt.
“No, you don’t. Justin’s brain needs a little time to realize that his body is getting better; that the toxins that poisoned him are gone. He’ll be back soon.”
“What can I do?” Brian asked with desperation.
“Just what you’ve been doing. Talk to him. He knows you’re here. You two have a strong connection. Give him your strength; he’ll feel it and come back to you,” Glen said with a sympathetic smile.
Brian resumed his seat at Justin’s side; he found that patch of unoccupied skin and began gently rubbing circles on it with his fingertips. Glen quietly wheeled himself out of the room but not before hearing Brian sing with a breathy voice hitched with tears.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Thanks to Gina for the screen grab
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