Working My Way Back
Bree hopped off the school bus with Patrick and Peter. She shouted a goodbye to Ashley as the bus pulled away and headed down the lane.
"Are you guys going to the dance this weekend?" Bree asked.
"Yep," Patrick replied.
"Who are you going with?" Bree wanted to know.
"I'm just going by myself. I'll meet a couple of the guys there, and then we'll scope out the field."
"Scope out the field?" Bree questioned. Indignation was clear in her voice. "Girls are not a herd of cattle that you can pick from."
Patrick smirked. "Is that so?"
"Yes, it is."
"I beg to differ," Patrick responded. "I'm playing the field these days. That's the way I like it."
Bree didn't know how to answer that. She knew Patrick was popular and could probably date any girl he wanted, but a part of her was glad he wasn't seeing anyone special at the moment.
"I guess that's okay," she admitted. "I'm planning to do the same thing," she added waiting for Patrick's reaction. When he didn't say anything, she turned to Peter. "What about you? Are you going?"
"I doubt it," Peter said succinctly.
"You should come," Bree stated. "I'll save a dance for you." She batted her violet eyes at him.
Bree and Patrick both noted the blush that came up Peter's neck and onto his cheeks. "I'll think about it," Peter said as he turned and started down the lane.
Bree waved to him as he headed for the thatched cottage. Peter waved back before entering the small home.
"I hope he decides to come to the dance," Bree said.
Patrick shook his head. "I don't think he will."
"He's pretty shy, and he really doesn't like girls much."
"I know, but he could still have some fun at the dance."
"I doubt he thinks of a school dance as fun," Peter observed.
"Hm," Bree said. "Does he talk to you very much?" she asked Patrick, a frown wrinkling her brow.
"Every now and then," Patrick replied.
"I wish he would be more communicative."
"I don't think that's in his nature," Patrick added as the two walked up to the front door of the conjoined cottages. "Hope there's something good for a snack. I'm starving."
"Me too," Bree agreed as they entered the house. "Daddy, we're home," she called expecting a welcoming hug from her father.
There was no answer, however. Bree frowned and waited a few seconds. She was about to call out again when her Aunt Rachael came towards them from the kitchen.
"Hi, Aunt Rachel," Patrick said with a smile as he gave his aunt a hug.
"Where's Daddy?" Bree asked as she hugged Rachel too.
"Come into the kitchen and sit down, please," Rachel said seriously.
"What's wrong?" Bree demanded. She could sense that something seemed very off. "Where are my dads?"
"That's what I need to talk to you about," Rachel said softly. She herded the children towards the kitchen. "Sit down, please. I made you some cookies."
Patrick took a chair, but Bree remained standing.
Patrick grabbed a cookie from the plate on the table and bit off a big piece. "These are delicious," he said.
"I don't want cookies," Bree stated, still refusing to sit down. "I want to know where my fathers are. Something's wrong. I can feel it."
"You're right, sweetheart," Rachel admitted. "Your father, Justin, is in the hospital," she said calmly, having decided that the direct approach might work best with Bree.
"Hospital!" Bree almost screeched. "Why? What's wrong with him? Which hospital? I need to go see him," she rambled on.
"Bree," Patrick tried to interrupt.
"Please sit down, Bree," Rachel said, "and let me explain."
"I don't have time for explanations. I need to see my Daddy!"
"Bree," Patrick said taking Bree's hand in his. "I know you're upset, but listen to Aunt Rachel ... Pleeease."
Bree gave Patrick a look of betrayal before she slumped into the nearest chair. With resignation she said, "Okay, explain."
Rachel proceeded to go through the events of the afternoon as calmly and concisely as she could.
"But how's my Daddy now? Is he okay?" Bree asked with tears in her eyes.
"He's still unconscious," Rachel said softly, "but otherwise he seems to be recovering."
"Unconscious? Isn't that bad?"
"It's not great," Rachel admitted. "But sometimes the brain and body need time to recover fully, and being unconscious lets that happen."
"It still sounds bad. Can somebody take me to Pittsburgh so I can see him? Please," Bree begged.
"Why don't we see if we can contact your other father and let him decide what you should do," Rachel suggested. "Maybe you could try to call him."
"But ... I really need to see my Daddy," Bree said sounding like the little girl from years ago.
"You will, honey ... as soon as he regains consciousness," Rachel said.
"But I need to see him now," Bree protested.
"Bree, try to be patient," Patrick implored. "Talk to your Dada before you do anything rash."
Tears started down Bree's cheeks. She gulped a couple of times and tried to swallow the tears, but they kept coming. "I just need to see him," she whimpered. "I want to know he's okay."
"Talk to your Dada and let him tell you how things are with Uncle Justin," Patrick said again. "You know he'll tell you the truth."
"I guess," Bree agreed slowly. After she wiped her eyes, she got up and went to the phone on the kitchen wall. She quickly put in her father's number and waited. "Dada! How's Daddy? Aunt Rachel says he's unconscious and I'm so worried and nobody will drive me to Pittsburgh and I don't know what else to do and I'm so scared and I need you and Daddy..."
"Bree!" Brian said sternly. "Take a breath."
"Okay. I'm sorry, but I'm so worried."
"I know, Squirt. I am too."
"You're worried? Then it really is bad?" Bree started to cry again.
"Squirt, listen to me. Are you listening?"
"I'm listening," Bree whispered, trying to stem the tears.
"Your Daddy is in the best hands. Dr. Morrison is here and Dr. Alex and all the specialists at the hospital. They think Justin will be fine. We just have to wait and see." Brian hoped that simple explanation would satisfy his daughter, but he never knew what Bree would or would not accept.
"I want to come there, Dada. I need to see Daddy for myself."
"I know you want to be here, but..."
"No buts, Dada," Bree declared.
"There is a but," Brian said with a level voice. "There's nothing you can do here at the moment. We just have to wait."
"I could be with you if I was there," Bree said softly.
"As soon as he wakes up, you can come."
"Are you sure he's going to wake up?" she asked wiping away some more tears.
"He will wake up," Brian said defiantly. "He will. He has to."
Bree could hear the desperation in her father's voice. It was then she realized that he was going through all the same feelings that she had. She didn't want to add more problems to what he was already dealing with. She drew in a deep breath. "Okay, Dada," she said trying to sound like normal. "I won't come to Pittsburgh till he wakes up, when he wakes up," she added to make it come true. "You will call me if anything changes?"
"Of course I will. I love you very much, Bree, and you're being such a grown up, wonderful girl."
"I'm trying, Dada. Give Daddy a kiss for me."
"I will ... and I'll see you soon."
"I hope so."
The connection ended.
Bree slowly hung up the phone. She turned around to see Rachel and Patrick staring at her.
"Are you okay, sweetheart?" Rachel asked.
"I guess so."
"Have a cookie," Patrick suggested, holding up the plate of cookies for her to choose one.
"I'm not hungry anymore," Bree said. "I think I'll go lie down."
"Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?" Rachel asked. "I could make you something else."
Bree shook her head. "No thank you," she said formally before she left the kitchen to go to her room.
"Do you think she's okay?" Rachel asked with a worried look on her face.
"Not at the moment," Patrick said with a sigh, "but she's trying to be a grown up."
"Yes, the phone call with her father did help."
"It did, but she's really worried."
"Will you stay around to help me calm her down?" Rachel requested.
"Of course, Aunt Rachel."
"Do you have homework to do?"
"Well. you better get at it. I might need you after dinner."
"Sure," Patrick agreed snatching one more cookie. "One for the road," he said before making his way to his side of the conjoined cottages.
Rachel sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. She took a few deep breaths. This was going to be harder than she had ever imagined.
Brian was hovering in the space between wake and sleep. He hadn’t left Justin’s side in over three days. At one point the staff finally convinced Brian that it was okay to sleep in the guest bed that was in the same room. They assured Brian that the staff would be extra vigilant, plus an exhausted Brian was a grumpy Brian. Justin didn’t need the grumpy Brian. He took their advice and eventually allowed himself to sleep for a few hours a day. In that time, Justin had improved enough that the temporary trach was removed and healing. The swelling was all gone.
A hand caressed the top of his head then slowly slid down to the back of his neck. He knew in an instant that it was Michael. At the gentle squeeze to his neck and a whispered, “Hey,” Brian sat up.
“Hey, Mikey,” Brian mumbled as he stood, trying to stretch out the kinks in his spine and scrubbing his face with his hands. He arched a curious brow at the bag in Michael’s hand and the to-go cups on the table.
“When I called to find out if it was okay to visit, the receptionist said that as long as I could get you to eat real food, I could stay as long as I like,” Michael said with a smirk. “Go wash your face while I set this up,” Michael commanded.
Brian realized he was hungry and really needed the restroom so he didn’t argue. He gave Michael a chaste kiss before entering the restroom. When Brian emerged, Michael had already set the table.
“Sit,” Michael said as he pointed to a chair. Brian sat and watched as Michael placed a sandwich on Brian’s plate.
“Don’t worry, it’s turkey on whole wheat, hold the mayo,” Michael said with a smile. He slid a cup of coffee over to Brian. “You’ll like,” Michael said with confidence.
They ate in silence for a few minutes before Michael ventured the question.
“How’s he doing?”
“They tell me he’s doing well. If he’s doing so fucking well, then why isn’t he waking the fuck up?” Brian growled then pushed away his sandwich.
Not impressed, Michael pushed it back. “No arguments; eat!” Brian grudgingly picked up his sandwich to take a bite. “What else did the doctor say?” Michael asked, ignoring the outburst.
“Alex says Justin’s psyche has had a shock. That somewhere in that blond brain of his, he equated this severe allergy attack with the bashing,” Brian stated with a hitch in his voice. “Alex said Justin’s in a safe place. I wish he’d get the fuck out of his safe place. I’ve told him how much we love him and miss him. I’ve cursed his lazy ass out and I’ve pleaded with him. I’m seriously considering piping in some thumpa thumpa music,” Brian said. “Maybe it would shake him awake.” Michael snickered. For a moment, Brian smiled then it faded. “I’ve had Bree talk to him on the phone until she lost her voice. Nothing. Nada.
“Mikey, what am I going to do if he never wakes up?” Brian pitifully asked. Michael got up and went to Brian, crushing his friend to his chest in a fierce hug.
“He’s the boy wonder, and next to you, the most stubborn person I know. He’ll wake up wondering why you’ve been making a fuss.” Michael felt Brian nod.
With the wisdom of longtime friendship, Michael held on; he soon felt the silent sobs. Like he did, years ago when they were younger, when Brian’s usual pain management techniques failed him, Michael just held him. After a while, Michael felt Brian take a deep breath then exhale. Michael kissed the top of the brunet head.
“Okay?” he asked.
With a nod from Brian, Michael released his friend then went to the restroom for a damp cloth. Michael found Brian at Justin’s bedside adjusting the already pristine bedding. He placed the cloth into Brian’s hand. While Brian cleaned up Michael went back to the table. Eventually, Brian returned to the table to finish his sandwich. Michael even got Brian to eat a pickle and was pleased when Brian stole a few fries.
“Drink your coffee before it gets cold.”
They ate in silence until Brian was done.
“What’s going on with you and the professor? Have you jumped his bones yet?”
“No, I haven’t jumped his bones,” Michael exclaimed with indignation. “And this is a hospital,” Michael whispered.
“So? What’s that got to do with anything? We’re alone except for sleeping beauty. Why haven’t you?”
“Why haven’t I what?” asked Michael, resigned that he was going to be forced into a conversation he’d rather not have.
“Why haven’t you and your hubby done the nasty,” Brian asked with a smirk.
“That’s private!” Brian arched a brow. “Because I’m not ready.”
“Since when are you not ready to fuck?”
“Since I want to make sure that if me and Ben get back together, it’s for all the right reasons and not just because of the sex.”
“Aw, Mikey, you know it’s all about the sex,” Brian teased. Michael scowled.
“I have to be sure. I have to know, inside.” Michael placed his hand over his heart. “I…”
“I get it, Mikey,” Brian said softly as he reached out his hand toward Michael’s. “He does love you. That French fry was a momentary distraction. I believe Ben when he said they didn’t fuck. Just don’t wait too long,” Brian advised.
“I don’t plan to. My therapist suggested couples counseling. I was going to bring it up the next time we meet.”
“Good to know.”
“For letting him stay at the loft.”
“Not a problem. The tenants love it. Emmett’s in raptures that he has another victim to try out his new recipes. Does it bother you that he’s there?”
“No. It makes sense. It would have been weird if he came home at the time.”
“What if he came home now?”
“He won’t; we’re not ready.”
“Are you all right, Mikey? You’re alone.”
“I’m not alone, not really. I’ve been spending time with JR and Jacqueline, really getting to know them as a couple. You know?” Brian smiled. “My little Honey Bun is all grown up,” Michael stated with pride.
Michael babbled on for several minutes during which he didn’t notice the change in Brian’s demeanor. Brian stood up so abruptly that Michael was startled.
“I should have been there.”
“With him. I should have been with him.”
“What,” Brian growled with a murderous glare.
“Stop it. Just stop it. You’re not responsible for this. No one is; it was an accident. No one could have predicted that this would happen. No one, including you. And I’m sorry,” Michael said when a light bulb suddenly turned on in his head.
“Sorry? What the fuck are you sorry for?”
“You’re not responsible. Just like you weren’t responsible for the millions of times the girls broke up. Not responsible for the bashing. Not responsible when Ted got arrested and the gazillion other things we all came to you so you could fix. I’m sorry we put so much pressure on you. And you never said anything, you just found ways to fix it. You never let us down.”
“But I can’t fix this,” Brian said in a small voice.
“I’m sure Alex is right. Justin will wake up when he’s good and ready,” Michael said emphatically. “And you have to listen to me, cause I’m your best friend. Right?” Michael asked with a big grin.
“Yeah, you’re right, Mikey,” Brian said as he tried to convince himself that Michael was right, that all the doctors were right.
“I just really want him to, to, WAKE THE FUCK UP!” Brian shouted at Justin in frustration.
“Fi’ mo’ min’s Mom,” came a few raspy words from the bed.
“Justin? JUSTIN?!” Brian grabbed hold of Justin with one hand while caressing Justin’s face with his other hand. “Mikey…”
“I’ll go get the nurse,” Michael said as he darted out of the room.
“Come on Justin, show me those blues. Look at me,” Brian pleaded, squeezing the hand in his and scrubbing at a cheekbone with his thumb. “Come on, I know you can do it.”
Justin’s eyelids fluttered. For a few seconds blue eyes met hazel then closed.
“Justin, I’m here, Sunshine. I won’t let you go, I promise,” Brian swore. “Try; please try to open your eyes.”
With effort Justin opened his eyes.
“Do you see me?” Brian asked in a whisper. Justin tried to speak. “No, don’t say anything. Your throat’s gonna be sore.”
“Dry,” Justin tried to say.
“I know. When the doctor comes, we’ll fix that,” Brian said with a huge smile.
“I love you too, Sunshine, love you so much,” Brian said as he squeezed himself up onto the bed and next to his lover. “Never letting you go,” Brian said into Justin’s neck, holding him close. Justin managed to lay his arm over Brian’s.
And that’s how the doctors and nurses found them when they all rushed into the room.
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