Working My Way Back
“Bree, it’s dinner time,” Patrick called as he knocked on the door to Bree’s bedroom.
There was no answer. Patrick frowned and hesitated to knock again. Bree might be asleep. He was really getting worried about how much time Bree spent alone in her room. He knew she was worried about her father, but she wasn’t communicating with anyone except her Dada who she spoke to every day. Bree made the effort to get up and go to school every day, but he could tell that she didn’t really want to. She seemed lethargic and out of sorts most of the time. That wasn’t the Bree that he knew so well.
Patrick knocked again. He knew Bree needed to eat something.
“What?’ came the terse reply.
“It’s Patrick. My dad has dinner ready for us. Come and join us.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You need to eat.”
“Don’t want to.”
“Bree, it’s not good for you to be alone so much. Come out and have dinner and talk to us.”
Patrick waited for a response. He heard nothing for a minute or two. He was about to turn away and go get his father, when he saw the doorknob turn slowly. He waited.
Bree opened the door. She looked awful, tired and pale, and her eyes were red and puffy like she had been crying.
“I’m really not hungry,” she said.
“You should try to eat something,” Patrick said gently. “We don’t want you to get sick. Your Dada will kill us.”
Bree gave a wan smile. “Yeah, he would.”
Patrick held out his hand and Bree reluctantly put hers in it. Patrick gave it a little squeeze then led Bree to his side of the conjoined cottages.
“Hi, Bree,” Bobby said as he took a casserole out of the oven. “I made my mac and cheese,” he said with a smile. “I hope you like it.”
“Thanks,” Bree said as she watched him spoon some of the mac and cheese onto her plate.
Patrick and Bobby dug right in after they had filled their plates. Bree sat back against the back of her chair and started to push the macaroni around on her plate.
“This is really good, Poppa,” Patrick said. “Don’t you think so, Bree?”
“Yeah, good,” she said softly.
“It would make me believe that more if you actually tasted it,” Bobby informed her.
“Sorry,” Bree said and forced herself to take a bite of the mac and cheese. “It’s good,” she said.
“A little more enthusiasm would be appreciated,” Bobby added.
“Sorry if I’m not hungry and I don’t feel like being with anyone and I can barely keep anything down after I eat and I’m a disappointment to everyone especially my Daddy who needs me and I need him so much and I don’t know what’s going to happen and he could…” Bree burst into tears.
Patrick was up from his seat immediately and pulling Bree out of her chair, crushing her against his chest. “Breathe, Bree, just breathe,” he whispered. “It’s going to be all right.”
“You don’t know that,” Bree cried. “I’m so scared that my Daddy isn’t going to wake up. What will I do without him?”
“He is going to wake up,” Bobby said emphatically. “He is.”
“Then why hasn’t he woken up? It’s been days,” Bree cried.
“He just needs time,” Bobby said hoping that was true.
“Can I let go of you yet?” Patrick asked.
Bree nodded against his chest and Patrick gradually released her. She sat down in her chair and put her head in her hands. Patrick rubbed her back. Bobby looked at them and felt his heart breaking. This was a lot for the young people to deal with.
Debbie was in the kitchen banging pots and pan and supposedly getting something ready for the men in her life to eat.
“What should we do?” Peter whispered to Carl. Peter hated it when Debbie was upset. Every time it happened he felt like his life was going to fall apart … again.
Carl shrugged his shoulders. “We wait,” he said bluntly.
“Wait for what?” Peter asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“For it to blow over.”
“Will it though, will it blow over?”
“Of course it will … unless…”
“I don’t want to think about unless,” Peter said shaking his head. He had grown to love all the people on the lane. Justin was a kind, gentle man. Peter wanted him to recover as much as any of them did.
“There is not going to be an ‘unless’,” Carl stated. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Me too,” Carl agreed. “Honey, can we help you do anything?” he called to Debbie.
“Yeah, you could go to Pittsburgh and tell my Sunshine that he should wake up right now!”
“I’d do that if I thought it would do any good,” Carl admitted.
“I know you would,” Debbie said as her shoulders slumped and she stopped rattling the pots around.
Carl got up and went to his wife. He took her into a gentle hug and held on. “I love you,” he said gently.
“Me too,” Debbie agreed as she kissed Carl’s cheek. “I just wish Brian would let us go see Justin. I feel so helpless out here.”
“And you’d be just as helpless at the hospital. There’s nothing any of us can do. Justin will wake up when he’s ready,” Carl tried to assure her.
“I know,” Debbie said in resignation. She rested her head on Carl’s strong shoulder for a couple of minutes.
“Let’s make some grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. That would suit me just fine,” Carl suggested. “It’s easy and won’t take but a few minutes. You agree, Peter?”
“Sure,” Peter said hoping things could finally get back to normal.
“Then come give us a hand,” Debbie ordered. “It’s about time you learned to cook some things yourself.”
With that the little family got to work making their dinner.
Bree had managed to get a few forkfuls of the mac and cheese down when Bobby’s phone rang.
They all looked at each other and collectively held their breaths as Bobby answered.
“Yes, Bree’s here,” Bobby said before he handed his cell phone to the worried girl.
“Dada?” she said, the fear evident in her voice.
“Daddy’s awake,” Brian said softly.
“Daddy’s awake,” Bree shrieked to the clear enjoyment of Bobby and Patrick who couldn’t stop smiling. Patrick squeezed Bree’s hand. “Can I talk to him, Dada, please?”
“His voice is very raspy and his throat is painful, but he wants to say hello,” Brian assured her. “Just talk for a minute or two.”
“’Kay, Dada,” Bree said as she waited to hear her father’s voice.
“Hi, sweetheart,” a gravelly voice said, gravelly but clearly her father’s
“Oh, Daddy, I’ve been waiting forever to hear your voice,” Bree cried. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, sweetheart, but it’s hard to talk.”
“That’s okay, Daddy. Can I come to see you tomorrow?”
There was silence for a minute before her Dada’s voice said,” You can come tomorrow, Squirt. Take the day off school. This is cause for celebration.”
“I love you so much, you and Daddy.”
“I know, and we love you right back. Get Bobby to arrange how you can get here tomorrow, and he can let me know.”
“I will and I love you.”
Bree handed the phone back to her uncle.
“That’s great news, Bree,” Patrick said.
“Dada says I can go to Pittsburgh tomorrow, Uncle Bobby. Can you make the arrangements and let Dada know?”
“I sure can. We need to let everyone on the lane know too. They’ll be so happy.”
“Yeah,” Bree agreed, “but first I’m really hungry.” She dug into her mac and cheese to the immense pleasure of Bobby and Patrick.
“Did you get the call?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“I’m so relieved.”
“So am I.”
“I’ve been tempted to visit but I didn’t want to intrude.”
“Me too. I talked to John. He said it’s been a little crazy and Brian’s been in uber mother hen mode.” Ben chuckled.
“I bet. I’m just so glad Justin woke up. It’s unthinkable, I mean I can’t imagine…”
“Brian without Justin.”
“Yes. Or Justin without Brian.”
“No, you first.”
“Michael, I love you. This whole thing with Justin has made me realize how much I miss you and I want us to get back together. You’re my husband and I want us to stay married. I want to come home to you each night or you come home to me. I want to make love with you. I’m in love with you. Are you still in love with me?”
“Yes. And I miss you so much but I’m scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Of falling back into old habits, of thinking that I have to prove something to our friends.”
“We have nothing to prove.”
“My heart knows that but sometimes my brain tells me to make stupid decisions.”
“So what does that mean for us?” Ben sounded disappointed.
“Would you go to couple’s counseling with me?”
“Yes! Of, course I will - in a heartbeat. You name the time and the place and I’ll be there!”
“No need to thank me. I should be the one thanking you.”
“Let’s compromise and call it a tie,” Michael declared with a giggle.
“You bet. Do you think we have cause to celebrate?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Dinner, at Emmett’s Place tonight. Are you free?”
“Allow me to check my social schedule,” Michael teased with a phony accent. “I believe I can fit you in.” Ben and Michael laughed.
“I’ll make a reservation for seven, see you then.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“I love you, Michael.”
“I love you too.”
It was decided that Debbie and Carl would take Bree to Pittsburgh to see her father. Justin was still very weak but the sight of his daughter bolstered up his spirits. And of course, Bree was overjoyed that her daddy would soon be home.
Carl was proud of Debbie when she reined in her enthusiasm. Deb didn’t shriek the hospital down nor did she engulf Justin in a bone crushing hug. She greeted Justin with a quiet, “My Sunshine,” and a gentle kiss to his cheek. Debbie saved the much needed bone crushing hug for Brian, who accepted it with a lot of love and a lot of patience.
Bree spent the day with her daddies while Debbie and Carl visited with their Pittsburgh family. Bree, as well as Carl and Debbie, were flying high with happiness by the time they had to go back to the lane.
Dr. Cabot marched himself through the VIP wing of the hospital intent on reviewing Justin’s chart one more time before deciding to kick him out. Justin was at the stage in his recovery that it was now better for him to do it at home than to remain in the hospital. He was well out of danger and no longer needed to be hooked up to all the bells and whistles. Justin was still on a bland soft diet but he was tolerating it very well. Dr. Cabot stopped by the nurses’ station first then headed for Justin’s room. Unbeknownst to Cabot, Glen, on silent wheels, was right behind him.
The tableau before him made the doctor stop short to stare.
Justin was propped up by several pillows. In one arm he cradled a sketch pad while his right hand was furiously drawing. His head was gently bopping to the music he was listening to via his earbuds. Although still pale, Justin’s skin glowed as his color was slowly returning. His eyes were clear and focused on his drawing. The tiny tip of his tongue was peeking out of his lips as he concentrated on his drawing. Justin’s hair, despite needing a good wash, flopped over his face, making him look twelve.
Brian, on the other hand was fast asleep next to Justin. Cocooned in an old ratty sweatshirt and jeans, Brian lay next to Justin. How he managed to seemingly wrap his long lanky body around Justin was a mystery to Cabot but Brian’s energy appeared to engulf Justin. Once Brian truly felt that Justin was out of danger, his brain gave Brian permission to sleep. And sleep he did, for days in the same position, rising only to respond to nature’s call. Brian’s head buried either in Justin’s neck or armpit with one arm around Justin’s waist refusing to let go and a leg tossed over Justin’s thighs. Brian’s feet were bare. Soft wheezes could be heard emanating from Brian. He was so close to Justin that nothing could come between them, not even a sheet of Justin’s sketch paper.
The dichotomy between the two men was striking and yet they fit so perfectly together.
They were beautiful.
“Kinda makes you consider taking a walk on the dark side, doesn’t it,” Glen teased with glee when he saw what held up Cabot.
“Wilder, why do you and your husband constantly torment me?” Cabot asked as he scrubbed at his face.
“Because we like you,” Glen replied with a grin.
“Then stop liking me,” Cabot pleaded.
“Never. You’re a likable sort of guy, for a straight dude,” Glen retorted. Poor Cabot shook his head in defeat. “Besides, it’s so much fun. Anyway, when are you cutting them loose?”
“Today. I’d like them to stay in the city if possible; at least for a week for a follow up. Then they can go back to the sticks and stop hogging up the airwaves.”
News of Justin’s illness somehow got leaked to the press. Pittsburgh’s reigning artist and his philanthropic husband were newsworthy, so much so that Dr. Cabot was forced into holding a short press conference when Justin was first stricken. The hospital’s PR department then handled the updates.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Glen said in all seriousness. “Come on, I’ll help you break the good news,” Glen said when he saw Justin raise his head and smile.
As Dr. Cabot walked in Justin waved hello, removed his earbuds then gently shook Brian awake.
“Bri, we have company,” Justin whispered. Brian went from totally asleep to complete wakefulness in less than two seconds. He cracked open an eye, raised his head, to smile lovingly at Justin. He then bolted to a sitting position to check out the intruders, one arm protectively around Justin and a murderous look in his eyes. Justin patted Brian’s thigh with reassurance.
“Easy there, Bubba, no one’s here to hurt your cub. And that’s some serious case of bed head there, buddy,” Glen teased Brian to defuse the situation. Brian raised his eyes upwards toward his spiky hair then narrowed his eyes at Glen. Glen snickered as Justin giggled.
“That’s what I like to see, my patient happy and smiling,” Cabot announced as if he was solely responsible for putting a smile on Justin’s face. “I have good news, all your lab work has been normal for forty-eight hours so I’m kicking you out. You two have disrupted this hospital long enough; it’s time for you to go.”
“Really?” Justin croaked.
“Really. I just have one request, stick around Pittsburgh for one week. Make your follow up appointment with my office before you leave the hospital. You can go back to that country paradise of yours that I keep hearing about after I see you,” Cabot seriously suggested.
“We can do that,” Justin stated. “Right, Bri?” Brian nodded in agreement. The lovers exchanged a look that meant an offer to Cabot and his family to vacation on the lane at anytime, if they so chose, would be forthcoming.
“Brian, are you all right?” Glen asked as he wheeled himself closer.
“Yes,” said Brian. Glen wasn’t convinced.
“Cabby, go make yourself useful and start filling out the discharge papers,” Glen tossed over his shoulder. Sensing the dismissal, Cabot rolled his eyes but left the room. “Brian, I’m making a strong suggestion, while you’re in the neighborhood, go see Alex.” Brian frowned.
“This incident hit you both very hard and brought back horrific memories for both of you. I think you’ve both handled it very well, for now. But this type of trauma can dredge up all sorts of feelings. You’re going to be in town anyway, so you might as well take advantage of the situation. Alex will come to you; you know he will. And I’m not a half bad therapist either.
“Will you be staying at the loft?” Glen asked in anticipation of a tour.
Brian rolled his eyes. “No, the Professor is temporarily in residence. I’m staying at the Plaza,” Brian explained.
“Oooo, fancy. We can come to you. But you owe me a tour as payment for our services,” Glen demanded. He laughed when he heard Brian sigh. Justin giggled, his voice still raspy. “We can do this the right way. May I see what you’re drawing?”
Justin handed Glen his pad. The page was filled with studies of his favorite model. Elegant feet, long fingers, expressive eyes, and Brian’s muscular legs. Glen smiled with appreciation as he handed back the pad.
“Cabby!” Glen shouted out the door.
“Now what,” replied Cabot with a growl.
“Make sure your discharge instructions include a nurse and a Speech therapist,” Glen commanded as he snatched the papers out of Cabot’s hands.
“What’s with you?” Cabot snarled as he snatched them back. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Well get on with it; I’m sure these gentlemen have better things to do than sit around all day waiting for you to discharge them,” Glen said with a mischievous grin.
Suddenly, Justin became flushed. Brian’s eyes began to twinkle with lustful thoughts.
“What’s going on,” Cabot asked in confusion, momentarily concerned with the redness creeping into Justin’s cheeks. He grabbed Justin’s wrist to check his racing pulse. That’s when he caught the exchange between Brian and Justin.
“You’re supposed to be resting!” Cabot insisted.
“I’m sure Brian won’t let Justin move a muscle,” Glen said as he gave Dr. Cabot a jaunty salute before he wheeled himself out of harm’s way and out of the room.
“I mean it. Justin needs to rest,” Cabot repeated.
“All Justin has to do when we get to the hotel is lay back and relax,” Brian promised with one hand over his heart.
Dr. Cabot stared at the two men sitting in the bed, each attempting to look innocent and failing miserably.
“Just get out of here,” Cabot begged.
Brian and Justin gave the good doctor a salute before Cabot hustled out of the room.
The boys laughed like the naughty boys they were.
“Are you ready to blow this popsicle stand, Sunshine?” Brian asked when they settled down.
“Yes,” Justin replied. The lovers exchanged a chaste kiss.
“I’ll call John,” Brian said as he helped Justin out of bed and into the bathroom. Within the hour John was at the hospital ready to take the boys to their temporary home.
Return to Working My Way Back