by Tim Mead
Late-Night Phone Call
Just as Cedric was about to remove his fingers and insert his cock, Jay twisted the upper half of his torso and grabbed a small bottle from the night stand. He twisted off the lid, inhaled from the bottle, closed his eyes, shivered, and offered the bottle to Cedric.
"It's not illegal, you know. You can buy it on the Internet."
"But you get it at work?"
"Don' pilfer. Got online. You don' like?"
"It smells like dirty socks, man. And if the sex is good, you don't need it."
Jay drawled, "Good sex. Show me."
Cedric twiddled his fingers, and Jay jumped.
"I will if you'll just shut up."
Jay took another hit of the poppers, his eyelids fluttered, and he handed the bottle to Cedric, who shook his head before putting it on the bedside table.
Having planned an early morning workout in the fitness room downstairs, Cedric didn't stay the night with Jay. He got back to his apartment about midnight, showered and, feeling satisfied and relaxed, went to bed. He worried a little about Jay's using amyl. Was it a "crutch"?
Eventually he drifted off to sleep.
He hadn't been asleep long when the phone rang. But he'd been deeply asleep, and he came awake, slowly, groggily.
Shaking his head, he grabbed the phone. He saw that the call was from Stan Mason. Why would he be calling at this hour? Something must be wrong.
"Pops! What's up?"
"It's Mark, babe. He's been in an accident and he's seriously hurt."
Every trace of grogginess gone, he asked, "How bad is it?"
"Don't know for sure. But Casey seemed to think he might not make it."
"Oh, god! What happened?"
"Apparently someone ran a red light and broadsided him. Casey wasn't able to tell me much."
"What can I do?"
"That's why I'm calling. Casey's practically hysterical. Doug and I are going to be on the first flight to Cincinnati, but that isn't until about 6:00AM. You could be there in about four hours, if you're willing."
"Of course I'm willing. Where is he?"
"University Hospital. Don't have the address."
"I can find out."
"Thanks, Ced. I hate to ask this, but I'd feel better if you were there."
"Do you want me to call you if I find out anything?"
"Yeah, do that, please. Of course, if we're on a plane, you won't be able to get through to us."
"I'll call when I know something. Leave a voicemail. And I'll see you and Doug when you get there."
"Pray for Mark, please."
"Yes. Love you, man."
"Love you, too."
Wide awake now, Cedric dressed, threw some things in a bag, grabbed a coat, and went downstairs to his car. He got in and drove to a nearby bank with an outdoor ATM where he withdrew the maximum amount allowed per transaction.
He stopped at an all-night convenience store where he got a large coffee and filled up the Terrain's gas tank.
All of which helped him to avoid thinking about Mark.
But as he sped down I-75 his mantra was "Hang in there, Mark! Fight Mark! Too many of us love you for you to die!"
The four of them weren't together any longer, but they still shared that bond they'd forged in college, they were still "The Brotherhood." Well, Chaz and Trey were together. Mark was in Cincinnati with Casey. But they kept in touch by phone, text, and email. It was inconceivable that one of them could die. Healthy ex-jocks under thirty didn't die.
Unless they are killed in a car crash.
Although his parents had brought him up going to church on Sundays, Cedric had never been very religious after he started to college. Later, Tim's agnosticism had spurred his own. But right now, he had to pray.
Oh, please, God, don't let Mark die!
And then he remembered having read the comment that there are no atheists in foxholes.
He stopped at a rest area just south of Lima. The coffee had run through him. Or perhaps it was just nerves. But he was wide awake and anxious to get to Cincinnati and find out about Mark's condition.
Traffic wasn't heavy except for the semis, which were much less frequent than they would have been in daytime.
As he passed Dayton he remembered that his cell phone, which was in the bag in the back, needed to be recharged. He'd have to call Ms. Bott and let her know he wouldn't be at work. The car charger was in the console between the front seats. He'd have to remember to get the cell out of the bag and put it on the charger.
Meanwhile, he could make calls using OnStar.
"Ced? Is something wrong?"
"Yeah. Pops called. Mark's been in an accident, and . . . ." In spite of his best effort, Cedric's voice cracked.
"Oh, god! Chaz! Wake up! Mark's hurt."
In the background Cedric could hear his other friend. "What? What happened? Where is he?"
Cedric answered before Trey could pass on the question. "University Hospital in Cincinnati."
"Are you on your way there?"
"Call us as soon as you hear anything. And drive carefully, Ced."
After he'd pushed the button to end the call, his thoughts returned to college days. Chaz and Trey had roomed together in the jock dorm; he and Mark had been roomies, too. Chaz had played basketball. Well, at 6'5" that would be his sport. Trey was captain of the tennis team his last two years. The others had teased him mildly about not being a real athlete, but he took it good-naturedly. And his body was as finely honed as any of theirs.
Mark and Cedric had both played baseball, so they'd been teammates as well as roommates. But they'd all been as close as brothers. The other three had done something stupid to Tim, thinking they were helping Ced, but Tim had been magnanimous in forgiving them. Had become Cedric's lover. And the brothers had accepted him as one of them. Almost. Tim's role was one of friend but also that of an older, wiser brother. And Cedric's lover.
But it was Mark who rightly occupied his thoughts as he drove. Remembering things they'd done, jokes they'd shared, happy moments together.
Then his thoughts turned to Casey and how shattered he must be. He looked like a younger version of Adam, with red hair, green eyes, and middling stature. Cedric didn't mind the man's effeminacy. True he couldn't hide being gay, but he was normally good-natured and affectionate. And he was devoted to Mark.
Cedric didn't know Cincinnati very well, so when he approached I-275, the ring-road around the city, he got instructions from OnStar.
It was just 6:00 AM when Cedric walked into the ER waiting room at University Hospital. At that hour, there weren't many people.
He spotted a smallish man curled up in a chair in a corner, recognizing him as Casey because of his red hair. As Cedric approached, Casey looked up, then seemed for a moment to pull back into himself. But then he jumped up.
"Cedric, I thought for a minute it might be the doctor, come to tell me how Mark's doing. But I'm so glad to see you."
Cedric took the shaking man into his arms.
"You've been alone all this time?"
"Yeah. And I'm so scared."
"Have you had anything to eat? Can I get you something? There's got to be a cafeteria."
"No, thanks. One of the nurses brought me coffee, but if I ate anything right now, I'd throw up."
Still holding Casey, Cedric asked, "What happened? More important, how is he?"
Casey began to weep.
"You're not alone, man. I'm here. Doug and Stan are on their way."
Casey snuffled. Some mucous got on Cedric's shirt.
"Ohmygod. I am so sorry!" He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began rubbing the spot.
"It's okay, Casey. Why don't we just sit down over here and you tell me what happened? I don't know anything except that Mark was in an accident. Are you up to telling me what you know?"
They sat. Casey took a deep breath and seemed marginally calmer. In a shaky voice, he said, "There's a big merger coming up. Mark's firm's handling it. He doesn't usually work late, but he and his boss had been staying late this week to get all the details hammered out. He was on his way home when it, when . . ."
Cedric took Casey's hand.
"Take your time."
"According to the police, he was T-boned at an intersection. The guy was driving a huge SUV. He was drunk and, according to a witness, talking on a cell phone." Casey swallowed. Then he looked Cedric straight in the eye. What Cedric saw there wasn't anger. It was numbness, devastation. "Ced, the son of a bitch probably killed my Mark, and he wasn't even hurt!"
"Hey, hey. We don't know Mark's going to die. They'll probably patch him up and he'll be good as new. Look at me. A few years ago I got hit by a pickup truck, and I'm okay." By which he meant he was physically nearly as good as before. He saw no point in mentioning the havoc the hit and run wreaked on his relationship with Tim.
The chairs in the waiting room were not particularly comfortable, but they had arms. And those arms kept Cedric from being able to hold Casey, to comfort him. As long as they were seated, all he could do was put his arm loosely around Casey's shoulders.
They sat there quietly. Casey was obviously trying to pull himself together. Cedric wanted to ask the nature of Mark's injuries, but he didn't want to upset Casey any further.
The waiting room was still. A person in scrubs sat behind the triage desk. An old couple sat across the room, holding hands with their eyes closed. They'd been there when Cedric arrived. So far as Cedric could remember, neither of them had moved.
A short young man of Asian derivation wearing scrubs walked into the room. He looked to be about twenty.
"Mr. Eversole?" he asked, looking at Cedric and Casey.
"I'm Casey Eversole."
"I'm Doctor Han."
He motioned for them to sit, and he seated himself next to Casey.
"Mr. Mason is out of surgery and in post-op. After a while he'll be taken to ICU."
Cedric could sense Casey steeling himself.
"How is he, doctor?"
"It's still touch and go at this point. We had to remove his spleen. We're still watching for other internal injuries. He has a severe concussion, a couple of broken ribs, and his left leg was broken in three places."
"Oh, my God!"
"Fortunately, he's a young man in excellent physical condition."
"Will he be all right?"
"It's too soon to say. Dr. Kamaczynsky, the best orthopedist in the city, worked on his leg. But we just can't tell yet what's going to happen there. Best case scenario is that, after a lot, and I stress a lot, of therapy, he'll be able to walk, though most likely with crutches or a cane."
"Oh!" Casey gasped.
"But there's also his head."
Cedric had had to have an operation to relieve pressure on his brain after the hit and run. His mother had told him how anxious they all were waiting to find out how he would respond. How upset everyone was that he'd had retrograde amnesia afterward. Remembered how he felt when his memory finally returned and he was ready to run to Tim, only to be told that Tim was now with Max.
"What about his head?" Casey asked.
"Well, everything should be okay, but we can't ever be sure. He'll be in a medically-induced coma for a while."
"We'll keep him asleep so he can recover a bit from the shock, and then halt the artificial coma and see what happens. Meanwhile, you look as if you could do with some rest. And perhaps something to eat."
"No, I can't leave. When can I see him?"
"As soon as he's moved into ICU we'll call you. You can sit with him, but of course he'll be unconscious."
Han stood. "If you're here, someone will come for you later."
"Thanks, doctor. I'll be here."
Cedric turned to Casey. "Why don't we go get some breakfast? You look like you're about to keel over."
"I can't be away, Ced. They might come for me."
"Okay, I'll go find the cafeteria and bring you something. What would you like?"
"No coffee or juice. Maybe some milk and a Danish or a donut?"
"I'll be back in a few minutes. You gonna be okay?"
"I'm not okay," Casey choked out. Then he tried to smile. "Oh, listen to me. I'm being a real diva. I'll be all right. Get yourself something to eat, Cedric. And thanks for being here. I felt so alone before you came."
"Stan and Doug will be here by noon, I expect. They were taking the first flight out."
"I hope to God we'll have better news for them by the time they get here. Now, go!"
As he set out to find the cafeteria, Cedric's body reminded him that he'd been running on adrenalin. He'd only had about an hour's sleep. He was tired. And hungry.
After he'd left the waiting room, he remembered that he needed to let Ms. Bott know he wouldn't be at work that day. He wondered if he'd make it in the next, for that matter. Then he remembered that this was Friday and he wouldn't have to be at work until Monday. When he got to the car he realized he still hadn't put his cell on the charger, so he called via OnStar. It was too early for even the redoubtable Bott to be in the office, so he left a message on the answering machine saying where he was and why and that he'd be there for sure on Monday. As he spoke, he wondered why he felt like a kid skipping school. He knew he was where he needed to be. He remembered to put his cell phone on the charger, locked the car, and went to find the cafeteria.
Not wanting to take time to have a full breakfast, he bought milk for Casey, a large coffee for himself, and some donuts.
When he got back to the waiting room, he saw Casey in a three-way hug. Although he couldn't see the faces of the other two men, he recognized Tim's auburn hair and slight frame at once. And, of course, the other man was Max. As he approached he heard Max say, "Amen." They maintained the hug. Tim was saying something softly to Casey that Cedric didn't quite catch.
His hands shaking, he found a magazine-strewn table on which to put the food and drinks. Then he walked toward the others, who turned at his approach.
What was he going to say? Despite his worries over Mark, he'd managed to stay calm for Casey. But his heart was pounding at the prospect of having to talk with Tim and Max.
"Cedric," Tim said, "Casey was just telling us how much it means to him that you got here when you did."
Tim hugged Cedric, tight and long. Then he pushed him back to arm's length. It looked as if there might be tears in Tim's eyes. But that would be natural. He'd be worried about Mark and empathetic for Casey.
"You're looking a bit haggard, Ced. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, Tim." He bit his lip. He'd almost said "Timmy." "I'm fine."
Max approached and Tim stepped aside.
"Cedric, I wish it were under other circumstances, but it's good to see you."
"Yeah, you, too, Max."
"Casey," Tim said, "you've told us Mark's in post-op. Can you tell us anything else?"
Casey explained what the doctor had said.
"So we wait for further news."
"God, it's so good of all you guys to come. I'm so scared!"
"He made it through the surgery. He's in a good hospital with good doctors. We've prayed for him," Tim said, glancing at Max. "So now we wait. Stan and Doug expect to be here by noon."
"Yeah, Cedric told me. Should we try to call them and tell them what we know? They'll want to know he's made it through the surgery."
Tim and Max both pulled out their cells.
Gesturing to Max to put his away, Tim hit a speed dial number. After a brief time he shook his head, hit End, and pushed another button. Again there was a pause and he pushed End again.
"They must be in the air. Otherwise they wouldn't have their phones turned off."
"If they're airborne," Cedric observed, "they may be here before noon."
"True," Max said.
"Shouldn't we leave a voice mail for them, then?" Cedric asked.
"Good idea." Tim stepped away from the rest of them and made a call. He spoke briefly into the phone, shut it off, and came back.
"Cedric, I think you were carrying that food when you came in. Why don't you and Casey eat something? Max and I can go to the cafeteria if you'll promise to come find us if you get any news."
Everyone agreed, so Tim and Max left. Casey and Cedric sat and worked on the donuts and their respective drinks.
"I didn't realize I was hungry," Casey said.
"You've had other things on your mind."
"Ced, I'm still shaky, but I feel a lot better now that you guys are here. Thank you so much for coming. I'm sure Mark would appreciate it . . . if he knew." Casey teared up.
"Mark knows we'd be here for something like this. He and Tim and I are brothers."
"It was more than that between you and Tim, wasn't it?"
"Mark told me your story. That must have been terrible for you."
"It wasn't easy. But I'm past that now." Or so he kept telling himself.
Just then Casey's cell rang.
"We're not supposed to use these things in here. It's Chaz Greeley. I'd better step outside or that dragon behind the desk will come after me."
"I'll come with you. I could use some fresh air."
When they were on the walkway near the entrance to the ER, Cedric distanced himself a little so that Casey could have some privacy to talk with Chaz. When he was out of earshot, he watched as Casey spoke. At first he was obviously giving Chaz a recap of what had happened to Mark and of his condition. Then he mostly listened, nodding occasionally as he appeared to be saying "yes" or "uh huh" into the phone.
Then he motioned for Cedric.
"Chaz wants to talk to you."
Cedric took the phone, and Casey considerately walked away.
"How are you, babe?"
"Running on adrenalin, mostly. But I'm okay. Casey's pretty fragile right now, though."
"That's one of the things I wanted to ask you. About how he's holding up."
"Like I said, he's just barely keeping it together, I think."
"It's good you are there for him. Casey's a kind of a delicate flower."
"Trey's here and wants to say hello."
"We can be on the next plane, but with you, Tim, and Max there and Stan and Doug arriving soon, we might just be in the way."
"Why don't you and Chaz just keep your phones turned on? I promise one of us will call you as soon as there's any more news. When Mark wakes up he'll be grateful for a visit with you two."
"That's about what we thought. I hope Casey won't think ill of us if we don't come today."
"I'm sure he'll understand. Right now he's shell-shocked anyway, but I'll explain it to him."
"Good. And, Ced?"
"Give Tim and Max hugs from Chaz and me."
"Oh, God, Trey!"
"Just do it! Remember what we talked about when I was there"
"Good!" He paused. "Now, Chaz wants to talk to you again."
"Okay, put him on."
"Ced, I'm gonna call my folks and tell them about Mark. And I'll tell them that you and Tim and Max are there. It doesn't take long to get from University Hospital to Indian Hills where my folks live. If you and Tim and Max are gonna stay over, they'll want you to stay with them."
But he really didn't think he could take staying at the Greeley's if Tim and Max were going to be there. Knowing they were sleeping together in Kent was different than knowing they were in the next bedroom.
Max and Tim joined Cedric and Casey in the waiting room. The four of them sat, all but Casey trying to keep up at least a desultory conversation. It was awkward for Cedric. He wanted to keep Casey from brooding over Mark's condition, but chit-chat with Tim and Max was difficult. The two lovers seemed nervous, and the ice in Cedric's stomach wouldn't go away.
So when, a few minutes before noon, Doug and Stan entered the room, Cedric was much relieved. There was a round of greetings and hugs. Then they had to fill in the newcomers on the news – or lack thereof – about Mark.
Stan pulled some chairs into a circle. Cedric glanced at the triage person behind the desk, who looked up, and then went back to whatever papers she was working on. Apparently she was accustomed to people rearranging the furniture.
A few minutes later a man in scrubs, not Dr. Han, came in and approached their group.
"Are you all here for Mark Mason?"
They all stood and Casey grabbed Cedric's hand.
"Yes," Stan said. "Do you have news?"
"There's no change in his condition, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We've stopped the meds for the induced coma, so he'll wake up when he's ready. And his vitals are stable. Who's his next of kin?"
"I am," said Casey. He looked at Stan as if daring him to say anything. Stan merely nodded.
"I –" Casey's knees buckled but Cedric and Max caught him before he hit the floor. They lowered him in to a chair. "I'm okay. Don't know what came over me."
Stan said, "Casey, you've been here all night, you've had no sleep, nothing to eat, and you've been under tremendous strain. Why don't you go home for a few hours? Cedric, would you take him? I don't imagine you've had any sleep either. You don't want Mark to wake up and find you passed out in the chair. I'll sit with him until you get back. And if he wakes up, I promise I'll call you."
"Who are you, sir?" asked the man whose name tag said he was an RN.
"I'm Stanley Mason, Mark's father."
"That'll be fine. I'll take you up to Mark's room." He turned to Casey. "I think you should do as Mr. Mason suggests. You don't look too good."
"But – "
"It's a good idea, Casey," Tim said. "Let Cedric take you home for a few hours at least."
Cedric put his arm around Casey's shoulders. "Yeah, come on, Case. Let's get some food in you and then we'll both crash for a little while."
Casey resisted for a moment. To Stan he said, "You will call when he wakes up, right?"
When Stan reiterated his promise, Casey allowed Cedric to take him to his car. Cedric kept glancing at Casey.
"Listen, buddy. All we've had to eat are some hospital donuts. How about we get some decent food? Is there a hamburger place around here?"
"Burgers and fries? And a cola?"
"Sure, whatever you'd like."
"Sounds . . . sounds good. There's a Burger King just at the foot of this hill." Casey tried to be surreptitious about wiping his cheeks, but Cedric noticed.
"Mark's gonna be fine, Casey. He's a fighter."
"I know. I just. . . ." Now he made no effort to hide his tears.
Cedric reached over and squeezed his knee. Casey was too distraught to go into the fast food place, so Cedric pulled into the drive-thru lane.
Once he'd picked up the two meals, he drove to the condo and he and Casey had the triple Whoppers with cheese at the bar in the kitchen.
When they were finished, Cedric said, "You need to lie down before you fall down."
"Could you just hold me for a minute first, Ced?"
"Sure. Come here."
Cedric wrapped his arms around the smaller man, squeezing him tight.
Into his shoulder Casey said, "I know I keep saying this, but I'm so scared. I really love him. I don't know what I'd do without Mark."
"Mark's always kept himself in great shape. He's strong and healthy. He's made it through surgery okay, apparently. So we hope for the best."
Casey sniffled and shuddered. "Say a prayer for him, too, will you please?"
"Sure. Now, why don't you go lie down?"
"I don't want to be away too long. I'm going to set my alarm for four hours. Then will you take me back? My car's still at the hospital, you know."
"Sounds good. I need to use the john and then I'll crash here on the couch."
"You know where it is."
Despite his own worries about Mark, Cedric went to sleep almost as soon as he was horizontal on the sofa. He only woke up when Casey shook him.
"Ced, wake up! It's time to go see Mark."
"Uh, did Stan call?"
"No. We both slept for four hours. I've shaved and had a shower. You can do that, too."
"Yeah, I'd better."
Cedric went down to the car and brought his bag up. After a shave, a shower, and a change of clothes, he and Casey were ready to go back to the hospital.
"Casey, did Mark ever draw up domestic partnership papers for you guys? Your Vermont marriage isn't recognized here. I'm sure Mark, as a lawyer, would want to be prepared for contingencies like this."
"Yes, I remember when he did that. You think I should bring them?"
"Uh huh. Just in case somebody decides to be officious."
So, armed with the necessary legal documents, they set out for the hospital.
Cedric was tense as he drove, worried about Mark. He realized Casey was probably having similar feelings. Neither said much. They'd run out of chit-chat.
As they walked from the car to the entrance, Casey said, rather abruptly, "You know, I love Pops. But when my Mark wakes up, I want my face to be the first one he sees. Is that so terrible?"
"I can understand that."
They were told that Mark had been moved to the surgical ICU and were given directions on how to find it.
The ICU waiting room wasn't crowded. They found Max, Tim, and Doug sitting together.
After greetings were exchanged, Casey asked, "Is there any word?"
"Not yet. But Stan said to take you in as soon as you got here," Max said. "I know where the room is, so if you'll come along, I'll show you."
Casey turned to Cedric and thanked him. Then he thanked the others for being there.
When they were gone, Cedric looked at Tim and said, "You must be tired."
"Not too bad. Max and I took turns driving and we napped when we weren't behind the wheel. But if Mark's still doing well, I'm sure we'll both sleep well tonight."
"Where are you sleeping?"
"At the Greeleys'. You're invited, too."
"Oh, damn. I left my stuff at Casey and Mark's."
"No problem," Doug said. "Stan and I always use their place when we're here, but there's the couch if you can manage with that. It pulls out, you know."
"I'll be fine if I won't be in the way."
"Cedric, we're all family. Of course you won't be in the way."
Cedric looked at Tim. "Do you think the Greeleys will mind if I don't stay there? Mark's is the other direction from Indian Hill."
"You know you're welcome there. But they'll understand," Tim said. "Now, if Doug will excuse us, I want to talk with you."
A cold hand clutched Cedric's stomach. "Uh, okay. It's pretty nippy outside. You have any idea where we can talk?"
"You could try the cafeteria," Doug suggested. "I'll wait here for Stan, and I'll tell Max you two are . . . in conference?"
Tim smiled at Doug. "Max knows what I want to talk about with Cedric. But if there's any news of Mark, someone will come and find us, right?"
Cedric felt bad about leaving Doug there alone. He knew that Pops loved Doug. And he admired Doug for standing up to his bishop a few years back by picketing the diocesan headquarters. The Brotherhood had gone from Ohio to Florida to support him at that time.
They got coffee and found a table by a wall, away from most of the other people, some of whom were chatting gaily while others seemed morose. The happy ones were staff, the sad ones relatives, Cedric decided.
Tim looked at Cedric. Cedric shivered. Those green eyes could still do that to him.
"I think," Tim said, "there's something you haven't told me."
"Ced, you're not stupid. Don't pretend to be, please. You know what I'm talking about."
Cedric took a deep breath. Expelled it. He was pretty sure he knew what Tim was fishing for, but he wasn't willing to chance it.
"Give me a hint, please, Tim."
Sitting there, just the two of them, he'd almost called the man "Timmy."
"Has Trey said anything to you?"
"Not about that, no. But you forget: I know you. From the moment we arrived here this morning, I could tell by the way you looked at me that something had changed. There wasn't the polite distance in your look and demeanor. You seemed to know me. The way you knew me back then. It was partly something you emanated and partly visceral, something I felt when you looked at me."
Cedric tried to smile. "You always did see right through me."
Tim nodded in agreement. Then he asked, "When?"
"When did you get your memory back?"
"According to Angel it was just a short while after you and Max had decided to, well, you know."
"You want to tell me about it?"
"I found a bottle of Eternity in the medicine cabinet. I twisted off the cap and smelled it. And that brought it all back. Everything. I was so excited I ran over to the house and told Angel. And I wanted to call you. But she said I mustn't do that. That you and Max were together."
Tim put his hands across the table. Cedric put his hands into Tim's.
"Oh, Ced, it must have been terrible for you," Tim said, tears in his eyes.
Cedric couldn't help tearing up, too. His first thought was to be embarrassed, but then he realized that in a hospital people often held hands and cried together in their grief. And this was grief, though no one had died.
"I thought I wanted to die, Tim. When it all came back and I remembered how deliriously happy I'd been with you, thinking I'd found the perfect man for the rest of my life, I wished I'd died. Or at least that I'd never gotten my memory back."
"I'm so sorry."
"And then, after a while, I was angry. I wondered . . . ." Right then Cedric thought he should just shut up. There was no point in hurting Tim.
"Wondered what? I think I know, but I really need you to tell me."
Cedric had seldom heard Tim plead or seen that look in his eyes. He couldn't refuse.
"I wondered why you hadn't waited a while longer." Feelings he thought he'd gotten past since Trey's visit came rushing back. "It was only a few months."
Tim sighed. Then he squeezed Cedric's hands until they hurt for a moment.
"First of all, I love you. I'll always love you. But you have to know I love Max, too. And I'd loved Max for a long time. Ten years, in fact, before I met you. I have to admit if he hadn't been around, I'd probably have waited for you as long as it took. And please don't think I'm blaming Max. He acted honorably. He knew how I felt about you. But he was always there, a calm, strong, supportive presence while I was first fearful of your life and then heartbroken because you didn't remember our relationship. And the doctors kept saying they simply couldn't predict when or if you'd get your memory back. The more time it took, the less the chance of its returning."
Tim looked him straight in the eye and continued, "In my unhappiness, I turned to Max. And gave him what he'd never come out and asked for."
"We're very happy, you know. I miss what you and I had, but I'm with Max now."
"I realize that."
"The only shadow on our relationship, Cedric, is the guilt we both feel about you. Especially knowing that you have been carrying around your memories of our time together for all these years. And you never said anything."
"As Angel insisted, saying anything would only have hurt you and Max."
Tim reached across the table and took Cedric's hands. "My sweet Ced, you kept all that hurt to yourself!"
Tears streamed down both their faces.
"And honestly, Timmy, all I want now is for you and Max to be happy. What you and I had was amazingly special. But for reasons that neither of us could control, it's over. I understand that."
"Can you forgive me?"
"Given what's happened, of course I can."
"We'd better get back," Tim said, standing. "Can I have a hug?"
Tim grinned. "Yeah, if they don't like it, fuck `em."
"Professor! Such language!"
As they embraced, he noticed that Tim wasn't wearing Eternity any more. His aftershave was faint by this time in the day, but it was definitely a fragrance Cedric didn't recognize.
When they got back to the ICU waiting room, Max was there.
He smiled. "I can tell you've had your talk. Are things better now?"
"Yeah," Cedric and Tim said together.
Max held his arms open for a hug, and Tim shoved Cedric into them.
"Tim'll tell me about it later, but I'm pretty sure he and I need to thank you as well as tell you we're sorry we hurt you."
"Water under the bridge, Max. Just promise me one thing."
"You don't know yet what I'm asking."
Max held Cedric at arm's length and looked him in the eye. "Yes I do. You want me to promise to take care of Tim and make him happy."
Cedric laughed. "That's exactly right."
"Great. I want you both to be happy. Now, any word about Mark?"
"Yes. Just now." It was Doug who'd approached their little group. "He's awake, but probably won't be for long. They said Stan and Casey could each spend five minutes with him if he didn't go back to sleep."
"That's good news, isn't it?"
"The nurse I talked to seemed to think so."
The long-term prognosis was good. The short-term one, less so. Mark would be in the hospital for quite a while. He would begin therapy before he was allowed to go home. Then there would be a period when he couldn't work, when Casey or someone would have to get him back and forth to therapy. It would be a long time before he could drive again. And he didn't have a car, since his had been destroyed in the accident.
As he drove home on Sunday afternoon through a cold November rain, Cedric regretted that he'd never actually seen Mark. Even though he'd had periods of lucidity, the medical folk were only allowing Casey and Stan to see him.
The weekend was a muddle of driving back and forth to the hospital, to Casey and Mark's condo, to the home of Chaz's parents, the Greeleys. It might have been something like a reunion if there hadn't been the constant awareness of Mark, badly injured, drugged out of his mind to control the pain.
And then there had been his heart-to-heart with Tim. Finally he felt some release. You couldn't dislike Max. He was a good man . . . and he made Tim happy.
Closure was an overused word, but Cedric was optimistic that he could now truly move on. He'd probably never find anyone to love as much as he'd loved Tim, but one never knew. Maybe now that he was in Colby rather than Kent, lightning could strike again.
When he pulled into the parking basement under his building, he remembered that his cell phone had been in the console recharging the whole weekend.
After he killed the ignition and unfastened his seatbelt, he took it out, unplugged it, and turned it on.
He had nine voice messages, all but one of them from Jay.
"Oh, shit! I should have let him know where I was."
He took his bag out of the back of the car, slung it over his shoulder, and went toward the elevator. Feeling guilty. And resenting that he felt guilty.
If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim