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Bryan, Part II

Mike and Bryan were now finishing their freshman year of high school and excitedly looking forward to the summer vacation that was only days away. Summer, for them, meant all that much more time they could spend with each other. Of course, for their parents, it meant "summer jobs," but the two of them had already worked out a plan with Mr. Springer, who owned the local grocery store, that allowed them both to work the same shift. This way, they could spend nearly every waking hour together. Now, for some couples, this would really seem like too much, but the boys had a true connection, a very strong love, and an intense, burning need for each other. This need allowed them to focus completely on each other and still remain totally happy. It seemed as if they'd found that kind of love that people search for all their lives that most never find. And with three months of each others' company facing them, who knew how much stronger that love could get?

Bryan and Mike began this summer the same way they had last summer, spending all of their time together. The difference was that this summer, they were working on something bigger than either of them and much more powerful than their simple friendship. Every day, they worked their six-hour shifts for Mr. Springer and then spent all evening and many nights in each others' arms. They felt safe and secure when they were together. It felt like each could rely on the other for protection against anything that might come their way. They truly had become one mind, inseparable, symbiotic. Each felt empty and lost if the other was not around, for they had grown so much in love that they had forgotten what it was like to be alone, and they'd forgotten how to cope in the desolate world where "together" was a word no one understood.

But, one of them would be forced to walk through that desert again soon enough.

The warning signs came on very slowly, very inconspicuously, but they came on, nonetheless. One evening in early July, after the guys had done their time for Springer, they decided to go out to the movies and then to an all-night coffee shop for mochas, which had kind of become their "thing" recently. (Every couple has "a thing," ya know...) While the boys were sitting at the coffee shop, Bryan noticed Mike acting rather strangely.

"Mike?"

"Huh? Yeah?"

"Hon, you seem like you're a little, I dunno, out of it tonight. Are you feeling all right?" In all the time the two had known each other, Bryan had never seen Mike so non-responsive. He hadn't laughed once during the movie, and since they'd been at Joe's Coffee Shop, he'd said maybe two words. Bryan felt he had a reason to worry.

"I'm really tired for some reason, and I've been feeling kinda sick today, ya know?"

"Well, why didn't you say something? I thought maybe you were losing interest in me or something and you didn't want to tell me. Let's go on home so you can go to sleep. Maybe you'll feel better in the morning." Well, this was a relief. An illness they could deal with, but there was no way Bryan could survive if Mike left him.

"All right, but are you sure you wouldn't be mad or something if we went home?"

"Of course I wouldn't be mad. If you're sick, you need to go to sleep. There will always be other nights we can do stuff, ya know?"

By the time the "dynamic duo" made it home, Mike looked bad and felt even worse. His skin had become quite pale and he was visibly discomfited. Bryan decided that, as usual, he would stay with Mike to make sure he was all right, but this time there was no argument about who would have the bed because their relationship had progressed far beyond that kind of thing. "I'm sure you'll feel better in the morning," Bryan assured somewhat weakly.

Bryan fought his need to sleep that night so he could watch Mike and get him anything he may need. As it turned out, Mike didn't need much of anything all night except a glass of water once at about three in the morning when he woke up warm and sweating.

When morning came, Mike wasn't any better at all; in fact, he was quite a bit worse. After being awakened by the alarm clock, Mike moaned that he was still very tired and that he felt extremely warm, and Bryan confirmed that Mike did indeed have a fever again, or perhaps, still. The two boys had snuck in the night before so as not to bother Mike's parents, so they didn't know their son wasn't feeling well. "Hon, I'm kinda worried now. We need to let your parents know how bad you're feeling. Maybe you need to see a doctor or something. You're never sick like this."

"I'll be all right, Bry, it's just the flu or something, but I don't think I'm gonna go to work today. Will you tell Mr. Springer that I'm sick?"

"Sure, babe, whatever. But listen, you need to tell your mom and dad what's goin' on. Let one of them decide if you should go see a doctor." Mike mumbled some sort of agreement before falling fast asleep again.

With that, Bryan went home to get ready for work. All day at work, though, he felt a hollow, lonely feeling inside, like something was gone, yet it wasn't. Not because there was any lack of customers, not at all, but because he couldn't look over his shoulder and see Mike standing there smiling at him in that way that always made his heart melt. Bryan spent his entire shift worrying, frantically watching the clock, as if it alone held the fate of the entire universe in its methodically moving hands.

By the time Bryan was allowed to leave, all he could think about was getting over to Mike's to make sure he had gotten better during the day. But, when Bryan got back to Mike's house that afternoon, he found Mrs. Hughes alone in Mike's room. "Where's Mike?" Bryan demanded a bit too harshly. Mrs. Hughes didn't seem to notice the rudeness, however, because she was lost in thought somewhere.

"What? Oh, Bryan! It's, ummm, good to see you." Neither boys' parents knew what was really going on with their sons, but the boys were still the best of friends, so it was only natural for Bryan to come over to talk to his friend, especially knowing that he was sick and all. "Mike's been asking for you. He's at the hospital." Bryan watched as Mrs. Hughes' demeanor suddenly changed from one of cool detachment to one of complete distress. "He ... uh ... he wasn't feeling well this morning, so I took his temperature, and, well, it was pretty high, so I called Dr. Wyse and told him that Mike was feverish and about how he'd woken up last night hot and sweaty, and he ... uhhh ... he said I should take him to the ... hospital for some … tests." She began to cry softly.

"Oh, Mrs. Hughes, c'mon, I'm sure it's nothing. I'm sure Dr. Wyse was just being cautious; it's probably routine. I bet Mike'll be coming home today, tomorrow at the latest." Bryan's apparent confidence, though, was only a show for Mrs. Hughes. Inside, deep down, he was far more terrified about Michael Aaron Hughes' condition than anyone would ever know.

"Bryan, they think he may have ... I mean, some of the symptoms are there ... It looks like, well, they're testing him for ... HIV."

It took Bryan a minute to digest that new piece of information, and when he did speak, his words finally betrayed the true sense of urgency he felt. "No, that's not possible. I mean, it … it can't be." Bryan lost the ability to control himself as he began to consider the possibilities. "There's no way. There's no way in hell!"

"Bryan, please, calm down." Mrs. Hughes reached out to hug him, but she missed her target, as he had already walked out the door.

He couldn't think clearly. Hell, he didn't want to think clearly. All he wanted to do was crawl under a rock and wait there until he was sure there was nothing wrong with Mike. How could the doctors possibly think he has AIDS? They don't know what they're talking about! Mike is too young, too alive, too damned beautiful to end up like that! Tears stung Bryan's eyes as he drove aimlessly and mindlessly around Manchester, avoiding going to the hospital just yet. No, not yet. He couldn't handle it yet. He didn't want to handle it yet. First, he had to convince himself that the tests the doctors had performed would come back negative. He had to make himself believe that Mike was going to be just fine before he could even think about going to see him. There was no way he was going to show Mike anything but that self-assured smile he always had. Mike deserved that; hell, he deserved so much more than that. This is crazy. This is absolutely ridiculous. There's no way Mike could have HIV. How would he have gotten it? The only person he's ever slept with his me, he doesn't get exposed to blood, he never uses drugs, except for that one time last year at Shelly's party, but that was just pot. There wasn't any ... wait, oh my God, there was. There was. Oh, God, no, there was! There was needle used that night! I remember now. Oh, please no! Please don't make Mike pay for one mistake with his life! Bryan didn't know what to do next. He wanted to go to the hospital, rush into Mike's room, grab him and take him away somewhere where nothing could harm him, but he knew he couldn't do that. At the very least, he wanted to assure his boyfriend that no harm was coming to him, that the doctors were only examining possibilities and that there was no need to worry. Somehow, though, Bryan didn't think that was it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew what was coming. He knew that the two of them had lived far too happily over the last year to have this all turn out to be some big mistake. And that wasn't fair. It really wasn't.

Eventually, Bryan made it into the hospital and found Mike in his room with Mr. Hughes by his bed. Mike looked pretty bad, bruised in several places, with tubes all over the place and various medical instruments measuring this or that, beeping or ticking, and all of them attached to him somewhere. It was as if Mike weren't even a real person but a machine, an integral part in the inner-workings of this contraption.

"Mike?"

"Bryan! Man, what took you so long to get here? My mom said you left our house almost two hours ago. I was gettin' kinda worried, you know."

"Well, ummm, I was just out drivin' around."

"Hey, Dad, could you go see if the doctors'll let me have some crackers or something? I'm pretty hungry all of a sudden." Mr. Hughes nodded briskly and walked out the door, almost jogged, searching for a doctor who could answer his son's question. It wasn't until he was sure his dad was out of earshot that Mike began talking again. "Listen, I know Mom told you about the HIV thing, and I know you don't believe it's possible, but the doctors already seem pretty sure about it. I ... uhhh ... I don't really know what to think or feel right now, so I need you to think and feel for me. I don't wanna die, of course, but what scares me even more than that is that, well, you may have it, too. I mean ..." He couldn't finish his sentence because the lump in his throat that had been swelling since his dad had left the room finally overcame him and he broke down in tears. "Bryan, man, if you ... you know, if you got it, too ... please don't hate me. Please ... I didn't mean to … I didn't know …" The uncertainty in Mike's voice betrayed everything everyone ever knew about that boy. He wasn't one to beg, and he certainly wasn't one to be unsure of himself, yet he was both here in front of his soulmate. He knew that he wouldn't be judged here, not by him.

"Mike, listen to me for a minute, okay?" Bryan was trying so hard to remain calmly detached, to act without the hindrance of emotion, to be the "voice of reason" in this room. "The doctors haven't figured it out for sure yet. It could be anything. You understand? Anything. So, the way I figure it, we shouldn't be all upset or anything, 'cause we don't know what we're up against. But, let me tell you one thing: no matter what it is, I'm here with you forever. I couldn't hate you for anything in the world." Mike reached up to hug his friend, his companion, but the tubes and ties holding him down kept him from moving more than a foot, which for some reason brought him great pain, not physically, but emotionally, because, to Mike, it represented the way his life was going to be from here on out: chained and restricted. Seeing that Mike wanted a hug, though, Bryan reached down and embraced the boy, wishing he could send some of his own life force into Mike's body. Bryan, too, saw this is as the future, but he dared not admit this to Mike. "It'll be all right, Mike. I promise. I promise. And, Mike … Don't ever forget how much I love you."

Sleep didn't come easily that night for Bryan. He'd begged the doctors, pleaded with them, to allow him to sleep there in the hospital with his friend, believing that he could somehow make a difference in the way things were, but "policy is policy," the doctors had said. So, reluctantly, Bryan had gone home at the close of visiting hours, skipped his family's dinner and gone to his room to figure out what to do next. Calm down, Bryan. We don't know for sure yet what he's got. It may be nothing, nothing at all. Try as he might, though, the young man could not convince himself to believe that the best would yet prevail. As a result, he tossed and turned most of the night, and the sleep that he did get was filled with unpleasant dreams of sadness and death. So when morning came, Bryan was relieved, at least, that the dreams would not haunt him then, but he was also very anxious for word of Mike's condition. He expected to hear from Mike today about the blood tests.

Bryan decided against going in to work that morning, feeling that it would be best to be home in case Mike called, so he let Mr. Springer know some of the situation, and the old man seemed to understand and sent his best wishes to Mike and his family. Of course, no one's "best wishes" could actually help anyone, especially not Mike, but the thought was nice all the same.

The next few hours seemed like years as they dragged by. Bryan couldn't recall ever having spent so long passing so little time in his life. No matter what he tried to do, it seemed like time had it in for him on this day, and once again, he blamed the clock on the wall for its menacing torture. Bryan spent every bit of energy he could call up from reserves trying to keep his mind on anything but his companion lying on that bed in that cold, white room alone and afraid, but nothing he did seemed to work. For a short while, he believed he could relax himself watching television, but the wholly unenthusiastic performance by these actors held Bryan's attention for only a few minutes, and then his mind was racing one more time. Come on, Mike. You gotta call me. You gotta let me know what's going on.

And almost two hours later, at eleven-thirty, the phone did finally ring, and Bryan nearly set a new world's record getting to the phone. It would have made the Olympic Sprinting Committee proud.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Bry, it's me. I'm, ummm, glad you answered the phone yourself. Could you maybe come to the hospital? I need to, ya know, talk to you."

Bryan wasn't sure to make of this. Either Mike had really wonderful news and wanted to deliver it in person, or he had very bad news and felt Bryan should hear it first hand from him, so he hesitantly responded, "Sure, no problem, I'm on my way."

With that, Bryan raced off to the hospital, to Mike. But, when he opened the door to Mike's room, he could tell immediately that things weren't "all right, " like he had promised they would be. Both of Mike's parents were there, as was his younger sister, Anna, and there was not a face in the room that displayed anything but grief and fear. As soon as Mike saw that Bryan had come, he asked his family to step outside for a minute, which they begrudgingly did.

"Mike, why does everyone look so upset? It can't be that …" Bryan couldn't finish his sentence because of the tear that was rolling down Mike's angelic face. That one tear that told volumes would be enough to break Bryan apart, for he knew very well where that tear had come from.

"Bry, listen. I wanted you to come here, ya know, so I could tell you face-to-face. I …" He paused for a moment, either to catch his breath or to gather every bit of strength he had, Bryan wasn't sure which. "I have it. They're sure now."


To be continued...

Author's Note:

Those of you who have been chatting with me since Bryan was just a concept know that I had intended for the story to be in three parts. But, here we are at the end of part two, and we're nowhere near the end of the story. It looks now like Bryan will be a short story in six parts rather than three. Once I got started on this project, I didn't want to let it go. I've grown rather attached to the dynamic duo.

Also, when the story is complete, whenever that is, I will be putting together hard copies to send out for some people that have requested them. If you think you may want one, let me know. And, as always, keep reading; it's a good habit.


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