"Oh God, Mike..." That was all Bryan could get out before the reality of the situation hit him like a speeding train. To know that the one he loved and had loved for so long would have his life cut unfairly short by a disease that knew no boundaries was more than the young man could bear. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the cloud Bryan had been riding on for over a year had all but dissipated. No longer was this couple invincible; no, now they were all too vulnerable.
"Bry, listen, there's something else we have to worry about, too. What about you? We gotta make sure you didn't get it from me."
Bryan hesitated. "I don't care if I got it from you. Fine. It doesn't matter 'cause if I can't have you, then I don't wanna be here anymore." Bryan was no longer able to hide the tears from Mike, so he let them freely flow. He meant what he'd said, though. At that moment, nothing mattered to him but Mike, so whether or not he had HIV really didn't impact him in the least. And it was at that moment, in the hospital with Mike, that Bryan first began to lose faith in the world and abandon hope for the future.
"Bryan, hon, that's really sweet and everything, really, but it's not very smart. The doctors are already trying to take care of me; there's nothing more we can do for me, but maybe there's something we can do for you. But, you have to go see Dr. Wyse. You have to get tested, Bry, you have to. Please." Mike locked Bryan in a hypnotic gaze with his ice blue eyes and communicated all the love in the world through that one stare. More than love, though, Bryan realized he saw something else in Mike's eyes, something he had never seen there before and something he would never see again: fear. Genuine, complete fear. It was at that point that Bryan first realized that Mike had been acting terribly brave and detached about this whole thing, but his eyes offered testimony against that cold exterior. As "fearless" as this boy was trying to look, Bryan knew now that underneath it all, he was as afraid as anyone in his situation should be. It seemed ironic that a mere day ago, Mike was the frantic one and Bryan was the one who had to hold everything together, but faced with the worst news anyone could ever hear, Mike was finding a new strength somewhere. Bryan began to feel inadequate as he realized that his boyfriend needed him to keep fighting for them when he didn't really feel up to the task.
"Mike, I'm really scared. I don't want to go get tested; I don't want to know. I mean, there's really only been a couple of times that we've done anything that might be dangerous. I think I should just worry about you and make sure you're all right."
"Look, Bryan, I'm scared, too, ya know, but I already told you there's nothing we can do for me right now, the doctors are working on that. We need to make sure you're okay, though. I need to know that you're going to live after I ... you know ..."
"Don't say that! Don't talk about how you're gonna die and how I have to live after that and shit like that! You are not gonna die! They're gonna find a treatment for you, Mike; they will! There's no way in hell --"
"No! You're not gonna lay there and tell me that I'm being stupid and to accept the fact that you could be gone at any time! Even if they don't find a treatment for you, you could live for years! Now, dammit, cut the shit, Mike! You think that just because you've got HIV it means you're as good as dead? You think it means we may as well put you in the ground now?" Bryans body began to shiver either in fear or fury, and he felt powerless to stop it. This is ridiculous! I cant believe hes going to sit there and act like this! If I didnt love him so much, Id kill him myself right now! Doesnt he understand what it does to me to see him pretty much just give up on life in a matter of hours? God, just a couple of days ago, the whole world was ours and we were masters of all we survey. Now, I feel like Im giving a eulogy! Bryan rose from his blue "plush" chair and began to pace around in the rather small hospital room.
"Bryan, baby, calm down, please and listen to me. Yeah, I could live for years or I could live for months. We don't really know which, though, do we? I don't want to die, Bryan, but I am I going to accept what's happening to me so I can live whatever may be left of my life in happiness."
"Mike, come on! You're fifteen years old! You sound like you're about fifty or something! You're supposed to be a teenager! You're not supposed to have to worry like this about whether or not you're gonna live to do what you want to do! And, how the hell can you sit there and be so calm? It's really bothering me, ya know? It's almost like you don't even care! Like you've just decided that you're gonna die and there's nothing you can do about it so you're just giving up!"
"Don't care? How could you even think that I don't care? Bryan, how do you think it makes me feel to know what's going to happen to me and what may end up happening to you? And the only reason I sound like I'm fifty is because I'm trying to be reasonable about this! And I'm trying to be strong for you! Dammit, Bry, I love you more than I love life itself, and I don't ever want to leave you, but we need to face facts here. I've got HIV, and, eventually, it's going to kill me. Don't think I'm not gonna fight it 'cause I will; I'm not gonna go down easily, Bryan, but we gotta be realistic about it, all right? And we have to make sure you are okay. Okay? Come on, just do this for me."
"All right, Mike, I'll get tested for you if you try not to give up. Don't accept anything. There's no reason to think you won't live for a long time, right? I mean, a lot of people live for a really long time after they get HIV. All they gotta do is find a treatment that works for you. So, you don't give up, and I'll make sure I'm okay. Deal?"
Bryan leaned over and gave Mike a kiss and then sat down and the chair to watch his boyfriend. Mike looked so tired as he lay there; he must not have slept at all the night before. Bryan couldn't believe that it had been a year since he and Mike had gotten together, and several years since they'd become best friends. The time he'd spent with Mike had been the best years of Bryan's life. He'd never had a friend that he could talk to like Mike. He'd never known anyone who was so understanding and caring. Mike was such an angel, a saint, and Bryan had always considered himself lucky for having a friend like Mikey.
The two boys had been in the fifth grade when theyd met, right after Bryan had moved to Manchester. By the luck of the draw, not only had they been neighbors, but they had also ended up in the same fifth grade class, Mr. Snodgrass', or as the class had called him, Mr. Snotface. On the first day of school that year, Bryan hadn't known anyone at all and had felt very much out of place in his new school, but Mike, recognizing Bryan as the new kid next door, immediately began to make Bryan feel comfortable. They sat next to each other in class and at lunch and played together at recess. It wasn't long before they did absolutely everything together, and they were soon labeled by the school as "best friends," even though neither of the boys really had any idea yet what it meant to be a "best friend," but time would teach them that life-lesson soon enough. For now, it was enough just to laugh together and be in ignorant bliss.
As time passed, though, and the boys learned to lean on each other in many situations, they gained a good deal of understanding of the idea of friendships. In sixth grade, they spent time at the school dances together making fun of all the girls who wouldn't dance with them, saying this one was too fat anyway, or that one was too ugly, or that one had bad breath and worse hair. By seventh grade, though, the boys had matured greatly. Instead of making fun of girls who wouldn't dance with them, they spread rumors about those girls all around the school. But, eighth grade brought whole new vistas for the boys sports. Neither of the guys made any of the teams they tried out for, but that didn't keep them from enjoying the sporting contests all the same. They had great fun throwing eggs and toilet paper on the fields just hours before the games. And then, the summer before their freshman year, their friendship had taken a turn down a different path, a path towards love.
After a few minutes of silence, Bryan spoke up, "You need to rest. Go to sleep. I'm gonna go home and talk to Mom and Dad, if that's okay with you. But I'll be back a little later, okay?"
"You don't have to come back, Bry, I'll be all right."
"I'll be back."
Bryan slowly left Mike's room, not sure exactly what he felt but knowing very well that it wasn't good. After carefully closing the door behind him, Bryan broke down and cried. Despite his promise to Mike to get tested, Bryan was terrified at the concept. What would his mother and father say if he ended up having AIDS? How would the rest of family feel, especially if they knew how he got it? Bryan knew that his family, one of strictly conservative and very religious background, would not well accept his situation. He had on many occasions considered "coming out" to his parents, but he always chose not to for fear he would be completely rejected by them. How can I had it from them if I get AIDS, though? How in the world can I keep them from figuring it out then? But, this was not the time to worry about himself, Bryan realized, because it was Mike who was stuck in the hospital and it was Mike who was caught now in a struggle for his life.
By the time Bryan got home, he had already decided pretty much what he was going to tell his parents and he'd managed to slow down the crying enough to hide it reasonably well. No sooner had Bryan walked through the door than his mother ran up to him in a near panic. "How's Mike?" The concern his mother seemed to feel was almost overwhelming.
"Where's Dad? I don't wanna do this twice."
"He's upstairs in the office. I'll go up and get him, okay?" His mother spoke rather slowly, understanding already creeping into her voice since Bryan had already prepared his mom and dad for this possibility the night before. Bryan regarded his mother for a moment. She was a fairly short woman, measuring just over five feet tall, but she made up for her lack of height in the way she carried herself. She was a supremely confident individual, not arrogant, just confident. She looked and felt every bit a success, and that she was. Her legal career had skyrocketed her to local fame, and her political aspirations were known to all. The Republican party, locally, held her in very high regard.
"Sure," was all he said.
Bryan paced back and forth in the kitchen of his home for those brief moments while his mother was gone, trying to reassure himself that he could sit them down and tell them everything and that he was strong enough to do it.
As his mother and father came down the stairs, Bryan mused that they probably already had an idea what he was going to tell them, so it might be easier to just say, "Everything you think is true," and be done with it. That way he wouldn't have to say the words, and as long as he could get away with that, maybe he wouldn't cry again today. In truth, though, he knew he couldn't do that. He at least owed it to his parents to tell them everything rather than force them to play guessing games with themselves. As the three of them sat down in the living room, Bryan in the easy chair and Mom and Dad on the couch, the young man again was a bundle of nerves.
"Ummmmm..." Bryan didn't even know now how to begin, and all the courage he had built up left him as he saw the looks of worry on his parents' faces. They already knew what the answer was going to be; they didn't really need to be told. If they were this concerned over Mike, imagine how they'd feel if they knew that Bryan may have contracted the disease as well. "Ummm...The doctors are pretty sure now. They tested him and all, and Mike came up HIV positive."
"Oh, dear God. I'd hoped it would be something else, anything else."
"I know, Mom, me too. But now we can't hope for that anymore, I guess."
Bryan's father just sat there shaking his head in disbelief. Neither of Bryan's parents knew of Mike's one experience with IV drugs, of course, so they couldn't even began to imagine how he'd gotten it.
"And, well," Bryan continued, "that's really not all of it. See, ummmm, Mike and I ... We, uhhhh..." Bryan was no longer sure he could tell them everything. When he saw the tears building up in his mom's eyes because of Mike, he knew he couldn't subject her to more worry needlessly. So, although part of him wanted to declare his undying love for Mike right here and right now, the better part of him chose not to. Not just yet, anyway.
"What, Bryan? You and Mike what?" Goodness. Bryan's dad wasn't going to let this one go.
"We, uhhhh, we were, well, we are, really good friends, ya know, so, ummmm, this whole thing is really bothering me, a lot. I'm really scared and worried for Mike, ya know. It's really a problem for me." Oh, that was convincing. Why not just say, "Uhhhh Mike and I are guys?"
"Oh, honey, we know you guys are best friends. We understand this must be really hard for you, but you have to remember that AIDS is a disease just like any other. There are treatments for it, ways to lessen the pain. It's not like everything has to change all of a sudden because of it."
"Yeah, I know, but we learned in biology last year about how some people aren't receptive to HIV treatments, and I'm worried about what may happen if Mike is one of those people."
"Well, Bryan," now it was Bryan's father's turn to speak, it seemed, "we shouldn't even think about that right now. Let's keep thinking that Mike will be all right, okay? Let's pray to God that he'll be all right."
"Yeah. Listen, I just came home to let you guys know what was happening; I'm gonna head back there. Is that okay?"
"Sure, honey, that's fine. Listen, do us a favor, though. Give Mike our best. Tell him we're praying for him."
"All right. I will."
And, of course, he did. Mike's reaction, however, was not exactly what Bryan had expected. "I wonder if they'd 'pray' for me if they knew how I got it. I wonder why they haven't asked, but mostly, I wonder if they'd give me 'their best' if they knew that I may have given AIDS to their son."
"Mike, my parents love you. They look at you like one of their own kids, man. They're not gonna care how you got it. All that's gonna matter to them is that you're sick and they wanna help you."
"Are you sure about that, Bry? I mean, are you really sure? 'Cause I'm not. I'm not even sure how my parents are gonna take it, much less how yours are."
"What do you mean 'are gonna take it?' Are you planning on telling them? I mean, about us?" Bryan knew he'd wanted to tell his parents, but he hadn't been able to do it, and he wasn't sure he wanted Mike getting the ball rolling.
"Well, I kinda have to now, dont ya think? I mean, if I don't tell 'em, and you end up getting HIV or something, they're gonna make the connection themselves. I think we probably should just tell them ourselves and get it over with."
"I guess you may be right, " Bryan sighed, "but I'm really worried about telling my parents. I was gonna tell 'em this afternoon when I went home, ya know, but I saw how worried they were for you and I didn't wanna make them worry like that for me."
"Well, I guess I can understand that, maybe, but I really feel like it's time to tell them what's been going on. But, I think we should tell them together. I mean, it'll probably go better if we're there in one group, ya know, so they can all see how much we care about each other. That'll make it easier on them, I bet."
Bryan merely nodded his agreement, as he was already lost in thought, imagining the worst possible outcome of what Mike proposed. What if Mike was right and his parents did end up taking it badly? What then? Would they demand that Bryan never see Mike again? Would they make his life hell until he was able to move out? The possibilities were endless.
"Okay, then," Mike went on, "as soon as I'm outta here, then we tell them. Agreed?"
"Don't forget you gotta get tested."
"I know. I will don't worry about it."
As it turned out, it was a week later that Mike came home for the first time, and the doctors hadn't really come up with a combination of drugs yet that they felt would help Mike out, but they were experimenting as much as they could to find the right set. That whole week that Mike had been stuck in that prison, Bryan had been there every day lending whatever support he could, trying to be positive on the outside while on the inside feeling none of the serenity he was displaying.
Bryan had hoped against hope that Mike had forgotten about his plan for the boys to illuminate fully the situation for their parents, but unfortunately, Mike had done no such thing. Two days after Mike came home from the hospital, at his insistence, the six of them were sitting in Bryan's living room for an "important discussion." It was Mike who spoke first, probably because he knew the adults in the room would be much less harsh with him than they would be with Bryan.
"Ummm...I've got everything I wanna say all planned out; I sorta memorized it. I just want you guys to let me finish what I'm gonna say before you say anything, okay?" Each parent voiced his or her approval.
"Okay. First of all, no one has asked me how I think I got HIV, and I've been trying to figure out why. Even you," Mike nodded his head towards his mother and father, "haven't said a word. Well, I know you're all wondering it anyway, so I may as well tell you what I think. Okay. About a year ago, a little more, I guess, Bryan and I went to a party at some girl's house. Well, while we were there, this guy named Justin offered us some drugs."
"Oh, Mike, please don't tell me ..." Mrs. Hughes began before Mike shot her a rather stern look, indicating that he'd like for her to be quiet until he was done like they'd all agreed to.
"Bryan didn't take any, and he tried to talk me out of taking any, too, but I did. First, I just smoked a little pot, but then I took some drug, I don't even know what it was, but it was an IV drug. I don't know how many other people had used that needle, but I know I wasn't the first one. Anyway, that's the only thing I can think of. That was the only time I ever did anything like that, but I guess all it takes is one time if the 'one time' is also the 'wrong time.'" Mike spoke very quickly through that section, Bryan observed, probably because he was so nervous about it.
"But, that's not all of it. Mom, Dad, Mr. and Mrs. Baines, Bryan and I ... well, we're, ummmm, more than just friends. For about a year now, we've been ... ummm ... well ... boyfriends."
It was Bryan's mother that spoke first, but only after several seconds of silence. "Bryan...?" She was looking to son for some sort of confirmation, obviously wanting very much to doubt what she'd just been told. All Bryan offered as a response was a small nod of his head. Mrs. Baines, however, wasn't finished yet. "My God ... Have you two ...?" Again, Bryan nodded his response, not wanting to speak for fear his voice would crack and show weakness. Instead, he showed strength by taking Mike's hand in his own. Mrs. Baines continued as all the pieces of the past year began to fall into place, painting a very discomforting picture. This time, though, her statements were directed not to her son but to Mike. "But ... If you have AIDS, and you two have ... you know ... then, you may have given it to Bryan!" Hysteria had set in. "You may be killing our son right now!"
Mr. Hughes, Mike's often silent father, didn't appreciate the tone of voice in which Mrs. Baines had addressed his son, apparently. "Wait just a minute, Ruth. Now, I'm not saying I accept or condone what these boys have done, but it's hardly fair of you to accuse Mike of killing your son! Mike is the one with AIDS, dammit! Whatever they've ... done ... they've chosen to do together. Neither one of them knew Mike would end up in this situation, so I can't see how you can blame either of them if, God forbid, Bryan has it, too."
"Please, Mrs. Baines," Mike was pleading with her for understanding, "please, I didn't know this was gonna happen. I don't want anything like this to happen to Bry, and if I'd known I was gonna get AIDS, I'd never have gotten near him. Please believe that I didn't do this on purpose. I couldn't ever do anything that would hurt him. Dammit, don't you see? I love him too much." The moment he said those words, the regret was written all over his face like pages out of a book. He knew at that moment that everything would go horribly wrong.
"Well, Michael, sometimes it doesn't really matter what our intentions are. You know what they say about the road to hell." Bryan's mother would not let up. It seemed like she was out for blood, like she was some vicious creature of the night who was lost to all forms of reason, logic, and compassion.
Finally, Bryan spoke up. "Stop it! Stop it, all of you! I don't have HIV. I got tested. Before you ask me, Mike, I got tested the second day you were in the hospital. I just found out today that it came back negative. I guess if you aren't in the hospital, they take their time with your tests. So, we can stop talking about anyone murdering anyone else, okay? Mike is the one who's sick and no one seems to care about that. Okay? I'm fine. Now, can we move on to something of much greater importance, like Mike?"
"I don't think there's anything else to talk about," Bryan's mother persisted. "I think what we have here are one victim and one very irresponsible boy. I'm glad to hear that my son didn't get HIV, but I still don't excuse Michael's behavior. He endangered my son, and now he sits there and acts as if he cares. If you cared, Mike, you'd have listened to Bryan when he told you not to use drugs, but you didn't. And now you're paying for it."
"I agree." It was the first thing that Mr. Baines had said all night, but it was more than enough.
"Now both of you just wait a damned minute here. How dare you speak about my son like that!" Mike's mother was coming to her son's defense as if her own life were dependent upon it. "Mike made a mistake, yes, and it was a terrible one. But have you both forgotten that he's going to pay for that mistake for the rest of his life? And how could you possibly see Bryan as the victim here? He's going to live, damn you!"
"I think the three of you should leave."
"Mom, stop it!"
"Bryan, I don't want to hear it. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, please take your son and go home."
Mrs. Hughes tried a more friendly approach. "Ruth, I really think we should ..."
"I don't care what you think. I want you to leave, please."
After the Hughes family left, Bryan started to walk up the stairs to go to his room, obviously very upset about the turn of events that night.
"Bryan, wait a minute."
"Mom, I'd really rather not talk about it right now. I can't believe what you just did. I know you're upset that me and Mike didn't tell you guys what was going on sooner and all that, but you shouldn't have treated him like that. It wasn't very fair."
"Fair or not, it's what I decided. I'm not sure how to handle the fact that you're obviously gay right now, but I do know that you won't be seeing Michael again."
"You can't stop me."
"Don't talk to me like that! I said you may not speak to him again, and that's it; no more discussion! As for the rest of it, we'll talk about that later. Your father and I need to talk first."
"I don't care what you say and I don't care how hard you try, you cannot keep me from seeing Mike. I love him, and that's it; no more discussion." With that said, Bryan turned back down the stairs and ran out the door before his mother could stop him, and by the time she got out the front door to go after him, there was no trace of Bryan.
To be continued...
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