Authors: T. A. Webb
5032 Capital Circle SW
Ste 2, PMB# 279
Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by T. A. Webb
Cover Art by Paul Richmond
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 5032 Capital Circle SW, Ste 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886, USA.
Printed in the United States of America
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This book is dedicated to four people: Sam Brown, who is family to me and always will be. Talon PS, who loved me and allowed me to love him for the short time we had together—the answer is yes, each and every day. Josh W., who deserved a better life and a happy ending—I hope you found some peace. But mostly to Bernice Webb, my mother, who showed me how to love unconditionally.
always hated those authors who have a list of people a mile long to thank and think this is the Academy Awards or something. Then I wrote a book that actually was accepted for publication, and that’s when it hit me that it’s not just
book. It’s Amy Lane’s and Mary Calmes’s book, because they were the first to say I could do more than write a nice review and kept at me until I did. It’s Carol Zampa’s book because she held my hand and told me I didn’t suck and kept my focus clear. It’s Sue Brown’s book because she knew the truth. It’s Lee Brazil’s and John Goode’s book because they read it with their hearts and through the eyes of another man and made it better. It’s Laura Harner’s book because she was the last set of eyes on it before I hit “Submit” and she held my hand until the acceptance came back. And it belongs most of all to those wonderful young people in foster care I worked with who had scars and bumps and bruises on their souls, but stars in their eyes.
if praying that she wouldn’t pull out of this episode made me a terrible son. I didn’t dare breathe a word of that to anybody, but fuck it, I could stand here and by God take a minute to suffer and let my heart bleed in private. Pull all the jagged pieces of my soul together and cobble them into something resembling the man everybody knew as Mark Jennings before I had to go in and be him.
But after a few minutes and a few more deep breaths, I pulled it together. Took the piece of me that was the good son, attached it to the responsible work Mark, the peacemaker brother, the single gay man pieces. Looked at all the parts tiredly, and once they fit into something that approached a whole man, I slipped back into my skin. I took a deep breath and opened the door to Mom’s room.
Dad was there. It may have been too early for any of my brothers and sisters, but that was almost a relief. Today it would be nice just to have some time with him while I still felt so tired and raw.
“It’s good to see you, son.” He hugged me and eyed the sack I brought in from Huey’s. He loved the beignets and the muffaletta sandwiches I’d gotten into the habit of picking up for our dinner.
I handed him the bag. “You too, Dad. Looks like everything’s about the same here, huh? Thought I’d come and keep you company.”
“But I know you’re tired. I told you to go home after work and I’d call you if anything changed,” he fussed as he dug around in the bag.
“Just hush and eat. Where is everybody?” I plopped down in a chair and kicked my shoes off. I’d been at this damn hospital enough to know how to make myself comfortable.
“You’re it right now.” He plowed into the food like a hungry bear, and I knew he’d probably skipped lunch to sit with her. Again. “Patty was here earlier, and Robert. Said he and Jennifer’d be back tonight. The doctor was in today, said she may wake up tomorrow some time.”
I didn’t want to talk about that right now. More than anything, that subject threatened the fragile internal balance I’d forged, so we talked about little crap. What my day’d been like. What had to be done around the house when he made it back there.
But we also slid in some of the more important things, too. How was he holding up? Was I okay? Had I heard from Brian? Things he would share with me, the responsible son. My brothers and sisters, while I loved them, always made everything such fucking drama, and found reasons to let me handle the hard things. You know, since I didn’t have kids and a wife, or a husband, or a boyfriend. At least that’s what Brenda and Sam and Linda thought. Robert and Patty, at least, pitched in as best they could.
But it was also our way to ignore the big things without telling each other to fuck off.
“Go home,” he finally sighed. “Get some sleep. I don’t want to have to visit you in the hospital, too. You aren’t doing her any good wearing yourself out like this.” He turned that look on me that still made me want to give up my secrets like I did when I was a kid.
“Backatcha old man,” I shot back. “You know she’s gonna peel the hide off you for not taking care of yourself. And then it’s me that’s gonna catch hell for letting you stay here too long. Go home and take a shower, feed that damn cat of hers.”
“Shut the fuck up and don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” He smiled.
I love you, son.
“Hush up, you dirty old man.” I grinned back at him, using Mom’s favorite admonition.
I love you, too, Daddy
Good Southern boys always made everyone at ease and happy. Who were we to fight what was in our blood? We were pleasant, manly, and only said the hard things and showed our emotions, man to man, when we abso-fucking-lutely had to. But finally, I hugged my old man and took him by surprise when I kissed his cheek and left.
in the parking deck, alone. Nobody else was around on the whole level. My mind wandered. It touched on seeing Mom in that damned bed, still in a coma. Then to work, and all I needed to get done and hadn’t. And then to my family, bless their hearts.
But all I could think about was that damn volleyball.
It was still and quiet, and if I thought about it hard enough, I was Tom Hanks from that damn
movie, all alone on the island with nothing but the volleyball he named Wilson to keep me company. All that was missing was the water. Well, and the whole nobody around for miles thing, but that would be a relief.
I could picture a beach, and how nice it’d be to not have any of the responsibilities, any of the heartaches. I’d miss some things, of course. Indoor plumbing. Wings. Takeout Chinese. And that made me think about my dogs, Ricky and Lucy, and how they’d be begging for pieces of the mu shu. That, of course, led to how much they loved to go visit my parents’ house and run around in the yard. Then the whole tropical getaway thing just kind of faded away and left me… right back where I started.
But I’d rather be anywhere than
meant I had to deal with what was in the hospital.
meant spend one more fucking day watching my mom die a little piece at a time.
was being the rock that I always was.
I fixed things.
What I really felt like doing was screaming, “Can’t you see I’m going under?” Every step of every day felt like dragging my feet through mud. Like ghosting through the day in slow motion, where either people saw me and gave me those fucking looks of pity, or didn’t see me bleeding all over the floor.
It felt like being buried in concrete that was slowly drying around me, hardening ’til I wouldn’t have to move ever again. And I didn’t know what was worse. To show up at the AIDS service organization where I worked and pull all my wits together. Stay sharp so I didn’t make a major fuckup and some client lost his benefits. Try to ignore all the sympathetic looks and words I couldn’t afford to let in. Or open myself up and drown in them.
Was it worse to show up and try to be the dutiful son and brother and nephew? Do all the right things, say all the right words to ease everybody else’s pain. Let everyone drain me a bit more every minute of every day of what little resources I had left. Take and take and take from me and never give back.
No, to be alone during all this was the worst. Nobody there to be my rock. Nobody to hear it when I needed to talk or shout. Nobody to tell me it would be okay and hold me for just a minute so I didn’t have to go in the shower and let the hot water burn the day out of my skin so I could pretend my skin felt alive and touched again. I might’ve kicked Brian out, but fuck, wouldn’t it’ve been better to have half a relationship than the empty house waiting for me every night?
So was it any fucking wonder I sat in the car, gripped the steering wheel, and thought about being Tom fucking Hanks? That I wanted to be anybody but that man who had to see my mother suffer one more day? Yeah, dying of liver disease was a slow, cold-assed way to go. But it was just as hard on those who were waiting and being sucked dry.
But after a few minutes and a few more deep breaths, I pulled it together and said a wistful good-bye to Wilson. I lifted my head from where it had been leaning on the steering wheel, cranked the car, and made my way out of the parking deck and home.
first thing I did when got to the house was put the dogs out, then kicked my shoes off. I hated wearing shoes and was known to be barefooted in the dead of winter. Mom loved to tell the story of when she bought me my first pair of shoes as a toddler. I kicked my feet and tried to shake them off and cried. Some things never change, I guess. At least now I remembered to keep my underwear on when I ran outside for the mail.
I grabbed a beer and put fresh food and water down for the babies. The house was so quiet once the pups settled down, and I wasn’t in the mood for television. I sat there in the silence and rolled my neck to try to loosen the tightness so I could think. About tomorrow, about what would happen when Mom woke up. About Brian, for the millionth time. Shit, I needed something to make my brain stop the fucking spinning.
The sun set, and my one beer turned into three. I felt a little looser, not so itchy in my skin again. Stopped looking up for someone to walk in and break the silence. Lucy and Ricky curled up on the couch asleep. I was too awake to go to bed, but too buzzed to get dressed and go back out.
Maybe a hot shower would relax me. I stripped down, got the water as hot as I could take it, and stepped into the stall. I’d bought one of those CD players that you can hang from the towel bar and listen to music on. It felt like a Jackson Browne type of night, so “The Pretender” carried through the sound of the water as it rained down on me. I reached out of the shower stall to flick the light switch off and just breathed in some peace there in the dark of the evening.
The hot water did its magic, and the muscles in my neck relaxed, then my shoulders and chest and back. The noise in my head calmed down and I started to just concentrate on my body, reaching for something besides the grief that lived in me almost bone-deep. I rubbed the washcloth up and down my arms and chest, soaping up my nipples. The heat kept them from tightening up too much, but the friction started the blood moving south, too. Rubbing a little harder got my cock’s attention, and he decided to join the party.