The doctor came out of his office and took Vlad with him, so I did some surfing, looking up in time to see Vlad walking towards me with the doctor behind him, looking at me, thumb to his ear and baby finger towards his mouth, the international symbol for “call me”.
I gave the boy a hug in the elevator which was empty.
“Can we talk?” Vlad asked.
“Sure, shall we go to the cafeteria?”
“Tim Horton’s. I feel like a decent cup of joe,” he said.
We hiked across the street and I got in line at the popular spot for hospital workers who were avoiding hospital cafeteria food, while Vlad found us a table. I got our order and joined him.
“So do you have any news for me from the good doctor?” I asked.
“I wish I knew. They kept asking me how I felt, and I kept telling them I feel fine. It was like there was something in it for them if I told them I felt worse. I can’t wait for next week when we take the twins to Ottawa. I want to show us a good time and say bu-bye to Ottawa for a year.”
The sky was a paler shade of grey now and the rain stopped while we were in the hospital. I guess we were both talked out from last night. We sipped our coffees and played with our donuts. I was having an anxiety attack wondering why the doctor suspiciously indicated that I needed to phone him. If it was good news, wouldn’t he just come over to tell me? Although I sucked at poker, I tried my best to put on a poker face, at least until I call him. Other than getting a call to tell me the lights and camera were in, it was a quiet ride home. Vlad held hands with me most of the way, except when I was shifting gears, then I taught him how to drive stick by osmosis. When we got home, we found a note on the bar that the others were at Kyle’s and we should come over when we get home.
“Why don’t you go over now. I have some paperwork I’ve gotta do and I will come over soon,” I said.
“Okay, see you soon,” he said, as he gave me a hug and a gentle kiss on the lips.
I phoned the doctor and started to get the same run-around that Vlad described, so I suggested we were going around in circles. If he needed to tell me something, now was the time.
“Scott, Vlad is declining pretty quickly according to the red and white cell counts. I can’t figure out why he seems happy and well. He shouldn’t be either. I know you are the one person he trusts. He must have dropped some hints. Is there any little thing you can think of that you noticed “out of place” in his life?”
“We had a swim practice yesterday and he was the first one to run out of steam but not by much. He was out of breath and he was holding his shoulder with his hand. He has asked me a couple of times that if the cancer came back, would he have to go to a hospice, or could he stay with us. I told him he was definitely staying with the guys and that I would put my degree on hold to take care of him if needed. He seems to require more affection than he used to, but that’s fine with me because he’s such a cool dude. We admitted last night that we love each other but he also told me he was scared about the results today, as he’s happier now than he’s ever been. He fell asleep with his head on my chest, crying. I guess I need to ask you for the bottom line,” I said.
“You recall when he first came to this hospital, he admitted he was in denial that the Leukemia came back. Has he mentioned that lately?”
“Actually, he did last night for the first time. he said something to the effect that he was running on empty after the weekend at the cottage, like he had a really fun time for once in his life and was now prepared to die. He didn’t want to fight it again, but something happened. He said that I went into action mode, like I actually cared about him and now he really cares about living, and is frightened it won’t be in the cards.”
“Scott, I think it’s pretty obvious he is hiding the truth from you and probably himself, too. He was adamant about feeling good today at the hospital. It’s possible with the good care and nutrition he has been getting, that the side effects of the disease are just barely starting. Shortness of breath and joint or bone pain are symptoms. Just by looking at the numbers, I would presume he has four to eight months, but he has surprised us in the past. It’s time for him to get his affairs in order. I’m obliged to offer to treat him with chemotherapy which he is opposed to. Beyond that, there’s more testing we can do like a bone marrow aspirate smear. All that is going to do, however, is track the progression of the disease. I expected him to be paler today,” the doctor said.
“He has always been pale but he’s getting an hour a day in the sun so maybe he looks healthier than he is. Tell me doctor, Vlad had some Scotch last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Would that hurt him if he had a shot every night?”
“At this point, if he enjoys it and it gives the two of you a chance to be together for awhile, I’d say it’ll help his mental outlook more than hurt him physically. You might want to search the internet to find more on his Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia so you will know what to expect. Since you are his legal guardian, it’s up to you to discuss options with him. If he wants to see me at any time, just phone me,” he said.
I felt like I had been run over by a bus. I wanted to cry, but I had so many questions in my head, the biggest of which was how to tell my little buddy he is going to die.
With my preoccupation regarding Vlad, I hadn’t noticed that Jeff and Josh had made the bar behind my desk. I don’t know how Josh did it but there were LED puck lights in the cabinet that came on when the door was dropped open. Very cool. I got some Scotch snifters from the china cabinet and took them to the library, then went out to check on the deck.
“I love the bar in the library. How did you get power to it for the lights?” I asked.
“Trade secret. Magicians never reveal theirs so I won’t either. If you want your wire pulled, just phone me,” Josh chuckled.
“Have you worked out something with James regarding a boat?” I asked.
“Yeah, well, his dad needs him to work so he suggested he drive us up and take us over. We could use the tin boat if we need to go anywhere. Would it be okay if we invited him to stay over at your cottage for some fun?”
“Hey, it’s his ass -- if it’s fine with him, go for it. I wish I could be with you guys, but I can’t be. Maybe while you are there, you could think of ways to enlarge the cottage. I’d like to have a larger master bedroom and have a two piece bathroom en-suite. A great room with a vaulted ceiling would be nice. If we are going to do all that, I want to do a complete makeover and build it right, with proper sprayed foam insulation, new windows and perhaps a propane furnace or a heat pump using lake water rather than air. While I dream on, it would be nice to have a three slip boathouse with a playroom and sun deck above. When all that’s done we can tow the bunkie to the middle of the lake and give it a Viking funeral, unless it moulders back to the soil before that time,” I chuckled.
“Anything else while we’re there?” Jeff smiled.
“Make sure the thermostat is set so the bathroom and kitchen heaters will come on if it gets cold between now and Thanksgiving. Can you have a bill ready for me today as I’ll be going to the bank tomorrow and can give you your money on Sunday or Monday -- whenever you return,” I said.
“We are leaving there early Monday morning to avoid traffic. as far as the bill goes, I’ll finish it when Josh puts another coat of lacquer on the bar, later today,” Jeff said.
“I’ll be off to Ottawa with Vlad and the twins Monday morning so I’ll put the money in an envelope in James’ dresser in his closet, if that’s okay. I’m going over to Kyle’s right now,” I said.
“It’s just me. No need to put clothes on!” I said, as I walked in.
They were watching some soccer game from England and drinking tea. Kyle always was such a classy guy. I couldn’t believe we’d be dropping him off at the ferry terminal tomorrow. We became such close friends in only a few weeks. After pouring me a tea, Kyle stirred the spaghetti sauce. It was already smelling like a gastronomical orgy for tonight.
“Aaron already helped by showing me an easy way to peel tomatoes, and get garlic ready. I guess you guys are going to miss him?” Kyle asked.
“More than you can imagine. I’m going to miss both of them,” I said.
Jesse shot me an evil look which I pretended to ignore. Danny again let everybody know how much he was looking forward to tonight.
“Brad called me this morning to make sure everything was on for tonight. We talked about a half-hour. I really like him,” Danny said as he tried to conceal his boner, failing miserably. Jesse rolled his eyes.
“Are we going to have lunch before we swim?” I asked nobody in particular.
“I made soup and sandwiches. Shall we go eat? Coming, Kyle?” Aaron asked.
We ate outside. Kyle, Jeff & Josh joined us. We washed down the tuna sandwiches with V8 juice. I laughed that if dad served it, it would have been V6. James and Danny laughed with me on that one because they remembered dad was thrifty. Robb phoned to say he would be finished work at 1:00 and to meet him at the pool around 1:10. We packed our gym bags to get ready for a swim. Jesse checked his e-mail, paid his athletics fee, and got two reminders; one was International Student Orientation on Saturday and the other one was Queer Orientation on Friday afternoon. He was about to sign out when he got an email from the book store. They wanted him to work part time as a stock boy in the athletic shop by the pool. We left early because I wanted to take the truck into FastLane to get an oil change before the Ottawa trip. Luckily they weren’t busy so we were out of there in fifteen minutes.
I picked up my card at the desk, where Robb had his laptop set up, paying his fee. With all the confusion, the others just walked into the locker room. After a quick shower, we started our informal practice. We planned two sets of forty-five minutes each with a ten minute break.
“I swear they made this pool longer since we were here,” Vlad said, between gulps of air.
As more guys were coming to swim, we modified the second part to resemble a relay race, thus hogging only three lanes. This, we figured, should help us with sprinting and starts. We all made it through the second part.
“I think I hurt my shoulder. I guess I’m out of practice,” Vlad said.
“I’ll put an ice pack on it for you when we get home, buddy,” I said, looking away.
He gave me a lateral hug with his good arm as we walked to the shower. There wasn’t any hanky-panky today because there were too many people around. We showered quickly, got dressed and piled into the Expedition’s supple tan leather seats, part of its Eddie Bauer package.
We were greeted by Jeff, packing his tools, the cedar deck now complete. Josh was in the library doing the final coat of lacquer.
“I guess I should give you your key back now because we will be out of here in a few minutes,” Jeff said, handing me the key.
We exchanged hugs. I thanked him for the excellent work, making the loft truly liveable.
“James, would you like to spend the nights with us at Scott’s cottage?” Jeff asked.
After getting the nod from me, he said he would like that.
“Twenty-four hours a day with the ‘rents is a bit much after knowing freedom. I’ll be there after nine, Friday night but can make it by six-thirty Saturday.”
“Good, you’re coming for dinner Saturday then,” Jeff said.
“You’ll probably be dessert, James,” I added.
I made an ice pack for Vlad as Josh brought down the spraying gear. We went to the library and closed the door.
“I was expecting this, Scott.”
“If you would like a Scotch, pick a bottle, any bottle and I’ll have one with you,” I said.
I poured us each some in the crystal Scotch glasses, and handed one to Vlad.
“Babes, this is the hardest thing I’ll have to do in my life. There’s no good way to give bad news. I called your doctor and basically said ‘cut to the chase’. The reason they kept asking how you felt was because your blood count shows a marked slip from your first visit. I thought you were getting better.”
He burst into tears so I wrapped my arms around him and promptly burst into tears too. We stayed like that for some time, holding each other.
“I asked the doctor if it’s alright for you to have a shot of Scotch every evening with me and he told me to do it as an excuse to spend some quality time together, so here’s to the beginning of a new tradition,” I said, reaching for my glass. “Here’s to us,” I said, choking on a lump in my throat.
“I didn’t want to admit it to myself because you guys have all worked so hard to help me. I figured if I didn’t admit it, nothing would happen. I’ve tried to ignore the tired feeling and the aches in my joints. Did he say how much time I have?”
“Those estimates can be pretty unreliable, but he did say it’s time to get your affairs in order,” I said.
“Give me a hard number, Scott.”
“Four to eight months but it’s only a guess, I said.
“I could sit around and cry which would solve nothing. It looks like I won’t get through my first year of college but I’m going to try. As far as the swim team goes, It’s painful already but I want to be on it if I’m good enough, otherwise I’ll just be at all the meets and most of the practices as an observer, because my heart is with you guys, and with the team. As far as getting my affairs in order, they pretty much are, but I have some ideas I want to discuss with you, soon. All I ask in return is that you still love me, even when I get really sick.”
“Baby, I meant everything I said last night. I want you to stay here until you think you would be more comfortable elsewhere. Let’s play it by ear. You still have the option of chemotherapy,” I said.
Vlad didn’t answer. We just cuddled and sipped our Scotch. I held his thigh, stroking it occasionally.
“If you and Ryan are going to double penetrate me, it should be sooner rather than later. Have you told the others?” Vlad asked.
“Hell, no. I didn’t even know how to tell you. If you want, I’ll tell them but could we leave it until tomorrow? I’ve had enough heartache for one day,” I said.
We finished our drinks and stood up, ready to join the world.
“Like, I’m the one who’s dying, but you look like a train wreck, Scott.”
After another hug, I suggested Vlad have a nap, and take care of himself. He went upstairs while I went down. Kyle came in asking if I could get some bread for garlic toast. I asked James if he wanted to walk to the store with me so we could talk about the boat.
Once we were away from the loft, James gave me a sideways hug.
“Vlad’s not doing well, is he? You’ve been crying, haven’t you?” he asked.
“The news couldn’t have been worse. Obviously, I didn’t get you to come with me to carry a loaf of bread. You’re going to be away tomorrow when I tell the other guys. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone, and I’m too emotionally drained to tell everyone today, plus I don’t want to screw up the evening. James, he has four to eight months, give or take. He has only begun to feel the effects like shortness of breath, joint aches, and being tired. And yes, I’ve cried a lot. When he dies, a part of me will die too. All you guys are family to me,” I said.
We went into the bakery, found the bread and saw a delicious strawberry flan which I thought would be nice. I didn’t know if Kyle had anything prepared for dessert, but if he did we could have this tomorrow night. We talked about the boat on the way home. I told him the navionics package I was interested in but said that I was open to suggestions if his dad or the boat manufacturer had a better idea. I told him we could swap boats anytime he wanted, to demo the marine electronics.
I guess I hadn’t been paying attention to the time because I was surprised to get back to PH1 to find Brad there, looking hot, in slutty short shorts and a black tank top, partying with Danny. Vlad came down just after we got back. I went over to Kyle’s to see if he was ready to host “cocktail hour”. He was just finishing with the vacuum, and asked for five minutes, so I returned to PH1 where Jesse stuffed a Cuba Libra in my hand. Adam came in from work. The introductions were made, and I confirmed with the twins that we had a meeting with Ted at the bank tomorrow at ten.
“They had a “retirement” party for me this afternoon, which is why I’m late. I got a card which they all signed, including the secretaries of the executives. Oh and these,” he said as he pulled some undies from his pocket which said “Home of the Whopper” on the front.
“I’m going to scan the card so I can write the names of the executives beside the secretary’s signatures. It will be the beginning of my time capsule,” he said.
“It’s time to go over to Kyle’s for happy hour, guys,” I said.
I introduced Brad to Kyle.
“Your loft is gorgeous, Kyle, also tidy and clean like I keep my room. Too bad you aren’t looking for a roommate because I just got notice that my landlord was converting his house back into a single family dwelling. I was in shock because I loved the old house in The Annex. He said he only had to give me 15 days notice but would give me until the end of September to vacate, and a reference because I was a good tenant,” Brad said.
Kyle gave him a sideways hug as he offered everybody a drink. Brad offered to help as Jesse rolled his eyes.
“Thanks for the offer, but Jesse is our official bartender. Come with me, Brad, and I’ll show you the rest of the place,” Kyle said.
Everything went well until Brad followed Kyle up the stairs to look at the bedroom. Danny looked upset so he went up too. We all got drinks and sat in the living area, where the three of them joined us in a couple of minutes.
“Brad, I’m from Rochester and I’m going back to college tomorrow on the fast ferry. I bought this condo here in Toronto because the price was reasonable, and wanted to invest my inheritance in real estate. Rochester is the last place I considered investing. I figured with the fast ferry, it isn’t expensive to come here even for a weekend, but the big advantage was to be free to live as a gay guy. I’m not out. Then “Houston, we have a problem” time came along. They have cancelled the ferry and put it up for sale. I talked to Scott about what I should do, like sell it, rent it, or do nothing. I realize this place would be expensive compared to a room in a rooming house. Why don’t you think about it and if you are interested, tell me what you can afford. I would only be coming over during the Christmas and March breaks, but I can stay with these guys if you want to rent it until the school year is over,” Kyle said.
Danny was boiling over with excitement at the prospect of having Brad next door.
“Brad and I were friends last year. His place was always clean and tidy any time I dropped in on him,” Robb said.
“Can I go out on your balcony, Kyle? I need some fresh air,” Brad asked.
Kyle unlocked the door for him then went to the kitchen to give the sauce a stir. I met him there.
“Tell me I’m not making a stupid mistake if I rent it. I’m sure I won’t make much money but it should pay the taxes, maintenance and he can pay the electric bill which covers the heat which I would otherwise have to pay,” Kyle said.
“Robb says he appears to be a good tenant. He can get a letter of reference from his landlord. It would be nice to see some financial records if the rent he will pay you is more than he was paying. I think you should have a formal lease so both of you know what your obligations are, and if you want me to be the landlord, I’ll do it. He is taking the same course as Jesse, so that, coupled with his long training sessions on the gym floor should leave him little time to get in much mischief. If Danny has his way, they will only be getting in trouble with each other. I can help out by giving you space to store your clothes when he is there,” I said.
“Can I talk to you privately, Kyle?” Brad said, when he came back inside.
“We should go back now so you guys can talk,” I said.
Danny stood there, one shoe on top of the other, pouting and sucking his thumb, cracking us all up.
“Aww cutie, don’t fret. We are just going to talk, not fuck,” Brad said.
This time it was Danny’s turn to laugh. We took the sauce and everything Kyle had sitting on the bar with us, as they sat down in Kyle’s study.
“That would be so cool if he was right next door,” Danny said.
“Yes mate, I would have someone to walk to classes with on those six out of seven days that Scott is busy with someone else,” Jesse said, making sure the sarcasm wasn’t lost on anyone.
I gave him a really hurt look but didn’t say anything back.
“I’m going to have another drink. Does anyone want anything while I’m up?” I asked, as I made my way to the bar.
Jesse followed me, hugging me from behind. That’s when I lost it, crying like a little girl. He guided me out to the terrace and hugged me face to face.
“It’s about Vlad, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “Bad news I’m afraid. Four to eight months. I was going to save it for tomorrow. I had to tell Vlad today. He’s taking it better than I am. I told James because he won’t be here tomorrow. I don’t want to ruin tonight’s festivities. Danny is so excited. I know how he feels ‘cause I felt the same way the day I met you,” I said.
Now it was Jesse’s turn to get a little damp in the eyes.
“Your remark sort of stung but I’m more upset that you don’t jerk off on my toast anymore,” I said.
That seemed to be the right thing to say because we hugged and kissed; Jesse felt amazing in my arms and the tension went away.
to be continued …