Saturday, July 15, 2000

In/Exhale - February 9, 2001 - Part IV

February 9, 2001 - Part IV

After leaving Martin’s house, Kai had driven around for a long time, thinking. About Martin and how fucking unfair life was, how the kid deserved a life more than Kai did. About Madeline nee Diane and the embarrassing disaster of high school. About Renee and how long it would be before she realized he wasn’t worth it. About Art and his son and that cold cemetery. About the contract burning a hole in his wallet and how disappointed everyone--Jon and Renee and David and Dr. Miller--would be in him when he broke it. And then he thought of Allan Ohlsen, how he couldn’t shake that nightmare from this morning. The judgement in his eyes. Kai most certainly would not be who he would have picked to get his lungs if he’d had a choice.
And all the powerful emotions Kai had been trying to keep sequestered away in the back of his mind all day began flooding out. Maybe it was Allan’s ghost haunting him, or maybe it was just the last stop on the way out of town, but Kai found himself pulling into the gravel parking lot of The Hitchhiker about the same time he should have been starting the ASL class. But all Kai could think about was getting out of his head, and maybe a drink or two would be less self destructive than some of the alternatives.
A row of perfectly maintained motorcycles of all kinds were parked along one side of the bar; even though it was still pretty early, it was Friday night. Rolling into the place, Kai couldn’t have stuck out more--blond, clean-cut guy in a wheelchair when most everyone was sporting tattoos and biker leather--but he ignored everyone and found his way to an empty table. He didn’t belong here, but he didn’t belong anywhere.
The music was some kind of loud rock that with his hearing aids just sounded painful, so he reached up and turned them off. The bar became muted, the lower frequency sounds like the bass of the music and the heavy booted footsteps of the bikers standing out more, but after awhile, Kai found a kind of zen. The cigarette smoke tickled his lungs, but he ignored it. This was the perfect place for him to be alone surrounded by people, which was exactly what he needed right now.
Kai hadn’t been waiting too long when a waitress dressed in a tight, short leather skirt (and honestly Kai didn’t notice much else after that) saddled up. She shouted something at him he couldn’t understand but he figured it was probably what he wanted to drink so he ordered the cheapest beer they had. She gave him a disdainful look, turned on her heels, and left.
Kai leaned on the table and noticed it was sticky. In fact, this whole place was dirty; his hands were nasty from wheeling the short distance from the entrance, and he knew this place was the perfect opportunity for him to get sick again. But he wasn’t sure where he’d go if he left. He knew he’d enjoy his time with the kids at the class, but he just couldn’t bring himself to go. He wasn’t OK, and maybe it was OK to not be OK, but he just had to take a break from his life, and a dive biker bar was one hell of a break.
Kai was just finished cleaning his hands and forearms with antimicrobial gel when another waitress appeared with his drink. She was shorter than the last one, even though she was wearing chunky heels, and she had better curves. Above the smell of cigarettes and stale beer and leather, he could have sworn he caught a whiff of fruit. He looked up to find her face. “Nikki!” It was strange how his feelings about running into her had changed so much after three months. Instead of being panicked and pissed, he was actually relieved to see a friendly face. One he knew wouldn’t judge him.
She smiled huge, maybe because she vastly preferred this reaction to their last encounter at Walmart on Thanksgiving Day, and said something he couldn’t catch.
“I can’t hear you. Can you sit so I can see your lips?”
She raised an eyebrow at that, looked around, and sank into the seat beside him. She handed him his beer, and said something like, “What are they going to do, fire me? I’m the hottest, sluttiest waitress here.”
Kai couldn’t help smiling. He’d missed her. And not just the sex, although that was a huge part of it as his cock pressed painfully against the fabric of his jeans. Kai took a sip of the beer. It tasted awful. “It’s like dishwater,” Kai complained.
Nikki laughed. She pushed some hair off her face. She was back to having it on the short side, a kind of pixie cut where it was dark (either black or brown, it was impossible to tell in this light) with a swath of platinum and magenta bangs that cut over her face on one side at an angle. “That’s ‘cause you’re a cheapskate,” she said, or something close to it. She studied him for a moment. “You look like shit.”
That actually made Kai laugh. Nikki was probably the only one other than David who wouldn’t open with “you look good” after not seeing him for awhile the way every other fucking person seemed to do.
Nikki frowned. “Seriously.” She looked worried. She reached toward him and he flinched back, but she ignored him and smoothed a hand over his chest and side.
His body responded immediately to her touch, and despite all logic he hoped she’d keep going, lower and lower. He and Nikki had been through too much together; he wouldn’t be embarrassed if he couldn’t finish with her. Just frustrated. That immediately made him ashamed. Twice in one day Kai’s lust threatened to rip his self control to shreds. Renee was his girlfriend, not Nikki. Nikki and he may never have worked, but she’d left certainly before they could try. He pushed her away, then took a huge slug of his beer, swallowing it fast to mask the taste of it. God, it was disgusting, but the appeal of getting drunk was huge.
Nikki was still frowning at him, studying him, her arms folded on her chest. “What are you doing here, Kai? You stick out like . . . well, like you in a biker bar. You should go home.”
Even though the alcohol sat uneasily in his stomach, and the bitter acrid taste clung to his tongue, he wanted more. “Beer,” Kai said as if in answer to her question, waving the glass.
Nikki shook her head, but she stood up, disappeared toward the bar for another drink. Kai couldn’t help watching her, the sultry way she moved, how she leaned on the bar, her ass sticking out. He wanted her, dangerously so, and he tipped back his glass and swallowed the rest of it. If he got too drunk maybe it would be impossible for him to cheat on Renee.


Jon had just stepped out of a patient’s room after an emergency intubation when his phone rang, again. He was exhausted, and his blood sugar had been all over the place today, and despite doing his best to give Kai his space, he was worried about him. Jon answered without looking at the caller ID. “Dr. Taylor.”
A harried young female voice spoke rapidly and emotionally, barely intelligibly, “He’s gone. I can’t . . . I can’t find him anywhere. He’s not at the apartment or school or Lost Apple or the library or the diner or anywhere!” A choked sob.
Jon’s stomach immediately contracted and he walked briskly to the nearest empty room, ducking into it so he could have some privacy. “Renee?”
“Kai said he wanted to kill himself. That’s why I stayed with him the past two nights. He wouldn’t let me tell you. He didn’t want to worry you. Oh God, what if he . . . ?” Renee broke down into full tears.
Jon felt like he was going to throw up. All his fears and suspicions had just been confirmed, and now, just like Ann, Kai had taken off without  a word. But Jon had to be calm and logical if he was going to find Kai before it was too late, and maybe it was being a father to Kai, or maybe it was his doctor training, but he couldn’t listen to Renee cry and not try to reassure her that everything would be OK. And maybe if he told her enough he’d convince himself, too. “I’m sure Kai is fine. We’ll find him, OK? I don’t believe Kai would go through with it because he loves you too much. He wouldn’t have gone to you the past couple days if he he didn’t want help. And Dr. Miller wouldn’t have let him go if she didn’t think he was going to be safe. All right?”
It took a moment for Renee to reply with a choked, “OK.”
“I will get someone to cover my patients and I will come meet you. Text David and we’ll split up. We’ll find him. Maybe he’s at Vicky’s, asleep and we all worried for nothing. OK?”
Renee’s answer was broken up by her tears. “I didn’t think to check there. I don’t even know where Vicky lives.”
“It’s all right. Everything will be all right,” Jon said in his most reassuring doctor voice, the one he used with scared children. He just prayed that he wasn’t lying.


Kai got drunk fast. Too fast. After only a beer and a half he was hammered, slurring and disoriented. Nikki had expected him to be a lightweight, but this was . . . it was almost like he’d been roofied, but she knew that hadn’t happened. She’d seen the bartender pour his glass herself and hand it to her.
“Allan Ohlsen,” Kai said louder than necessary, but still not loud enough for anyone to really notice with the music, talking, and other background noise of the bar. At least that’s what she thought he said. His accent was coming through, his articulation lazy and the two words running together, so she couldn’t be certain. She’d only ever heard his speech slip a few times, usually when he was really, really tired.
“Kai, why don’t we get you home?”
But Kai stared at her like he had no idea what she said. He frowned, almost an exaggerated expression. Then he shouted louder, “Allan Ohlsen! I’m here!” Then he mumbled something that might have been along the lines of, “I’m not afraid of you,” but Nikki couldn’t be sure.
She knew there was a massive guy named Ohlsen who frequented the bar, but she didn’t know what his first name was because no one ever used it. Was Kai trying to pick a fight with this guy or something? Did he have a fucking deathwish? She knew Kai was a crazy motherfucker sometimes, but this was insane even for him. “Kai, why don’t we go outside? We can call your brother or your girlfriend. Anyone,” Nikki said nervously as she saw Ohlsen beginning to take notice of them and making his way through the crowd. It didn’t help that Kai continued to shout the man’s name, however inarticulately.
Nikki tried to urge Kai to leave again, to shut up, but he just pushed her away violently enough she fell out of her chair and slurred something about being able to stand up for himself. And then he giggled and tried to say, “Not literally,” but he spent a good minute trying to say “literally” and failing pretty epically. He finally gave up and went back to shouting “Allan Ohlsen,” this time at the top of his lungs.
Ohlsen finally arrived at their table, towering over them both with a fierce scowl. “What the fuck is your problem?” Nikki tried to mutter an apology, but Ohlsen ignored her. His eyes were fixed on Kai. “I’m talking to you, asshole.”
“Come and take them,” Kai said, but it sounded less like a threat and more like defeat, although his speech was bad enough that Ohlsen clearly didn’t pick up the nuance.
“You gonna sit and talk to me like that, or stand up and face me like a fucking man?”
Kai muttered something that might have been, “You’re even meaner in real life,” but again, Nikki couldn’t be sure, especially since in a blink of an eye, Ohlsen had grabbed Kai by the front of his shirt and lifted him upright. Kai didn’t even fight him, just hung there, limp. If Nikki knew anything about Kai, it was that he was a fighter in every sense of the word, and that reaction worried her perhaps more than anything. Was this really some kind of “death by biker” thing Kai had going on?
Ohlsen was shaking Kai and shouting at him to try to get a reaction. It made it painfully obvious how huge the biker was. Though Kai had definitely lost a ton of weight since she’d seen him last, he was not a small man. And yet Ohlsen dwarfed him, outweighing him by a hundred pounds, broader and bigger in almost every way. But he clearly didn’t realize Kai couldn’t stand on his own. He hadn’t seen the wheelchair.
Nikki was frantically trying to figure out a way to resolve this without Kai getting hurt, and she happened to notice Ohlsen’s jacket. Like many bikers, it was decorated with patches, and she noticed two that gave her an idea. The first said, Allan RIP 1999 in a decorative script. Was Allan his brother? And he’d died a couple years ago? Then how did Kai know him? And why was he screaming his name? No wonder the living Ohlsen was pissed. But near that patch she recognized the US army logo. Had Allan served? Or maybe this Ohlsen had? Maybe they both had?
“You can kill me. I deserve it,” Kai said, or something like it.
“Fucking right you do. Not sure you’re worth the effort,” Ohlsen growled.
Nikki interjected now, putting a hand on one of Ohlsen’s to draw his attention. She gave him a brief sultry look that no straight man could resist, and then she said, “He’s never been the same since that fucking desert. Broke his mind and his back. He’s drunk. Just put him down and we’ll go.”
Ohlsen glared at her, but then he looked down and finally noticed that Kai’s legs were hanging limply, his feet clearly not in his control. And then he saw the wheelchair.
Kai was mumbling something about how Ohlsen should kill him and take “them” back already, but Nikki had no idea what he meant, and Ohslen clearly didn’t either.
“Shit,” he said, and he set Kai down, looking embarrassed.
“It’s OK. Let me get you a drink.” Nikki didn’t really want to leave Kai alone but Ohlsen would probably be calmer if he had a beer, so she fetched one quick.
When she returned, Kai was sobbing, his elbows on his knees and his face buried in his hands, and Ohlsen was staring at him with a mixture of horror and sadness.
“Allan was my brother. That motherfucker survived everything over there, and he kept going back. Missed the thrill when he was home, he said. He’d only been back a week when he drove his bike too fucking fast in the rain and crashed into a goddamn tree.” Ohlsen swallowed half his beer in one gulp. “Don’t like anyone trashing his memory, you know? Get your boyfriend some help. He’s gonna get himself killed if he keeps this up.” Ohlsen frowned deeply and stood up, taking his beer with him.


It was difficult to get Kai out of the bar and into his car. He was still clearly not in his right mind, and somehow pissed off that “Allan” didn’t kill him. She’d hoped the cold air would sober him up a bit, and it helped, a little, but now Kai seemed to think he was dreaming or hallucinating and was mumbling something about how he should be seeing Renee--presumably his girlfriend--instead of Nikki.
Nikki ignored him. He was safe in the passenger’s seat of his car now--no fucking way was she risking that he’d try to drive like this--and this trip would have to end eventually, right? Nikki was glad she still had Jon’s number. “This is Nikki. I was . . . friends with Kai. You probably remember me? We met a few times in the hospital,” Nikki rambled to Jon’s voice mail. “I have Kai and he’s . . . he’s not himself. I’m going to drive him home.” Nikki hung up. Another job lost because of Kai, although if she blew the manager he might forgive her for ducking out in the middle of her busy Friday-night shift.
“Nikki?” Kai asked uncertainly. He seemed less drunk, but still confused and not totally himself.
“I’m going to take you home. It’s OK.”
Kai reached up and turned on the cabin lights. “What?”
Nikki gave him an odd look but repeated herself.
Kai’s forehead wrinkled severely. Then he signed something.
“Kai, I don’t know sign. You remember that, right?”
Kai stared at her intently, then shook his head like he didn’t know what she was saying. “I can’t hear you. I don’t . . . I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t even know why you’re here or where we are. Am I dreaming?”
Nikki sighed softly. It broke her heart to see Kai like this, and she reached out and smoothed his hair. He flinched at first but then relaxed into her touch. She’d never expected to see Kai again. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. By staying in Jonesville she’d almost ensured she would at some point, but she’d figured he’d still be angry with her. It hurt more if he wasn’t, because it just reinforced how badly she’d fucked things up between them. How she still loved him no matter how much she tried to deny it to herself.
Kai was staring back at her with his beautiful blue eyes wide and pleading for reassurance. He seemed almost like a lost little kid.
Nikki wracked her brain, trying to remember the few signs she’d picked up when they were together. “Home,” Nikki signed, hoping she’d gotten it right. Then she pointed to both of them and then off in the distance, then pretended like she was steering to indicate she was driving them home.
Kai visibly relaxed when he saw that and nodded vigorously. Then he turned the lights off and practically curled up in the seat, facing her, as if he were worried he’d become disoriented again if he let her out of his sight.


As soon as Renee saw Kai’s car pull up, she rushed outside, barely pausing to grab a jacket on the way out, Jon and David trudging behind her. She pulled the passenger’s door open and threw herself at Kai, hugging him tight. He stiffened and didn’t return the embrace, but she didn’t care. She pulled back and surveyed him, checking for any sign that he wasn’t OK. He just looked at her, tired and obviously disoriented.
The woman who’d brought him home had gotten out of the car and was talking to Jon, but all Renee cared was that Kai was safe. “I was so scared and worried. I thought . . .” They’d all feared Kai had gone off to kill himself, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. “You just took off without telling us where you were going. You didn’t answer your phone.
I didn’t hear it. I . . .” Kai’s brows furrowed, and then he seemed to remember something and reached up and turned his hearing aids on. “Oh.” He seemed to be thinking hard, clearly trying to figure out something, but his facial expression suggested he was still lost. “I’m not sure what happened tonight. I’m sorry.
Are you hurt anywhere?
Kai shook his head, still clearly confused.
Renee let out a breath of relief, even if it worried her how clearly not OK, mentally, Kai was. She stood up, out of the car, and signaled for David to come over. “David will help you inside, OK?” Renee exchanged looks with David, worry and also a warning that Kai wasn’t all there and then wandered over to where Jon and the girl were talking.
The woman was dressed like a stripper, in a tight leather miniskirt and a skimpy tank top that showed the lace of her bra. Jon had draped his coat over her since she apparently didn’t have one, and was staring at her with a menacing expression, his arms folded tightly on his chest.
“Kai shouldn’t drink with some of the medicines he’s taking. What was he thinking?” Jon murmured, almost to himself.
“I don’t think he was,” the woman said frankly enough. “I’ve seen him act crazy before, but tonight took the cake.”
Jon sighed heavily. “Let’s finish this inside and then David can give you a ride home.”


Kai was sitting on the couch with his legs tucked up, a blanket draped around him, struggling to keep up; it seemed like everyone was talking and signing at the same time, and he just wanted them to all leave him alone so he could sleep. He was so tired. He hated this. He felt like he had after his transplant, when he could hardly string one thought to another, where following a conversation more than a couple words was impossible. When he’d lie there for hours trying to focus, trying to remember, trying to pull himself out of the perpetual brain fog, and just when he thought maybe he’d escaped, he’d fall back in. Everyone wanted to know why he’d wandered off, why he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. Why he’d picked the fight. Why, why, why, why, why.
I don’t know why!” Kai screamed and signed at the same time. “I needed to be alone, but I didn’t want to be alone. I don’t know.” Nikki was the only one who didn’t understand ASL at all, and she looked to Jon, confused, so he interpreted. Kai didn’t want her here. He appreciated that she’d apparently saved his ass--again--but he . . . He couldn’t think with all these people, and thinking was hard enough right now, like there was some gear missing in his head keeping it from running the way it was supposed to. “I’m sorry I worried you. But please go home. Everyone.
Renee looked hurt, and there was a veil of anger underneath it. Her eyes were still red-rimmed from all the tears she’d shed tonight, apparently. David seemed to sense the tension between them. He urged Jon to take Nikki away and he signed a quick, “Glad you’re safe,” to Kai and joined them, but not before casting a look and a head nudge at Renee to indicate she should talk to Kai regardless of what he’d said.
After a few seconds, Kai and Renee were alone. She sat beside him on the couch, but because of how Kai was sitting, they ended up basically facing each other. She looked like she didn’t know what to say. Her eyes filled but she managed to hold back her tears. “You scared me. All of us. I thought by the time we found you, you’d be dead. We all did.
Kai’s eyes widened, and it felt like his heart was breaking. He’d hurt Renee, again, even if it wasn’t intentional. “I ruin everything. I warned you.” Kai clenched his teeth hard. God, he hated this more than anything, more than the darkness, because he couldn’t even be sure of himself, couldn’t trust his memory. And now he’d lost Renee and he honestly didn’t know what he’d done.
Renee started to lay her hand on his shin but hesitated and pulled away. “What happened to the contract? Your promise?” Renee was reaching, using “paper” for contract but mouthing the English word.
Kai shook his head. “I went to Martin’s house because he was upset. I spent the afternoon with him. I dropped him off, and I wasn’t ready to go to the class. I couldn’t face anyone I knew. I just needed to escape. . . .” Kai groaned in frustration. The memory was there, he could feel it, but it was like trying to remember a dream. “I can’t remember. I don’t think I wanted to hurt myself, but . . . I can’t be sure. What time is it?
Renee looked sympathetic, but also deeply concerned, and he knew that face. That was the, “you’re totally fucking batshit crazy, and I’m sorry” face. And he hated that it was coming from the woman he loved. “It’s after ten.
Kai dropped his forehead to his knees. It had been five-ish when he’d dropped Martin off. How could he lose five hours of his life like that? What would have happened to him if Nikki hadn’t been there? Had he called Nikki? The more he tried to remember the more his head hurt, and the more frustrated and depressed he became. Kai lifted his head and stared at Renee hard for a long time. He’d wanted to believe that love could conquer all and all that romantic bullshit, but if he kept Renee on the Titanic of his life, she was going to go down with the ship along with its captain. “Maybe you should forget about me.” Kai was shaking, and he hoped she understood him, because it was hard enough to sign that once. He didn’t think he could manage to do it again.
Renee shook her head. “No,” she said out loud. “No. You’re not doing this.
A tear snuck out of Kai’s eye and he hurried to blink it away. “If it weren’t for Nikki, I’d have no clue where I’d been or what I’d done tonight. How can I be with you if I’m that fucked up? I thought I was better. I thought . . .” Kai closed his eyes and took a few steadying breaths. “I don’t want to hurt you, and I did. I can’t promise it won’t happen again. I can’t promise I won’t go to Omaha tomorrow and stay there.” The last thing Kai wanted was to put his life on hold--again--but maybe it was time to concede defeat. Dr. Miller had been slowly encouraging Kai for weeks to consider re-committing himself.
Renee took one of Kai’s hands in hers and held it like it was the most precious thing she’d ever encountered. She stared him down with fire and determination, the core of it her fierce love for him that he still couldn’t understand. “I love you. And whether I’m with you or not won’t change how I feel. I won’t lie. Tonight scared me more than I’ve ever been scared in my entire life.” Her signing was halting and very Englishy, but he appreciated her not forcing him to deal with spoken English. He couldn’t trust he’d understand her if she did. “If you need to stay in the hospital, that’s OK. That’s not failure, and I will call you if you can, and email you if you can’t, and visit you every weekend.
Kai’s eyes spilled over even if some of her signs were wrong. He still got the message. How she could care so much about him when he was so incredibly broken in every way he didn’t understand. “The kids must have been so disappointed.
Renee smiled faintly. She touched his chest, near his heart. “You’re a good person. Even when you’re upset you still think about other people. Hold onto that.” She stood up and kissed his temple, pulling him into an awkward hug, cradling his head against her for a moment. “I love you.” Renee signed it with extra emphasis. It was clear she didn’t want to leave him, but she finally blew him another kiss and wandered away, leaving Kai alone.


Kai was sitting on Jon’s bed, the covers pulled up over his legs, one stretched out and one bent toward his chest, an arm casually draped around it to help keep it in place. He looked wrecked and exhausted, but they’d both agreed that it was safer for Kai not to take his sleeping pill or any Xanax tonight. The alcohol had probably enhanced the effects of his antidepressants, but because Kai couldn’t trust his memory that he hadn’t taken anything else, Jon wanted to play it safe. And since Kai refused to go to the hospital, this was the best Jon could do.
Jon was deeply worried about Kai’s blackout and erratic behavior. It reminded him too much of their mother, who could disappear for weeks at a time when she went fully manic. But nothing about Kai suggested mania from Jon’s experience, and he prayed it was just his PTSD, post-transplant memory problems, and the bad mix of drugs and alcohol that were to blame here.
Kai sighed heavily and offered Jon a faint smile. “Everyone get home OK?
Jon nodded, pulled some PJs from a drawer and started changing, pausing every so often to sign. “We worry because we care, but you don’t have to feel bad about tonight. It wasn’t your fault.
Kai snorted, but otherwise said nothing.
Jon finished changing and climbed in bed, sitting so he could see his brother. “We don’t have to go to Omaha tomorrow if you don’t feel up to traveling.
Kai stared at Jon a long moment, and it was impossible to interpret what he was trying to convey. But then he signed a seeming non sequitur. “How did you do it?
Jon gave him a confused, questioning look in answer.
Kai swallowed. “When I was dying. Before my transplant. You hid your fear. You were always positive. You kept me going even when I wanted to die. How did you do it?
Jon sighed and shoved his hand through his hair. As difficult as the last few months had been, dealing with Kai’s mental illness and the baby and all of that, Jon was certain those two years before Kai’s transplant were the most trying of his entire life. Even more than the first couple years after his parents’ death. “Vicky helped me a lot, honestly. She was the only one I could be truly honest with. The one I could vent my fears to so I could be strong for you.
Kai looked troubled. And sad. “I’m trying to be that for Martin. He’s so scared, and he has every right to be, and he’s trying to be brave, but . . .” Kai shook his head. “He looks up to me. He’s counting on me and I . . . . I don’t think I can be the person he needs me to be.
Martin had called Kai today after getting the bad news from the cardio consult, and Kai had gone to him, helped him, and yet something about it had gone wrong and pushed Kai into whatever happened tonight. Jon was sure of it. Dr. Miller had warned Kai from the start not to get involved with Martin, that he wasn’t healthy enough, mentally, that it was too close to too many of Kai’s unresolved issues. And yet Kai had done it anyway, of course, because Kai was Kai.
Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. Spending time with him. Answering his questions. And you have me.
Kai bit his lip hard and shook his head. “I feel like I’m slipping.” Kai sounded terrified.
Jon was nauseous with worry, but he hid it all. Kai needed support right now more than ever.
Kai just breathed for a moment, looking sad and defeated. He stared at Jon and then he signed, very visually, “My depression, my mental illness . . . it feels like this deep, deep, deep dark hole,” Kai said, his tongue waggling, a form of facial grammar that indicated magnitude, usually used for something that was incredibly far or long. “And my whole life I’ve been trying to climb out of it. Recently, it felt like I was finally on the rim, and if I could just pull myself up a little more, maybe I’d finally be free.” All of this was pretty much gestured, with a few signs here and there, and Jon doubted Kai could have explained all of this in English. Kai dropped his hands, almost like he didn’t think he could continue, and he hung his head for a moment. Took a huge breath. “But these past few days . . .” Kai grit his teeth hard. “It feels like I’m slipping, like I’m holding on by just one finger,” Kai demonstrated this all through gestures, showing how tenuous his grip was, his one finger straining to hold him, to keep him from falling. “And part of me knows that I want to live, survive. But part of me believes that I can’t. That I will fail,” and here Kai used a visual pun, since the sign for fail and fall could be the same, depending on context, like here. So he was continuing his visual metaphor of the pit, saying that he felt like he was going to fall/fail. “And that part of me thinks how easy, how much better it might be to stop fighting and just let myself give up.” The sign for “give up” was made by raising your hands up to your sides in surrender, and in the context of Kai’s continued visual metaphor, especially the way he signed it, it was like he was literally letting go of the edge of this pit and allowing himself to fall. Kai clenched his teeth and his eyes spilled over. He stared hard at some point just south of Jon’s face for a long moment before he finally brought his gaze back to meet Jon’s. “Maybe that’s what happened tonight. I gave up for awhile. And if I can’t control what I do or even fucking remember it, what hope is there for me? For anyone I care about?” Kai pawed at his face as if trying to stop the tears. “Maybe I’m just not strong enough.
Jon slapped the bed hard to get his brother’s attention immediately.
Kai’s head snapped up toward Jon in response.
Don’t think about it like that. Focus on why you want to get better. Remember you do not have to do this alone. You have me and David and Renee. And Vicky, too. We all love you and we’re all here to support you. Tomorrow, we’ll go see the hospital if that’s what you still want, and you can make a decision about what you think is best for you. To stay, or to come back here. We’ll all support you no matter what you decide. Going back into the hospital doesn’t mean you’re not strong. OK?
Kai sniffled, and he nodded, even if he didn’t look fully convinced. He shifted his body with his hands until he was lying down, curled up into a ball on his side, facing Jon. “Tell me one more time?
Jon wasn’t sure what Kai could mean, and he ran through their entire convo, trying to figure it out. Finally, he smiled and said while he signed, “Today could be the day. You will survive this.” The words Jon had told Kai every single day while he waited for his transplant. Words of love, encouragement, faith, and hope.



  1. Wow... The best chapter of this season. So emotional.

  2. I love this in so many ways! Great installment.

  3. Thanks so much for this new chapter. The scene at the biker bar was absolutely gripping. I am somehow happy to have Nikki back. I know the way she left Kai wasn't nice buy I somehow really like her character.

    1. Thank you! Nikki holds a special place in my heart... I think she and Kai are too much alike in some ways, which is one reason they didn't work out. We will be seeing her popping into the story from time to time, so stay tuned!

    2. Of course I will stay tuned! I love the story so much!