This week's part is a little longer than usual, but it felt like it worked better in one long section rather than artificially dividing it up. Enjoy.
September 3, 2000
Nikki sat in one of the ER waiting room chairs, legs folded and pulled up in her pajama pants, tank top riding up to expose part of her back, bag resting in the space between her legs. She nibbled anxiously on her right thumbnail, wishing she'd brought her Nicotrol inhaler -- or, even better, her cigarettes. But she'd barely had time to pull on clothes and grab her phone and keys.
Her stomach churned as she switched to the other thumbnail, her right knee bobbing, trying to work out her anxiety. The paramedics had arrived only a few minutes after Kai passed out. They'd injected him with something that brought him to long enough for him to refuse the tube they'd wanted to put down his throat, supposedly to help him breathe. But he'd been only semi-lucid during the short ride to the hospital, and Nikki had been told to wait while they took him away.
So she waited.
She'd been sitting here for almost an hour. In a few more, she was supposed to report for her shift at the diner. She switched, her left knee bobbing now while she gnawed on her right thumb. Nikki remembered Kai’s mutterings in the diner a couple days before. He'd said something about rejection. About not being cured. He'd been really shook up. An attack, especially like this, wasn't supposed to have happened, Nikki realized. So since it had. . . .
Fuck. It had to be really bad.
Nikki felt her eyes misting and struggled to blink the pending tears away. She wasn't going to cry, she never cried! In fact, even with all the shit she'd been through, she couldn't remember a single time in her adult life that she'd given into the luxury of tears. She wouldn't start now. At least not until she heard how Kai was doing.
Any time she saw anyone remotely medical-looking walk by, her heart would beat a little faster, hoping the wait was over. But the minutes passed in slow succession until she had all ten fingers chewed down to bloody cuticles. Finally, a young, tired-looking doctor approached. Nikki leapt to her feet, surprised she didn't fall over from having her legs folded up for so long.
". . . Fiancée, yes," Nikki replied, when he sought to confirm her identity, hoping the lie would get her info, maybe even the chance to see Kai.
"We have him on some medicine and a machine to help him breathe, to give his muscles a break." The doctor paused.
Nikki hesitated for a moment, so many questions swirling through her head, all battling to be voiced. "I thought he didn't want a machine--"
The doctor cleared his throat, smiled a faint, mildly condescending smile. "He refused invasive airway support," he began to explain, then seemed to realize that might be too technical. "He's on something called a BiPAP. A mask sits over his face, and, through alternate pressures, helps pull and push air in and out. So he doesn't have to work to breathe, and can rest."
Nikki nibbled her lip. "So does this mean he's OK?" That was the first question she should have asked, she knew, but it had somehow struggled to formulate. But if he weren't OK, the doc would have approached things differently, right?
The doctor shifted his weight. "The good news is the preliminary tests don't indicate infection or rejection . . ."
"But?" Nikki tucked her hands under her arms to resist chewing on her fingers again.
He prefaced his response with a sigh. "We're not entirely sure why he had the attack in the first place, and though we'd like to admit him for observation and further tests, he's declining further treatment."
Nikki couldn't help smiling. If Kai was well enough to be stubborn, things couldn't be too bad. "Can I see him?"
The doctor nodded, then gestured for her to follow him as he lead her toward the back exam rooms of the ER. He turned his head a few times, whether to check she was behind him or say something, she wasn't sure. If he had intended to speak, he changed his mind each time.
They wove past other doctors, nurses, curtains, until he finally stopped in front of one. She could hear a subtle whoosh of air coming from the other side of the curtain, but otherwise, the noises that echoed around her were distant. Feet shuffling, low voices, subtle clatter.
"He's not going to be able to speak while on the machine," the doctor explained in a low voice. "But perhaps you can convince him to let us admit him. It's important we get to the bottom of this."
Nikki nodded, sucked in a breath, and walked through the curtain when the doctor parted it for her.
The space was small, barely large enough for the bed, machines, and a single chair. Nikki immediately noticed Kai's face, almost entirely obscured by the mask. The tubing lead to a machine off to one side, filled with rows of information Nikki wouldn't have understood even if she'd been closer. His chest rose and fell in a regular, even rhythm. Another monitor displayed his heart rate and still more info, the wires poking out from the top of the hospital gown. An IV line was taped to the inside of his left elbow, snaking up and away. As she approached, she could see his eyes were closed, the only part of his face that wasn't obscured by the mask. It completely covered his mouth and nose, then had another piece that rested on his forehead. The whole thing held in place by multiple thin black Velcro straps. It looked uncomfortable, but if it helped him. . . .
Nikki pulled the seat closer and curled up in it, reaching for his hand. She was surprised when she felt him squeeze it, and when she looked up, she saw his eyes had fluttered open. He blinked a few times, then settled his gaze on her. The normally subtle hint of green in his irises was strong, making his eyes appear like the Caribbean sea on an overcast day, the usual brilliant blue obscured by shadows. They were tired and heavy, although she wasn't able to read them completely.
She squeezed his hand hard. "Don't you ever fucking do that to me again, you hear me?"
He blinked quickly a few times, then widened his eyes. They said, I'm sorry.
Nikki sighed, reached up to smooth the top of his head. "I'm just glad you're OK. I was worried."
Kai pulled his hand from Nikki's, brought it to his chin, just below the edge of the mask, then extended it, back handed, out. He moved it up to his forehead, and Nikki recognized the . . . what had he called it? Name sign meaning "Nikki." Then, dropping his hand, he formed it into a fist, thumb extended and pointing up. He jerked it slightly, opening his hand and sweeping it outward and down. Next, his fist moved to his chest, where he moved it in a circle over his heart.
Nikki shook her head. "I'm sorry. I don't understand."
She saw frustration flare in his eyes, and a thought occurred to her. She reached into her bag and pulled out her phone, shifted it to text messaging, and handed it to him.
Nikki watched as he awkwardly typed out a message before showing it to her.
Thk u. 4 evrythng. Sorry. Ddnt wnt 2 drg u in2 ths.
Nikki stared at the message, reading it over several times before frowning. "I only play an asshole on TV," Nikki said with a wry smile. "You don't need to thank me. I'm just glad I convinced you to stay the night and that you're OK. You are OK, right? The doctor said he wanted to admit you but you wouldn't let him."
He looked at her for a moment, his eyes full of emotion, yet as indecipherable as his sign language. She was quickly learning the worst thing about the mask wasn't that it prohibited him from talking, but it hid and prevented his facial expressions. Finally, he took the phone from her again and spent a couple minutes typing a new message.
Dnt wry. Knw wht im doing. Ill b fine. Jst nd rst.
She read, shaking her head even though she understood. "Then I'll call in and pick up a later shift. You can rest at my place for awhile, unless you want me to take you straight to your apartment." She paused. "But I get a feeling you don't want your brother to know about all this just yet."
Kai closed his eyes and kept them shut for a moment. Nikki watched the gentle, even rise and fall of his chest. Finally, he opened his eyes again and shook his head just enough for her to pick up on the No.
Nikki stood, taking her phone, and kissed him at the top of his forehead, just beneath where his hair began, the only place she could find enough exposed skin. "Let me call in real quick, and I'll be back. Try to sleep." She frowned at herself, but quickly pushed it into a smile for his sake, giving his hand a squeeze before dashing out.
Kai let his eyes fall closed as soon as Nikki disappeared through the curtain. He felt like an asshole. Signed or typed, even spoken--once he was off the machine--Sorry seemed such a hollow word. He'd used Nikki in more ways than one, and she'd probably saved his life. Now she was willing to miss work, collude with him in keeping this fiasco from Jon, and all after he'd basically broken up with her. Not that they'd ever really been together, but it had become obvious over the past few weeks that they'd somehow crossed over from being merely fuck-buddies who consoled each other with sex to something else. Some fuzzy gray area that terrified them both. Yet even before this attack, Nikki had been the only one with whom he'd shared his fears about his breathing issues. They both kept themselves back, yet still found some shred of communion. She hadn't even tried to convince him to let them admit him, or question why he wanted to keep things from his brother.
Kai felt himself drifting. The theophylline IV had nearly run its course, and the BiPAP made breathing effortless. Even the achy soreness in his body seemed to have faded into a dull numbness. He'd have to tell Nikki he was fine enough to drive himself home, once he got back to his car, still parked outside her apartment. No need for her to get any more involved in this than she had already. And maybe, if he were lucky, he could sneak into the apartment without encountering his brother. He could avoid dealing with this, whatever this was, for at least a day.
Exhaustion pulled him toward sleep, despite his mind's efforts to stay awake, thinking, planning. He was drained, that tiredness that seemed to emanate from his bones, weighing him down, which he only felt after a major attack. And permeating its fringes was fear. If it wasn't rejection or infection, it could only be one thing. None of the doctors had said it, of course, but he knew. The transplant hadn't cured him; it'd only bought him time. And the clock was ticking. Again.
Assured by one of the ER nurses that even without admission they wouldn’t kick Kai out for several hours, Nikki decided to catch a cab home. She could change, grab some clothes for Kai, and call the diner to see about switching shifts.
The apartment looked just as she’d left it. Kai’s stuff on the floor on one side of the bed, the sheets pushed aside, the lights still on. Nikki dumped her bag on the mattress, then hurriedly pulled off her tank top and PJ bottoms, tossed them on the bed. A shower was tempting, but she decided against it, pulling her phone out of her purse and dialing while she fished out some clean clothes from her closet.
"Jonesville Diner. Marge."
"It’s Nikki," she said simply, hopping into a pair of comfortable, faded pink cotton pants with cracked white lettering on the butt that said Jonesville U. Nikki enjoyed shopping the clearance bin at the campus bookstore; at the ends of semesters, especially, you could grab some clothes cheap if you didn’t care what color they were. It didn’t bother her that she’d never gone to college, that she’d never wanted to. She was happy at the diner. It wasn’t the easiest job, and especially with the night shift, you had to deal with the drunks and the occasional trucker, but it was a hell of a lot better than some of the other dives she’d worked in the past.
"If you’re calling to tell me you’re coming in early, you’re a peach."
Nikki sighed, tied the waist on her pants, and searched, one-handed, for a bra and shirt. "Actually, I was hoping you could find someone to cover for me." Crocking the phone between her head and shoulder, Nikki strapped on the first bra she found: a pink, leopard-print push-up with black trim. "I’ll do anything. I’ll cover the graveyard for a month. Please, Marge."
Nikki heard background noises: the clatter of plates, the chopping of vegetables. It was likely Marge was already helping Clyde prep for the busy morning ahead, phone pressed to one ear mimicking Nikki’s own position, while her hands busied doing chores around the kitchen. Marge didn’t own the diner, but she practically managed it herself, and Nikki knew if Marge ever decided to retire, it’d probably fall apart.
"You had off yesterday. Hangovers ain’t an excuse."
Nikki adjusted her bra, then held the phone to her ear, taking a quick sniff of each pit before deciding to dash into the bathroom for some body spray. "So if I don’t show, you’ll fire me?" A few spritzes and the air bloomed with pineapple and mango and strawberry.
Marge sighed heavily over the phone. "You’re our best waitress. But this is Sunday morning before Labor Day. You can’t do this to me."
Nikki splashed some water on her face, then jogged back out to slip into the zippered hoodie that matched her pants. "What if I had a good reason for bowing out?" Nikki sighed, debating about how much to tell Marge, as she stuffed Kai’s clothes into his bag. "Don’t freak out, OK?"
"OK," Marge said, her tone shifted, drawing out the word, tension evident in her voice. "What’s going on, Nikki?" Marge asked.
Nikki zipped up Kai’s bag and searched the front pocket for his car keys.
"You in some kinda trouble?"
Nikki sighed, grabbing Kai’s keys and slinging his bag over her shoulder, making sure to grab her own and cross it over her chest so it’d be secure, hands free. "Not me. . . . Kai . . . ." Nikki said vaguely, gathering his crutches in one hand and heading toward the front door.
"This have anything to do with him coming into the diner yesterday in a wheelchair? Or all the pie the day before?"
Nikki pulled the door open and laid Kai's crutches against the outside wall so she could avoid dropping them or the phone as she squeezed out the apartment, making sure the door locked behind her. "No. . . . It’s. . . . Kai’s . . . in the hospital right now. He’s going to be OK, but he doesn’t have anyone to be with him."
Nikki carefully leaned his crutches against the car, relieved to see his wheelchair, disassembled, in the back seat.
After a long silence, Marge finally said, "You ain’t the new Becca, are you?"
Nikki unlocked the car, opened the back passenger’s side door, and tossed his crutches in. "Fuck, Marge. I’m being a friend." She dumped each of their bags on the seat, slamming the door to ease some of her frustration. "If you’re going to fire me, fine. I’ll find a job somewhere else."
"Nikki, I don’t proclaim to know everything, but when you’re in this business as long as I’ve been, you come to read people. That boy needs. He’s tried to fill it with pie. And with you. But if someone’s jonesing for a hamburger, and all you got is grilled cheese. . . . Yeah, you might satisfy their hunger, but will they really be full?"
By the time Nikki got back to Kai, the mask had been removed, replaced by tubes feeding oxygen into his nose. His face was still slightly marked from the mask and supports, red impressions in his skin. Based on this evidence, she surmised he hadn't been off the machine long. The IV was also gone, a bandage wrapped around his elbow. He was asleep, face pale where it wasn't marked, the movement of his chest almost imperceptible.
Nikki sank into the chair, wishing she'd managed to imbibe some coffee at some point, feeling the lack of sleep beginning to catch up with her. Sighing, she picked up Kai's hand, smoothing her fingers over his. Even like this, he was beautiful in his sleep. A part of her wanted to climb into bed beside him, wrap her arms around him, and fall asleep with their bodies pressed together. She'd kept him at a distance, hadn't fought him last night when he'd stuttered out what she knew was inevitable, that he'd found someone, what he needed. Had she been wrong? Should she have tried to be more for him than a good fuck? She frowned bitterly at herself. She was going to miss him. Fuck, she already did.
Nikki woke, groggy, confused, and stiff, not certain how long she'd been out. Kai was still asleep, the marks on his face fading, but present enough to indicate it couldn't have been long. She stood up, stretched, looked down at him. His hair was a mess of golden tangles, and she couldn't resist sweeping some of it to the side, enjoying its softness. Fine, but not thin, straight, but with a subtle wave to it. She laid her hand gently on his head, her thumb stroking over the remains of the impression on his forehead, as if she could smooth it away.
His eyes opened, a small smile lifting his cheeks as they met each others' gaze. She could see, despite the attempt at a smile, the warmth in his eyes--bluer now--how exhausted he was.
"I thought you had work," he said, his voice gravely, as if it'd been a long time since he’d used it. Still, it was nice to hear it again.
"I called in. Went home to change, get you some clothes, the car. Hope that's OK." She could see keeping his eyes open was a battle.
"Why are you doing this?" His eyes were round with innocent pleading, a quiet sort of desperation, like a very young child, lost, searching for a familiar face in the crowd.
She looked away, not certain she could answer him. She'd snapped at Marge for the Becca reference, and she definitely didn't want to compare herself to the woman who had used Kai, but. . . . Nikki did know she wanted to be there for him now. He obviously wanted to handle this without his brother, and the girl--whose name he'd never given--obviously wasn't involved enough for him to bring her into this. Unless . . . he wanted to deal with this himself, alone. Forcing herself to meet his eyes again, she knew that wasn't true. The look of relief on his face when he'd woken to find her here, not gone to work, spoke volumes.
"Because I can," she said finally, planting a kiss on the tip of his nose. She didn't resist the urge to smooth his hair and forehead again, watching his eyes drift closed, enjoying the contact. "Other than tired, you feeling better? Still sure you want to go home?"
Kai inhaled deeply through his nose, let his eyes flicker open to take her in, the sweet, faint smile returning. "Yes to both." He reached up and found her hand, holding it to the side of his face. If he’d intended any further explanation, he didn’t follow through. Instead, they enjoyed the silence of each others’ company, sharing their touch.
The curtain parted, and a throat cleared, dragging their attention to the same worn doctor Nikki had spoken with earlier. Without much of a word, the doctor strode to the monitor, checked some numbers, then picked up one of Kai’s hands. He seemed to be studying Kai’s fingers carefully. Kai watched him impassively, also saying nothing.
After a minute, the doc dropped Kai’s hand and frowned. "I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind?"
Kai shook his head.
The doctor inhaled, nodded. "I’m still not happy with your O2 sats. And we should run some more tests." He looked to Nikki, as if for help. She simply smiled and shook her head. Letting out a sigh, he said, "Then make sure you sign the treatment refusal forms. And call your doctor. You should see him ASAP. Get plenty of rest, no strenuous activity for at least a couple days. Make sure you check your peak flow, minimum twice a day."
Kai took another deep breath through his nose and nodded. "Got it. Not my first rodeo. So I’m free to go?"
The doctor frowned. "More or less," he said. He pressed a few buttons on the monitor, pulled the oximeter off of Kai’s finger, and detached where the leads of his chest plugged into the wires leading to the heart monitor. Then he reached around, turning off the flow of oxygen at the source in the wall and taking the cannulae from Kai.
Kai immediately felt the loss of oxygen, Nikki could tell, though he was obviously determined not to let it show.
"All right, don’t forget those forms," the doctor said. Right before he ducked out of the curtain, he added, "Don’t let me see you in here again any time soon."
Kai pushed himself up, then paused, as if he were dizzy or needed to catch his breath, or the action was simply draining. Maybe a combination of all three. When he finally looked up, he smiled at her.
"God, I’m so ready to be out of here. Please tell me you brought my chair. It was in the back of my car."
She grinned, kissed his forehead. "Even better. I brought your car. Lets get you in some clothes and get you home."
Nikki set his bag on the bed, beginning to pull out his jeans and underwear and shirt. She felt his hand on her arm and looked up.
"Actually . . . if the offer’s still open . . ."
She smiled. Pulled some fingers through his disheveled hair. "I’m always open to you." Then she burst out into a laugh, and he did, too, and they pressed their foreheads together, still chuckling softly.
"Thank you," Kai whispered, the hint of his laughter still carrying on his voice.
Nikki didn’t have to ask him what he was grateful for.
Kai had managed to phone his brother to tell him he wouldn’t be home for a few more hours. Then, he'd taken his morning meds and stripped down to his boxers before finally collapsing in Nikki’s bed and giving into his exhaustion.
A few hours later, he woke to the smell of fried butter. His breathing had eased, the weariness had subsided so that he simply felt tired instead of weighed down, and a quick glance at his fingernails--the beds pink instead of blue or white--suggested his sats were better. He rubbed his hand through the disaster of his hair and pushed his way to the edge of the bed. He pulled his T-shirt on and grabbed his crutches, grateful his legs had loosened over the past few hours as he heaved himself up to his feet.
His right leg seemed to be behaving itself, so he used it and the crutches in concert to swing-through the short distance to the kitchen. Leaning against a counter, he watched Nikki flipping sandwiches in a pan.
"Hey," she said, looking over her shoulder at him with a gentle smile. "Figured you had to be hungry. I’m no chef, but think I can manage a grilled cheese."
He slipped out of his crutches, left them propped against the cabinets, and used the counter on her left side to help pull himself closer behind her. Then he braced himself with an arm around her waist, leaning heavily on his right leg. Her back rested against his chest and stomach.
"I know ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ don’t cut it, but . . ."
She shrugged, lifting up the edge of one of the sandwiches to check its doneness. "You know . . ." she hesitated. "You know you can always come to me. I’ll always be here," she said, grimacing, grateful he couldn’t see her face. She sounded so stupidly needy and pathetic. "I just meant . . ."
He shifted his weight and grip on her, then reached to the cabinet and pulled out two plates, setting them on the counter beside the stove. She couldn’t help leaning into him a bit; not enough to set him off balance, just to get a little closer. How could she have thrown this away? She loved the feel of his chest pressing against her with each inhalation, and closed her eyes just for a moment, as if she could commit this instance to memory, replay it later.
"I’m pretty sure they’re done," he said softly, dipping his head toward her ear, tracing a hand along her forearm as if to wake it.
It sent a tingle through her entire body, but she snapped out of it, carefully scooping the slightly dark sandwiches onto the plates. After shutting off the stove, she turned carefully in his arm so they were facing each other, her head tilted back to meet his eyes.
"We should eat," she said, her voice a little hoarse.
"Yeah. We should," he agreed, his breathing a little more ragged, his eyes dark.
She reached up to cradle his cheek, or maybe to try to bring him closer–she wasn’t sure–because suddenly his stomach gurgled loudly, a reminder that neither of them had eaten anything since the evening before.
They laughed together. "Guess that’s our cue," he said, twisting and reaching back for a crutch.
She saw him ready to grab his plate with his free hand and shrugged him off. "I got it. Go sit."
He looked at her, eyes narrowing.
She sighed. "Is your stubbornness the reason you’ve survived all these years?"
"Partially," he said with a sly grin.
She shoved the plate into his empty hand. "Fine. Go ahead, then. I’ll get drinks."
Nikki quickly turned her back on him again, opening the fridge and staring into it for a moment, trying to cool her face, which suddenly felt uncomfortably warm. She grabbed two cans of Coke, then remembered he didn’t drink caffeine, and swapped one for a bottled water. Another thing she realized she did just for him; she’d always been perfectly happy with tap. She let her forehead come to rest on the freezer door, the fridge still open.
"Nikki? You OK?"
His concerned voice snapped her out of her numbness and she shut the door, snagging her plate and planting a smile on her face. "You’re not dead; the sandwiches aren’t completely burnt. Life is good."
Kai laughed quietly.
Her smile faded quickly as soon as she took her seat across from him. She looked up, wanting to say something, but unable to find the words.
"I’ve been an asshole," he said, his face contrite, picking up his sandwich as if he intended to take a bite. Instead, he simply held it, almost as if he’d forgotten what to do with it.
"No. This was never supposed to have been more than fucking. The fact that it . . . became whatever it became is more my fault than yours." She picked off the crust bit by bit. It gave her something to focus on. "I let myself. . . . Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I hope you’ll still drop by the diner. Or call me. If there’s no one else. . . . And you need somebody. . . ."
"Perfectly fucked up," he said, sim-comming, speaking while he signed. "We really are a matched set."
"More like odds ‘n ends picked up at a flea market." She tossed down a bit of bread toward the pile of crust chunks she’d formed while they spoke, then forced herself to look up at him. "Be happy with her, OK?"
Jon was lounging in the couch, laptop open in his lap, the TV tuned to football, although he wasn't really watching it, the volume turned nearly all the way down. He heard the door click open, and a few minutes later, the subtle squeak of Kai's chair. He pushed his computer aside and stood. Kai looked paler than normal and tired, his face drawn.
"I'm assuming by the fact that you're not yelling at me means you got my message."
Jon nodded, crossed his arms over his chest. "What's going on, Kai? Yesterday, with the two workouts, being late for lunch. Being gone over half today when you knew I wasn't working so we could spend some time together. Showing up and looking like you haven't slept in days. Don't tell me you're fine. Talk to me."
Kai stared into Jon's eyes for a long while, looking broken and defeated. "I can't, Jon."
"Can’t? Or won’t?" Jon pulled his fingers through his hair and sunk back down into the sofa. He crossed his ankles and stared at the TV.
Kai sighed, pushed closer to the couch, and transferred so he was sitting next to his brother. "I’m sorry, Jon."
Jon shrugged, let his head fall back. "Whatever you're up to is none of my business. I get it. You don’t need my help. Or want it."
"Jon . . ." Kai pulled a leg up and turned so he was facing his brother more.
Jon didn’t move.
"Look," Kai said, touching Jon’s arm with just his fingertips, "I know your ASL isn’t great, but . . . it’d be easier for me if I could sign instead of talk about this."
Surprised, Jon eased up and mimicked his brother’s position, strange mirrors of each other. "I’ll do my best."
Kai cradled the back of his neck for a moment, just breathing. Finally, he brought his hands to chest level and began signing hesitantly. "Lately I’ve been . . . confused." Kai’s facial expressions were enough to help convey his meaning.
Jon’s eyes grew wide, his brows knitting, mouth dropping open. He looked like a caricature. "You mean, like you think you might be . . . gay?"
Kai started to laugh, the laughter escalating. Every time he tried to stop, he’d look up at Jon, who appeared even more perplexed and horrified than he had before, and Kai'd laugh harder, bent over, struggling for breath. After several minutes, Kai sat back, getting himself under control again. Forgetting himself for a moment, he began to sign rapidly.
Jon held up his hands. "Woah, woah. Slow down. Now I’m the one confused."
Kai took a large breath. "Sorry. That look on your face. . . . I hope I never forget that look."
Jon gripped his hair but said nothing.
"I’m not gay."
"I take it that means ‘gay,’" Jon said, mimicking his brother’s sign, thumb and index finger held opposite each other, then tapped on the chin.
Kai nodded. "You find some free time, I’d appreciate it if you took a refresher. It’s important to me."
"I’m sorry," Jon signed, one he remembered.
Kai shrugged, glanced over at the TV. The cameraman had zoomed in on the cheerleaders. He seemed to have lost his resolution to confess whatever it was he wanted to say.
"Please say me," Jon tried to sign, making his face as earnest as he could. "I’m sorry."
Kai rolled his eyes, sighed, and sim-commed, demonstrating what he knew Jon had meant to say, "Tell me," index finger from lips down to chest. "Refresher."
Jon reddened. "Sorry. Easier for me to understand you than . . ."
"I get it." Kai leaned back against the couch arm, rubbed his eyes, stretched. "There’s this girl I’ve been fucking," Kai said, watching his brother’s face for a reaction. "Girl. Fuck. Me." Kai repeated, demonstrating the signs and speaking them, knowing his brother hadn’t got it. "That’s where I go."
Jon nodded. "I suspected as much."
"That’s all it’s ever been. Just sex, really. . . . Mutual agreement." Kai cast a sideways look at the TV; the Colts were kicking a field goal. He sighed, turned back to his brother. "But there’s this other girl, from school. I’m pretty sure she likes me, and I like her. . . ." Kai paused to see if Jon had gotten it.
"Girl. School. Like. You like a girl from school, she likes you. So you weren’t sure how to handle things with . . . this other girl. The one you’re sleeping with."
Kai struggled not to laugh again at Jon. "Yes. Last night, I went to the girl thinking I’d call it off, but . . ." Kai paused, fingers in the end of the sign for "but," index fingers of each hand spaced apart and pointing up.
"But you’re confused," Jon signed, smiling, knowing he had to have gotten it right since Kai had used both signs.
Kai chuckled before his face grew serious. "Yeah. I don’t know. Some things happened, and I’m wondering if maybe there is something between us? I don’t know what to do," Kai finished, sim-comming, frowning, eyebrows dipped sternly.
Jon carded his fingers through his hair several times, thinking. "I appreciate your talking to me. But considering the mess that is my love life, not sure if I’m the one who should be giving relationship advice."
"Advise me anyway. Otherwise, how can I be stubborn and ignore it? Isn’t that what little brothers are supposed to do?"
Jon laughed. "Go with your gut. . . . Heart. . . . Brain?"
Kai chuckled. "Guess that’s what I get for asking a doctor for advice."
Jon shrugged, mussed his hair. "Not going out every night might make a big difference with dealing with your course load, though."
Kai rolled his eyes. "This coming from the guy who finished high school two years early, did college and med school in six, and is double-board certified in both adult and peds pulm. And you’re what . . . thirty?"
Jon sighed, covered his face with his hands, muttered to himself, "When you have nothing, you need to find something."
Kai heard him though, and nodded. When Jon moved his hands, he saw Kai was flicking the rubber band against his wrist hard, over and over.
Jon pointed. "You want to talk about that?"
Kai seemed to snap out of a trance, growing pale and covering his wrist with his other hand. "It’s nothing."
Jon studied his brother, brows deeply furrowed. "Are girls the only thing bothering you?"
Kai returned his brother’s gaze, face stoic, then pulled himself into his chair. "Thanks for the advice. I think I’m going to lie down, try to study. Let’s grab dinner together somewhere later?"
Kai didn’t give Jon the opportunity to respond to that non-answer, quickly pushing himself to his room, leaving Jon alone. Concern and worry lined Jon’s face. He found his fingers slipping below his shirt, under the waistband of his pants and briefs, right along the edge of the psoas muscle of his right hip. The scars had faded long ago, but Jon remembered them. Remembered making them, too, and hoped his concerns about Kai were unfounded.
Hope you enjoyed this long installment! Stay tuned next week to find out how our boys spend their holiday... Kai with Renee, and Jon at work. Although they're might be some hope for both men's love lives....
Continue to September 4, 2000 - Part I --->