2015 - Winter - Blackout Entry
08:15 AM Redux - 1. Chapter 1
08:15 AM Redux
a. the extinguishing of all stage lights, as in closing a vaudeville skit or separating the scenes of a play.
b. Also called black′out skit`. a skit ending in a blackout.
a. temporary loss of consciousness or vision.
b. a period of total memory loss, as one induced by an accident or prolonged alcoholic drinking.
5. a brief, passing lapse of memory.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
Romeo was over an hour late. No texts. No messages. And he had forgotten his keys left on the kitchen table. Julian flicked his finger against the little cake pendant. He had found it on Etsy and immediately bought it. A deceptively realistic slice of strawberry cheesecake, with red sauce dripping down its sides. The whole evening he had been feeling inexplicably on edge.
When the doorbell rang, he breathed out in relief. Finally! Snatching the key chain, he ran into the hall.
Ripping the door open, he grinned. Romeo didn't need to know he had been worried. “Someone forgot their k…” But the smile froze on his face when he saw Ren. “Hey…Ren.” Weird. The man was wearing an old-fashioned, black velvet frock coat, with a frilly, white shirt underneath, skinny, black trousers with matching shiny ankle boots, and his long hair was held back at the nape by a rumpled, velvet bow. Julian involuntarily stood up on his tiptoes, trying to peer around him. “Where is Rome?” Only then did he take a closer look at Ren’s face. What he saw made his stomach cramp. “What happened?!”
“There has been an accident at the theater. I’ll tell you everything in the car. Go grab a coat and the power of attorney documents. I’ll tell you everything on the way to the hospital.” He turned, but Julian stopped him, grabbing his shoulder.
Julian ran upstairs to his office, pulled out the bottom desk drawer so hard it almost fell on the floor, took the envelope on top, and ran back down. All the while, horrible images of things that could have happened to Romeo ran through his head. He grabbed his woolen coat and his car keys, but Ren stopped him. “No. You’re in no condition to drive. That’s why Jonah sent me here.”
Julian opened his mouth to protest, but Ren snatched the keys out of his hand and threw them back inside without looking to see where they hit the floor. “Come on. We don’t have time for this.”
“Hurry, damn it!”
As soon as he was in the passenger seat, Ren started the car and sped down the road towards the city.
“How bad is it?”
“Romeo fell down the stage lift. Jonah followed the ambulance in his car. They didn’t let him ride with them because he isn’t a relative. Hence the power of attorney documents.” He nodded at the envelope in Julian’s hand.
“How do you know…I mean—”
“We overheard the paramedics. It isn’t good, Julian. Romeo has severe head trauma. He didn’t react to anything they tried. There was so much blood….”
“Why would he fall down the fucking stage lift? Somebody must be responsible for this…”
“We tried classical blackout to change scenes, instead of curtains. The audience would hear us moving stuff around but not see what we were doing. Romeo thought it added to the mystery. Intrigue. Just the right thing for a Christmas play. The stage was dark. We had just finished changing what we needed when we heard him cry out. Michael hurried to switch the lights back on, but all we could see was a hole in the floor. The lift was down. Someone must have accidentally hit the wrong switch.”
“What? How could this happen?”
“I don’t know, Jules! Okay? There was some blood on the edge of the hole. But that wasn’t the worst. When we finally got to him, he was unconscious. His head…there was blood everywhere! And his body looked all wrong. He must have hit one of the metal support beams of the stage construction….” Ren looked over at Julian.
“He can’t die, Ren. I just found him….” Ren cursed inwardly and quickly looked back to the road ahead, as tears began running down his friend’s face.
Julian’s brain couldn’t accept that he was about to lose his lover. Instead, it provided unnecessary information. Why was Ren wearing those strange clothes? Because he was playing the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. It was his costume. Tonight had been dress rehearsal. Romeo was the Ghost of Christmas Past. “Damn it!”
“Jonah called me after he’d reached the hospital and talked with the nurses, but they didn’t tell him anything. That’s why I said you’d need the power of attorney.” He paused for a moment, as if he were thinking whether to continue or not.
“He caught some hushed words when they rolled Romeo away. It-I… Fuck! They don’t expect him to survive the night.”
Julian shook his head. He couldn’t accept that. Never. Romeo was a fighter. He would win this battle.
When they reached the hospital Ren stopped the car near the ER entrance. Julian got out without another word.
Julian stopped at the nurses’ station. “I’m here for Romeo Giordano. He came with an ambulance about an hour ago.”
“Are you a relative?”
“No. I’m his partner—”
She frowned. “I’m sorry, but I can’t—”
“I have the power of attorney here.” He slammed the envelope onto her desk he had been holding in his hand.
“There is no need to get rude. I couldn’t know that. We have been instructed not to give away any information about patients, except to relatives and people with power of attorney.”
Julian ran a hand through his hair, trying to be patient. “I’m sorry. I heard his condition is bad and I…I… Where can I find him?”
It felt like ages until she finally had the information he needed.
Jonah was waiting in one of the visitor rooms and immediately looked up when he heard the door open. “Julian!” He jumped up from his chair, and for a moment they stood awkwardly in the middle of the room. Then Jonah wrapped Julian into his arms. “I’m so fucking sorry, Jules.”
Almost instantly, Julian took a step back. “I only talked to the nurse outside; she couldn’t tell me anything besides Romeo is in surgery. I need to find a doctor.”
Jonah touched his arm. “I don’t think there is anyone who can say more than you already know. We have to wait until the doctor who’s operating on him can talk to you.”
“I’m not a patient man.”
Julian sat down anyway. For a while, he stared at the stained, greenish wall in front of him. Suddenly, he slipped a hand in the inner pocket of his coat and drew out a small, blue box.
Jonah gasped. “Is that…”
In answer, Julian flipped the lid open. Two simple, silver bands gleamed in the overhead neon light. “I picked them up from the jeweler earlier today. I was going to ask him after opening night.” He ran a trembling fingertip over the slightly smaller one. “I guess I’ll just ask him later, huh?”
Clutching the little cheesecake pendant so hard its edges dug lines in his palm, Julian sat in an uncomfortable, plastic chair in the corner of Romeo’s room. They had allowed him to stay if he kept out of the way when they had to treat him. He stared at the deathly white face of his lover, then his gaze wandered to the bandaged shoulder and leg. Complicated fractures that needed surgery. There were tubes attached to him and beeping machines. Romeo was on a ventilator. The surgeon had called it a Christmas miracle that he was still alive.
They weren’t sure he would make it through the night.
Julian counted while he watched Romeo’s chest move up and down. Fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two…
Romeo was still alive in the morning. He survived the next day too. And the next night. The doctors were becoming cautiously optimistic. That didn’t mean he was out of the woods yet.
Jonah and Ren proved to be godsends. They brought him a change of clothes and sat with Romeo while he took a shower. Then he called Thom and told him what had happened and said he wouldn’t be coming into work for some time. It was just as well he owned half the company, otherwise he’d probably be out of a job.
They celebrated a quiet Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Romeo’s room. In the weeks that followed, Julian practically lived at the hospital. He only left his boyfriend’s room when the doctors told him they had to examine Romeo. He couldn’t count how many times they’d suggested he should go home to rest, shower, eat and then come back. He never did. Thom had eventually given him his laptop, so he could distract himself with work.
Ren brought food and clothes and sat with Romeo when Julian had to get some fresh air. Jonah always came with flowers, played music Romeo liked, and included him in their conversations as if he were awake.
After three more weeks they took Romeo off the ventilator. It was excruciating to wait for him to take the first breath on his own and exhilarating when he did it. They eased up on the sedatives, and in theory, he should have woken up. Only he didn’t.
The surgeries for his broken shoulder and his left leg went well. His bones healed while he was sleeping, and Romeo looked as if he would wake up any minute. Julian never gave up hope.
Then one day he heard excited voices after he had just stepped into the en-suite bathroom. Hurrying back, he saw Romeo’s eyes were open. Jonah was talking to him excitedly. But before Julian could get to him, a doctor and two nurses rushed in and ushered everyone out.
“I’m so glad!” Jonah took Julian into his arms and danced with him through the hallway, not caring about the scowls they got. “He woke up! He even croaked something that sounded like ‘Hi.’” Jonah grinned. Then he grabbed Julian’s face with both hands and kissed him on the mouth. “He made it. He fucking made it.”
They had to wait half an hour until they were allowed back into the room. For thirty minutes Julian was torn between hope and dread. Jonah didn’t notice his silence. He talked a mile a minute the entire time.
Finally the door opened. “You can go inside now. Please talk in low voices. Don’t be alarmed if the patient seems confused, repeats himself, or forgets things. This is normal. It might last for a short time only, maybe some days.”
Something was wrong. The doctor hadn’t told them everything. Julian was sure of it. With his heart thumping, he stepped up beside the bed and took his lover’s hand. Romeo smiled tiredly, his eyes searching for something. Someone. Then he detected Jonah at the foot of his bed, and seemed relieved.
“Romeo, love. I’m so glad you’re back.”
Romeo looked at Julian with blank eyes. “Should I know you?”
Romeo didn’t remember him. He had lost the year he fell in love with Julian. The doctors called it retrograde amnesia. Something about his episodic memory being more affected than his semantic memory, meaning he remembered words and general knowledge, but not specific events in his life. Or people. He still remembered Jonah and Ren because he had known them many years.
Julian’s visits upset Romeo. After they had told him who Julian was, he had desperately tried to remember him. Finally, to minimize his stress, the doctors suggested Julian not come to the hospital anymore, because it would impair Romeo’s progress.
Jonah and Ren kept him updated. Romeo had to stay at the hospital for two more weeks before he went to another facility. Besides cognitive rehabilitation, he had to learn to walk again. Julian visited Romeo there. The doctors had suggested a surprise could trigger a memory. It had been awkward, their conversation stilted. It gutted him when he detected pity in Romeo’s eyes. From that day on, he stopped calling. He listened to Jonah telling him about Romeo’s progress for a while longer, but it hurt too much. In the end, he asked him not to do it anymore.
Then the moving van came. Jonah and Ren had already come for Romeo’s clothes weeks ago. They had told him he was going to stay with them after his rehabilitation. Now they loaded up the rest of Romeo’s belongings. He would move back into the apartment above his coffee shop where he’d lived before.
Julian sat on the bed, their bed, one of Romeo’s hoodies pressed against his chest. He had intended to help with carrying, but somehow he had ended here. When Ren came in to collect a few remaining things, he didn’t take it away from him. If he knew it was Romeo’s, he didn’t let on.
That had been five months ago. Five months of living in the house Julian had designed and built for the love of his life. Who still couldn’t remember him. Tomorrow he would talk to a realtor. Sell everything and buy an apartment near work. Close this chapter of his life.
The doorbell rang, but he didn’t get up. Not expecting anyone, he wasn’t in the mood for surprise visits.
Julian couldn’t believe it when he heard footsteps coming closer and saw Jonah standing in the doorway. He had Romeo’s keys in his hand. “I’m sorry for entering your house uninvited, but you haven’t answered your phone for weeks, and you wouldn’t open the door.”
“Maybe I didn’t want to talk to you.”
“The thought had occurred to me.”
“Make it short then.”
Romeo watched the clock over the entrance door. The second hand hopped over the twelve and another minute had gone by. Eight-thirteen a.m.
“One tall, skinny latte, please.” Lila had finally thrown in the towel three weeks ago. Her successor, Carly, was buying the coffee for their bitchy boss now. “And a Greek-yogurt-and-honey blueberry muffin.” She was still enthusiastic and full of hope. Obviously, she hadn’t talked to Lila yet.
Grinning, Romeo grabbed one of the tall paper cups and poured a double shot of espresso. “Do you want syrup with it? Pumpkin spice maybe?”
“Sugar-free? Boss is obsessed with her weight.”
“Lila said as much. I have a selection of sugar-free syrups, actually.”
“You know what? Make it a tall, skinny, pumpkin spice latte. Maybe having a little more spice in her life will help improve her foul mood.” She winked at him. It seemed she had talked to Lila after all. “If she doesn’t like it, I’ll either be back soon—or out of a job.”
Romeo mixed the coffee and syrup, then lifted up the box of skim milk so she could see it. “All low-fat.” She grinned enthusiastically.
After filling the cup with steamed milk, he topped everything off with a generous amount of diet chocolate syrup. “The sugar-free variety, of course.”
He dropped the muffin in a paper bag and pushed everything over to Marge at the checkout desk. “See you tomorrow, Carly. Hopefully.”
She waved at him, before throwing the change into the tip jar.
“Good morning, Romeo.”
Romeo chanced a quick look at the wall clock. Eight-fifteen. He smiled. “Good morning, Julian.”
“A large mochaccino and…” The man looked over the pastry selection. “The chocoholic muffins look delicious today. I’d like one of those, please.”
Julian Gerald had been his love. And Romeo couldn’t remember any of that time. He could recall the pain in the man’s eyes though, when he realized that Romeo had forgotten him. He had tried. In rehabilitation, he had wished for nothing more than to eradicate Julian’s pain. To wipe away the forlorn look on the stranger’s face. The therapist had said he couldn’t force it, that it was even counterproductive to try so hard. In the end, he had accepted it.
Then Jonah and Ren had suggested he meet Julian from time to time to see if something had changed. After the first time Romeo had refused to do it again. He couldn’t stand crushing Julian’s hopes like that.
Then a few weeks ago there had been memory flashes. He saw himself riding his bike and dashing through traffic behind an Audi SUV. Another time he had been in the car holding hands with Julian. And the gorgeous house… When Romeo described this particular memory to Jonah, he had told him he’d remembered living there with Julian.
Three months ago, Julian came into his coffee shop. Listening to him ordering coffee made his heart beat faster. That voice…just did it for him. Deep and…rumbly. There had been this feeling….
Romeo steeled himself with a short, extra breath, before he met the man’s pale grey eyes. “A mochaccino and a chocoholic muffin coming right up. I’ll bring everything over to your usual table in a minute, Julian.”
“Thank you, Romeo.” Julian hesitated briefly, then gave a sad smile before heading for the table over to the left, with the two loveseats.
Like every morning, Julian got out his tablet computer and—wait! This wasn’t the iPad he had used in the past. He now had a Sony Xperia Z4. He remembered! Another jigsaw puzzle piece!
Working on autopilot, Romeo took a large, white, ceramic cup from the heater, filled it with one shot of espresso, and mixed it with chocolate powder before topping it off with steamed milk and foam. A light sprinkle of nutmeg, and the mochaccino was done. Now the muffin. Another picture flashed up in his mind: a white plate decorated with chocolate syrup. A sharp longing made his chest constrict. He hesitated briefly, then grabbed the bottle with caramel syrup and swirled some around the muffin. He even added one of the little heart-shaped cookies. Before he lost his courage and discarded everything, he dried his damp hands on his apron, picked up the cup and plate and went over to Julian’s table.
Julian. There was even less black in his hair now.
“Here you go, Julian. One mochaccino and a chocoholic muffin.”
“Thank you, Romeo.” Then Julian noticed the decorations and gasped. “Rome!”
Romeo’s hand began to tremble, he felt embarrassed. Especially when Julian took the little cookie, dipped it into the syrup, and then bit it in two. He lifted the other half and before he knew it, Romeo opened his mouth and took it. The tip of his tongue came out to lick his lips clean of a bit of caramel sauce and crumbs.
What had he just done?
He fled behind the security of his counter, heart pounding in his chest. Trying to collect himself with a deep breath, he smiled at the next customer. “Good morning. Welcome to Romeo’s Coffee Shop. What can I get you?” He could barely concentrate on the complicated order. He was a mess. Finally motioning for Oliver to take over, he escaped to his office, needing time to sort out his thoughts.
“He’s still old.” Eighteen-year-old Oliver, a college student since last fall, and recurrent smartass-of-the-day award winner, as well as a very fine barista, stood in the door. “He could be my granddad.”
Irritated, Romeo snapped, “For you, everyone over twenty-five is old.”
“He has white hair!”
“That’s called salt and pepper hair, and I happen to think it’s hot.”
“You like old men?”
Romeo smacked him upside his head. “He’s not old.”
“Hmm.” Oliver rubbed the back of his head. “He lost weight. Don’t you think?” Probably to be on the safe side, he took a step back, before continuing, “You should invite him in, and feed him cheesecake, after the date.”
“After what date?”
Oliver gave him a folded paper napkin. “He invited you to dinner. Friday, nine p.m. A place called Il Porcino.”
Romeo snatched the napkin out of Oliver’s hand. “You read it?”
Oliver turned around, then threw back, “Better text him you accept. He’s probably on tenterhooks out there.”
Romeo felt warm for the first time in a long while. He still didn’t remember much. But he was suddenly sure that what had worked once could work a second time. They would get to know each other again. He fumbled for his phone then hit speed dial number one. He’d never had the heart to change it.
Thank you to Cia for doing the final proof!
2015 - Winter - Blackout Entry
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