Chase contemplated rolling over, weighing whether relief to his left side would be worth the effort. He settled for pulling one leg up a few inches and moving his arm further under the pillow, allowing his body to stretch a few degrees. It was enough to let him retreat into blessed sleep again.
The jangle of his dad’s landline phone intruded, dragging him back up from the depths of oblivion. Dammit! He didn’t want to be conscious, because that meant thinking—which led to remembering, resulting in the worst kind of anguish. Fuck! His sister’s ‘I mean business’ voice came loud and clear from the living room.
Her previous messages had been more subdued, showing a concern he didn’t deserve, but this time her tone was shrill. “I swear to God, Chase, if you don’t get the hell out of bed and return my call, I’m coming over there. I know what happened, and I’ve been patient, but enough is enough. I don’t know if you’re there or if you’re even alive, but you damn well better be! You’re not doing this again, you hear me? I have Dad’s keys too, so don’t think I won’t drag you kicking and screaming from that smelly nest you’re probably wallowing in. You have five minutes to call me back!”
The click on the answering machine was more like a boom to Chase’s ears. Why was it so fucking loud? He pictured his sister’s face and that steely determination she was famous for, at least in his family. She was a carbon copy of their mother in so many ways.
This time he did roll over, lying flat out and staring at the ceiling. Judging by the suffused light coming through the blinds, it appeared to be late afternoon. Should he ignore her? Was she bluffing? No, not taking heed would be at his peril—he could still recall the gross stickiness of the two liter bottle of Pepsi Cindy had poured on him during high school, after he refused to get up one morning. His bed and pillow had reeked of sugary pop for months.
Why couldn’t she leave him alone? Groaning, he did another half roll, getting closer to the edge of the bed. With what felt like Herculean effort, he swung his legs over the edge and sat up. The onset of nauseating dizziness had his hands gripping the mattress until balance returned.
Fixing his vision on the far wall, he blinked until things came into sharper focus.One of his mother’s paintings hung there, a pastoral scene of sheep on a hillside, done in soft, muted tones. He wondered when she’d painted this one—he should know that. Right… it suddenly came to him. End of Grade twelve, just before her initial diagnosis, the one that went from optimistic to a death sentence over the course of the following years.
They all thought she’d beaten it, but cancer has a way of fooling even the experts, and hers had sneakily taken up residence elsewhere. It was a loss that was still fresh, and one he’d yet to recover from. Sighing, he looked down at his feet. He had one sock on. How long had he been in this room? What day was it?
There was nothing within reach to help support his weight, and he felt incredibly weak, but he had to stand in order to walk, and he had to walk in order to stem Cindy’s oh-so-obvious wrath. Knowing it came from a good place did little to ease his leeriness. Taking a deep breath and holding it, he pushed his body upward, teetering in a semi-upright position. Slowly, he straightened, and the world righted itself along with him.
His pounding heart-rate steadied, and he remembered. He’d entered this room, his father’s spare, two… no… three days earlier, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, after Hank had thrown him out—not literally, but damn close. He’d never seen him so angry… and he would never forget the look of disgust on his face when Chase had come through the door. He shuddered, and had to fight not to collapse.
So this was Monday? Yeah, Monday. It should have been a work day, but he couldn’t sum up the energy to care. The urge to fall back into bed was strong. He’d really fucked up, losing the best thing in his life as a result of his unforgivable stupidity. Hank—what was he ever going to do without him? His constant fear of losing the man had ended up coming true after all.
The phone rang again. “Give me a break, Cindy. My five fucking minutes aren’t up yet!” he shouted into the air with an alien-sounding voice. He stood undecided, his limbs trembling from the effort. Facing her meant facing the world again, and he didn’t want to do that. She would never be satisfied with a few uttered words. She’d want to dissect everything—that was her way—and in her mind, it was her right. He’d been putting her off for months, but it didn’t sound like that was an option anymore. He waited for the message to start, but it didn’t. Huh?
Oh, shit. That meant she was probably on her way. God, not face to face. No, no, no, not now! He carefully took a step away from the bed… and another… and another. How could he feel so hot and so cold at the same time?
Chase needed sustenance of some kind—and water—in the worst way. He was fading fast just from the effort of leaving the room. Holding onto the doorway, waiting for the possibility of fainting to pass, he looked up the hall toward the living room of his dad’s spacious new condo. It was bright up there—way too bright—and far, and the kitchen was on the other side. Did his dad even have anything to eat? He was on an open-ended trip, trying to forget—or regroup—he wasn’t sure what the man was trying to accomplish, so probably not. Suddenly queasy again, he broke out in a full body sweat as his mind returned to his now ex-boyfriend. How was he doing without him? Was he still furious with him?
Hank was always slow to anger, but Chase had done a good job of stoking the fires. No, he wouldn’t be angry—not a hot anger anyway—now it would be a cold, quiet anger, fueled by Chase’s betrayal. He’d hurt him badly… because he’d been a fucking fool.
A rap at the door startled him. His heart-rate shot up again. It occurred to him he could lock himself in the bathroom, but Cindy was good with improvising tools, and wasn’t beyond using them to reach her goal. Best to get this over with. Finding strength from somewhere, he entered the light, momentarily blinded by the afternoon sun shining through the huge balcony windows.
He stopped again as another knock sounded. Why wasn’t she using her key like she’d threatened? It wasn’t like her to show him respect, not when she was on a mission to try to make everything right. There was no fixing his life this time. She’d been relentless at trying to get him over the hump of losing their mother, to at least talk about her, but this was different. This was about Hank, stalwart and principled Hank, and Chase didn’t want to feel better. He didn’t deserve to.
He jolted at the sound of more robust pounding, and, dreading the wrath of Cindy, moved as fast as he could to the door, spinning the flip lock. Checking the peephole as his hand pushed down on the handle lever, his heart stuttered at who was staring at him. His already precarious equilibrium lurched, and all he saw was ceiling as he tumbled backwards into darkness.
Something wet covered his face. He could feel water dripping into the hair at his temples. What the hell? Murmuring reached his ears, a man’s voice, coming from somewhere far away. Who… wait… was that Hank? Attempting to rise, he sank back quickly into cushioned softness as a sharp pain shot through his head. A heaving stomach added to his misery.
“Chase? Chase? Can you hear me?”
“Hank? Yeah. What happened?”
“You fainted, and I carried you to the couch.”
“I fainted?” He reached up to remove what he now knew was a wet cloth covering the upper half of his face.”
“No, leave that. You’re burning up. Let me close the curtains first.”
Chase listened to the sound of the heavy drapes sliding along their track, still trying to understand what was going on. Why was Hank here? Did he forgive him? He’d glimpsed him through the peephole before… nothing.
“There, that’ll be easier on your eyes. Let’s take this off and I’ll cool it down.”
Hank’s handsome face appeared a foot from his own. He was sitting on the ottoman part of the massive coffee table in front of the sofa, leaning over him. “Did I hit my head?”
“Yeah, but there’s no bump I can see. You fell straight back and the carpet broke your fall. You do have a fever, though.”
“I do?” Chase studied Hank’s features, trying to get a read on the man. He still looked like the man who’d loved him.
“You’re burning up... I checked your temp. A hundred and two, point nine, so I need you to swallow some Tylenol.”
“Can you sit up a bit?”
Chase nodded, but when he tried, he found he was too weak.
“Here, let me.” Strong arms helped lift him, propping him against the arm of the sofa after he adjusted a couple of pillows. “Comfortable?”
“Yeah… thanks. Hank? Why are you being so nice to me after what I did? You said you never wanted to see me again.”
“Here, take a little sip of water first.”
Apparently, he was ignoring the question. Chase did as asked, the whole time trying to make eye contact while Hank held the glass.
“Good. Hold out your hand and take these.”
“Sure, open up.” He pushed the pills into Chase’s mouth. “Now, take another drink.”
Chase gave up on trying to connect with the man, and swallowed one more mouthful before closing his eyes.
Those couple of sips had made him thirsty for more, but staying quiet was less awkward as he tried to come to grips with Hank being right there. And of course he’d be nice to him… that was his way.
“I talked to Cindy… she called.”
“Oh”—Chase opened his eyes—“is that why you’re here?”
“What? No, I was already here. I meant just now. She called, and I told her what happened.”
“She said if your temperature goes up after you had the Tylenol, you have to go to the hospital. I promised I’d take you to Emerge.”
“I… I’m not feeling that bad.”
“Tell that to your sister.”
“Yeah… no thanks. Why are you here, Hank?”
“You didn’t show up at work, and they called me. Why don’t you answer your damn phone?”
“My phone? Ah… I don’t exactly know where it is.”
“It’s on the floor of the bathroom.”
“Oh. I must have—”
“Left it there when you puked?”
“I... I guess.”
“You could have changed your shirt at least. Did you drink all weekend?” A flicker of annoyance slid across his face.
“No. That was on Friday, after you—”
“Friday? You haven’t changed your shirt since Friday?”
“No,” he answered sheepishly. “I, ah... I just stayed in bed.”
Hank appeared incredulous, and now there was plenty of eye contact. “So you've been ill all this time?”
“Not ill… ashamed… and sad. I’m sorry, Hank, I’m so—”
“Don’t. I don’t want to hear it. Sorry means shit to me.”
Chase couldn’t help himself. A wave of remorse hit him hard, and he felt tears coming. He closed his eyes but that didn’t stop them. He heard Hank get up from the ottoman and walk around the room.
“When was the last time you ate?”
Chase tried to answer, but ended up choking on phlegm.
“Here. Blow your nose.” Hank handed him some tissue from the box on the coffee table and stood silently while Chase cleaned himself up. Miserable didn’t begin to describe how he was feeling in that moment.
“So, answer my question. When did you eat last?”
“At our… the dinner we had.”
“Jesus, Chase. That was, what… seventy-two hours ago. No wonder you look like shit. You have to eat. Have you been drinking fluids at least?”
Chase shook his head.
“For fuck's sake, you should damn well know better than to pull this shit.”
“I know. I wasn’t pulling anything… I’m sorry. I screwed up and—”
A sigh blasted from the man. “Never mind that now. Maybe Cindy’s right. Maybe I should take you to Emergency.”
“No. I’ll be okay. I just need….”
“You just need what?”
“I don’t know… I wish—”
“I’ll be right back. Even with a fever, I think you should eat something… and drink. Finish that glass of water, and I’ll go check the cupboards. Do you think you can keep food down?”
“I don’t know… I think so… maybe.” Chase watched his ex-boyfriend walk into the kitchen, his broad back disappearing past the breakfast counter before he heard the fridge open and close. Next was a cupboard door opening, and then a softly expressed ‘Yes.’
He finished the glass of water before he answered. “Ah, sure.” Leaning back and closing his eyes, he listened to the sound of food being prepared. He barely felt the face cloth being placed gently on his forehead.
“Chase, it’s ready. Wake up.”
Startled, he opened his eyes, looking up at the man who stood a few feet away. “Sorry. I can’t believe I drifted off with the amount of sleep I’ve had.”
“I’m not. You’re depleted. It’s on the table if you think you can sit up. I brought you one of your dad’s tee shirts.”
“It’s for both of us… that one is disgusting, and it stinks.”
“It does,” Chase agreed, ashamed Hank was seeing him like this. “I didn’t have any clothes here, so….”
“You can pick them up whenever you want. You still have your keys.”
Chase stood on shaky legs while Hank watched. He looked down. Crap. He looked past his stained shirt and boxer briefs to see he still had only one sock on. “I’m pretty gross, aren’t I?”
“Don’t worry about that now. Just change your shirt and come eat. Where are your pants?”
“Oh, ah, in the bedroom on the floor… somewhere.” He experienced a chill when he pulled his shirt off, and felt sad when Hank immediately looked away. Last week that wouldn’t have been the case. Now everything was ruined.
The bowl of chicken noodle soup wasn’t as appealing as it should have been, but he knew he needed to eat, so he forced himself. It was easier after the first spoonful, and he managed to get half the bowl down, along with a few crackers. Hank had returned to the kitchen, and from the sounds of it, cleaned up. He didn’t hear him return until a hand landed on his forehead.
“You’re cooler than you were. Does it feel like that soup is going come back up?”
“No. My stomach feels better. A lot better.” As long as he didn’t think about what he’d lost. “I appreciate what you’re doing… for me.”
“Just because we’re over doesn’t mean I stopped caring what happens to you. It’s not easy right now, but I’m not going to desert someone who needs help.”
He didn’t know what to say. Hearing those words hurt… they sounded so impersonal. Chase was no longer someone special to Hank.
“What are you going to tell your boss?”
“Oh… I’m not sure. I guess I’ll have to grovel. It’s the first time I haven’t shown up for work without calling.”
“That’s why I came to check on you. Anyway, I told him you were going through a personal crisis, so maybe that will help.”
“You did? What did he say?”
“Not much. He said he hoped you were okay, and asked me to have you call him. What were you thinking that you didn’t call in sick?”
Chase sighed as Hank sat across from him. “I wasn’t thinking. I… I didn’t care. I just wanted to….”
“Wanted to what? What the hell are you saying, Chase?”
“It hurt, and I couldn’t handle the—”
“Christ… don’t do this to me again. You weren’t thinking about doing anything to yourself—”
“God, no. I wouldn’t do that, I swear. It just hurt so much.”
“Tell me about it,” Hank said sarcastically.
“I know, I know. Hurting you made me feel lower than low, but I swear nothing happened.”
“Are you fucking serious?”
“No, I mean after… nothing happened. When I got back to the apartment, you accused me of—”
“I don’t care about after. I don’t care whether you fucked. You were in a bathroom stall together, and you were kissing, and I saw it with my own eyes! You call that nothing? Seriously?”
“I was drinking and I was messed up in my head, and—”
“Shut up. Shut the fuck up! There is no excuse for what you did. None.” Hank’s voice leveled out, the emotion tamping down a few degrees. “You cheated, and if you hadn’t gotten caught, it would have gone a hell of a lot further. Hell, for all I know, you’re lying, and it did.”
Chase’s eyes began to burn again. “I know you won’t believe me, and I know how it looked, but that’s not true… it’s not!”
Hank scoffed. “Who are you trying to convince here? His hands were gripping your ass for Christ’s sake! Do you not think that’s what anyone would say who got caught by their boyfriend?”
“Yeah, probably,” he admitted. “But I didn’t even like the guy. I got scared, okay, and he was there and he wouldn’t leave, and I flirted and danced and… and I fucked up… it wasn’t about him, I swear. I didn’t expect him to get so aggressive, and maybe that was my fault because I led him on, but I was already trying to get myself out of it. He kept saying he could change my mind, but he couldn’t. I realized I would be making the biggest mistake if—”
“Not would, Chase. You did. You made the choice to go into that stall with him.”
“That’s not exactly true. Look, I know what I did was wrong, believe me, and I’m not making excuses. He kissed me, and I kissed him back. For a few seconds, I sunk to that depth, I did. But, he followed me into the bathroom and into the stall. I wasn’t expecting that. All I wanted to do was dance and… and forget….”
“My proposal?” Hank asked bitterly.
Chase hesitated, and then shook his head. “No, the way I reacted. Your proposal was beautiful, and I’m sorry for freaking out and saying I couldn’t, but losing my mom has made me… I wasn’t sure I was good enough for you.”
Hank’s eyebrows rose, before creasing in anger. “That’s a crock of shit,” he said with a hiss. “I never once made you feel you weren’t good enough.”
“No, no, that’s not what I’m saying, but I’ve had a hard time getting a handle on my depression, and I kept waiting for you to get fed up and leave me, so when you proposed—”
“You ran out of the apartment like I’d done something terrible. I still think it’s a crock of shit. If that was really the case, you should have fucking known better.”
Chase nodded again. “I understand why you think that. What I did was unforgivable. When I got to the bar, I panicked. I was going to leave and go back home, but I was so scared after what I'd done... I had a couple of drinks... and then I went onto the dance floor and danced... and I finally started to calm down. I kept looking for you, hoping you’d come find me and give me another chance to say yes. I did know better, Hank, deep down. But, I’m not sure what… I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t feel right when you asked, so how could I explain it to you?"
Hank did not look impressed, and Chase stammered out more words, desperate to span the distance he saw in his expression.
“I guess I just needed a little time to think—”
“And kiss some guy while you were mulling it over? Come on, Chase, you think I’m stupid? I did come find you, didn’t I, but you weren’t in any position to say yes… not to me at least.”
He winced, squeezing his eyes shut for a few seconds as the angry words, and the disgust behind them, battered at him. “Why did you come?” he asked meekly.
“Not that it matters now, but I went looking for you so I could let you know everything was okay, and marriage could wait, or not happen at all, but… fuck that. You sure didn’t look like someone who wanted another chance to say yes. Why didn’t you call me,” he asked so softly, the difference was startling. “Did you not think about how I felt after you got up and left?”
Chase groaned, wanting to crawl into a hole and hide from the pain he'd caused. But, he couldn't. He owed it to Hank to try to explain. “You’re right, I should have… but I was afraid to. I already thought I’d screwed everything up for good. When you didn’t come after me right away… you know me… I figured the worst. I didn't even know where to go when I got in the cab. I... I haven’t been the easiest partner, and you were there for me every step of the way with Mom, and then I go all stupid and say I can’t marry you. I was messed up, Hank, and I messed up even more with that kiss. I get why you feel the way you do, but I know what I want. I just wish I’d said yes when you asked. It’s something I’ll always regret.”
“Yeah, well, I regret ever asking.”
“Yeah, you said that,” he spat out.
“Forget it, Chase. You had every right to say no. You weren’t ready, and maybe you never would have been, but I deserved better. And you cheating… I can’t handle that.”
The fair-haired man looked away before he spoke. “You’ve had a bad couple of years, and no one knows that better than I do, but it’s not an excuse. Your mom is gone, but I was here and ready to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“I know you were. Do you think you’ll ever be able to forgive me?”
Hank met his gaze again and held it. “It’s not about forgiving… it’s about moving on.”
The finality of those words brought new tears. The answer was no—that was clear. Hank was through with him, and he really couldn’t blame him.
“Okay, let’s take your temperature again, and then you need to sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep.”
“It’s that or we go to the hospital. Lift your arm.”
“Why? I feel better.” He lifted his arm enough for Hank to slide the thermometer in.
Hank sighed wearily, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here, talking to Chase. “You could have a concussion. Just because there’s no bump doesn’t mean you don’t. I can’t leave you knowing it’s possible, so you take a nap, and I’ll wake you in a couple of hours to make sure you’re lucid.”
“Okay. Then what?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s not fair to you… you shouldn’t have to stay here. What about Rex? He’ll need to be let out soon, won’t he?”
“No, Stacy’s got him. I dropped him off before I came here.”
“Oh… but still….”
“Look, don’t worry about it. You nap and I’ll call Cindy. Maybe she can take over. I won’t leave you alone until I’m sure.”
“Okay but… okay… thanks.” A beep signified the thermometer had a reading.
Hank took it back. “It’s down a little. Okay, off to bed. Sleep in your dad’s room and I’ll throw that bedding in the laundry. It probably reeks too.”
“Speaking of reek, I need a shower first.”
“No. No way… you’re not steady on your feet, and you’re pale as shit, so no chance you’re getting in the shower. Let’s make sure there’s no concussion first. Then I can get the hell out of here.” His tone said it all. For Hank, this was about doing the right thing, and nothing more.
Thanks for reading this new endeavor of mine. It was written during a very tough time for me physically and health-wise, and was a writing process like none I've experienced before. I hope you enjoy reading about Chase's journey... and Hank's. Please leave a comment to let me know your thoughts, good or bad, and also, please remember to leave a 'like' on the story page if you find "Endings" worthwhile. Cheers... Gary....