Then Came You... - 2. Chapter 2 'Guilt' Riddance...
Life without Brad isn't getting any easier for Max, like people promised as a matter of fact it just seems to get harder. Drake receives a disturbing phone call the disrupts not only his life.
They stepped inside the dark apartment, Drake allowed Maxwell to enter first. He stopped, and scratched the side of his head as he absorbed his surroundings. The place was a total mess and the smell wasn’t that great either. He didn’t notice it this morning when he came by to pick up Maxwell, probably because his mind was on more pressing issues like getting through the funeral without breaking down.
As he stood there, he realized that Maxwell hadn’t been living, he’d been existing. The cushions of the sofa were thrown on the floor. There were two empty vodka bottles over turned on the table and an open box of pizza that had never been touched. He sighed glancing over his shoulder looking for Maxwell only to find he was alone. He unbuttoned his coat, pulled it off, and hung it up in the entry closet, before making his way over to the large window.
He opened the blinds, which provided very little light from the darkened sky. Drake could hear Maxwell moving about in the other room as he walked toward the sofa table littered with photos. There were frames in all sizes. Brad was a picture whore. He loved taking pictures. Drake chuckled softly as his fingers gingerly traced over each frame. Brad had mastered the art of taking self-photos. They didn’t need a passer-by to take them. He would hold the phone or camera out at an angle; have you scoot close together and ‘voilà’. Drake laughed aloud at one in particular. He remembered that night like it was yesterday. He and Brad were at the Townhouse having drinks waiting for Maxwell to get off work…
“Look at him,” Brad said with an impish grin nodding to the young man behind the bar. Maxwell was chatting with a customer, laughing as if whatever the man had said was the funniest thing ever. ‘Men leave bigger tips if you stroke their egos’, Maxwell would say.
“Um-hum…” Drake replied before taking a sip of his rum and diet coke.
“No, Un-hum…” Brad retorted. “Look at him.”
“I see…I see.” Drake laughed swallowing hard. “He’s cute.” He shrugged.
“Cute, my ass.” Brad nudged him with his shoulder. “He’s fine as hell. Ass all tight and shit.” He stressed. “I’m gonna have to talk to him about those jeans though, they are way too tight.” He noted thoughtfully while rubbing his finger under his chin.
“Ummm…” Drake nodded while reaching for the Chex- mix on their table. He tossed a handful into his mouth as he scanned the club.
“Hey, see that guy over there?” Brad pointed toward the bar.
“Which one…there are several.” Drake countered between chews.
“The tall blond,” he replied stretching his neck to get a better view. “The one in the blue shirt.”
“Yeah…What about him?”
“He’s been checking you out all night.”
“No he hasn’t,” Drake waved him off dismissively before bringing his glass to his lips.
“No, really…” Brad insisted.
“Whatever dude,” Drake sighed while shaking his head.
“He’s cute,” Brad added with a slight nod.
“Yes. And he looks like a ‘George Michael’ WHAM reject.” He laughed now chewing on crushed ice. “Look at that hair, feathered bangs. Who does that these days?” he asked. “No thanks, I’m good.”
“That’s nothing a good stylist can’t fix,” Brad suggested. “I’m just saying.” His smile slowly faded and his features took on one of a curious nature. “When was the last time you got laid?” he asked pointedly.
“What!?” Drake managed to choke out before going into a coughing fit.
“When was the last time you had sex?”
“That’s none of your business.” Drake eyed him as if he had two heads.
“I’m just looking out for you bro,” Brad deadpanned. “See he seems picky, like you.” He winked at his friend whose cheeks were slightly flushed.
“And you know this how?”
“He’s been in here every night for the past two weeks and he always leaves alone.”
“How would you know he’s been in here every night for the past two weeks?” Drake inquired with a raised brow.
“Because, I’ve been in here every night for the past two weeks,” Brad stated proudly.
“Seriously?” Drake asked incredulously.
“I’ve gotta protect my investment, you know.” He nodded toward Maxwell.
“Man…” Drake shook his head in amazement.
“I’m serious about that one.” Brad nodded before taking a sip of his drink. “I think he might be the one.” Drake pressed his lips together in a tight smile thinking he’d heard that line before. “Well what about it? Anything in here tonight that catches your eye?” he asked.
Drake turned up his glass glancing around the crowded club, which was filled with gorgeous men. There were the older distinguished gentlemen. Those with ‘old money’. The flamboyant. And a few ‘youngsters’, curious and out for the very first time, asking to be taken home. Though not knowing what to do when they got there, they would be eager to learn. He took a long sip and swallowed hard, his eyes resting at the bar. After taking a deep breath, he finally answered ”No.”
“He loved you, you know?” He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing there when Maxwell’s voice pulled him from his thoughts. He smiled sadly setting the picture of him and his friend back on the table.
“I loved him too.” Drake sighed turning around to face the young man. Maxwell had taken off his jacket and tie. His white starched shirt was now wrinkled and unbuttoned at the collar. “He was crazy about you.” He smiled thoughtfully. Maxwell nodded as he made his way over to the sofa to sit down.
“What do I do now?” he asked through a forlorn glance. He tucked his foot beneath him as he relaxed into the cushions.
“You keep living?” Drake replied as he joined his friend on the couch. He tilted his head slightly and smiled as he gently patted Maxwell on the knee.
“It just…It’s just so final,” he admitted faintly while chewing on his thumbnail. “Today was the hardest day of my life,” he said swallowing the lump formed in his throat. “I didn’t think I was going to get through it.”
“I know.” Drake nodded his understanding. “It’s hard on everyone, especially you.”
“I keep thinking he’s going to walk through the door and this would have all been a dream…a nightmare.” He shook his head, burying his face in his hands. “His side of the bed is empty…so cold.”
Drake nodded slowly not knowing what to say. He knew there was nothing he could say to make this situation any better and he didn’t want to sound insulting or condescending by saying things like ‘It will be okay’, because he knew, to Maxwell, things wouldn’t be okay for a very long time, so he just listened.
“Things were finally looking up for me.” He frowned, looking up between his fingers. “I was getting my shit together…you know?” He pressed his lips together in a tight line as he played with the hem of his shirt.
“I know.” Drake smiled. “Brad was very excited about you going back to school.”
“Yeah…” He glanced up receiving a warm smile, “But I think I’ll wait.”
“Why?” Drake questioned, knitting his brows together.
“I’m just not ready.”
“You’re ready…trust me, you’re ready. Don’t put that off.” Drake advised his tone serious. “Brad…”
“Brad wouldn’t want me to…I know.” Maxwell interjected bitterly before he could finish. “Brad wouldn’t want this…Brad wouldn’t want that.” Maxwell rolled his eyes, sighing exaggeratedly. “What everyone seems to forget is Brad is not here!” he blurted out angrily. Drake nodded biting on his lower lip. He was about to counter when his phone vibrated. He lifted up slightly reaching in his pants pocket to retrieve the device. Maxwell turned his attention to the empty bottle on the table while Drake answered his phone.
“Hello?” He smiled upon recognizing the familiar voice. “Cody,” he mouthed, pulling the phone away from his ear for a brief second. Maxwell nodded as he played with the cap on the vodka bottle. “Hey, babe. Ummm, he’s doing as well as can be expected.” He nodded through a soft smile. “Yeah, as a matter of fact that would be great. I didn’t stop to pick up anything, Max insisted he was hungry.” He stated. Maxwell glanced up and frowned upon hearing his name. “Sure. Thanks. We’ll see you in a bit,” he said as he ended the call. “Cody is going to hang around there for a little while, and then bring us something to eat. He said there’s plenty of food, so your mom is making us a plate.” He smiled as he shoved the phone back in his pocket.
“That’s very nice of him,” Maxwell replied as he tilted the bottle at an angle spying out the last bit of vodka inside. “He really doesn’t have to do that.” Maxwell shrugged as he turned up the bottle. “I’m not hungry.”
“You might be later,” Drake commented as he pushed himself off the sofa.
“I doubt it. But a stiff drink would be nice.”
Drake nodded to the empty bottle in his hand. “I’d say you’ve had enough.”
“And I’d say last time I checked I was grown,” Maxwell countered. Drake chuckled softly and shook his head. Maxwell’s sarcasm was one of the things Brad enjoyed the most. He secretly admitted to Drake that sometimes he would say things just to get a rise out of his husband.
“I’m going to clean up the kitchen,” he stated as he rolled up his sleeves. “I’m sure it’s a mess.”
Maxwell just shrugged and picked up the other bottle, twisting off the cap and turning it up toward his mouth. He frowned and lightly tossed it back on the table when nothing came out.
He woke up to the sound of voices. Slightly disoriented, he didn’t remember falling asleep. He ran his fingers through his messy hair, scratching at his scalp. He glanced down through a sleepy yawn, noticing the green blanket that covered him. He smiled sadly even as he snuggled into its warmth... its comfort. It was Brad’s favorite. They would snuggle under it together when they watched scary movies. He placed it to his nose and inhaled deep and slow, Brad’s scent still lingered, trapped within the fibers. The fresh warm citrus fragrance filled Maxwell’s lungs causing a wave of emotions to wash over him. He clutched the cover tightly against his chest and wept silently.
He wasn’t sure, but he must have fallen asleep again because the sound of dishes clanking together and movement in the kitchen awakened him. He pushed the covers off and headed to the kitchen. The voices became louder, though he couldn’t make out what they were saying. He recognized them as Cody’s and Drake’s.
Maxwell stood in the doorway, not wanting to intrude. His face paled as he watched them. Cody’s back was resting against the counter and the taller man was standing in front of him, his arms draped around Cody’s waist. He watched as Cody’s hands caressed the small of Drake’s back lovingly while leaning forward to receive his kiss. Maxwell felt saddened, envious even, because he knew he would never feel that warmness, that closeness again.
He placed his fingers gently to his lips remembering the last time Brad’s lips brushed against them. It was at the very spot, against that same counter.
“Come on, Babe the sooner we get to this little party the sooner we can get back,” Brad said as he entered the kitchen. Maxwell smiled when he felt his arms wrap around his waist. He moaned deeply as he felt Brad’s warm mouth kiss the side of his neck.
“Mmmm…” He moaned as he relaxed back into his husband’s embrace. “You keep that up and we won’t make the party,” Maxwell warned even as he reached for the plastic wrap to cover the rum balls he’d made earlier.
“That’s okay,” Brad replied pressing his hardening erection against Maxwell’s butt. “Feel that?” He pressed even harder. “I say we stay in this evening, drink the rest of the rum, eat the rum balls, and play strip poker. Get it, poker…” Brad chuckled sexily in Maxwell’s ear before dipping the tip of his tongue inside it. Maxwell’s body shuddered and his knees weakened at Brad’s touch.
“But…” He swallowed hard as his eyes rolled in his head.
“How about a sneak peek?” Brad offered pulling his from the kitchen.
Maxwell backed out without them noticing him. He cupped his hand tightly over his mouth choking back the tears that brimmed in his eyes. As he staggered down the hall, hugging himself tightly, an overwhelming sense of guilt attacked him like a sword stabbing at his heart. Brad would still be alive today if they hadn’t gone to that stupid party.
He was lying in bed with the covers wrapped tightly around him in the dark, cold room when he heard a light tapping on the door.
“Max?” Drake called softly from the other side. Maxwell didn’t move or answer him; he just pulled the covers over his head and hoped he’d go away. He heard him knock again before the door slowly creaked opened. “Hey, Max, are you awake?” he asked as he eased in further. Maxwell’s body tensed and he steadied his breathing as he felt Drake sit down beside him, hoping that Drake would think he was asleep, and leave.
“Hey…” Maxwell felt Drake’s hand caress his arm. “I know you’re not sleeping and that’s okay, I just wanted you to know we were leaving,” he whispered. “Cody cleaned up the kitchen and put your plate in the warmer. I would appreciate it if you tried to eat something... if just for me.” He sighed even as he continued to run his hand across Maxwell’s arm. He combed his fingers through his dark hair and pushed himself off the bed.
Maxwell heard his soft steps moving toward the door, and then stop suddenly.
“Oh and I’ll call you later to check on you. I don’t suspect you will answer, but when I call you again in the morning, if you don’t…I’m coming by,” Drake warned before pulling the door closed.
One would think that the funeral, laying the body to rest would be the finale. Maxwell painfully learned that was not the case. The mounds of legal paperwork were overwhelming to say the least. There was insurance paperwork to which Maxwell was the beneficiary. There was the car and the mortgage to the condo, both of which would be paid off in the event of Brad’s untimely death. The hardest part for him was actually sending off the Death Certificate, but even more painful was receiving it in the mail.
Drake took on the responsibility of helping Maxwell sort through it all. He even handled a few phone calls that Maxwell deemed too difficult. Then there was Cody; patient and understand through it all and after a week and a half of ripping and running, Drake surprised him with a nice evening out. A romantic dinner for two at Cody’s favorite restaurant. Dessert would be served at home with a nice bottle of sherry in front of a cozy fireplace.
"No...don't..." Cody whispered as Drake’s phone rang, even as he wrapped his arms tightly around his broad shoulders. He lifted his head seeking out Drake’s mouth.
"But..." he mumbled between kisses. "I've got to get it. It could be something important." He panted breathlessly while twisting from Cody's embrace. He squinted and searched out the phone that was on the nightstand.
"But it's not your ‘on call’ phone," he pointed out slightly frustrated by the interruption. Drake kissed him softly on the forehead as he carefully eased out.
"Hello?" He adjusted the covers around his waist as he listened to the voice on the other end. Cody collapsed back against the pillow and sighed dejectedly. "Okay..." Drake nodded, a frown appearing as he listened intently. "No, no. It's okay really. You did the right thing," he said as he glanced back over his shoulder to Cody who shook his head with a questioning gaze.
"What?" he mouthed as he sat up resting on his elbows.
"I'm on my way. Keep him there. Don't let him leave," he instructed. He ended the call abruptly without a proper good-bye tossing it back on the table. "Shit!" He tugged at his hair.
"What is it, Baby?"
"It's Max..." Drake replied as he pushed himself off the bed. He was so preoccupied that he didn't notice the frown that had formed on Cody's face. "He's at the Townhouse and he's drunk," he stated somewhat irritated. Cody watched as he grabbed his jeans off the back of the chair, hurriedly pulling them up without bothering to wash himself off or put on underwear.
"If you wait I'll come with..." He didn't finish his statement before Drake was heading out the bedroom, his shirt draped over his shoulder.
Cody made his way into the living room just as Drake finished tying his shoe. He glanced up and smiled sadly. "I'm sorry," he said as he stood up, pulling the shirt off his shoulder.
"No...it's okay. I understand. I just..." He chewed on his lower lip.
"What?" Drake asked as he pulled the shirt down over his head.
"Nothing." Cody looked down at the floor combing his fingers through his hair. He knew what he wanted to say, and he wasn't insensitive to Maxwell's needs. On one hand he knew Maxwell was having a difficult time dealing with the death of Brad, he was in a really bad place and he needed someone, he just found himself wondering why Drake felt like, that someone should be him.
"I won't be long. I promise." He smiled as he grabbed his keys off the table. Cody stood back and watched as he walked out the door. No ‘I love you’...and no kiss. He dropped down on the sofa looking around the empty apartment. He grabbed the pillow beside him, pulling it tightly against his chest and sighed.
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