Aidan barely ate that day. The dinner Mrs. Hutchinson had made for him ended up stuffed inside the refrigerator untouched. Soon, though, he sensed a massive headache coming on. He decided to take a shot of black coffee to help it and put the kettle on to boil.
Resting himself back at the kitchen counter, his train of thoughts went back to the moment when Rick’s brother-in-law had caught them kissing. Rick did tell him the guy was a total homophobe and from what Aidan had witnessed, Victor was sure to create some sort of difficulty in the poor guy’s life. Aidan felt guilty for that.
He retrieved his phone and for the tenth time that night brought up Rick’s number on the screen. Pressing the call button, he disconnected almost immediately and shook his head. No, don’t call him, he told himself over and over again. Aidan feared Victor would be keeping a close watch on Rick after that evening’s incident and he didn’t wish to create more trouble. But then he also wanted so badly to hear Rick’s voice. He needed to know the guy was okay but only if he could find out in some way that’d not piss off his brother-in-law…
As he poured the brewing coffee into his mug, his phone went off and an unknown number displayed on the screen.
“Aidan Ross,” he announced, taking the call almost immediately. He picked up the mug with his other hand and walked into his living room.
“Mr. Ross, hi.” The unfamiliar voice on the other end spoke, and Aidan furrowed his brows. “This is Howard Butler, your neighbor. You stopped earlier this morning asking after a cat?”
Aidan burnt his tongue taking a bigger sip than he could handle and huffed. Bratty! “Yes!” he screamed in excitement. “Yes, that was me.” He was the same old man who had said he’d heard a cat in their backyard the previous night.
“Well, I think we have her here. I went to find some stuff in our garage, and there she was, hiding behind a table. I almost missed her.”
Aidan felt elated but didn’t want to get his hopes up. “Are you sure it’s my cat? I mean, it could be any cat, right?”
“Positive. You left a snap of her with us, remember?” he said, and Aidan’s worries calmed down. “And you mentioned she was pregnant too and I think…”
The hesitation in his voice freaked him out. There was a hushed conversation on the other end which Aidan could barely hear. He heard Howard talking to his wife, and she sounded irritated. “Mr. Butler?”
He coughed. “Yes, Mr. Ross. You should get here as soon as you can. There’s something wrong with your cat, and I don’t want to tell you over the phone.”
“I’ll be right there.” A horrible feeling settled within him.
He pocketed his phone along with the house keys and his wallet and was out of the house in no time. The hot mug of coffee sat abandoned on the center table, lazy steam rising from it.
Bratty had given birth. But she had given birth to two stillborn kittens.
When Aidan stepped in front of her, she looked up. There was a glint of recognition in her eyes, but they looked tired. A soft meow managed to come out of her mouth. That sound was one of the most depressing things he had come across in his life. Aidan felt an uncomfortable tingle in his nose as he fought back the tears.
Bratty turned away to look beside her. She meowed again, but there was no voice this time. Aidan followed her gaze and saw both of the tiny kittens lying motionless with the umbilical cords still connected.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, young man. Putting your cat through something like that!” The old lady sniffed somewhere behind him as she scolded him.
“Susan, I told you. Stay out of people’s business,” Harold snapped at her, and his shaky hands touched Aidan’s shoulder who didn’t dare to move. “Please forgive her. She is quite sensitive when it comes to animals, especially cats.”
“A cat needs to be spayed in time. If you cared for her enough, you’d have done that long ago.”
Aidan turned his head to look at her. She blew her nose and stared back. Her face was red, and she looked extremely affected by the situation. Personal experience? “She was already pregnant when I found her at my doorstep…like a few weeks back. I didn’t know to…I mean…”
Her facial expression changed immediately, and she slapped her mouth. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured.
“No, it’s okay.” He turned back to Bratty and felt sorry for her. “You’re right. She should’ve been spayed long ago. This day would never have come I guess.”
He soon realized this was not the time to break down and quickly composed himself. Bratty needed immediate medical attention. With Mr. Butler’s assistance, he took Bratty and the kittens to the vet. He’d called ahead so when they reached the practice, the vet was all set to attend to her.
It was a deadly virus which had infected the kittens and ended up killing them. The vet had told Aidan the name, but for the love of God, he could hardly pronounce it then, let alone remember what it was exactly. What mattered to him was Bratty’s good health. Aidan worried himself with the thought his cat might have gotten the virus too, but when the vet assured him that she was perfectly fine, he heaved a sigh of relief. “You’ll need to give her a lot of attention for the next few days,” the vet advised. “You may find a change in her behavior or her sleeping patterns might change, but that’s perfectly normal. Of course, if you think she’s getting worse, give me a call, and I’ll be happy to take a look at her.”
He arrived home with Bratty somewhere after eleven that night. As soon as he put her down, Bratty sprinted in the direction of Aidan’s bedroom. He sighed, feeling dejected by it all.
Bratty was back, and he couldn’t be happier about it, but she’d changed. It wasn’t because she wasn’t a pregnant cat anymore. It was the way she looked at Aidan. Her sad eyes stared at him differently, and it made him feel guilty as hell. Did she blame me for losing her kittens? He wondered again if his lack of presence around her the past couple of weeks had led to this.
Aidan felt the need to talk to Rick.
He retrieved his phone from his back-pocket and called. Rick didn’t answer his call the first time, and Aidan’s concern elevated. Maybe he’s just sleeping. As he was about to put his phone away, he had second thoughts. Deciding to try one more time, he speed-dialed the number again.
It took Rick a while to receive the call, but when he did, Aidan exhaled with relief. A timid “Hi” came from the other side.
“Hey, did I wake you?”
“Uh no, I wasn’t sleeping…I was…” He hesitated.
Aidan waited a few seconds for him to respond, then said, “Rick? Is everything okay?”
“Yea.” He cleared his throat and reiterated confidently, “Yea, everything’s just fine. Don’t worry.” However, the confidence in his voice sounded fake to Aidan. It concerned him.
“Okay, um…listen, I called up to tell you I found Bratty.”
“You did?” he asked with sudden excitement in his tone. “How? Where was she? Is she okay?”
The last question was hard to answer. “Um…she was hiding in the Butlers’ garage. They found her and called me up. She…she lost her babies. I actually just got back from the vet’s.”
“Yea.” Aidan felt the exhaustion inside him. He rubbed his face with the other hand and huffed. “There were two still-born kittens. Some sort of virus got them.”
“That poor cat…” There was a pause. They took their time getting their thoughts back in place. “How’s she holding up?”
“I don’t know, Rick, I really don’t know if Bratty is okay. She isn’t herself, that’s for sure.”
“I can understand that. She must be grieving over their loss. It’s natural, she’s a mom. But…Aidan, all you can do for her right now is be there for her. If you can, try to be at home as much as you can for the next few days. Don’t leave her alone, please.”
He nodded. “Yea, totally. That’s what the vet suggested too. I’d already made up my mind about that.”
“Are you holding up okay?” Rick asked.
“I’ll be fine. I’m sad, of course, about the kittens. But…I feel so guilty.”
“Why? None of it was your fault. Things like that happen all the time. It’s beyond your control.”
“I know, I know…just…” Aidan pursed his lips and said closing his eyes. “Ugh… I’m a bad person. I used to think about Bratty’s kittens and wonder what mess they’d make around the house. I thought of them as a problem, and maybe that’s why fate took them away from my cat.”
“Aidan! That’s ridiculous. You’re crazy.”
“Rick…” He sniffed and went to sit on the couch. Resting his elbows on his thighs, he held his head with one hand. “I need you. I can’t do this alone.” Surprisingly, Rick did not respond to that.He looked up, his brows furrowed. “Are you there?”
“Okay, well,” he spoke cautiously. “I’ll come over to get you tomorrow then. Around ten-ish? It would be…”
“… great if…wait, what?” Aidan thought he heard it wrong. But when Rick repeated it, he was taken aback. “Why?”
“I can’t, I’m sorry.”
He waited for Rick to elaborate more but there was dead silence on the other end. “If you’re worried about your brother-in-law getting mad…”
“He’s kicking me out.”
Aidan sat in his place, looking stunned. He couldn’t believe his ears because he couldn’t imagine someone being that cruel to Rick. Soon, his initial feeling of shock turned to anger. “How can he do that? Didn’t your sister say anything to him?”
“She did. And honestly, she has done enough for me. I can’t expect more.” His voice came off shaky. The poor guy was trying hard not to cry.
“But it’s her house too, right? She has an equal say over whether you stay or not.”
“They had an awful fight. The whole neighborhood could hear them.”
“And he finally said it was either him or me who could stay in her life.”
“What? That’s not fair!” Aidan screamed out of his lungs. The exhaustion he felt a while back was all gone. Right now, he was worried sick about Rick.
“That’s what Jenny said to him. But he was adamant.” Finally, a sob left his mouth, and Aidan’s heart broke by that sound. “This is what happened when my mom had to let me go. And she chose my stepfather over me.”
“Rick…that doesn’t mean your sister would make the same decision.”
He snorted. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“I’m afraid that she’d choose me over her own husband. She loves me too much to let me go. And that’s why I’m making it easier for her by choosing to leave.”
“I’m sorry.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“I told her that, and she wouldn’t let me make that decision. But I told her I couldn’t stay somewhere I wasn’t respected, and Victor would never respect me for who I am.”
“You know what, Rick? Good on you. I’m so proud of you for doing that.”
“Thank you. And even Jenny understood. But she’s worried thinking about where I’d go.”
Aidan had the same exact question. “Yes, Rick. Where will you go?”
“I was thinking back to Missouri.”
“Back to your mom’s?” His heart sank. Rick was leaving. That’s all he could think of.
“No, I wouldn’t ever go there again. I thought I’d call up some of my friends and see if they’d let me crash for some days.”
“So…when were you planning to tell me?”
When there was a long pause, Aidan understood what he meant to say. “You’ve got to be shitting me. You were just going to leave?”
“Not really, I would have left you a message…or something.”
“Is that how much I mean to you? That I don’t deserve a proper goodbye?”
Rick sniffed twice before he softly said, “You mean so much to me, Aidan, that I can’t say goodbye to you without breaking down.”
Damn tears! Aidan’s eyes welled up, and uncontrollable tears streamed down his cheeks. He tried to speak up, but his throat felt constricted, and no words managed to come out. On the other end, he could hear Rick sobbing too. He had no idea until now how they’d managed to become so attached to each other that the mere thought of being apart hurt them immensely. Aidan had never felt so strongly for someone ever before. All the people—men or women—who he’d dated before had never impacted his life so much that they’d become a part of it.
In the matter of the few days they’d gotten to spend with each other, Rick had become a part of his life.
I love him.
Aidan was certain. He’d fallen head over heels in love with the man. And he didn’t want to let him go.
He quickly recovered from his emotional breakdown as soon as he’d made his mind up. Wiping his tears, he exclaimed, “Oh, God! You should see me right now…I’m such a mess.”
Rick laughed between his sobs. “Same here.”
“Alright.” Once he was back to normal, he said, “Listen to me carefully, now. You aren’t going anywhere, you get that? I’m coming right now to get you. You can stay with me for as long as you want. Pack your stuff and be ready. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
It wasn’t an easy task convincing Rick to accept the offer, but Aidan managed to do so with great patience. The agreed deal was that he would stay until he could find a permanent job and decent accommodations in the city. Knowing Rick, Aidan was sure he would rush things to not be a burden. For now, though, he felt content the guy wasn’t going to end up miles and miles away from him.
Rick finally gave him the address to his sister’s place. It was just after midnight when he reached the location, andhe parked in front of the building. Rick wheeled his chair out, looking forlorn. A skinny woman, seemingly in her mid-thirties, followed him. Her blonde hair was all over the place, and she wore a skirt and a blouse which had definitely seen better days. She bent down and kissed him on the cheek, whispering something to him. As soon as Aidan got out of his car and came forward to greet her, she held him by his bicep. Her eyes had moistened with a fresh set of tears, as she said, “Thank you. Please take good care of him.”
Aidan gave a curt nod and felt a weird awkwardness to say anything at that moment. By the time he helped Rick to settle inside the car and put his small case in the trunk, she’d disappeared inside the building. “Victor is sleeping. She was afraid he’d wake up and find us out here,” Rick explained. “That would be a drama you wouldn’t want to be a part of.”
He shrugged. “Try me. I’d introduce my fist to his nose. Didn’t get a chance back when we met in the park.”
Rick broke into a fit of giggles, and it was enough to make Aidan smile. He realized it was the first time he’d smiled that day. And what a long day it had been! He shelved the day as one of those he would never forget in his entire life. Neither of them spoke again during the drive back to Aidan’s.
When they got home, he asked Rick if he wanted to eat anything. But he simply said he was too tired to do anything but sleep. So, he guided him straight to the guest room. “If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to wake me up, okay?”
“I’ll be fine.” Rick smiled lazily and yawned.
“Alright, get changed and go to sleep.”
When he reached his bedroom, he found Bratty sleeping on one side of the bed. He stripped down to his underwear and threw his discarded clothes in the laundry basket. Quietly getting under the bedcovers, he felt an urge to pet the resting cat. He turned over and ran his hand gently down her back. The cat purred but did not open her eyes. He repeated stroking her a few times, sighed and rolled over from his side to lie flat on his back.
Reaching up to turn off the lights and adjust the air conditioning temperature to his preference, he then got himself comfortable. He stared up at the ceiling thinking about Rick.
Aidan was in love, and he was in love with Rick. Happiness overwhelmed him with the realization. He couldn’t wait to tell Rick. He could have told him over the phone call, but he thought it better to say it face to face. Also, he was afraid of how the guy would take it. Would Rick freak out? Or would he say he loved Aidan back? Only time will tell. He knew Rick liked him a lot—that’s what he got from the way he’d been kissed. But was it love?
His eyes became heavier by the minute, and he slipped slowly into a deep slumber between brainstorming ideas on how he could finally tell him I love you.