The next morning, a loud crashing noise came from the room next to Aidan’s, and he woke up with a start. With nothing but his boxers on, he rushed out, moving in the direction of the sound.
When he reached Rick’s room, he found the bed all made up and there no sign of Rick anywhere. The bathroom door was slightly ajar, and he could see the lights penetrating through. Aidan walked toward it and cautiously knocked on the door, he stepped inside halfway, and his eyes widened. The scene inside was horrible, and it scared the shit out of him. A wet, naked Rick lay crooked on the floor with his back pressed to the bathtub,and his blue eyes seemed guilt-ridden. His hand held a now-broken towel ring, while his wheelchair was on the other side, tipped over and way out of Rick’s reach.
“Shit!” Aidan swore loud enough to echo in the room. He quickly grabbed a towel and threw it around Rick’s body. “What the hell happened here?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Come on. Put your arms around me.” He did as asked. Rick felt warm against his naked skin from the hot bath he’d taken and Aidan got a little wet himself from the contact.
As he sat him carefully, perched on the edge of the bathtub, he went to get the wheelchair and helped him into it. “I was trying to transfer back into my chair, but it skidded out of my hands, and I fell. I also broke this when I tried to hold onto it on my way down. I’m sorry.” He held up the circular holder that was previously attached to the wall.
“Gimme that,” he scolded. He snatched it from Rick’s hand and threw it away. “But Rick, I told you. I told you last night if you needed anything, just to let me know. Why didn’t you wake me?” Aidan realized he was too loud and Rick seemed slightly afraid. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he reopened them, Rick had cast his head down feeling ashamed. So he knelt and placed his hands on Rick’s naked thighs. “Listen to me. I didn’t mean to yell at you. Look at me, Rick, please…” he begged.
Rick looked up and repeated, “I’m sorry. I’ll pay you back for the…”
“I don’t care about that damn thing. It was broken anyway,and I was going to get it replaced,” He snapped and reached out to take Rick’s hands into his. “What I care about is you. You could have gotten hurt badly,” Aidan said, staring into his eyes.
A smile appeared on Rick’s face. “I’m not though. I fall more often than you can imagine. My body’s gotten tougher over time,” he said and giggled.
“That’s so not funny.” Despite himself, Aidan smiled back.
“I’m fine, don’t worry.” He squeezed the held hands for reassurance. “I’m just not used to living in such a huge space, that’s all.”
“So, until you get used to navigating around here, why don’t you let me help? I know you like to be independent and all, but please, let me be around to help you with things for a while. Only until you are comfortable enough to be by yourself.” Rick’s gorgeous face remained serious as he seemed to scrutinize Aidan. “Would you let me?” he asked when Rick didn’t say anything. “Please?”
He got a nod of approval, and it mitigated Aidan’s concern to quite an extent.
Aidan sent for his family’s handyman Mr. Wesley to help make his home more wheelchair accessible. He had listed all the renovations he wanted in all the rooms of his house, and especially in the bathroom Rick used. Mr. Wesley promised to stop by in the afternoon immediately after his lunch hour.
Next call made was to Kim. He cancelled all his appointments until the following week. “Is everything alright?” she asked, obviously concerned.
“Yeah, right now, everything’s normal. But I gotta stay home. Something happened with the cat and um…Rick is staying over, so…”
“Woah…what’s going on, Aidan?”
He rubbed his temples. Now’s not the time. “Stop by tomorrow when you get some time, and I’ll tell you everything.”
“Okay, but I was going through your schedule, and you have a meeting with Ian on Wednesday. You can’t cancel that one.”
“Damn.” She was right. “Can you check with him if he’d be comfortable doing a Skype meeting instead? I can do that from home.”
“Hmm, okay. I’ll speak with him and let you know.”
Having Kim as a personal secretary was truly a blessing. She knew how to handle difficult situations as well. “Also, give a call to my dad, and tell him I can’t make it for the usual dinner arrangement this weekend,” he tested her.
“Do that yourself, mister. My job’s to manage your professional life, not your personal hang-ups,” she snapped and ended the call.
He shrugged. It was worth trying.
Mrs. Hutchinson came out of the kitchen and told him lunch would be ready soon. When she found out that Rick was staying with him from now on, she cheerfully accepted the fact she’d have to cook for another person in the house. Not that Aidan expected her to react badly, but he thought she’d initially be shocked and ask some questions.
But she did none of that. The woman wasn’t the prying kind anyway.
She’d cooked tuna for lunch, and Rick seemed excited by that. Not only the fish but the accompanying soup and risotto smelled simplygreat as it was served. “Where’s the cat, Aidan?” she asked, “I thought she’d like some fish too.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen Bratty for a while,” Rick added.
“She’s at the Butler’s—that’s where I found her yesterday,” he explained to Mrs. Hutchinson who didn’t know the entire story. “They are going to let her stay for a while, and Mr. Butler promised to bring her back later.”
Mrs. Hutchinson smiled sadly and scurried inside mumbling something.
“I think she’s gone back to look for her babies,” Rick said, sounding low. He took a spoonful of his soup and sipped.
Aidan nodded. “Mr. Butler said she kept going back to the place in the garage where she gave birth. It took a while for them to calm her down because she kept mewing loudly around their house.”
“She was calling out to them…to her kittens.”
He couldn’t help but imagine it. It sucked all the happiness out of him, and all that was left in his heart was misery. Bratty was a mother who’d just lost her babies. Even though she couldn’t express her pain in words, her actions spoke louder. “I don’t know how to help her.” At that moment, he felt like he’d lost his best friend.
“Time heals every wound. She’ll move on, Aidan.” Rick stirred his soup aimlessly. “Why does fate have to be so cruel?”
Aidan realized it wasn’t Bratty he was talking about anymore. He sighed. “Rick, you’re stronger than this. The Rick Mahoney I’ve come to know does not blame fate or anyone else for his troubles. From what I’ve heard of your past, you’ve seen far worse days than this, and you’ve come out of them without falling apart.”
“But I’m tired, Aidan.” His glassy eyes looked vulnerable. “How long do I have to keep fighting? All I wanted was to not be a burden on anyone. I wanted to be a part of a happy family. I wanted to live in a place I could call my home. But my dad died and with that, everything I wanted from life ever since was taken away from me.”
“Rick…” Aidan was at a loss for words.
He shook his head. “You can’t say anything that’d make me feel any better, Aidan. I…” He put his spoon down and pushed his chair back. “Please, excuse me. I’m sorry, but I’m really not very hungry.”
Aidan wanted to stop him. He wished to confess his love for Rick, and he hoped it would make him feel better. He knew it would definitely be one of the best things that had happened to him in his life. But the fear of rejection still overruled his confidence.
Dejected, he too left his half-eaten food on the table and asked Mrs. Hutchinson to put everything in the refrigerator. Hopefully, dinner wouldn’t end up being as sad.
Wesley worked hard through the following week. He had soon fixed things so efficiently and skillfully that Aidan was impressed by the job done. There were rails in the bathroom for the toilet and the bath, and a superb rechargeable-battery-powered swivel seat so Rick could easily get in and out of the bath whenever he wanted. The shower stall now had a new flat tray, and Mr. Wesley had found a special wheelchair to use as a shower seat and fastened up rails too. Outside, near the patio where there were steps down, Wesley had solidly fixed some planks as a ramp which definitely looked odd but it would help Rick to get in and out of the house without Aidan’s help. He also did the same near the backyard. He painted the planks white to match up with the color of the steps and afterward they didn’t look so weird anymore.
At the end of all the work, as Mr. Wesley left, Aidan tipped him generously to show his appreciation.
The house suddenly felt empty as he shut the front door behind the man and he wondered where Rick might be. The last place he’d seen him was in the living room, and then he’d disappeared. Bratty was nowhere to be found either. Mr. Butler had brought her back just before Mr. Wesley had arrived again that afternoon and ever since then it seemed, she’d disappeared back to the corner she’d found to hide from the world.
Evening light coming through the undraped window panes gently illuminated the rooms. He checked both the bedrooms and found them as empty as the living room. He looked into the bathrooms too, but they remained vacant. While on his way to check the backyard, Aidan peeped into the kitchen as well.
When he didn’t find either of them in the backyard, Aidan got worried. The only room in his house he hadn’t checked was his art studio.
The sight in his art studio was picturesque. In his wheelchair, Rick sat by the window while Bratty rested on his lap. They both looked serene, though a little sad too, as they looked out of the window. The setting sun threw soft light on the two, which cast their shadows behind them on the floor. Aidan stood
by the door mesmerized by the beauty and depth of the scene. He could feel the emotions inside that room quite strongly.
He hadn’t realized until then that Rick and Bratty had both gone through mid-life crises which although obviously different in their own ways, they probably both shared the same emotions at that moment. Hurt, anger, pain, sadness, and grief.
In each other’s company, Rick and the cat both felt a sense of comfort. Something of the kind Aidan couldn’t have given to either of them. He didn’t regret it. Instead, he was glad they had each other.
Aidan took out his phone from his pocket and turned the camera on. They both looked so beautiful. That moment was beautiful and worth capturing in a painting. This one would be something personal he’d cherish and never put up for sale.
He could feel it. It would be his best painting ever!
It got darker, and Rick returned back to the present. Probably sensing Aidan’s presence, he looked in his direction and slowly, a sweet smile crept on his lips. “Hey,” he said breaking the silence.
“Hey.” Hearing Aidan’s voice, Bratty looked up too and jumped out of Rick’s lap. She ran up to him and meowed between his legs. That’s the Bratty I know. He felt a tug in his heart when he picked her up and held her close to his chest.
Rick grinned. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Not too long,” he lied, as he petted Bratty’s head. She definitely appreciated the love. “I was planning to heat up some dinner now. So I thought I’d ask you. Are you hungry?”
The guy nodded. “I’m starving,” he said looking sheepish. The expression on his face made Aidan laugh out loud.