Tangled Webs by FleetingRainbows


1. Chapter 1

 

Chapter 1

 

Bryan didn’t know what he would find when he returned home, but he hadn’t expected the house to be empty.  Even though he hadn’t told them he was coming, surely somebody must be home…someone was always home. Maybe it was for the best though, since he wasn’t sure how he could face them all again.  It had been a year since he had been sent away.  A year since he had seen his parents, his family, his friends.  He hadn’t expected things to stay the same…why should they when even he was changed? 

 

He thought about those changes as he looked around the living room.  It didn’t feel like home anymore to him, and that made him sad.  He was still angry that they had sent him away to that place…and he wondered now that he was back if they could love him again.  Would he be the son they wanted him to be?  Now that he wasn’t confused…now that he knew who he had to be.

 

Now that he was straight.

 

Would his mom be able to look at him with pride again?  Would Thomas still think of him as a son…or would he believe that he was turning into Marshall more and more every day?  There was so much at stake here, so much to think about.  So much that he didn’t like about himself now.  He felt more confused than he did when he was…

 

“Oh, I didn’t know anybody was here.” 

 

The voice caught him off guard, and jarred him out of his thoughts.  He turned to see who had spoken and was momentarily spellbound by the most amazing pair of blue eyes he had ever seen.  He winced as a sharp pain shot up his groin and he remembered the last time he had been captivated by a pair of blue eyes.  That experience wasn’t exactly what he would call pleasant.  Just thinking about that made him wince again and he snapped himself back into reality.

 

“Uh…hi?” he said as he approached the stranger warily.  “Who are you?”

 

“You must be Bryan,” the blue eyed stranger said with a smile.  “I’ve heard so much about you, and I’m glad to finally meet you.  I’m Jeff by the way. Jeff Burton…I am an intern at the local television station.”

 

“Oh,” Bryan replied his head spinning as he shook the other man’s hand.  So his parents had taken in a boarder?  Someone to replace him.  *Stop it Dobbs,* he berated himself.  *A real man is not insecure.  A real man knows who he is and what he wants and he doesn’t let petty things bother him.*

 

Bryan knew what he had to do.  He couldn’t be the new him unless he closed himself off emotionally.  He had to be cold and cool…he needed to be ruthless with his emotions, withdrawn, aloof.  That was what they had taught him.  What he had been feeling before was all wrong, he had been confused.  He liked girls not guys, but somehow his friendship with Kevin had made things unclear.  He was better now, he would be better…

 

“Your parents will be back soon,” Jeff’s voice once again drew him out of his thoughts.  He frowned, how much of the conversation had he missed?  Jeff wasn’t beside him anymore.  Instead he was picking up the luggage and heading for the stairs.  “I’ll just take these to your room for you.  You must be exhausted.”

 

He was a little tired, and he admitted it to Jeff.  He thanked him for helping him with his bags and declined Jeff’s offer of fixing him something to eat.  All he wanted to do was sleep…he needed to close out the world for a while.  He needed to think.

 

The sound of voices outside his door jarred him awake.  How long had he been asleep?  He sat up abruptly in his bed, looking around him as if he had forgotten where he was.  He was in his room at home, but it didn’t feel like his room anymore.  Gone were the comic books that usually scattered the floor.  The books he loved to read were gone as well.  His bookshelf was now home to thick leather bound volumes that seemed so generic. There was no more warmth in this room.  As if his parents had decided that they needed to be rid of any signs of his old life.  Was that really how they felt about him?

 

The voices in the hallway were getting louder and he wondered what was going on out there.  “You shouldn’t disturb him right now Fiona.  He’s sleeping,” He heard Jeff say.

 

“I don’t think he’d mind if I went to see him,” he heard his sister reply grumpily.  “He’s my brother and I haven’t seen him in a whole year.” 

 

“I know,” Jeff said and Bryan could hear the compassion in that voice.  He didn’t know what to make of it.  “I think he was kind of bummed that no one was here when he came home…just give him some time.”

 

He heard Fiona sigh, and knew that Jeff had gotten through to her.  He didn’t know what to think.  On one hand he was touched that Jeff somehow knew that he was sad even though he had never said it.  On the other hand it was strange to see someone else be the big brother to his little sister.  The big brother he couldn’t be.  Was she really happy to see him or did she want to rail and scream at him for leaving her?  He wouldn’t blame her if it was the latter.

 

“Oh, you are awake,” Jeff’s voice once more interrupted his thoughts.  He looked up to see the tall boy standing in the doorway with a tray.  “Did you sleep well?  I brought you up some tea and some coffee cake.  Just in case you were hungry.  Your parents are downstairs; I let them know you were home.  They were glad to hear it.  Do you want to see them?”

 

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Bryan asked, forcing himself to look away from those eyes.  If he tried hard enough he could ignore the feelings being stirred.  Perhaps his first line of business was to get a girlfriend.  Why did the thought of that make his stomach twist in knots?  He pushed those thoughts away and focused on Jeff once more.  “I mean you don’t even know me…yet you feel compelled to, I don’t know…help me?”

 

Jeff shrugged and brought the tray over to the nightstand.  “I was just trying to make your homecoming as nice as possible,” he explained, taking a seat on the side of Bryan’s bed.  “I…I know it can be tough coming home after being gone so long.  And honestly I have been dying to meet you ever since I came to live with your family.”

 

“You have?” Bryan said amazed.  He certainly didn’t think he was that special of a person.  “And how long have you been living here anyway?”

 

“Just since May,” Jeff responded, his gaze locked on Bryan’s brown eyes.  He didn’t fail to notice that there were green flecks in those eyes…he filed that fact away in his memory and reached for the cup of tea he had prepared for Bryan.  “Your mom was impressed by my resume and asked Louise to offer me the job. She was impressed with my talent and wanted to help out the best way she could.  She offered me room and board to sweeten the deal…I was amazed by how nice she is.  You see, I don’t have a mom and…”

 

Jeff stopped and shook his head realizing that he was talking way too much.  He handed Bryan his cup.  “You should drink this before it gets cold.  I’m sorry for rambling on like that.  I guess I just wanted to have a friend.  And if you are worried…I don’t really care about what happened.  I mean your problems aren’t going to scare me off or anything like that.”

 

Problems? Bryan frowned and tilted his head to the side.  He wasn’t sure what Jeff was talking about, and he didn’t know if he wanted to find out.  Just what had his parents told their new houseguest about him?

 

The look that crossed Jeff’s face would have made Bryan laugh at any other moment.  Right now though, he could sense that the other boy was uncomfortable.  Maybe even scared that he had said something wrong.  “I just meant,” Jeff stammered, standing up off the bed and moving away.  “I didn’t mean to upset you Bryan, It’s just they said you…you know were in rehab for a whole year and I didn’t want you to think that I was looking down on you for having a drinking problem.”

 

Bryan put the tea back on the table and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  He couldn’t believe this.  All this time everyone thought he had gone to rehab?  Of course that made sense.  He didn’t suppose they could tell the REAL reason why he had been sent away.  “Thank you for the tea, Jeff,” he said curtly.  He momentarily felt bad for the sad look he put in Jeff’s eyes but he let it pass.  “I’m glad you aren’t going to take issue with my problems as they were.”

 

He brushed past Jeff and left with no explanation.  He didn’t feel he owed him any.  He was so…he didn’t even have a name for the emotion he was feeling.  Was it frustration?  Was it anger?  Or was he just hurt…ashamed?  Or maybe it was jealousy.  Whatever he felt he just needed to get out of there…out of the home that no longer felt like his and away from the people who were partly responsible for… 

 

His thought cut off abruptly as he felt a pain in his head.  He stopped and pressed his hands to either side of his temple and closed his eyes trying to control it.  There were tears in his eyes and he cursed his weakness.  This was not supposed to be this hard.  Hadn’t Marshall told him that it would be simple?  This certainly didn’t seem like simple to him.

 

**

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay with me, Colton?  You know I have plenty of room and you are always welcome.”

 

Bryan frowned, his given name sounded off to his ears; it was a name he never used and only one person insisted on addressing him with it.  He shook his head as he looked at his birth father across the table.  A few days had passed since his return home, and he had somehow managed to avoid his parents for the most part.  He couldn’t explain it, not even to Jeff though he had asked.  Bryan just didn’t want to see them.  He was certain his actions were hurting his parents but he had too many unresolved feelings to do anything about it.

 

“I am not going to be a burden on you, Marshall,” he said running a hand through his blond hair.  “You have enough to worry about without having me underfoot.  I…I’m fine at home.  I think I’ve even made a new friend.”

 

“With the boy who has taken your place in your mother’s heart?  Colton, you cannot be serious.”

 

He thought he did a good job of hiding just how much that stung.  He had confided in Marshall his fears that this was the case.  He wasn’t sure what to think of the fact that he was now having those words thrown back in his face.  “I don’t really know that,” he said keeping his tone neutral.   “And I don’t appreciate you throwing my words back at me either.  That’s just…that’s just cruel.  And I’m not going to blame Jeff for anything my parents have done.”

 

“You have every right to be jealous of him, Son,” Marshall said placing a hand on Bryan’s shoulder to give it a squeeze.  He has taken over your entire family, but maybe that is for the best.  You are not the same as you used to be.  You are a Vasaar and its time for you to act like one.

 

Bryan frowned.  How many times over the past few months had his birth father come at him with that line?  He didn’t know exactly what that meant though.  Nor was he sure he really wanted to do that.  He was a Dobbs, plain and simple.”

 

“Why should I listen to anything you say, Marshall,” he spat angrily.  He wasn’t sure where the rush of emotion came from but he was going to ride the wave.  “You are just as responsible for me going to that…that place as they are!  And you helped them lie about where I was.  I don’t trust you and I certainly don’t trust them.” 

 

His hands went up to his head again as he felt a sharp pain.  He moved away from Marshall’s touch and didn’t get too far before he doubled over with the intensity of what he was feeling.  He closed his eyes and tried to breathe.  It was a technique he had learned while away.  If he kept his head down, if he just let the pain ebb it would go away.  Bryan dropped to his knees.

 

“Bryan are you okay?”  He looked up and found himself staring into a concerned sapphire gaze.  For a moment he wondered how Jeff always seemed to be there when he needed him.

 

“Can you take me home?” Bryan asked, hoping he didn’t sound weak to Jeff’s ears.  The pain was more intense than it had been in recent weeks.  His ritual didn’t seem to be working.  It only made it worse.  He needed to get away from Marshall.

 

“I can take you home Colton,” Marshall’s voice reached his ears.  “I think you need to stay with me and away from this boy.”

 

“I think we should let Bryan make his own decisions,” Jeff snapped back.  “He wants me to take him home and I will take him home.”

 

“He’s my son, and you need to learn some manners,” Marshall fired back.

 

“Jeff, please,” Bryan pleaded, holding up his hand to stop Jeff from speaking.  “Don’t argue with him.  Just take me home, okay?  To my house.”

 

He saw Jeff glare at Marshall one last time before helping him off the ground.  Bryan clung to him and didn’t even spare a glance at his birth father as he walked away.  Jeff’s arm was wrapped around his waist holding him steady until they reached a black truck.  He allowed Jeff to help him into the cab and he rested his head back against the seat.  He was asleep before Jeff even started the engine.


2. Chapter 2

 

Chapter 2


As days turned into weeks Bryan began to rely heavily on Jeff for support. It was a fact that both scared him and intrigued him at the same time. The simple truth was that without Jeff he didn’t know how to function. He had a strict regimen at the camp. Every minute of every day was ordered. There was a time to wake up, a time to brush his teeth and even a time to go to the bathroom. He never had to think, he was told exactly what to do and when to do it.

Without the routine he was lost. Thinking used to come so naturally to him…now he could barely make up his mind on what to have for breakfast. He even needed help trying to find something decent to wear. There he was, his first day of work and he couldn’t decide on the red shirt or the blue one. What was worse…every other shirt in his closet had stripes. He really needed a new wardrobe. He sighed as he threw his shirts on the bed and leaned his forehead against the closet. It was a struggle for him to even get up in the morning.  What made him think he could do this?

“Bryan, I just wanted to see if you were…oh,” Jeff said as Bryan turned around to face him. “Do you need me to step out? I didn’t mean to-“

“Oh god please stay!  I could really use your help.”

“Is something wrong?” Jeff asked coming further into the room.

“It’s a disaster, Jeff!  I don’t know if I can do this. I can’t even find the right shirt. I mean look at these.” He picked up the shirts and held them side by side for Jeff to see. “Which one of these looks more professional? The red or the blue? Or neither? Bryan tried not to interpret the look his friend was giving him. He thought he had seen a similar look before but that memory was too painful. He pushed it away.”

“Jeff….are they both bad?” he asked tentatively. “Jeff?”

“Huh,” Jeff said coming out of his daze. “No…no Bryan the shirts are fine. You should wear one of them.”

“Which one,” Bryan said growing exasperated. Jeff looked down at his own shirt, which Bryan noted was blue and sighed before gazing back at his friend.

“Wear the blue one Bryan. It will look nice with your slacks.”

“Thank you,” Bryan said gratefully.”

Jeff’s eyes never left Bryan as he turned to put on his shirt. His eyes widened as he caught sight of Bryan’s back. It was a fleeting glimpse, for Bryan was quick to cover himself with the blue fabric. Were those scars? He thought to himself a frown crossing his face. He was curious, but he could tell that Bryan was uncomfortable with him staring. That fact would be filed away with the other pieces of information he learned about Bryan.
**

“Do you want anything to eat before you leave, honey?” Marianne asked as they entered the kitchen.

“No thank you. I’m too nervous to eat,” Bryan replied, shifting his feet as if to emphasize his point.

“Jeff what about you? Did you want anything?”

“No, Ma’am. I will just get something at the station. And I will make sure Bryan eats too.”

Bryan watched as Marianne hugged Jeff good bye, before turning her gaze on him. He watched her warily for a moment as she moved towards him. He couldn’t quite figure out what she was doing, though her eyes were stirring with emotion.  Her hand reached out to touch him once she was close enough.  She smoothed out the imaginary crease in his shirt and he just stood there watching her…his expression blank.

“I have to go,” he said, his voice sounding robotic even to his ears.  She moved her hand as if he had burned her and he turned to leave.  Inside he was crying…inside he longed for the comfort he used to get from her but those days were gone.

Bryan knew Jeff wondered why he was so distant from his family.  He knew that he wanted to ask questions, but never did.  Bryan was grateful for this…for he didn’t know the answers.

How could he even begin to explain that the reason he ignored his parents was because he hated them? How did he tell Jeff, who didn’t have a mother; that his own mom was the reason he had been sent away in the first place? How did he even begin to voice the betrayal that was in his heart…or the guilt that plagued his soul? There was no way to explain it, and he didn’t even dare to try. Emotions were a bothersome things and he was better off leaving them bottled up. Hadn’t they taught him that at Echo Lake? The only feeling he needed to work on was pride and with that came arrogance and an air of superiority he wasn’t sure he could muster.  He would try though…he had to.

The truth was he didn’t know how to be happy anymore. He could fake it...he had perfected that talent while he was away.  It was how he had survived the past few months. But true uninhibited joy…that didn’t exist.

He felt empty hearing the news that most of his friends had moved on.  He knew he should be happy for Derek.  He had been his best friend…the one who hadn’t bailed on him…but did that even matter now?  Derek and Samantha were getting a second chance at starting a family.  Apparently Eric was out of jail…but had decided not to come back to Washington.  Kevin was gone too.  Kristin was the only one of his friends who seemed to care that he was back.  He plastered on a smile for her sake. He was working now, at GMST with Kristin and Jeff. Kristin hugged him and talked a mile a minute about what he had missed.
**

“Are you even listening to me,” a shrill voice pulled him out of his thoughts. He turned just as a large stack of papers was thrust at his chest. “These need to be collated, stapled and filed by 5pm and you better do it right this time.”

“But,” Bryan started but he stopped when those harsh green eyes glared at him.

“No buts, Bryan, just do it.” And with that Tiphani McPherson sauntered out of the room.  Bryan was frozen.   He couldn’t even think. His mind was blank except for a sense of undefined dread.

He felt a presence behind him and the dread became terror.

“Are you alright?” Bryan heard Jeff’s voice, but it sounded so far away. He started violently as he felt the jolt of contact when a hand grasped his arm. The papers scattered to the floor as Jeff’s face came into focus.

“Did I hurt you? Jeff asked. “Are you okay?”

Bryan shook his head trying to clear away the cobwebs before responding to Jeff’s query. “I have to be done by five.”

“Done what? It’s 4:30. What do you have to have done in the next thirty minutes?”

“Thirty minutes,” Bryan exclaimed. “These need to be sorted, collated, stapled and filed by five!” Bryan said animatedly.

He was startled by the expression on Jeff’s face and he frowned. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Jeff quickly assured him. “No, it’s just that for a moment you looked like you did in the picture.”

“What picture?” Bryan asked not sure he really wanted the answer.

“The one on your Mom’s desk.”

“Yeah,” Bryan’s frown deepened. “Back when I was…drinking.” He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the exercise he learned while he was away.  He could see the bookshelf in the distance, there was one book out of place.  As he imagined his emotions being closed up and shelved, he felt a momentary pang, but knew it was for the best.

The expression on his face was unreadable as he stared down at the cascade of papers at his feet. There was no way this was going to get done by five o’clock. He didn’t even know where to start.

 
“I can help you with that,” Jeff’s voice burned through the fog. “We can get this done Bryan. We can do it together.”

He was drawn to that blue gaze. There was a mixture of concern and some emotion he couldn’t name.

**
Bryan was momentarily stunned when his hand made contact with Jeff’s. He sat back on the heels of his feet and blinked.  He wasn’t even sure how to explain what that felt like. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before.

“Bryan,” Jeff’s voice reached his ears. “You okay?”

“Yes,” he responded quickly, returning to the task at hand. “I’m fine…just…am I doing this right?”

“You’re doing fine,” Jeff assured him. “It wasn’t fair of Tiphani to give you a deadline for this. We’ll get it all done before we go home.”

Bryan nodded. He felt calmer now that Jeff had shown him what needed to be done. He was frustrated with himself for not being able to process the task properly. There was so much he couldn’t tap into anymore….it was as if that part of his brain was dead.

“There you are.” A new voice broke the silence that had fallen as they worked. Bryan looked up and acknowledged Kristin’s presence with a nod.

“You were looking for us?” he asked warily. “I didn’t do it…well I did…but…”

“Who told you to help him?” The shriek interrupted Bryan’s sentence. He looked up from the papers just as Kristin and Jeff turned to see as well. Tiphani McPherson stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. She was glaring straight at Bryan, who averted his gaze and tried hard not to tremble. What was wrong with him?

“Back off, Tiphani,” Jeff shouted.  Bryan saw him stand and marveled at his ability to stand up to her. “Why do you have to pick on him,” Jeff defended. His voice sounded loud in the small room. “He’s doing the best he can, considering you didn’t give him a lot of time to complete such a big task.”

“You shouldn’t stick your nose in other people’s affairs Burton,” Tiphani shot back. For the record I gave him this task hours ago. He screwed it up.”

“Tiphani,” Kristin’s voice joined the fray. “It’s his first day. Do you remember what it was like to be new? Cut him a break.”

He was no longer listening to the conversation. Tiphani’s words resounded in his mind, drowning out any other coherent thoughts.

You screwed up this time, Dobbs,” a gruff voice intoned. “And now you have to pay the price.” The sound of the whip made him gulp and beads of sweat appeared on his brow. He tried to get up, needing to fight off the coming attack. A foot came down hard on his back and he winced with the pain. “There is a special hell for screw ups Dobbs. And that’s exactly where you’re going today.”

They whipped him until he wept and locked him in a room for days. Isolation was what they called it. It reminded him of the cave in Malta…he didn’t like the dark.

The hand on his shoulder made him jump. He relaxed once he realized it was just Jeff.

“Are you ready to go home?” he asked and Bryan wondered if he was imagining the compassion he heard in that voice. It took him a moment to realize that Kristin and Tiphani were gone, and all the scripts were sorted, collated, stapled and ready to be filed.

“We’re finished?”

“Yes,” Jeff smiled. “You’re pretty quick once you know the steps. You didn’t screw up, Bryan. You did great.”

Bryan couldn’t explain why those words confused him and pleased him at the same time.

His parents were in the living room when they got home, and Bryan stopped in the doorway just staring at them for a minute. Jeff stopped behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. At that moment Bryan took note of how tall his friend was.

“Just go in and say hello to them. The world isn’t going to end if you talk to them. And… you’re not alone.”

Bryan nodded and swallowed. He walked further into the house and realized that they were all there- his parents, Fiona, Patty and the baby, Eddie. This was his family, and he didn’t know them anymore.

The baby had been born while he was away… after he caused his mom to fall…. put her in the coma.

“How was your first day at work, Honey?”

He turned towards the voice, his mom, and he didn’t know what to make of the emotion he saw in her eyes.

He used to know her, he used to be able to read her thoughts in her eyes. But now…

“It was ok,” he shrugged, pushing all other thoughts aside. He couldn’t focus on that if he was going to get through this

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his baby brother toddle over to Jeff, who was standing close by. Eddie raised his arms, and Jeff grinned and scooped him up.

“Jeff showed me around. And I talked to Kristin”

“Did you meet Tiphani?” his mom asked. Bryan tried not to analyze that question.

“I did...” He responded, hoping his tone gave away nothing of how he was feeling.

“Tiphani can be a real pain sometimes,” Jeff joined the conversation

“You haven’t like her since day one,” Marianne responded with a smile in her voice

“For good reason,” Jeff countered. “I seem to recall you agreeing with me during that argument! I don’t think Tiphani has forgiven me for that.”

As Jeff and his mom spoke, Bryan allowed his eyes to focus on the only father he truly ever claimed. Marshall may have been there at conception, but he really had no claim over Bryan’s heart, especially not now. But Thomas, it was his betrayal that stung the most.

Had he deserved this fate? Was it the fact that he alone was responsible for his mom’s accident that changed the tide between him and Thomas? Did the man even truly love him, or was it all a lie?

If the story behind those crystal blue eyes told him anything it was that Thomas's feelings weren’t fake. But if he loved him, how could he allow him to be sent away? And why had he asked Marshall to do it? Had it been that hard to stand him after what happened? *Did he hate me that much that he couldn’t even tell me to my face?*

“Son, you know I’m here for you, when you’re ready to talk,” Thomas said.

Bryan missed talking to his dad. He missed working on some random project around the house. He hated that he couldn’t get past this. That he didn’t know how. Besides, his dad didn’t need him. He had Alden and Eddie… and Jeff.

“I just need some time, okay?” He hoped that was enough. It had to be. He didn’t like to see his parents hurting; he didn’t enjoy seeing the pain he was causing them. But he didn’t know another way. And wouldn’t it be worse, if they knew he hated them?

“Whenever you’re ready,” Thomas repeated.

And Bryan found himself wondering if his dad was sincere.

He had dinner with his family that night. Bryan tried to ignore the awkwardness around the table. Mundane conversation was strained, at least on his end. Jeff was a natural. He had conversation with everyone- and even managed to keep them all straight.

Fiona gave Bryan a hug when dinner was done. He hugged her back, but he felt guilty because he wasn’t sure how to love anyone any more.
**

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Jeff was standing in the doorway of Bryan’s room with a smile on his face. Bryan tried not to focus on the fact that Jeff’s shirt matched his eyes.

“It was nice,” he admitted. “I… I don’t think I could have done it without you. Thank you… for helping me. I…uh… I don’t understand why…you … you… care to. But...I would be… so… lost without you.”

“I think you give me too much credit, Bryan.” Jeff’s voice was so soft; at first Bryan wondered if he had imagined those words. “But for what it’s worth, I’d be so lost without you too.”

With that statement, Bryan was bewildered and Jeff was gone. Bryan didn’t think he would ever understand his new friend.


3. Chapter 3

 

Chapter 3

 

He had to get up.  He knew that, on a conscious level, but he couldn't move.  Every muscle in his body screamed with agony and it even hurt to breathe.  But if he didn't get up then they would come and wake him up. 

 

He could still feel the bite of the whip in his flesh, and it made him wince.  He was not looking forward to this day…the fifth of his punishment.  He didn’t know how much more of this he could endure.  He still wasn’t quite sure what he had done wrong.

 

He closed his eyes for a moment trying to muster up the strength to get up.  He tried moving his arms, but met with resistance.  A quiver of fear ran up his spine as he realized he was bound to the bed.  He couldn’t move, and when he tried to fight the restraints he scraped his wrists.

 

He bit down on his tongue, not wanting to scream out loud.  Screaming would only get him in more trouble. He wished Adam were there…he would help him.  He would make this bearable.

 

Bright light streamed into the room at that moment and Bryan found himself looking into the palest blue eyes he had ever seen.  Usually that gaze gave him a lot of comfort…but today there was something almost ominous about it.  Bryan frowned as he watched the man come into the room, his hands behind his back as he approached him.

 

“Adam can you help me please?” Bryan said gesturing to his arms.  “Please get me out of these…”

 

Adam’s hand, none too gently, came down on Bryan’s mouth shushing him.  “Just be quiet.”

 

“But…Adam,” Bryan started, his tone barely a whisper. He felt more than saw Adam slap him across the face.  His eyes were watering with tears, but he was too stunned to actually cry. 

 

“I told you to shut up, Bryan.  You need to learn how to listen if you’re ever going to survive here.  You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.”

 

“I…I didn’t do anything,” Bryan said knowing he sounded scared.  He hated this fear that was inside of him.  “Why are you being so mean to me?  I thought you were my friend.”

 

Dr. Orr appeared in the doorway smiling as he gave instructions to Adam that Bryan couldn’t understand.  He realized what was going on when Adam held up a big needle.

 

“No...Nonnononononono…please not that again please don’t do that to me again,” he said as he tried to get away from the needle.  Adam grabbed a hold of him to keep him still but he squirmed until the needle punctured his skin.

 

And he screamed.

 

Bryan’s eyes were closed tightly and he was lost in the nightmare.  He could hear himself screaming as clearly as he had that night and it didn’t seem like he was going to stop.  He wanted to weep, he wanted to curl up in a ball, but he couldn’t even do that.  He was trapped and there was no way out.

 

He heard the banging.  “Go away!” he screamed.  “Don’t hurt me anymore!  Please don’t hurt me.  PLEASE….just leave me alone.”

 

“Bryan?  Son, it’s your dad!”

 

“Nonononononono, go away...just go away,” Bryan cried.  He could still hear the voices outside and he wanted them to leave.

 

“What’s going on?” He heard Jeff’s voice outside his door.  What was Jeff doing there?

 

“I think Bryan’s having a bad dream.”  Bryan heard the door open and he squeezed his eyes even tighter.  He didn’t want anyone in here, but he could feel their presences.   He screamed when he felt a hand touch him, shake his shoulder, and he tried to fight but he couldn’t.  He could barely move. 

 

“Get away from me!” he screamed, lashing out at his unknown assailant.  “Just get away.”

 

“Let me try,” Jeff’s voice again, closer.  And the hand was removed.  “You should go out in the hall.  Just trust me.”

 

He heard the door close, and his heartbeat settled down a bit.  Another hand touching him, but this one felt gentle and that confused him. 

 

“Open your eyes Bryan,” Jeff’s soothing tones ordered.  “Come out of the nightmare.  Come to me okay?”

 

“J…Jeff?” he asked hesitantly.  His eyes flew open and he was staring into a sapphire gaze.  His first instinct was to panic, but the hand, that soft touch- it relaxed him.  And those eyes…they were different from the ones he feared.  “Please don’t hurt me, Jeff.”

 

Jeff’s hand felt good against his skin and his trembling ceased…his breathing slowed and he relaxed his body.  “Bryan, no one is going to hurt you.  You had a bad dream.  It was just a dream.”

 

On impulsive he slipped into Jeff’s arms.  He couldn’t explain why he did that, but he needed it.  He felt drawn to it.  For long moments Jeff allowed his fingers to run through Bryan’s hair, and Bryan tried to gather his thoughts, trying to figure out what exactly had happened.

 

“Does this have something to do with your back?” Jeff asked, and Bryan marveled at how deep and soft that voice was.  It was very comforting, and he wanted to get lost in it, just for a moment.  He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t care right now.  He felt…safe here in the arms of his friend.  He didn’t want to let go.

 

“Is it the scars?” 

 

That soft voice was like a blanket of warmth and he wanted to close his eyes and just lose himself, but he couldn’t.  He moved, pulling out of those arms and allowing his eyes to meet that blue gaze yet again.  “What?” he asked, partly wanting to hear the voice again, partly because he had missed the question.

 

“I saw your back while you were getting dressed before.  The scars…are they a result of this nightmare?”

 

He opened his mouth, ready with a response but it melted on his tongue.  There was just something about that gaze, he was…powerless against it and he didn’t understand why.  “Yes,” he said his tone timid as he forced himself to pull away from those eyes.  “I…I think so.”  He frowned, his nightmare had frightened him, and he wasn’t really sure where the events fell.  “I mean....I was…” He frowned again and shook his head.  He didn’t know what he was saying.

 

“Talk to me.”  A soft hand touched his back, rubbing up and down…soothing him, giving him the strength to talk.  He just didn’t know what to say.  “Tell me what you are feeling, Bryan,” Jeff’s voice answered his thought.

 

“I couldn’t move…I was tied to the bed and there was pain.  A lot of pain.”

 

“Did someone hurt you?” Jeff queried.

 

“Adam.” Bryan gasped.  “He…he held me down.”

 

“Who’s Adam?” Jeff asked, frowning.

 

“The doctor had a needle and….I don’t like needles.” He frowned and closed his eyes something about that didn’t seem right.

 

“Needles?” Jeff repeated.  “Was it medicine?”

 

“They said it was for my own good.” Bryan replied.  He was trying to concentrate, trying to sort out his dream from fact and reality.  It was hard…everything seemed so scattered.  “I was being pun…punished for breaking rules.  I didn’t know I was breaking the rules.”

 

“Bryan, I need you to focus,” Jeff said shaking him lightly wanting his full attention.  He turned to gaze once more at Jeff and was surprised to see concern in his eyes.  He had all but forgotten what that looked like until he met Jeff.  “You with me?” Jeff asked.

 

He nodded, trying to force himself to continue looking into the sapphire depths.  Jeff’s eyes reminded him of oceans like he used to see on globes.  Deep…penetrating blue.

 

“Did you get punished a lot?”

 

Bryan shuddered.  He was always being punished.  At least it always seemed like that.  It didn’t matter what was going on at any point in his day.  He was always being subjected to some sort of routine…they all seemed like punishments.  He didn’t know what was worse…the punishments or the headaches.  Or maybe just maybe the worst part was… his eyes clenched shut and his hands went up to his head…he couldn’t do this…couldn’t talk about it.

 

“Bryan,” Jeff’s voice somehow penetrated the fog and he lifted his head, his eyes still closed but he knew he was facing Jeff.  He could feel Jeff’s hand rubbing the back of his neck trying to ease the tension there. 

 

“You aren’t there anymore, Bryan,” Jeff said as he continued to rub Bryan’s neck. And I’m going to be here for you…if you will let me okay?”

 

He nodded.  He really didn’t think he could do this without Jeff.  He was so confused.  “What did you say?” He asked looking at his sapphire eyed friend.  He had drifted for a moment and missed Jeff’s words.

 

“You should talk to your dad,” Jeff told him.  “I know he wants to help you.”

 

“I can’t,” Bryan shook his head frantically.  “Don’t make me do that, Jeff.  Please don’t...”

 

“Easy,” Jeff soothed.  “Listen to me, Bryan.  Your dad loves you.  He is worried about you and he only wants to help.  Let him help you…okay?”

 

Several moments later, resigned, he followed Jeff out of the room, his emotions tucked neatly away as his eyes landed on his dad.  “I’m ready to talk now,” he said, and he felt Jeff’s hand on his shoulder giving him a reassuring squeeze.  A moment of silence passed as if his dad was trying to size up the situation before nodding.

 

His mom was up too, and he frowned.  Had he really awakened the whole house with his bad dream?   “Can I talk to you a minute, Marianne?” He heard Jeff ask his mom.  They were all heading to the kitchen…his dad had mentioned something about coffee.

 

“We’ll give Bryan and Thomas some privacy,” Jeff’s voice met his ears…it was lower now…for Jeff was taking his mother into the other room.  “I wanted to ask if it were okay to move into the room next door to Bryan’s” he heard before the voices faded away.  He couldn’t hear his mom’s response and he sighed.  His father placed a mug of steaming coffee in front of him and he stared down it at, finding that much preferable then meeting his dad’s gaze.

 

The silence was awkward.  Neither man knew exactly what to say or where to start.  Bryan had a feeling his father was waiting for him to begin.  He just didn’t know how to do it anymore.  He hated that he couldn’t even talk to his dad without an instruction manual.  It used to come so easily to him…he and his dad talked about everything.  Even when they were upset with each other they had still been able to communicate.  This was different though.  He felt…betrayed by his dad and he didn’t know how to express that. 

 

He needed to say something.  His dad just wanted to help him…and Bryan wanted to trust him.  He DID trust him.  He couldn’t understand why, but he did.  He wanted to talk to him…but first he needed to figure out what to say.

 

“I…I didn’t mean to wake you up,” He apologized, biting his lip as he looked up from his coffee cup. 

 

“That’s okay, Bryan.  You know I love you right?  No matter what you tell me, I’m going to be here for you.”

 

“It was just a bad dream, Dad,” he said picking up his coffee and taking a sip.  “I guess I woke the whole house didn’t I?”                       

 

“Just your mother, me and Jeff,” Thomas responded sipping from his own mug.  “Your sisters and your brother can sleep through just about anything.”

 

The makings of a smile crossed his lips but didn’t quite reach his eyes. 

 

“Son, did something happen…?”                                       

 

“You could say that,” Bryan said softly.  He shook his head and allowed his fingers to trace the rim of his mug.  “One time, they decided that I wasn’t "recovering" fast enough for their liking."  Bryan shifted uncomfortably at the word recovering.  "So, they isolated me…said that outside influences were causing me to stray from the path.” He allowed his eyes to meet his father’s again, and marveled at what he saw.  There was shock and sadness mixed with a hint of anger and it made Bryan wonder.  Does he feel bad for sending me there?  Or is there more to this than even I know?   “Isolation is no fun, Dad,” he said picking up the thread of story.

 

“It sucked, and it made me sick.  I couldn’t eat…I was too upset, and there was no sunlight.  Just a lot of darkness, and a lot of time to think and miss everyone…everything on the outside.  And you know what’s worse, Dad?  When you come out of there…it takes a while to get used to the light again.”

 

Silence reigned for a moment as Bryan’s words hung in the air between them.  For Bryan coming out of the dark was as scary an experience as being completely submerged in it.  He knew his father could understand that darkness.  They had gone through dark captivity together…so long ago, but he could still remember.  His dad had been so brave back then…and he wanted to be brave like that. 

 

“Bryan,” his dad’s voice drew him back to the present.  “I have faith that you will find your way back into the light.  And I want to help you.  Just tell me what I can do, Son.  What can I do?”

 

Bryan looked at his dad, a thoughtful frown on his face.  He knew his dad was sincere; he didn’t even have to question it this time.  There was so much he didn’t understand but something he knew very well.  If there was one person in this world that he needed to have in his corner it was the man sitting right across from him.  It would take some doing, and it probably wouldn’t happen overnight but it was something he needed to happen.

 

“I…I want…my dad back.  Would that be okay?”


4. Chapter 4

 

Chapter 4

To Bryan it seemed like hours passed as he sat there, even though it had only been mere minutes.  His gaze was locked on that of his father…though he couldn’t read those eyes.  It had been a long time since he had been able to decipher what his dad was thinking.  Of course that had been before everything changed.  He didn’t know how Thomas would react to his request.  Would he understand…would he get it?  Would he know that Bryan wanted him to believe in him again?  Or was it a lost cause? 

No, he couldn’t believe that…he had to have faith in something.  Right now the cards…all of them were in Thomas’s hands.  Bryan fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair, wishing that intense gaze wasn’t focused so completely on him.  He felt like he was being objectified, as if Thomas was searching for all his imperfections.  The silence wasn’t helping and he almost wished he had kept his mouth shut…hadn’t he learned that shutting up was always the best way to stay out of trouble?

“I’m not sure I understand,” his dad’s voice was soft-spoken as always, but somehow it felt empty…cold.  That alone didn’t make sense to him and it made him frown.  His father was sitting right across from him, yet it seemed like they were separated by more than just the expanse of a table.  His fingers curled around the mug, holding on tightly to keep them from shaking.  

“Understand what?” he forced the words through his lips, reminding himself that this was important.  This was one thing he really wanted.

“I haven’t gone anywhere, Bryan.  I’ve been right here the whole time.”

Even the simplistic answers confused him, and he pursed his lips not sure how to respond to this admission.  How could he get Thomas to understand?  How did he begin to explain the raging storm that was his brain?

“I…” He started, the words stuck in his throat.  A frown crossed his features again as he tried to process what he wanted to say.  What DID he want to say?  “I…you were dis…appointed in me.  I…I let you down, and I missed…miss you.”

“I miss you too, Son.”  Thomas’s voice slipped between the cracks and touched somewhere deep inside him.  He wanted to believe those words, wanted to bask in them and glorify in the feelings attached to them but he couldn’t.  The words fell short of the shelf that held his emotions, and they shattered like shards of glass cutting small holes in his heart and his soul.  

“I want to help you, Bryan,” Thomas’s voice reached his ears again.  “I want to do whatever I can for you, but you have to tell me where to start.  I’m here for you anyway I can be.  Just tell me what you want me to do.”

“Will…will you try to listen?” Bryan asked, biting his lip and averting his gaze.  Perhaps that had been a stupid question but he didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m all ears.”

“I didn’t like it….there but he said…he said it was for my own good.  He…he said you wanted me to be there because it was better.  I just don’t get that.  He said he talked to you and told you how…how I was…” He trailed off for a moment, frowning as he tried to catch the word that was eluding him. 

“You didn’t want me...” He started again, looking up to meet his father’s eyes.  “I just wanted to be who I’m supposed to be…but now I don’t know who or what that is.”

“Son…” Thomas started but trailed off when Bryan shook his head.

“He said I was too messed up to be reasonable and you agreed…that’s why I was sent away.  He convinced me that I needed to be there…but now I’m more confused and I just…I just I don’t like the nightmares.”  His voice was so soft as he said that, and only the sadness in Thomas’s eyes told Bryan he had heard.  “I don’t want to be confused…but I am.  He said I would understand why you didn’t want me, Dad but I don’t.”

His father stood up and for one split second he was afraid.  That fear slipped away when the older man pulled him up out of the chair and into a hug.  For a moment Bryan didn’t know how to react to that.  He stood there, wrapped in that embrace, battling against all the emotions that were threatening to break free. 

“I love you, Son.  You can be whoever you want to be.  I will love you no matter what.”

Ever so slowly his arms moved.  The motion was almost mechanical, his hands wrapping around his father’s frame as he buried his head against the strong chest and held on tight.  In an instant he felt the fringes of a connection he used to know so well.  It was there, waiting for him to grasp it…and he wanted to.  No one could ever know how much he wanted to grab a hold of it and cling to it.  But it was out of his reach…no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t touch it, and that was what hurt the most.

“Oh god” he said, his hands slipping away suddenly and going to his head.  He backed away from Thomas and would have lost his balance if the other man hadn’t reached out to catch him.  His head was pounding, and he squeezed his eyes closed trying to make it go away. 

“Bryan?”  He heard the voice but he didn’t have the strength to respond.  He whimpered and squeezed his eyes tighter as if that would help somehow.  “Marianne,” His dad yelled, “Someone help me.  Call a doctor.”

The mention of a doctor snapped him out of the pain, if only long enough to shake his head and back away from his father.  “No, please don’t call a doctor.  I’m fine.  I…I just need…I need sleep.  That’s all just sleep.”

Footsteps alerted him to the fact that someone had answered Thomas’s call for help.  He turned and saw his mother and Jeff standing there with concerned looks on their faces.  “I’m…fine,” he said again.  “I just want to go to bed…okay.”

He felt a hand touch his shoulder and turned to see that Jeff had reached his side.  Thomas was beside him too and Bryan moved away from them both, stumbling as he tried to make it to the stairs.

Jeff watched as Thomas moved after Bryan, catching him before he fell.  It made Jeff frown to see Bryan so…unbalanced and he wished there was something he could do to help.  He wanted to figure out what was going on, but first it was time to get Bryan to sleep.  He followed Thomas and Bryan up the stairs, with Marianne close on his heels, and he could hear Bryan telling Thomas that he didn’t want him to stay in the room.

“I’ll stay with him,” Jeff said, placing a hand on Thomas’s shoulder.  “Would that be okay with you, Bryan?”

There was just something about that dark gaze that drew him in, and he couldn’t quite explain it.  He just wanted to help Bryan, and he had to figure out how to do it.  For the moment staying with him while he slept seemed to be the best idea.

“Okay,” Bryan said, his voice sounding childlike to Jeff’s ears. 

He turned away from that brown gaze and squeezed Thomas’s shoulder again.  “Don’t worry; he’ll be safe with me.  We’ll talk in the morning.”

Thomas stared at Jeff gratefully before turning his attention to his son.  “Good night, Son.  I love you.”  Jeff watched as Thomas moved forward, and knew he wanted to touch Bryan again but then thought better of it.  He thanked Jeff silently and left the room. 

Jeff closed the door before turning to face the blond who now had his head down.  “Are you ready to get some sleep?  Do you think you can?”

Bryan looked up and Jeff’s heart fluttered at the sight of him looking so vulnerable.  He pushed those feelings aside, not wanting to dwell on them at the moment.  Bryan’s wellbeing was the only thing he should be focusing on.

“I think I’m ready to sleep now,” Bryan spoke just then, though he made no attempt to move.  He just stood there silently, expectantly waiting for Jeff to make the first move.            

His eyes were still on Bryan as he moved to his side.  He placed a hand on Bryan’s shoulder and silently guided him to the bed.  Jeff wondered what Bryan was thinking as he stood by his side waiting for the bed to be ready.  He was a mystery Jeff wanted to solve, but he wasn’t quite sure where to start.  There was just something…intriguing…yeah that was the right word.  There was just something about him that made Jeff gravitate toward him and sometimes, he wondered if it was more than just the fact that Bryan seemed so lost.   

A sudden movement caused him to turn and he realized that Bryan seemed to be shaking.  Jeff frowned and once again placed a hand on Bryan’s shoulder.  “It’s okay, Bryan.  You aren’t alone.  I’m here, to stay with you remember?”

Bryan bit his lip and nodded, but the shaking didn’t stop.

“Go ahead, climb into bed.  There are no monsters there.”

Bryan looked at him, those brown eyes wide with something akin to surprise and wonder. 

Ever so gently Jeff helped Bryan settle into bed, and tucked him in snugly.  The blond head rested on the pillow, and Jeff settled down beside him on the bed.  He was momentarily surprised when Bryan snuggled up close to him and promptly fell into a deep slumber.

For long moments Jeff just watched the rise and fall of the other boy’s chest.  He looked so peaceful like that, and so untroubled…he was beautiful.  A soft smile crossed Jeff’s lips as he shifted, trying not to wake Bryan as he stretched himself out on the bed.  He had promised to stay by Bryan’s side and that was what he would do.  It was hours before he allowed himself to go to sleep.  He dozed on and off, his eyes opening at every sound.  Bryan didn’t stir again that night, and finally Jeff gave himself over to sleep.  He would be tired in the morning, but he didn’t care…Bryan was all that mattered. 

**

When Bryan opened his eyes the first thing he noticed was that he wasn’t alone.  He could feel the warm body he was pressed up against, and almost instinctively moved closer to it.  He realized his mistake when he felt a sharp pain rip through his skull.  A loud groan escaped his lips, despite his efforts to keep quiet.  He scrambled away, trying to put as much distance as he could between him and the body.  Somehow he miscalculated and a yelp escaped his lips as he crashed to the floor.  His head went back, hitting the nightstand behind him.  He felt like such an idiot.

“Bryan.”  He looked up when he heard his name and was relieved to see concerned blue eyes staring back at him.  “Are you okay?  What happened?”

He opened his mouth to explain, but once again he wasn’t sure what to say.  How did he even begin to explain his actions when he didn’t completely understand them himself?  “My…my head hurts,” he said finally.  It was the truth, his head was throbbing and he really wished it would stop. 

Bryan watched Jeff slip off the bed, and soon he was standing right in front of him.  Bryan couldn’t do much but stare.  He was sure if he opened his mouth and tried to speak he would say the wrong thing.  Jeff looked so much bigger from his vantage point and that scared him a little.  Yet he knew there was nothing to fear with Jeff.  Jeff was not Adam.

“I’ll get you some aspirin,” Jeff said reaching out a hand for Bryan.  Bryan glanced at the outstretched hand for a second before grasping it.  Jeff’s grip was firm and strong; Bryan couldn’t help but notice as he was pulled to his feet.  He ignored his wobbly legs and shook his head.

“It’s okay.  I don’t…need any, Jeff.  Just…I’m sorry.  We have to go to work today…right?”

“Yes,” Jeff responded, taking note that Bryan wanted to change the subject.  “We have some time before we need to get ready though.  I wanted to talk to you first.  Is that alright?”

Bryan was slightly taken aback that Jeff wanted his opinion but he covered and tried to smile.  “Yes that would…that would be okay.  If you really want to.”

Jeff took a seat on the bed and patted the spot beside him.  “Come on, Bryan have a seat.  I don’t bite, I promise.”

 Bryan sat beside Jeff, folding his hands in his lap as he faced those blue eyes.  He waited for Jeff to say something, not quite sure what he wanted to say, but at the same time eager to hear the gentle tones of that voice.  It was unsettling to him just how much he wanted to hear Jeff speak.

“I wanted to talk to you about last night,” Jeff explained.  “Did things go alright with your dad before your head started to hurt?”

Bryan looked down at his hands, his thumbs wrestling with each other as he tried to find the right words.  His conversation with his dad hadn’t gone great…but it wasn’t a total waste either.  He sensed that his father really cared about him…but that sense only stood to puzzle him more.

“I don’t think…” he started looking back up at Jeff.  “I don’t think he completely…understands what I was trying to tell him.  I don’t think I did a good job of explaining it…even though I tried.”

“I’m sure you did fine, Bryan,” Jeff encouraged.  “You know your father loves you, right?”

“That’s what he said,” Bryan said wistfully.

“He was very worried about you last night,” Jeff explained.  “Especially after your talk.  You should try talking to him again, when you’re up to it…okay?”

“Yes,” Bryan agreed.  “I…I think I can do that.”

“Good,” Jeff smiled, and Bryan could have sworn those blue eyes got even brighter.  “Now I should leave you to get ready for work.”

“Jeff?” Bryan called, biting his lip when the other man turned to face him. 

“Yes?”

“You…said something to my Mom.  About moving into the next room.  What was that about?”

“I wanted to be closer to you,” Jeff confessed and Bryan wasn’t sure what to make of those words.  “I want to help you with the nightmares, Bryan,” Jeff continued.  “I can do that better if I am in the room beside yours.”

Bryan just nodded as he thought about what Jeff was saying.  He still didn’t quite get why Jeff was doing all of this, but the truth was he liked having his new friend close.  “I don’t quite know what to think of you…but thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Bryan.  Now go get yourself ready.”  Bryan could have sworn he heard Jeff yawn as he left the room, though Mr. Blue eyes had tried hard to hide it.  It made him frown as he wondered if he was the reason why Jeff was tired.  He didn’t like that thought.

**

“You aren’t doing that right,” he heard that shrill voice snap yet again.  He sighed and turned to see Tiphani standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips.  He had lost count of how many times she had said that to him just in that hour alone.  He wasn’t sure what she expected, and he wished Jeff was there beside him at that moment…or Kristin.  Anyone would have been preferable to having to deal with Tiphani on his own.

He looked back at the tapes he was sorting through and frowned.  Jeff had explained that he should order them by date and then order them by category.  What could he be doing wrong?

“What are you stupid,” Tiphani exclaimed coming over and pushing him out of the way.  “This isn’t how you sort them.  They need to be put in alphabetical order.  How hard is that?  You’re such a moron sometimes.”

“But I am sorting them in alphabetical order,” Bryan protested looking back at the tapes.

“Then why do you have S before R, Stupid?” Tiphani sighed and started moving things around.

“Don’t do that,” Bryan said horrified.  He had everything set up in a system and if she touched it even a little bit, he didn’t know how to get back to it.

 

“Bryan,” Jeff’s voice met his ears and he looked frantically for his friend, finally spotting him just inside the doorway.  “Is everything okay?  I could hear you yelling.  Tiphani what are you doing?”

“Trying to fix the mess your friend here has made.”

“I…had those in a certain order, Jeff,” Bryan said lamely.  He was sure his argument couldn’t even begin to measure up to Tiphani’s by any means.  “She’s going to mess it up and then I don’t know if I can do it the way you told me to.”

“Oh stop whining!” Tiphani barked even as yet another person entered the room.

“Tiphani...” Jeff tried to warn, but the redhead kept on messing with the tapes, all the while shooting off her mouth at Bryan.

 “You obviously don’t have what it takes to work in this kind of professional setting…haven’t you had enough?”

Bryan didn’t know what to say.  He looked at Jeff who was frowning in his direction and it made him feel worse.  Was Jeff mad at him too?”

“I can’t stand spoiled brats who don’t know how to do anything.”

“That will be enough Tiphani.”  The cool but stern voice caught Bryan off guard and he looked up startled to see his mom in the room.  Had she been there a moment ago?

“Oh, Mrs. Dobbs,” Tiphani, purred, pasting a smile on her face.  “How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough,” Marianne stated, “I don’t appreciate the tone you are using with my son.  It is inappropriate and it will not be tolerated.”

Bryan didn’t know what to think of his mom being there.  He was surprised that she had stood up for him, and at the same time… he let the thought trail off and shook his head.  The system he had created on the table was now ruined thanks to Tiphani, and all he had wanted to do was make a good impression.  Maybe Tiphani was right about him.

A hand on his shoulder alerted him to the fact that Jeff was now by his side.  They were the only ones in the room now, and those blue eyes were full of concern.  “Don’t pay attention to her,” Jeff soothed.  “You’re doing just fine, and I can help you get these back the way you had them.  It won’t be too hard if we do it together.”

“Why don’t you boys leave that until after lunch,” Marianne said returning to the room.  Bryan looked up and met his mother’s gaze before glancing at Jeff.

“I think lunch sounds like a good idea,” Jeff said smiling.  “Would I be too hasty to assume we’d be celebrating something?” he winked, and Bryan once again marveled at the relationship between his mother and Jeff.

Marianne waved her hand dismissively and shook her head.  “No, that would be too easy.  I am sorry that she gives Bryan such a hard time though.  Are you okay, honey?”

Bryan stared at his mom for the longest time without saying a word.  He could hardly believe that she was concerned for him...even after what he had done.  He had stolen months of her life, and caused her to miss Eddie’s birth.  And she was asking him if he was okay?  That, like everything else just didn’t make sense to him.

“I was doing the best I could,” He said frowning.  “I…I’m sorry if I um caused any trouble.”

Marianne frowned and moved forward, as if she wanted to get closer to him.  Something stopped her though and she adjusted the strap on her purse yet again.  “So are you two ready to eat?”

“Can we meet you at the car?” Jeff asked

“Yes, of course,” Marianne backed out of the room, flashing one more smile in Bryan’s direction before she was gone.   Bryan’s eyes were on the door and it took Jeff calling him twice before he realized he was being spoken to.

“What?” he asked, trying to concentrate on Jeff, though he couldn’t get that frown out of his mind. 

“Are you ready to have lunch with your mom?  Will you be alright with her?”

“Are…are you mad at me?” he blurted ignoring Jeff’s question all together.  He needed to know.  He wanted to know so he could fix whatever he had done to put a sad look on Jeff’s face.

“No,” Jeff said, and Bryan noted he sounded a little startled at the question.  “I’m not upset with you in any way shape or form, Bryan.”

“But you frowned…” He knew he sounded like a desperate kid but he couldn’t help it.  He didn’t know what he would do if he lost Jeff at this moment.  The blue eyes were his only glimpse of sanity.  “You were upset about something.”

“I was glaring at Tiphani,” Jeff explained.  “I didn’t like her calling you names.  And you shouldn’t listen to her either, okay.  She’s just mad because your mom won’t let her get away with anything.  Kristin and I have your back here, Bryan, so no worries okay?”

“I don’t know…what if I…”

“Just trust me, Bryan,” Jeff squeezed his hand.  “Can you try to do that?”

He could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on, but he wasn’t going to focus on it.  If he didn’t give it power it wouldn’t overtake him.  At least he wanted to believe that.  He closed his eyes for a second and took a few deep breaths, wanting to clear his head.  He could do this…he could fight this and he could do what he had to do at work.  He could do it all as long as he had his friend.  Jeff was really a lifesaver.

“I can try,” he complied finally.  “I’ll try.”

“Good,” Jeff said giving his hand one last squeeze.  “Now let’s go eat.  I think your mom is buying today.”

**

Bryan didn’t say much at lunch.  He just sat and listened to his mom chat with Jeff.  They seemed to get along very well, and it reminded him of the old days.  He used to get along with his mom like that too.  They had once talked about everything…up until last year…when he had revealed his secret and caused a chain of events that he still couldn’t fully understand.

The image of her falling backwards down a flight of stairs was forever embedded in his memory.  It was one of the things that haunted him while he was away.  It was the thing that Marshall reminded him of constantly…what his dad couldn’t forgive him for.  He couldn’t even forgive himself; and yet here he sat beside her at lunch and he didn’t know how to begin to make up for all he had done.

“Bryan, Honey, are you alright?” His mom sounded so…worried and it was beginning to get to him.  He looked up from his plate and tried to read the dark eyes that were so much like his own. 

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he said lowering his head again.

“For what, sweetheart?”

“For making you fall,” he looked back up deciding that he needed to say it to her face. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jeff staring at him too and he swallowed.  Now he really would lose his friend.  “I…I know you probably hate me…for that, and that saying I’m sorry doesn’t change what I did.  But…but I am sorry.”

He couldn’t read the expression on either of their faces and he had to fight not to put his head back down.  He wished he knew what they were thinking.

“I don’t blame you for that.”

He blinked and tilted his head to the side wondering if he had heard her correctly.  “You…huh?” he asked.

“I don’t blame you for the fall, Bryan.”

“You don’t? But… “

“In fact, I’m rather baffled that you think you caused it.” Marianne remarked a frown settling across her features. 

The statement confused him more than anything else had in the past few weeks.  It just didn’t make sense.  Of course he had pushed her…that was the whole reason why…  His head was starting to hurt again but once more he ignored it.  He wanted to finish this conversation.  He was so confused.  He looked over at Jeff, pleading silently for help.  He was beginning to wonder if maybe he wasn’t asking the right questions.

“Can you explain that, Marianne?” Jeff asked much to Bryan’s relief. 

“I told you about the coma,” Marianne said directing her words to Jeff, who nodded his assent.  “I took a fall down the stairs at home-“

“During an argument with me,” Bryan added in sadly.

“Yes, that’s right,” Marianne agreed her voice sad as she looked at her son.  “But you didn’t make me fall, Baby.  That was my own fault.  I stepped backwards and lost my balance.”

“That can’t be right,” Bryan said shaking his head.   He pushed his chair away from the table and was about to stand when his head exploded with pain.  His hands went to his head and he felt someone catch him before he collapsed…and the world went black.

**

Jeff replayed the scene over and over in his mind, but it still didn’t quite make any sense.  He didn’t understand what had happened at the restaurant, any more then he could figure out why Bryan had been on the floor that morning.  A lot of things just weren’t adding up and he wondered if there was more going on than anyone realized.

He thought about all of this as he watched Bryan lay in the hospital bed.  Marianne had asked Jeff to keep an eye on him while she contacted Thomas and explained what happened.  Bryan was unconscious…just like that and Jeff couldn’t quite wrap his head around why.  He thought about all the different times that Bryan had been in pain recently.  The last twenty-four hours especially seemed very telling.  Then he had to factor in the incident today.  It seemed that Bryan was freaked out by the fact that Marianne didn’t blame him for her fall.  Why would that freak him out so much?    It just didn’t seem to make sense. 


5. Chapter 5

Chapter 5

 

Nothing had changed by the time Thomas made it to the hospital.  Jeff stood when the older man entered the room, prepared to leave, to give him some privacy if he wished it. 

“You can stay, Jeff,” Thomas said even as he pulled a chair up by his son.  “I want you to explain to me what happened today, if you can.” 

Jeff’s expression was thoughtful as he tried to figure out what he could say to Bryan’s dad.  How did he explain his suspicions without betraying Bryan’s trust?  Actually he knew that logically he couldn’t tell Thomas much, because he truly didn’t know anything.  He decided he should just focus on the fundamental question.  He could at least explain that.

“Bryan had an adverse reaction to something Marianne said,” he frowned.  “She was talking about falling down the stairs last summer.  Bryan thinks that you and Marianne blame him for that.” 

Thomas frowned.  “Part of that is probably my fault,” he admitted with a sigh.  “I didn’t handle Marianne falling very well, and I may have given off the impression that I did blame him for it.  Even though I knew it wasn’t his fault.”

“I think it’s more serious than that though,” Jeff said sadly.  “I mean…if I can be frank, Sir?”  He waited for Thomas’ consent before he continued.  “I don’t think this is just Bryan blaming himself for that.  There’s more to it.”           

“Such as what?” Thomas asked curiously.

“If it were just him blaming himself, I don’t think he would have been so freaked out at the restaurant.  Marianne told him it wasn’t his fault and he said that couldn’t be true.  That’s when he freaked, and he got another headache.  I think that was his third one today.”

“Did the doctors say they were going to run tests,” Thomas asked, glancing at his son’s still form.           

“Yes, Sir.  I told them what I could about the headaches he’s been having.  He has them so often and it worries me.”

“Me too.”  Thomas looked away from his son, and focused on his boarder.  “Thank you Jeff.  You really have been a big help.  Even before Bryan returned it was nice to have you in the house.  Now I’m even more grateful that Marianne offered to take you in.  I don’t know what we would have done these past few weeks without you here.  You are the only one who can get through to Bryan.”

Jeff shook his head and glanced at Bryan himself.  “I don’t really think I’ve done much good, but I’d like to try,” he admitted softly.  “I am very grateful to you and Marianne for allowing me to stay with you these past months.  It’s meant a great deal to me, and…” he trailed off for a moment, not really certain what he was trying to impart here.  He certainly wasn’t going to tell Thomas that he was developing feelings for his son.  He wasn’t sure what the man would think of that, he wasn’t quite certain what HE thought of that.

Luckily he didn’t have to figure out what to say.  At that moment the doctor came in the room and asked to speak with Thomas.  “I can get out if you need,” Jeff started, standing to leave the room.

“Jeff has been helping take care of my son,” Thomas said his voice firm and leaving no room for argument.  “I want him to hear what you have found, please.”

Jeff eyed the doctor warily as the man consulted his notes.  Doctor Wilkenson had said this doctor came highly recommended, but Jeff didn’t like doctors.

“We ran a complete battery of tests on Bryan, Mr. Dobbs and I am afraid our findings are a little unclear.  We weren’t able to track down a cause for his headaches, but we did find that there has been considerable damage to his brain.”

“What does that mean exactly?” the words flew from Jeff’s mouth before he could think about it.  He looked to Thomas for permission to continue before turning back to the doctor.  “Where could this…damage have come from?  What caused it?”

“That’s what we intend to find out.  I have a few questions for you if you don’t mind,” the doctor focused on Bryan’s dad, and Jeff watched them both, hanging on every word.

“Ask me anything, Thomas obliged.  “I want to know what’s wrong with my son, and what we need to do about it.” 

“Does Bryan have a history of head trauma?” the doctor asked, and Jeff noted that he was focused once more on his chart instead of on Thomas.

“He’s never had a concussion,” Thomas said with a shake of his head.  “Besides his kidney transplant two years ago, Bryan hasn’t had any medical emergencies.  He’s a fairly healthy kid.”

“There are definite signs of distress from the MRI's we took of Bryan’s brain,” the doctor explained, still focusing on his notes.  “There are signs of multiple head traumas and it would appear that he has suffered a few concussions, the latest being what brings him here today.”

“But that makes no sense,” Thomas said with a sigh.

“Actually,” Jeff spoke up, frowning as he once more glanced at Bryan.  “He did hit his head this morning, on the nightstand.  His head was hurting right then, but he said he didn’t want any aspirin.”

“That very well could have contributed to his condition,” the doctor admitted.  “We’d have to run more tests in order to know for sure what is causing Bryan to have these episodes.  Has your son ever been subjected to electrotherapy?”

“No. No.  Not ever,” Thomas said appalled at the question.  Jeff frowned, and focused on the doctor.  Why would he ask that question?

“Marianne and Thomas would never subject their son to something so horrible,” Jeff defended.  “I may not have lived here long, but I don’t doubt that they love Bryan dearly.  They wouldn’t put him through something as dangerous as that.”

“I am merely reporting what the tests have found,” the doctor explained, finally looking up from his chart.  His eyes settled on Bryan and a thoughtful expression crossed his lips.

“I think we will know more when Bryan wakes up…if he wakes.”

“No!” Jeff shouted startling himself and the two men in the room.  The doctor looked at him quizzically and he swallowed, trying to regain his bearings.  “I mean no disrespect Dr. Hamilton,” he said with a sigh.  “Bryan is going to wake up.”

“What is your name?” the doctor asked after a brief pause.

“Jeff…Jeff Burton, sir.”  

“Well Jeff, let’s just hope you are right about your friend here.  I would like to help him, and I sense that you want to as well.”

A warm hand settled on Jeff’s shoulder and he looked up to see that Thomas had moved to his side.  He could tell that Bryan’s father was grateful, and that made him feel good inside.  He only hoped he really could help Bryan.

Jeff listened as Dr. Hamilton explained other things to Thomas, but he wasn't completely paying attention.  He was trying to wrap his head around what the doctor had said.  Concussions?  Electrotherapy?  Was it possible that Bryan had gone through those things?  It didn’t make much sense, but MRI's didn’t lie.  If there were signs of damage then they came from somewhere right?

It didn’t make any sense though.  There was a whole year of Bryan’s life that was a mystery to everyone, and he wanted to solve it.  What happened in rehab?  It seemed fairly obvious to Jeff that Bryan hadn’t been happy there.  At least that was what he gathered from the few talks he was able to have with him.  Bryan was so closed down, so uncertain that sometimes talking to him was like pulling teeth.  Jeff didn’t mind though, he liked spending time with Bryan, and he would continue to do so for as long as he was allowed.

When Bryan showed no signs of waking on Friday, the doctors ran more tests.  More questions were asked and speculations were made.  Bryan was indeed suffering from some severe head trauma, which no one could even begin to explain.  Jeff took time off from work to stay by Bryan’s side and Kristin came to visit the hospital as well.  She was horrified when Jeff told her the doctor’s diagnosis.  She couldn’t understand what it all meant…and Jeff didn’t know how to explain it to her. 

When he wasn’t by Bryan’s side Jeff took it upon himself to start investigating.  He wasn’t sure what he was looking for just yet, but he needed to do something.  Thomas continued to say that Bryan had never gone through Electrotherapy, yet all the tests seemed to say otherwise.  Jeff would sit in the waiting room googling for sites that might give him answers.  He found general information about head trauma first.  He figured that would probably be the best place to start.  There were apparently many ways to cause damage to the brain.  And that damage led to severe after-effects.  Jeff didn’t even want to think about those at the moment.  He had to see what exactly he was dealing with first.  The information he found clearly supported Doctor Hamilton’s findings, and that worried him.  A simple blow to the head could cause memory loss, personality changes and even something as severe as paralysis.  Bryan’s problem wasn’t as serious as that, but it was still pretty bad.  Something was definitely wrong.

Thomas was certain that his son had never taken a blow to the head.  He had fallen, surely when he was a child but nothing serious.  Dr. Hamilton was sure that these injuries were recent…something just wasn’t adding up.  Even if something had happened recently Thomas would have known about it.  If Bryan had had any type of medical treatment then his parents had to be told.  Yet it was obvious that Marianne and Thomas knew nothing.  That alone didn’t make sense to Jeff.  If the tests said Bryan had suffered concussions and that there were signs of damage from electroshock therapy, then what happened while Bryan was in Rehab?

It was definitely a question he was going to look into, but first Bryan needed to wake up.  Jeff wasn’t going to make any moves until Bryan was okay and able to talk to him again.  For the moment only family was allowed to see Bryan, but Dr. Wilkerson had given the ok for Jeff to visit as well since he was living with them; and Thomas had asked.  Jeff always stepped out of the room at those times, giving Thomas and Marianne their privacy as they begged their son to wake up.  Bryan’s grandma, Brianna was a frequent visitor as well.  Jeff thought she was a very classy lady and it was obvious that she was devoted to Bryan.  The rest of the Dobbs’ and Kristin could only come as far as the waiting room.  They weren’t allowed inside. Neither was Marshall; he was the one person Jeff didn’t want around Bryan.  He couldn’t explain why, there was an unhealthy vibe that made him uneasy.  He didn’t trust Marshall around Bryan, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that.

“You aren’t allowed in there,” Jeff said as Marshall walked past him.  He was taking notes from the site he had found on electrotherapy, but he stopped to focus on Bryan’s biological father.  “You know what happened the last time.”

Marshall glared and Jeff focused on his computer again, not really wanting a confrontation.  Bryan had not reacted well the one time Marshall had managed to get into the room, and if Jeff wasn’t already wary of the man, that incident cinched it.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Vasaar?” Dr. Hamilton asked as he came out of Bryan’s room. 

“I want to see my son,” Marshall announced and Jeff looked up from his computer screen once more to watch the scene play out.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” The doctor asserted firmly.  “Bryan needs to relax and when you are around him it’s obvious that he doesn’t.”

“Will you at least tell me…?”

“You will have to take that up with his family, Mr. Vasaar.  Now if you’ll excuse me.”

Jeff said his goodbyes to Dr. Hamilton and went back to working on his laptop.

“What do you know about my son’s condition?” Marshall demanded.

Once more Jeff looked up from what he was reading and looked squarely into Marshall’s eyes.  Silence reigned and the tension was ripe and thick.  Jeff imagined that it would take a chainsaw to break through it.  There was something about this man, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, he didn’t like him and he wondered if he should let someone know that. 

He looked back down at his computer, saving his documents before closing the top.  He looked at Marshall once more and stood up, placing the computer under his arm.  “I don’t trust you.” He admitted sharply, turning and walking toward Bryan’s room. 

**

“You’ve been out for more than a week, you know?” he said as he took his normal spot beside Bryan’s bed.  It was the seat Thomas had just vacated after spending two hours talking to his son about anything and everything.  “Your dad just left,” Jeff continued.  “You’re making him sad, Bryan, and I know that’s not what you’re trying to do.  I’m sad too, because I realize more and more every day just how much I rely on you.  Maybe you don’t feel like people need you here anymore.  And maybe just maybe you think that you would be better off staying in that dark place you’ve gone to…but you won’t, Bryan.  You aren’t better off because even if it were true that no one else wanted you here, I want you here.  I want you to open those beautiful brown eyes with the green flecks and I want you to…”

He stopped as he realized what he had been about to say.  The words didn’t startle him as much as the sentiment behind them.  Was it possible that his feelings for Bryan were stronger than even he realized?  “I want…I want you to come back to me, Bryan,” he whispered softly, reaching a hand out to touch Bryan’s still form.  "I know that sounds crazy, and I’m not even sure what it means exactly, but I know I need you.  I meant it when I said I’d be lost without you.  I am lost, Bryan.  So much so that it’s like I don’t even know how to do what needs to be done.  I somehow manage to do what I did before…but it’s not the same.  My life was completely changed when you came home.”

Instinctively his fingers touched Bryan’s hand, and he could hear the soft beeping of the machine that kept track of Bryan’s brainwaves.  He welcomed the noise, taking it as a good sign, and he focused on Bryan, his thumb lightly caressing his hand.  “You’ve given me a reason, Bryan, a reason to believe in the good things…a reason to think that I can do something right.  I already knew I wanted to make movies, and I know that your parents like having me around.  But none of that matters as much as the fact that you need me, and I’m here for you, Bryan.  Please wake up…let me be there for you like I want to.”

His flow of words was stopped by the wave of emotion that overtook him in that moment.  His head lowered, his forehead making contact with Bryan's hand as he rode the wave.  Jeff couldn't remember ever feeling like this.  No person had ever touched him so deeply, so completely.  


6. Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6

Whoever said silence was bliss never had to sit and watch someone they cared about drift away.  Whoever thought it could be peaceful, never had to listen to the machines beeping in the distance.  They never had to know that those beeps; the constant beep, beep were the only indication that someone was still alive.  Whoever said silence was golden never wished and prayed to some higher power for that person to come back to them.  Silence was not Jeff’s best friend.  In fact, he hated it and he wished more than anything that he could hear something…anything but especially the sound of Bryan’s voice.  He didn’t want silence.

“Jeff?”

His name floated by his ear like a cloud, and at first he wasn’t even sure he had heard it.  He didn’t dare look up, fearing that he was dreaming yet again.  This wasn’t the first time he had thought he heard his name.

“J…Jeff,” his name again, this time more uncertain and he knew, just knew it had to be real.  The voice was soft, almost hoarse and a hand was reaching out to grasp him.  There was something frantic about the grip and Jeff raised his head and found himself staring into eyes that were a sweet mixture of green and brown.  Those eyes were scared and a bit disoriented, but they were open and that alone put joy into Jeff’s heart. 

Bryan opened and closed his mouth, and frowned and Jeff wondered what was going through the blond’s head at the moment.  He stood from his spot and walked over to the table to retrieve a swab and a cup of water.

“Jeff?” Bryan said.  He tried to lick his lips, but his tongue was too dry to do any good. 

“Don’t try to talk,” Jeff said dipping the swab in the water as he had seen the nurse aides do multiple times.  “You can’t have anything to drink right now, but try this.”  He dabbed the sponge over Bryan’s lips.  He had paid particular attention to this maneuver, knowing it was the only way at present to make sure Bryan’s mouth wasn’t completely dry. 

“Just stay still,” he said softly when Bryan opened his mouth to speak.  “You can trust me Bryan.”  Jeff couldn’t resist allowing his fingers to touch those soft lips just once.  That simple contact sent a shiver up his spine that he tried to mask as he set the water on the table.  He placed the swab inside Bryan’s mouth, but removed it quickly when Bryan started to suck on it.

“Yuck,” Bryan said wrinkling his nose at the taste.

“The nurses said you probably wouldn’t like the taste,” Jeff said amused.

At that moment Bryan looked so vulnerable and Jeff just wanted to hug him…but he didn’t.  Instead he took a seat beside him on the bed and waited to see if his friend would speak again.

“Thank you,” Bryan croaked, looking down at his hands for a moment.  He seemed to be looking for something, though Jeff wasn’t sure what.  Jeff watched curiously as the Bryan examined his fingers and his arms, fingering the IV for a moment before placing his hands on the sheet to lift it up.  When the blond head bent to peer under the blanket Jeff frowned.  He couldn’t even begin to guess what his friend was doing.  His behavior was peculiar, but at the same time, Jeff was too glad he was awake to care.  

**

“I don’t like hospitals,” Bryan said breaking the silence that had fallen in the room.  After Bryan’s self-examination, Jeff had pushed the call button to alert the doctor, and he let Thomas and Marianne know Bryan was awake as well.  He promised Bryan he was coming back before he was allowed to leave his side.  They ran new tests now that Bryan was awake, and they hoped they would be able to get some answers soon.  Bryan was moved into his own private room and had already been seen by a handful of family members.     

Jeff was just about to respond to Bryan’s statement when there was a knock on the door.  “Come in,” he said, even as he looked at Bryan to make sure he wanted visitors.”

“Is it safe to come in?” asked the dark haired person who peeked into the room.  “Is he awake?”

“Hi Kristin,” Bryan greeted wearily.  Jeff figured this would have to be a short visit.  The drugs Bryan was given would be kicking in soon.

“Welcome back to the waking world,” Kristin joked coming further into the room.  She gave Bryan a hug, and Jeff noticed his hesitation before wrapping his arms around her.  The whole scene seemed awkward to Jeff and he couldn’t quite put his finger on why.  He just had the sense that Bryan was closing down again, but maybe that was because he was tired.

“I’m sorry I missed so much work,” Bryan apologized.  

“That’s the last thing you need to worry about,” Kristin said pulling away to look at him.  “You look tired, but I am so glad you’re here so I can talk to you again.”

“How is everything at work?” Jeff piped up.  He could tell by the look in Bryan’s eyes that he was a little out of sorts.  “Is Tiphani still being a pain?”   

“When isn’t she a pain?” Kristin exclaimed, turning to talk to Jeff.  “All she does is gripe.  She’s wondering when you’re coming back.”

“Don’t tell me I’ve kept you out of work too, Jeff,” Bryan’s words were a bit slurred, the effects of the medicine were starting to kick in.

“Its okay, Bryan.  I wanted to be here in case you woke up.  I was worried about you.”

“But…why?” Bryan asked, those brown eyes with the flecks of green facing him head on.  

“Because, you’re my friend.  And that’s what friend’s do.”

“You did Jeff a favor, Bryan,” Kristin smiled softly.  “He’s a workaholic.”  

“I am not,” Jeff laughed as he turned on her.  “I just never had a reason to take off.”

“Until now,” Kristin teased.”   

“Okay it’s time for Bryan to get some sleep,” Jeff said hoping that his friend hadn’t caught Kristin’s insinuation.  “Now that he is in a regular room you can see him until he gets out of here.”

“And when will that be?” Kristin asked as she gave Bryan another hug.  He heard Bryan mumble some intelligible reply to the embrace before Kristin pulled away.  

“We don’t know yet, but when I know something I will let you know.”

Jeff gave Kristin a hug and she kissed his cheek before turning to leave.   

“I’m counting on you to take care of him,” she said turning to face him once more.  “He seems to respond to you more than anyone else.”   

Jeff nodded and waited until Kristin was gone before turning his attention to Bryan.  “Why am I so sleepy Jeff?  I just woke up didn’t I?”   

“They gave you some medicine for the pain,” Jeff explained even as he began the process of positioning Bryan just right so he could sleep.  “Just lie down and get some rest.”   

“Medicine?” Bryan murmured.  “I don’t like medicine.”  His eyelids were heavy and Jeff knew any moment now those eyes would be sealed.     

“You’ll have to tell me about that another time,” Jeff whispered, while he rubbed his back.  “Go to sleep okay?”  Bryan’s even breathing was his only response and Jeff settled down in the chair by his side.  There was something very nice about watching Bryan sleep.  There was no more vigil, no more anticipation, for they knew he would awaken the next morning.

**   

“I really don’t like hospitals,” Bryan sighed, breaking the silence that seemed to swallow the hospital room.  A few days had passed since Bryan woke up, and just that morning Dr. Hamilton had ordered a final battery of tests, and it was no wonder that Bryan was repeating the statement he had made when he first awakened. 

“I don’t think anyone likes hospitals, Bryan,” Jeff said gently.  “It’s no fun being sick.”

“I was just in the hospital,” Bryan commented, a sad frown on his face.  Jeff recognized this as his “Lost in a moment” expression and he decided to see if he could persuade his friend to talk to him.       

“You’re in the hospital now,” he said slowly.  Bryan turned to face him and Jeff fought hard to stay focused on what he was talking about.  It wasn’t easy with those vulnerable eyes staring at him.  “Is that what you mean?  You’ve been here for two weeks.”

“No,” Bryan said shaking his head.  “I mean before this.  I was just here…but not this hospital.  Were you always here?” he asked changing the subject abruptly.

“When I could be,” Jeff answered, trying to pick his words and questions lightly.  He wanted to know about this last time Bryan was in the hospital.  He wanted to ask why Bryan had looked under the sheet. There were so many questions, but he had to be careful.  Bryan trusted him; he wanted to keep it that way.

“So you saw who came in and out of here, right?” Bryan continued his line of questioning.  There was something about those eyes looking at him, that Jeff found unsettling.  Was that fear he saw in that gaze?  It was hidden beneath a thin layer of some emotion Jeff couldn’t name but he knew it was there.  What was Bryan afraid of?

“Your parents were in here,” Jeff told him.  “And your grandma.  Dr. Hamilton was in and out, but that’s pretty much it besides me and a few nurses.”

“Are you sure?” Bryan asked his voice nearly inaudible.

“Well, your…" Jeff caught himself, "Marshall was in here once, but you didn’t react well to him and he shouldn’t have been in here anyway.  He didn’t come back, though he tried.”

“And that’s it?” Bryan asked, chewing on his lip nervously. 

“What’s wrong, Bryan?” Jeff asked, his own eyes looking around, as if he could find the source of what seemed to be frightening his friend. 

“You…you’re sure that there were no other people in here?” Bryan asked again.  Jeff shook his head, even as he began to wonder if maybe he should get Dr. Hamilton, or Bryan’s parents.

“Bryan, do you want me to get the doctor-”

“No,” Bryan said adamantly and the fear was no longer hidden.  “Please, Jeff, don’t do that I…I just need you to listen to me.  Please don’t tell the doctor.”

Jeff was gravely concerned, but somehow he managed not to convey that on his face.  He didn’t want to make Bryan think he couldn’t trust him.  He placed his hands on Bryan’s shoulders and impulsively pressed his forehead against the younger boy’s.  “You can trust me, Bryan.  Always remember that.  I won’t tell, but I need you to talk to me, okay.”

Bryan nodded and Jeff moved away from him so he could watch him once more.  Bryan sat silently for a moment, and Jeff knew he was trying to get his thoughts together.  Jeff had learned a lot about how to deal with Bryan over the past few weeks.  Now he was watching the mannerisms closely wanting to see if there were clues to what happened in the previous year.

“When can I get out of here?” Bryan asked, shifting uncomfortably in the bed.  “I don’t like hospitals.”

“Will you rest for me?” Jeff asked even as he fluffed Bryan’s pillows and straightened out Bryan’s blankets.  “I’m sure you’re exhausted.”

“You can’t leave me alone with them, Jeff,” Bryan said his voice serious.

It was on the tip of Jeff’s tongue to inquire about “them,” but he swallowed the question and instead offered a sad smile.  “No one can get to you while I’m here.”

“Thank you.”  Jeff watched those eyes until they clouded over with sleep and the eyelids drifted closed.  He heard a noise behind him and turned to see Bryan’s dad enter the room.  Jeff lifted his finger to his lips to signal that Bryan was asleep.  Thomas nodded and gestured for Jeff to come sit with him.

“I need to talk to you about something,” Jeff whispered, “but I don’t want to go too far in case Bryan wakes up.”

“How is he doing?” Thomas asked glancing at his son. 

“He wants to get out of here.” Jeff explained.  “He doesn’t like hospitals.”

“Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Wilkenson say he should be able to go home in a few days,” Thomas informed him.  “They want him to take it easy while they figure out how to help him.”

“Where’s Marianne?  She should be here; I think Bryan would like to see her.”

Thomas frowned.  “She’s talking to Marshall.”

“Oh,” Jeff sighed.  He didn’t want to think about Bryan’s other father right now.

“You don’t like him do you.” Thomas stated more than asked.

It wasn’t lost on Jeff that Thomas wasn’t asking him a question.  He looked at Bryan’s dad and decided it was time to be honest.  “Forgive me if I overstep any boundaries, Sir, but I just don’t trust him.  He just rubs me the wrong way.”

“I don’t trust him either,” Thomas admitted.  “But he is Bryan’s father.  As long as Bryan wants him here, I have to put up with him.” 

Jeff shook his head.  “With all due respect, Sir, you are Bryan’s father.  You are the one he wants on his side, and the one he misses so much.  You are the one he needs to please.  You are the one he needs, Thomas.  Biology is just a science it takes more than that to make someone a dad.”

“Thank you, Jeff.  I really appreciate that.  Marshall is the one who convinced Bryan to get help for his drinking, though.  So I suppose I have to give him points for that.”

“It was Marshall’s idea to send him to rehab?” Jeff asked surprised.  That wasn’t the way he had heard it from Bryan.

“Actually, according to Marshall, Bryan decided to go on his own,” Thomas said shaking his head.  “Marshall just helped steer him in the right direction.  I didn’t believe him, but he showed us the papers with Bryan’s signature.”

The wheels were turning in Jeff’s head.  He wanted to say something but could he without any information to back it up?  Would Thomas even believe him, considering Bryan’s state of mind right now?  “Someone’s not telling the truth here,” he said meeting Thomas’s gaze head on. 

“Can you tell me why you don’t trust Marshall, Jeff?”

“Bryan has a lot of anger towards him,” Jeff explained.  “This isn’t the first time Bryan has reacted badly to Marshall’s presence.  There was always this brush of pure anger…I think these headaches may be connected to his emotions.  I was reading up on that while you and Marianne visited with him.  The stronger the emotion, the more intense the headache.”

“That’s an interesting theory,” Thomas agreed.  Jeff could tell that Bryan’s father was starting to think about things too.  “But why are Bryan’s feelings causing him headaches.”

“I think he’s repressing them,” Jeff said thoughtfully.  “I can get Bryan to open up sometimes, but then he reaches a certain point and he closes himself off again.  It’s almost like he doesn’t want to feel anything, so when he does it hurts him.”

“I’m not very fond of that idea, Jeff,” Thomas said seriously.

“Neither am I and I’m sorry, Sir.  It’s just that a lot of things aren’t adding up, and I just feel like I need to get to the bottom of this.”

“You really care about him, don’t you?”

“What?” Jeff asked the question catching him off guard.

“Bryan,” Thomas said nodding in his son’s direction.  “You really care about him?”

Yes, more then you’ll ever know, he thought wistfully. “Yes, Sir," he voiced, "he’s very important to me.”

He was relieved when Thomas just smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder giving it a squeeze.  “Thank you for being so good to him.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that, Sir” he turned towards Bryan and smiled.  “It’s my pleasure.”


7. Chapter 7

 

Chapter 7

 

He was floating in air without a care in the world.  Darkness surrounded him, but for once it didn’t scare him.  This darkness was almost peaceful, serene and it felt…it felt nice.  There was something safe about the inky night that engulfed him and he wondered why anyone would want to leave it.  He could hear things in the distances; voices, sounds…some faint, some loud.  He closed his ears to the noise, shutting out the world…leaving life behind for the moment.  He just wanted to enjoy the silence.

He reveled in the darkness.  There was no pain here, no punishments, and no conflict.  He wasn’t confused, and he wasn’t scared.  He could get used to this.  There weren’t people looking over his shoulder, and no blaring signs of danger, he didn’t have to think and he had no reason to be sad.  There were no expectations…no fear of disappointment.  Here he was alone.  That part he didn’t like.

The voices wouldn’t let him be.  They were persistent, intruding on his quiet.  He could pick and choose what he heard, like flipping the dial on a radio.  As much as he enjoyed the silence, he was curious about the voices and the sounds.

“I’m just not understanding how these tests can be conclusive…” That voice sounded familiar, he was pulled towards it, wanting to hear more…needing clarification, but not wanting to get too close.  “My son was in Alcohol Rehab for a year,” the voice continued.  “What rehab facility do you know of that would use electroshock therapy?”

He backed away from the voice, confusion settling in as he mulled over what he just heard.  That was his dad, an honest man…would never lie.  Was he telling a lie right then?  No!  It didn’t make sense…why would his dad tell the doctors he was in Rehab unless…  He didn’t want to think about it anymore, he just wanted to escape into the inky blackness…he wanted to be left alone.

Time stood still in the black, no definition, no point of beginning or ending.  It just was.  He measured time by the voices, and how they made him feel.  His mom’s voice made him sad.  He longed for her.  He felt that she didn’t want him to be there.  There was a longing in his soul, it hurt.  Pain found him when he heard his mother, he wished it would let him stay lost.

There was confusion when he heard his dad, mixed with something else…something tangible.  He sensed that the voice cared, but he didn’t understand.  He couldn’t return to the confusion…didn’t want to be drawn to this voice.  He was afraid that getting to close would cause pain, he wasn’t sure why he felt that way.

“I’m very proud of you son.” the accented voice reached his ears. The voice sent shockwaves through him, as he recognized it.  He wanted to turn the dial, change the channel.  “I knew you would stick with the foundation, and now you will become the man I know you were born to be.  I knew you could do it, Colton.  You are a Vasaar through and through and you will do our family name proud.  When you get out of here Colton, I will take you to live with me; it is where you belong.”
 
Panic found him…and fear like he had never felt before.   He stopped floating, the sounds became louder, the voices closer.  He frantically sought to shut it out, turn the dial, switch it off…
**

Marshall stopped the car and Bryan didn’t budge.  He was looking at the building that would be his home for the next few months.  Marshall pulled him out of the car and practically dragged him to the front door of the foundation.
**
 Bryan could feel his heart pounding, and an alarm sounded as images began to flood his brain.

**
Dr. Herbert Orr stood in front of the room, his smiling face staring out at the boys in the therapy group.  His eyes were focused on Bryan as he spoke about the virtues of the program.  “You WILL become the men you were meant to be.”

**

“Marshall, what are you doing here?  What did you do to him?” Thomas’s voice?  When had his father been there? 

**

A single sheet of paper that decides his future;  Thomas’ signature stood out on the bottom and Bryan felt like he’s just been stabbed in the heart multiple times.

 Suddenly, a roaring in his ears competed with the blaring of the alarms.  Over it all he could hear a male voice shout, "His blood pressure is spiking!"

“What is wrong with him?” Marshall yelled.

**
He screamed as Adam’s whip sliced through his back.  He had lost count of how many times he had been hit.  He wished he could just pass out from the pain, or better yet, just die.  The whip sliced his skin again and he vomited.

**

“I think you all should leave.  Get them out of here!” Dr. Wilkerson’s voice rang out.

The monitors continued screaming. Bryan writhed and shook, his head moving from side to side…his body shivering as beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.  He just wanted to get away…as far away as he could, away from that voice…the words, the thoughts, the pain...  the pain plunged once more from his back, knifing through his entire body.  He just wanted to be gone.   “We’re losing him!” one of the nurses yelled, “He’s crashing!”

“I need a sedative in here, STAT!” Dr. Wilkerson snapped.  “I told you to go Marshall, Thomas!  Get out now!”

Bryan felt the drug enter his veins like ice water and he started to slip backwards, back into the darkness.  But the pain…and the blaring alarms refused to let him go.

“He’s not responding!  Give me ten more CC's...”

** 

The voice drew him closer to the surface.  One voice, soft and deep…it kept him in focus.  No radio dials necessary, it was like an inner calling, part of him wanted to answer.  This voice confused him as well…but somehow he thought he understood.

“…Maybe you don’t feel like people need you here anymore.  And maybe, just maybe you think that you would be better off staying in that dark place you’ve gone to…”

He drew closer to the voice…this one seemed to understand.  It seemed to get what he was feeling, that was a comfort.  Confusion circled him, yet still he wanted to listen…he didn’t want to switch the dial again.

“…You aren’t better off because even if it were true that no one else wanted you here, I want you here.”

It was as if the voice bore right into his soul.  Was it possible to seem so close yet so far?  He wanted to reach out to that voice, but there was fear right beneath the surface.  He didn’t know if he could muddle through.  Did he want to muddle through?

“…I meant it when I said I’d be lost without you.  I am lost, Bryan.  So much so that it’s like I don’t even know how to do what needs to be done.  I somehow manage to do what I did before…but it’s not the same.  My life was completely changed when you came home.”

 Bryan drifted closer still, heading towards the surface.  He was hesitant, not sure why he was being pulled by these words.  He liked them…he wanted to be needed, yet he didn’t understand how he could be.  How it possible…this voice, this presence needed him?  That made no sense…but still he drifted…floating ever closer.

“…You’ve given me a reason, Bryan…”

He started to wonder if this was a good idea.  He had an urge to turn and run from this, avoid the pain that would surely come, he couldn’t.  He wanted to be someone’s reason…he wanted to be important.  This voice understood.  He didn’t know if he could trust it…could this voice…this person keep him safe?

“…I already knew I wanted to make movies, and I know that your parents like having me around.  But none of that matters as much as the fact that you need me, and I’m here for you Bryan.  Please wake up…let me be there for you like I want to.”

Want…that was the magic word.  He allowed himself to drift back through the sadness, the confusion, and the pain.  He embraced the words…embraced his body…his soul.  He had heard what he needed to hear and for the moment he would keep uncertainty at bay.
**

Bryan awoke to relative silence, the now familiar beeping of the monitors was the only noise.  Almost the only noise.  A steady, soft, low rumbling came from nearby.  Bryan could feel something warm against his right hand.  He opened his eyes, and saw Jeff, snoring softly, his head on the bed, both hands wrapped around Bryan’s hand.

“Jeff?”  Bryan tried, but the word seemed stuck in his throat, like he’d been gargling with gravel.  “J-Jeff”

 His mouth fell open when Jeff moved and soon Bryan was staring into deep blue eyes. There were feelings in his head as he sat there reveling in that gaze. In his mind’s eye he could see the bookshelf that represented his mind.  It seemed that every emotion with a name had found its way to the floor, scattered about as if by the wind.  The mess was disconcerting and he didn’t really know how to deal with it.  He was being drawn into that gaze, and it frightened him.  He was curious, intrigued by the depth of the intensity he felt there.  There were hints of happiness and joy, emotions he hadn’t touched in a very long time; he wasn’t sure if he could tap into them now.  Those sapphire gems continued to pull him deeper, until he broke contact.  He closed his mouth and frowned, no longer sure what to think about what was going on.

He watched curiously as Jeff stood and went over to a table.  There was a cup of water there and something that looked like a sponge on a stick.  He wondered what Jeff planned to do with that.  “Jeff,” he said wanting to communicate that his lips were dry.  He tried licking them, but that only seemed to make it worse.

“Don’t try to talk,” Jeff instructed as he dipped the sponge thing into the water.  “You can’t have anything to drink right now,” he explained.  “But try this.”  The sponge touched his lips, wetting them swiftly and efficiently.  He opened his mouth, intending to speak again but Jeff asked him to stay still.

“You can trust me, Bryan,” and Bryan knew even as Jeff’s fingers touched his lips that he could indeed trust his friend.  Yet, He didn’t know what to think about the tingle he felt at that touch, or the look he saw cross Jeff’s face before he turned away.  Bryan parted his lips slightly as he watched Jeff place the cup back on the table.  Bryan welcomed the cool, wet swab in his mouth, and tried to suck on it momentarily.

“Yuck,” he said wrinkling his nose.

“The nurse said you wouldn’t like the taste,” Jeff said a grin crossing his features.  It was a nice smile, it made him want to smile too, and that confused him.

“Thank you.” Bryan’s voice cracked as Jeff took a seat beside him and he turned his attention to his hands.   

He lifted his hands up so he could examine them better.  He opened and closed them and examined every finger until he was satisfied that everything was okay.  He traced the dent on his ring finger, where his signet ring had been.  He frowned, wondering momentarily where it was and if he would get it back.  He needed that if he was going to be what they wanted him to be.  The ring was part of the image, the face he had to display in order for his family to love him.  That was all he was looking for really, for them to accept him again.  Could he be who they wanted him to be now?  Would things be better with his mom, or would she still be sad?  Maybe it was too late, maybe he had failed and that was why the ring was gone.  He needed to try harder to do what was necessary…if only he could figure out what he was doing wrong.

He traced a finger up his arm, looking for any signs of bruising, swelling and sore spots.  Had they been able to find a vein this time when they drew his blood?  He wondered; thinking about the last time…the nurse had tried several times before finally finding a vein.  That didn’t seem to be a problem here though.  Next he touched the IV as if it were the most fascinating thing, and briefly watched the liquid flow through the tube.   

After a quick examination of his other arm his hands fell to the blankets and he gripped them tightly and lowered his head.  Minutes passed before he lifted up the blankets.  There was less light here, but he had to be certain that nothing had happened to him this time.  He wanted to be sure, and he wondered if he should ask Jeff…he had said he could trust him…right?

He lifted the blanket and felt around, wincing when he reached his genitals.  He was expecting pain, and was surprised to find none.  He tried not to focus on it too much because he knew Jeff was watching him.  He lifted his head and lowered his sheet and nodded when Jeff asked him if he was done.

“You have to call the doctor?” Bryan asked even as Jeff reached for the call button.  Jeff had already explained to him that he needed to tell someone that he was awake.  He just wasn’t looking forward to it.

“I promised to let someone know you were awake,” Jeff explained.  “They just want to check you out Bryan, I’m sure it will be alright.”

Bryan didn’t know how to explain to him that this was the problem.  He didn’t want to get checked out.  He just wanted to be left alone.  He wasn’t even sure how he had ended up in the hospital this time.  It was another question he’d have to ask Jeff.

“It’s good to see you awake, Bryan,” he heard the doctor say as he entered the room.  He glanced over at Jeff in confusion.  He didn’t recognize this doctor.  Where was Doctor Wilkerson?”

“That’s Dr. Hamilton,” Jeff explained, even as he left Bryan’s side.  “He’s the specialist Dr. Wilkerson asked to help with your case.”

Bryan frowned, but focused on the man who had spoken to him. 

“Jeff, will you let Bryan’s parents know he is awake while I examine him please.”

“No!” Bryan cried out before Jeff could answer.  “Don’t make him go…please.”

“Bryan I’m just going to be in the hallway, your parents are right in the waiting room.”

“But…”

“No buts,’ Jeff said gently.  “I’ll be back, I promise.  You won’t even know I was gone.  Dr. Hamilton will take good care of you, and Dr. Wilkerson will be in soon.  Okay?”

“Okay,” he said reluctantly.  He watched Jeff leave the room and then eyed the doctor warily.  Jeff seemed to trust him, but Bryan could never be too sure.  The doctor smiled at him and looked down at his chart.  Bryan wondered what that chart said about him.  “Can you tell me what happened?” he asked, trying to get the doctor’s attention.

“That’s what we were hoping you could tell us, Bryan,” Dr. Hamilton explained, making eye contact with him.  “I’m glad to see that you are awake and talking though.  That is a good sign.”

“I don’t…understand,” Bryan said frowning again.  “That’s a good sign of what?”

“Do you know why you are here, Bryan?” Dr. Hamilton asked, just as Dr. Wilkerson reentered the room, with Jeff right behind him.  Bryan could see his dad and his mom in the distances as well.

“I’m not sure,” he said in response to the question.  “Jeff hasn’t explained it to me yet.”

“Do you remember what happened before you were in here?” Dr. Wilkerson asked as he came closer to the bed.

Bryan looked towards the door, wishing that Jeff would come closer.  He would know all the answers.  “I’m…I’m not sure,” he said slowly.  “I…think we were at work and…we were going to have lunch.”  He frowned, trying to concentrate on the memory but there was nothing but darkness there.  He could see him and Jeff leaving the studio but everything after that he couldn’t recall.  “I don’t remember,” he said beginning to panic.  “Jeff I don’t remember why I’m here.  What’s wrong with me?”

“Bryan you need to breathe,” he heard Jeff say even as he saw him come closer to the bed.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the two doctors step back, but his attention was focused solely on Jeff as he tried to do what he asked.

“I don’t remember what happened…when?  Yesterday?  It was yesterday right?”

“No, Bryan,” Jeff said.  Bryan didn’t know why he sounded so sad.  “You were unconscious for over a week.”

“Over a week?  But I don’t even know why I’m here Jeff!”

 “I’ll explain it all to you…later okay?” Jeff assured him.  “The doctors need to examine you so they can figure out why you don’t remember.”

“I don’t even know what time of day it is?” Bryan said frowning.  “Is it night time or daytime?  Do I have to take tests tonight?”

“Shouldn’t you let him get some sleep before some of those tests,” Jeff asked curiously.  I mean it is late now…and he hasn’t really slept.”

“I think Jeff’s right, Bob,” Thomas spoke up.  “Maybe we should let Bryan sleep?”

 Bryan listened to them all speaking as if he wasn’t even there.  His head was tilted to the side as he watched the two doctors converse, whispering in secret doctor code. 

“Tomorrow will be test day then,” Dr. Hamilton spoke breaking the silence. 

“He’ll need a shower,” Dr. Wilkerson added.  “His hair needs to be clean for the EEG….”  They said more words but he tuned them out.  They weren’t talking to him anymore anyway.  Just about him…and he was used to that.  They always talked about him….never to him.

“You’re upsetting him,” he heard Jeff say.  “If you have something to say you should say it to him, especially since he can hear you.”

Bryan felt a strange sense of pleasure that Jeff was defending him.  He didn’t’ quite understand it, but it felt nice.  Everyone cleared out of the room after that, and he could hear Jeff talking to him, but it almost sounded like his friend was in a tunnel.

“Bryan?  Are you okay?”

He blinked and turned to see Jeff frowning at him.  “What?” he asked as he tried to figure out what he has missed of the conversation. 

“I was just saying good night,” Jeff repeated.

“Are you leaving?” Bryan asked yawning.

“No, I’m going to sit here and watch you sleep.  Tomorrow is going to be a long day.  You need your rest.”

“Good night, Jeff,” he said his eyes growing heavy as he spoke.

**

He jumped when the hand touched his shoulder, but he didn't open his eyes.  "Sorry, Buddy, I didn't mean to startle you," a voice reached his ears, it was his dad he was certain of that.  "It's time to wake up; we need to get you ready for your tests."

"Hi Mr. Dobbs," Jeff's voice met his ears.  He sounded tired; Bryan wondered if he had sat up all night.  "Is it morning already?"

 Bryan closed his eyes tighter as he waited for his dad to answer the question.  He didn’t want it to be morning. He didn't want to take any tests.

"Have you gotten any sleep, Jeff?" his father asked.  "Maybe you can rest today while Bryan takes his tests."  Bryan frowned.  He didn't want Jeff to be tired, but how could Jeff be with him if he was sleeping?  Were they trying to take Jeff away from him too?  Would they turn Jeff against him just like they had turned Adam?

He cringed and opened his eyes.  Thomas and Jeff were still talking.  He wondered which one of them would realize first that he was awake. 

"Bryan, you’re awake," Jeff said a smile alighting his lips.  That smile bewildered Bryan.  Would he ever understand his best friend?  Could he really be that happy to see him?

"Hi Jeff," he said speaking slowly.  It's morning?"

"Yes," Jeff told him; though it didn't go unnoticed that Bryan hadn't said anything to Thomas.  That fact put Jeff on alert.  "Your dad is here to take you for a shower, and the nurse should be in too...Bryan what's wrong?"

Bryan had sat up so fast that it sent a wave of dizziness through him but he shook his head as if he needed to get a point across immediately.  Did Jeff really want him to go with his dad?  He frowned.  Should that idea upset him this much?

"I don't need a shower," he said crossing his arms stubbornly.

"But you need to," Jeff said gently.  "Your hair has to be clean for the tests, and your dad will be with you, you will be safe with him."

Bryan didn't look convinced and he eyed his dad warily.  Jeff sighed; he was beginning to realize just how bad this was.  For whatever reason, his friend did not trust Thomas.  Jeff just couldn't begin to grasp why.

"Give me a few minutes with him, please," Jeff said turning to face Thomas.  Thomas looked sad but he nodded and turned to leave the room.  Jeff sighed and turned back to Bryan.  "Okay he's gone now.  Can you tell me what's wrong?"

"I don't want to go with him." Bryan said simply as if it were the most logical response.  He frowned, and hugged himself tighter.

"You don't want to go with your dad?" Jeff asked.  "He's not going to hurt you, you know that right?"

Bryan lowered his head, finding himself unable to meet that intense gaze head on.  He shook his head.  "I don't know how to explain it," he admitted.  "I'm just so confused."

 "Can you try to explain it to me?" Jeff asked keeping his tone gentle.  He wanted to help, but he could only do that if Bryan would talk to him. 

"You won't think it’s crazy will you?  I'm not crazy, Jeff."

"I don't think you're crazy, Bryan," Jeff assured him.  "No one here thinks you are crazy.  Just tell me what's going on, please?  Trust me."

Silence reigned for a long time and Jeff began to wonder if he would have to try a different approach.  He was just about to corner Bryan with another question when his friend spoke up.

“I…I don’t think I can trust him.”

“Of course you can,” Jeff said not missing a beat.  He sat on the bed beside Bryan and lifted his chin up so he couldn’t ignore him anymore.  “Your dad loves you, and he only wants what is best for you…”

“Then why did he sign the paper?” Bryan exclaimed. 

“What paper?” Jeff asked bewildered.  He wasn’t sure what Bryan was talking about. 

“He gave them permission to do those things…he sent me away because he didn’t want me.  How can I trust him?” 

Jeff was confused.  Thomas had said that Bryan chose to go to rehab on his own.  This wasn’t the first time that Bryan claimed that Thomas sent him away.  He had to think of something.  Bryan really needed to have those tests…  “Will you answer a question for me?” he asked placing a hand on Bryan’s shoulder. 

“Okay,” Bryan agreed after a moment’s pause.

He squeezed Bryan’s shoulder and tried to figure out the best way to ask.  He knew he had to be careful with Bryan; he didn’t want Bryan to think he didn’t believe him.  “Your dad said this was your decision, Bryan.  He aid you decided to go to rehab on your own and in order for you to do that he needed to sign the contract for you to be admitted as a live in patient.  What did they do at this rehab facility to make you believe your family doesn’t love you?  I’m fairly certain that’s not the way rehabs usually work.  They’re supposed to teach you how to stand on your own, but to lean on your family in times of need.  Is this not what you learned at rehab?”

“But Jeff,” Bryan said frowning at his best friend.  “I wasn’t in Rehab.  I didn’t learn anything like that in…this place…I wasn’t in rehab.”

“If you weren’t in rehab then where were you?” Jeff asked gently.    “Your parents were told that you decided to check yourself into rehab, so that you could get help for your drinking.

“That…that doesn’t make sense, Jeff,” Bryan said frowning.  “I…I didn’t decide to go anywhere.  I was convinced I should go.”  His frown deepened as he tried to grasp the memory that was just out of reach.  “He said my dad wanted him to…”  He let the thought trail off because he knew he wasn’t making much sense.  “He said my dad wanted me to go, Jeff that’s why I went.  And it wasn’t rehab.”

Jeff sighed.  He didn’t like where this was going, though it made sense to him somehow.  “But I don’t understand, Bryan.  Your parents were told by Marshall that you wanted to get help, and felt that rehab was the best place for you.”  Even as he said the words he thought about what Bryan had just admitted.  Bryan was convinced that he had to go away?  He was told that Marianne and Thomas didn’t want him there…who would tell him such things?  Jeff knew the answer immediately, but he couldn’t just confront the man…not without proof.  And unfortunately Bryan’s word wouldn’t be enough.

“Bryan,” He said squeezing his friend’s shoulder again.  “Marshall brought the form for Thomas to sign.  Your dad said that signing that form, knowing that you were in such a state in your life that you felt rehab was the only place you could get help, was one of the hardest things he ever did.  And then when you were gone for so long he felt like you might never come home.”

He felt like this conversation was going nowhere.  He wanted to believe what Jeff was telling him.  Could it be true that his dad had missed him…that maybe just maybe he wanted him?  Was that too much to hope for?”

“Are you sure?” he asked grasping at the thread Jeff was dangling before him.

“Absolutely positive,” Jeff replied.  Thomas even commented a few weeks before they found out you were coming home that if he didn’t’ hear something from you soon, he was coming for you personally.”

“He couldn’t have,” Bryan said slowly, a frown settling across his features again.  “That doesn’t make sense, Jeff.  I wasn’t supposed to come home.  They let me go…after I was in the hospital.  No one knew I was coming…I don’t think they even knew I was in the hospital.”

Jeff’s hands touched his cheeks, and Bryan found himself staring into those blue depths once more.  The gaze was intense, and he had to keep himself from getting lost in it.  “Trust me.”

**

Bryan held his breath as he allowed his dad to help him shower.  He wondered what the older man thought about the scars and the bruises that lined his back.  Would they make him squirm and feel guilty?   Would they cause him to ask questions that Bryan didn’t really have answers for?  He was surprised when his father didn’t ask any questions.  He just gently washed over the scars, pausing every few moments as he did so, and helped Bryan wash his hair.  The shower was over in no time, and Bryan was being wheeled back to his room where Jeff was waiting…both Dr. Wilkerson and Dr. Hamilton were there as well. 

His eyes bulged at the sight of all the electrodes they would be using on him.  He hated those things, and he didn’t really want to put them on.   He shook his head as Jeff and Thomas helped him back into bed.   “No,” he said pointing at the electrodes.  “I am not doing this; you can’t make me do it.  I don’t want those things anywhere near me.”

“It will be alright Bryan,” Dr Hamilton’s voice met his ears.  “We’re just going to put the electrodes on your scalp.”

“No,” Bryan yelled.  “Get away from me.  I don’t want to do this and you can’t make me do it.  Just keep those things away.”

“Bryan,” Jeff said placing a hand on his shoulder.  “Calm down.  Come on, you need to breathe.”

“I don’t want those things near me…I don’t like them, Jeff.”

“Bryan…the doctors need to find out what happened to you, so they need to do these tests.  Will it help if I hold your hand?”

“No!” Bryan snapped.  “I don’t want to do it.  Those things are horrible.  I thought you were on my side.  You are supposed to be my best friend.”  He frowned, he had said that once before, but to someone else with blue eyes.  He shrugged Jeff’s hand away and glared at him.  He felt a dull ache, but didn’t have a name for the emotion.  Had he been wrong about Jeff?

Jeff was speaking in the distance, but he couldn’t quite make out what he said.  He was lost in his own tormented thoughts, and he winced when a hand once again touched his shoulder.

“I told you, you could trust me right?” 

Bryan focused back in on the presence and was surprised to see that the room was empty of all occupants except him and Jeff.  He blinked and tried to clear his thoughts before ducking away from that gaze.  He didn’t understand why those eyes bothered him but intrigued him all at once.  He opened his mouth to speak but words wouldn’t come so he settled for a nod. 

“And you know I would never tell you to do something that wasn’t good for you…right?”

“I hate those things,” he said shuddering as he thought of all those little electrodes.  “They stick them everywhere and then send electric shocks through…”  He stopped talking as he realized he was saying way too much.  “I just don’t want to do it,” he said glumly.

“Bryan.” 

He looked up at the sound of his name and saw the questions even before Jeff voiced them.  He swallowed and wished he could look away…but the gaze was magnetic and it was as if he had been cast under a spell.

“How many times have you been shocked with electricity?” Jeff asked his voice controlled.

Bryan shuddered and shrugged his shoulders.  He had lost count of how many times it had happened.  He frowned, knowing Jeff would want a number…he wished he could give him one. 

“Okay…don’t answer that,” Jeff sounded frustrated and Bryan’s frown deepened.  “Can you tell me why?  Why were you being shocked with electricity?”

“It was part of the treatment,” Bryan said matter-of-factly. 

“You didn’t like the treatments…did you?” Jeff said frowning.  Bryan titled his head to the side, trying to read his friend’s eyes but he couldn’t tell what Jeff was thinking.

“They hurt.”

“How can I help make this easier for you, Bryan?” Jeff asked gently.  “We need these tests to figure out what happened and what’s causing these headaches and the blackouts too.”

“So these are tests…and…not treatments?” Bryan asked slowly.

“No more treatments.  The doctors want to help,” Jeff assured him.  “I want to help and I’m going to be here for this test, okay? “

Bryan visibly relaxed and nodded.  He could handle this if Jeff was there to hold his hand.  It wasn’t a treatment…no more treatments.  This was simply a test and Jeff wouldn’t send him to do something that would harm him.  He took a deep breath and squeezed Jeff’s hand for comfort.  “Okay…I’m…I’m ready.”

**

“Can you explain it to me?” Bryan asked as he watched the doctors around him.  They were preparing the electrodes, and there was a third guy in the room mixing what looked like paste.  “What are they doing?”

“Well the technician has to measure your head first,” Jeff explained as the process began.  He has to mark on your scalp where the electrodes are going to go.  He is putting some kind of cream there too…I guess so that the electrodes will stick.”

“Oh.” Bryan said as he felt the fingers in his hair.

“They are attaching twenty five electrodes now, and they are going to press on your scalp a bit to make sure they are connected right.”

“Why so many?” Bryan asked frowning as the technician applied the electrodes just right.

“I think they want to get as clear a reading as they can,” Jeff replied.  “When they are finished applying they are going to ask you to relax and close your eyes.  You won’t see me but I will be here.  I can’t hold your hand for the whole test…okay.  They need to have your complete focus first.”

“But you’ll still be in the room, right?” Bryan said getting worried.

“They are going to tell you to close your eyes for most of this…but when they let you open them Bryan you will see me.  I’m not going anywhere.”

“Okay,” Bryan agreed.

“Okay, Bryan I need you to close your eyes so we can begin,” the technician instructed.  Bryan looked at Jeff who nodded, before he closed his eyes tightly.  His body tensed and he held his breath as he waited for the test to start.

“Bryan,” Jeff’s voice reached his ears.  “Relax.”  Jeff’s voice was soothing and he listened to it willingly.  His shoulders relaxed first as the tension left his body.  Soon all he could hear was the steady beeping of the machine.  There was no pain…trusting Jeff had been the right choice to make.

**

 He wasn’t sure how much time passed before the electrodes were being taken out of his hair.  Jeff was standing off to the side watching the technician, who was speaking in tongues for as much as Bryan could comprehend.

“We’ll have to take you down to radiology for the other tests, Bryan,” Dr Wilkerson spoke up once the Tech left the room.  The doctor’s voice was surprisingly gentle and it put Bryan at ease, though he didn’t really want to take more tests.

  “I…I don’t suppose I have much of a choice do I?” he asked reluctantly.

 “It will be okay, Bryan,” Jeff said returning to his side.  He took Bryan’s hand in his own and gave it an encouraging squeeze.  “I’ll be right here when you come back.  Your mom and dad will be here too.  And Alison is going to help the doctors.  You remember Alison right?”

 “You’re not coming?” He asked focusing on what Jeff said first.  “I don’t want to take the tests if you can’t come.”

 Jeff came closer and touched his face.  He felt a tingling sensation as those fingers brushed his cheeks and he found it hard not to look into those blue eyes.  “Trust me.”

**

Bryan was silent as they wheeled him down the hall.  He looked straight ahead and listened to the noises in the hospital.  His hands were folded on his lap and Jeff’s words were foremost in his thoughts.  He trusted his best friend, and he knew Jeff wouldn’t send him somewhere dangerous.  He didn’t like being far away from him.  That was why he wanted Jeff to come.  Right now he seemed so far away and everything was bearable when Jeff was there.

 

Jeff couldn’t be there however, and he would have to do this on his own.  It wouldn’t be too bad, he tried to reason that much.  The first test had been simple and painless…and these were tests, just tests.

 Dr. Bob explained that they were trying to figure out what was causing his headaches, and also find a key to his missing memories.  The next test was the MRI scan, which meant that he would have to lie still inside the magnetic machine.  Bryan was only partially listening to what the doctor said.  He was trying to keep his breathing controlled as they neared the room where the MRI would be performed.   He wasn’t looking forward to being encased inside the machine…it was dark in there, and closed in...He didn’t think he could take it.

“Alright Bryan, I need you to lie down on the table here,” Dr. Wilkerson instructed.  Bryan did as he was told, and tried to be as still as he could be.  He knew this was an important part of this test…he couldn’t move. 

He was fine until the table started its descent into the darkness.  Even before he started entering the tunnel he was shaking and his breathing grew erratic.  The table stopped moving but Bryan couldn’t turn off his reactions to the dark.  He tried to move, until he felt a gentle hand on his arm.

“Easy Bryan,” a familiar female voice soothed as she rubbed his arm with something wet.

“A...Ali?” he asked.

“Yes it’s me,” Alison replied smiling even though her friend couldn’t see her.  “I’m going to give you something to help relax you okay?  I know you don’t like the dark, but the lab technician and the doctor are going to be talking to you the whole time…you won’t be alone.”

He felt the prick of the needle and within minutes he was calmer, and his breathing returned to a normal rate.  Before he could react he was surrounded by darkness, and he remained as still as he possibly could while the machine made loud clicking noises.  The lab technician talked to him throughout the entire exam, asking him to breathe and letting him know that they would be done with the test soon. 

He barely had time to relax after the MRI before they were preparing him for the next test. 

“You’re doing great, Bryan,” Alison told him as she started his IV. 

“Is it almost over?” Bryan said groggily.

“You have to get a CT scan now and then you should be able to go back to your room after that.” Alison explained.  She made sure Bryan was positioned properly on the table, and that the contrast was flowing through the IV.  “Now stay still.”

That was easier said than done.  Even in his groggy state he could feel the panic coming as his head neared the tunnel.   He took a deep breath and tried to stay still.  A strange sense of peace settled over him, allowing him to relax.  He breathed when he was told to, and he couldn’t move which suit the doctor’s purposes just fine.

**

Just as he had promised, Jeff was waiting for him in his room.  Seeing him put Bryan at ease at once, not that he could explain why Jeff had this effect on him.  His parents were there as well, but their presence made him a little uneasy.  He couldn’t quite explain that either.

“Okay, Bryan, are you up for one more test?” the doctor asked him.  His foggy mind thought it was a really silly question.  If he had said no, would they have nixed the test?  “You need to lie on your side for this test, Bryan.  Put yourself in the fetal position…yes just like that.  Okay the anesthesiologist is going to numb your lower spine…you’ll feel a sting. And then we will perform the test.”

“Can Jeff at least hold my hand for this one?” Bryan asked sadly.

“I don’t see why not,” Dr. Wilkerson gestured for Jeff to come stand by Bryan’s side.  He held on to Jeff’s hand tightly and shut his eyes, prepared for the pain that was to come. 

“Relax Bryan,” Jeff’s voice soothes. “They need you to relax, and not move for this one…okay?”

“Needed to relax for all of them,” Bryan tried to tell him, his words slurring as he spoke.  His eyes closed tighter when he felt the pressure of the needle against his spine, and he suddenly felt like he would pass out from the pain.

“Bryan,” Jeff’s voice reached his ears.  “The doctor wants you to lie on your back.”

He felt disoriented.  Was the test over?  Had he missed conversation again?  “Sit…up?” he asked.  He had been flat on his back for hours now…the last thing he wanted was to lie down.

“Maybe the doctor will raise your bed a little…but you have to lie flat,” Jeff explained

“But the back is what hurts,” he complained even as he allowed Jeff to help him onto his back.  He winced and folded his arms, quickly masking his emotions as he looked at his parents who were standing a few feet away from the door.  Their presence made him uncomfortable and he couldn’t explain it, not even to Jeff.  His mom made him feel sad, and his dad…he felt a pang of anger.

“Hi Mom…Dad.”  His tone sounded harsh to his own ears and it made his frown deepen.  These feelings confused him and he wished they would make sense.

“Bryan, are you ready to be moved into your new room?” Dr. Wilkerson asked suddenly appearing in the doorway again. 

“Why am I moving?” he asked Jeff as if his friend had all the answers.

“Because you are well enough to move out of intensive care,” Jeff explained. 

“But I thought they want me to lie still?  That’s why I couldn’t sit up?”

“We’re just going to move your bed and all into your own private room, Bryan,” Dr. Wilkerson spoke up again.   Bryan looked to Jeff who nodded, and he sighed.  It really wasn’t as if he had much choice here. 

As he was rolled down the hall he was briefly reminded of his last hospital stay.  They had wheeled him down the hall quickly while he was thrashing on the bed.  The memory made him frown.  They had been moving very fast, and the lights went by in a blur.  This trip down the hall was slower, and he could see the white spaces between each block of light on the ceiling.   

In his new room the rest of his family visited and the doctors wanted even more tests.  He was cross and didn’t want to cooperate.  They had told him to lay still…on his back, and he was supposed to be happy with them wanting to do more tests.  It still bugged him that he couldn’t remember why he had been brought to the hospital.  He knew he could ask Jeff when they had a moment to themselves.  Jeff seemed to be the only one who didn’t want to hide things from him. 

He wasn’t even certain what to feel about Kristin.  She had been his best friend before he went away, and she seemed to have accepted him back into her life…but his parents seemed to want him back too on some level and he certainly didn’t trust them.  How could he trust anyone?  He couldn’t help but wonder if any of them even really missed him while he was gone.  Did they even realize that he had left or did life go on as always and no one realized that Bryan Dobbs fell off the face of the earth?

She came to the hospital to see him, and he wondered if she could sense he had been thinking about her.  He didn’t know where these feelings of resentment were coming from, but they made him awkward in her presence.  She had welcomed him on his first day of work, but she never questioned his absence.  She had to have realized he was not there right…had she been told a story?  Were they all told the same story that Jeff was told?  Did everyone think he had been in Rehab?  All this thinking was really starting to make his head hurt more.

“Hi Kristin,” he said his voice laced with sleep. 

“Welcome back to the waking world,” Kristin responded coming forward to give him a hug.  It took a moment for him to register that he should hug her back.  His arms lifted and he gave her a quick squeeze.

“I’m sorry I missed work,” he said frowning.

“That’s the last thing you need to worry about,” Kristin replied as she pulled away to look him over.  He tried not to cringe under the scrutiny.  He felt like he was in one of those observation rooms at the foundation where you couldn’t see them, but they watched your every move.  He didn’t like being looked at.   “You look tired, but I am so glad you’re here so I can talk to you again.”

He didn’t know what to make of her statement.  It was a 50/50 chance here.  She could be sincere or she could be faking it.  And it wasn’t something he wanted to think about.  His mind was too jumbled. 

“How is everything at work,” Jeff jumped into the conversation.  “Is Tiphani still being a pain?”

“When isn’t she a pain?” Kristin responded, turning her attention to Jeff.  “All she does is gripe.  She’s wondering when you’re coming back.”

It made him sad to think that Jeff had missed work for him…though that fact made him strangely content as well.  He felt bad for being gleeful about Jeff missing days at work.  What if he got in trouble for that?  What if Jeff lost his job because of him.  

 “Don’t tell me I’ve kept you out of work too, Jeff?”  He was so tired, he wasn’t even certain if Jeff had understood what he said.   

“It’s okay, Bryan.  I wanted to be here in case you woke up.  I was worried about you.”
  “But…why?” Bryan asked, meeting Jeff’s eyes head on.  He was blinking, and trying to stay awake, but it was a losing battle.

  “Because you’re my friend,” Jeff explained.   “And that’s what friend’s do.”

 “You did Jeff a favor, Bryan,” Kristin smiled softly.  “He’s a workaholic.”

“I am not,” Jeff laughed as he turned on her.  “I just never had a reason to take off.”

“Until now,” Kristin teased.

Bryan blinked as he watched Jeff usher Kristin out of the room.  He knew they were still speaking but he wasn’t paying attention to the words.

“W…why am I so sleepy, Jeff,” he asked when he had Jeff’s attention again.  “I just woke up…didn’t I.”
  “They gave you some medicine for the pain,” Jeff explained even as he began the process of positioning Bryan just right so he could sleep.  “Just lie down and get some rest.”
  “Medicine?” Bryan murmured.  “I don’t like medicine.”  His eyelids were heavy and it wasn’t long before he was lost in a deep sleep.

**

He was beginning to think that he would never get out of the hospital.  Every day it was the same thing, Jeff would be by his side, and sometimes using his computer.  The doctors would come in, and ask him questions about how he was sleeping and then tell him they wanted more tests.      

“I really don’t like hospitals,” he lamented to Jeff, breaking the silence that had fallen after Dr. Hamilton had left the room.  The doctor had sworn that the tests Bryan took today would be the last ones needed.  He had explained that they just wanted to be thorough in their search for what happened to him.  He still couldn’t remember how he had ended up in the hospital in the first place.

“I don’t think anyone likes hospitals, Bryan,” Jeff commented softly.  “It’s no fun being sick.”

 “I was just in the hospital,” Bryan told him, a frown crossing his face.  Thinking about the last time he was in the hospital made him reflective.  He didn’t have fond memories of the experience.

“You’re in the hospital now,” Bryan heard Jeff say.  He turned to face his friend, confusion clear in his eyes.  “Is that what you mean?” Jeff continued his query.  “You’ve been here for two weeks.

“No,” Bryan shook his head sadly.  “I mean before this.  I was just here…but not this hospital.”  His frown deepened for a moment before something occurred to him.  “Were you always here?” He asked abruptly.

“When I could be,” Jeff replied.

“So you saw who came in and out of here right?” he asked trying hard to mask the fear he was feeling.  He had to hope that Jeff understood how important these questions were.  If he didn’t, Bryan wouldn’t know how to explain it to him.

“Your parents were in here,” Jeff admitted.  “And your grandma.  Dr. Hamilton was in and out, but that’s pretty much it besides me and a few nurses.”

“Are you sure?” Bryan asked his voice nearly inaudible.

“Well, your,” Jeff caught himself, “Marshall was in here once, but you didn’t react well to him and he shouldn’t have been in here anyway.  He didn’t come back though he tried.”

“And that’s it?” he asked, chewing on his lip nervously. 

“What’s wrong, Bryan?”

Bryan watched Jeff look around the room, looking for some unseen phantom.  This gave him hope that he could really trust Jeff.  His friend didn’t think he was crazy.

“You…you’re sure that there were no other people in here?” he asked again.  His friend shook his head, but somehow that did not set Bryan’s mind at ease.

“Bryan, do you want me to get the doctor-”

“No!” he said adamantly and the fear was no longer hidden.  “Please Jeff don’t do that I…I just need you to listen to me.  Please don’t tell the doctor.”  He was frantic, and his heart was beating fast.  His eyes were wide as he looked at Jeff, and it was only when his friend’s hands touched his shoulders and pressed their foreheads together that Bryan started to relax.

 “You can trust me, Bryan.  Always remember that.  I won’t tell, but I need you to talk to me, okay.”

Bryan nodded and immediately felt a chill when Jeff moved away from him.  He was lost in his thoughts, trying to work out what were real vs. what was a figment of his imagination.  He had been told many times that he was making up stuff, but he was sure they were wrong.  He couldn’t have fabricated some of the things that happened to him.  He just knew it.

“When can I get out of here?” he asked, shifting uncomfortably in the bed.  “I don’t like hospitals.”

“Will you rest for me?” Jeff asked even as he fluffed Bryan’s pillows and straightened out Bryan’s blankets.  “I’m sure you’re exhausted.”

“You can’t leave me alone with them, Jeff,” he said seriously.  He looked at his friend, needing confirmation before he went to sleep that he was not going to be alone.

 “No one can get to you while I’m here.”  He didn’t know what to make of the sad smile that crossed Jeff’s lips, but he did take comfort in his words.  He felt safe with Jeff…he trusted him and with that thought he was able to slip away into sleep.

**

Jeff was the first person he saw when he opened his eyes the next morning.  His friend was leaning forward, his head resting against Bryan’s arm.  Jeff’s laptop was in his lap, and Bryan figured that he must have fallen asleep while working on something.  A wistful smile crossed his lips as he lifted his hand, wanting to touch the dark hair to see how thick it was.  It wouldn’t hurt to touch it just once.

There was no way to describe how he felt running his fingers through the dark strands.  It felt nice, and Jeff’s hair was so soft…yet his actions confused him as well. 

For an entire year now he had been taught how wrong it was for him to feel anything at all for a man.  It was sinful and wrong, and if he was still away and someone had caught him there would be repercussions.  That didn’t make sense though.  Jeff was so good and kind to him, he had been since day one.  Why would it be so wrong to develop feelings for someone who was so good to him? 

Jeff’s hair was soft to touch and he weaved his fingers through the locks gently, not wanting to wake Jeff up.  He didn’t know what his best friend would think of his impulsive actions.  Jeff could never know that he had indulged himself like this…that would surely be the end of their friendship, and Bryan could not bear the thought of that.

A knock on the door startled him and he jumped moving his hand from Jeff’s hair as if it had been on fire.  “Oh good you are awake,” Alison said as she came into the room.  “Your breakfast will be up soon, and Dr. Hamilton has your test results today.  Here open up,” she said sticking the thermometer in his mouth.  His hands were in his lap but he turned his head to look at Jeff who surprisingly was still sleeping.  Alison pulled the thermometer out of his mouth and wrote down the results.  She checked his blood pressure as well, all the while chatting, and letting him know what she was doing and what to expect from the day.

“At least it seems like you won’t need any more tests,” she said as she checked his IV to make sure he was getting his meds.  “Okay I’m all done here.  Your breakfast should be here shortly.”

“Thank you,” he said as she prepared to leave.  She smiled at him and he watched her walk away.  Once his door was closed again he looked at Jeff.  It made him sad to think that Jeff was so tired.  He didn’t have the heart to wake him…but at the same time he needed him.  Especially if the doctors would be coming in.  He didn’t want to be in there with doctors if Jeff wasn’t awake.

“Jeff…Jeff please wake up.”

He felt Jeff move beneath his fingers and he snatched his hand away and placed it on his lap.  When Jeff lifted his head, Bryan moved his arm and folded his hands neatly in front of him.

“Are you okay?” Jeff asked him, a frown settling on his lips.  Bryan was still in awe of the amount of concern Jeff seemed to have for him.  He just didn’t get it, and right now he couldn’t focus on it.  “Bryan?” Jeff called his name and he tried to focus.  He hated when he drifted off like this, he always ended up missing something. 

“I…I’m fine,” he said lamely.  “YOU slept with the computer on.”

“Oh,” Jeff looked away from him and focused on the computer for a moment.  Bryan was curious to know what his friend was doing, but he didn’t want to ask.  “Okay,” Jeff said closing the computer, “You have my full attention now.  “What’s going on? “

“Alison said the doctors will be in soon to tell me the test results.  And they will probably want to ask questions.  The thing is I don’t’ have the answers because I don’t know anything about anything.” Bryan said in one breath.

Jeff blinked, and Bryan wondered if he had confused his friend.  The thought made him frown and he tilted his head to the side for a moment.  “Did I confuse you, Jeff?” he asked when his friend still stayed silent.

Jeff shook his head.  “I’m just trying to figure out how to ask you what you want to know,” he explained. “

“I need to know everything,” Bryan responded matter-of-factly.

“Everything is a lot,” Jeff pointed out.  “You think you can narrow that down.”

“Are you trying to confuse me on purpose?” Bryan asked scrunching up his face, and crossing his arms at the same time. 

“I’m trying to get you to relax,” Jeff explained softly.  “Now please ask me your questions, I will answer them best I can okay?”

Bryan was silent as he looked at his friend.  He was weighing Jeff’s words and reading the expression he saw on his face.  “What do you know about me?” he asked once he was satisfied that Jeff was sincere.

“I know that you don’t like hospitals,” Jeff responded quickly.  “And I know that doctors freak you out, and that you’ve been beaten and have had electroshock treatments.  You’re afraid of the dark, and you don’t like being alone in a room with anyone besides me.  I know that there is a discrepancy in the story your parents were told and what you have to say about what happened last year.  Your biological father makes you angry and frightened all at the same time, and I know that somehow he holds the key to unraveling the mystery to where you really were…because I believe you when you say you weren’t in rehab.”

Bryan didn’t know what to say to Jeff’s speech.  It wasn’t exactly the answer he was looking for, but it was the answer he needed.  Jeff actually listened to him…and he believed him.  He really could trust his friend, and that touched his heart.

“What else though,” He asked frowning.  “I mean what did you learn about me before I came home?  What did my parents say?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking me Bryan,” Jeff admitted “Your parents talked about how much they love you and that they missed you terribly.”

“But they didn’t tell you anything about who I am…or who I was…nothing?”

“NO…why would they?  Is there something I should know?”

“No…forget it,” Bryan said shrugging his shoulders. 

“Bryan,” Jeff started a serious expression on his face.  “I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.  I know you are scared, I know you have a hard time trusting.  Let me help you.”

“The last time I trusted someone completely, Jeff, I was sent to isolation…and then I was punished.  I ended up in the hospital, and now I’m here.  So…you....you can excuse me if I am finding it hard to believe anything from anyone…even if it’s you.”

“What kind of facility was this?” Jeff asked, perplexed.  Bryan could tell he was frustrating him, but he also knew he couldn’t help that at the moment.  “I don’t think I have ever heard of a rehabilitation center that puts their patients in isolation for any reason.

Bryan was silent for a moment as he mulled over what he needed to do.  Jeff was asking, and despite what he had said, Bryan did want to put his trust in him.  He sensed that for whatever reason, Jeff was on his side and had been since he came home.  He didn’t understand it, probably never would but he needed to tell someone.  He wanted someone to understand.

“I wasn’t in rehab.  I…I do or did have a drinking problem but…that wasn’t why I…that wasn’t what sent me away last summer.  It’s not what kept me away for a year.  And I was sent away.  It wasn’t necessarily my decision…though I guess in a way it was…I don’t know, Jeff.  I just don’t know anymore.  I just know that things are so…my head it’s so…screwed up.”

When Jeff’s arms wrapped around him, he didn’t know how to react at first.  Ever so slowly he sunk into the sensations he was feeling and hugged Jeff back.  It was a simple gesture, yet very powerful.  He couldn’t even begin to express to Jeff how much it meant to him that he didn’t bolt or pass judgment even though Bryan knew he had to be learning strange things.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Dr Hamilton said coming into the room.  Bryan let go of Jeff reluctantly and put some distance between them as the doctor came closer.  He still didn’t feel he was ready for the questions the doctor would have...he didn’t even want to think about what would happen if he didn’t cooperate.  “Bryan we have your test results and I would like to discuss them with you, in private,” he said directing the last words at Jeff.

“No,” Bryan said even as Jeff stood, prepared to give the doctor time to speak with Bryan.  “I want Jeff here.”

“Bryan it is important that we speak with you on a one on one basis.  Your full attention is necessary, and Mr. Burton will have to step outside.”

“You can’t make Jeff leave,” Bryan insisted.  “I need him here to help me understand what’s going on.  He can answer the questions better than I can.”

“I’d actually prefer to get those answers from you, Bryan,” Dr Hamilton insisted.  “Mr. Burton cannot be in the room and that’s final.  Mr. Burton if you would please leave while I speak with the patient.”

Bryan locked eyes with Jeff for a moment and frowned.  He really didn’t want to be alone with the doctor.

 “Sorry Bryan, I have to listen to the doctor…but I’ll be right outside okay?” Jeff tried to reassure him.  Bryan could sense that he Jeff was worried and that stoked the fire that Bryan hadn’t allowed himself to feel in a long time.  He was miffed, and he felt like letting the doctor know it.

He crossed his arms defiantly as he watched Jeff leave and he refused to look at Dr. Hamilton.  If the doc was going to be stubborn then he would be too.

“Now about the results,” Dr. Hamilton started as he shifted through some papers.  “Your scans seem to show that you have some bleeding on your brain, and the memory loss may be due to the pressure there.  Have you had electroshock therapy before, Bryan?”

The question was met with silence.  Bryan knew all too well how to be quite when needed be. 

“Bryan I need you to answer my question.”  He sighed when Bryan shook his head and tried a different approach.  “Are you still having trouble remembering what happened before your coma?”

Once again the question was met with silence.

“Can you tell me where the bruises and scars on your back came from, Bryan?”  It was obvious to Bryan that Dr. Hamilton was getting frustrated.  This was nothing new to him.  Doctors often got frustrated with him, and their nice facades would disappear and their true personalities would seep out, and by the time the truth was revealed the damage was already done.  “Bryan,” Dr. Hamilton rested a hand on Bryan’s shoulder.  “I need you to cooperate with me here.  We aren’t going to have any answers if you don’t talk.”

“Why should I cooperate with you,” Bryan said shrugging off the hand, “when you can’t even cooperate with me?”

“Do I need to get your parents?” Dr. Hamilton asked, and Bryan fumed.

“I don’t want my parents.  And I’m not a child.  I want Jeff here, and if he can’t be here than you can get the hell out too.”

No sooner had the words left his mouth, then he knew he had crossed the line.  Dr. Hamilton glared and Bryan recoiled, afraid of what was going to happen next.  He had done it, he had angered another doctor…and he didn’t know what to expect when the man left the room. And he was left alone yet again.

An eternity passed before he heard someone in the room again.  His head was down, and his stomach was tied in millions of knots.  If they were going to do something to him, make him compliant wouldn’t they have started already?  It didn’t usually take this long for him to get a reprimand.  He sensed his presence before he saw him, and just that alone helped him to relax slightly.  He was wary though…this had been how he was betrayed before…they sent in the one person he dared to trust.

“Bryan?” Jeff’s voice was full of concern, and Bryan felt the extra weight on his hospital bed and a hand on his shoulder.  He dared to look up and found sympathetic eyes staring back at him.  “I saw the doctor leave, did he upset you?  Are you okay?  What can I do?  Did you answer his questions?”

He shook his head and closed his eyes, the questions were overwhelming and he didn’t know how to explain it to Jeff.  “I just don’t know how to answer the questions,” he confessed.  “I know if I don’t do it, I get in trouble but I just…how do I answer something that I don’t completely understand?  And the doctors won’t let me do what I want to do and if I defy them then I get in trouble.  I CAN’T WIN Jeff!  And I don’t want to be here.”

“Bryan.”  That voice coupled with hands touching his cheeks made Bryan shudder.  It was a potent mixture…intoxicating and dangerous, yet he craved it…yearned for those moments.  It was as if Jeff had somehow tapped into his deepest, secret desires and pulled them to the surface.  These were the things that could really get him in trouble if they were ever truly revealed.   

His eyes were locked with those sapphire stones, and he knew the difference.  He knew this wasn’t Adam…the sea he was sinking into was all Jeff.  He wanted to drown.

“I need you to calm down,” Jeff’s voice soothed.  Bryan marveled at the power behind that simple tone of his.  He was speaking simple words…but to Bryan they meant volumes and he didn’t think anyone could truly understand that.  For a moment it was just about them, and nothing else in the world mattered.  The doctors, the hospitals…the punishments, he wasn’t thinking about any of it.  It was as if Jeff had managed to draw him away from all the bad things…Jeff offered a world where he could truly just…be.

“What’s wrong?” Jeff asked, pulling Bryan in deeper and deeper. 

Bryan shook his head, his forehead resting against Jeff’s; he could feel Jeff’s hot breath just inches away.  “Nothing…Nothing.”  When their lips met he felt like he was transported again, to a place far beyond the Heavens where dreams were reality.  It was sweet, tender and pleasant.  There was electricity…urgency and for Bryan it was pure bliss.

And when it ended…Jeff was still there.  Their foreheads still touched and Jeff was still offering comfort.  “It’s going to be okay, Bryan…I’m going to talk to the doctors for you okay?  I will explain to them that you need me here…you trust me?”

Bryan loved the feeling of that hand…it confused him and excited him and he would think about it later.  He just wanted to concentrate on Jeff…his protector…his best friend...

“Okay,” he said.  “I…I can do it if they will let you stay.”

Tears filled his eyes for a moment when Jeff pressed their lips together briefly before pulling away completely.  Bryan felt the difference immediately and shivered from the loss of warmth.  He watched Jeff leave the room and tried to gather his thoughts as he waited.  That was proving more difficult then he wanted to admit…but if Jeff was there he was sure he could get through this.

“Are you ready to answer questions now, Bryan?” the doctor asked, breaking into his thoughts.  Bryan saw Jeff walking toward him, and he nodded.  He wasn’t sure what was going to be asked, and what he could say…but he was going to try.  “Yes, Sir.”

“Okay,” Dr. Hamilton said nodding towards Jeff.  “Mr. Burton will be here just in case there is something you don’t remember.  “Now can you start by telling me if you’ve had electroshock therapy treatments in the past?

“Yes,” Bryan said grabbing Jeff’s hand for support.  Jeff squeezed his hand and smiled encouragingly.  Bryan took a deep breath and focused on the doctor.  “I’m familiar with them.”

“Can you tell me how many times you’ve received such tests, Bryan?”

Confusion clouded his features for a moment and he turned to Jeff.  “I don’t…remember.”

“Give as best a guess as you can, Bryan,” Jeff told him. 

“Um,” Bryan said frowning as he looked up at the doctor again, “I…I think I lost count....at twenty.”

“And can you tell me why you received electroshock therapy?” Dr. Hamilton asked.

“They were part of the treatment,” Bryan said grimacing at the word.

“And what about the bruises Bryan?  Where did they come from?”

“Which ones?” Bryan’s frown deepened. 

“Did they all come from last year?” Jeff asked looking at the doctor long enough to mouth “trust me.”

“Yeah,” Bryan replied.  “Some were from…diversion tactics and then others were because I failed the conversion tests.”

“Did you have to take a lot of tests?” Jeff questioned.

Bryan nodded.  He was starting to relax now, with Jeff’s voice guiding him through.  “There was a test for everything, every day.  And if you missed it…if you were sick or anything then it was doubled.”

“Were you sick a lot?”

“I’m always sick.  I was…” he paused for a second as if he were trying to piece together a fragment of his memory.  “I don’t like hospitals.”

“I know, Bryan, I know,” Jeff soothed.  “Look you’re doing good answering the doctor’s questions here and I know this is hard.  What you are describing here doesn’t sound like a rehab to me though.”

“I wasn’t in rehab,” Bryan exclaimed turning to face Jeff head on.  “You said you believe me.”

“I do believe you,” Jeff said remaining calm.  “That’s why I need you to tell me where you were?  Who was giving you electroshock therapy and who sent you there?”

Bryan was silent for a moment as he tried to weigh his words carefully.  He knew he had to answer Jeff’s question, there was no putting it off anymore.  If Jeff wanted the truth then he would tell him.  He just didn’t think his friend would like it.

“I was at the Orr foundation,” he said just as Marianne and Thomas appeared in the doorway.  “I was sent there by my parents and Marshall because I wasn’t the son they wanted me to be.”



8. Chapter 8

 

Chapter 8

 

“I do believe you,” his was voice calm as he placed a hand on Bryan’s shoulder. “That’s why I need you to tell me where you were.  Who gave you electroshock therapy and who sent you there?”

To anyone else that may have seemed like a crazy question, but to him it made perfect sense.  There was something terribly wrong. He did think it was important to find out what was wrong with Bryan; but it was obvious that that wouldn’t happen until they knew this essential point.  There were too many stories, too many threads springing from one center and only one of them led to the truth.  The fun part was figuring out which one.

“I was at the Orr Foundation,” Bryan responded his eyes focused on something just over Jeff’s shoulder. “I was sent there by my parents...and Marshall because I wasn’t the son they wanted me to be.”

Jeff followed Bryan’s gaze to the door, his eyes locking with Thomas who looked just as shocked as he felt.  A frown crossed his features as Bryan’s words sunk in.  They didn’t make sense, not in any way shape or form…they didn’t make sense to him.

But they made sense to Bryan, and that was the point.

He tore his eyes away from Thomas, turning back to the green flecked brown eyes that were wide with something akin to fear.  That perfect mouth was set in a frown and Jeff knew this as the look of doubt.  Jeff knew he needed to say something…there was so much to address.  Bryan needed to know that he believed him, that he didn’t think he was crazy or insane.  Bryan’s statement needed to be analyzed, but now was not the time for it.  He needed to say something to break the tension that had accompanied Bryan’s admission.

The admission; that needed to be addressed first.  Something needed to be said.

“Why would they do that, Bryan?  Why would your parents send you to this place where you could be hurt?  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Can you help me understand?”

“They…they wanted me to change,” Bryan’s voice sounded sad to Jeff’s ears. Those words stoked the fire of his building anger.  “They didn’t like who I was…they didn’t want me to be…me.”

“So you didn’t choose to go to this place?”

“I went because Dad wanted me to.”

“Did you ever write them?  Tell them you didn’t want to be there?” Jeff asked grasping for any straw he could in his quest to figure this out.

“I did before I stopped writing.  I…I can’t write anymore, not like I used to.”

“What did you tell them in the letters?”

“That I wanted to come home,” Bryan said, now looking down at his hands.  “They didn’t really care.”

“Did you ever get letters from them?”

“They stopped coming.” Bryan looked so sad and Jeff just wanted to hug him and protect him from the world.

“What did the letters say?  Do you remember?”

“Dear Bryan, I’m glad to hear you are doing so well.  Keep up the good work.”

“That’s all?”

“Just two lines…they always made me sad.”

“Why?” Jeff asked, though he was sure he knew that answer.  He wanted to hear it from Bryan.

“Because they never addressed anything I wrote them.  It was like they didn’t care.”

Jeff lifted up Bryan’s chin so he could look into those eyes again.  “Bryan focus on me,” he said waiting until he was sure he had Bryan’s full attention.  “How did you get home?  And why didn’t your parents know you were coming?”

“I came from the hospital,” Bryan said his voice a mixture of sincerity and confusion.  “I was in the hospital for…” He frowned as he tried to recall the number of days, but that memory was just out of his reach.  He shook his head and winced at the sudden pain that shot through his temple.  “I…I can’t remember how long I was there…but they released me and told me to go home.”

“Who told you to go home? “

Bryan closed his eyes and his face was contorted with pain.  Jeff knew he needed to stop the questions for now.  “Okay, Bryan open your eyes and focus on me…hear my voice...listen to me.”

“Okay,” Bryan said weakly as he tried to do what Jeff asked.

“You are safe, Bryan.  You’re here with me, and nothing’s going to happen to you…understand?”

“Y…Yes.”

“So can you breathe for me?  That’s it, just breathe and relax.  Trust me…I know that’s hard.  You don’t trust many people do you?”

“N...No,” Bryan said practicing his breathing.

“But you trust me, right?”

“I…I trust you…Jeff.”

“Good, good.  Just relax, and close your eyes.  Can you do that?”

Bryan nodded, and Jeff smiled as he let his fingers run through the blond’s hair.  It didn’t take long for Bryan’s eyelids to grow heavy, and Jeff made sure he was comfortable, tucking in his blankets and resting his head against the pillows.  He kept watch over Bryan, like a hen watching over her chicks.  His eyes were blazing with the anger he was feeling, but he wouldn’t unleash it.  Not just yet, not until he saw the rise and fall of Bryan’s chest.  There was so much tension in that room, he could feel it and he was glad that Bryan was sleeping.  Bryan didn’t need to know that everyone had heard his words.

“Rehab, huh?” Jeff didn’t recognize his own voice, and he swallowed.  He was still facing Bryan, his hands flexing and fisting as he tried to gain control of his emotions.  Bryan was breathing easily and Jeff felt he could turn away…he needed to face them.

He needed to defend Bryan.

“How could you,” He said spinning to face Thomas and Marianne once more.

“Jeff,” Thomas started.

“You said he was in rehab,” Jeff cut him off.  He didn’t care at the moment that these were the people who had taken him in.  He wasn’t worried about the consequences of this outburst.  He wanted to be heard.  “How could you do this to him?”

He touched Bryan’s arm briefly before stepping away from the bed completely.  He needed to talk to Bryan’s parents, but lashing out at them in Bryan’s room would totally defeat his purpose.  He pushed past Marianne and Thomas and waited for them to join him outside.  “How could you?” he asked again once they were in the waiting room area.  Do you see how hurt he is?”

“Jeff,” Thomas started, shaking his head.  “I have no idea what he’s talking about.  We never received any letters from Bryan indicating he wanted to come home.  I just don’t understand where this is coming from.”

“I’m going to see if I can find Marshall.”

“That’s not even the big issue here,” Jeff pointed out indignantly, barely noticing that Marianne was not with them anymore.  “It doesn’t matter about the letters in the long scheme of things.  Things happen to the mail and it’s anyone’s guess if Bryan’s letters got delivered.  I shouldn’t even have to tell you how sad it is that all you wrote back to him was two lines…that’s just…that’s just crazy.” Jeff sighed and softened his tone slightly.  “What I’m more concerned about is the fact that you said he was in rehab.  You told me that he went to rehab of his own volition, but that,” he said pointing at Bryan’s room, “was not the reaction of someone who chose to go anywhere.”

“”Trust me, Jeff; I can see that very clearly.”  Jeff could tell by the tone of the man’s voice that he was sincere.  It was clear that he was just as confused as Jeff himself.  “I have no idea what’s going on here,” Thomas continued, his hand idly massaging the back of his neck.  “Marshall told us that Bryan had decided to go to Rehab because he felt he had no other option to get control of his drinking.  I never expected him to be gone a year, and his letters all seemed to be upbeat and filled with how well he was doing and that he was getting better.”

Jeff frowned.  He had always known Thomas to be honest, that was why this baffled him so much.  And even now the man didn’t seem to be lying.  But someone definitely was.  Something was definitely going on in regards to the mail.  Bryan wasn’t a liar either…a little confused maybe but Jeff just knew Bryan was telling the truth.

 “I can certainly say that I sent him letters every week,” Thomas continued, “that were much more than two lines long. Something fishy is going on here and I plan to get to the bottom of it.

“Okay,” Jeff said already trying to figure out what to do here.  “If you know where you mailed those letters…maybe there is something about the mail that we need to figure out, because that alone is a big deal.  And we have to find out where this Orr Foundation is and what it is all about.  One thing is for sure, it’s not a rehab facility.  I’m sorry sir,” he said with a sigh.  “I just hate to see Bryan so hurt, and confused.”

“No apologies necessary,” Thomas assured him.  “I don’t like to see him this way myself.  I want to find out how this happened.  I took the letters to the post office myself, so I will go by there and talk with someone when we’re done here.  As for information about Orr, I’m sure Marshall has the information about that.  What else can we do to help you with Bryan?  You seem to be the only one he trusts at this point.”

Jeff shook his head and frowned.  He needed to think about this a bit.  Being the one person Bryan trusted was a lot of pressure…and he didn’t want to let Bryan down.  “Well…I had a lot more questions for Bryan, about things he has said to me.  I’m interested to find out about this hospital stay.  It’s the second time he has mentioned it.  He was in the hospital before he came home…but you had no idea he was in there…did you?”

“We had no idea he was in the hospital,” Thomas confirmed.  “As far as we knew he was at the rehab center.  We should have been contacted, especially if they needed to treat him.  Do you think you can find out where this hospital is, Jeff?  I would like to have a word with the doctors there.”

“I can try,” Jeff said thoughtfully.  “Bryan can’t even remember how long he was in there…I don’t know if he can tell me the name of the place.  But there should be some kind of report....this is going to be harder than I thought, but I will do my best sir.  We just have to help Bryan, and it seems the best way to do that is to first figure out what we’re up against…and I’m really sorry I got upset with you earlier.”

“That’s enough, Jeff.  Don’t even give it another thought.  In your shoes I would probably feel the same way,” Thomas assured him.  “I just want to find out what happened to my son, and make whoever hurt him this way, pay for it.”

“Well, first let’s figure out where he was.  Then we can worry about what to do about it,” Jeff said logically.  “I have been doing a lot of research and I could show you everything I have found…I can’t tell you everything Bryan has told me in confidence but I think I can give up a little info; just enough to let you know what’s going on.”

“Whatever you can give me will be helpful,” Thomas said gratefully.  “Bryan trusts you, and unless it affects his well-being I would never ask you to break that confidence.  Let’s have a look at what you have found, and then we can go to work on unraveling this mess.”

“Yeah, we can start,” Jeff said crossing his arms.  “Dr. Hamilton needs to talk about the test results too.  But it’s very important that you don’t let Bryan know you heard him.  If he realizes he spilled all of that to anyone but me…”  Jeff let that his words trail off.  He knew that Thomas would understand.

“Don’t worry, Jeff, we won’t say a word.”  Thomas frowned as he looked toward his son’s room.  “I know how the old Bryan would react, but the young man lying in there is just a shell of my son…and I don’t like that at all.”

Jeff bit his lip and turned his gaze to the room as well.  He still had a lot of questions, a lot of things didn’t make sense.  Bryan had said that his parents sent him away because they didn’t like who he was, but what exactly was that supposed to mean?  “What did he mean sir?” he asked before he could stop himself.  He looked at Thomas, meeting the older man’s eyes head on.

“About what, Jeff?”

“Bryan said he was sent away because you didn’t like who he was.  What did he mean by that?  What was it about him that he thinks you didn’t like?  I don’t understand.”

“Honestly, Jeff, I’m not sure what he meant by that.  I loved my son, exactly the way he was.  I wouldn’t have changed a thing about him…except for maybe his drinking.  But even then, he’s my son, and I love him.”  He paused for a moment, and Jeff could tell he was thinking about it.  “Hmmm,” he said after a moment, “the only thing that comes to mind is that Marianne and Marshall had a very hard time accepting that Bryan is gay.  I don’t give a fit about that, I just want my son back and I want him to be happy.  I would never try to change something so innate to who he is.”

“What,” Jeff said blinking as he digested Thomas’s words.  There were just too many reasons to be happy about that statement and right now he couldn’t’ focus on any of them.  Right now it was just a piece of information to be added to the puzzle pieces scattered around his brain.  “You never told me Bryan was gay…that may be an important factor in all of this.  I’m going to look up this foundation…I think that’s the best place to start.”

“Is there anything I can be working on while you do that?” Thomas asked.  “I don’t want you to feel like you’re doing all the work here.”

“I don’t mind, Mr. Dobbs,” Jeff said smiling.  “I would do just about anything to help Bryan.  I may have more questions, and maybe we need to talk to Marshall, but I want to know what we are up against first, f that makes sense.  Of course this is just me talking, and if you feel you need to run the investigation just say so and I will step back.  Because I don’t want to intrude and I know I overstepped my boundaries already so…”

“You haven’t overstepped anything, Son” Thomas interrupted his flow of words.  “You have been the only one who has been able to reach Bryan, and I can tell that you care deeply for my son.”  Jeff blushed and turned his head away from that knowing gaze.  “You will never know how much I appreciate that,” Thomas continued.  He paused for a moment as something occurred to him…a question he needed to bring to Jeff’s attention.  “Has he said anything about the scars on his back?  I noticed them while helping him shower…but was afraid to ask about them”

“I was wondering if you noticed the scars,” Jeff frowned.  “I think the scars are related to the hospital stay somehow, and the name Adam.  Bryan mentioned him a few times…said the guy held him down…and he mentioned a whip, but he couldn’t tell me anymore than that.”

“Adam?” Thomas’s face clearly showed his confusion.  “Who is he?  And why would he be holding Bryan down?  Furthermore who the hell was beating my son with a whip?  God Jeff, none of this makes any sense.  I feel like I’ve let Bryan down and that he is blaming this squarely on me.”

“No he isn’t placing blame, Sir.  I get the feeling that he feels like this is somehow his fault.”

“How do you figure that?” Thomas asked curiously.

“He’s hurt and confused,” Jeff explained.  “He feels betrayed and lonely…not to mention abandoned.  I think we will understand more when we get some of these puzzle pieces together.  And as for Adam, whoever he is, he betrayed Bryan too.”

 

“None of this makes me very happy,” Thomas admitted sadly, and to Jeff it seemed the man aged ten years in that second.  “I feel like I have lost a year of my son's life and the person who came home is not the son who left.”

“Don’t think like that,” Jeff insisted.  “Bryan’s still in there somewhere.  The son who loves you still exists, he’s just been hurt and it’s up to us to help him heal.  And we can do it Mr. Dobbs; I think I have enough faith for the both of us.”

He smiled when Thomas placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.  It was nice to know that Jeff believed he could do this.

He wanted to.

He hoped he really could.

**

He felt empty.  It was the only way to describe the hollowness within as he watched Jeff walk away.  It seemed like a lifetime ago that his son had been able to talk to him.  There hasn't been anything Bryan couldn’t tell him; that he wouldn’t listen to.  Thomas had always tried to be the best father he could be to his son, but somewhere along the line he had failed.  At some point he had stopped watching his son; maybe it had only been for a split second, but it was enough to change his son’s world forever.  To Bryan one second was a lifetime, and that’s how Thomas felt as he neared the doctor’s office.  He missed his son, he wanted him back and it hurt his heart to think that somehow someway he was the cause of the pain

As he waited for the doctor to speak, he began to understand why his son disliked hospitals so much.  There was something almost cold about these places.  Doctors, nurses and aides all ran around doing their duty and that didn’t always mean that the patient got the best care.  He wondered about this hospital that Bryan had been in previously.  Had anyone cared for his son?  Was he just a body warming a bed for a time?  Had his stay in this place been reasonably safe, he gathered that it must have been for Bryan was here now…in Memorial, surrounded by familiar doctors and people he knew…those he didn’t trust.

“After an extensive battery of tests,” the doctor’s voice sounded so generic, so unfeeling.  It was mechanical, but Thomas would listen.  He needed to know what was wrong with his son.  “We have come to the conclusion that there has been excessive damage to Bryan’s brain.  He suffers from edema and bleeding, but that should go away over time.”

“Explain the excessive damage.”

“Well Mr. Dobbs,” Dr. Hamilton said rifling through a folder, “There has been severe damage to the cholinergic portion of your son’s brain, and his cognitive function has diminished significantly.  This is most likely an irreversible condition.  We can go in and do surgery to relieve the pressure and swelling on his brain, which I highly recommend, or we can do nothing and let things progress as they will.”

“What is that supposed to been, doctor?” Thomas asked, beginning to get a little frustrated.  “Explain it in terms I can understand, please.”

“Well there are no guarantees either way.”

“So what you’re saying is that you recommend that I let you cut open my son’s head, but there are no guarantees that that could fix anything?”

“Correct,” Dr. Hamilton affirmed.  “Although I think we have a pretty good shot at being able to reverse at least some of the damage that has been done.  But there is the possibility that he might never be any better than he is now.”

“I can’t accept that,” Thomas said keeping his tone neutral.  “I don’t believe that my son will remain this way. I am not agreeing to any surgery.”

“Mr. Dobbs, are you sure about that?  This surgery could possibly save your son’s life.  Don’t you want to talk this over with your wife and Bryan’s biological father before you make a final decision?”

“I will talk it over with my wife. Marshall does not have any say here.  He has not been a part of Bryan’s life for years, and I will be damned if he can come in and start making decisions for him.”

“I understand Mr. Dobbs.  Just get back to me as soon as possible.  The sooner we do the surgery the sooner your son will be on the road to recovery.”

“And in the meantime?” Thomas asked.  “What about the headaches and the swelling?  How do we stop Bryan from hurting?  And the blackouts”

“I will prescribe your son some medication that may help with those.  His friend seems to have a good effect on him too.”

“Yes Jeff has been a huge help,” Thomas acknowledged.  “You need to go through him when it comes to dealing with Bryan.”

“I will bear that in mind, Mr. Dobbs.  Now if you excuse me, I need to consult with Dr. Wilkerson.”

Thomas nodded and made his exit.  Outside the room he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.  As if the nightmare couldn’t get any worse.  Now they wanted to perform surgery on his son.  Thomas didn’t think it was a good idea.  With a sigh he pushed himself off the wall, he had to find Marianne, he couldn’t make this decision on his own.

**

Jeff felt like he had been starting at the same screen for hours, even though he had trudged through several websites already.  All the research, all the time he was spending on this project would be well worth it though, if they could figure out where Bryan had been sent.  He needed to find out about the Orr Foundation.  It was the one place he hadn’t searched for yet.  He was almost afraid to, but it needed to be done, for Bryan’s sake.

He had notes on just about anything he could possibly think of, and the Orr foundation would hopefully be the last puzzle piece.  He typed in the name, having to do it several times since he wasn’t sure how Orr was spelled.  “Ah Ha,” he said when a link for the foundation appeared in the search results.  “Let’s see what we have here.”

He clicked on the link and started to read, his face growing dark as he took in the information.  This was impossible.  He had to have found the wrong link…there was no way, none at all that this was where Bryan had been for the past year.

A groan met his ears, and he looked up, realizing that Bryan would be waking soon.  He saved the website he had been looking at and closed his computer.  He would have to take a closer look at that later.  For now he needed to focus on Bryan, and his friend did not need to see him upset.  He watched as Bryan shifted in the bed, and knew the exact moment those brown eyes opened to focus on him.  Jeff couldn’t quite gauge the look on Bryan’s face, and he knew he would have to wait until his friend spoke before he knew how he was feeling.

“Jeff, he said a little disoriented at first.  “How long have I been asleep?  Has anyone been in here besides you?” he asked before Jeff could respond to the first question.

“No one has been in here besides Alison every couple of hours,” Jeff explained.  “It’s the afternoon now; you have been sleeping since this morning.  Do you remember this morning at all?”

“Well,” Bryan started, and Jeff could see the concentration on his face.  He was going to watch carefully…he didn’t want Bryan to get another headache.  “You were sleeping with the computer,” he said emphatically, pleased with himself for remembering that much.

“That’s right,” Jeff said, I had the computer in my lap.

“And you were looking up something…you weren’t using the computer to spy were you?”

“Spying on you?” Jeff asked, masking his surprise.  He knew not to be shocked by what came out of Bryan’s mouth.  “No Bryan, never.  I’m just doing some research on your symptoms so that I can better understand what’s going on.”

“So you only want to help me?” Bryan asked cautiously.  “They always use computers to spy.  I used to get caught…but I never knew what they thought I was doing.  They didn’t tell me…they just said that I was doing something against the rules.  But I didn’t understand that because I didn’t really do much.”

“Who is “they” Bryan?” Jeff probed gently.  “And why would they be spying on you?”

“I don’t know why the wardens spied, I just know they did.  They always had their computers open, and they would get these looks on their faces and the next thing you know there was trouble.  And the sad part was that it could happen at any time…at any moment and…”

Jeff frowned but said nothing as he watched his friend.  Bryan’s expression had changed again and Jeff wondered what was going through his mind at that moment.  More than ever he felt they needed to get to the bottom of this mystery.  They couldn’t help Bryan if they couldn’t identify what was wrong. At the moment it seemed as if Bryan wasn’t’ completely making sense…and that scared Jeff.

He watched as Bryan closed his eyes, and he instinctively reached out for Bryan’s hand as the other boy’s face contorted with pain.  “Bryan, don’t give in to the pain, fight it okay?  Can you do that for me?”  It appeared that he was trying to do what he had been instructed to do, but to no avail.  Jeff cursed under his breath when the hand went limp and Bryan once again lay lifeless in the bed.

He didn’t allow himself to be stunned; there was no time for that.  He called Alison to check on Bryan, and she assured him that Bryan had blacked out, but he wasn’t in any immediate danger.  Jeff made her check Bryan’s vitals three times before he was satisfied.  His laptop was open and he furiously took notes on Bryan’s symptoms and the after effects that seemed to accompany them.  He was constantly having headaches whenever he remembered something unpleasant. At the same time it seemed he had them whenever he was experiencing intense emotion too.  That didn’t even take into account the blackouts and the memory loss that seemed to come right along with those.

The next time Bryan woke up he would ask about the hospital to see if Bryan could remember the name of it or at least where it was.  Then again if he knew where The Orr foundation was perhaps that would help him find the hospital.  There were so many questions surrounding that.  Bryan made it home from the hospital by himself.  Yet that seemed to be where Bryan’s independence ended.  Why was that?  What had they done to him at this place?

The Orr foundation.  Just thinking about it made Jeff angry.  He needed to read up on that place, to make sure he was getting the right idea about it.  He didn’t like it, and he didn’t like the disguise that met unsuspecting parents eyes.  The mere thought of sending a child there disgusted him.

One thing was for sure, Bryan wasn’t going to get any better surrounded by all these people that he didn’t trust.  He didn’t like hospitals, and Jeff wondered if anyone else realized that.  There had to be a reason why hospitals freaked Bryan out so much, he was certain it was more than just some random experience when he was younger.  He was also quite certain that this last experience at the hospital…the one before now was like the tip of the iceberg.  But what did that mean exactly?

And who was this Adam guy that Bryan had mentioned a couple of times.  How did he factor into things?  How and why had he betrayed Bryan?  The wheels were turning in Jeff’s mind as he continued to type and look through all the material he had gathered since he started looking into this.

“No…Jeff?”

He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped before realizing it was only Bryan.  He was awake, and Jeff immediately felt himself relax.  “Are you okay?” Bryan frowned.

“Am I okay?” Jeff repeated.  “I should be asking you that.  You had me worried for a minute there, Bryan.”

“I’m just thirsty.”

“But I don’t think you can drink anything Bryan.”  He saved his documents and closed his computer setting it aside so he could focus on Bryan.  “Here, let me get the swab to moisten your mouth.”

“Yuck,” Bryan said stubbornly.  He refused to open his mouth for the proffered sponge.

“Come on Bryan, open up.”  Bryan shook his head and pressed his lips tightly together.  “Fine,” Jeff sighed.  “I’ll let you have some ice chips again. Would that be okay?  It’s probably safer than you eating the chapstick anyway.”  He saw the slightest glimmer of a smile appear on Bryan’s face, and that was enough to make him smile as well.  “Okay if that’s the way you want to play it, I’m going to get you some ice chips, but I think I need to get something to distract you too.”

“Can you read to me again?”

“Is that what you want?” Jeff asked crossing his arms.

“If you don’t mind.”

Jeff shook his head and reached in his pocket for his key ring.  “I want you to hold onto this until I get back, okay?”  Bryan nodded and took the bottle opener Jeff was handing him.  “Are you going to be okay for a few minutes?”

“Yes, Jeff.  I’ll be okay.”

**

He knew something was wrong even before he reached Bryan’s room.  His long legs carried him down the hall quickly, and his heart sank as he heard screaming coming from his friend’s room.  “No you are not cutting me open!” He heard Bryan yell.  “Get away from me, I don’t want you here.”

He dropped the paper bag that contained his gift for Bryan and ran the rest of the way to the room.  Dr. Hamilton was there talking to Bryan who looked like he would fall out of his hospital bed if he moved over any further

“Bryan I really think this is the best course of action,” Dr. Hamilton continued as Jeff quickly entered the room.  “I’ve already discussed it with your parents…”

“What’s going on in here?” Jeff announced his presence and moved to Bryan’s side glaring at the doctor.

Bryan grabbed a hold of Jeff’s arm and clung to him tightly.  There was genuine fear and tears in those brown eyes and Jeff felt himself getting angry.  Bryan had been fine when he left the room.  “Jeff, don’t let them cut me, please.  Tell them they can’t do that.”

“What did you say to him,” Jeff said focusing on the doctor even as he tried to soothe Bryan.

“I was explaining to him that we want to do surgery to fix his brain.”

“Fix his brain?” Jeff scoffed.  “What is he five?”

“Mr. Burton is very important that we perform this operation.”

Bryan held on tighter to Jeff and pleaded with him.  Those brown eyes looked do sad and afraid.  “Get out of here, you idiot,” he snapped at the doctor.  Dr. Hamilton was taken aback and opened his mouth to speak, but Jeff cut him off.  “Just go.  Can’t you see you’re scaring him?  Go!”

“I’ll send a nurse in with a sedative,” Dr. Hamilton said as he turned to leave.

“No, you won’t and I’ll tell the nurse too if you do.  He doesn’t need to be put to sleep, he just needs you to leave him be.  Now get.”

Once Dr. Hamilton was gone he turned his attention back to Bryan and helped get him situated in the bed again.  “Bryan, listen to me,” he said placing his hands on either side of Bryan’s face.  “I need you to calm down.”

“I don’t want them to cut me open.”

“I know, Bryan, and they won’t.  But you have to relax and trust me here.  Now breathe.”

Ever so slightly Bryan started to relax and he impulsively he hugged his friend, holding on tightly, his head resting in the crook of Jeff’s neck.  It was in that moment that Jeff realized he really needed to do something.  His arms slipped around Bryan and he hugged him back, offering what comfort he could as he tried to figure out the best way to help.

“What can I do Bryan?” he asked when they pulled out of the embrace and Bryan was resting against his pillows.  “How can I help?”

“Just…just get me out of here,” It was barely a whisper but Jeff heard it loud and clear.  He needed to talk to Thomas, being in the hospital was not helping Bryan at all.

**

“Can you stay here with him?” he asked as Alison wrote some information on Bryan’s chart.  Bryan was taking a nap, and Jeff thought it would be a good time to go find Thomas.  He just didn’t want to leave Bryan alone again.  “I will try not to be long; I just don’t want to leave Bryan alone in here.  Dr. Hamilton really freaked him out.”

“Dr. Hamilton seems to be very good at scaring patients,” Ali replied ruefully.  “Don’t worry about Bryan, Jeff.  I’ll keep an eye on him and make sure no one disturbs him.”

“Okay and if he wakes up before I get back…”

“I’ll let him know you’ll be here shortly, now go.”

Jeff thanked her again and left the room. It angered Jeff that no one seemed to be listening to Bryan.  When he was agitated they chose to medicate him.  When he told them no, they wanted to sedate him.  Would it really hurt any of them to take a moment to find out why he was upset?  Jeff didn’t think so, and he wished he could impart that to everyone somehow.  Being in this hospital was not helping Bryan at all, because he was so scared of them. And Dr. Hamilton certainly wasn’t making things better by going to Bryan and telling him they wanted to fix his brain.  Who says that to someone?

He heard Thomas before he saw the man standing in the doorway of one of the conference rooms.  He hurried his stride to get to him, sensing that he was as angry ad Jeff himself felt.  “I don’t think the surgery is a good idea,” Thomas’s voice met his ears.

“But what if it’s the only way to save him,” he heard Marianne protest.  “I think Marshall is right on this one, we need to let them do the operation.”

Jeff narrowed his eyes.  Why was she agreeing with Marshall, and why did that man even have a say?

“I think it’s best we do what’s right for our son,” Marshall’s voice this time and Jeff’s frown deepened.

“He’s not your son, Marshall.  You gave up any right to him years ago.  And I can’t believe you’re siding with him.  Don’t you think Bryan has been through enough?”

“Thomas if the surgery can help the blackouts-” Marianne started.

“There’s no guarantee of that,” Thomas interrupted.  “I think it’s too risky, and Bryan shouldn’t have to go through it.”

“I think you are wrong, and we have to do what we feel is best for Bryan.” Marshall interjected.”

“What about what Bryan wants?” Jeff said angrily stepping in on the conversation.  The three adults turned to face him and he swallowed.  At any other time he would have backed down from those gazes, but now…today he was too mad to think about it.  “You’re standing here talking about a serious surgery that could change Bryan’s life forever, or even end it…and all I’m hearing is what you want, and what YOU think Bryan wants.  Don’t you think that Bryan should have a say?”

“Bryan is in no condition to be making decisions,” Marshall snapped

“How would you know?” Jeff countered.  “You shouldn’t even be involved in this decision.”

“Jeff!” Marianne reprimanded.

“Don’t Jeff me; I am not sure how I feel about you right now.  He shouldn’t be involved in this decision because Thomas is the one who raised Bryan.  Thomas is the one who loves him and knows what is best for him.  Why would you take the word of someone who has only caused Bryan pain?”

“Who are you to pretend to know what my son feels about me,” Marshall fumed.

“Oh don’t start,” Jeff said crossing his arms.  He turned his attention back to Thomas and Marianne and tried to reason with them.  “Bryan is not crazy, and I’m tired of everyone treating him like some mental patient.  If any of you would take a moment to listen to what he has to say, you would understand what’s wrong with him.”

“You don’t know Bryan like we do, Jeff,” Marianne said her voice stern as she locked eyes with him.  “This isn’t the first time he has shown erratic behavior.  He was very paranoid after he told us he was gay last year.”

“I would be paranoid too if my own mother didn’t accept me for who I was!” Jeff bit back.  “Which I gotta tell you Marianne, I expected so much better from you of all people.”

“Don’t talk to her that way,” Marshall warned.

“Jeff,” Thomas called his name at the same time.

“I mean no disrespect,” He said turning to Thomas for a moment.  “But it just blows my mind that she can deny her own son, her own flesh and blood just because he likes boys, and then turn around and take a gay man into her home and treat him like he’s a valued member of the family.  And where the hell were you for the past year?” he asked turning on Marshall, “and why is it that your son is so petrified of you.”

“I’m not going to listen to anymore of this nonsense.  You stay away from my son,” Marshall blasted angrily.  “I think you two need to control your houseguest.”

“He had a seizure,” Jeff yelled, causing Marshall to turn and face him.  “He went into convulsions the one time you got into his room.  He got a headache during an argument with you.  I don’t think those are coincidences Marshall.”

“You can’t blame that on Marshall, Jeff,” Marianne said distressed.

“You weren’t there,” Jeff said exasperated.  “You have barely been here since Bryan got to the hospital, so how would you know.”  The silence that fell after that statement was palpable.  Jeff took a moment to catch his breath, though he continued to glare at Bryan’s parents.  He would apologize later, especially to Thomas because he really wasn’t upset with him.  But for now his number one concern was Bryan.  “I didn’t think you would have an answer for that.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on Bryan.”

He backed away, glaring until he reached the hall and he turned to go back to Bryan’s room.  He really needed to talk to Thomas now.  Especially if Marianne and Marshall were serious about the surgery…there was no way Bryan could get operated on again…it couldn’t happen.

**

Jeff was in the middle of reading Bryan a comic book when he felt a hand clamp down on his arm.  He looked up to see Marshall trying to pull him up from the chair.

“What are you doing?!”  Bryan exclaimed from his spot on the bed.  “Leave him alone.”

“You don’t need this negative influence in your room,” Marshall explained in that condescending tone that grated Jeff’s nerves.  “Your mother and I believe that he should stay away from you.”

“No!” Bryan yelled at him.  “You leave Jeff alone and let him go.”

Jeff wrenched his arm free and glared at Marshall.  “You don’t have the right to put your hands on me.”

“Get out of my son’s room.”

“You get out,” Bryan fumed.  Out of the corner of his eye, Jeff could see the doctor and Marianne in the doorway.  He was sure that Bryan hadn’t noticed them yet.  “Get the hell out of here, and leave Jeff alone.  And stay out of my life.  If you don’t I swear I’ll disappear and no one will ever see me again.”

“You don’t mean that, Bryan?” Marshall replied.

“Try me,” Bryan said clenching his fists into balls as he glared at his biological father.  “I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“That’s enough, Bryan,” Dr. Hamilton came further into the room holding a syringe and Jeff moved to stop him, but Marshall held him back.

“You can’t do that,” Jeff protested as he tried to get away from Marshall.  “Don’t sedate him; he’s not doing anything wrong.  Leave him alone.”  Jeff’s heart about broke when those brown eyes met his right before they closed and that blond head fell to the pillow.

“What did you do that for?” Jeff raged, finally breaking free of Marshall’s grasp.  “And how could you stand there and let him do it.  Bryan was fine, he was listening to me read, and you just drugged him again.  Is this place just employed with idiots?”

“We need to talk to you for a minute Jeff,” Dr. Hamilton said placing a hand on his shoulder.  “Out in the hall please.”

Jeff shrugged off the hand and crossed his arms as he walked into the hall.  He couldn’t believe they had just done that to Bryan.  It was wrong, and it was no wonder that Bryan didn’t like hospitals.  “If you wanted to talk to me you should have just said so,” He said crossly.  “You didn’t have to sedate him.  You know he hates needles.”

“Bryan listens to you, correct?” Dr. Hamilton said, purposely ignoring Jeff’s outburst.

“Yes.”

“So he trusts you then.”

“Yes, he does.  What’s your point Doctor?”

“We need you to talk to him about this surgery.  You have to convince him to have it.”

“No!” Jeff said shaking his head as he faced the doctor, Marianne, and Marshall head on.  “I am not going to convince him to do something that I know will freak him out.  It was one thing for him to take all these tests, I convinced him that he should do it and you know what?  I wish I hadn’t, because he’s still here in this stupid hospital and he’s not getting any better.”

“If you care about Bryan at all, Jeff, you’ll do it,” Marianne pointed out.

“If I care about him?” Jeff laughed bitterly.  “If you cared about him you wouldn’t be agreeing to this surgery at all.  It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Thomas and I are the only ones who do truly care about him.  He doesn’t need an operation, he just need you to listen to him…and I am not going to be the one who convinces him he needs to go through that.  I won’t do it, and you aren’t going to operate on him. “

**

“Thanks,” Jeff said gratefully taking the cup of coffee Thomas offered him.  He watched the older man take a seat beside him, and take a sip from his own cup.

“I tried,” he said causing Jeff to sigh.  Thomas had been trying for the past hour or so to convince Marianne and Marshall that surgery was not the best viable option here.  “They want to prep Bryan for surgery tomorrow.”

“They can’t do that,” Jeff said shaking his head.  “Bryan would never forgive them…he’d never forgive us for letting it happen.  He doesn’t want this surgery, Thomas.  And I don’t think he needs it.”

“Marshall and Marianne seem to think this is the only way out.”

“Do you agree,” Jeff charged.

“No, I don’t.  But I don’t think I have much choice here.”

“You do have a choice.  You’re his father.  And someone has to fight for him while he can’t.  Bryan knows what he wants, Thomas.  It’s just that no one is listening.”

“I want to listen.”

“Then listen to me,” Jeff said softly.   “You need to get Bryan released from here…that will be the first step to his recovery.  He needs to be out of this place.  Hospitals terrify him, and being here is not helping him get any better.”

Thomas frowned, and took another sip of coffee.  “The doctor said he’s damaged, Jeff.  How am I supposed to take care of him?”

“He’s not damaged,” Jeff countered.  “He’s just been through a lot of crap, and we have to figure out exactly what that means.  Once we do we can help him get through it.  But I’m telling you, Thomas, we have to get him out of here first, or he will go crazy.  I am so upset with the doctors here for sedating him again.  There was no reason for that, Bryan was just showing his dissatisfaction with Marshall.  Dr. Hamilton had no right to touch him that way.”

“You seem to know what’s best for him,” Thomas said turning to face him.  “He trusts you…and I trust you too.  I know only want what’s best for Bryan, Jeff.  So tell me what we need to do.  How do we help him?”

Jeff’s expression was thoughtful as he looked at Bryan’s dad.  He knew it had taken a lot of courage for Thomas to ask for help like that.  He wanted to make the right choice here; this was after all Bryan’s life they were talking about.  “I have given it some thought,” he said, playing around with the coffee cup in his hand.  “I think you need to talk to Dr. Wilkerson and get him to release Bryan into your care tonight…as in after we finish this conversation.  Then we need to take Bryan as far away from here as possible.  I’m not sure where we can go…but for a while I think it needs to be the three of us.  Bryan trusts me, and he’s learning to trust you again.  Something broke over the last year…and I have so much I need to share with you on that, but I hesitate to do it in this place.  Needless to say, I don’t think surgery, or medicine is going to help Bryan right now.  I think you and I are the only ones who can do that.”  He took a deep breath and looked Thomas squarely in the eye, his expression serious.

“The Bryan you know and love is in there, Thomas, and I want to bring him back to you.  I need you to help me do that.”


9. Chapter 9

 

Chapter 9

 

He didn’t know what to think about the silence. It was overwhelming and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. The suggestion hung in the air, suspended in time, waiting, wanting, and hoping. He didn’t know what he expected the older man to say, he only knew what needed to be said. It was important that this suggestion was taken seriously. A life was at stake.  A precious one.

Anyone who walked past would have thought the two men were at odds. Anyone who looked at them would have thought of them as father and son, caught in a battle of wills, their matching blue eyes blazing with something akin to determination. Their dark heads still and unmoving like stone. No one approached the figures in the waiting room; no one dared come close as if they were afraid of incurring their wrath. They were trapped in their silence, both of them lost in thoughts of what this decision would mean and what it would cost.

It wasn’t a decision they could take lightly.

Bryan’s life.

And they were the two men who loved him most.

“It’s the only way,” Jeff’s voice sliced through the quiet.

“What if it does him more harm than good?” Thomas reasoned.

“Do you think he needs the surgery?”

“No,” Thomas replied, Jeff could tell he was sincere.

“Then you know what needs to be done, and it has to be done now.  Tonight.”

“He won’t go with us,” Thomas’ voice was resigned to what needed to be done, but he knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“Leave that to me.  You talk to Dr. Wilkerson. Once we are out of here, we’ll figure out the rest. First we need to get him out.”

“You sure about this, Jeff? You’re certain we can save my son?”

“Bryan doesn’t need surgery, Sir. He just needs to be loved.”

**

“Are you certain about this, Thomas?” Dr. Wilkerson asked as he looked at the man he considered a friend. They were in his office, the door was closed and Thomas was sitting in a chair with a determined stance set on his face. “You do know what you are asking me for here?”

“Yes, Bob I know I am asking for a lot, but I think you can understand what it’s like to do desperate things when it comes to your children. My son needs me right now, and I need to do this for him.”

“Dr. Hamilton has explained to you all the risks of not having the surgery?” Dr. Wilkerson asked. He was frowning, but he did understand where Thomas was coming from. Being a father himself, he knew he would do just about anything for his children, even if it was risky.

“I don’t think he needs the surgery. Marianne...and Marshall are determined to put him under the knife, and I just can’t let him go through that again, Bob. Bryan has suffered enough, and I can’t consciously put him through something that may hurt him more.”

The office was quiet as Dr. Wilkerson thought about what Thomas was suggesting. He cared about Bryan too, he only wanted him to be okay. He was also aware of the calming effect that Jeff had on him. Jeff was the only one that Bryan would let near him most times; and if he figured that maybe, just maybe, Bryan would be okay once he was out of the hospital.  Wasn’t that worth the shot?

“Bob,” Thomas said cutting into his thoughts. “I need your help to do this.  I don’t want you to consult with Dr. Hamilton, I don’t trust him.  He sedated my son tonight when there was no need for him to do so.”

“He said Bryan was agitated,” Dr. Wilkerson said frowning.

“He was upset,” Thomas corrected. “Jeff told me what happened.  He was upset because Marshall was trying to remove Jeff from the room.  Bryan just voiced his feelings on that and he should have been left alone.  Earlier today, Dr. Hamilton went into his room and told Bryan that he wanted to fix his brain.  My son freaked, Bob.  He does not want to be operated on, and I don’t want my son to go through something like this against his will.  You have to help me.”

“Will you be taking Jeff with you?”

“Jeff is still the only one Bryan trusts.  He will be going with us.  I don’t know where we will go, and it may be best that you don’t know all the details.”

Dr. Wilkerson nodded and mulled over the suggestion.  He needed to make the right decision. This was like the moment when you decided to take a person off the ventilator to see if they could breathe on their own.  Sometimes it was the right choice, other times it wasn’t, but one would never know unless it was risked.  Bryan wasn’t doing well in the hospital; that much was clear.  Jeff was the one person who had any success with him.  Maybe he was the only one who could help.

Maybe he was the only hope.

“I’ll prepare the papers for Bryan’s release,” He said picking up the folder from his desk. “You and Jeff will need to figure out how you will get him out of here without Marianne and Marshall knowing, and I wish you the best of luck, Thomas. To be clear, I’m doing this against my better judgment and you must sign papers to that effect.”

“I understand.” Thomas nodded as he stood to shake the man’s hand.

 I pray that Bryan will be okay,” Dr. Wilkerson stated.  “His life rests in your hands, and Jeff’s.”

“Thank you Bob. Thank you.”

**

Bryan stirred the moment he entered the room, and Jeff immediately went to his friend’s bedside. Those brown eyes were full of confusion and pain, but there was something else in that gaze.  Something tangible that Jeff glimpsed right beneath the surface.  It was hope.  And in that moment Jeff knew what he had to do.  That gaze, those eyes of brown with a hint of green were asking one thing.

“Save me.”

“Jeff,” that voice, so full of terror, it broke Jeff’s heart. “Jeff I don’t want to be here-I don’t like needles and I don’t want to be cut-cut open.”

“Shhh,” Jeff soothed as he touched his shoulder and allowed his fingers to touch those blond strands. “I need you to listen to me, okay.  I want to help you, I want to get you out of here, and I can, but you need to trust me.”

“Just don’t put me to sleep again, please.”

“The next time you go to sleep, Bryan it will be because you want to.  I promise.  Do you trust me?”

“Yes.” Bryan’s voice was a mere whisper, but that was fine, for Jeff didn’t want anyone to overhear.

“I can’t do this on my own though, you know that right?”

Bryan frowned as if he knew that something suspicious was coming.  Jeff continued to let his fingers run through the blond hair, wanting only to soothe Bryan.  It seemed to be working. “I don’t know, Jeff.”

“Just trust me.  I can’t explain it here, but I need you to trust me, okay?”

Seconds, minutes passed as Bryan thought about Jeff’s words.  Jeff could tell he was weighing them in his mind, and he could sense that Bryan really wasn’t sure what to think of them.  Jeff could only hope that Bryan’s trust in him would guide him to the right decision.

“You and someone else are going to get me out of here?”

“Your dad and I,” Jeff related, focusing on Bryan intently.  He knew the moment Bryan tensed up and he continued his explanation, his fingers never leaving his hair. “Your dad is the only one who can sign you out of the hospital, Bryan.  And he’s the only one who can prevent them from operating. Your mom and Marshall want the doctors to go through with it, but you don’t need to worry about that.  We’re not going to let them cut you.  They’re not going to hurt you again.  Trust me.”

Days passed in minutes as Bryan tried to muddle through his thoughts.  Jeff’s heartbeat was rapidly increasing as he waited, wondering what Bryan would say next.  He had given up trying to guess his friend’s actions.

“I trust you Jeff.  I’ll-I’ll go with you.”

**

The plan was set, but they only had a small window of time. Filling out paperwork could only take so long, and they needed to have Bryan out of there before Marianne and Marshall returned to his room.  Thomas signed the release papers and Jeff got Bryan dressed and ready to leave.  It was simple really; they didn’t need to sneak because Thomas was Bryan’s father.  He had a right to discharge him from the hospital.  The tricky part was being far enough away before Marianne and Marshall got suspicious.

Jeff explained to Bryan that they were going on a little adventure.  It was the only way he could convince Bryan to get into Thomas’ car.  He sat in the back seat, because Bryan felt safer with him right beside him.  Jeff didn’t mind one bit, he liked holding Bryan’s hand; it was comforting to him too.  His heartbeat was fast and he knew it would remain that way until they were out of the city limits.  Silence had joined them too.  No one talked, not even Bryan who was looking around at everything as he squeezed Jeff’s hand tighter

“Breathe Bryan,” Jeff said once they passed the welcome to St. Louis sign. “Relax okay; I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

“Is-is this a good idea, Jeff?” he asked, and Jeff wished there was something he could do to take that fear away.  He hated seeing Bryan so scared.

“Your dad is going to take us to the airport, and then we are going to get on a plane.”

“Where-where to?”

“That’s a good question,” Jeff sighed.  He squeezed Bryan’s hand tighter and turned his attention to Thomas. “Have you figured out where we’re going?”

“We’re going to Los Angeles,” Thomas replied, not taking his eyes off the road.

“Why are we going to Los Angeles?” Bryan asked.

“To stay with Jennifer,” Thomas responded.

“Oh, I remember Jenni,” Bryan said a smile playing on his lips for a moment.

“Who’s Jenni?” Jeff asked.  Bryan looked at him, and Jeff wondered how he was still breathing with that gaze pinned on him.

“She’s my big sister.”

“Oh,” Jeff responded, turning away to look out the window.  He didn’t know if he was going to like this Jennifer and he hated himself for feeling that way.  He sighed and pushed the negative thoughts out of his head.  Just because the mention of her name made Bryan smile didn’t really mean anything except that maybe this would be someone he trusted.  Before he could dwell on it for too long Bryan tugged on his hand and he turned his attention back to his best friend.

“You have to hold my hand on the plane, okay?”

“I’ll hold your hand for as long as you want me to, Bryan.” Bryan smiled and Jeff relaxed, glad that the smile for now was all for him.  He didn’t know what would happen in L.A. but for now he was just glad that Bryan needed him.

**

They were lucky enough to get a flight that was just about to board its passengers.  Thomas paid or the tickets and made sure all three of them made it through the security check.  Jeff suggested that Bryan take the window seat, that way he could look out the window if he chose to, and ask any questions if he had them.  Jeff sat by his side, and Thomas took the aisle seat and every now and again Jeff caught him stealing glances at Bryan.  He only hoped that somehow once they were settled, that he would be able to repair the relationship between father and son.

“Have you ever been to California?” Bryan asked him when they had been in the air for fifteen minutes.

“No. This will be my first time.”

“How did you end up in Washington?”

Jeff’s expression was thoughtful as he looked at his friend. “Do you want the long reply or the standard one?”

Bryan shrugged. “I just want to know about my best friend.”

Jeff smiled. “I moved around a lot when I was little.  My dad is in the army and every two years or so we moved from army base to army base.  So it was really hard to make friends and establish roots.  Anyway we were in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri last and I spent most of my time there watching old movies and dreaming about the day I could leave.”

“You didn’t want to stay?” Bryan asked awed.

“I couldn’t wait to get away from home,” Jeff admitted quietly.  “I jumped at the chanced to leave.  When Mrs. Wilkerson called me and told me she wanted me to interview for a position in Washington I hopped in my truck and never looked back.”

“What about your dad?”

Jeff was quiet for a second before answering. “My dad and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things,” He explained. “I respect him.  I hesitate a little to say that I love him but we can’t live together”

“You don’t trust him?” Bryan inquired.

Jeff shook his head. “Actually, I don’t.”

“But you trust my dad?”

“Your dad is honest and kind and wouldn’t cause anyone harm.  If I had to wager a bet, I would say that my father is a little like Marshall.”

“Do we have to talk about him?”

“Not if you don’t want to, Bryan.”

Bryan turned his head and looked out the window. Jeff leaned back in his chair and watched the blond, wondering what he was thinking about now.

“Why do you believe me when no one else does?”

The question completely took him by surprise but he recovered easily enough. “Because, you have no reason to lie to me, and no need to impress me.  Besides, I can see the sincerity in your eyes, Bryan. You just want someone to listen to you.”

“Do you think I will get better?” Bryan asked seriously. “Or is this going to be my existence for now on?”

Jeff almost couldn’t stand the sadness he saw in those eyes. He placed a hand on Bryan’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “You’re going to get better, Bryan. I believe that with my whole heart, and I am going to help you get better.  It isn’t going to happen overnight, or even in a week but it will happen. You have to have faith in that.”

“You’re not taking me to California to see another doctor are you?  Or to another hospital?”

“No more doctors, and no hospitals okay?”

“How long are we going to stay in California?” Bryan asked moving on to the next question. “Won’t you get in trouble for not being at work?”

“I’m not worried about that,” Jeff responded easily. “We’re going to stay in California for as long as it takes to get you better. Though I think we’re going to stop using that phrase.”

“Why is that, Jeff?”

Jeff pursed his lips. He knew he had to pick his words carefully here. “Because, getting better suggests that you are sick, and that’s really not the case here.  You aren’t sick, Bryan, and you aren’t crazy like the doctors would have you believe either.  You just have a lot of scars that need to heal and that’s why we are going to California.”

“And you really think my Dad can help with this?  I mean don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to him for getting me out of the hospital, but I still don’t trust him the way you do.”

“But you used to,” Jeff said checking to make sure Thomas wasn’t listening. “Your dad said that you guys were really close before last year.  He misses you Bryan, and he only wants what’s best for you.  That I can just about guarantee, but you aren’t expected to trust him over night either.  I know you feel betrayed by him.”

“I want the closeness back with my Dad,” Bryan said wistfully. “He was always the one who I could talk to and I trusted him-and I guess that’s why this is all so hard to understand.” He frowned and looked out the window for a moment before turning back to Jeff. “If he loved me, why did he send me away?  Why did he let them do all those terrible things to me?”

“I don’t know Bryan.  If you want my opinion, I’m beginning to think that he didn’t know what was going on with you.  He always told me you were in rehab.  Did you ever know your dad to be dishonest with you?  Before last year?”

“No,” Bryan said slowly. “Never, my dad is the most honest person I know.  He accepted me from the time I was an infant and has never treated me like I wasn’t his own flesh and blood.” Jeff watched as Bryan’s expression became thoughtful.  He thought it was a good sign that Bryan was trying to think about this.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to get him and Thomas to reunite. “Do you really think he didn’t know where I was?  I mean I saw the paper he signed giving them permission to do what they did to me.  Do you think my mom and Marshall tricked him or something like that?”

“That’s possible,” Jeff said frowning. “I still need to check into everything.  Your Dad has no idea what the Orr foundation is Bryan.  I could tell when I yelled at him about it.”

“You yelled at my dad?” Bryan asked the awe back in his voice. “Wow-I don’t even know-what to say to that.  Why did you yell at my dad?”

“Because I didn’t like the idea of someone sending you somewhere where you were hurt,” Jeff confessed. “Your dad told me you were in rehab.  I told you that remember, the day we met?  So when you kept saying that wasn’t where you were and then I saw how hurt you were, I snapped.  And my first instinct was to protect you.”

“You did that for me?” Bryan smiled, and Jeff thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. “No one has ever done that for me, Jeff. I-I’m very lucky to have you as a friend, and I’m so grateful you believe me.”  He frowned as something else occurred to him.  “Mom is going to be upset when she finds out.  I think Marshall will be angry too.  How is dad going to explain this, Jeff?  And how are we going to survive if we can’t work?” His frown deepened as he awaited his friend’s response.

“You know, I think this is the most I have heard you talk since I met you,” Jeff remarked with a smile. “Not that I am complaining or anything. “It’s just amazing…you just seem so comfortable right now.”

“I am comfortable with you, Jeff. That helps a lot,” Bryan admitted. “Knowing that you are looking out for me and just being away from Washington helps a lot too I think.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s like everybody is staring, and looking for me to make some kind of slip up and I hate that.  So tell me how you decided you wanted to be a director,” he said changing the subject abruptly. “I used to want to write novels, but now I can’t.”

“There’s no such thing as I can’t, Bryan,” Jeff insisted. “I’m going to help you write again, and don’t give me that look, I’m serious.  To answer your question though, I had this neighbor in Fort Leonard Wood who indulged my love for old movies and he had this video camera that he would let me play around with.  See he was a few years older than me, but we became friends, until he went to college.  I just like the idea of being able to tell a story and capture that story on film.  I tend to be a very visual person and I can imagine just about anything as a movie, or compare it to the old movies I used to watch.  I know that probably makes me sound like a dork.” He blushed slightly.

“You are not a dork, Jeff,” Bryan insisted. “I hope you’re correct about me being able to write again.  I miss writing very much.  That’s where I put all my thoughts and now it’s just like they are crammed in my brain.  Does that make sense?”

“Yeah it makes sense.  It’s like right now you have no release for those thoughts so they are stuck and you have a whole lot of them.”

“Exactly.  It’s like if I don’t get them all out, they might get lost again in my head.”

“Well in the meantime, until we can work on your writing you could talk.”

“Talk?” Bryan asked confused. “What do you mean?  Talk to you?  How will that help me get my writing back?”

“I mean if you need to get your thoughts out, you can talk to me,” Jeff explained. “When was the last time you were able to write?”

“Months ago,” Bryan admitted sadly. “It was like someone turned off a switch in my head and the thoughts and words just wouldn’t come anymore.  For weeks even forming single sentences was a challenge.  I think the shocks were what did that, but what I didn’t understand is why they needed to take my writing from me.  It was my one escape from the cold reality of where I was.”

“You seem to be okay with your words right now, and you aren’t stuttering, that’s a good sign I think.”

“Maybe,” Bryan agreed reluctantly. “I sure hope so.  I miss writing very much.  I wanted to write novels.  That is a dream I can remember from my childhood.  Jeff hid a smile as he listened to Bryan.  It was nice to see him excited about something. “Most of my memories of childhood are gone,” he said his voice suddenly growing wistful, “erased like they were never there.  I’m sorry Jeff; I didn’t mean to dump all this on you. I really want to know more about you and how you came to live with my parents.  Can you tell me about that?”

“I don’t mind listening to you, Bryan.  I have been waiting for you to feel comfortable talking to me.  I certainly wouldn’t tell you to stop.  There isn’t really that much to know about me, really.  I mean, I guess that depends on what you want to know.  Your mom offered me a place to stay.  She said she was looking for a boarder, and she really wanted me to take the job since Mrs. Wilkerson showed her my resume.  I was really glad that someone wanted to give me a chance, and I wanted out of Fort Leonard Wood so badly.”

“I find it hard to believe that there is not much to know about you, Jeff,” Bryan sighed.  “I’m glad you came to Washington and that you came to be with my parents.  I’m not sure I would have survived coming home had you not been there to help me.  I’m kind of tired,” he said after a moment’s pause, “would it be okay if I rested for a little while. I haven’t seen Jenni in years and I don’t want to fall on my face when I see her.”

“You may want to hold off on that,” Jeff smiled sadly.  “We’ve made it to Detroit, and we have to get off the plane.”

“Why?” Bryan asked, perplexed.

“We have a fifty-eight minute layover,” Jeff explained, just as the flight attendant imparted the same information.

“Oh.”  Bryan frowned and grew silent as they waited for the plane to descend into Detroit.  He followed his father, and Jeff off the plane, sticking close to his friend as the terminal grew crowded with people.  “Is-it going to be long before we can board again?” He questioned, his voice just above a whisper.

“We’ll be back on the plane in no time,” Jeff assured him.

Thomas gestured for them to follow them to their departing gate, and then slipped away, stating that he would return shortly.  Jeff led Bryan over to a set of seats where they settled down to wait for Thomas to return.

“Where do you think he went?” Bryan asked after a few minutes had passed with no sign of his father.

“He’s probably making sure we have enough money for this adventure,” Jeff guessed as he allowed his eyes to roam the crowd.

“Can’t that be traced?” Bryan asked skeptically.

Jeff looked at his friend and just nodded.  That was by far the most coherent thing Bryan had said thus far.  “Don’t worry, Bryan.  I’m sure your dad has it under control.”  He gave Bryan’s shoulder a squeeze before focusing his attention straight ahead.  By the time their flight was called Thomas had returned and Bryan was resting his head against Jeff’s shoulder.  He woke up just long enough for them to board the plane.  Once they were settled in their seats with their seatbelts fastened he promptly fell asleep once Jeff promised to wake him when they landed in California.

“How’s he doing,” Thomas asked drawing Jeff’s attention away from watching Bryan.

“I actually got him to talk a bit,” Jeff responded. “Actually I think that’s the most he’s ever said to me in one sitting.  I really think taking him out of the hospital was the best idea.”

“I hope you’re right Jeff.  I don’t think I could live with the knowledge that I endangered my son any more than he already has been.”

‘I’m sure of it, Sir,” Jeff asserted. “Bryan was very coherent just now and he and I had a conversation about several different things. He asked questions, he expressed excitement, he’s comfortable, and he really doesn’t want to go back to the hospital.  He doesn’t like them at all,” he frowned.  “You know, he even raised questions about our situation, which reminds me, ee really need to figure out what we’re doing here.  I think we may need a game plan before we land in L.A.”

“I agree,” Thomas said turning slightly in his seat. “I called Jennifer before we left Detroit to let her know I was coming, but she has no idea that you and Bryan are with me.  I figured the less she knew the better for all of us at this point.  Once we land in L.A I will call her and see if she has room for us at her place, or if we need to find a hotel.  I would prefer to be with her if we can.  I think she will have a calming effect on Bryan just like you do.”

“Will you still want me there if that happens?” he asked before he could stop himself. “I mean if Jenni will be able to help Bryan…” he left the question unasked and lowered his head.  He felt stupid for even asking the question.

He felt Thomas’ hand on his shoulder and looked up into concerned blue eyes. “Jeff, of course I still want you there.  You have become like a son to me.  I love you just as much as Bryan, Eddie and Alden.  I don’t think any of us, Jenni included, will be able to reach Bryan the way that you do.  He is still afraid of me, and Jenni knows next to nothing about what is going on.  Bryan needs you here, and so do I.  You have done nothing but try and mediate the distance between Bryan and I, and I know that if we are able to salvage our relationship at all, it will be because of you.”

Jeff didn’t know what to say to those words.  He wasn’t even sure which part of that to react to first.  The fact that Thomas loved him like a son was just amazing to him.  He wasn’t completely certain his own father felt that way and here was a man he had known for just a few months and he was loved.  That was a powerful thing, and he didn’t want to let Thomas down.  And he wanted to believe that Bryan would always need him; that really was a nice thought.

“Thank you, sir,” he said finally. “Those words mean more to me than I can ever truly describe.  I’m going to do my best to help Bryan, because I really do care about him.  I care about you too.”

Thomas squeezed Jeff’s shoulder before turning to face forward again. “We have to figure out all we can about the Orr foundation, and what they do.  I don’t want other parents’ to end up in the same situation we’re facing.  I am so angry about all that Bryan has been through, I just want to hunt the person responsible down and beat them to a pulp.”

“That might help you feel better, but it won’t help Bryan,” Jeff replied mildly. “I found out some disturbing things about that place and it makes me cringe just to think about it.  I haven’t had a chance to look anymore though, but I think it’s a de-gaying camp.”

“A de-gaying camp?” Thomas said incredulously.  Jeff cautioned him to lower his voice so that they didn’t alert Bryan and the rest of the plane to what they were discussing. “What is that supposed to mean exactly? You can’t change that part of a person even if you try.”

“You think I don’t know that,” Jeff whispered. “I’m just telling you what I saw.  And I was not very pleased to see it. “

“Oh my god,” Thomas exclaimed, and Jeff could see the wheels turning in his head. “You think that’s what happened to Bryan? You think they tried to strip him of his identity?  Jeff we have to find this place, and shut it down.”

“What we need to do, is concentrate on Bryan,” Jeff pointed out.  “Only he can tell us about this place.  My research is only circumspect and no one is going to take it as fact.  I’m surprised I even found it.  You would think that Orr would do a better job at hiding something like that.  Anyway,” Jeff said sighing. “Once we help Bryan, we can take what we know to the police and let them deal with Orr.  I want to help Bryan, that’s all I care about at the moment, and I know you feel the same way.”

Thomas sighed. “I know you’re right, Jeff.  I’m just so angry.  These people hurt my son; and took him away from me and his family, for a year of his life we can’t get back.  Look at my boy, so shattered and untrusting,” he frowned sadly.  “I hope that in time we can repair what is broken, but for now just getting Bryan back is all that matters.”  He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Once we get to L.A and get settled with Jenni then you can start working with Bryan to try and figure all this out.  I will get you whatever you need, do whatever you ask.  Just please Jeff help my son be whole again.”

“I think,” Jeff said slowly, “what we’ll need to do is get Bryan to realize that it’s okay to be who he is.  Then again, I wonder if he even knows what that means anymore.  I don’t know how to figure out what about him has changed, and what is still the Bryan you remember.  I also don’t think there will always be days like today, especially after we get to California.  Only time will tell though.  What are you going to do about Marianne?  Bryan asked while we were talking. Are you just going to completely disappear? Is that what we’re doing?”

“At the moment, we have no choice but to disappear completely,” Thomas admitted solemnly.  “What we’re doing is dangerous, Jeff, but I have to believe that in the long run it will be what is best for Bryan.”  They continued to talk quietly, while Bryan slept through the whole flight.  When the captain announced their impending arrival in L.A. Jeff nudged Bryan to let him know they were about to land.

Bryan opened his eyes and looked around for a moment trying to remember where he was. “Are you okay?” Jeff asked placing a hand on his shoulder to steady him.”

“I think so,” He replied. “When we get off of here, do you think we can get something to eat?  I haven’t eaten anything in days.  At least I feel that way.”

“It’s nice to see you haven’t lost your appetite,” Thomas commented softly.  Jeff held his breath waiting to see what Bryan’s reaction to that would be.  To his surprise Bryan looked at his dad and smiled sheepishly.  Jeff smiled too. This was in no way going to be simple, but if getting Bryan away from Washington produced moments such as that then it truly was worth it.


10. Chapter 10

 

 

Chapter 10

 

If you can pinpoint the exact moment that the world begin to shift, the minute that things changed irrevocably, the hour things stopped making sense, then you can claim to be a master at manipulating time. Time is a very precarious thing.  So much so that pinpointing seconds, minutes, hours of one’s life is only circumspect.  It only takes a moment for everything you have ever known to change.

 

The lights were off in the hospital room, and they took it to mean he was sleeping.  There was no sign of anyone sitting by his bedside, no glowing computer screen, and no head resting on the bar of the bed.  They were shocked to find the room empty, the machines silent, and no trace of their son anywhere in sight.  Had he been moved?  Was he already being prepped for surgery?  Had something happened that made it necessary to do so without telling them first?  The nurse on duty didn’t seem to know what was going on, and the doctor was inconspicuously missing.

“You’re Marshall Vasaar correct?” the nurse asked politely.

“Yes.”

“This was left for you,” she said handing him an envelope with his name printed on it.

Marshall took the missive, and thanked the woman before walking away from the front desk.

“What is it?” Marianne inquired as she watched him open the envelope.

Marshall took a seat in the waiting room, distracted momentarily from the search for his missing son.  Marianne sat beside him and together they read the note.

Dear Sir,

By the time you get this note I will be long gone.  I am respecting your wishes and pulling myself out of Bryan’s life.  Let Marianne know that I have resigned from my position at the station and I will never set foot in Washington again.  Do what you need to do to remove me from Bryan’s memory for I believe that would be best for him.  Don’t try to find me, and I will not try to contact Bryan, you have my word on that.  Take care of him, Marshall; he’s going to need you.

Sincerely,

Jeff.

“That is good news,” Marshall said folding the letter and placing it in his pocket.  “That boy can’t influence our son anymore.”

“But Bryan responded to him, Marshall.”

“Even he said Bryan would be better off without him, Marianne.  I thought we were in agreement on this.”

Marianne pursed her lips and nodded.  “I only want what’s best for Bryan.”

“Let’s go find our son,” Marshall said placing a hand on top of hers.

**

Marianne was starting to get worried when they couldn’t find him.  They checked radiology to see if maybe he had gone for more tests.  They checked the schedule for the O.R.  His surgery was scheduled for that next morning.  Everyone they asked didn’t seem to have any answers, until finally they caught up with Dr. Hamilton.

“I was just coming to find you two,” Dr. Hamilton commented.  “I thought you decided to go ahead with the surgery?”

“We did,” Marianne said looking at Marshall.  It’s on the schedule for tomorrow…we were just about to ask you if you have seen Bryan.  He’s not in his room, so we wondered if there were some last minute tests we didn’t’ know about.”

“Your son isn’t scheduled for a surgery tomorrow, Mrs. Dobbs.”

“What do you mean we just signed all the paper work,” Marshall snapped.

“He can’t be prepped for surgery if he is not here,” Dr. Hamilton explained.  “Your son is no longer in this hospital.

**

“Is Jenni meeting us here?” Bryan asked as the three men headed for the baggage claim area.  “And what are we going to do about clothes and everything?  I didn’t see any luggage.  Are we staying for a very long time or just a visit?”

“I think your dad needs to call your sister,” Jeff explained.  “But I must say, you ask a lot of questions.”

“I’m sorry,” Bryan frowned.  “Do you want me to stop?”

“No,” Jeff smiled sweetly,  “I like hearing you talk, and I love that you seem to be feeling better.”

“I think you have something to do with that, Jeff.  I feel better than I have in days…weeks.   But I know something is wrong with me…thank you for making me feel normal.”

“You boys find someplace to eat,” Thomas said interrupting their conversation.  He pulled out his wallet but Jeff shook his head.

“I’ll take care of the bill sir; you just give Jenni a call and meet us over at the Arrival Café.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Thomas said putting his wallet back in his pocket.  I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Bryan,” Jeff said resuming their conversation as they headed for the café.  ”As far as I am concerned you are normal.  Now what would you like to eat?”

“Whatever you have, I guess,” Bryan said frowning at the menu.  “What time is it anyway?”

“Well here,” Jeff said looking at his watch, “it’s just after midnight.  It’s actually after two back in St. Louis.  Go have a seat; I will get you something light, since you haven’t really been eating anything solid.”

“Okay,” Bryan said heading over to the table Jeff had pointed out.  Jeff watched him sit down and a frown crossed his features as Bryan folded his hands in front of him and looked around uncertainly.  It was anyone’s guess what he was looking for, but Jeff could sense that he was still scared.

He had to be called twice before he realized that it was his turn to place an order.  He dared to take his eyes off of Bryan for a moment, to order three sandwiches and three coffees, and water.  He paid for the food and turned to watch his friend as he waited for their order.

Thomas came in as he watched, and Bryan visibly jumped when the older man touched his shoulder.  Jeff could only assume that Thomas had asked about his whereabouts because Bryan turned and pointed straight at him.  Bryan was getting fidgety and Jeff deduced that it may be best to get their food and get out of there.  He was still watching Bryan and Thomas when his order was called.  He thanked the cashier and balanced the bag of sandwiches and the cup holder with the drinks as he made his way to the table.

 

“I’ll help with that,” Bryan said coming toward him.

“Whoa, Bryan, slow down,” Jeff cautioned as he handed Bryan the sandwiches so he could grab the cup holder.  The bag fell to the floor and Bryan bent down to pick it up.  “You okay?” Jeff asked as Bryan stood with the bag in his hands.

“I don’t like it in here,” Bryan said looking around again as if he were searching for something.  He clutched the bag tightly and Jeff was concerned that he may be smashing the food.

“Bryan,” he said placing the drinks on a nearby table, “easy,” he placed a hand on Bryan’s arm willing him to relax.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Thomas stand and come over toward them.  Thomas picked up the drinks while Jeff stayed focused on Bryan.  “No one’s going to harm you here okay?” Jeff whispered so only Bryan could hear.  “Just relax and take my hand, we’re going to get out of here.”

Bryan loosened his grip on the sandwiches and did as he was instructed.  He held tightly to Jeff’s hand as they followed Thomas out of the café.  He felt a little better once they were outside in the balmy California air.  Still he held tightly to Jeff’s hand as Thomas hailed a cab for them, and once again his friend assured him that he was going to be fine.  The adventure was continuing, and Bryan tried to keep that in mind as they climbed into the car.

He didn’t say much during the car ride.  He didn’t touch his food either.  His dad and Jeff ate, but he just looked out the window.  He was hungry, but he was too nervous to eat anything.  On one hand he was excited to see the sister he hadn’t seen in ages.  He missed her, and wondered how much had changed since he last saw her.  He knew he was different, and that was what scared him.  What would Jenni think of him? Would she even like him?  Would she want nothing to do with him, or think he was too weird?  There were so many what ifs, and he truly didn’t know if he was ready for them.

Jeff glanced at his friend and frowned.  He didn’t regret what they were doing, not one bit; however he was worried at how much stress this was putting on Bryan.  He didn’t have the heart to tell his friend that he was squeezing his hand just a little too hard.  Jeff didn’t mind, he could stand the pain if it gave Bryan some semblance of comfort.  He was worried too about where they were going.  He knew that Thomas didn’t foresee anything amiss about going to stay with Jenni, but Jeff still worried.  He didn’t want someone to take his place in Bryan’s world.  He liked being Bryan’s center and he really didn’t want that to change.

He knew it was selfish of him to think like that, after all coming to California was supposed to be about helping Bryan, that was it.  And if coming to see his sister was going to help, then Jeff would go along with it.  He figured he’d have to have a serious talk with Jenni though, so that she knew what she was getting herself into.

**

Bryan was still squeezing Jeff’s hand when they arrived in front of a sprawling ranch-style home.  Thomas paid the cabdriver as Jeff helped Bryan out the car.  Somehow he convinced Bryan to take a hold of his left hand for a moment, while he shook out the right one, attempting to get the blood flowing again.

“Sorry Jeff,” Bryan said frowning as he watched him.  “I guess I was holding on too tightly.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jeff sighed, kicking himself for allowing Bryan to see that.  “I’m fine; you just need to relax, okay?”

“I’m just scared,” Bryan admitted as they followed Thomas to the door.  “I don’t know what to expect.  Do you think I should let go of your hand?  Will she think that it’s weird that I want to hold on?” Bryan was sincerely worried about Jenni’s reaction to them, and Jeff didn’t know what to tell him.  He had no idea how Bryan’s sister would react.

“Let’s just wait and see,” Jeff said squeezing Bryan’s hand as Thomas knocked on the door.  A few minutes passed before footsteps could be heard coming to the door.  No sooner had the door opened then Bryan hid behind Jeff, peeking out like a kid hiding behind his father’s legs.  Jeff kept his gaze forward, taking in the sight of the petite girl with light brown hair.

“Oh you can’t hide from me, Bryan Dobbs,” the girl laughed as she went right around Jeff and pulled Bryan into a bear hug.  “Who gave you permission to grow taller than me,” she said when she pulled back to look at him.”

Jeff watched Bryan pull away completely and bow his head.  “I’m sorry,” he said, backing away until he was by Jeff’s side again.

“It’s okay Bryan,” Jeff tried to soothe.  “She’s not blaming you for anything, are you?” he looked pointedly at Jenni.  He was aware that his words sounded a lot harsher than he intended them to, but he was in defensive mode and Bryan’s feelings were all he cared about at the moment.

“No,” Jenni answered immediately.  “I’m not blaming Bryan at all.  Bryan,” she said focusing her eyes on her brother, “it has been so long since I last saw you and you have grown into a very handsome young man.  Do you think maybe your favorite big sister could have a hug?”

“I already gave you a hug,” Bryan said not budging from his spot beside Jeff.

“Maybe we should all head inside,” Thomas spoke up, ushering everyone in so they could close and lock Jenni’s door.

“Dad,” Jenni said turning to her father, “Maybe you better tell me what’s going on, and why Bryan is so scared to have me hug him.  And furthermore, who is the guy he is attached at the hip to?  I don’t think I have ever met him?”

“His name is Jeff,” Bryan announced, before retreating back into his shell.  “Sorry, you weren’t speaking to me.”

“Bryan, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Jenni said softly.  “I am just trying to figure out who he is, so I can welcome him properly.  No need to get upset.”

“He’s…he’s my friend,” Bryan said shyly.  “You will welcome him right Jenni?  I don’t think I can do this without him?”

“Of course Jeff is welcome here,” Jenni assured him.  “Any friend of yours is always welcome here.  Now why don’t we go into the living room where we can get comfortable and you guys can explain what’s going on and how I can help.”

“Is it really late here?” Bryan asked Jeff as they followed Jenni into the living room.  Jeff checked his watch and shook his head in answer to Bryan’s query.

“It’s just after 1 in the morning, Bryan.  Just an hour past when we got off the plane.”

“Oh, Okay,” Bryan said yawning.

“Come on, have a seat,” Jeff said pulling him over to the couch.  Bryan sat down and Jeff sat beside him.  Jenni sat in one of the chairs, while Thomas took the recliner.  “Is this going to take long,” Jeff asked.  “He’s tired and it’s been a long day.”

“You know what, Dad can fill me in on the basics, and then tomorrow morning, when we are all fresh, we can sit down and talk.   Bryan, how about I fix up my guest room for you and Jeff.  And dad,” she said turning her attention to her father, “We can work out your sleeping arrangements in a little bit.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Thomas agreed.  “I know Bryan is exhausted, and Jeff will take care of him.  Just tell them where to go, and then you and I can talk.”

“Just don’t talk about me,” Bryan said yawning again.  He let go of Jeff’s hand and rubbed his eyes, yawning once more.

“Someone’s still on Central time,” Jeff chuckled.  “Just tell me where everything is, Jenni, I don’t’ mind setting up and getting him to bed.”

“The linens on the bed are fresh so you won’t have to change those.  Let me get an extra blanket for you, and then you guys should be all set.  I hope you don’t mind sleeping in the same bed, but I only have the one guest room, sorry.”

“That’s alright,” Jeff said pulling Bryan to his feet.  “We’ll figure it out.  It was nice meeting you Jenni, have a good night.”   Bryan looked at Jenni over his shoulder as Jeff led him away, but he didn’t say anything.  He was still a little spooked.

Thomas frowned as he watched his son and Jeff walk away.  It was already obvious to him that this was going to be harder then he thought.  “So,” he said turning to Jenni, “how have you been?”

“Okay, Dad,” Jenni said facing her father head on.  “I’m good, things are going well here, but you didn’t bring Bryan and Jeff out here to see how I’m doing.”  She waited a beat before continuing.  “Tell me what’s going on, please.  I want to know what happened to my happy-go-lucky little brother, who now is hiding behind someone and won’t meet my eyes.”

“A lot has changed since you left, Jenni,” Thomas explained with a sigh.  “I’m not even sure where to start, but it’s needless to say that Bryan’s life has altered significantly, especially within the past year, and actually we’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with him.  He was away from us for a year, and originally, I thought he was in rehab, but it’s becoming quite apparent that wasn’t the case.  They wanted to do brain surgery on him back home, but his problem isn’t physical, and frankly, Jenni, I don’t think Bryan could handle another surgery and Jeff and I agreed that we couldn’t put him through that.”

“But Dad, what are you hoping to accomplish by bringing him to L.A?”

“This is the last place Marianne would think to look,” Thomas explained.  “Besides I thought you could be good for him, because you don’t have any expectations of how he should be acting.  And besides that I miss you…and I miss him.  I thought this trip could help us both.”

“I have missed you too,” Jenni admitted sadly.  “And I have to say that I don’t like the Bryan who came in here tonight.  That’s not my brother who came in here and I want him back.  I will do everything I can to help.  You’re so right; this is the last place Marianne will look for you.”

“Just don’t let Bryan hear you say that, okay?  I think you and Jeff are going to be the ones he trusts.  At least I am hoping he will be able to trust you.  Me not so much.  I’m still trying to understand what’s going on in my son’s head…he’s not the boy I raised anymore, and if Jeff is correct about where he was sent…then someone is going to have a lot of explaining to do.

“What do you mean by that, Dad?” Jenni asked a frown crossing her lips.  “Where has Bryan been and why doesn’t he trust you anymore?”

“I don’t know why he doesn’t’ trust me, but if Jeff’s reaction is any indication, my son believes that I sent him away.  As I already told you, I thought Bryan was in Rehab but there seems to be a whole cover up here, Jenni.  And that’s what Jeff and I are trying to figure out.  It would seem that Bryan sent letters telling us he wanted to come home…but these were letters we never got.  And the letters he received from me…”  Thomas trailed off and shook his head.  “It’s all a big mess.  Have you ever heard of the Orr foundation?”

“No, I don’t think so.  Who is this Orr person?  And more importantly what can I do to help?”

“There are a few things you can do actually,” Thomas said his expression thoughtful.  “In fact you are helping out a lot by offering us your home, so thank you.  Bryan is going to need all the help we can give him, so I am hoping that being around you will help some…though now I see he is as apprehensive around you as he was about girls back home.”

“Maybe it’s just because he’s tired,” Jenni suggested.  “After all it has been an eventful day.  Do you think being around Jeff is a help or a hindrance?”

“Jeff has been a godsend ever since Bryan came home,” Thomas explained.  “The fact that we are even here, and that Bryan spoke to you at all, is all thanks to Jeff.  We definitely don’t want to try to distance him from Jeff.”

“”Okay, Dad,” Jenni conceded.  “I’ll take your word for it, but I am going to watch him, and if he seems to not be helping I will call him on it.”

“Thanks Jenni.  Do you have any other questions for me?  Or can we talk more in the morning?”

“Oh gosh, Dad.  I am so sorry; I don’t know what I was thinking.  You must be exhausted; anything else can wait till morning.  Let me get you a blanket and you can sleep here on the couch tonight.  Tomorrow I will go and get a couple of inflatable mattresses for you and Jeff.”

Thomas pulled his daughter up and enveloped her in a tight bear hug.  “I’ve missed you so much,” he said pulling her away so he could look at her.  “Don’t worry about me, just go get some sleep…and we’ll talk tomorrow.  And thank you.”

“Dad, you know I love you right?  I have missed you too, and now I can see just how much I have missed with my brother, and that makes me very sad.  We’ll work this out, Dad. I promise.”

Thomas pulled his daughter in for another hug and held her there for a long moment.  He felt that he had made the right decision in bringing Bryan out here.  Maybe it would be a good move for all of them.  He pressed his lips against his daughter’s forehead and took her hands into his.  “I hope you’re right Jenni.  But either way, I want you to know I’m proud of you…now go to bed.  We have a lot of years to make up for, and we have to be able to help Bryan.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, dad.  I love you.”

Thomas watched his daughter walk toward her bedroom and he sighed.  For a moment his eyes wandered to the guest room, and he decided it wouldn’t hurt to check on the boys.  He quietly went over to the door and poked his head in, smiling at the sight before him.  His son was wrapped in the blanket while Jeff was lying on top of it.  Jeff was turned slightly with his arm wrapped around Bryan like a shield protecting him from harm.

**

It was dark when Bryan opened his eyes and felt a heavy weight against his chest.  His first instinct was to panic, but there was something almost familiar about the touch.  His eyes quickly adjusted to the light, as he tried to figure out where he was.  The shadows in the room didn’t look familiar.  He frowned and closed his eyes trying to return back to sleep.  It was safer there, and he could feel the fear creeping up, trying to overtake him.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” He muttered to himself, “Nothing to be afraid of.”  He wanted to believe that, but he didn’t know where he was.

The panic began when sleep wouldn’t claim him.  His eyes were closed but he wasn’t finding that comfortable void…there was just more darkness and that led to fear.  He didn’t know where he was, this bed wasn’t familiar to him at all and the shadows…they were strange…he didn’t like them.  He shifted in the bed, the heavy weight tightening around him causing him to struggle before he realized that it was Jeff.

“Jeff,” He called as he continued to shift.  His hands came up ready to push Jeff’s arm away, but at the same time he didn’t want Jeff too far from him.  “Jeff,” he called again, moving away from Jeff enough to shake him.  “Please Jeff, wake up.  Jeff!”

Jeff could hear the urgency in his friend’s voice and he opened his eyes.  He could barely make out his friend’s head as it moved from side to side, as if Bryan were trying to see something in the darkness.

“Jeff,” Bryan called again.  “JEFF!”

“Bryan, what’s wrong?” Jeff asked, trying to grab Bryan’s attention.  “I’m here.”

“Jeff,” Bryan called still looking around unseeing.

“Bryan, focus,” Jeff said moving so he was sitting up in the bed, his hands darting out to capture Bryan’s face.  “Calm down…I’m right here.”

“I don’t know where I am,” Bryan said once he managed to catch his breath.  “And why can’t I see you?”

“Shhh, Bryan it’s okay,” Jeff soothed.  Open your eyes and focus on me.  I’m right in front of you.”

Bryan let out a deep breath and opened his eyes, allowing them to focus on the dark figure before him.  “Oh good, you’re here.” He breathed.

“Yes, I’m here,” Jeff said softly.  “Now can you tell me what’s wrong?” Jeff allowed his hands to fall from Bryan’s cheeks, resting instead on his shoulders as he waited for a response.

“Where are we?” Bryan frowned.  “I don’t know where we are.”

“We’re at Jenni’s, Bryan.  Remember we got here late last night.  Your sister put us in the guest room so we could get some rest.  Its okay, Bryan.  You’re okay, and I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Bryan was looking at him blankly and he shook his head.  Something Jeff had said just didn’t make any sense to him.  “We’re at my sister’s house?” he asked, trying to understand what Jeff was saying.

“That’s right?”

“But, Jeff, my sister lives in California…and I haven’t seen her in years.  Why would we be at her house?”

“Your mom and Marshall want to allow the doctors to do brain surgery on you,” Jeff explained, “But your dad and I didn’t think that was in your best interest.  So we checked you out and brought you out here to spend some time with Jenni.  She was really happy to see you last night, and she wants to help you get better.”

Bryan heard the words but they still didn’t make much sense.  “I don’t want brain surgery.  I remember the doctor asking if he could fix my brain,” he said frowning.  That scared me, but I don’t remember the rest.  I don’t remember again.”

“Its okay, Bryan,” Jeff tried to soothe, even though he was starting to worry himself.  “Just relax.  Your dad and I aren’t going to let them anywhere near you to do that surgery.  I think with time and us working together, we can help you to be okay.  I need you to trust me, Jenni and your dad in order to do that though.”

“I…I do trust you, Jeff, but why can’t I remember?”

“I’m not sure why you can’t remember,” Jeff said honestly.  “But we are going to work together to figure it out.  We’ll help you recover your memory.”

“I’m sorry, Jeff,” Bryan sighed and put his head down.

“Why are you sorry, Bryan?” Jeff asked his tone full of patience.  “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“You left everything in Washington to come out here to help me,” Bryan explained.  What if you can’t figure out what’s wrong?  Then it was all for nothing.”

“No, Bryan,” Jeff shook his head.  “You and I are going to figure it out, together, and we will get you well.”

“Is Jenni nice,” Bryan asked switching gears.  He scrunched up his nose and shook his head.  “I should remember if my sister is nice.  Maybe I do need help,” he sighed.

“You haven’t seen your sister in many years from what I understand, so I don’t expect you to know whether she is nice or not,” Jeff retorted.  “She was very happy to see you when we got here last night.  We all just want to see you well, and as close to your old self as you can be.”

Bryan nodded as he allowed Jeff’s words to sink in.  He was trying to piece together the events of the past few days and there were things he needed to ask about.  “Jeff…can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Bryan.  You can ask me anything.”

Bryan bit his lip for a moment, trying to figure out the best way to approach the question.  “Did you…I mean did we,” he frowned.  “Did I kiss you or something?”

Jeff was startled by the question but he recovered quickly.  “I kissed you when you were in the hospital...just the one time.  We slept here in the same bed because Jenni only has one guest room.  Nothing happened, Bryan, we just slept and I will say that is the most restful sleep you have had in weeks.”

“Yeah?” Bryan asked his voice laced with awe.

“Yeah,” Jeff said a soft smile crossing his lips.  “You were so peaceful.  I could have slept on the floor, but I didn’t think you would mind if I slept on the bed.  Do you mind?  If you do, I will figure out other sleeping arrangements.”

“You slept with me before…I think,” Bryan said stretching his memory back as far as it would go.  “I like you being there.”

“Oh yeah?  Why do you think that is?”

Bryan frowned.  “Should I not like it?  I guess I shouldn’t.  I’m sorry, Jeff, I would try to sleep on my own but I…you are more um…you make me feel safe.”

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with you liking having another person in your bed,” Jeff assured him.  “I am glad that I make you feel safe.  I don’t want that to change.  I will keep you safe, Bryan, don’t ever doubt that.”

“I can’t ask you to do that, Jeff.  It doesn’t seem right.”

“You aren’t asking,” Jeff countered.  “As long as you need me I will be here.  If you need me to hold you, so you feel safe at night, then I will be there.  All you have to do is ask.”

“That’s so confusing.”

“Why is that,” Jeff inquired.

Bryan shrugged.  “Just something I learned.  His frown deepened as Jeff’s words waged war with what he had been taught while he was away.

“Bryan,” Jeff’s voice intruded on his thoughts, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help or comfort.  Who taught you that?”

Bryan shook his head, a pained expression crossing his face.  “You can’t send me back there, Jeff.  It hurts there.”

“I’m not sending you back anywhere, Bryan,” Jeff soothed.  “Not the foundation, not even back to Washington.  I will protect you.  That I promise you.  If you need me to hold you, or comfort you in any way all you have to do is ask.”  He paused for a moment, wondering just how honest he should be.  “I like holding you; it makes me feel like I am doing a little something to take away your pain.”

Bryan frowned.  “Maybe you can help me then,” he said thoughtfully.  “I…I need to work on being what my dad wants…I have to be straight, but I’ve tried to pull that off and I don’t know if I can.  And it’s not fair, because…I don’t know how to feel anymore.  But you make me want to…feel I mean.  I think that confuses me too.”

Jeff wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that.  He knew he needed to help Bryan understand…but where to start?  Everything Bryan was saying made him even angrier about the foundation and he couldn’t wait to continue his research about it.  “Bryan,” he said finally, making sure his friend was focused on him, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling what you are feeling.  Your dad doesn’t care whether you are straight or gay.”

“How do you know that for sure?” Bryan protested.”

“I know that for a fact, Bryan,” Jeff said pressing a finger to Bryan’s lips.  “He took me in and treated me like his own son, and he knew right up front that I was gay.  I don’t want you to be confused, but just know there is nothing at all wrong with having feelings for me.”

Bryan shook his head.  “I don’t know what those feelings are though,” he said the frustration clear in his voice.  “And if I try to think about them, then it’s going to hurt me.”  He looked around then, needing to make sure they were truly alone before he spoke again.  “If they even think I’m looking at guys again, then they will come and teach me a lesson.  They’ve done that before…a few times, especially when they isolated me.”  He frowned.  “I think it’s supposed to make it painful, so you won’t want to do it….”  He scrunched his nose and covered his mouth as he realized he was running off his mouth yet again.

Jeff reached up and pulled Bryan’s hands away from his mouth and held them tightly as he spoke.  “Don’t be afraid to say what you are thinking, Bryan.  No one here is going to punish you for saying what’s on your mind, or how you feel.  I don’t know who these people are that hurt you that way, but if I ever get my hands on them they will be very, very sorry they ever touched you.”

It was hard to tell who was more startled by the movements that followed.  Their fingers untangled, and their arms; Jeff’s wrapped around Bryan’s waist, and Bryan’s twined around Jeff’s neck and he buried his head in his shoulder, holding on tightly.

**

Marshall stood with his jaw set as he watched Marianne make phone calls.  She was on her third, and he was growing slightly annoyed with every negative response they received.  It seemed that Bryan had been checked out of the hospital by Thomas…but that was all they knew.  The man had seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.  His own mother didn’t seem to know where he was.  Marianne had called Alden and Meg as well, but neither of them knew where Thomas could have gone.  Marianne was running out of options, and Marshall was running out of patience.

“Well?” he asked as Marianne hung up her phone once more.

“Iva hasn’t seen or heard from Thomas in a while,” she said with a sigh.  “She said if she hears from him she will let us know.”

“This is unacceptable, Marianne.  How does someone just disappear?”

“I don’t know, Marshall, but stop snapping at me.  I’m just as worried as you are about Bryan.  But I’m certain he is okay with Thomas…wherever he is.”

“Our son needs to have surgery…and he is in serious danger with that fool of a husband of yours,” Marshall charged.  “Colton is not safe with that man.  Your husband may have just killed him.”

“Don’t say that,” Marianne said tears filling her eyes.  “Thomas wouldn’t let any harm come to Bryan, Marshall.”

“He already did when he took him out of the hospital, Marianne.  We have to find him…and fast.  This surgery was the best chance to save him, what was Thomas thinking.”

Marianne frowned, she was frustrated and sad...her baby boy, her first born was missing, and the last thing she felt like doing was placing blame.  “I don’t think Thomas would hurt Bryan Marshall.  He loves that boy; he has loved Bryan since the day he was born.  We should have listened to him, and paid more attention to his fears.  Thomas is just trying to protect Bryan in his own way.”

“By taking him out of the hospital when he is sick?”

“He’s not sick, Marshall,” Marianne protested.  “I’m not convinced that there is anything wrong with my baby.  Nothing besides what we caused by sending him to that place.”

“Shhh, keep your voice down, Marianne.  You agreed that I had made the right decision on that, and you were all aboard.”

“I know,” Marianne said her frown deepening.  “I know this is just so messed up, Marshall.  I think we made a mistake.”

Marshall pulled Marianne into his arms and tried to comfort her.  “We will find Colton, Marianne and we will make sure he is well.  We have to wait 24 hours before we can declare him missing…and that might prove difficult since Thomas has legal right to him.  I will figure out something.  Did you give your mother a call?  Maybe she has seen or hears from Thomas?”

Marianne pulled away and pulled out her phone to dial Brianna’s number.  In her mind she was thinking it was a lost cause.  A mother always knows when something is wrong with her child…and she could feel in her gut that she wasn’t ever going to see her precious boy again.  And if that was the case…then it was her fault, and she knew that too.

**

He was quiet as he moved toward the kitchen.  His dad was sleeping on the couch, and the other bedroom door was still closed.  He assumed that room belonged to Jenni, and she was still sleeping too.  Jeff was looking something up on the computer, so he was left to his own devices at the moment. 

He took a moment to look through the cupboard until he found a glass and made his way to the refrigerator.  He smiled when he found a carton of orange juice toward the back.  That would work just fine.  His eyes glanced over the contents of the fridge as he grabbed the carton and balanced the glass in his hand while opening the carton.  Finally he was set to pour the juice into the glass.  He felt a sense of triumph having conquered the task on his own.

“Hey Bryan, what are you up to.”

The glass and the carton fell to the ground as Bryan jumped at the sound of the voice.  He heard the glass shatter on the floor and the sticky juice splashed on his feet as he turned to see his sister standing behind him.  “Um,” he said moving away from the mess so he could close the refrigerator door.  “I’m sorry, Jenni, I was just trying to get some juice and now I’ve made a mess.  I’ll clean it up if you just tell me where the paper towels are.”

“Bryan, stop,” Jenni said softly.  “It’s okay.  It’s just a little juice.  No big deal.”

“Oh, okay,” Bryan said, though he was still uncertain about her response.

“Are you okay, sweetie?  I didn’t mean to scare you.  I just saw you standing there looking so happy with yourself, I wondered what you were up to,” Jenni explained.  “It was the same look you used to have as a kid when you had figured out a way to get what you wanted.”

“Oh,” Bryan said, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck.  “I was just glad I got the carton open, and managed to balance the glass at the same time.”

“Be careful there, Little brother,” Jenni warned.  “Let me get the brook to sweep up the broken glass.  I don’t want you to get cut.”  Bryan watched as she made quick work of the glass and the juice and discarded both glass and napkins into the trash.  “There, now all better.  Why don’t you grab a stool at the bar, and I will get you a glass of juice.  Then you can tell me what you want for breakfast.”

Bryan pulled out a stool and took a seat, watching as his sister poured a fresh glass of orange juice and placed it in front of him.  He didn’t really know what he wanted for breakfast.  Jeff had told him he wasn’t really eating solid foods yet, so he wasn’t certain how his stomach would react to food.  He didn’t even touch the sandwich Jeff had purchased.  “Well,” he said as he thought about it.  “I think eggs would be okay.  Jeff said I needed to eat something light.  And I need to take my medicine.”

“Eggs it is then,” Jenni said jumping off her stool.  “I will add some fruit on the side for you to nibble on, and some toast too.”  As she spoke she moved around the kitchen, getting the eggs out of the fridge and the frying pan from beneath the sink.  She pulled out the fruit, a large knife and some bread as well.  “Do you have your medicine with you?  What are you taking medication for?  Dad didn’t go into a lot of details last night.  He only said you guys needed a place to stay and help you get well.  What’s wrong little brother?  I want to help you get well too.”

“Well,” Bryan said trying to choose his words carefully.  “I…I have to take medicine for my kidney transplant, and I think Jeff put it in his bag.  As for what’s wrong with me.  I don’t really think I could explain that very well.  Jeff said I just needed to get out of the hospital, and he is probably right because I don’t like them.  And my brain is just a little confused on things.”

“Oh Bryan, it’s alright, sorry about that,” Jenni frowned.  “I didn’t mean to overwhelm you.  I’m just glad you are here and I get to spend some time with you and Dad.  I have really missed you guys.  So you are not sure what is going on that Dad checked you out of the hospital and brought you out here?”

“Jeff said that they wanted to get me away from the hospital, because mom and Marshall wanted them to operate on me.”  As he explained Jenni placed a plate of eggs in front of him.  He picked up his fork and took a bite and swallowed before continuing.  “The doctor told me he wanted to fix my brain, but I didn’t want them to cut me open again.  Jeff said that Mom and Marshall were going to go through with the procedure anyway so he and Dad brought me out here to figure out how to help me.  Jeff is always on his computer looking up stuff, and that’s what he’s doing now actually.  He had to explain what happened yesterday because I didn’t remember when I woke up.”

“Tell me about Jeff,” Jenni inquired as she ate her own eggs.  “You seem pretty dependent on him for a lot of things.  Has he hurt you in any way?”

Bryan frowned as he continued to eat his eggs.  He wasn’t sure why Jenni would ask him something like that.  “Jeff is my best friend,” He said a smile crossing his face.  “He was living with my parents when I came home in July and he’s been nothing but nice to me since I met him.  I don’t know what I would have done the past few weeks without Jeff here to help me.”

“Sorry Bryan, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Jenni sighed.  “It’s just that I am not used to seeing you so dependent on someone else.  Everything you have said is “Jeff Says” and that just really scares me.  It’s like you don’t know anything other than what Jeff tells you.  How can you be sure that Jeff is telling you the truth?”

“Jeff is the only person who hasn’t lied to me,” Bryan insisted, even as he frowned again.  Was he really too dependent on Jeff?  Did Jeff mind that?  Should he back off a little bit…and give Jeff space to breathe?  He wasn’t sure if he could do that, but if it needed to be done…he’d have to ask Jeff about it.  “Do you think I am too dependent on Jeff?”

“Oh sweetie, that’s not at all what I think.  I’m just not used to you not knowing what’s going on, and it kind of threw me,” she explained.  “Jeff has been very respectful since he got here, and until he gives me a reason not to trust him, I will go with whatever you and Dad say.  But mind you, I will be watching and if I see or hear something I don’t like I will tell you and call him on it.”

Bryan nodded and focused on his breakfast.  He would talk to Jeff later; he didn’t want to do anything that would make Jeff mad at him.  “I’ll try to be better about that, Jenni.  I’m sorry.”  He pushed his plate away and slid off the stool.  “Thank you for the breakfast.  I think I’m going to go back to my room now.”  He heard his sister call his name but he didn’t turn around.  He kept his head lowered and went back to the room where Jeff was still working on his computer.  He sat down on the bed and watched his friend work.  Jeff seemed to be really concentrating on something and Bryan frowned when he didn’t lift his head even to acknowledge his presence.  Bryan was curious to know what Jeff was looking up, but he didn’t want to ask.  It probably wasn’t polite, nor was it any of Bryan’s business.  And that was if Jeff would even tell him.

Jenni’s words worried him, and the more he thought about it the more he figured he probably was doing something wrong.  He did lean on Jeff quite heavily…did he mind that…and he just didn’t want to say?  Would Jenni try to send Jeff away unless he tried to distance himself some?  That thought didn’t make Bryan very happy.  What if Jenni was right and Jeff wasn’t telling the truth at all.  What if he left?

“Jeff, please say you won’t leave,” he said breaking the silence and startling his friend who finally looked up from the computer screen.  “You said you weren’t going to go anywhere…right?  You weren’t kidding about that were you?”

“Bryan,” Jeff said putting the computer aside and focusing on his friend.  “What happened?  I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere unless you tell me to.”

“But I don’t’ want you to go,” Bryan said sadly.  “I want you to stay, but you won’t because you think I’m too dependent on you and I’m sorry for that.  I don’t mean to be, I swear. And if you need me to back off just say so, because I don’t want to do something that would make me lose my best friend, because I don’t think I could deal with that at all and I can’t do this by myself, Jeff…I can’t.”

“Bryan, calm down,” Jeff said reaching out to touch Bryan’s shoulders.  His friend moved out of his grasp which made him frown.  “I don’t think you are too dependent on me…what gave you that idea?  I care about you, Bryan, if it ever gets to be too much I will tell you. I promise, but I don’t think it will ever get to that point.  I would never leave you to do this on your own.”

“Are you sure,” Bryan asked his eyes wide as he looked at his friend.  “I don’t’ want to do something that will make you mad at me, Jeff.  You...you help me remember things, and you show me how to do things, but that’s not bad.”  He sighed.  “I’m sorry, I know I probably sound like a little kid and I should start acting my age but don’t’ you see you are like my whole world right now and I don’t understand anything else except that I want you here…and I want you to help me, because I know I can trust you even if Jenni is worried that I can’t.”

“What do you mean Jenni said you can’t trust me.”  Jeff’s voice caused Bryan to start and he grabbed a hold of the blanket as he watched Jeff.  “Who the hell does she think she is?  I am the one who has been by your side making sure you get what you need, not letting those stupid doctors cut on you when you don’t need it.  Where does she get off saying that I can’t be trusted? I am going to go have a little chat with your sister.  Why don’t you stay here and rest, I will be back in just a bit okay.”

“I’m sorry, Jeff.”

“Don’t worry, though I can already see that you are, Bryan,” Jeff said touching his friend’s cheek.  “I’m not mad at you, Bryan.  I’m just a little upset at your sister.  Maybe coming here wasn’t the best option.”

Jeff gave Bryan’s shoulder another squeeze before heading out the room in search for Jenni.  “What did you say to him?” he asked when he finally found her in the kitchen.

“Excuse me?”

“To Bryan,” Jeff clarified.  “What did you say to him to get him all worked up and upset?”

“Look, Jeff,” Jenni said placing the dish rag on the counter, “Bryan is my brother and I love him.  I am worried about him.  The young man who had breakfast with me this morning is not my little brother.  He is scared of his own shadow and afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.  In the span of 10 minutes I heard “Jeff says” at least a dozen times.  I asked him about you, and why he feels so dependent on you.  I didn’t mean to upset him.  I’m just trying to figure all of this out.”

“Well you did,” Jeff snapped.  He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.  “Look. Bryan has been through a lot since he came home, and we just learned that between July of last year and July of this year he was in a place that wasn’t treating him very well.  They messed with his brain, and we’re still trying to work out how to help fix the damage that was caused.  What that means is that right now anything you say to him you have to be very careful how you put it.  Otherwise he picks up on one word and starts to think that he’s doing something wrong.  He’s very fragile right now and you can’t just go telling him that’s too dependent on me.  Right now I’m the only one he trusts, and if he feels like you are a threat to that he won’t trust you.”

“What do you mean they didn’t treat him well?” Jenni asked frowning.  “Where was he?  And I’m not trying to be anything but the best sister I can be to Bryan.  I love him.”  Jeff could tell that she was sincere, but it didn’t stop him from narrowing his eyes and crossing his arms.  He couldn’t let her off the hook completely…he had to look out for Bryan.  “I would never, ever hurt him,” Jenni7 continued.  “You have to understand, Jeff that I don’t know you or anything about you, and for Bryan to be so dependent on you or anyone else is not healthy.  I hope that you understand that I want to do everything I can to help my brother, but I won’t let you or anyone else tell me not to interfere.  That is where I draw the line in the sand.  So don’t think even for a minute that if I see something I don’t like I won’t open my mouth and say so.  Are we clear, Jeff?  I don’t know anything at all about you.  To me you are a complete stranger who seems to know more about my brother than even he does.”

“If you want to know about me then ask me, Jenni,” Jeff railed.  “I would be more than happy to tell you about my life, all of it if it would make you feel better.  But don’t you dare stand there and threaten me when it comes to Bryan.  I have done nothing but care for him ever since I met him, and if you must know he is my best friend and I care deeply for him.  I am the one who has been helping him.  It was me who sat by his bedside and held his hand in the hospital when he had to go through the tests, and it’s me who is able to get him to calm down when he’s freaked out.  Me, Jenni, and whether you want to realize it or not I happen to care about Bryan too, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to him.  But when you tell him he’s too dependent on me, it makes him think he did something wrong, so I’m telling you to stop doing that.”

“I just don’t want to see my brother dependent on anyone, not you, not me not Dad,” Jenni insisted.  “That’s not Bryan.  Bryan is the happy go lucky one that everyone loves.  He makes everyone smile and loves unconditionally.  I don’t know what happened to him, and I am very upset that he has had to go through all of this.  I am trying to do the right thing here, Jeff.  I wasn’t trying to turn Bryan against you.  I just need to know that you are the right one to be helping him.  I love my brother, and if you can’t see that, then you are blinder then I thought.”

“You sure have a funny way of showing it,” Jeff retorted.

“I want my brother back, and how am I to know that you won’t fill him full of lies about me to make yourself look better and keep him depending on you, instead of standing on his own two feet.”

“Are you kidding me?” Jeff said incredulously.  Neither of them heard a third person enter the room, as they were focusing completely on each other.  “You really think I am out to hurt Bryan?  Would I have convinced him that you were a nice person if I was really out to harm him?  Would I had sat with him this morning when he woke up not knowing where we were if I had a hidden agenda.  I get that you love your brother but maybe you don’t understand me.  I CARE ABOUT HIM TOO, and the minute you start to get that through your head the better off we will be.  For the record I want Bryan to stand on his own two feet.  I want him to be okay, and I want him to feel like he is in control of what happens.  Bryan wants me here, and I won’t leave him.”

“You can’t leave, Jeff,” Bryan said startling both Jeff and Jenni with his presence.  He came over quickly and stood beside Jeff grabbing a hold of his arm.  “Jeff has no reason to lie to me,” He said facing his sister head on.  “He is the one who told me you were nice, and he said you wanted to help me.  But yelling at Jeff is not going to help.”

“Bryan you have to understand that I know nothing about Jeff,” Jenni tried to explain to her brother.  “To me it looks like he is telling you what he wants you to know and I am just trying to make sure that he is not going to completely alienate you from your family. I do want to help you and I respect that you are leaning on Jeff, but don't you think maybe you could lean on me too?”

“He hasn’t alienated me from the family, Jenni,” Bryan said frowning.  “It’s not Jeff’s fault I don’t trust anyone.  I’ve just been through a lot and it has been family that put me through it.  I…I don’t even trust dad, but Jeff has been trying to help me with that.  And if you want me to trust you then you have to trust me.  If you don’t I will leave, and then you’ll never be able to find me.”

:”Bryan, stop that.”

“I’m serious, Jeff,” Bryan said turning to face his best friend.  “If Jenni won’t let me be close to you then I don’t want to be here.  I thought you were taking me somewhere where people didn’t want to hurt me anymore.”

Jeff sighed and glared at Jenni momentarily before facing Bryan.  He placed his hands on Bryan’s cheeks and pressed their foreheads together.  Thomas entered the kitchen at that moment and came to stand by his daughter while Jeff spoke.  “No one is going to hurt you as long as I am here, Bryan.  Do you understand that?”

Bryan nodded and bit his lip.”

“Good.  And you know that I am not going to let anyone take advantage of you, nor will I take advantage of you…right?”

“But, Jenni,” Bryan started.  He was stopped by Jeff’s lips brushing against his softly.

“Jenni only wants what is best for you, Bryan; she cares about you, just like I do.”

“And Dad?”

“Yes, your dad too.  We all care about you, and we only want what’s best.  And you can’t run away from me…okay?  I couldn’t stand that, and I know you don’t want to make me sad, right.”

“No I don’t want to make you sad,” he said pulling away so he could look into Jeff’s eyes.  “You aren’t mad at me are you?”

“No Bryan, not mad.  And I’m not leaving,” Jeff added before Bryan could voice his next question.  “I told you I’d be here for you and I’m going to stick to that.  Remember what I told you earlier?”

“Yeah, I actually remember that,” Bryan said smiling.

“Okay, good,” Jeff said smiling as he pulled Bryan close one more time.  “I’m going to take care of you, okay?  Always.”

Bryan impulsively wrapped his arms around Jeff and ducked his head into his shoulder.  He held on tight, and Jeff completed the hug, resting his chin in Bryan’s soft blond hair.

Thomas placed a hand on Jenni’s shoulder and motioned for her to take a seat at the bar.  He then walked over to Jeff and placed a hand on his shoulder as well.  Jeff pulled away from Bryan and led him over to an empty stool.  They took their seats, but Bryan refused to let go of Jeff’s hand.  Thomas sat and looked around at them as they waited to see what he had to say.

“Can someone tell me what’s going on in here?” he asked facing his daughter first.  “I could hear you guys screaming…is everything okay?”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Jenni sighed.  “This is all my fault.  I upset Bryan this morning when we were having breakfast, because I questioned his dependency on Jeff.  It just felt wrong to me, so I said something and Bryan got up and left and went to find Jeff, I assume.  Jeff came in here to confront me about it and things escalated from there.”

“Actually, Bryan just came back to the room and sat down,” Jeff corrected.  “I’m not really sure how long he was sitting there before he actually spoke to me and told me not to leave him.”

“I think it was an hour later or something,” Bryan piped up, trying to help.  “It’s my fault, Dad.  I didn’t mean to make Jeff and Jenni mad at each other.  I was just afraid she would make Jeff leave.”

“IT’s my fault, sir,” Jeff said sighing.  “I was just angry because Bryan was upset and it took me a little time to calm him down and convince him I wasn’t going anywhere.  I know Jenni didn’t mean any harm but Bryan is my first priority.”

“See, Jenni,” Bryan said smiling.  “He does care about me.”

“I can see that, Bryan,” Jenni admitted softly.  “I’m very sorry Jeff.  I love my brother very much, and I am not used to the Bryan that is sitting here with us right now.  Can we work together to help Bryan get better?  I will work with you, if you are willing to work with me.”

“Just remember that the Bryan you know is still here,” Jeff said squeezing his best friend’s hand.  “He just needs to know that he’s allowed to come out.”  A soft smile crossed his lips as Bryan gave him a bewildered look.  It seemed his best friend had caught the double meaning of the statement.  “I will work with you, Jenni…and I am sorry.  I know you care about Bryan too.”

“As do I,” Thomas agreed.  And I know we actually need to tell you what’s going on, Jenni.  I’m sure Jeff can fill you in on all he has found out.  For now you and I have to follow Jeff’s lead…okay?  He’s the one Bryan listens to.”

“I understand, Dad,” Jenni nodded as she watched her brother and Jeff interact.  “Jeff, Bryan, I’m so sorry for reacting the way I did.  I will do whatever you need me to do to help Bryan get better and come back to us.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself here Bryan.  I love you and will never judge you.”

“Okay,” Bryan said shyly as he rested his head on Jeff’s shoulder.  Jeff placed an arm around him and looked at Thomas and Jenni.  “I think he’s had enough excitement already, so I will take him to our room so he can rest.  Did you take your medicine?” he asked Bryan.

“No, it’s in your bag, I think,” Bryan said frowning against Jeff’s shoulder.

“Okay, go wait for me in the room, and I will get some juice so you can take it.”

Bryan slipped off the stool and headed out the room without another word.  Jeff watched him leave and then turned to face Jenni and Thomas.  “I’m going to go make sure he takes his medicine, and then I want to talk to you guys…so I’ll be back.”

“I’m just trying to understand, Dad,” Jenni was saying when Jeff returned to the kitchen.  “So, Jeff is gay and Bryan is gay…but Bryan was sent to some place that wanted to make him straight?  That sounds like something right out of a science fiction novel or something.”

“Unfortunately it’s all too real to be fiction,” Jeff stated as he reclaimed his seat.  “From everything Bryan has told me over the past few weeks and all the information I found online…we’re actually very lucky that Bryan can be helped.”

“Is it that bad, Jeff?” Thomas asked frowning.  “I know you were looking into the Orr foundation.  What else did you find out about it?”

“I was online this morning actually, and this Orr guy is indeed very slick.  On the home page it appears to be a simple camp for teenagers.  There are pictures of kids swimming and going boating and there are even horses.  Everything needed to make the place look appealing and fun.”

“But, I don’t get it,” Jenni said shaking her head.  “Why was Bryan sent there?  And who sent him there?  Why would someone want to change Bryan?  And why doesn’t he trust Dad?  Dad you and Bryan were always close…I just don’t understand any of this.”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, Jenni,” Jeff intoned.  “We want to answer all your questions, and our own questions.  And we have to do that first before we can fully help Bryan.  In the meantime I can urge him to trust you both, but just understand that it’s not as easy as it sounds.  And there will be setbacks.”

“What kind of setbacks?” Jenni asked frowning.

Jeff turned to Thomas for a moment but his words were directed at both of them.  “Bryan doesn’t remember much after Doctor Hamilton told him he wanted to fix his brain.”

“You mean he doesn’t’ remember the plane ride or the time he spent in the Arrival Café?” Thomas inquired.

“I think he remembers our conversation,” Jeff clarified.  “I mean he recalls me telling him that I wouldn’t take him somewhere where someone would hurt him.  He doesn’t remember the events though…he was very disoriented when he woke up this morning and didn’t remember where we were.”

‘Are you sure we shouldn’t take him to a doctor?” Jenni asked her voice laced with concern.  “We should really have him looked at, if he was supposed to have surgery.”

“That’s that last thing we need to do,” Jeff shook his head vehemently.  “Bryan would feel so betrayed if we took him to a doctor or a hospital right now.  Even talking about it is a risk, because believe me he hears us even when we think he can’t.  Right now he’s sleeping so we can talk…but don’t mention doctors to him.  He has not had good experiences with them, especially not at the Orr foundation, or the last time he was in the hospital.”

“The last time”” Jenni asked.  “You mean just before you guys came here?  I thought the doctors at Memorial were pretty great…isn’t Bob still there?”

“Yes, Bob is still around Jenni.  But what Jeff is talking about is a different hospital stay.  Apparently Bryan was in the hospital prior to him coming home to us.  Jeff hasn’t been able to learn too much about that yet.”

“Except that I know the doctors must have done something to him there too” Jeff said frowning.  “Bryan just hasn’t had the best time…but I think together we can help him.”

“How”” Jenni asked, looking between her dad and Jeff.  “How do we make my little brother normal again?”

“Let’s start by not letting hear you say that,” Jeff pointed out.  “Bryan feels weird enough on his own without us adding to it by saying he’s not normal.  He’s still Bryan…we just have to help him with some things.  And hopefully help him get his writing ability back.  The electroshock therapy played havoc on his cognitive functions.”

“Why are you doing this?” Jenni asked.  “I mean what do you have to gain from helping my little brother?  As you said yourself you don’t even know him.”

“Because, I…” Jeff started and stopped as he realized what he was about to say.  The words were on the tip of his tongue and he couldn’t believe he was about to admit them here.  He wasn’t even truly sure that he knew what it all meant, except that he knew it was true.  The feelings he had, the sense of protectiveness he felt, and the genuine fear in his heart every time something happened to Bryan.  He felt Bryan’s pain and he lived to see the smile that was so rare these days.  The sparkle in Bryan’s green flecked brown eyes sent him into a tailspin and there really wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do…and he couldn’t live without him.  There really was no denying it…even if he couldn’t admit it to Bryan.

He was in love.

“Jeff?” Thomas asked catching Jeff’s attention.  He looked at Thomas for a moment before allowing his gaze to rest on Jenni who had posed the question.

“I love him,” he said putting a voice to his thoughts.  “I’m in love with Bryan.”

“Jeff don’t say that if you don’t mean it,” Thomas said seriously.  “Bryan needs us to be focused and if this is going to make you not able to focus then maybe we need to take a step back.”

“No sir,” Jeff said shaking his head.  “I’m more focused then I have been about anything in my life.  I know what I’m feeling and I know how to help Bryan.  We don’t need to take a step back, I can swear to that.  I am completely devoted to your son and I’m going to help him.”

It only takes a moment for everything to change.  One second in time for the world to shift on its axis and one minute for life to alter its course.  Sometimes that change can be dangerous.  It could lead to a world of trouble, and no guarantees of coming out unscathed.  Other times it can be a welcome thing, with one simple admission.  When love is realized, the change it brings is full of warmth and comfort.


11. Chapter 11

 

A promise is nothing if it can’t be kept.  Promises made are done from the heart, and the emotions that go with them should not be taken lightly.  That’s why it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into when you give your word.  An oath, once taken, is hard to break; a vow, once given, strengthens bonds and builds relationships.  Sometimes it ends up being a give and take, and sometimes it needs to be restated, and the recipient of that promise needs to be assured that you are doing everything in your power to keep it.  It’s not always easy, or as simplistic as it sounds, but broken promises can hurt just as much as a broken heart.

He didn’t know how he was going to accomplish it, he just knew it needed to be done.  He had no clue how to succeed, or which direction to turn but he knew he needed to figure it out.  And he would, for Bryan’s sake.  Jeff’s sole purpose was to take care of the man who had captured his heart.  He wanted to love him.  And in order for him to do that he needed to help him regain his sense of self.  Truthfully that wasn’t exactly right.  He loved Bryan because he was Bryan…it wasn’t as if he needed Bryan to be different so he could love him.  That wasn’t even a question anymore.  No, he wanted Bryan to feel like himself again.  He could sense that his best friend was not happy even though he tried to be.  He was determined to make that happiness a reality and not just a glimpse seen here and there.

He had thought about this a lot in the past few days.  It was becoming quite routine for him to be sitting in the room he shared with Bryan; his laptop on his lap, his eyes focused on Bryan’s sleeping form instead of the screen in front of him.  He couldn’t help but stare at the man.  The blond hair that always fell in his eyes.  The boyish face that flittered through emotions in a blink of an eye.  Jeff had already calculated that Bryan’s expression changed at least ten times in his sleep.

That fascinated him, but it worried him as well.  He hated the thought of Bryan having bad dreams, and wished there was something he could do about them.

Not for the first time he returned his focus on the computer screen.  In the last few days he had made some headway in his investigation of the Orr Foundation.  He wanted to get a concrete idea of what he was dealing with before he mentioned it to Jenni and Thomas.  He needed their help with this, especially Jenni’s since she would need to be a liaison between L.A and Washington.  He wasn’t sure how that would work exactly, but he knew he couldn’t do it.  It was too risky, and Thomas definitely couldn’t do anything that would alert Marianne to his whereabouts.  It was risky enough actually asking Jenni, but he didn’t’ see that they had much of a choice.

He had discussed it with Thomas, and they decided that it was important that they were able to check out the letters that were exchanged.  Bryan had mentioned them specifically, and Jeff thought it was fishy that Thomas never received Bryan’s detailed letters and apparently Bryan never got the long missives from Thomas either.  Something was not right.  He frowned as he continued to look at the computer screen.  The information he had gathered was typed up in a file so he could show it to Jenni and Thomas when the time came.  The puzzle pieces were starting to fall into place.  Bryan’s actions in the hospital that day when he woke up, his fear of the tests and his absolute distrust of Thomas, it all made perfect sense to him now.

It was time to look away one more time.  Another glance at Bryan would make him feel ten times better. This time his eyes met golden brown with flecks of green.  Bryan was awake, and he was staring at Jeff.  He wasn’t sure if Bryan noticed how quickly the frown dissolved into a shy smile, but the effect wasn’t lost on Jeff.  He ducked his head away to hide the blush he knew would be there and only turned back when he was sure his face wouldn’t betray him.

“Are you okay, Jeff?”

“I’m fine, Bryan, just concerned about you.  Did you enjoy your nap?  I’m a little worried about how much you sleep, so I have been watching you to make sure you are just sleeping.”

“Oh,” Bryan said a thoughtful frown crossing his features.  “You don’t think there are still drugs in my system, and that’s why I sleep so much?  I don’t think I slept so much while I was away though.  We weren’t really allowed to sleep all the time.  And when I did sleep, I had bad dreams.  And then if I slept too long,” He bristled and started picking at the blanket that covered him.  “Are you looking for information on the computer again?  Did you find anything?”

Just when Jeff thought he was used to Bryan’s abrupt change of subject, his best friend surprised him.  He didn’t know what to think of what Bryan just said…except that it didn’t make him feel good.  Was Bryan talking about the drugs at the hospital?  That made the most sense. They did tend to sedate him whenever they saw fit to do so.  

“Jeff?” Bryan inquired again.  “Are you listening to me?”

“Oh, sorry Bryan.  Yes I’m listening.  I found some more information about where you were…and I am going to talk to you about it if you’ll answer some questions for me.  Do you think you can do that?”

Bryan frowned.  “Do I have to?”

“I wouldn’t make you answer questions if it wasn’t important Bryan.  I only want to help you, you know that right?”

“I know,” Bryan said sulking.

“And you know you have to help me out here, right?”

“I don’t know what I can do really, Jeff.  I feel like I don’t know how to do anything anymore.”

“That’s not true, Bryan.  You can do a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

“You’re a great best friend,” Jeff said softly.  The smile that crossed Bryan’s lips was perfection in Jeff’s eyes and he wished he could capture it and put in a bottle for safe keeping.  “Will you smile more often? He asked, his voice taking on a wistful tone.

“If I have something to smile about,” Bryan responded, though it was clear that he wasn’t sure why Jeff wanted him to smile.  “I kinda missed smiling.  I mean I never had anything to smile about last year.  I used to, before I couldn’t write anymore.  I would be happy for a little while with my pen, and a notebook.  And when I got letters from home, until I looked inside them.  Every time I got a letter, I was excited and then I read the letter and I got sad again.  But for some reason you make me smile, Jeff and that’s dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Jeff repeated with a frown.  “Why is it dangerous that I make you smile?  I would think that was a good thing.”

“I’m not supposed to be happy,” Bryan said sadly.  “I don’t even think I remember what it’s like to be happy…let alone smiling.  They frowned on that when I was away. I don’t deserve to smile because I sin and until I can stop sinning…”

“Bryan stop right there, that’s just not right.”

“But,” Bryan insisted,  “if anyone knew I was comfortable smiling at you then I would be in...big trouble.”

“Bryan there is no trouble here, not with me by your side, okay?”

“You won’t be able to protect me forever, Jeff.  You’ll tire of me sooner or later.  I mean I know you are putting your life on hold for me, and I am grateful to you for that…but it won’t last.”

“Will you give me a chance to prove to you that I’m not going anywhere?”  Jeff asked, thinking it wouldn’t do any good to protest Bryan’s statement at the moment.

“I’ll try,” Bryan kept his voice low as if saying it any louder would get him into trouble with someone.

“Okay, good…now do you want to talk to me about things, or do you want to hang out with your sister and your dad?”

Bryan decided he wanted to talk, and while he did so Jeff listened and took mental notes on all his best friend was saying.  He listened as Bryan talked about his first few days at the foundation, and how Marshall had been around for those first few days. Jeff was sure that Thomas was not going to like that news at all.  It certainly didn’t sit well with him that Marshall willingly put Bryan into this place, and had Bryan convinced that it was what Thomas wanted.  Bryan was so caught up in what he was saying that Jeff was certain he didn’t realize how much information he was giving away.  It was as if he was given a chance to speak freely and all the words that had been held inside, since he couldn’t write them down, came flooding to the surface.

“Are you sure I won’t get into trouble for telling you all of that?” Bryan asked when Jeff suggested they get something to eat.  “It was good to see Bryan asking questions, it showed that on some level he was becoming more aware of things and he understood what was going on.

“No trouble Bryan.  No more punishments and I’m hoping you will feel better about opening up as well.  You have nothing to fear by talking to me.  I just hate that you had to go through some of these things.  I read about them…and they made me cringe.  I can only imagine how you must have felt.”

“I’m just so scared, Jeff.  I think the only things I know how to feel are fear and sadness.  I-I-I...think the anger is there too somewhere, but that only comes out sometimes and something has to have happened first.  Like when they tried to send you away from me, that made me angry.  And the headaches they seem less frequent right now, but I don’t know how long that will last.”

“Did you have a bad dream last night?  I thought I saw you twitching in your sleep.”

“I guess I couldn’t hide it this time.  I had a bad dream every night this week, but I don’t let it show.  I’m sorry about that.”

“No don’t apologize, Bryan.  I want you to tell me when you have a bad dream.  I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s bothering you okay?”

“Do you have to tell Dad and Jenni all of this?” he asked, changing the subject yet again.

“Yes Bryan…I have to talk to them about everything unless you don’t want me to.  You know you come first with me.”

“I appreciate that, Jeff, but I don’t suppose I can be helped if they don’t know.  I have to learn how to trust them.  I want to trust Dad…I really do.  I miss him.  But I think about being sent away and it makes me cry inside.”

“When was the last time you actually cried?” Jeff inquired.

“Men aren’t supposed to cry, Jeff…though I think I was really sad when Mom fell down the stairs.  I really didn’t mean to make her fall.”

“Is that why you agreed to go to the foundation?” Jeff prodded gently.

“When Marshall told me that Dad thought it was a good idea…and he showed me the paper I just thought he was right.  That Dad blamed me for Mom’s fall and he wanted me gone.  It hurt that Dad couldn’t tell me that himself.  I mean…we used to talk about everything, Dad and I.  I felt like he didn’t want me anymore.  And the letters only seemed to confirm that and Marshall…”

“What about Marshall,” Jeff asked feeling as if he was on the verge of finding something out.

“Marshall said that my dad insisted that I do this.  And that it would be better if he didn’t tell me himself.  And he said that he tried to get Dad to change his mind but it didn’t work.”

“Okay,” Jeff said placing a hand on Bryan’s shoulder.  “This is going to sound confusing…and I will do my best to help you understand, but I think Marshall has been lying to you.  What you just described to me does not sound like your dad at all.  Any more than it makes sense that you wanted to go to Rehab and you confided in Marshall about it.”

“Is that what he told my parents?” Bryan frowned.  “Is that why they told you I was in rehab?  Marshall told them that?”

“I’m beginning to think that’s the case, Bryan.  There seems to be a whole tangle of lies going on, and I think Marshall is the spider weaving them.”

“Then that means he’s been playing with me for a long time,” Bryan said frowning.  “I…I told him things about how I felt and he tried to make it seem like my dad didn’t want me at all.  He knew I was…depressed I guess when I came home…Jeff,” Bryan suddenly got serious and he grabbed a hold of Jeff’s hand and held on tight.  “He tried to make it seem like I should be mad at you because you took my place at home.”

“I never did trust that guy,” Jeff grumbled, and everything you’ve told me so far makes me like him even less.  What’s wrong?” he asked as Bryan’s face seemed to fall and grow sadder.  He could tell Bryan was trying not to cry.  There were droplets of water just waiting to fall, but he was blinking furiously to hold them back.

“N-n-n-nothing,” Bryan said closing his eyes tightly to keep the waterworks from starting.  “I-I’m okay, just…I’m okay.”

“Bryan…”

“No, Jeff it’s fine.  I’m okay.  I can’t cry.  I just can’t, because if I start I won’t stop.”

“When was the last time you had a good cry, Bryan?  A really good, cleansing your soul cry.”

“The last time I really let myself cry I got…in trouble for doing it,” Bryan said sounding like a five year old who just had his favorite toy taken away.  Jeff hated hearing that fear in his voice, and he swore if he ever saw Marshall again it would be too soon.

He reached out to touch Bryan’s cheek, his hand gently against the smooth skin.  Ever so slowly he began to stroke that cheek.  Soft loving strokes as he watched blinking eyes.  “The only people here are you and me.  Your dad and Jenni aren’t even in the house.  We’re all alone, no hospitals, no doctors, or wardens…there’s no one here to stop you from shedding those tears.  You can tell me anything, Bryan.  Just talk to me…let it out.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

He could tell by the look on Bryan’s face that he wanted to give in.  He bit his lip and his breathing became slightly erratic.  Jeff cupped his face and continued the gentle stroking, knowing it would be any minute now before Bryan broke.

“Why…why would he do that, Jeff?” Bryan’s voice cracked as he spoke and took a deep breath.  He was still trying to hold back the flood, Jeff wasn’t making that easy at all.  “Why couldn’t he love me for me?  I…I hate being so…so…”

And then it happened.  The words caught in his throat and Jeff felt arms go around his neck, a head resting in the crook, tears immediately soaking his shirt, and a body racked with sobs.  And Jeff just held him, his hand stroking his back, trying to soothe, even as he knew that this time calming Bryan down wouldn’t be that simple.

**

“Excuse me,” Jeff said stepping into the kitchen.  Don’t mean to burden you sir, but I need to talk to you if you have a moment.  Is Jenni around?”

“She’s in the other room,” Thomas responded, setting down the hand towel he held in his hand.  “Why don’t we go in there and you can tell us what’s going on.”  Jeff nodded and they headed into the parlor area where Jenni was shifting through magazines on the table.

“Jenni, Jeff has something he needs to tell us.”

Jenni looked up and frowned.  “Jeff, what’s going on?  You don’t look very happy.”

Jeff sighed as he took a seat.  He had purposely waited until Bryan was sleeping yet again to have this discussion.  Bryan already had to tell the story; he shouldn’t have to hear it again if it could be avoided.  “It’s about Bryan,” He started looking back and forth between Thomas and Jenni.  I finished my research and I talked to Bryan, and I am not very happy with what I found out.  And if today was any indication this is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.”

“What did you find out?” Jenni inquired, exchanging a look with her father.

“I’m not sure how much Thomas told you,” Jeff started as he looked at the notes he had printed out on Jenni’s printer.  “But I checked out the place Bryan was sent last year and needless to say the cover page is very deceptive.  On the outside the camp looks like a summer refuge for young boys to just enjoy being boys.  There’s swimming, hiking, horseback riding and even sports and games too.  However for the majority of time at this pace no one really gets to do any of those things,” He paused for a moment as he tried to find something.  He had looked over this material several times before bringing it to their attention and he couldn’t believe this place existed, let alone that Marshall had allowed Bryan to go there.

“It’s a de-gaying camp,” he explained finally.  “Parents send their kids here so they can be “helped” with their situation, and their problem can be fixed.”  He had a bitter taste in his mouth just uttering the words but, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Bryan.  “Basically, the idea is that in three months time, the parents would be told that it will take longer to deprogram or that due to an isolation period the patient’s time in the facility has to be extended.  That’s what happened to Bryan; he had to be isolated several different times because he didn’t conform.”

“What the hell, Jeff,” Thomas exclaimed.  “Are you sure about this?  I would never have sent Bryan to a gay deprogramming camp.  I never even knew something like that existed.”

“Oh they definitely exist,” Jeff sighed.  “It’s just brutal reality sir.”

Thomas chewed on his lip and frowned as something occurred to him.  “Wait, you said Bryan was in isolation.  Is that why he is so hesitant to let any of us in?”

“Something like that,” Jeff replied.  “He was put in isolation because there were distractions and he was being punished for not following the rules.  And Thomas, I know you didn’t take him there.  I’ve been trying to convince Bryan of that…and I think he believe me.  IT’s just that He was told that you wanted him there…but get this,” Jeff glanced at both father and daughter before he continued.  “The first three days of the camp are like an orientation period and Bryan had to stay in a hotel with his parent.”  He waited for a moment as that news sank in.  He could see the clarity in Thomas’s eyes and he nodded.  “Marshall was there, he stayed with Bryan for the first three days.”

Thomas clenched his fists.  “I’m going to kill that man.  I swear to god I had no idea what this was about, or I would have went and gotten Bryan myself.  I couldn’t care less about the fact that he’s gay.  It’s just another part of who he is.”

“And you’ll have to tell him that,” Jeff asserted.  “And Killing Marshall is out of the question…though I know you want to as badly as I do.  I’ve said this before though…we have to focus on Bryan, and we have to help him.  Right now I don’t think he even fully gets that I’m gay.”  Jeff frowned.  “I mean I’ve shared three kisses with him, but they were more of a comforting thing and I doubt he really correlated it.  Otherwise he may wonder how you could accept me and not him.”

“Jeff are you sure that kissing Bryan is a good idea,” Jenni asked.  “I completely understand your feelings for him, but might that not confuse him until he realizes that we are not judging him for being gay?  I am not trying to demean what you are doing, I can see that you really do care for my brother, but I can see his confusion and I don't want that to get any worse.”

“I can understand your concern, Jenni and believe me I wouldn’t do anything that could upset or confuse Bryan in any way.  Right now kissing him isn’t about anything romantic.  I am only trying to offer him some comfort, some sense of intimacy that is soothing and that seems to do the trick.  If I thought I was confusing him, I would explain it to him, but not stop…because to do so would make Bryan think he did something wrong.  He likes feeling close to me and I want to do that for him.  Is that okay?” he asked looking to Thomas for guidance on this.

“I have no problem with that Jeff,” Thomas consented, “however, I would like you to make sure you are watching for changes in Bryan's attitude toward you or your relationship. If he has been as damaged as we think, it is entirely possible that he may turn on you if he thinks you are getting to close. Just be careful. I don't want anything to happen to you either. You are a very important part of this family and I don't want you hurt anymore than I want Bryan hurt.”

“Thank you for that, sir.  I promise, I’ll be careful.  I only want to help Bryan.  I’m not so much worried about me, or what will happen when this is all said and done.  Right now Bryan thinks that the time will come when I’ll tire of him.  Of course that’s not the case, and I am going to do my best to prove that to him.”

“So what do we do now, Jeff?  I mean all the knowledge about the camp is well and good, but how do we repair all the stuff they did to my brother. I can tell just from the look on your face that this is not going to be easy and it's not going to happen overnight, but I, we, have to do something.”

“You’ve spent some time with him right?  Just keep doing that.  Show him you have some interest in spending time with him, and that he won’t get into any trouble if something goes wrong.  That seems to be a big deal for him.  I’m going to get him a new notebook and pens, and see what we can do about helping him write again.  I know he misses it.  Besides it may help if he can write things down, because Bryan likes to talk.”  He smiled fondly as he thought of Bryan chattering on about anything and everything.  “In time he will trust both of you…just don’t’ give him a reason not to.”

“Thank you Jeff,” Thomas said gratefully, “for all that you are doing. I know that Bryan is in good hands with you.  I want my chatterbox son back that's for sure.” Thomas smiled and scratched the back of his neck as he looked at the man who had become his only link to his own son.  “Whatever you need from us just let us know. If you need a break for any reason tell me, I don't want you making yourself sick working this out.”

“Bryan’s worth everything I’m doing, sir.  I wanted to help him even before I fell for him.”  He shook his head; it still blew his mind that that was the epitome of the feelings he felt.  He couldn’t remember ever feeling like this before.  He especially didn’t really know love from living with his father.  Still the warmth he felt in his heart was very real and it only intensified when he was actually near Bryan, it could only be called love.  “I’m going to go out around town tomorrow…to see what I can find, and get the notebook for Bryan.  I will explain that he will be home with you two…so let’s see what we can do.  We know we can’t help Bryan in a day, and only he can tell us how we can really help him…but at least he will know that none of us is giving up.”

**

“Why can’t I go with you?” Bryan asked for the fifteenth time as Jeff prepared to leave the house.  “I don’t want to stay here without you.”

Jeff faced him and placed his hands on Bryan’s shoulders.  “Your dad and Jenni are both here, Bryan.  You won’t be alone, and we talked about you trusting them remember?  I don’t want you to go with me, because I am going to surprise you.  You can’t be there when I get your gift.”

“You want to buy me a present?” Bryan asked his eyes lighting up like topaz gems.

“Yes, now will you let me go…and try to spend some time with your dad?”

“Okay, I will try.”

Jeff left soon after that and Bryan was on his own.  He knew he needed to do something while Jeff was gone.  If he wanted to get better he needed to do some of the work.  And he missed his dad, Jeff seemed to believe that he could trust him, and he believed that.  His dad had gotten him out of the hospital, and his dad was the reason they were here, he had risked a lot to help him.  Someone who would do that couldn’t be all bad.

He found Thomas in the kitchen cutting up vegetables on the counter.  For a moment he leaned against the counter and just watched him work.  What could he say?  What would he do?

He didn’t have to think about it long before his dad turned and saw him standing there.  “Hey there, son,” he said a smile crossing his features.  “Would you like to help me with these veggies for Jenni?”

“Okay,” Bryan said pushing himself off the counter.  He moved over to his dad and watched him rinse off a carrot before shaving off the ugly parts.  He watched the process a couple of times before picking up a carrot, putting it under the cool water to rinse and then placing it on a cutting board.  Thomas handed him a knife and he started to chop, still looking at his dad to make sure he was following instructions.

“So how are you settling in with Jenni?”

“She’s nice,” Bryan said as he concentrated on cutting the vegetables.  “I wanted to talk to you about stuff, dad but I don’t really know where to start,” he told him a few minutes later.  He frowned at the carrot he was cutting and put the knife down so he could look at his dad, who was focusing on cutting pepper slices.

“Son, I'm listening. I will listen to whatever you want to tell me. Good or bad, I am not going to judge you. I love you and I am going to do all that I can to repair and rebuild our relationship.”  Silence followed his words, and Bryan allowed them to sink in.  It was just what he needed to hear from his dad.  He still didn’t know exactly what he wanted to say.  What could he confide?  Did he want to risk saying anything?  Everything was so much easier when Jeff was around.  He didn’t feel like he was going to mess up as much.

“I want that too dad,” he said as he started working on slicing into a tomato.  The juice squirted out and hit him in the eye which made him blink.  He placed the knife down and wiped his eye but he wasn’t sure if he helped the situation any.

“I hate this distance between us,” he heard his father say as he reached for a napkin to dab at his eyes, “but I am very glad that you have Jeff to help lead you through this. So whenever you are ready to talk I am ready to listen.”

Bryan put the napkin down and went back to cutting the tomato.  “I don’t know what you want to know, Dad.  I’m sorry I’m not as good at words as I used to be.  I think when they took my ability to write they took my vocabulary too…and well,” he frowned and placed the slices of tomato on the plate in front of him, “I miss talking to you.”

“I want to know everything, Bryan,” Thomas replied softly, “but first I want to tell you that from what Jeff has been able to track down, I had no idea that the place you were going was anywhere other than a rehab facility for the alcohol problem. If I had had any inkling of the true nature I would have torn down the walls to get you out of there.”

“I…I don’t think that really matters, Dad,” Bryan said trying to make his thoughts piece together properly.  “I know deep down that if you had known where I was you would have come for me…that’s why I wrote to you.  I didn’t want to believe that you really would want me in that place.  But…you never came, and it just seemed like you wanted to send me away.  And I…I wouldn’t have gone away for drinking.”  He frowned remembering how reckless his behavior had been prior to his coming out…and just after, when he went on that disastrous double date.  “I was already seeing a counselor for that, she didn’t’ think I had to go away.”

He bit his lip and focused on the vegetables again.   They couldn’t think about what his dad would have done if he had known.  It was too late for that.  Now was the time to move forward, he didn’t know how to do that really, but he wanted to try. He wanted to tell his dad about all the things that happened to him, but could he really do that?  Could he convey all that he wanted to convey?

“I don’t want you to apologize to me,” he said simply.  “I just want to be your son again.  I want you to…to be my dad…I missed my dad.”

“And I missed my son,” Thomas’s voice was sad and reflective, and Bryan was startled to see tears in his eyes.  He couldn’t remember ever seeing his father close to tears.  “I missed our morning rides in the fields and working side by side in the barn. I missed telling you things that no one else but you would understand.”

Bryan smiled fondly.  He missed all those things too.  It was as if his dad was singing a song that his heart needed to hear and he was listening.  He wanted to believe his dad’s words.

“Believe me son,” Thomas continued, “I want you back, well and healthy and whole, but I will take you just like you are. I don't care about anything else in the world right now but you.  Your Mom and Marshall have a lot to answer for, but that can wait. The girls and Eddie I'm sure are missing us, but if we can take you back to them whole again that is what we are going to do.”

“I’m not really worried about going home, Dad.  I…I just want to be with you and Jeff.”

“Well Jeff and I aren't going anywhere,” Thomas assured him.  “Wherever you are is where we are.”  Silence followed that statement, and Bryan just knew his dad was thinking of questions to ask him.  He only hoped that he would be able to answer them.  He wanted to answer…he had to face the fear he was feeling head on.  That was what Jeff had told him.  “So,” His father said a few minutes later, “this place, the Foundation, Bryan did they beat you? I only ask because I saw the bruises and scars on your back when I was helping with your shower in the hospital. How did those bruises get there?”

He looked at his dad for a long time before going to sit down on a stool.  All pretence of cutting was gone and he rested his arms on the table and rested his chin in his hands.  His dad followed his lead and sat across from him, waiting intently to see if he would get an answer.  “You really shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to, Dad,” he said sadly.  “I could answer that question, and it would break your heart.  I don’t really want to be the reason your heart is breaking.”

“Son, if I didn't want the answer I wouldn't ask. I have had my heart broken before and I survived. If this is going to break my heart, then I can only imagine what it is doing to you. I can take it. Tell me about the bruises Bryan.”

“It depends on which bruises you want to know about, Dad,” Bryan said sadly.  “The ones that won’t ever go away?  Or the ones that will fade in time, if they stop getting reopened.”  He closed his eyes for a moment and tried not to wince at the thoughts in his mind.  He was only speaking to his dad…and there was no one there to harm him.  If he could remember that he would be fine.  He especially needed to stop thinking about the dreams.

“Which do you feel comfortable mentioning?”

“Yes,” he said in answer to his father’s earlier question.  They did hit me.  It wasn’t so bad thought until they used the whip…which was when Adam held me down and let them hit me.”

“Who was this Adam?” Thomas inquired.

“I thought he was my friend,” Bryan said lowering his voice.  “He was my counselor…but he turned against me.  I guess I was stupid to trust him…but…”

“You aren’t stupid, Bryan,” Thomas interrupted.

“Jeff keeps telling me that.”

“Well Jeff’ is right.  He said they isolated you,” Thomas said after a brief silence.  “For how long?”

“It depends on the time.”

“How many times did they do it?”

Bryan frowned as he started counting on his fingers.  His face crinkled as he tried to concentrate on time and numbers to come up with the right answer.  “Well the first time was when summer was over…in September.  That one lasted just a week.  Then it happened again around Christmas time…that was very sad actually.  I think I was in there a month…but I’m not sure, I just remember thinking about all of you and wondering if Mom was awake, and if you missed me at all.  It was five times all together…the last time…I ended up at the hospital.”

“Why were we never alerted when you were in the hospital?” his dad asked.

“I don’t know Dad.  I think they already had permission from Marshall or something.”

“Was this Adam guy the reason you were in the hospital?”

Bryan looked up at his dad, but he didn’t answer the question.  He bit down on his lip and averted his gaze.  He didn’t want to talk about it anymore.  He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the room with the bookshelf.  The books were scattered everywhere, and he wasn’t so sure he could get them all back into place this time.  Sometimes he wished there was just a lock on that door then he wouldn’t have to think about his emotions at all.

“Bryan I need you to talk to me,” Thomas’s voice reached his ears as he worked on getting his emotions back on the shelf.  He had let his guard down enough…but he had to be careful…very careful.  “Bryan,” Thomas’s voice again, “Did this Adam guy ever hurt you?”

“Don’t ask me things I can’t answer,” Bryan said sliding off the stool.  “You can’t ask things I don’t know.”

Bryan,” his dad tried to soothe him, there was a hint of sadness in his voice.

“No,” he said shaking his head.  “No, Dad…I can’t…I told you I didn’t want to talk about it and you keep asking me…and I don’t know.”  He was practically yelling; his hands clenched as he backed away from the counter.  He was walking backwards, not really paying attention to where he was going, and he bumped right into his big sister.

“Whoa, what’s the rush Bryan,” Jenni asked immediately frowning at the bewildered look in her brother’s eyes.  “Are you okay?”  She reached out to touch him, but he backed away from her and rushed out the room.  Jenni exchanged a look with her dad before running after him.  She found him in the bedroom clutching the pillow Jeff had been sleeping on the night before.

“Bryan,” she said coming further into the room.  “Hey sweetie. Are you ok?”

He didn’t answer her right away, but he didn’t stop her from coming either.  She took a seat on the bed; just far enough for him to be comfortable and she placed her hands in her lap as she looked at him.

“Did Dad do something to upset you?” she inquired.  “I can see you are really upset and Jeff is going to be very angry with me if you are upset when he gets home, so can you tell me what's wrong?”

“Just too many questions,” he said frowning.  “I’ll explain it to Jeff…he won’t be upset with you.”

“No more questions then, Bryan,” Jenni held her hands up in mock surrender.  “You can explain to Jeff all day long, but he is still going to have my hide.  So do you think maybe you could talk to me, I promise not to ask any questions, just talk. I feel like I have missed out on so much.”

Bryan squeezed the pillow tighter and looked at his sister quizzically.  She just wanted him to talk?  About what?  Should he ask?  Having a conversation was not supposed to be this difficult.  Then again he could count on one hand how many actual conversations he had while he was away…and none of those had been very good…all of them had been with Adam.

“I’m not good at talking, Jenni.  I used to be, but now I don’t feel like I have a lot to say.  And when I do talk, I don’t make any sense so I just prefer to be quiet.  Quiet is less troublesome anyway…you can’t be a bother if you are silent.  Jeff says I have a lot to say though, and I should just say it.  I wish I could do that, since he seems to think I can.  And even Dad has said that I was a chatter box and you couldn’t shut me up.  I’d do anything to be able to just talk about anything and everything.  It’s not a good idea to keep things bottled up inside, but that’s all I was taught while I was away.  To hide things and to keep my emotions in check.”

“You don't have to hide with us,” Jenni asserted, “but I understand that you aren't comfortable talking about your emotions right now. So how about you and I talk about the family. Dad showed me some pictures of the girls and Eddie, and I talk to Alden at least once a week, but pictures don't tell everything. I miss the little bugger a bunch. I should have come home more often, then maybe I wouldn't feel so out of touch with you and my sibs.”

“Honestly, Jenni I feel out of touch with them too.  I missed a lot in a year’s time…and then I was in the hospital for a lot of time too so I am not really connected with them either.”

“But you connected with Jeff,” Jenni pointed out, “and I think that is wonderful. It's always nice to have someone you can count on to be there when the chips are down. Maybe when you are ready to go home, whenever that may be, I think I may go with you. A nice long visit with Grandma Annie would be really nice. Maybe I should call her and beg for a care package of goodies so we have some stuff from home. Would you like that? I promise I won't tell her you are here, just thinking maybe some of Grandma's goodies will put some meat back on your bones, you are so skinny that a good strong wind will blow you away.”

“Yeah, Jeff said I need to start eating more.  I’m still trying to get used to solid foods again after being in the hospital for so long.”  He stopped to think about what she had said.  “I don’t guess it would be bad to get goodies from Grandma…but you know she will ask if you have seen Dad.  And I don’t think Dad would want you to lie.  You should talk to Jeff…maybe?  He may know more than me if it would be a good idea or not.”

“I'll talk to Jeff when he gets back and see what he thinks.”  Bryan was relieved that she didn’t argue with him about that.  Over the past few days there had been some push and shove between Jenni and Jeff, and he didn’t want to make either of them angry.  “Hmmmm,” His sister said, raising her finger to her lip, “maybe instead of calling Grandma I can just e-mail her, she is so tech savvy these days it's kind of scary. Our Grandma the romance novelist who now does her research on the internet. Hang in there Bryan; I'm on your side. I will do whatever I can to help and make you feel comfortable.”

“Will you tell Dad, I’m sorry?” he asked a frown crossing his features again.  ”I don’t want him to be mad at me.  I just didn’t want to answer any more questions, and then he kept asking and I know I should have been calmer but I don’t even know how to do that all the time.  Everything is so messed up anymore, Jenni.”

“It's ok Bryan, Dad will understand, and yes I will tell him. He is not mad at you, and never was. He is just looking for answers and hurting because he feels like he let you down by not protecting you from what happened. We are going to work together to make everything un-messed up little brother. I love you.”

“Thank you for being my sister,” He said shyly as he bit his lip.  He was really starting to Like Jenni, she didn’t seem to want anything from him.  And maybe just maybe he could trust her.

“Awwwww, little brother, I kind of like being your sister. You were always my favorite sibling because no matter what we talked about you always had something to say. You are the only one I would trust my secrets with and that hasn't changed at all. I love you kiddo. Why don't you try and get some rest, I'm sure Jeff will be home soon. Just yell if you need anything.”

“Okay,” Bryan said putting Jeff’s pillow on the bed and resting his head on it.  “Thanks Jenni,” he said before closing his eyes.  He wasn’t going to mention the fact that he was worried Jeff wouldn’t come back.  He wouldn’t even entertain that thought, let alone say it aloud and make it more of a reality.  IT wasn’t that he thought Jeff would leave him…he would understand if Jeff did though.  Everyone else did.  He held on to Jeff’s pillow tightly and buried his face in it, trying to drown out those thoughts.  He wished Jeff would just come back, as far as Bryan was concerned he’d been gone far too long.

**

It was late afternoon when Jeff returned to the house.  He was glad to be back.  Not surprisingly he had missed Bryan terribly.  He wasn’t used to being away from him for this long of a time.  It was worth the trip though…he had found the perfect gift for Bryan, and even found a Pen to go along with it.            He had a few bags in his hand, and he spotted Jenni immediately when he entered the living room.  “Hey,” he said placing the bags down on the inn table.  “How did today go?  Is Bryan alright?”

“Bryan is asleep,” Jenni replied putting down the book she had been reading.” He and Dad talked some after you left, but it didn't go as well as we would have liked.”

“What happened?” Jeff asked a frown settling on his face.  “And how long has Bryan been sleeping?”

“He hasn't been asleep too long. He and Dad were working in the kitchen chopping some vegetables. I had walked past earlier, and saw that they seemed to be having a nice conversation so I didn't interrupt them. The next thing I know Bryan is running out telling Dad no more questions. I am assuming that Dad was gently trying to get Bryan to open up, but Dad was pretty upset and didn't want Bryan to see so he took a walk on the beach. I spent some time with Bryan just talking and not pushing and he seemed much better before he fell asleep.”

“I’ll have to check up on him in a minute.  But I did want to talk to you.  “I think we are going to need some information from back in Washington, so we can better help Bryan.  He has a lot of prescriptions that need to be filled for his kidney medicine so we have to take care of that.  Plus we have to find out about the letters that seemed to be transferred for other letters.  I mean both your dad and Bryan commented on what they received as letters and what they wrote to each other.  I think Marshall may have switched the mail or something.”  He ran a hand through his hair and sighed.  “Um, I don’t want to put you on the spot but it’s less suspicious if you contact someone back home…though risky at the same time.”

“Hmmmm,” Jenni said her expression thoughtful, “well I may have a solution to that problem. I told Bryan I was thinking of calling Grandma Annie and asking for a care package, but decided that sending her an e-mail might be a better idea. I don't want Gram to have to lie, so how about I send her the e-mail asking for the care package and then get in touch with Alden who I am sure can get Ali to help with the meds. If Gram is responsive to the e-mail and I think she will be, I can fib a little and see if she can do some digging on her computer to find at least Dad's copies of his letters. Do you think that would be of any help?”

“That’s a good idea actually,” Jeff said excitedly.  “If you could do that, Jenni…I think it would be good for Bryan to have some things from home.  It’s going to be awhile before he can go back…if he wants to go back.  That’s going to be completely up to him.  Was he okay after he talked to Thomas?  I mean were you able to talk to him a bit too?”

“We talked for quite a while actually,” Jenni replied. “We talked about the kids at home and how much I missed them and he seemed to be much calmer when we finished. Dad's just trying to help, but he is so worried, he may have tried to push when Bryan just wasn't ready. I get the feeling that Bryan thinks that he is protecting us by not telling us what happened.”

“Yeah that’s the feeling I’m getting too actually,” Jeff agreed with her.  “I think he’s also a little scared too.  I mean if half the stuff I read about actually happened to Bryan in that place, then he must not want us to see him as anything less than human.  And I know that none of us would dare do that…but that stuff makes me cringe.  I can only imagine that Bryan must feel so weak to have gone through any of it.  I’m glad you and he were able to talk. While I was out I picked up some things for him that will hopefully help.  We will help him,” he said determined.  “And in the mean time if he says anything of interest let me know.  He is usually pretty open with me.”

“I will Jeff. I promise. I know we got off on the wrong foot, but I can see you really do love my brother and that's all that is important.”

“Thanks Jenni.  I do love him,” Jeff glanced toward the bedroom for a moment before focusing on Jenni again.  “And I know we got off to a bad start, but I think you’re pretty cool, and Bryan is lucky to have you for a big sister”

“I am the lucky one Jeff. Bryan is the best brother in the world. I wouldn't trade him for anything. If you ask me we are all lucky to have Bryan in our lives.”

“I don’t think a truer statement has been spoken, Jenni,” Jeff said smiling as he picked his bags up off the table.  “I got some of Bryan’s favorite things,” he said handing her one of the bags.  “And I promised him a surprise.  I’m going to go see if I can wake him up.  I worry about him sleeping so much during the day.”  He started heading toward the back of the house when he turned to see Jenni heading for the kitchen.  “Hey Jenni?”  She turned and sent a smile his way.  He smiled back.  “Thanks, for the talk.  I hope we can talk more, I mean we have one thing in common already…we love Bryan.”

“I’d like that, Jeff.  I’d like that a lot.”

**

“Jeff you’re back,” he exclaimed startling Jeff out of his trance.  Bryan had been sleeping when he entered the room, so he had set his gift aside and fiddled with the computer, answering emails and reading while he waited for his best friend to wake up.  Now he put the computer aside and smiled as Bryan threw his arms around him and held him tightly

“Bryan, I can’t breathe,” Jeff said trying to detangle himself just enough to look into Bryan’s eyes.

“Oh I’m sorry,” Bryan said frowning.  “I don’t know why I had that reaction, but you can’t leave me here like that again.”

“What happened?” Jeff asked keeping his voice soft and nonjudgmental.

“I think I upset Dad,” Bryan sighed sadly.  “I didn’t mean to, but he was asking all these questions and then he brought up Adam…and I just didn’t want to talk about it.  And I didn’t know all the answers to his questions, plus…I don’t know Jeff I just didn’t want to talk anymore but I think I made him mad.”

“I’m sure that’s not the case, Bryan.  Your dad loves you…and he knows this is hard for you.  It’s hard for him too.  Because he has to deal with the fact that you were there and he couldn’t help you while you were there.  You understand that right?”

“I think so.”

“You know how you told me you feel like you’re a failure as a son?”

“Yeah…you told me that wasn’t true.”

“It’s not,” Jeff said gently.  “You aren’t a failure, Bryan.  Your dad, he feels the same way you do.  He feels like he failed you, and he just wants to make up for it.”

“That’s what he said,” Bryan explained.  “But I don’t know…I feel like I talk, and he doesn’t really listen.  I know he hears me, but it’s like he wants to get out what he wants to say without listening to what I’m telling him.  And I guess that could just be me, and I’m not explaining it right…but you seem to understand.”

“So, you feel like he doesn’t really care?” Jeff asked, trying to surmise the situation.  He knew that Thomas cared deeply for Bryan, but somehow that wasn’t coming across.  “You think that he only wants information from you so you closed yourself off.  Does that sound about right?”

“I knew you would understand,” Bryan said lowering his head.

“I care about you,” Jeff said reaching out to lift Bryan’s chin.  “And I know how important trust is to you, Bryan.  I am glad you trust me, and I won’t do anything to violate that.”

“He was asking about Adam,” Bryan explained, biting his lip as he looked at his best friend.  It didn’t go unnoticed by Jeff that Bryan’s face seemed to get sadder, and there was pain clear in those brown eyes.  Adam was at the top of Jeff’s list of people he wanted to hurt, right along with Marshall.  “And he wanted to know about the bruises and the scars…I tried to explain that,” Bryan continued.  “But I didn’t’ want to talk about him.”

“Did he do more than just hold you down so they could hit you with the whip?”

Bryan flinched and Jeff wished he could take back the question.  But he knew that some of these things needed to be asked.  If he didn’t try to push, just a little then he wouldn’t be able to help.  It wasn’t okay that Bryan had been hurt like this, but the sooner they knew all the details…the better the chance Bryan had of getting past it.  That was Jeff’s ultimate goal.  He didn’t know how many relapses there would be before Bryan was fine again…but he had no doubt that day would come.

“Bryan, you know I’m not trying to hurt you with these questions right?”

Silence followed his question, but Jeff was acutely aware of what Bryan was doing.  His even breathing hitched several times and then there was the slightest sniffle as he clung to Jeff.  Jeff allowed his arms to encircle his best friend as he pulled him closer, his head resting against his shoulder.

“I…I know you won’t…hurt me, Jeff,” Bryan’s voice was trembling and Jeff was certain that the tears would be coming soon.

“Just tell me yes or no.  You don’t have to explain it…okay.”

“Yes,” Bryan said before dissolving into tears.

Jeff closed his eyes and silently cursed for he had no doubt what Bryan was saying yes to.  He held onto his best friend, having no care for his shirt which was already soaked from Bryan’s reign of tears.  Now that Bryan knew he could cry, Jeff was certain there would be more moments like this.  And he would be ready for them.  He had a lot of promises to keep, and one day he hoped he could completely mend Bryan’s broken heart.

 


12. Chapter 12

 

Chapter 12

 

 

Every trade has a tool.  When the tool is removed the worker cannot pursue their trade.  The same concept can be employed for talent.  A surgeon cannot operate with broken hands.  A singer cannot sing with damaged vocal cords.  And a runner can’t run with a broken leg.  Artists exist on a different plane.  They use tools that become their heart and their soul.  A painter is nothing without the paint and the brushes.  A sculptor needs clay and a writer…a writer needs paper and a pen.  A writer’s pen is its heart and soul.  If it’s taken away something inside dies.  That isn’t to say a person can’t live, but they’ll never be the same.

Jeff decided it was best to wait a few days before giving Bryan his gift.  He wanted to wait until Bryan was feeling up to it.  He also decided it was best if he didn’t leave Bryan alone at the house with Jenni or Thomas.  That decision came the day after Bryan’s dam broke.  Jeff had simply gone to run an errand for Jenni while Bryan was sleeping.  Bryan awakened before Jeff’s return, and when he made it through the door, his friend clung to him and begged him not to scare him like that again.  Jeff spent the next couple of days assuring him that he wasn’t going anywhere.  Jeff knew there were going to be good days and bad days, and he was more determined than ever to help Bryan through them.  He was hoping that his gift would be a start…some way to help.  He needed to give Bryan something he could control…that would be the key.

“Good morning,” Jeff greeted as Bryan came out of the shower.

“Hi,” Bryan said as he walked over to the dresser he was wearing a pair of sweatpants that hung low on his hips, and Jeff found himself staring at his back, frowning at the scars he saw there.  Bryan was toweling off his hair, seemingly unaware that he had an audience.  Jeff sighed and turned away, knowing it was wrong to look at Bryan.  He knew how self-conscious his friend could be.

Bryan put down the towel and looked through the clothes in the drawer.  He pulled out two t-shirts and turned to face Jeff.  “Blue or white?” he asked holding them up for Jeff to see.

“Go with the blue one,” Jeff smiled.  “You know you don’t have to ask me about your clothes, Bryan.  You match pretty well.”

“I like asking,” Bryan shrugged and turned around to put on his shirt.  Jeff stood and came to stand behind him, placing the gift down in front of him.

“What’s this?” Bryan asked picking up the package.

“Just a little something special I picked up for you. Open it and find out,” Jeff said.

He watched Bryan pull the tape off the package and unfold the paper with such precision, Jeff wondered if Bryan planned on saving it.  The Journal and a brand new pen were sitting in the center of the package and Bryan looked at it longingly before turning those green flecked brown eyes on Jeff.

“You bought me a book?”

“It’s a journal,” Jeff explained.  “And a pen, that won’t be taken away from you.  I want you t be able to write down your thoughts.”

“But I don’t know if I can anymore, Jeff,” Bryan said sighing.  He picked up the pen and rolled it in his fingers.  Jeff could tell that he liked holding it.  He took such care, making sure he held it properly between his fingers.  Like any true artist, he studied it, weighed it and tested out the tip.  He placed the pen to the side and opened up the notebook, feeling the pages, smelling the newness of it, and Jeff was sure he saw a glimpse of a smile, but it was just that, a glimpse.  Bryan frowned just seconds later and put the book to the side.  He looked up at Jeff sadly.

“You don’t like it?” Jeff asked tentatively.

“It’s not that,” Bryan said sadly.  “I am just sorry you wasted your money on me.  I’m not going to be able to use it.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I don’t know how anymore,” Bryan explained, his frown set in place.  He was certain he had just said that.  “I used to love to write…but now when I think about it, it makes me sad.  I don’t have any more ideas and I wouldn’t even know how to start.”

“Well,” Jeff said picking up the journal, “Start by putting the date, and just writing what you are thinking right now.  It doesn’t have to be perfect or anything…but I bet you can do it.  I have faith in you, Bryan.  You can do anything you put your mind to.”

“Do I have to do it now?” Bryan asked taking the journal and the pen from Jeff.  “I will if you want me to do it.”

“No, Bryan,” Jeff said shaking his head.  “I don’t want you to do this for me.  This isn’t about me, it’s about you.  I want you to do what you feel you can do, okay?  And who knows maybe one day, you and I can work on a joint project or something.”

“Yeah?” Bryan asked intrigued by the prospect of working with Jeff on anything.

“Maybe,” Jeff nodded.  “Did I tell you I want to be a director one day?”

“You want to make movies?”

“Yep, just like the old movies I used to watch as a kid.  One day you can write the screenplay, and I’ll direct it.”

“You really think I can?” Bryan asked skeptically.  “I mean you have never seen me write…I loved to do it but that doesn’t mean it was good.  And I can’t do it anymore so I don’t know why you think that.”

“Because I believe in you, Bryan, and I know you can do it.  I bet your writing was excellent, and you said yourself that you have a lot of thoughts you weren’t able to write down.  Now you have the tools, you just have to remember how to use them.  And like I said, no one’s going to take it away from you.”

“I’ll try.  Thank you Jeff.”  He put his arms around Jeff and hugged him.  “Thank you.”

**

Jenni sighed as she paced around her living room.  She was trying to figure out how to approach this.  Ever since her talk with Jeff, she had been trying to figure out how best to approach her brother.  She needed to talk to him, but she needed to make sure that no one back home was aware of the real reasons behind her request.  She certainly didn’t want to get her dad into any trouble, and if the best place for Bryan was here then she didn’t want to jeopardize that either.  Bryan was starting to feel comfortable.  At least he was more apt to speak to her then he had been when they first arrived.  That was a major plus.

She was still contemplating what to say when the phone rang.  She answered it quickly and was surprised by the voice she heard on the other end.  “Alden,” she said laughing, “What a nice surprise.  I was just thinking about you.”

“Hey there, sis,” Alden said as he relaxed in a chair.  “I hope it was all good thoughts.  I just figured I would call since I haven’t heard from you in a while.  How are you doing?”

“I’m okay,” Jenni said running a hand through her hair.  She glanced around, and breathed a sigh of relief that Bryan was most likely sleeping.  “I have had a lot going on here lately.  Things I wasn’t really expecting.  Not bad things, mind you, but definitely unexpected.”

Alden frowned.  “Are you sure you’re okay?  What kind of things have been going on?  And why were you thinking about me?  Do you miss me or something?”

“Of course I miss you, Alden.  I miss everyone in Washington, and I guess I just feel disconnected sometimes, being so far away from the family.”

“I can understand that,” Alden agreed.  “I only came home this year after being gone for so long.”

“I feel like I am missing important things that are going on,” Jenni continued, “and that I should be there.  The little ones are growing up so fast, and you and Bryan…I just miss you that’s all.”

“Yeah,” Alden said sadly.  “I miss you too, Jenni.  Maybe I need to come for a visit or something.  I’m afraid I have some bad news though.  We can’t find Bryan.  Or Dad for that matter, they’ve just vanished.”

“Vanished?” Jenni frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, Bryan appeared out of nowhere in July, and just a month later he had an episode and ended up in the hospital.  He was in a coma for almost two weeks before he woke up again.  They kept running all these tests on him, the poor kid; I don’t think he liked that very much.  Anyway, according to Marianne, she and Bryan’s father were going to give the doctor permission to perform surgery on him, but before they could, Dad must have signed his release papers.  Bryan’s just gone, and Dad too.  No one knows where they are.  Dad’s SUV is still here and they didn’t leave any traces.  Honestly, I’m glad they aren’t here.  I didn’t want my little brother to have surgery, but I wish I knew where he was.”

“Wait, they wanted to allow the doctors to perform surgery?” Jenni asked trying to keep her voice down.  She was appalled by what she was hearing.  Even though her dad had clued her in on some of this, it still managed to shock her.  “What kind of surgery are we talking about here, Alden?”

“Some kind of brain surgery,” Alden said running his fingers through his short hair.  “I asked Ali about it and all she could tell me is that it was a risky surgery and there was no guarantee that it would help.  When Bryan woke up from his coma, he couldn’t remember anything that happened right before he entered the hospital.  I don’t know the whole story…I don’t think anyone does, except the guy who was living with Marianne and Dad.  But no one can find him either.  He just vanished into thin air.  That’s Marshall’s fault I’m sure.  I really don’t like that guy.  But anyway Bryan hasn’t been himself since he came home from rehab and I hate that he’s just gone now you know?”

“Wow,” Jenni sighed, taking a seat as if the wind had just been knocked out of her.  “There’s so much going on...and our poor brother is out there somewhere dealing with it all.  I just wish there was something I could do?”

“Jenni?  Are you sure you’re okay?” Alden asked, his voice full of concern.  “I wish there was something you could do about Bryan, but I don’t know what that could be.  As it is I am not sure if Dad really took him at all.  I mean, I don’t know how much Dad and Marianne knew about the guy they took into their home.  But what if he took Bryan?”

“I’m fine, Alden,” Jenni sighed.  “There’s just a lot going on right now, plus I’m worried about Dad and our brother.”

“Do I need to come see you?” Alden asked his concern clear in his voice.

“No, that’s not necessary,” Jenni replied quickly.  “I mean, of course I’d love to see you, but you don’t have to go out of your way.  I’ll handle everything here, and I promise I’ll explain it all to you as soon as I can.”

She hung up the phone quickly and sighed.  “Dad,” she called, “I think we have a problem.”

“What’s wrong?” Thomas asked coming out of the kitchen.

“Well, I just got off the phone with Alden, and I’m afraid I may have been too evasive and pushed his “need to save” button.”

“Uh oh,” Thomas frowned.  “Do you think he’s going to come out this way?”

“I don’t know, Dad, but it wouldn’t surprise me,” she frowned.  “Though with him here we have a way to get Bryan’s prescriptions refilled without raising any red flags.”

Thomas nodded, his daughter had a point.  “Did he say anything about what’s going on back home?” He asked curiously.  “Have Marianne and Marshall stopped looking?”

“I don’t know.  He said they were worried that Bryan might have been kidnapped because Jeff disappeared at the same time.”

“Was that Alden’s theory?” Thomas asked, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. 

“He didn’t really say much other than that he’s really worried about Bryan and you,” Jenni related, “since no one has heard from you.  I think we should clue Jeff in on what’s going on, so we can figure out a game plan if Alden does show up.”

“That’s a good idea,” Thomas frowned.  “We should talk to Jeff.”

“Talk to Jeff about what?” Jeff asked as he passed through the living room.  “Is something wrong?”

“Well,” Jenni said turning to face him, “I’m afraid we might have a problem.  My brother just called, and I’m afraid I couldn’t talk him out of coming to see me.”

Jeff sighed.  “How bad do you think that will be?”

“It could have its advantages,” Jenni explained.  “Alden would be able to talk to Ali about Bryan’s meds, and we could have them filled anywhere, and he could go and get them without it being traced back to us.  He’s really worried about Dad, and Bryan, so I don’t think it will be a big problem.  I just want us to be prepared.”

“Okay, that shouldn’t be too bad.  I don’t know how Bryan feels about his brother, do you think I should let him know.”  He frowned and ran a hand through his hair.  “Actually, maybe not, I don’t want to excite him, but I don’t want him to think that someone found him and is going to take him back there either.  I like Alden though; I know he cares about Bryan, that was pretty evident when Bryan was in the hospital.  What do you think we should do sir?”

Thomas’s expression was thoughtful as he looked at his daughter and Jeff.  “Maybe you should tell him that Jenni talked to Alden, and that he was very concerned about him.  See how he takes that.  Then we’ll go from there.  I don’t want him upset, but blindsiding him if Alden does show up would be worse.”

“Exactly,” Jeff agreed.  “I’ll talk to him about it.  I’m glad we’ll be able to get his medicine though, so that’s at least a plus.  We need to be very careful about Alden knowing though.  Only he and Ali can be aware of things.  Otherwise we risk Bryan getting hurt, and I know you guys won’t let that happen.  Neither will I.  If worse comes to worse I’ll take him where no one can find him, and I don’t want to do that, unless it becomes necessary.”

“We don’t want it to come to that either,” Thomas admitted.  “I fully believe that we can trust Alden and Ali.  If I didn’t, I would call Alden myself and let him know that I’m okay, just to throw everyone off.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Jeff said with a sigh.  “I just hope this doesn’t backfire on us.”

**

Bryan stared blankly at the page for a long moment before putting the pen to paper.  He wrote for a few minutes and stopped.  He frowned, and thought about scribbling it out, but decided against it.  He didn’t want to ruin Jeff’s gift in any way.  He thought for a moment and started to write again, trying to concentrate on what he wanted to say.  The pen scratched the paper as he wrote, pausing every few minutes to rest his hand.  He looked at all he had written and his face grew sadder.  He tried again and a smile replaced the frown as he went on a tangent he liked.  But just when he thought he was going somewhere, it just stopped.

He closed the book angrily and shoved it aside, his head falling to the desk as Jeff entered the room. 

“Bryan are you okay?” Jeff asked coming to stand beside him.  He placed a hand on Bryan’s shoulder, trying to soothe him, though he wasn’t sure if it was working this time.

“I just don’t want to write anymore,” Bryan announced, his words sounding muffled.

“Can you sit up and look at me?”

Bryan complied and turned to face Jeff.  He was surprised to see that Jeff wasn’t angry at him.  “Thank you very much for the gift, Jeff, but I don’t think it will work out.”

“Don’t give up, Bryan.  If you’re having a bad day that’s fine, but don’t give up over one bad day okay? “

“Will you look at it-when I finish?”

“If you want me to.  I don’t want to invade your privacy.”

“But I trust you,” Bryan said matter-of-factly.  “Thank you for thinking about my privacy though, I appreciate that.  I’m not used to having that anymore so it’s okay.”

‘No it’s not okay,” Jeff insisted.  “Everyone deserves privacy and I will make sure you get it.   I would love to read your writing if you want to share it with me, but right now I need to talk to you about something.”

“Okay,” Bryan said, his elbow on the table, his head resting against his hand.  “I’m listening.”

Jeff sighed.  “Your sister had an interesting phone call today, and I need to tell you about it.”

“Who called?”

“Alden.”

“My brother?” Bryan asked, and shook his head as if he knew it was a dumb question.  “Alden called?  He doesn’t know I’m here does he?”

Jeff took a moment to gauge Bryan’s reaction.  Those green flecked eyes were wide, and he was frowning.  His shoulders were tense but Jeff was sure that wasn’t about Alden per se.  He wasn’t getting the sense that Bryan was afraid of him, just the possibility of being betrayed.

“He doesn’t know where you are, Bryan, but it’s possible he might soon.”

“Why?” Bryan frowned.

“I don’t want you to panic about this okay?  I just wanted you to be aware of it.  We’re going to get his help, and swear him to secrecy too.”

“Jeff, I don’t want to have surgery.”

“You aren’t going anywhere unless I take you.  Understand?”

“But if he’s coming, then he’s going to want to take me.  You won’t be able to stop him.”

“Bryan, trust me.”

“But-”

Jeff cupped his face with his hands and pressed their foreheads together.  “Trust me,” he said pressing his lips softly against Bryan’s, just enough to apply pressure.  “Trust that I am not going to let anything happen to you.  Okay?  No one is going to take you away.  That’s a promise, Bryan.  One I intend to keep.”

**

Bryan tried again with the writing that afternoon.  He took his journal into the kitchen, since Jeff insisted that he should get out of the bedroom some, and he sat at the table writing down his thoughts.  It was a painstaking task, since his thoughts seemed to trickle like water from a leaky faucet.

He was still writing when Thomas came and sat down across from him.  He acknowledged his dad’s presence and tried to finish his thought before putting the pen down and closing the book.

 “Hi, Dad,” he said folding his hands in front of him.

“Hi, Son,” Thomas said taking a sip from his glass.  “What are you working on there?”

“Jeff bought me this notebook,” Bryan said with a shrug.  “I was just seeing-if I could write but it’s not really working well.”

“I’m sorry,” Thomas frowned, “I know how important writing was to you.”  

“They took my writing away from me” Bryan explained frowning. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.  It was just gone.”

“How?” Thomas asked curiously.  “Was it gradual, or something more extreme?”

Bryan tilted his head as if he were trying to think about the question.  He didn’t really know the answer to that.  He just knew that one day he tried to write and the words wouldn’t come.  He couldn’t even formulate a single sentence. 

“I-don’t-know…what you’re asking, Dad.  It-just wasn’t there.  They said that I couldn’t have my journal anymore but I could keep writing letters.  Then even that stopped.  It just stopped.”

“You know, I can't remember a time when you didn't have a journal beside your bed,” Thomas smiled fondly.  “I wish I could fix this for you and make it all better like I fixed things when you were a kid, but I can't do that. Instead I will tell you time and again that I am here if you want or need to talk.”

“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, Dad,” Bryan insisted.  “I just-I...” He bit his lip and tried to articulate what he wanted to say.  It used to be easy to talk to his dad.  He used to be able to tell him anything.  Now though there was a struggle.  He felt like he was trying to climb a wall that didn’t want to be climbed.  Just when he got his grip the edges would become smooth again and he slid back down to the ground.

 “I just feel like…like I’m empty,” he admitted.  “Talking to you like this is even hard because…because I don’t know what to say anymore.  I’m sorry I’m making this so hard.”

“It's not your fault Bryan. None of this is your fault,” Thomas reiterated.  He drained his glass and set it on the table before continuing with his explanation.   “It's not that I feel sorry for you, I just wish I could take all the pain away and give you back what you have lost and I know I can't do that.”

Silence fell for a moment as he let all his dad was saying sink in.  He wanted to believe all of that, and he did for the most part.  It sounded like what Jeff told him, and it did seem like his dad was actually hearing him this time.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard.    

“Do you trust Jeff, Dad?” he asked as something new occurred to him.

“I do,” Thomas replied without hesitation.  “He’s been a big help, especially in the last few months.  I’m glad he’s here with us.”

Bryan smiled, a genuine smile, and that fact didn’t go unnoticed by his dad.  “I trust him too,” he admitted.  “I mean he’s been good to me, and I don’t know why he does that.  I hope-I hope…well I just want everyone else to like him too.  I don’t know what it means, and…”  He trailed off and frowned, his hand going up to his temple rubbing at it lightly.

“Bryan are you okay?”  Thomas reached out to touch him and Bryan moved back quickly, placing his hand on the table to keep from pushing the chair over.

“I’m-ow...okay-just I don’t know what we were talking about.”  He squinted a bit, trying to stay the pain.  He waited for the pain to ebb before focusing on his dad again.  “I probably shouldn’t enjoy having Jeff around so much should I?”

Thomas frowned, not certain how to address his son’s question.  “Bryan,” he started after a moment’s pause, “there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Jeff’s company.  Our whole reason for being here is so you can heal, and Jeff is a big part of that.  I would be worried if you didn’t like having him around.”

  Bryan resisted the urge to rub at his head again.  “Did he decide to come here?” he asked curiously.  “I don’t remember how we got here, but Jeff was telling me that it was decided after the doctor wanted to operate.  And I don’t…”  He closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment, he wanted to finish this conversation with his dad.  “Dad, why did you do it?” he asked changing the subject yet again.

“If I can assure you of anything, it’s that Jeff is here because he wants to be.  He cares about you, and he saw how terrified you were of hospitals.  Neither of us thought putting you through surgery was right thing, but I gotta be honest with you, Kiddo, we’re taking a lot of chances here.  In the end I did this because I love you, and I believed wholeheartedly that the last thing you needed was to go under the knife.  You just needed someone to listen, and that’s why we’re here.”

Bryan took his father’s words into consideration, weighing them carefully before accepting the explanation.  He had another question for his dad, and something he needed to say.  Encouraged by his father’s willingness to listen he broached a new topic.

“It’s just not fair, Dad.  Jeff makes me smile, but I’m not supposed to be happy and smiling makes my head hurt.  It’s like, it’s like,” Bryan closed his eyes as a sharp pain shot through his head.  He bowed his head to the table and tried to breathe in to make it go away.  “Don’t touch me,” he said when he felt Thomas’ hand on his arm.  “Just-just don’t touch me.”

“Okay,” Thomas said pulling his hands back even as he watched his son in pain.  “I would like to help if you’ll let me, Son.”

Bryan lifted his head a little to look at his dad skeptically.  His head was throbbing now and he wished it would just stop.  “Help how?” he asked, wincing.

“Would you like me to show you?” Thomas asked, waiting for Bryan’s assertive nod before pressing his fingers against his temples.  He continued to speak as he rubbed Bryan’s head, hoping his words would go a long way in relaxing him.

Bryan closed his eyes and tried to relax.  His father’s fingers did seem to be helping a little.  The pain turned into a dull ache, but it didn’t seem to want to disappear completely.  “Thanks, Dad,” he said his voice soft as his father’s fingers continued massaging.

“Is everything okay?” He heard Jeff ask.  He opened one eye to sneak a peek at his best friend who was now standing close by.

“”Hey, Jeff,” Thomas greeted as his fingers continued to ease the pressure against Bryan’s skull.  Bryan was hit with a headache suddenly,” he explained.  “I’m using an old technique to help ease him." 

Jeff frowned.  “Bryan is it helping?” he asked, placing a hand on Bryan’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Bryan said contentedly.

“What caused the headache?” Jeff asked, directing the question at Thomas.

“I'm not entirely sure.” Thomas admitted.  He brushed the hair out of his son’s face before removing his hand completely.   “We were talking, about you actually.   One minute Bryan was explaining that you make him smile, and the next he was wincing with pain."

“Dad said he trusts you, Jeff,” Bryan said proudly.  “I was just glad that he really likes my best friend, and then the headache came from there.”

“Well, I guess we’ll have to counter the fact that you have headaches when you’re happy,” Jeff reflected.  “Were you writing again?”

“A little,” Bryan admitted.  “I think I’ll go try to write some more.”

“Are you sure?” Jeff asked as Bryan got up and grabbed his journal and his pen.

“Yes.  Thanks for talking to me, Dad,” he said giving his father a small smile before he left the room.

“I’d say that is a step in the right direction,” Jeff commented with a smile.  “You guys were able to talk.  Though I don’t know why you wanted to talk about me.  I would think that would be a rather boring topic, Sir.”

“I beg to differ,” Thomas smiled as he placed a hand on Jeff’s shoulder.  He gave it a gentle squeeze before heading over to the refrigerator to grab the juice.  He pulled down a glass for Jeff, refilling his own as well before returning to the table.  “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Jeff,” he commented handing over a glass of juice as the two men took their seats.  “To be honest, I’m willing to talk about whatever gets my son talking.  He’s very...taken with you.”

“I don’t know,” Jeff said sipping his drink.  “I don’t think I’m that fascinating, but if Bryan likes to talk about me I will take it as a good sign.  I’m glad you were able to get him to talk too, even if just a little.  I definitely want him to have his relationship with you, I mean you’re an awesome dad.  Mine,” Jeff frowned and took another sip of juice before setting the glass down.  “I’m glad that you think I am a good help to Bryan, Sir, but the truth is, if I can be honest…he’s a big help to me.  Both of you are.  I’ve never really had anyone counting on me before so, it’s nice to feel wanted for a change.”

“I hope you realize you’re always wanted here, Jeff,” Thomas smiled and placed a hand on Jeff’s shoulder.  “I care about you, as if you were my own son, and I’m very glad you’re here.”

Jeff opened his mouth to respond but he truly didn’t know what to say.  He was shocked, and in awe.  It was nice to know that Bryan’s dad cared so much about him, after such a short amount of time.

“Jeff!  Dad?” Bryan called from the living room.  The two men exchanged looks before rushing to see what had Bryan so panicked.

They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw that Bryan was standing in front of the open door.  Bryan turned to face them, before his eyes darted back to his big brother. 

‘Alden’s here.”


13. Chapter 13

Chapter 13

 

“Jeff,” He called the panic setting in as he looked at his big brother standing before him.  “Dad!”

Even though they had told him Alden may show up, it still surprised him that he was standing in front of him.  He couldn’t read the expression on his brother’s face, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to.  Was that shock he saw?  Disbelief?  Did he have something to worry about, or was he overanalyzing; over thinking?  He had been accused of thinking too much, but he couldn’t help it. 

He heard footsteps behind him and turned just in time to see Jeff and Thomas skid to a stop.  They also registered shock as Bryan looked back at Alden.

 “Alden’s here,” he said stating the obvious.  He turned his gaze to Jeff, hoping that his best friend would know what to say or do at this moment.  Surely he had some idea.

“Let him in, Bryan,” Jeff gently instructed, sounding calm and in control.  Bryan admired that a lot; he wished he could be more like Jeff.  He stepped aside to let his brother enter and then closed the door behind him.  He was watching Alden, waiting to see what he would say or what he would do.  The minute his brother suggested he go back home he was going to bolt.

“Where is she?” Alden demanded, with a hint of anger in his voice. It made Bryan frown.  Still he said nothing as he watched Alden face off with Jeff and Thomas.  “Where’s Jenni?  And what are you doing here, Dad?  And you,” Alden charged, his gaze directly on Jeff.  “I thought you had taken yourself out of the picture.  What are you doing here with my brother?”

“Alden, just calm down.”  Jeff was still unruffled; Bryan wondered how he managed to do that.  He himself was about ready to freak, but not Jeff.  His best friend was as cool as a cucumber.  “We can explain everything; there is no need to get upset.”

“Don’t you dare tell me how to feel!” Alden snapped.

“Hey!  Don’t yell at him!” Bryan railed, somehow finding his voice.  “He didn’t do anything to you, Alden!”

“Okay that’s enough,” Thomas added his voice of reason to the chaos.  “Yelling and screaming is not getting us anywhere.  Let’s sit down and discuss this like reasonable adults.”

“Jeff, I couldn’t find the brand of-” Jenni stopped when she saw that they had a visitor.  “Alden, you’re here,” she said, putting down her bag of groceries and going to give her little brother a hug.

Bryan watched as Alden placed his hands on Jenni’s shoulders, and seemed to think a minute before hugging her close.  The reunion didn’t last long however, as the next thing Bryan knew, Alden was yelling again.

 “How could you lie to me like that, Jenni?” He asked indignantly.  “Here I was worried about you, because you sounded evasive on the phone.  And I poured out my story about our brother being missing and you knew where he was the whole time.  What kind of game are you pulling here?  And how could you be working with that guy?” He scoffed throwing Jeff a dirty look.

“Alden, stop picking on Jeff,” Bryan insisted, balling his fists as he glared at his brother..  “No one is going to listen to you if you continue to yell, so stop it.”

“Bryan.”  He felt Jeff’s hand on his shoulder and turned to see his best friend smiling at him.  “It’s okay, I’ve got this.  Don’t let Alden upset you.”

“Alden, I can explain,” Jenni spoke up.  “I wasn’t trying to be deceitful, but I was sworn to secrecy and I couldn’t risk anyone finding out where Bryan was.”

“Everyone is worried sick, Bryan,” Alden calmed his voice just a little.  “She and Marshall have been asking everyone where you are.  Did you guys even think before you did this?” he turned on the others again and Bryan’s frown deepened.  “Does Bryan have his medication?  Was he even in his right mind when you just whisked him away from the hospital?  And was it your idea Jenni?  Were you in on this scheme all along?”

“I’m not crazy,” Bryan looked to Jeff for confirmation.  “Right?”

Jeff sighed.  “You’re not crazy, Bryan.  Alden is just blowing off a little steam.  We’ll get it all figured out soon.  Come on; let’s give your dad and siblings a chance to talk.”  Bryan nodded and followed, but not before glaring at Alden one last time. 

“Alden, it’s not like that,” Jenni said when Bryan and Jeff were out of earshot.  “Of course we’re concerned about Bryan’s health.  That was part of the reason why I called you in the first place.”

“I’m the one who called you,” Alden reminded her.  “You seriously expect me to believe that you were going to call me?”

“Your sister has no reason to lie to you, Alden,” Thomas piped up.  “This is a very delicate situation, and Bryan’s health is our first priority.”

“You sure have a funny way of showing that.” Alden retorted.

“Oh will you get off your self-righteous high horse and listen for a change,” Jenni groaned.  “If you want to know what’s going on you have to stop yelling long enough for me to tell you.  And besides, I don’t know if you noticed, but you’re upsetting our brother.”

Alden crossed his arms and took a seat on the couch.  “Fine, explain.”

“I was going to call you to see if you could get us the medications that Bryan needs,” Jenni started with her story.  “Jeff is well aware that he is running out, and he just didn’t know how to go about making sure he has them.”

“So we’re following Jeff’s orders now?” Alden asked exasperated.

“It’s not like that, Alden,” Thomas stated. 

“Then what is it like, Dad?   The way I see it, you guys have put Bryan’s life in the hands of someone we don’t even know.”

“You might not know him,” Thomas stated, “but I lived with him for a few months before Bryan came home.  And Bryan responds well to him.  In truth, he knows Bryan a lot better than any of us do, and he’s been taking very good care of him.”

“You shouldn’t be mad at Jenni, Alden,” Jeff added upon his return to the living room.  “It was my idea to get Bryan out of the hospital, but you must understand that Marshall and Marianne wanted to let the doctors operate.  Bryan doesn’t want an operation.  Simple brain tests freaked him out.  I was there, I saw him panic.  It was best that we get him out of there.  Your father chose California because it would be the last place anyone would think to look.  Thing is, Bryan needs his kidney medicine.  And we need a way to fill it without having it traced, and that’s where you come in.”

“And you can’t tell anyone that Bryan is here,” Thomas added.  “It’s important that no one finds me, or Jeff and especially Bryan.”

“What if the surgery fixes what’s wrong with him?” Alden asked calmly, his tone serious as he looked at Jeff.  “I am all for helping my little brother, but I want him to be okay too.”

“There’s nothing wrong with him, per se,” Jeff countered.  “The doctors and everyone have Bryan convinced that he’s got another sickness but he really doesn’t.  His kidney condition is controlled, and will continue to be so once we get the meds.  But as for his head, he’s as sane as you and I.  Just a little mixed up about things he was told and taught to believe.”

“This is crazy.  I thought he was in rehab?  What kind of rehab facility could have done this to him?”

“That’s a long story, Little brother,” Jenni replied, “and I would be happy to share it with you, but can you agree first to do this?  Can you keep Bryan’s secret and help us get his medication?”

“I can try,” Alden said after a moment’s pause.  “I’d do anything for Bryan.  You know that.  I only want him to be okay.”

“Then trust us,” Jeff pleaded.  “Believe me, Alden; I care about your brother a great deal.  I wouldn’t have suggested him leaving the hospital if I didn’t think it was in his best interest.  Bryan has spent over a year with people telling him how he’s supposed to feel and what he’s supposed to do.  It’s important that we give Bryan back his voice.  He knows what he wants and what he doesn’t.”

“Marianne says he’s sick,” Alden knit his brow.  “He passed out at lunch and doesn’t even remember.  I don’t see how this is good.”

“What Bryan needs is for people to let him be who he is.  Too many people want to change him, Alden, and they can’t.  He just needs to be Bryan.”

“What does that even mean?” Alden ran a frustrated hand through his hair, grabbing the strands as if the gesture would clear his thoughts.

“I think what Jeff is trying to say is it’s time to stop telling Bryan what to do,” Thomas offered.  “All he needs is time, and our hope is to give him that.  It’s why we’re here.”

”I only want what’s best for him,” Alden admitted reluctantly.  “I’m not sure about this guys, and I certainly don’t agree, but I’ll follow your lead for now.”

**

While Jeff talked to Alden, Bryan tried to write in his journal again.  It proved harder than anything because he couldn’t concentrate.  How could he when his mind kept drifting to what was going on outside the door.  He dared not listen. It wasn’t nice to eavesdrop, and he didn’t want Jeff to think he didn’t trust him.  His best friend was the only one he trusted completely, though he was beginning to remember how much he loved his dad.  And Jenni wasn’t bad either.  Still, Jeff was the only one he knew without a doubt he could count on. 

But what if Alden didn’t listen to Jeff?  What if his brother decided he was going to pull rank and say that he had to go home with him?  Alden didn’t seem to like Jeff at all, which was problematic.  Plus he was mad at Jenni and at their dad.  Bryan sighed, and tried once again to focus on the empty page.  He was surprised to find that he had filled up the pages with little bits here and there, but never anything substantial.  The fresh sheet of paper glared at him and he slammed the book shut even as he heard the door open.

He jumped up from his seat and ran to Jeff, pulling his friend over to the bed so they could sit down.  “Jeff, I don’t want to go,” he said immediately before Jeff could say anything.  “I know Alden is my brother, and he can try to take control because he’s older, but Jenni’s older than him and she can pull rank too.  And Dad, dad definitely can pull rank.  Please don’t make me go back.  You promised I wouldn’t go back there until I was ready to.”

“Bryan,” Jeff cupped Bryan’s face with his hands to get him to look at him.  “Stop.”  He tried to relax beneath that intense blue gaze, and somehow managed to control his breathing.  Jeff was still holding his cheeks, and he could feel the heat from those palms.  It felt nice.  “I’m not going to let anyone take you anywhere, alright?”  Jeff let go, placing his hands on Bryan’s shoulders instead.  “You don’t have anything to worry about.  Alden is on our side.”

“He won’t tell?  You’re sure about that?”

“He wants to help, Bryan.  Don’t worry, I will keep an eye on him, but I think he’s sincere.  Jenni’s explaining everything to him now, and your dad is making sure he understands.”

“And then what?” Bryan asked still a little uncertain.

“Alden is going to call Ali and see about getting your prescriptions refilled.  Once we have your medicines we can get you back on a routine, and we can start helping you get your life back.”

“Do you really think that will work?” Bryan wanted to know.  “I mean can I be normal?”

“You are normal,” Jeff replied softly.  “You’ve just had too many people try to convince you otherwise.  I think we have a long road ahead of us, Bryan.  You’re having a good day today, and tomorrow could be better, but it could also be worse.  Just trust that I won’t let you fall okay?  Can you do that?”

“Yes, Jeff,” he said without even thinking.  “I trust you.”

**

September 25

Jeff says I should try to write down what I’m thinking.  He thinks that if I just write, and try not to think about things too hard the words might come.  I decided I would give that a try.  It has been a few days since Alden came, but I haven’t really talked to him much.  I don’t know why I am avoiding him really.  Jeff says that I’m not ready to trust him yet and he said there is nothing wrong with that.

I do not know why I can’t…trust him.  He hasn’t done anything wrong.  I guess I can admit that I am afraid.  Too much has happened and I have been hurt too many times.  Jeff seems to think he’s okay and I trust Jeff’s judgment.  I think I will go talk to my brother.

Bryan stopped and looked over what he had written before closing the book.  His thoughts often stopped like this, but at least this time they were somewhat coherent.  He figured Jeff would be proud, if he ever got a chance to read the entry.  Bryan stored his journal in the desk drawer by the bed and went to see if he could find his best friend.  Jeff had mentioned something about going to the pharmacy with Alden, but Bryan was certain they should be back by now.

He found his brother sitting in the living room reading the Los Angeles Daily.  He walked over to the couch and sat down quietly not wanting to interrupt.  It took a few minutes, but Alden did finally look up from the paper and immediately put it to the side.  This move took Bryan off guard.  It didn’t matter how many times Jeff told him that people wanted to talk to him; it always surprised him.

“Hi,” he said shyly, ducking his head to avoid Alden’s gaze.

“Hey, little brother,” Alden offered him a smile.  “How are you doing?”

“Okay, I guess,” Bryan said shrugging his shoulders.  “I just figured I would come talk to you…if you wanted to.”

“Sure,” Aaron nodded, placing his arm on the back of the chair as he gave his brother his full attention.  “What would you like to talk about?”

Bryan opened his mouth to say something but didn’t really know what he wanted to say.  He hadn’t thought that far ahead.  He was trying his best not to be nervous or intimidated.  It was only Alden, and Jeff had mentioned that Alden was on their side.

“It’s okay, Little brother.  How do you like California?  Have you been able to get out and see anything since you got here?”

“Well, not really.  I’ve been out with Jeff a couple of times, but I don’t really like venturing anywhere.  So I stay in the house.  Jeff took me with him to the grocery store, and we drove around a little, but that’s it.”

“You’re pretty close to Jeff,” Alden observed, ”is he good to you, Bryan?  You are my brother and I love you,” he continued before Bryan could answer.  “I’m sorry for the way I acted when I got here.  It's just everyone at home is pointing fingers and placing blame.  Then to find you here with Dad, Jeff, and Jenni really kinda threw me for a loop.”

Bryan blinked and shook his head; Alden was asking too many questions, and Bryan wanted to process them one at a time.  “Do you think I’m too close to Jeff?” He asked ready to fight if Alden said he wanted him to stay away from his best friend.  “Why is everyone pointing fingers at him?  I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble.  Jeff just wanted to help, and Dad wanted to help too and they thought coming here was the best choice.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, little brother. No one is mad at you, just worried because you disappeared on us.  I don't know Jeff well enough to answer that.  I do see that he’s very important to you, though.  I think you’re very important to him too.  In any case, no matter what you decide, little brother, if you ever want to talk or vent or go for a ride you just let me know, and we will do it.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say really, Alden,” Bryan shook his head solemnly, “There’s nothing good to tell..  I wasn’t in rehab.  That’s just what Dad believed.  I want you to stay though.  I mean, if you want.  Can you?”

“Of course I’ll stay.  Don't worry Bryan, we’ll get this all worked out, and get you back to your old self. You just let me know what I can do to help.  I don't want to step on anyone's toes and I don't want to undo whatever Jeff,  Dad, and Jenni have already done.  So I’ll take my cues from you, okay?”

Bryan took a moment to look into his brother’s eyes.  He was trying to gauge his words and his reactions.  It wasn’t easy, even though it used to be.  Jeff was better at it, but his best friend wasn’t there to help this time.  “Would it be okay,” He asked hesitantly, “If I asked you something important?”

“You can ask me anything, Bryan. I may not have the answer, but I will certainly do my best.”

“Well,” Bryan started, trying to figure out the best way to ask his question.  He didn’t want to lose his nerve now that he had the opportunity to ask. ”I’m supposed to be,” he hesitated, “straight, but I really don’t know how to do that.  And honestly, I don’t think I want to.  How do you like being straight?”

“”Hmmm,” Alden mused as he looked at his brother quizzically.  “That definitely wasn’t what I was expecting you to ask,” he admitted, biting his lip thoughtfully, as he tried to formulate a response.

A frown touched Bryan’s lips as he watched his brother squirm.  He was starting to wonder if his brother would take back his promise.

  “Being straight or gay is not a choice we make,” Alden explained, “it’s part of who we are, and there is nothing wrong with that.  It's just a part of what makes you, you, Bryan.”  He stopped short as he looked at his brother who seemed to be hanging on to his every word.  The last thing he wanted to do was confuse him.  “As for being straight versus being gay, I don’t think there is a physical difference really.  We’re all the same, little brother.  Our only difference is that I like girls.  Is that what this is about?” he asked frowning.  “Did someone tell you that you weren’t allowed to be gay?”

“Yeah,” Bryan said lamely.  “But I-I don’t know how to act any other way.  I tried.  I tried to be closed off and aloof, but I don’t understand how that is supposed to make someone straight.  I mean, you aren’t like that.  And Dad, but I was told that real men aren’t supposed to show their emotions, and when I did I got in trouble for them.  And that seemed to be all the time, but I can’t cut them off-and it makes my head hurt when I have a-a-” He frowned as he lost the words he wanted to use.  He covered his face with his hands and sucked in his breath.  “Where’s Jeff?” his voice came out muffled, and he wondered if Alden even heard him.

“Easy there, Bryan,” Alden said, worried.  “Deep breaths.  Jeff is in the other room working on something.  I can get him for you if you need me too, but I would really like to talk you through this if you’ll let me.”

“Okay,” Bryan gasped.  He wasn’t sure what was going on.

“Buddy, I don't know who told you real men don't show their emotions,” Alden started softly, “but they’re completely wrong. I show mine every day when I’m with Ali.  It just happens naturally.  Dad is the same way with Marianne.  Being gay doesn't mean you aren't a real man; it just means that you don't view your choice of partner in the same way that Dad or I do.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with you for having feeling for another man.”  He paused for a moment, studying Bryan quizzically before continuing. ”Okay, I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that when you try and suppress your feelings,  your head hurts.    You feel sick because of these feelings, and you think something’s wrong with you.  Am I close?”

Bryan looked up, grimacing at his brother.  He heard what Alden was saying, but he didn’t really quite understand.  It went against everything he had been taught while he was away.  But how did he tell his brother that?  Jeff had told him similar things about where his headaches were coming from.  He just didn’t know how to stop them.  He wanted to believe that it was okay to be one way or the other, but he wasn’t sure about that either. 

“I don’t know,” He said sincerely.  “I-I know Jeff said something like that too.  But I can’t help it, because it hurts and when I have those thoughts it hurts.  When I try to just be me it hurts so badly and it makes me want to cry.  I can’t just turn off my emotions, Alden.  Jeff tells me not to, and I want to listen to him-but it hurts so much.”  He closed his eyes tight and tried to breathe like Jeff had told him to do so many times.  Jeff had said there would be bad times as well as good he wasn’t sure if he liked that.

“You don't need to turn off your emotions, Bryan,” Alden pointed out.  “There is nothing wrong with giving in to what you’re feeling; laughing, crying, loving, hating, happiness and sadness, those are things we deal with every day.  Your head hurts because you’re trying to force away the things that seem to make you happy, and that's your brain's way of telling you to stop.  If kissing, holding, being with another man makes you happy, go for it,” Alden insisted..  “I don't know who told you it was wrong to have those emotions, but they were dead wrong, and I’m sure that Jeff, Dad, and Jenni would back me up on that.  It breaks my heart to see you hurting. You’re the kindest, most loving of all us kids.”

“I don’t know how to have those feelings anymore,” Bryan confessed.  “They’re all stuck somewhere on the shelf and sometimes they get scattered around, and I don’t know how to get them back up there.  I don’t even know why it matters to me so much.  I’m not as loving as you think I am.  And I honestly don’t know why Jeff wants to be my best friend-but he does.  And I think there’s’ a reason why I feel safe with him.  I’m just so confused, about that and Dad and everything.”

“Can I be perfectly honest with you here, little brother and you not get mad or upset about what I’m going to say?”

Bryan bit his lip and nodded slowly.  He was scared of what his brother was going to say, but he didn’t want to show it. 

“Bryan, you don't have to know how to have feelings of love.  They are there and they’re written all over your face.  I saw it my first day here, shoot, almost within the first five minutes I was here.  Don’t put your love back on that shelf when it falls off.  You have to open it up and let it happen; let others in.  Me, Dad, Jenni, and especially, Jeff.  I may not have liked what I found when I walked through that door the other day, but it didn't take me long to figure it out.   I think if you just put aside all the things you were told then you’ll see it too.  I’ve seen the same look on Dad's face, on Marianne's face, heck, even on Ali's face that I see written on yours.  You’re falling in love with Jeff, and Buddy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Don't let anyone tell you there is and don't shut him out because of the way you feel.”

Bryan was speechless. He wasn’t even sure what he thought about what he just heard.  Was it possible that Alden was telling the truth?  That made no sense though, did it?  He frowned.  Jeff was very important to him.  He was his best friend and he was very dependent on him.  But was Alden right about what that meant?  If that were the case, then it wasn’t a good thing at all, and as he thought about it, panic began to sink in.

“Are-are you sure?” he asked cautiously.  “I don’t know if that’s a good thing, Alden.  God that can’t be possible at all.  This-this is a disaster, and you can’t tell Jeff!”

“Tell Jeff?  Little brother.  I’m not gonna tell Jeff anything.  That's for you to tell when you’re ready and not before.  There’s no disaster here, Bryan.  Don't panic.   I didn't mean to upset you.  I just want you to understand that there is nothing wrong with loving Jeff if that's what you want to do, or how you feel.  I love you, little brother, I always have and I always will.  Gay or straight, doesn't matter to me; I love you just the way you are.”

“I’m so confused.  I need to talk to Jeff,” Bryan shook his head sadly.  “Alden, are you sure?”

“Bryan, there are a lot of things in life I’m not sure about, but this is one thing I am absolutely certain of.  Follow your heart little brother.  It won't lead you wrong.”

“One problem,” Bryan sighed lowering his voice as he leaned closer to his brother.  “I don’t know how to do that.  Plus I don’t want Jeff to hate me, and I just don’t know what to do.”

‘I don't think Jeff could ever hate you, Bryan,” Alden insisted thoughtfully.  “As for following your heart, you do know how to do that.  You just need to re-learn how to listen to it.  Let Jeff be your guide through it.  He won't steer you wrong.  He cares too much about you to let you get hurt, much less hurt you himself.”

“Okay,” Bryan chewed his lip thoughtfully.  “I guess I can try that.  I just don’t want to mess it up.  And I don’t want to-I don’t know.  I think I confused myself.  Thank you for talking to me, Alden.  I want to find Jeff though.”

“Anytime, little brother, anytime.  I think you can find Jeff out in the backyard going over some of the research he has been gathering.”

“Okay,” Bryan said getting up from the couch.  He was still sulking when he left the living room, not quite sure what he was going to say when he found his best friend.  Alden’s words were playing around in his mind, and all Bryan managed to do was confuse himself even further.  It just couldn’t be possible.  Or could it?  That despite the year he spent away he was still having feelings for guys?  Alden said those feelings weren’t wrong, and that went against everything he had been told-but it was like everything Jeff and his dad told him.  Which was right?  What was the truth?  How was he supposed to know?  And why did he feel like he was losing his mind?

Jeff was right where Alden had said he’d be; sitting on the back porch working on his laptop.  Bryan came out and sat down across from him, his hands folded as he waited for Jeff to notice that he was there.  He didn’t mind waiting, he liked watching Jeff work.  His head was tilted just so, his jaw set in concentration, and every now and again Bryan caught of glimpse of those crystal clear eyes.  Blue eyes were his weakness, and this particular pair never ceased to captivate him. 

It seemed like a large chunk of time passed before Jeff looked up and smiled at him.  Bryan couldn’t tell if he was surprised to see him or glad or bothered that he was there.  He knew the last one couldn’t be the case.  Jeff didn’t smile when he was bothered by something.  He decided to try on a smile himself.  Jeff always said he wanted him to do that more. 

“Hi,” He greeted keeping his voice soft.

“Hi there,” Jeff said putting his laptop aside. “How was your talk with Alden? I’m glad that you were able to do that.”

“How did you know I actually talked to him” Bryan asked curiously.

“I saw you on my way out here,” Jeff explained.  “I knew you didn't see me, but Alden knew I was there.  You guys seemed to be doing ok, and I didn't want to intrude.  Is something wrong?”

Bryan shook his head.  “I wanted to know where you were when my head started to hurt.  But Alden talked to me and then I think I got confused.”

“What were you guys talking about?”

“Well,” Bryan started, his tone thoughtful, “I was trying to ask about being straight, and I explained that I didn’t know how to do it.   I was trying to explain about my headaches and then I had one.”

“How’s your head?” Jeff asked concerned.

“The headache is gone, Jeff, but I think I’m confused.”

“Can you tell me what has you confused?”

“I don’t know if I can, Jeff.  I-I want to, but then I think we’d both be confused.  I just don’t understand how this is supposed to work.  I feel like-like my mind keeps going around in circles on me, and things that should make sense don’t.  I’m not sure what to say about my feelings or if I should even have feelings.” He stopped long enough to take a breath before continuing.  “ And…” He  looked down at his hands as if they had the answers to his questions.  He knew he couldn’t talk to Jeff about the biggest question of all.  Not if he didn’t understand it himself.  If he did anything to push Jeff out of his life, then life just wasn’t worth it.  He had to prevent that from happening. 

“Well,” Jeff spoke slowly, “you know I was always told that two heads were better than one. So, why don't we take a chance that it is true and see if we can work this out together. I care about you, Bryan; I don't want you to be confused.  So please tell me what has you so tied up in knots.”

“I’m not supposed to do that though,” Bryan insisted.  “I’m confused because I’m not supposed to want certain things, but I want them.  And I should believe other things that I don’t.   Whenever I try to think one or the other-“ he trailed off.  “I cannot really explain it and it makes no sense.  And I feel like when I talk you are the only one who really listens, and you hear what I’m saying, but maybe you don’t understand because I don’t even understand, Jeff.  Alden said I need to let the books stay off the shelf and I need to open them and just let whatever happens happen.  But how can I when that goes against everything I learned?  I just don’t get it.”

“Ok,” Jeff kept his voice calm, “first thing’s first; forget everything you learned while you were gone.  It is only going to make things worse.  Everything you were told is incorrect, so just try to forget it.  Alden is right; you need to let the books stay off the shelf.  Let's take this one step at a time here, ok?  First, is there a person who is confusing you with something they have done?”

“I’m always confused, Jeff.  I should just stop talking.  I didn’t mean to bother you with this”

“Bryan, stop.” Jeff reached out to stop him from getting up.  “You are not bothering me.  I want to help you not be confused, but I can't do that if you withdraw and don't talk to me.  So tell me, who is it that you are confused about?”

Bryan didn’t know what to say to that.  Jeff was asking him a direct question, and since they met he had never lied to Jeff before.  He didn’t want to start; Jeff was the only person he could talk to about just about anything.  Would that still be the case if he told Jeff he was the one confusing him?

“It’s you, Jeff,” He admitted, finally just blurting it out.  “I’m confused about you.”

“Me?” Jeff sounded surprised.  “Ok, well, what is it about me that confuses you?  Don't run,” he pleaded when it looked like Bryan was going to bolt.  “I'm not mad, angry, or upset; I just need you to be as honest as you can so that I know what we’re working with here.  I don't want to confuse you anymore, so I need to know what you’re thinking that has you confused.”

“Well, you aren’t really confusing me, Jeff.  I’m confused about you; like how I feel and what those feelings mean.  I’m sure I’m not explaining it right.  If what Alden said is true, then I’m not sure what to think because you are my best friend and I don’t want you to leave.”

“Leave?  Bryan, I’m not going to leave you unless you tell me to go.”

Bryan bit his lip as he looked at his friend.  He knew he was worrying him, and he hated that.  It was just so hard to understand.  What if he told Jeff the truth and Jeff couldn’t handle it?  What if he said what he needed to say and it totally backfired?  What if he lost Jeff for good?  What if-  “I like you Jeff,” he blurted out before his mind could spiral out of control.  “I like you.”

“I like you too, Bryan,” Jeff tilted his head curiously.  “What is it about liking me that has you so perplexed?  There’s nothing wrong with liking someone, you know.”

 “I think it’s how much I like you,” Bryan explained.  “I mean I don’t just like you as a person...and that scares me because I’ve been hurt before.”  He frowned; sure that he wasn’t making sense to Jeff.  “I’m not supposed to be feeling what I feel for you, Jeff.   I don’t know if the feelings are the same name that Alden used, but they are there and I can’t make them go away.  I don’t want them to go away, but I don’t get how I can have these feelings that I can’t begin to comprehend myself.  How do you do something you don’t know how to do or you don’t remember ever doing?”

“You do it one step at a time,” Jeff explained, “just like learning to walk. We take things slow and easy and there is never pressure to do more than what you can do.”  He paused for a moment, and Bryan wondered if he was going to answer the rest of his question. 

  “As for how much you like me,” Jeff said finally, “I don't know that I could put into words how much you have come to mean to me in my life.  I don't know what term Alden used, but I have a pretty good guess based on how upset this has you.   I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing wrong at all with having those feelings. I don't want them to go away either, and the comprehension of those feelings will come Bryan. You can't force it to happen any more than you can force it away. If you’re trying to push your emotions to do something they don't want to then that's probably what’s causing these headaches.  Your brain knows what it is supposed to do, and when you try to override that, it hurts you to make you stop.  Does that make sense?  I won't hurt you Bryan, at least not intentionally.  If there is something I don't know, I can't promise that I won't do something that hurts you.”

“I want to believe that,” Bryan admitted sadly.  “I want to believe everything you are saying Jeff-and-I like what you’re saying.  I just feel like there are reasons I can’t trust it.  Not you, I trust you-just not this, whatever it is.  I don’t think you’ll hurt me.  I think I’ll hurt you and I could never live with myself if-if I did that.  I think I’m too screwed up for anyone to really care about me, Jeff.”

“Stop!” Jeff exclaimed, catching Bryan off guard.  “Stop right there. You are not too screwed up for anyone to care about you.  I care about you,” he reiterated reaching out to take Bryan’s hand.  “A lot, Bryan.   If something happened to you and I couldn't see or spend time with you I would be completely torn apart.  Trust what you feel, Bryan.   If I didn't trust in what I feel for you I wouldn't be here.  Your health and happiness are my only missions in life so don’t think you are going to hurt me because of the level of your feelings for me.”

A single tear slipped down Bryan’s cheek as he held tight to the hand Jeff had offered.  He looked deep into the sapphire sea and saw the truth of Jeff’s feelings.  He wanted so badly to get lost in this.  He wanted to get away from the pain and the hurting-but would doing so just cause him even more hurt and pain in the long run?  Did he have a right to expect this from Jeff?  His best friend had already done so much for him, and he made promises that Bryan was sure he would keep.  He had no doubt that Jeff was sincere.  He just didn’t know if he trusted himself.

“I’m sorry Jeff,” he said miserably.  “I’m just so…messed up, and I don’t even know how to fix it.  I came out to my parents last year and-” He stopped for a minute and bit his lip.  This was so painful for him to talk about, but he had to. Who better to hear it then his best friend, the only person he trusted completely?  “And Mom, she couldn’t handle it at all.  Dad was good, but Mom didn’t believe that I was sure about how I felt.  Then she got my- Marshall involved and they-they wanted me to go to this place for the summer, and I didn’t want to go.   That’s when Mom fell down the stairs because I was trying to get her to stay away from me-and Dad thought it was my fault.  Marshall told me that Dad wanted me to go to the summer camp and he said it was best if I just did it.  He had the signed paper from dad, and so I went even though I didn’t really want to.” 

He stopped long enough to take a breath.  Jeff was listening; Bryan could tell that he had his best friend’s full attention.  His jaw was set again, but he couldn’t read the expression there.

“They taught me how to lock away my emotions first.  They said that real men are controlled, and not sympathetic.  They don’t show their emotions, and their exterior is cold-frozen like ice.  Emotions complicate things and when you let them get in the way-it gets sloppy.  We had a routine there too.  Every morning they told us what to do, how to do it and how long we could spend doing it.  We were told what to wear, what to eat and then there were the tests.”  He shuddered just thinking about the electrodes that were always stuck to his head.  “They used pictures of girls to entice you, and if you reacted to one of the random shots of a guy they sent a shock to your groin-and that was tame compared to some of the other stuff.”

“And they did this to you for over a year, right?” Jeff asked, his voice somehow managing to stay calm.  Bryan nodded and Jeff sighed.  “Bryan, no amount of electrical shocks or any other kind of treatment is going to ‘cure’ the fact that you’re gay.  It's just a part of who you are.  You can try and suppress your desires for another man, but eventually when your body realizes that those thoughts don't result in an electric shock it will all come flooding back to you.  

“I'm gay, Bryan. I knew it for years before I actually let myself fully believe it, and opened up to those around me.  I can't say why your Mom had the reaction she did to you telling her, but I can tell you that she never once treated me like being gay was an infectious disease that needed to be cured.  Marshall used your Mom's fall and your Dad's preoccupation with taking care of Marianne and baby Eddie to get you to this camp.

“They were wrong, about so many, many things, but making you hurt because you are attracted to or desire another man is probably the worst kind of pain. There is no pain here, Bryan,” Jeff placed his free hand on the side of Bryan’s face, “Not for feeling what you feel or wanting to act on those feelings. No one here is going to hurt you or judge you for being who you are. You can't make Alden or your Dad gay any more than they can make you or me straight.  Prove those idiots at that place wrong and show them that you are stronger than they are by being who you want to be with whomever you choose to be with.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Bryan sighed and leaned his head back against the wall.  “Do you think you can help me do that, Jeff?  Can you help me be me again?  I miss me.”

“Of course I will help you be you again. It's easy for me to say, but I know it's not so easy for you to put into action. Your family misses you too. I will do everything in my power to help make you whole again. No shocks, no beatings, no poking, no prodding, just me and you working on helping you express your feelings again. So don't feel like you can't talk about it with me. I can't help you if I don't know what you are thinking.”

“Okay, Jeff.  I’ll try.  I kinda like the idea of it being me and you though,” Bryan admitted shyly   “Is feeling all warm and fuzzy inside okay?”

“Feeling warm and fuzzy is perfectly fine,” Jeff smiled.  “As a matter of fact, it is great that you feel warm and fuzzy.  Me and you, we can do anything if we put our minds to it.”

“Will you be sure to tell me if I drive you insane?  Or if I do something wrong?  I don’t really know how to do this.”

“Of course I will let you know, but I don't think that is going to happen.  You don't have to know how to do this; I don't know either.  One step at a time, and we will work it out and get you back to being you.”

“Thank you,” Bryan said as he impulsively hugged his best friend.  “I don’t ever want to lose you Jeff, never.”  He felt Jeff’s arms circle his waist and stayed in the embrace for a long moment before pulling away completely.  “I’m going to go write some more in my journal.  I was able to stick with a coherent thought for a little bit today.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Jeff smiled proudly.  “I would like to take a look at it if you don’t mind.”

Bryan smiled as he headed back into the house.  “Yes Jeff.  I trust you.”

**

Jeff watched Bryan leave and sighed heavily.  He wasn’t even sure how to wrap his head around the conversation.  His heart was hammering in his chest, and he was surprised that Bryan didn’t hear it when they hugged.  He picked up his laptop and headed back into the kitchen, setting his laptop on the counter. 

“Hey Jeff,” Alden greeted as he looked in the fridge for something to drink.  “You want a coke?”

“I want you to answer a question for me,” Jeff retorted catching the can of soda in his hand. 

“Sure what’s up,” Alden asked popping the top of the can.

“Not much,” Jeff said placing the can on the counter beside his computer.  “Just wondering what the hell you were thinking when you told Bryan whatever it was you told him?”


 

 


14. Chapter 14

Chapter 14


His question caught Alden off guard, and he was sure that he sounded angrier then he was.  He wasn’t angry per se, just a little cross, irritated, and incredibly  frustrated.  It had taken quite some time to wade through Bryan’s confusion, and even now he wasn’t certain if he did an adequate enough job explaining it to his friend.  The thing was that Alden; by telling Bryan what he did, had sent Bryan into a tailspin and ti was up to Jeff to catch him before he crashed.  That was the source of Jeff’s agitation; at least for the most part.  His sole purpose right now was caring about Bryan and taking care of him.  He couldn’t even think about his own feelings; those were secondary.

“Well?” he insisted when Alden didn’t respond..  “What were you thinking?”

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about, Jeff,” Alden stated as he took a sip of his soda. “I didn’t tell Bryan anything he didn’t already know.  What’s your problem?”

“My problem is that I just spent the last fifteen minutes trying to help Bryan be less confused, and I am not sure if that even worked.  And it’s all because you decided he needed to know that.  What did you tell him?”

“He wasn’t confused when he left me, Jeff,” Alden shrugged.  “I only tried to tell him to follow his heart.”

“He was confused by the time he found me,” Jeff sighed.  “He could barely explain to me what was going on, and when he did-“ Jeff stopped as Alden’s words caught up with him.  “You told him to what?” he asked incredulously, his mouth agape as he glared at Alden.  “Oh Alden, you didn’t really tell him that,did you?”

“He asked me about how to love,” Alden explained, “ I just told him he already knew how to do that, since he’s falling for you.  Now that I think about it, he did seem a little confused about that, so I suggested he follow his heart.  It’s the one thing that won’t steer him wrong.  I don’t get what your’e so upset about.”  

Jeff picked up the can to keep his hands preoccupied.  He popped the top as he stewed over Alden’s words.  He was right; there really wasn’t anything to be upset about.  Nothing he had told Bryan was wrong.  In fact it was perfectly logical for a big brother to say such things.  Jeff had always wanted a brother who could guide him through such things.  Unfortunately, in this case, Bryan wasn’t the brother Alden remembered or even knew.  He certainly wasn’t the same person he had been before

he went to that place  That person had been beaten down, and was now hiding in the shell that Bryan had crafted around himself.  Somehow Jeff needed to get Alden to understand that.  This was serious, and what they needed to do was not aggravate the situation further.

“We need to talk,” he said with a sigh.  He pulled out a stool and gestured for Alden to join him. “I’m sorry for yelling. I shouldn’t be taking this out on you.  It’s just well, it’s complicated, Alden, and I just think you don’t understand, and that’s not your fault.  I want to help you get where I’m coming from here.”

Alden took a seat and rested his arms on the table. “Okay, I’m listening, Jeff. What was so wrong with what I told Bryan?”

“It’s not so much that it was wrong, Alden.  I just don’t think Bryan gets it.”

“Why would you say that?  My brother isn’t stupid.”

“No, he isn’t,” Jeff agreed, “in fact, he’s pretty smart.  However, what you just told him goes against everything he knows at the moment.”

“You keep saying that,” Alden observed taking a sip of his soda, “What am I missing here?”

Jeff frowned. He was beginning to wish they had just told Alden everything up front.  Whose idea had it been to give him as little information as possible? “Can I ask you something?” he asked leaning forward.  “What did Bryan ask you?  I mean, what were you guys talking about that led to you telling him to follow his heart?”

“He wanted to know how to be straight,” Alden shrugged. “I thought it was a strange question to be honest, but I tried to answer it anyway.  And when he said he didn’t know how to love I told him he did.”

“Was that all?” Jeff pressed his voice as soft as a whisper.  He hoped Alden had heard him.

“I told him to follow his heart, Jeff.  He’s in love with you.”

“In love or falling in love?”

“Is there a difference?”

“I-I wouldn’t know,” Jeff glowered and lowered his head to the table.  No wonder Bryan was so confused.

“Jeff, what’s wrong?”

Jeff looked up and met Alden’s gaze and sighed. “Do you have any idea why Bryan would ask you such a thing?  About being straight, I mean?  Don’t you find it a little odd that he would ask that?”

“Jeff…”

“Please, Alden,” Jeff interrupted.  “I care about your brother, a lot, and I promise you I only want what’s best for him.  I need to know- were you curious about his question?”


“Yes, I did find it a little out there,” Alden acquiesced, but that’s all Bryan would tell me.  He said he wasn’t in rehab last year but he wouldn’t say more than that. Why?”

“Because,” Jeff replied, his fingers circling the rim of his can, Bryan truly believes that he is supposed to be straight.  That is what he was conditioned to think.  I can’t really get into it without betraying him, but awful things happened if he felt attraction to another man. Telling him that he is attracted to one just confuses things further.”

 

“Hmmm,” Alden knitted his brow thoughtfully as he puzzled over Jeff’s wods.  “I’m afraid I still don’t understand,” he admitted after a moment’s pause.  “I wasn’t trying to confuse Bryan.  If anything I was just trying to help my little brother feel better about things.”

“I know,” Jeff acknowledged, “and I’m sorry I snapped.  I know you didn’t mean any harm.  In fact, it’s a step in the right direction that he’s talking to you.  I think it’s just important to be careful what you tell him.”

“That’s what I don’t get.”  Alden placed his can down, and pressed his hands against the island as he looked at Jeff.   “If he’s been told all these things, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to counter them?  I mean, aren’t we just reinforcing what he was told if we stay quiet?  Does he even know you’re gay too?”

“I’ve told him, yes,” Jeff nodded, “but it isn’t that simple to counter balance a year’s worth of conditioning.  Quite frankly I haven’t figured out the best way to do that just yet.”

“For one thing, you should tell him you love him.”

“Wait! What?” Jeff exclaimed taken off guard by the simple statement.

“You heard me,” Alden crossed his arms in front of him.  “I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees how much you care about him.  You’re in love with my brother, and he needs to know that.”


“I don’t think I can do that, Alden. I don’t want to confuse him.”

“How would that be confusing him?  You love each other.”


“Bryan is already confused about his own feelings.  I will not make that worse by throwing mine into the mix.”

“So you admit it.”

“Yes,” Jeff whispered.  He was afraid Bryan might be lurking in the shadows. “Yes, okay.  I’m in love with Bryan.  All I want to do is take care of him the best way I know how.  I would give anything to be able to tell him that but I know better, Alden.  I know he won’t be able to handle that.”

“I don’t think that’s fair, Jeff.  How can you show Bryan that you trust him if you are withholding something so key?  That’s not right.  This isn’t best for Bryan at all.”

“If I thought it was the best thing for him to know right now, I would tell him.  But just knowing that he has feelings for me confuses him.  It would make it worse if he knew how much I mean what I tell him all the time.”

“I don’t see how,” Alden protested. “When you love someone, you have to tell them, so they know you’re there for them.”

“Not if the idea of love scares them,” Jeff countered. “It’s not a word to throw around, Alden.  I mean I don’t love Bryan the way you love your family.  I love him with everything that I have from the bottom of my heart.  When I’m able to tell him that, I want him to be able to understand it.  I want him to be able to enjoy it, and to know that it is the real thing; how things should be.  I don’t think he’s ready for that.”

“How do you know if you don’t give him a chance?” Alden charged.  “You say that you care about him, but you are keeping secrets.  He said you’re his best friend, and in my book that means you should be doing what’s best for him.  You certainly aren’t doing that.”

The can slammed down on the table and Jeff stood up, glaring at Alden with blazing eyes. “Don’t you dare sit there and tell me I’m not doing what’s best for Bryan.  You don’t get to define what I feel or how I should feel.  I don’t care if you’re his brother, Alden.  It doesn’t give you the right to judge me or my decisions!”

“If I feel it’s not best for my brother then I will make it my right,” Alden glared right back. “It seems to me that you don’t care about Bryan enough if you can’t tell him that you love him.”

“Did you ever stop to think that he might feel betrayed if I told him that?” Jeff asked, crossing his arms to resist the urge to strike out. “He feels so betrayed, so used by everyone.  That includes your dad and the rest of the family.  If I were to admit something like that, he would feel like I was using him.   I will not make him feel that way, Alden.  I will not hurt him like that.”

“No, you won’t,” Alden agreed. “I’m not going to give you the chance.  I’m taking Bryan with me tomorrow”

“You will do no such thing!” Jeff raged.

“Watch me."

A sound from the doorway broke the staring match for a moment as both men turned to see Thomas standing in the doorway.  A frown was etched on his face as he looked at his son and Jeff quizzically.  “What is going on in here?  I can hear you two all the way in the living room..”

“Nothing,” They said at the same moment, which only made Jeff glare harder.  He turned his attention to Thomas and tried to keep the bite out of his voice.

“Your son refuses to see reason,” Jeff explained. ”And he thinks he’s taking Bryan away tomorrow.”

“I don’t think. I know,” Alden retorted. “Bryan is going with me.”

“No he’s not.  He’s staying here,” Jeff countered.  “End of story.”

“Stop!  Both of you, just stop, and sit.”  He looked pointedly at both of them, waiting for them to comply before focusing on his son.  “Now, tell me why you feel Bryan should go with you.”


“I don’t think Jeff is the best thing for him, Dad,” Alden insisted. “I don’t agree that Jeff should keep vital information away from Bryan when he claims that he cares about him.”

“Will you stop trying to dictate how I feel?”

“You don’t love him.”

“Yes I do, more than you could even begin to guess”

“Alright, alright, enough,” Thomas voiced sternly.  This time Alden and Jeff took notice; it was a rare occasion when Thomas Dobbs raised his voice.  “All of this arguing isn’t getting us anywhere.  “Alden,” he said focusing on his son again, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take Bryan away from the only person he trusts.  Since he came home, Jeff is the only one who has been able to get through to him.  I don’t think Bryan would react very well to you trying to take him away.”

“But Dad,” Alden insisted. “It’s not right for Jeff not to tell Bryan the truth.”

“Bryan can’t handle the truth,” Jeff said realizing too late how much that sounded like a line from ‘A Few Good Men.’ “You’re not asking me to tell Bryan what kind of soup I like best, or what my favorite type of music is.  You’re asking me to reveal my true feelings for him, and I’m not willing to risk confusing and betraying him by doing that.  You get what I’m saying don’t you, Sir?” Jeff asked turning to Thomas, a scowl set on his face.

“I’m not going to take sides here,” Thomas started, locking gazes with both boys before continuing.  “I can see both of your points, and I want to believe you have Bryan’s best interests at heart.  He’s my number one concern here, and he should be yours as well. 

“So basically you think Jeff is right?” Alden challenged crossly.

“I’m not saying anyone is right, nor am I saying you’re wrong,” Thomas clarified.  “We can’t force Jeff to tell Bryan how he feels even if you feel it’s what he should do. 


Alden crossed his arms as he faced his father. “I can’t believe you, Dad. You say you’re on Bryan’s side, and then get mad at me because I care about what happens to him. I don’t want to see him get hurt and that’s exactly what will happen if he stays here.”

“I would die before l let anything happen to Bryan!” Jeff yelled, clenching his fists.  “I’d shoot myself first before even entertaining the idea of hurting him.  You don’t seem to get it, Alden. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Bryan.  And I swear to god, if you try to take him away, I will take him myself and we will go where you can’t find us.  You do not want to cross me.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Alden scoffed. “You don’t get your way, so you’ll take Bryan away from the only family he knows?  How is that showing how much you care?”

“I can’t believe you, Alden,” Jeff shook his head disdainfully as Thomas looked on.  “Bryan shared something very personal with you.   He trusted you with that and you turn around and make me out to be the bad guy?” He questioned.  “How does that work?  How does that help?”

“There is nothing wrong with letting Bryan make his own decisions, Jeff. That’s all I am saying.”

“He does make his own decisions.  I don’t take that away from him.  Why do you keep talking about what you don’t know?”

“What I do know is that you pretend that you care about my brother.  To the point that you have convinced yourself that you are in love with him.  In the end, you’re going to end up hurting him the most.  I’m not going to let that happen.”

Jeff felt like he had been punched in the gut. He couldn’t believe that Alden had just said that to him. He opened his mouth to speak, but the words were stuck in his throat.  There were so many things he wanted so say; many more things that the wanted to do at the moment.   Instead, he dug his fingernails into his palms and glared at Bryan’s brother. “Go to hell,” he spat before storming past Thomas, leaving the two Dobbs men alone in the kitchen.

**

Angry tears streaked his cheeks as he stood outside on the front porch. He needed to get his emotions under control before he went back inside.  There was no way he could let Bryan see him this upset.  He couldn’t believe the words that had come out of Alden’s mouth.  He knew the man was angry, and he was even sure that Alden loved Bryan.  However, that did not give him the right to second-guess anyone else’s feelings and emotions.

He had dealt with enough people second-guessing his choices and how he was supposed to feel.  He wasn’t about to put up with it again.  He silently berated himself for allowing Alden to get to him.  He knew how he felt and that was all that mattered.


He wrapped his arms around himself and stared out into the distance.  The tears refused to stop.   He was about ready to grab Bryan and get as far away from here as he could.  He would be able to make Bryan understand why they needed to do it, and he knew Bryan would believe him. It was for that reason that he didn’t follow through.  He was not going to play on Bryan’s faith in him. He would die before using him like that.  He’d rather bleed to death than ever do anything that would betray or harm Bryan in anyway.  God damn it, why couldn’t he stop crying?

“Jeff?”

He heard his name being called and froze.  Bryan was behind him; he felt his presence before he had even heard his footsteps.  He turned around trying to smile even as he wiped the tears away.  It was too late though, Bryan had already seen them.

“What’s wrong,” His friend asked frowning. “Why are you crying?”

Jeff sighed. He really didn’t know how to answer that without upsetting Bryan.  He couldn’t very well tell him he had a fight with Alden.  Nor could he mention what they had been talking about.

“It’s nothing really, Bryan.  I’m okay.” He offered him a reassuring smile.  ”Did you get any writing done?”

The frown on Bryan’s face made Jeff curse inwardly.  He knew in his gut that his best friend didn’t believe a word of it. “But Jeff, you aren't ok,” he insisted, “and after everything you have done for me, I want to help.  And to answer your question, no, I didn't get any writing done.  My brain just kept going around and around in circles.”

Jeff felt like he could lose himself in those brown eyes with the flecks of green.  Bryan was so close that he could smell the soap he used to wash up that morning.  Jeff swallowed and tried to focus.  He wanted to lean on Bryan.  He wanted that more than anything.  He wanted to tell Bryan what was bothering him, but wouldn’t that be selfish?  Wouldn’t it be going against everything he just told Alden?  Thinking of Bryan’s brother made him angry again.  His hand involuntarily rolled up into a fist and he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

“I don’t think there is anything you can do, Bryan,” he said smiling softly at his friend. “I’m just a little frustrated.”

“At me?  Have I done something to upset you?  I don't want to upset you, Jeff. You are my best friend and I don't want you to be frustrated with me.”

“No,” Jeff protested quickly, shaking his head as he placed his hands on either side of Bryan’s face. He felt a spark, but he ignored it as he focused on what he needed to say. “Bryan, I-I have never been frustrated with you.  I don’t intend to start now.  Do you understand?  You’re important to me, Bryan, and I just want you to be ok.”

He allowed his hands to fall from Bryan’s face and rested them on his shoulders instead.  The shoulders were safer; there was less chance of him doing something that would cause Bryan to flee.  He would never forgive himself if something happened to Bryan.

”Your brother and I just had a disagreement earlier,” He admitted, realizing that being honest was his best bet. “So I’m a little upset about something he said, but I’ll get over it.  I can be such a big baby sometimes.” Once again he tried to smile, but faking it was never his strong point.

Bryan’s frown deepened. “Was your disagreement with Alden about me?” he asked. “I knew I shouldn't have trusted him.  I don't trust anyone but you, and I don't know why I did.  I'm so sorry, Jeff. I didn't mean to cause trouble.  Seems like that's all I do though is cause trouble wherever I go.  Now I've made you sad, and Alden's all mad again.  One of these days I will learn to keep my big mouth shut”

Jeff could have kicked himself when Bryan lowered his head sadly.  He really needed to think before he spoke.  He had upset Bryan; exactly what he was trying to avoid in the first place. “Bryan, look at me,” He coaxed waiting for Bryan to raise those brown eyes. “This is not your fault, and I would rather you didn’t shut up.  I like hearing your voice, and I like talking to you.  I‘ll be honest with you. We were arguing about you, but that’s only because we both care about you a great deal.  We only want what’s best for you, Bryan.  Unfortunately, your brother and I don’t agree on what that is.  I don’t want you to feel bad for talking to him.  He’s your brother and you should trust him.”

“But if he doesn't think what you are doing for me is right, then he’ll try and make me leave.  I saw how angry he was when he got here and how mad he was at Jenni and Dad.  I think I will just keep my conversations strictly with you and Dad and Jenni.  I only got more confused when I talked to Alden anyway, and I'm still not sure about what he said. It made my head hurt and I don't want that to happen again.  I know we talked and that helped, a lot. But, Jeff, I'm still trying to un-jumble what he told me with what I was taught over the last year.   I wish it were as easy as Alden seems to think.”

Jeff felt like he was getting a headache. It made him sad to know that Bryan was still so confused, and that somehow he was even more so than he was already.  Maybe being around all of these people wasn’t such a good idea.  He frowned; he didn’t know what he was thinking.  It wasn’t as if he could just up and take Bryan somewhere. That wouldn’t be right- not to Thomas.  He had been so helpful,l and he wanted his relationship with Bryan back.   Jeff wanted to give that to him.  But could he do that if there were people around to confuse Bryan?  Was it really helping Bryan to be  here where on manyoccasions he ends up puzzled?

It wasn’t like it wasn’t expected.  Good days and bad days, that had been what they signed up for in the beginning.  But with Alden around it was getting a little sticky.  They had Bryan’s medicines and Jeff knew he could figure out what to do from there.  Maybe it was a plan he could put into action over time, as long as Alden didn’t try to take Bryan away.  Jeff didn’t even want to think about that scenario.
“Bryan, do you trust me?  I mean do you really, honest to goodness trust me with your life?”

“Of course I do,” Bryan declared emphatically without a moment of hesitation. “You haven't done anything to make me not trust you. If you told me to pack my stuff because we were leaving, I would be out the door so fast no one would have time to notice. I don't want to leave Dad or Jenni, but I will if you tell me we need to go.”

Jeff smiled. He knew that would be his answer; which was why he wouldn’t do it; unless he felt he had no choice.  There was so much to think about.  So many things needed to be considered, and none of it was as simple as to leave or stay. “We can’t run away, Bryan, though I hope you know I would take you anywhere.”

”I know you would Jeff.  You’ve never lied or mislead me like everyone else.” Bryan’s face fell into what Jeff knew as his thoughtful face. It was a long moment before he locked eyes with Jeff again. “Jeff, can I ask you a question?’

“Of course.”

“Why is it ok for you to be gay and not ok for me?  To be gay, that is.”

He didn’t even think about it as his hands touched those soft cheeks.  His eyes locked with the amber ones he adored and he brought their foreheads together for the briefest of moments.  All the while in his head his conscience was battling with his common sense. *I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be about to let our lips meet.  It will only confuse him more.  And I told Alden I wouldn’t do it…not now.*

But it will feel so good.  He looks so sad, and he needs to know that I-that he is not wrong.  That it is okay and it will be so…  His thoughts, all of them trailed off as their lips met in the softest of kisses.  He was actually kissing Bryan, really and truly moving their lips together in that intricate dance of love and promise and want. He felt like he was taking them both on a trip to heaven.


“It’s more than okay, Bryan.” He said softly when they pulled apart.  He moved away just enough for Bryan to be able to see his face. “No matter what those people told you, they were wrong.  Your feelings… they are more than okay.  I want you to be you.”

“Thank you Jeff.  I’ve never been kissed before.  I- I liked it.”

”To be honest,  it was my first kiss too,” Jeff admitted, “and I’ll tell you a secret” his voice lowered to a whisper, “I liked it too.”

“Does that mean, we should-um-do it again?” Bryan asked hesitantly.

“We could,” Jeff chose his words carefully.  “But the last thing I want to do is take advantage of you, Bryan.  I don’t want us to kiss just because you think we should.  It has to be something you want; something we both want.”

”Okay, I understand,” Bryan nodded as he appeared to process everything.  “Things are so confusing.  I’m glad you don't want to add to that.  My brain is messed up enough already.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your brain,” Jeff gave him a reassuring smile as he placed a hand on his shoulder.  “You understand a lot more than you give yourself credit for, Bryan.  We’re okay, right?”

Bryan nodded and offered Jeff a bashful smile.  “I’m just glad I could help you for a change.  You are okay, right?”

“Yes, Bryan, I’m fine.”

“Okay, then I’m going to go back inside to write.  I have a lot of thoughts scrambling around today, and I want to try to get them down on paper.  Will you read it when I finish?”

“I’d be happy to.”

Bryan’s smile was blinding, and Jeff couldn’t resist the urge to kiss him once more. Their lips met briefly before he allowed Bryan to disappear into the house.  With a heavy sigh he leaned against the door, his hand reaching up to touch his lips.  He knew he had just complicated things by giving into his feelings. 
**
  

September 25, 2007 (night time)

I kissed Jeff today, and it was simply…amazing. I guess that is the right word to describe it, and I suppose Jeff really kissed me. But I definitely kissed back. His lips were so soft, and so gentle. I have never been kissed before.


Bryan stopped writing and scowled at the paragraph. He felt like he was going off on a tangent, and there were so many things running through his mind. He wanted to talk about Jeff, and just Jeff…he wanted to put all his thoughts on paper. He just hoped Jeff would like it. If he really meant it when he said he wanted to read it. He tapped his pen against his lip, allowing the cool ceramic to rub the spot where Jeff’s lips had been earlier.

I can still feel the kiss. It felt so soft and warm and just…right. It was like a caress, and it was intricate like a dance. I never knew lips could dance until Jeff. I never thought it could be so nice to have someone touching me like that. I’m not scared when his hands touch my face and I know I’m safe with him. It really is a nice feeling and I would like to feel it again.

I’m not sure really what that means. I am still confused by what Alden said, and I don’t know if I should listen to him anymore. I know Jeff said I should trust him because he’s my brother, but I can tell that my best friend is wary. If Jeff is wary then I am going to be wary too. At least Jeff likes my dad. I really want to get my relationship with him back on track. I can tell he cares about me. Maybe tomorrow I will work on that, but today all I can think about is that kiss. Could Alden be right about that? Could I be in love with Jeff? And if that is the case, what does that mean and how does it make sense? Why am I still so confused?

He read over what he wrote and closed the book just as Jeff came to tell him dinner was ready. With a frown he nodded and put the book back in its hiding spot. Jeff asked him if he was okay, and he put on his best calm face. It had been a good day, and he would not bother Jeff anymore with problems and questions. They could wait. Now it was time to eat.


 

 


15. Chapter 15

Chapter 15

 

 

October 5, 2007

Ten days ago Jeff kissed me for the first time.  I don’t think I will ever forget that day for as long as I shall live.  Even if Jeff never kisses me again, I will always remember that he did and how it made me feel.  I felt… alive for the first time in a long time. 

Jeff says that I am getting better.  I think I will take his word on that, because I’m not so sure.  Then again, I don’t really remember what “better” feels like.  I can vaguely remember that I wasn’t happy before I went away, and I wasn’t happy while I was away.  Jeff has taught me what it means to be happy, and I don’t think he was really trying to. But he did.  Actually he told me he doesn’t like using that word.  He says “better” makes it sound like I was sick when I wasn’t; I’m not. I’m just a little confused.

I always ask Jeff to tell me if there is something wrong with me… and he always says there isn’t.  I’m trying to concentrate on writing my thoughts down more often.  I haven’t written in this journal for a couple of days now because it was too hard.  I think I was having one of those setbacks that Jeff talks about a lot.  I’m glad he told me it was okay to be sad and depressed because I’ve had those moments.  They are scary… I feel like I am being watched, and that all it will take is me doing something… just one thing… to get me sent back into isolation.  Jeff said he won’t let it happen, but it still scares me.

And I miss my dad.  I miss talking to him, and I miss him helping me with things.  We used to do a lot together.  I think I let him down, even though he says I haven’t.  I can tell when he looks at me that I make him sad.  I make everyone sad.  Even Jeff, though he tries to hide it. .  I just wish I knew what I could do to make it better.  What do I need to do to make sure that everyone loves me?

He scowled at the words on the page and not for the first time wondered if he should just rip it out.  As always, he decided against that.  He didn’t want to ruin the gift that Jeff had given him.  His friend wanted him to write down his thoughts, and he thought he was getting better at it.  He was at least writing coherent thoughts now, even if it did go all over the place at times.  He sighed and put the book back in its hiding place.  Jeff knew where it was, but he knew his best friend wouldn’t touch it without asking first. 

He scrambled off the bed and straightened the covers, making sure the corners were straight and there were no wrinkles in the blankets.  Jeff wasn’t home; he was at the store with Jenni.  She had insisted that he come along since he knew what Bryan did and didn’t like.  Bryan did have Jeff’s number, just in case.  He didn’t want to use that number though.  He didn’t want to bother Jeff.  He felt like he took up enough of his friend’s time, not that Jeff ever seemed to mind.

 Jenni was only home on Sundays it seemed anymore.  She worked so much, and he could admit that this fact made him sad.  He liked being in his sister’s house and he wanted to get to know her better.

On the other hand, he wasn’t so sure about his brother. He didn’t know what to make of Alden. Jeff said he meant well, and that he should trust him…and he wanted to.  But in the back of his mind he kept thinking about his brother trying to take him away.  Alden didn’t trust what Jeff was doing, and that bothered Bryan.  Especially since Jeff had been nothing but good to him since the day they met. 

Still it was his relationship with his dad that laid heavily on his mind at the moment.  He knew his father was in the house, and he was hoping to have a chance to talk to him.  It felt like he hadn’t talked to him in forever.  He missed the old days, when his conversations with his dad were as routine as his daily chores.

He found him sitting on the couch in the living room.  Thomas was reading through the Sunday paper, and that seemed odd to Bryan.  Perhaps it was because he was used to seeing the man working with his hands.  No matter what, Thomas always had to be doing something; fixing pipes or building a chair. It wasn’t like him to sit idle.  Bryan supposed that everything was a little odd though.  And if he could be a little off then so could his dad.

He stood behind the chair for a moment, picking at the afghan his sister had received from their grandma.  He wanted to talk to his dad, but he didn’t want to interrupt him.  He knew he should sit down, but after too many months of doing what he was told he thought it best to wait for his dad.

“Don’t just stand there, Son,” Thomas intoned minutes later.  “Come, have a seat.”  He placed the paper down and gestured for Bryan to join him.

Bryan moved quickly, as if he expected his father to change his mind any minute.

“Hi,” He greeted placing his hands in his lap.  “I just wanted to talk.  That is if you have time.”

“For you, I can always make time,” Thomas assured him, a twinkle in his eye as he watched his son.  “It’s okay to relax, Son.  You aren’t being judged here.”

He watched his father’s eyes, looking for any sign of deceit.  He felt bad for doing that, because his dad had been nothing short of kind to him.  He wanted to talk to Jeff about the guilt; it was eating at him.  He didn’t like disappointing his dad; he perpetually felt as though he had.  Wasn’t that how everything had started?  His dad blamed him for something-at least he thought that had been the case.  Maybe that was what he needed to talk to him about.  If he could get that straight then things could start getting back to normal.

His dad’s eyes were sincere, and he started to relax.  He tucked one foot beneath his leg, resting his knee on the couch.  Facing his dad he tried to figure out the best way to break the ice.    They used to relate to each other so well; he missed that.  He just wanted to be loved by his dad.

“Do you mind if we talk about something important?” he asked, as he leaned his elbow against the back of the couch.

“Not at all, Bryan.  What do you need to talk about?”

“Well,” Bryan started, fidgeting a little in his seat, “I miss us, and I think that we were a little messed up before I left- and if it’s okay I think- I think we need to talk about it.  Would that be okay?”

“I would like that,” Thomas admitted, his expression soft as he focused on his son.  “You’re right, Bryan we should talk about what led to you leaving.  I think there are some things we both need to understand about what happened.

He smiled at his father’s words and visibly relaxed.  The realization that his father seemed so willing to discuss things with him spurred him forward

  “Well, I don’t know where to start exactly.  I mean I talked to Jeff about it.  He said I should just talk to you, and go from there.  So…” he bit his lip and chewed for a moment as he put his thoughts in the right order.  His best friend had been showing him how to do that too.  He called it organizing your brain, and it helped a lot.  “Were you mad at me for pushing Mom down the stairs?”

“I wasn’t upset with you,” Thomas shook his head solemnly.  “I know it may have appeared that way, and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to put you at ease.  What happened was an accident Bryan.  I know you wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone, let alone your own mother.”

“I didn’t mean to push her,” Bryan pressed forward with his explanation.  “I’m not even certain I even touched her, but we were arguing and I had just realized what she intended to do.  I just wanted her to leave me alone; to stay away from me.  She wanted to send me to that place, and I felt betrayed.  Then she fell and Marshall said that you thought it would be best if I went, though he tried to talk you out of it.”  Bryan paused to take a breath, making sure his father was still listening before he continued.  “I saw your signature on the contract and it hurt, but I just wanted to make you happy.  I just wanted you to love me.  And if going away would make you love me again…” he trailed off and lowered his head, not sure where he was trying to take that statement.

“You didn’t push her,” Thomas pointed out.  “Bryan, you were the first person your mom asked for when she came out of her coma.  She was so worried about you, and so was I.  What Marshall did was very manipulative; he took advantage of your feelings and I’m not at all happy with him.  I’m not going to focus on that now though.” Thomas reached out to touch his son’s shoulder lightly.  He allowed a smile to cross his lips when Bryan raised his head to look at him.  “We’ll figure this out, son.  We can make things right, together.  Okay?”

Bryan managed the beginnings of a smile, but it never quite reached his eyes.  He wanted to believe his father’s words, but everything just seemed too messed up.  “I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble,” he sighed.  “Everything just got so… insane.  I almost wish I never said anything you know?”

“I know this has to be frustrating you with everything that’s happened,” Thomas started, giving his son’s shoulder a squeeze before letting his hand fall.  “I don’t want you to second guess your decisions.  You are who you are, and I love you for that.  I don’t want you to be anyone but Bryan, my son.  Do you remember when I told you I was proud of you for having the courage to be true to you?  I meant that then, and I mean it now, Bryan.  My love for you has no conditions and I’m going to do everything I can to help you to see that truth.  It’s never going to change.”

He was in awe of the power behind his father’s words.  It went against everything he had been taught about a man’s emotions, but Jeff had already told him to stop listening to those teachings.  “So you never hated me?” he asked slowly.  “And you don’t care that- you don’t care that I like guys?  Because I thought you didn’t care.  Then this happened and it just got all twisted and I was sad because I wrote to you all the time, Dad; long letters begging and pleading to let me come back home because I didn’t want to be there.  But you acted like everything was fine…” he stopped for a moment realizing he was on the verge of crying.   The last thing he wanted to do was cry in front of his dad. 

“What can I do to make it up to you?” Thomas asked, realizing the best thing he could do for his son right now was to let him talk.

 “Will you let me talk about it?” Bryan asked.  His voice was so soft; he hoped his dad could hear him.  “Jeff said I need to talk about it, because bottling it up doesn’t help.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Bryan.  If you need me, I’m here to listen.”

Those words were enough to bring on the waterworks, but he knew if he cried now he wouldn’t stop.  And there was so much ne needed to say.  He wished Jeff was home… Jeff knew how to make him calm.  Then again his dad was usually good at that too.  Back before things got crazy he could always count on his dad to be his rock.  Could he really get that back?

 “I just didn’t like it there,” He said shaking his head.  “And I tried to do what I was told, to follow the routine but I couldn’t stop liking guys.  That’s why I was always put in the isolation room.  And that’s why I- they hurt me, and used these shocks that were like lightning through your system and then the beatings.” He cringed and watched his dad’s face.  “You wanted to know about the marks- those were from the whip they used the last time- that put me in the hospital.  I almost died!”  He exclaimed as it occurred to him why he had been in the hospital so long.  “I- I almost died in the hospital before I came home.  And then they just let me go and I came back to the house.”

Thomas’ expression was grim as he listened to his son’s words.  Impulsively he pulled Bryan to him and held him close.  Bryan stiffened involuntarily before giving in to the embrace.  It felt nice to be held by his father again.  He had missed that.

 “I love you, Dad,” He said, the tears forming in his eyes just waiting to overflow.  “I- I love you and I don’t want you to hurt and I want to make it up to you because I was a bad son.  And I want to be able to tell you everything again like before, and I do trust you.  I do, I just needed to get past the feeling of betrayal that was in my heart because being in that place hurt and I thought you sent me there.  You were the one who was always on my side… that’s why it hurt so much, and I want to stop hurting, Dad.  I just want it to stop hurting.”

“Shhhh,” Thomas soothed as he rubbed circles on his son’s back.  “You’re not a bad son, Bryan.  You’re my kid, and I love you even when you make mistakes.  I’ll always love you, and we’re going to get through this okay?  We’ll do it together.”

“Okay,” Bryan’s voice cracked as he buried himself in his father’s arms.  It was a place he hadn’t allowed himself to go in so long.  He felt very much like a small child, but he didn’t care in this moment.  His father loved him.  He truly loved him, just like Jeff said he did.  He held onto his dad as he felt fingers in his hair.  The soothing touch was just what he needed; the tears he had been holding at bay begin to flow. 

**

He was resting on the couch when he heard the front door open.  He jumped up and ran when he saw that his best friend was home.  Without thinking he wrapped his arms around Jeff’s neck causing him to drop his packages on the floor.  Bryan tensed up momentarily until he heard Jeff’s laughter and he felt those strong arms embrace him.

“I take it you’re happy to see me?”

“I missed you today,” Bryan admitted as he moved to help Jeff with the bags.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to make you drop stuff.”

“It’s okay, Bryan,” Jeff laughed.  “Want to help me with the bags?”

Bryan helped Jeff carry the new purchases into the kitchen and leaned on the counter as Jeff started putting them away.  “I talked to my dad today,” he announced proudly as Jeff placed a package of granola on the counter.

“And how did that go?”

“It went really well,” Bryan smiled.  “You were right about my dad, Jeff.  He does love me… and he feels really bad about what happened.”

Jeff smiled and Bryan took the bag of rice Jeff handed him to put away.  “I’m glad you got a chance to talk to him.  Did that make you feel better?”

“Somewhat.  I didn’t tell him everything, but do you think I should?”

“Would you like some juice?” Jeff asked, holding up a carton of orange juice.

“Yes please.  Where’s Jenni?”

“She had to run some more errands so she dropped me off here and went right back out,” Jeff explained.  Bryan set two glasses down on the table and Jeff poured them both a glass of orange juice.  “Did you take your medicine today?”

“Yes, Jeff.  I will take the other dose tonight after dinner.  You didn’t answer my question yet.”

“I think you should tell him, Bryan.  It will help him understand things more.”

“Even if the truth hurts?” Bryan inquired.  “I mean, he said that me not being home made him sad, and he said Marshall’s lying.”

“Well, I don’t suppose we’ll ever truly know what Marshall was thinking.” Jeff remarked.

Bryan lowered his gaze and fiddled with his juice for a moment before looking up at Jeff again.

“Is something wrong?” Jeff asked as he tasted his drink.  Bryan could tell that he was concerned and he tried to soften his features.  He wasn’t trying to worry his best friend. 

“I was just thinking is all.  It was very nice to talk to Dad again, and it reminded me of the old times.  And I remembered something that I have to tell you, but I don’t want to make you sad.”

“I’d be sadder if you felt like you couldn’t tell me, Bryan.  What did you remember?”

“Well I told you I remember being in the hospital before… before I came home?”  Jeff nodded and Bryan savored his juice for a moment.  He knew he had Jeff’s full attention…he always did.  “And I told you about the last isolation and the whipping?”  Just saying the words made him cringe, but he felt safe relating this tale to Jeff.  “I almost died that time.”

“My god, Bryan,” Jeff winced as his friend’s words sunk in.  “They hurt you that bad.”  It was more of a statement than a question as he continued to listen to what Bryan had to say.

“Adam held me down and let them hit me for breaking the rules,” Bryan grimaced and focused on his glass once more.  A moment later he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see his best friend was standing beside him.  Effortlessly he fell into Jeff’s arms, seeking the comfort that Jeff was only too willing to give.

**

October 5, 2007(Night Time)

Today was a pretty good day, and I survived not having Jeff here beside me.  I wonder sometimes if that is why he goes out, just to see if I will be okay without him.  If that is what he is doing, it is working, but I don’t know if I really want it to.  I don’t want Jeff to think that I won’t need him, because I do… no matter what happens.  Maybe I just need to tell him that.

I talked to my dad today.  We talked about a lot of things, and he really surprised me.  It was nice to find out that he really doesn’t blame me for what happened to Mom.  I felt really bad about that.  I never wanted her to get hurt.  I was just scared that she wanted to send me away. 

I don’t know why people don’t like me for who I am.  I don’t mean Jeff and Dad; I know they care about me.  Dad loves me, and Jeff is my best friend… he has proven that time and time again.  But other people… they want to change me into someone I am not.  I just don’t understand why it has to be that way.  Aren’t I good enough the way I am?  Jeff says that I’m the only one who can really change me, and that’s why when I was away I was so confused.  And that’s why I was getting into so much trouble… I am not sure if that was how he meant it, though.  I don’t think he meant for me to turn it into something bad, but that’s how I understand it.

I told Dad a lot of things that I only shared with Jeff before.  He listened to me. That surprised me.  I was expecting him to tell me it was all nonsense… even though truthfully I know my dad isn’t that type of person.  But when you have someone telling you the same thing over and over for a year it tends to stick and it scares me that I’m not completely over this yet.

I scared Jeff today… and I know I scared my dad too.  I’m just so happy to be alive, and glad that I have people like Jeff and my dad in my corner.  It’s nice to know that there are people who would put their lives on the line for me, and that they have my best interests at heart.  I know it will take time to be completely okay, but I honestly don’t know what I would do without Jeff and Dad.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I did get to talk to Jenni today.  I told her that sometimes I wonder if she likes me or not.  I was just trying to be honest and she thanked me for that.  And truly I do understand that she has to work, and she’s very busy.  I was just being paranoid and she made me feel a lot better.  We’re going to have a sibling hour at least once a week… it makes me happy that she would do that for me.  It’s a nice feeling… to be happy, and I think I owe that to Jeff.  I’ll have to remember to thank him for that, among other things.

He placed his pen on the table and read over his writing.  He was quite pleased with himself; he had managed to write paragraphs that had some semblance of sense.  He knew he jumped all over the place but he was sure his awareness was a good sign.  It meant he was recovering.  He hoped Jeff was right and he’d be able to write again.  He put his notebook in its hiding spot and got ready for bed.  Usually he would wait for Jeff before he went to sleep, but his best friend had mentioned something about speaking with his dad.  Besides that Bryan felt like he had run a marathon.  The crying probably didn’t help, and writing was hard work.  He rested his head against the pillow and smiled as Jeff’s scent met his nose.  It was a comforting aroma, and it allowed thoughts of his best friend to follow him to sleep.

 


 

 


16. Chapter 16

 

Chapter 16

 

Jeff was very much aware that things happened for a reason.  He was convinced that he was meant to be in Washington.  He was supposed to meet Bryan, and he was supposed to help him.    When Jeff made the decision to flee his father and come to Washington, Missouri, he had no idea that he’d meet the love of his life.  And the last thing he wanted to think about was ‘what ifs’.

He was well aware of the fact that the past couldn’t be changed.  It was what it was, and the only thing he could do was try to live in the present, and make the future what he wanted it to be.  All he knew for certain was that he wanted Bryan to be a part of his future. The question, the one he feared the most was ‘how to get there?’  And the biggest what if of all: what if he failed?

A contented smile alighted his lips as he watched Bryan sleeping from the doorway.  He wasn’t surprised to see his best friend asleep.    He was very proud of all that Bryan had accomplished, and the fact that he had talked to Thomas.  That was a huge breakthrough.  He could only hope it would continue.

Thomas was just relaxing on the couch when Jeff approached him.  He could remember plenty of times, back in Washington, when he had seen the man lounging.  Usually he was deep in thought, and that appeared to be the case today.  He seemed so at peace that Jeff almost didn’t want to bother him… but he felt like he just needed to talk.

“Thomas?” he called as he moved to sit down on the couch.  “Would it be okay, Sir, if we talked?”

“What’s on your mind, Jeff?”

“A lot of things,” Jeff admitted.  Mostly about Bryan, and life in general,” he shrugged.  “He said he talked to you today.”

“He did,” Thomas nodded as he rested his arm on the back of the couch, turning slightly to face Jeff.  “For a minute there it felt like I was talking to the son I remember.  I’m just glad he felt like he could confide in me again.”

“Me too,” Jeff agreed happily.  “He wants to be close to you, Thomas, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you not to give up on him.”

“I’ve never given up on Bryan, Jeff.  I’m certainly not about to start now.  I just wish I would have trusted my instincts months ago.  I should have done more to reach out to him when he needed me, and I certainly shouldn’t have trusted Marshall.  I wanted to believe that he wanted what was best for Bryan, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt because Bryan is his son.  Now I know better.”

“There’s no point in going over ‘what ifs’, Sir.   They’ll only drive you crazy.“

“Thanks Jeff,”

Thomas nodded solemnly as he allowed Jeff’s words to sink in.  “What else is on your mind, Son?” he asked a moment later.  “You don’t live with someone for months without learning how to read them.  I can tell something’s bothering you.”

Jeff pursed his lips as he thought about it.  He wasn’t really certain what he wished to discuss.  “I’m afraid, Sir.” He confessed finally forcing the words out.  He hated to admit it, but it was the truth.  It was easy to be confident when Bryn needed him to be.  He knew what to say, and even knew what to do most of the time.  Yet none of that changed the truth; he was terrified.  He dreaded the day when Bryan wouldn’t need or want him anymore.  It was bizarre really, with all that they had shared thus far, that he would harbor this fear.  And it was selfish… he was aware of that too.

“What is it you’re afraid of Jeff?”

Jeff figured the better question was what wasn’t he afraid of, but he thought it best not to say it out loud.  He sighed and looked back towards the bedroom where his best friend was sleeping.  “Failure,” he turned his attention back to Thomas.  “I told you ‘what ifs’ are a bad idea, yet I also seem to have them running through my head.  What if I’m wrong?  What if I’m not doing what’s best for Bryan?  What if- what if Bryan doesn’t need me when this is all over?  What if I love Bryan and he can’t love me back?” 

He whispered that last sentence, and he wasn’t certain if Thomas heard him or not.  As a kid he had been thought that failure wasn’t an option.  For years he had fallen short of expectations- until met the Dobbs family.  Thomas never expected anything of him; he knew that.  He thought he was doing his best.  With Bryan, though, he wanted to give him the world.  Now he was starting to question if he really could.  Wanting to do something and the ability to do it were two distinctly different things.

“You aren’t expected to have all the answers, Jeff,” Thomas stated, his tone thoughtful.  “No one is expecting you to be right about everything.  I learned a long time ago that life is about trial and error.  If we make a mistake, we learn from it and keep on going. We can only take it one day at a time, and we knew that from the beginning, didn’t we?”

“True,” Jeff acquiesced.  I guess I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Bryan is doing so well, but that could change at any moment.”

“Yes it could,” Thomas agreed, “and if it does then we’ll just do whatever we need to help him through it, Jeff.  That is all we can do at this point.”

“I know.” Jeff sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.  “I’m thinking it might be time to venture out somewhere.  He has to get used to going out; being around people again.”

“Do you think he’s ready for that?”

“We’re not going to know until we try,” Jeff shrugged.  “Trial and error right?”  Thomas nodded, his expression thoughtful.

 “We’re not helping if we keep him cooped up in here all day.” He commented.

“Yeah,” Jeff sighed.  “So I guess we’ll try that.  What’s the worse that could happen?

 

 **

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

Jeff took his eyes off the road briefly to look into the scared eyes of his best friend.  He rested his hand on top of Bryan’s and gave it a squeeze.  “Just breathe, Bryan.  I want you to try.  ”

“I’ll try,” Bryan promised softly as he looked out the window.  They were heading to the beach.  He was excited about spending time with his friend.  However, he just wasn’t so sure about doing it in public.  It wasn’t that he was afraid to go out, per se, he just didn’t like people.  According to Jeff he needed to get used to being around people again. So here they were heading to the beach, and really he couldn’t wait to walk along the sand.  Jeff had promised to hold his hand and that would help.

**

Jeff kept that promise as they begin their descent down the sandy beach.  He had instructed Bryan to hold his shoes as they walked, and he walked slowly knowing that at any moment Bryan could tense up. 

“See this isn’t so bad,” Jeff stated as they edged closer to the people scattered along the expanse.

Bryan’s eyes darted around as they neared the water.  There were a lot of people around, and he squeezed Jeff’s hand tighter as he tried not to be frightened.  He tried to tell himself that no one was looking at him; that he and Jeff were just going to find a spot to settle down and talk.   They were just going to enjoy the beach.  The sand felt nice.   He couldn’t recall ever going to the beach before.  The water was a crystal clear azure blue up ahead, and it seemed to blend well with the sky.  It was like looking at Jeff’s eyes.  He rather liked it.

“Watch it!”

He heard the shout just as something hit his shoulder.  He tensed as Jeff let go of his hand momentarily. 

“Sorry about that,” a voice drew closer and Bryan saw Jeff pick up a ball.  “Is he okay?”

 “He’s fine,” Jeff retorted, “just take this and go,” he shoved the ball into the guy’s hands.  “And watch where you throw that thing next time, volleyballs hurt.” 

Bryan was rubbing his shoulder, and looking around at all the people who seemed to be getting closer.  He could almost the walls closing in on him, and in any moment he would be crushed.  When Jeff touched his shoulder he yelped and turned around quickly.

“Bryan, are you okay?” 

Bryan nodded even as his breathing became a little more labored.

“Can you take my hand?” Jeff asked gently.

“Jeff, I’m scared.”

“I know.   I know you are.  Take my hand okay?”

“Someone’s gonna hit me again,” Bryan trembled.  “Can we go now?”

“I’m going to take you home okay?”

He was just about to reach for his friend’s hand when he was pushed by a crowd of people.  Everything happened so fast; one minute he was standing upright, and the next he was on the ground with his face buried in the sand.  He could hear Jeff off in the distance, but he couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.

“Stay away from me!” He panicked when he felt a hand touch him some moments later. 

“It’s just me, Bryan.”

Jeff’s voice relaxed him slightly and he allowed himself to be pulled up into a sitting position.  Jeff used his fingers to wipe away some of the sand, before helping him to his feet. 

“Can we go home now?” he asked miserably, clinging to his friend.  His eyes were closed tightly, as he unwittingly rubbed at them in an attempt to rid them of sand.

It seemed like forever before sand turned to wood, signaling that they were much closer to the car.  Jeff told him to lean against the vehicle, which he did gladly, lifting his hand in an attempt to rub at his eye.

“Don’t touch, Bryan,” Jeff warned.  “You’ll only irritate your eye’s further.  Close them for me, please.” 

Bryan did as he was directed, and felt a wet cloth brush against his eyes.  The cool liquid felt good against his flushed skin, but his eyes still stung. 

“You can open your eyes now, Bryan,” Jeff instructed.  “Your eyes are going to be fine.

Bryan relaxed a little as Jeff helped him into the car.  He settled into his chair and closed his eyes, exhausted and more than ready to go home.

 

**

He had a myriad of thoughts running through his head as he sat at the desk.  Jeff was taking a shower, and he was supposed to be writing.  Those thoughts didn’t want to translate to paper, however.  He closed his notebook, and left it on the desk, sure that it wouldn’t be tampered with.  He trusted Jeff, and knew that he would only read it if Bryan gave it to him.  What Bryan wanted, what he needed was to talk to someone.  His dad was the only person home.  His brother was out for the day and his sister was at work.  Not that that he would have talked to either of them about this.  There was just so much going on in his head and he needed to get it out.

He knocked on the bathroom door and let Jeff know that he was going to talk to his dad.  When he heard Jeff’s response over the rushing water he left the room.  His father was in the kitchen cutting up vegetables for a salad.  Bryan climbed up on a stool and watched with his elbows resting on the table. 

“How are you feeling, Bryan?” Thomas asked, his eyes focused on his task.

“Okay, I guess,” Bryan admitted with a smile playing on his lips.  “I just feel… I don’t know a lot of things right now, and I don’t know what to do to figure them out.  And I think it’s a catastrophe of immense proportions.  Remember when I used to say that all the time?”

“I do.” Thomas looked up, smiling fondly at his son.  “I used to tell you to start somewhere, and eventually we’d cover everything.  Think we can try that today?”

Bryan nodded as he swiped a piece of tomato from the cutting board.  He started nibbling on it as he watched his dad, and thought about what he wanted to talk about first.  “Well,” he said after a few minutes of silence, “I feel really bad for ruining the day.  I just don’t think I am ready to face a whole bunch of people.  Something hit me and I heard Jeff yell.  Then I fell, and it was just all really scary.”

“You didn’t ruin anything, Bryan.  It’s okay if you were a little overwhelmed.  We’ll just try something different next time until you get used to crowds gain.

Bryan tilted his head to the side as he contemplated his father’s words.  He took another piece of tomato and allowed his thoughts to drift to another topic. 

“Dad, how do you know if you like someone like that?”

“Like what?” Thomas asked raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t know,” Bryan sighed.  “I’m just confused about it all.  Just forget I asked.”

“I want to understand, Bryan.  Can you explain it to me?”

He wanted to explain it, but he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to say.  There was a lot to think about, and that kiss was in the forefront of his mind.  He could still feel those lips pressed against his, so warm and welcoming.

 “I’m just so confused about how I feel, Dad.  Jeff said not to believe what they told me at Echo Lake, and I try.  Then I have these feelings for Jeff but it’s like… I’m confused.”

“It can’t be easy for you to forget everything you were taught Bryan.”

“I want to, though,” Bryan insisted.  He ate another piece of tomato and picked at a cucumber as he looked at his dad.  “I just keep remembering the way it hurt when I thought about guys.  And the stinging sensations I can still feel whenever I dream.”  He blushed, realizing he was about to make a real admission here.  “I think my dreams are about Jeff; the good dreams, before they turn into nightmares,” He whispered.  “I need to write about it, but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate.  I don’t know how to love someone, Dad, but I think… I think maybe if I can learn how it will be with Jeff.”

Thomas stopped cutting and placed his hands on the table, focusing only on his son.  “I know you’ve heard this before, but I need you to listen to me, okay?  There is nothing wrong with how you feel.  Your feelings, no matter what they are,, matter.”

 “It just sounds so different coming from you somehow, Dad.  And I don’t know what to do with it.  I mean I like Jeff, I need him, and I don’t want anything to happen to him ever.  But I feel like I shouldn’t be holding on to him.  Like I’m keeping him away from doing something better.  Do you think I depend on him too much?”  There was fear in his eyes, and he was hoping that his dad would say no, because he truly didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have Jeff in his corner.

**

Jeff sighed as he returned to the room, his hair still damp from the shower.  He felt a little bit better, but he couldn’t get the image of Bryan lying on the ground out of his head.  He had been terrified when Bryan fell, and it hurt his heart that he could do no more but stand there while he was trampled.

He spied Bryan’s journal on the desk and smiled.  One day soon he would ask Bryan if he could read his writing.  He was just glad that his friend truly liked the journal and tried to write in it every day.  He really was recovering, despite this latest setback.

He was startled by the sound of the door and turned to see Alden standing in the doorway looking none too happy.  “How could you let him get hurt?” Alden accused.  “Why did you take him to the beach?  Why do you keep confusing him?”

“What are you talking about?” Jeff asked trying not to react to Alden’s hostility.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. You took him to the beach and he got hurt. You, who profess to care about him, let him get hurt. What the hell were you thinking?”

“Don’t you dare,” Jeff began, starting to lose his temper, “stand there and talk about my feelings for Bryan.  Yes I did take him to the beach, but I did not let him get hurt.  God Alden what kind of person do you take me for?  You really think I wanted Bryan to get hurt today?  You don’t think I was scared out of my mind that it happened?  Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I'm his brother,” Alden snapped back.   “I take you for someone who says they care about what happens to Bryan, but from where I'm standing it sure doesn't look like it. He doesn't know how to make you see that he cares about you and its confusing him.  He just asked our father how he should feel about you!”

“You were eavesdropping,” Jeff said incredulously.  “Wow Alden, great show of brotherly support there; listening in on a private conversation.  And for the record I do care about Bryan, way more then you could ever fathom, and I don’t feel like I need to explain myself to you.  If Bryan wants me to know what he was talking about with Thomas then he will tell me himself.  You should be spilling your brother’s secrets, it’s no wonder he doesn’t trust you.”

“I wasn't eavesdropping on purpose. I was coming back in and heard them talking. Bryan doesn't trust me because you contradict everything I try to tell him.”

“Now who’s making it seem like Bryan doesn’t have a mind of his own?” Jeff countered.  “I’m sorry to disappoint you Alden, but I don’t have anything to do with his trust in you, or lack thereof.  In fact I have told him that he should trust you.  The rest is up to him.  And I don’t appreciate being told that I caused Bryan to get hurt.  I certainly didn’t plan on a whole crowd of people deciding to trample him, and I left my volleyball here at the house.”

“I don't know why I even bother with you,” Alden huffed exasperated.  “You don't care about anybody but yourself. Whether you planned it or not, Bryan got hurt and you should have taken precautions to keep that from happening. You want to be in charge around here and Dad is more than willing to let you, but I'm not. Bryan is my brother!  We've lost enough time with him, and I am not going to stand by and let you deprive us of more because of your carelessness.

“What the hell did you expect me to do, Alden?  It’s a beach; there are people on the beach.  Believe me, if I could have foreseen anything like that happening I would have prevented it, but I couldn’t and I’m sorry beyond imagination that Bryan got hurt.  I love him, and I want him to be okay.  What do I need to do to get you to realize that?”

“Tell him, not me!” Alden fired back.  “I know. I have two eyes and I can see it. I know you think he's not ready, but the guy that I just heard talking to Dad deserves to know that what he is feeling isn't one-sided. It's only confusing him and making him wonder when the pain is going to come for doing something bad. Why can't you see that?”

Jeff purposely bit down on his lip as he tried to stay his temper.  Yelling was not helping his mood, and he knew he really needed to try to get along with Alden, for Bryan’s sake.  Alden was only trying to help, he just didn’t understand.  “Whether I tell Bryan that I love him or not he is going to think it’s wrong, because that is what he was taught,” He explained after a moment. “That is the confusing thing, Alden.  He associates it all with pain because that’s what he was taught.  He knows that I care, but if I add that last little bit in, if I add in the word love, it’s only going to scare him and I’m not going to do that.  You don’t get it; I’m the one person who he can count on completely.  I’m the one he put his trust in, and telling him that I love him right now would seem like a betrayal and I’m not willing to do that.”

“Think you’re wrong, Jeff, but then what the hell do I know? You think you have all the answers. No one else could possibly be right.  That just makes me sick. You don't have much faith in Bryan yourself, or you would see that what you are doing is only making things more complicated for him. I don't know why you can't understand that.”

“I don’t have faith in him?” Jeff was really getting upset now.  “How dare you stand there and accuse me of not having faith in Bryan!  Do you realize that that’s why your father and I brought him here?  Because I do believe in him and his recovery.” He emphasized the word ‘do’.  “I do want him to be okay, and I do think that he can be okay.  I just know his limitations, because unfortunately, Alden, there are some.  Bryan thinks a lot; it’s one of the things I realized about him right away.  He’s a thinker and he really isn’t as confused as he comes off sometimes.  It just seems that way to him; it’s his perception. And you have to look past it to see the truth.  Your brother is not stupid, but he does have his own ideas about honesty, trust and loyalty.  Those values are important to him and I refuse to do something that I know will make him question his faith in me.”

“You just have all the answers don't you Jeff?  I just wish you could see that maybe you are wrong, and that others want the same thing for Bryan that you profess to. I have tried to make this work, for Dad's sake and Bryan's but I honestly don't think I can take any more of this crap.”

“I don’t think I’m right all the time, Alden, and I’m far from perfect, believe me.  But I’ve been around Bryan since he came home, and I’ve watched him closely to know what makes him happy or sad.  I get what agitates him and I know that being in that place did a number on him.  Bryan has a lot of love to give, but right now he truly believes that that part of him is broken.  I’m sorry you don’t agree with me here.   I only want what’s best for Bryan.  If I thought telling him how deep my feelings go I would do it in a heartbeat.”

“Why is it that you have an answer for everything Jeff? I am sick to death of it. You do what you think is right and to hell with the rest of us and what we think.”

“That’s not a fair assessment and you know it, Dobbs.  Just because I don’t agree with you on this one thing does not mean I think my opinion is better than anyone else’s.  But do you know whose opinion matters the most to me?  Bryan’s.  His happiness is my happiness and if you don’t like then that’s just too fucking bad.”

“If his opinion matters so damn much then you should be straight up honest.  Don't string him along just to pull the rug right out from under him later. He leans on you for everything so what the hell happens if something should happen to you? What then Jeff? How are the rest of us supposed to help Bryan if you are the only one who gets a say?  Did you ever consider that?”

“I am honest with him!” Jeff exclaimed.  He was really starting to get agitated with Bryan’s brother and he wasn’t sure how much more he could take.  “I’m more honest with Bryan than I have ever been with anyone in my entire life.  Your brother has taught me so much and I don’t want to lose that, Alden.  Soget off my case okay?”

“Why should I? You are nothing but an arrogant jerk, and one of these days Dad and Bryan are going to see it.  I can't wait to see the fallout from that Mr. Holier than Thou.”

**

Bryan frowned as he approached the bedroom, he could hear Alden yelling at Jeff and he didn’t like it.  He knew his best friend was under a lot of stress already and arguing wasn’t going to help that.”

“Fuck you,” He heard Jeff’s voice and it made him jump.  Jeff was really mad.  He walked faster and reached the room just in time to see Jeff’s face before he brushed past him. 

“Jeff!” He called after him.  Are you okay?”  His best friend turned and came back momentarily to place his hands on his cheeks.  Bryan felt his lips momentarily before Jeff pulled away and his hands were gone.  Bewildered he turned on his brother who was still standing in the room and balled up his fists.  “What did you do to him Alden?”

“Nothing that shouldn't have been done a long time ago.” Alden said crossing his arms.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bryan frowned.  “I don’t understand.”

“I told him some things that should have been said long ago, and he didn't like it. Imagine that, it's his way or no way and that just sucks.”

“You’re not making sense, Alden.”  Bryan sighed.  “Forget it, I’ll go find Jeff and get him to explain it to me.  I think you hurt his feelings.”

“Yeah, why don't you do that?” Alden called after him.  “His feelings are the only ones that seem to matter around here anyway.”

“Why are you so mean?” Bryan asked before turning and leaving the room.  He needed to find Jeff to make sure he was okay.  He searched the house thoroughly but there was no sign of Jeff anywhere.  Even his dad hadn’t seen him.  That worried Bryan.  It wasn’t like Jeff to just disappear, but then he couldn’t remember seeing Jeff so upset before.  He ran outside, and down to the pavement looking up and down the block for any sign of his friend.

He was on his way back to the house when he spotted him on the ground.  “Oh my god, Jeff!” He cried as he ran to him and knelt down beside him.  “Jeff are you okay?”  He frowned when he heard no answer, and realized that he couldn’t remember what to do.  Jeff was too still, and he knew he needed to get help but he didn’t want to leave him there.  “Dad!” He yelled in the direction of the house.  “Dad, help!   Please help!”

“Bryan?” Thomas called as he came running out the house.  He spotted his son quickly and ran over to where he was kneeling beside Jeff.  “Oh my god, Jeff.  Bryan, help me get him in the house.  What happened?”

“He’s not moving,” Bryan said even as he helped his dad carry Jeff inside.  They set him down on the couch and Bryan tried again to get Jeff to stir.  “Dad, he’s not moving,” Bryan panicked. 

“Calm down Bryan.” Thomas soothed gently. “Panicking isn't going to help Jeff. He's breathing and his pulse is steady.  Stay here with him; I’ll be right back. He's going to be ok Bryan.”

Bryan tried to do what he was told, and he was a little more relaxed when his dad returned with a cold compress.  .    When he heard Jeff groan he immediately went to give his friend a hug only stopping when he heard him moan in pain..

“Oh no!  Did I hurt you?  Are you okay?” Bryan asked.  He was on the verge of tears; he hated seeing his best friend in pain.

“I think-” Jeff said gasping for breath, “I broke… something.”

“Jeff, what happened?” Thomas asked.

“I got hit by a car,” Jeff said grimacing.  “Lucky for me it wasn’t moving very fast.”

“You got hit by a car!” Bryan exclaimed.  “But why were you outside?  Dad you have to fix his leg I think that’s what he broke.”

“Bryan calm down. Jeff where are you hurt?”

Bryan moved away, but Jeff reached out for his hand and that told him to stay put. 

.  “My leg hurts, Sir, and I think I hurt my side too.”

“Okay.  We need to get you to the hospital.”

“No,” Bryan said shaking his head vehemently.  “No hospitals!  If you take him there he won’t come back.  Please Dad.”

“Bryan,” Thomas implored, “Son, please calm down. I am not going to let Jeff disappear, but if his leg is broken we will have to go to the hospital to get it set.”

“Don’t worry Bryan,” Jeff said wincing again.  “I’m not going anywhere okay?  Just let your dad help me.”

“Promise?” Bryan asked as tears threatened to spill forth.  He knew it was silly but he was really scared for Jeff.  He didn’t want his best friend hurt.  Even more than that he didn’t like the idea of him going to the hospital.  What if he never came back?

“I promise.” Jeff’s voice drew him out of his thoughts.  “I think I need to go to the hospital,” Jeff said turning his attention to Thomas. 

“I’ll go get the car.”

“Okay,” Jeff said softly.

“Okay, Dad,” Bryan said at the same moment.  He watched his dad leave and turned to face his best friend again.  “Does it hurt really bad?”

“I’ll be okay, Bryan.  How are you?”

“Just scared because you’re hurt.”

“Don’t be.  It’s okay. We’re going to the hospital to get my leg checked out… then we can come back home okay?”

Bryan nodded as his dad came back in the house.  Together they helped Jeff out to the car.  Bryan sat in the backseat with Jeff, holding his hand.  He was scared but he was trying to talk himself out of the fear.  Jeff was going to be okay, and they were going o the hospital so he could get a cast on his leg.  Bryan knew his dad wouldn’t let anything happen to Jeff.  And Jeff had promised…

When they arrived at the hospital, Bryan and Jeff remained in the car while Thomas went in to secure a wheelchair for Jeff.  A nurse came out with him and helped Jeff into the chair, and Bryan didn’t move to follow them.  He was staring up at the big formidable building, watching as his best friend was wheeled away from him.  He felt like he was stuck in time and he didn’t know what to do next.

“It's ok, Bryan,” his dad said as he felt a hand on his shoulder.  “I won't let them hurt you, but Jeff needs you. He needs to see that you are ok so that he won't worry. Take my hand.  We'll do it together, ok?”

Bryan bit his lip and looked at his dad’s hand.  He looked at the building and back at his dad’s hand before reaching out to finally take it.  His dad was right he needed to be in there for Jeff…just as Jeff had always been there for him.

**

“Why were Jeff and Alden fighting?” He asked his dad as they sat in the waiting room.  Jeff was getting an x-ray and then Bryan would watch them set his cast.  For now though they were just waiting, and Bryan didn’t want to stay silent.  “I think Alden hurt Jeff’s feelings.”

“I’m not sure.” Thomas sighed.  “But I’ll get to the bottom of it.  Did you hear any of what they were saying, Bryan?”

Bryan nodded, a frown set on his face as he thought back to what he had walked in on.  “Alden was calling Jeff holier than thou, and then Jeff said fuck you, and that’s when he rushed off.  Then I called him back and he only stayed a second before he was gone again.   I asked Alden what was going on and he only said he was just telling Jeff things that needed to be said.  He said Jeff didn’t like it, but I don’t know what he means.”  

Thomas grimaced and placed an arm around Bryan’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, Son we’ll figure this out.  I’m not sure what happened here, but I’ll talk to Alden about it.”

“He hurt Jeff’s feelings,” Bryan announced sadly.  “And I don’t understand why… he was being so mean, and then he wouldn’t explain why.” 

Bryan had already made up his mind that he was going to be really angry with his brother for this.  Jeff was hurt, and that was just unacceptable in his book.  If Alden and Jeff hadn’t been fighting, and if Alden hadn’t of said what he did then Jeff wouldn’t have gone outside and he wouldn’t have been hit by a car.  Bryan didn’t even want to think about how much worse it could have been.