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.
“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.
thanks guys for all the comments on this story. i see i have riled you guys up, understandably since this is a tough topic. Bryan has gone through a lot as the next few chapters will continue to address. I caution though that things aren't exactly as they seem. A hint...What Bryan knows as the truth, and what Thomas knows as the truth may not necessarily be the same thing. Keep reading and commenting, i appreciate it.