The events of the next 72 hours were a complete blur. Aaron collapsed to the floor and cried hysterically when he heard the news. Adam heard him fall and got his parents, who eventually coaxed the news out of Aaron. Everyone was shocked. Aaron’s mom called June back and let her know that Aaron was OK, and she found out where Brian was so they could all visit. When they arrived at the same hospital that Aaron and Brian had been in just a year before, June filled them in on the details.
“He’d been hoarding his pain pills for some time. None of us knew he was doing it. He seemed to be doing better since Dr. Stevens started him on Prozac, so we thought he was going to be OK, even though he continued to refuse counseling. He came home early from school yesterday . . . he apparently wheeled himself home . . . and he downed his entire supply of Vicodin, followed by a bottle of scotch. Thank God I’d left work early because we were supposed to go to a dinner engagement last night. If I hadn’t gotten home until my usual time, he’d have already been dead.
“As it was, he was barely breathing when I found him. We got him here right away, but it was too late to pump his stomach. They were able to reverse the effects of the narcotics and got him on a ventilator and stabilized him. He’s breathing on his own now and apparently, there’s no brain damage. The problem is his liver.
“In addition to a narcotic, Vicodin contains Tylenol. Brian consumed a toxic dose and has extensive liver damage. They tell me that there’s at best a fifty percent chance that he’ll make it. It could be days before we know for sure. They’ve put him at the top of the transplant list, but the chance of finding a match before he dies is close to zero.” June and Alan were in tears as she said this, as was everyone else. She reached out and hugged Aaron and the two of them embraced for several minutes.
“Couldn’t you or Alan donate part of your liver to Brian?” Aaron asked. “I think I read something about that recently.”
“Aaron,” June answered, “There’s no easy way to tell you this, but Brian’s adopted.”
“What? Why didn’t Brian tell me?”
“Because he doesn’t know. We’d always planned to tell him when he was ‘old enough’ to understand, but the longer we waited, the harder it became. I’m sorry, Aaron,” June said as a tears stared to escape her eyes. “I know you probably feel betrayed, but Brian was a miracle baby for us. We’d been trying to have a child for so long and when our attorney called with the news about Brian being available, we were ecstatic. We gave him all the love we would have given him if he’d been our own child.”
“I know you did, June,” Aaron said in reply. “No parents could have been more loving to Brian than you were, and I love you for it. When he comes out of this, I think you should tell him, but I forgive you.” Aaron once again hugged June with all his might, and then he did the same with Alan.
After what seemed like several minutes lost in thought, Aaron asked, “June, can I go see him?”
“Yes, Aaron, I think he’d like that. They only allow two visitors at a time into the ICU and only for fifteen minutes at a time. I’ll take you to see him in a half-hour.”
Aaron thought he’d composed himself rather well when it came time to see Brian, but he wasn’t prepared for what he saw. As they entered the room, Brian was lying there staring up at the ceiling. He seemed unemotional as his mother took his hand. His skin and the whites of his eyes were yellow.
“Brian, I’ve brought someone here to see you. Aaron’s here.”
“Because he really wants to see you.”
Brian turned his head toward Aaron and stared blankly at him. “Came to see the dead man, huh?”
Aaron nearly lost it. “Brian, don’t talk like that. You’re gonna live. You’ve gotta live!”
“Why? Why should I live? I’ve lost everything that meant anything to me. Aaron, this is what I want. I can’t live this way. I’ll be gone soon, Aaron. You need to get on with your life. You and Darren’ll make a good couple.”
“Brian, I don’t want Darren. I want you.”
“Get off it, Aaron! I’m dying! You can’t have me! So why don’t you just get the fuck out of here and leave me alone! Go back to your lover boy!”
“Brian, don’t tell me that your seeing me with Darren didn’t have something to do with this. I know you didn’t mean what you said to me the last time we saw each other. I know you still love me just as I love you. Seeing Darren and me together must have really hurt!”
“Well, it didn’t.”
“Do you take me for a fool? You went home and took the pills right after you saw Darren kiss me. I know you still love me. You can’t leave me, Brian!”
“Aaron, don’t you see? The boy you fell in love with no longer exists. He died a year ago. The boy you think you love is a good-for-nothing cripple who can’t walk, who can’t fuck and who certainly can’t give you what you need.”
“DON’T TALK THAT WAY, BRIAN!”
“But it’s the truth. In a way, my being gone will clear the way for you. You’ll be able to get on with your life and to have someone who’s complete. Someone like Darren.”
Aaron leaned forward and pushed his lips against Brian’s. The taste was terrible - like ammonia, but he didn’t care. Slowly and sensually, Aaron sucked Brian’s lips and pressed forward with his tongue. Brian resisted, determined to have his way, but then his emotions started to melt and he let Aaron’s tongue invade his mouth. Resigned and now eager, Brian couldn’t help but kiss back as the one he truly loved, gave of himself - selflessly.
Aaron broke the kiss and said, “I’m not giving up on you, Brian Sandler. You’re a special person and no-one can replace you in my life. Darren and I don’t even like the same things. With you and me, it was love at first sight. Don’t deny it. We were made for each other. How often does that happen? Most people never have what we had. I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair. I don’t care if you can’t feel your nipples . . .” Aaron reached down and tweaked Brian’s right nipple, “and I don’t care if we never have sex again. I just love being with you, and I’ve missed that terribly.”
“Oh God Aaron, would you do that again?”
“Touch my nipples.”
Aaron reached down and tweaked both of Brian’s nipples.
“Aaron, I felt that! It wasn’t as strong as it used to be, but I definitely felt it!” Both boys were in tears now. Aaron leaned over and pressed his lips against Brian’s and slowly started to kiss him once again. The kiss became increasingly intense as they pushed their tongues into each other’s eager mouths.
“Brian, don’t leave me, man. I need you. I can’t live without you. I love you. Please don’t leave me.” Tears continued to roll down Aaron’s cheeks as he spoke.
“I’m so, so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I love you.” Brian started crying hysterically as he said that and then both boys held each other as they sobbed.
“Aaron, I meant what I said about you having to move on. Maybe I made a mistake, but it was my mistake to make and I’m probably gonna die. I’m so sorry, but what’s done is done. Promise me, Aaron, that you’ll get on with your life. Maybe it won’t be with Darren, but for me, find someone else to be the love of your life.”
“I’ll make that promise under one condition, my love. Promise me that you’ll fight to live. I hope and pray it’s not too late, but the only way you’ll pull through is if you want to. Promise me you won’t give up . . . that you’ll fight for life until you take your last breath. Do that for me and I’ll keep my promise to you.
“You still want to be with me, even though I can’t use my dick?”
“I’d be with you, even if it fell off. I’d be with you, even if it meant mine would fall off. I love you, Brian. Remember what I said before . . . sex is just the icing on the cake. Besides, you do still have your mouth . . . and a mighty incredible cock-sucking mouth it is!” Remembering he wasn’t alone, Aaron turned his head and sheepishly added, “Sorry June.”
“That’s OK, Aaron. While I might not approve of the language, they’re words of love and wisdom.”
Brian started sobbing hysterically again. “I’m so, so sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do this. I shoulda died in the accident. I shoulda died back then. Why? Why did this have to happen to me? Why did we have to rush like that, just to have a cheap fuck?”
“It wasn’t for a cheap fuck, Brian. We’d been waiting for months. We wanted to make love . . . real love in the most intimate way possible. Yeah, we were stupid. Yes, I made a mistake, too. I know I’ve said it before, but I’d give anything to trade places with you, even now. Even with all that’s happened. This isn’t your fault, Brian. We were both at the wrong place at the wrong time and you got the raw end of the stick, but the one thing that’s made it all tolerable is that we have each other. Together we can get through this. With sheer will and my love, you’re gonna pull through this. You’re gonna make it, baby.”
“I know, Aaron. At least I’ll try.”
The boys once again embraced, and then it was time for Aaron and June to leave. Once they returned to the waiting area, June said, “Thank you Aaron. Thank you for bringing Brian out of his shell. I think his chances just got a whole lot better.”
“Oh God, I hope you’re right, June.”
“But if he doesn’t make it, I want you to stick to your promise, and from now on, please don’t be a stranger. I know you couldn’t keep in touch with us after Brian rejected you . . . that it hurt too much . . . but we’ve missed you terribly. It would be painful to lose a son, but unbearable to lose two.”
The gravity of what June Sandler was telling him slowly sunk in. He hugged her tightly and they both cried.
Aaron spent the night at the hospital, but by morning, Brian’s condition had only worsened. The doctors started talking to his parents about whether or not they would want him to go back on a ventilator if his breathing became labored, and if they would want him resuscitated if his heart stopped. Aaron didn’t want to hear any of this. He went to the hospital’s chapel and did something he hadn’t done in a long time - he prayed.
By nightfall on Wednesday, Brian was barely coherent. He didn’t recognize his parents, nor Aaron, Adam, or Larry when they came to visit him. To Aaron it was evident that his best friend, the love of his life, the one he cared about more than life itself, was dying.
In desperation he cried out, “Brian, don’t leave me! Please, Brian. Fight! Fight for me! Fight for us!” Although Brian didn’t seem to respond, Aaron clearly saw a solitary tear stream out of Brian’s right eye. He wiped the tear with his hand and reached down and kissed his beloved on the forehead. “Goodnight, my love. I’ll be here for you until you wake.”
Aaron couldn’t sleep that night and he again stayed at the hospital. He hoped against all hope that Brian would recover, but somehow knew that he wouldn’t. He needed to be there for Brian when he died, if nothing else.
At around two AM, one of the residents came out to the waiting room and headed straight for them. Aaron knew what this must mean - the perfect boy - the love of his life - was gone. Time seemed to slow down as the resident approached. He could see every feature of her face. The distant look of someone who had seen death many times before. The expressionless look of someone who hadn’t been to sleep in more than a day.
But as she approached, Aaron noticed something else - it was subtle, but she was smiling. Alan and June were asleep, so she approached Aaron first. She stooped down to his level and said quietly, “Your friend’s awake, and he wants to see you. He wants to see all of you.”
“I thought that only two of us could see him at a time.”
“I think we can make an exception tonight.”
Aaron woke the Sandlers and the resident led all three of them to Brian’s bedside. When they walked into his room, Brian looked more wan than ever, but his eyes were open and his breathing was regular.
“Hi Mom, Dad. Hey Aaron. I’m really sorry about putting you through all of this. I’m not out of the woods yet by any means, but when they check my labs in the morning, they’re gonna be better. I just know it. I can feel it. I’m not gonna give up and die. Aaron, I love you for your persistence, especially after I shut you out the way I did. I lied to you . . . I never stopped loving you . . . but I just didn’t feel it was fair for you to be stuck with me, especially after things got worse and the surgery seemed to fail.”
Aaron started to speak, but Brian shushed him.
“I know now that it was up to you . . . not me . . . to decide what was fair, but I just couldn’t see it at the time. For some reason, I thought a little hurt now would be better than a lot of hurt later. Boy was I wrong. Seeing you here showed me that there was no way to get around a lot of hurt. Most of all, however, I know now that Dr. Stevens was right. I still haven’t faced up to my loss, and then when I did, I ended up dealing with it by filling my stomach with Vicodin.”
“Brian, I’m proud of you. Yes, Dr. Stevens was right. You can’t sidestep your grief. You have to get through it . . . to live through it. Ending your life is no way to end your grief. But you have me, and you have your wonderful, loving parents, and you have Larry, and Adam, and even Darren, and the Jazz Ensemble, and the GSA to help you get through this. We’re all here to help.”
“I feel like I’m at the bottom of a deep dark hole with no way to climb out. You’ve kept trying to throw me a ladder and I just kept throwing it away. When I recover . . . and I’m gonna recover . . . I’ll get counseling. We’ll get counseling. We’ll go together. I don’t ever want to be apart again.”
“That’s it, baby. Grab the ladder, and we’ll never, ever be apart again.”
Both boys were in tears as they embraced and then kissed each other for the longest time. They finally pulled apart long enough to let Brian’s parents hug and kiss him before they all were shooed out of the ICU.
True to Brian’s word, his labs did indeed improve, but it was days before he was stable enough to move out of intensive care and it took nearly a week of intensive rehab before he was strong enough to move to the psychiatric unit.
As much as everyone wanted Brian to go home, they all agreed he needed to get past his suicide attempt before he could leave the hospital. With luck, he might be able to go home in a week, but more likely a month, given the extent to which he’d nearly succeeded.
In the initial days of Brian’s recovery, Aaron faced yet another major challenge. Although Darren was well aware of Brian’s suicide attempt and was sympathetic to what Aaron was going through, he continued to hold out hope that Aaron could still be his boyfriend. Aaron told Darren flat out that he loved Brian and that they would soon be together again, but Darren was too infatuated to hear any of it. Aaron tried to get out of going to the GSA Valentine dance with him, but Darren was steadfast - a promise was a promise, he reminded Aaron.
Aaron spoke to Brian about his dilemma, and Brian told him he should go. Brian trusted Aaron implicitly and knew nothing would happen at the dance. “Aaron, I want you to go to the dance. Just because I’m still in the hospital doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out and have a good time. Don’t think of it as a date with Darren. You’re just going out to a party to be with your closest friends.” Against his better judgement, Aaron decided to go ahead with it.
The night of the dance, Aaron picked Darren up at his home. He had to admit that Darren looked good that night - really pretty sexy - and it annoyed him that he felt himself being aroused. During the drive over, Darren put his hand on Aaron’s thigh and slid it up and over his dick.
“And you tried to tell me you don’t love me,” Darren said.
“Darren, there’s a big difference between love and lust. I learned that lesson a while ago. Lust is short-lived and seldom lasts. Love is what matters. I may be physically aroused by you, but Brian is the love of my life and there’s nothing you can do to change that. You really need to ask yourself if you really love me, or you lust after me. You know we really don’t have a lot in common.”
Darren didn’t say anything in response to this and Aaron hoped that he was thinking about what he’d said. He hoped and prayed that Darren wasn’t taking it the wrong way. One gay teenage attempted suicide was more than enough for him to handle in this lifetime.
When they got to the school, Darren acted clingy with Aaron, not letting him out of his sight. This didn’t look good and Aaron was really getting worried. He gravitated to Scott and some of his friends in the hope of getting some relief from Darren. Everyone asked him how Brian was doing and he was pleased to tell them that he was officially out of the woods.
After a while, a young kid - a freshman that Aaron knew from his participation in other GSA functions - came up to the group and said, “Hey guys, ’sup?”
“Hey, Jeff.” Darren said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m on the planning committee for the dance.”
“You mean you’re a member?”
“Hell yeah, I’m a member. I joined the GSA as soon as I started high school.”
“You mean you’re gay?” Darren asked.
“’Course I’m gay. I’ve been out since middle school, but we moved the summer before sixth grade, so maybe you didn’t know.”
“Jeff, I never suspected you were gay. I mean, you were always surrounded by girls, and you’re so damn cute. I just thought you were out of reach. I’ve had a major crush on you since, well, forever . . . I just never thought it could happen between us.”
Jeff laughed aloud and said, “It’s really ironic.” He turned to address the rest of the group. “I developed a major crush on Darren in fifth grade. That’s what made me realize I was gay, but I was too afraid to approach him. By the time I came to terms with who I was, my parents had told me we were moving, and that meant going to a different middle school than Darren. And then I got sick, so I kind of lost track of him.”
“What do you mean you got sick, Jeff?” Aaron asked.
“I got cancer. Osteogenic sarcoma of my right femur. That’s the thigh bone. They had to amputate my entire right leg.”
“Wow!” Darren said. “I guess that explains why you walk with a slight limp, but I would have never known.”
“I dance pretty good, too,” Jeff added. “They had to rebuild my thigh so they could even fit me with an artificial leg. I’ve got an internal prosthesis in the form of an artificial hip joint, as well as an external one in the form of an artificial leg.”
“That’s way cool, Jeff. I mean, it’s terrible you had to go through all that, but it’s cool that they were able to fix you up like that, and that you can walk and dance and everything.”
“Hey, you wanna dance right now?” Jeff asked Darren.
“Sure,” Darren answered.
As Jeff and Darren moved to the dance floor, Aaron couldn’t help but marvel at how fluidly Jeff moved, but when he started dancing, everyone was truly amazed at what Jeff was able to do. “Man, would you look at Jeff tearing up the floor? He’s fantastic! He’s better than me, and I have two good legs.”
“You’re not kidding, Aaron,” Scott added.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“I didn’t mean it that way, Aaron, but if the foo shits . . . “
Aaron punched Scott lightly in the shoulder in retaliation.
“Hey, don’t go beating up my boyfriend,” Jared interjected as the three of them laughed.
Darren and Jeff danced to one more fast song, and then Ben Folds’ The Luckiest came on. Feeling funny about dancing to a slow song just yet, they returned to the group of boys they’d been talking to, but Darren had other plans. He approached Aaron, fully intending to ask him to dance, but then he noticed that Aaron was crying.
“Aaron, are you alright?” Darren asked.
“Yes . . . I mean, no, not really. I’m sorry, Darren, I don’t want to be a downer, but this is the song Brian and I danced to when we came out. It was at the GSA Holiday dance a year ago that Brian and I first danced together. This is our song. We just swayed slowly to the music, feeling our love flow between us. We kissed at the end of the song. Boy did we kiss. I’ll never forget that night. . . . I’ll have that memory for the rest of my life. Scarcely a month later, we were in the accident. I walked away, and Brian didn’t.
“A month ago, I was in such pain. I thought I’d lost Brian for good . . . but then I found out what it would mean to really lose him. We may never be able to dance the way we danced that night, but I’m so grateful that I have Brian back. Even now, I miss him so much, my gut aches. . . . God, I wish he were here.”
Darren looked up at Aaron with tears in his own eyes. “You’ll never be mine, will you Aaron?”
“No, Darren, I won’t. I love Brian with all my heart. Don’t get me wrong . . . you’re a great kid . . . but my heart belongs to Brian. Somehow, we were made for each other.”
“I understand, Aaron . . . really, I do. I may always love you in a way, but I know now I’ll have to move on. I hope you’ll always think of me as your friend.”
“Of course you’ll always be my friend, Darren. A close friend.”
Aaron drew Darren up into his arms and they hugged each other tightly as they cried tears for a love lost, and a love regained. As they pulled apart, Aaron said, “You know, Darren, I think Jeff still has a bit of a crush on you.”
“You know, Aaron, I think you may be right . . . and I know I still have a crush on him. Did you see how he danced? He’s awesome.”
“Yeah, he is, Darren.”
On the way home, Aaron was pleased when Darren apologized for hitting on him so strongly, and actually asked for pointers on building a relationship with Jeff.
Brian ended up spending less than two weeks in the psych unit and was then discharged home and into an outpatient program.
Aaron had one great pleasure the day Brian returned from the hospital - returning the ID bracelet to Brian.
“I never could have given it to anyone else. Like it says on the back, ‘Yours Always’. I’ve been holding onto it, waiting for the day you returned to me,” Aaron said as he handed the bracelet back to Brian. “You’re stuck with me, Babe.”
“This time, you put it on me. This time, I promise it’s forever,” Brian said. “I swear, I’ll never leave you again. I can’t live without you. I’ll never again doubt your love. I’ll always be yours and you’re forever mine.”
“It’s always has been forever sweetheart,” Aaron said as he clicked the clasp shut. “Like they say, ’til death do us part, my man.” Aaron suddenly realized what he’d said and added, “Er . . . but let’s put the death thing off ’til we’re at least eighty.”
“Amen to that,” Brian said with a smile before he leaned forward, puckered his lips and closed his eyes, begging Aaron to lean down and kiss him. Aaron didn’t need to be coerced.
I would like to thank Riley James, WriteByMyself and David of Hope for their editing skills and invaluable suggestions, and Trab for his proofreading. This story can be found at Gay Authors and Awesome Dude. It was originally hosted at Nifty and at the Rainbow Community Writing Project. I am greatful to all of these sites for hosting this and my other stories.