“One more flight of stairs,” Michael encouraged Asher, while helping him up the steps to his apartment.
“You have an elevator in that big ass apartment building of yours, why didn’t we stay there instead?” Asher’s face beaded with sweat as he leaned against the wall, struggling to catch his breath.
“Too late now, you’re almost home.” Michael balanced the duffle bag full of the stuff Asher accumulated during his hospital stay on one shoulder while holding Asher’s body up with the other shoulder. “The offer still stands to carry you,” Michael teased with a wink.
At first, when they got out of the cab, Asher scoffed at the idea of someone carrying him like he was an invalid, but now, out of breath and on the verge of passing out, the idea was sounding better and better.
“No, I can do…” Asher’s eyes fluttered closed as he started sliding down the wall.
“Christ, Ash!” Michael shouted, as he dropped the bag with a thud and caught Asher before he crumpled to the floor.
With one fluid motion, Michael scooped Asher’s legs in one arm and cradled his head against his chest as he braced his other arm behind Asher’s back. Michael quickly carried Asher up the last few steps to the fourth floor.
Mrs. Nguyen met them in the hallway. She let out several loud screams followed by a string of frantic words in Vietnamese. The petite woman waved her hands in the air as she continued to shout.
“Ma’am, I need your help,” Michael stumbled back a step as he fished the keys out of his front pocket and jingled them from his finger. “Quick,” He grunted under Asher’s weight. “Open the door.”
When the door swung open, Michael pushed past her and carried Asher to the new leather couch in the center of the sparkling-clean living room. Michael set him down, before falling to his knees beside the couch. His body trembled as he spoke to Asher. “Please, Asher,” Michael’s fingers shook as he fumbled with his cell phone. “Just hang in there.”
Asher’s eyes fluttered at the desperation in Michael’s voice. “Mike, I’m okay,” Asher lifted his head before it fell back against the soft couch again. “You don’t need to call the doctor. It was just a minor syncope.”
Michael’s eyebrows furrowed, the phone still clutched in his hand.
“It’s a minor fainting spell, nothing that I can’t handle.” Asher said with a low throaty chuckle. His eyes blinked as he tried to focus on the room. “Grab a bag of peas from the freezer to make an icepack.”
Rushing into the kitchen, Michael quickly found a bag of frozen vegetables. He wrapped a dishtowel around the plastic bag like Asher had instructed him, and then returned to the living room. Asher leaned forward and pressed the make-shift cold compress against the back of his neck. “It feels good,” Asher sighed as the clammy nauseous feeling started to pass.
Michael watched him. His dark eyes scanned over Asher’s pale skin starting to return to a normal pink hue with the crisis averted. “I’m sorry, Ash, but maybe you should have stayed with your parents instead of me. I’m totally unprepared to take care of you. I don’t even know where to start.”
Asher reached out and cupped Michael’s face. “I want to be in my home--”
“But your mom can take better care of you--” Michael was silenced by Asher’s fingers. They were cool, but quickly warmed up on Michael’s hot skin.
“This is where I want to be,” Asher smiled before adding, “Right here, with you.”
Helping Asher settle into his apartment, Michael straddled one of Asher’s legs, lifting his foot, pulling off one shoe followed by the other. Asher watched Michael’s butt sway with the innocent movement. The man had no idea what he was doing to Asher’s body.
The doctor had given Asher strict instructions regarding physical activity; it was going to be hard living this close to Michael and not pursuing him. They held hands and stole a few kisses at the hospital, but they hadn’t talked about the direction their relationship was taking. Neither one of them tried to define it, not yet.
“Did you see all the flowers and gifts?” Michael’s voice snapped Asher back to reality.
More than a dozen colorful flower arrangements were displayed around the apartment. It was three times as many as at the hospital. “Where did they all come from?” Asher asked.
Michael grabbed a handful of cards off the coffee table and handed them to Asher. “There are at least a dozen here from Sabers’ team members. The rest are from Chapel Chase.”
“I got flowers from work?” Asher was surprised.
Michael chuckled, “They’re from concerned customers that brought them to the bar. Everyone has been really worried about you. Jimmy and your mom had them delivered here instead of to the hospital so you didn’t have to move them.”
Asher glanced around his apartment that looked like someone else’s home. Not only was it clean, but he didn’t recognize the furniture in his living room. Butter-soft leather covered the new couch, chair and ottoman. His mismatched tables were missing, replaced with polished mahogany that complemented the rich leather. While saving all of his money for Turtle Island, new furniture was a luxury that Asher wouldn’t splurge on.
“I promised to replace that couch I ruined.” Michael told Asher, who slowly ran his fingers over the expensive material.
“You didn’t have to--”
“Yes, I did. I’ve already spent one miserable night on your couch and if I’m going to be staying here for a while, that old one wasn’t going to cut it.” Michael interrupted. His voice was stern, leaving no room for objection. Asher nodded his head with a silent, understood thank you. Before either of them could speak, the silence was broke by Asher’s growling stomach.
Tossing his head back and laughing, Michael’s dark eyes sparkled. “Why don’t you go get cleaned up while I make us something to eat?”
“You don’t have to go through the trouble of making anything,” Asher said while he cautiously held his hand to Michael and let him help him off the new couch, “Just place an order for something to be delivered.”
“Delivery?” Michael laughed. “You obviously haven’t seen the inside of your refrigerator. Your mom and her friends stocked it full of every dish known to mankind this afternoon. Mrs. Nguyen even joined in and brought by a plate of spring rolls and a big bowl of egg drop soup.”
“Really?” Asher asked, astounded by the generosity.
Michael teased, “Yep, there’s enough food in there to last us through the next ice-age. Go get shaved and I’ll get a couple of plates heated up.” Opening the refrigerator, Michael pulled out several dishes and set them on the limited counter space.
As Michael rooted around in the kitchen, Asher headed towards the only bathroom in the apartment. He scratched at his face, rubbing his fingers through the thick tangle of coarse hair covering his face and called over his shoulder. “What, Mikie, you don’t think a full beard would looks sexy on me?” Asher playfully asked.
“Hell no!” Michael teased. “With all that hair on your face, it’s like making-out with a porcupine.”
Before Asher could steady himself, his senses tilted and he stumbled forward into the heavy wooden door of the bathroom. He gasped as if he had been punched in the stomach. His head was spinning. He felt lightheaded, standing there trembling, contemplating what to do. Instead of facing Michael, he quietly went inside the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
It felt like his body was betraying him. The more Asher fought to regain his strength, the more he had to face reality that this injury not only had changed his life, but how would it affect his relationship with Michael?
Michael had claimed he wasn’t gay on more than one occasion, yet he kissed Asher at every opportunity he got. Would Michael use this as an excuse to avoid a relationship? Asher stood there, unable to move. His chest constricted in pain and this time, it wasn’t from his injuries. There was no way to avoid it. He was falling in love with a man who was terrified to love him back. Michael’s fingers fit perfectly together with Asher’s, yet the man was petrified to touch his body if anyone else was around.
Turning on the shower, as the water heated up, Asher leaned against the high side of the Victorian clawfoot bathtub and scrutinized his reflection in the mirror mounted on the far wall. Light brown hair jutted wildly from his head in every direction. Smudges of purple shadowed his sad eyes. Several days’ worth of facial hair obscured the usually sharp lines of his jaw. Here with his clothes still covering his injuries, Asher just looked like an ordinary guy who was having a really bad day.
Steam slowly filled the room. The black and white tiles started to perspire from the thick moist heat. When Asher moved to the cupboard to retrieve toiletries, it was obvious that his right arm hung loosely to his side.
“Thank god physical therapy starts tomorrow.” Asher growled at his reflection. Dropping the towel on the toilet lid, he then quickly grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and tried to lift it. It was difficult with just one mobile arm. He quickly readjusted the fabric and tried to lift it again, still unable to get the tight fitting fabric over his right arm. Struggling to a different position strained the aching muscles in his injured chest, bringing tears to his eyes, and leaving him unable to get undressed.
“Fuck,” Asher muttered under his breath. It was useless. No matter how he twisted and turned, he couldn’t free himself from the constraints of the t-shirt. He sat on the ledge of the bathtub in his foggy bathroom, defeated.
Wallowing in misery, a soft knock on the door startled Asher, snapping him out of his self-pity. His eyes glared at the intrusion. The doorknob twisted before the door swung open. After living alone for years, it was a habit, leaving the bathroom door unlocked. Most days, Asher walked around the apartment completely naked, but now that Michael was staying with him, Asher was going to have to make some changes.
“Is everything okay? You’ve been in here a long time,” Michael asked walking into a wall of steam. His eyes glanced down at Asher sitting fully clothed on the side of the tub. “Why haven’t you gotten in the shower yet?”
Too embarrassed to answer Michael’s question, Asher just shrugged his shoulders.
“Is there something wrong?” Michael rushed to Asher’s side. “Are you hurt? Did you have another fainting spell? Do you need me to call the doctor?” The questions flowed from Michael in one long breath without hesitating long enough for Asher to answer.
Asher could see the concern on Michael’s handsome face as he looked up into his dark eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“If something’s wrong, Ash, why didn’t you come and get me?”
Turning his hand over in his lap, Asher tried to wiggle his fingers. They barely moved. “I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be, trying to do things one handed. My hand is still numb and I can’t lift my arm over my head.”
“Tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.”
Asher cast his eyes to the floor, unable to look at Michael. He took a shaky breath before continuing, “I can’t get myself undressed,” Asher blurted out. “And even if I could, I don’t think I can wash myself and shaving left handed is going to be a total hack job for sure.”
Michael watched Asher stand up and lean across the tub, turning the water off. The silence was deafening when the water stopped spraying from the showerhead. Asher’s head hung low as he shuffled past Michael towards the bathroom door, “I’ll call Ian and see if he can come over after work to help me shower.”
“I can help you,” Michael’s tone was clipped. He grabbed Asher by the shoulder, stopping him in his tracks, forcing Asher to look at him.
Asher sighed, “Look, Michael, it’s nice of you to offer, but I don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable--”
“Jesus Christ, Asher, why the fuck do you think I offered to stay here?” Anger flashed in Michael’s eyes. “I want to help you.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed until the whites completely disappeared. “Ian is not putting his fucking paws on you! Nobody is!”
Asher held up his hand for Michael to stop shouting. “Ian’s my best friend; besides, he doesn’t have any hang-ups about touching another man’s body like you do!”
Michael stumbled back. His face paled as if he was going to be sick.
“See?” Asher growled. “It’s written all over your face, Michael. You’re repulsed at the very thought of touching me.” Asher’s voice broke behind a wave of emotion that echoed in the small bathroom.
Michael shook his head as he ran his fingers through his dark hair. “Is that what this pity-party is all about? You think that I don’t want to touch you?” Michael stepped closer to Asher who took a step back. Michael quickly closed the space between them. “For the record, I haven’t hidden anything from you. I’m not gay, but I can’t deny that there is something going on between us. That’s why I’m here…with you. The doctor gave me strict orders about your limitations and I agreed to comply, but I have to admit that I’ve wanted to grab your body and touch every inch of you while kissing you into oblivion for a while now.”
Asher trembled just inches away from Michael. His eyes widened with surprise at Michael’s admission.
“The doctor warned me that you might be overly emotional with the combination of heavy drugs they have you on, but I didn’t expect you to be delusional, too.” Michael chuckled.
Michael grabbed the hem of Asher’s shirt and lifted it up. Asher raised his left arm, but Michael carefully maneuvered the material around the multiple zigzags of stitches across Asher’s right chest and freed his right arm before dropping the shirt to the ground. Michael’s fingers feathered a soft touch across Asher’s chest.
“I’m not repulsed by touching you,” Michael whispered. Asher could feel Michael’s breath on his face. Tracing his burning hot touch along Asher’s sternum to his collarbones, Michael’s fingertips inched closer until they lingered at Asher’s throat. “I can hardly keep my hands off you.” Michael growled as he bent his head, pressing kisses where his finger had lingered moments before.
Asher twisted his head, giving Michael full access to his throat. Michael nibbled along Asher’s jawline before abruptly stopping, leaving Asher panting in his arms. “What the hell?” Asher uttered in disbelief, “Why did you stop?” He demanded.
Michael stepped back and winked, his lips swollen and face flushed red. “Dude, that beard really needs to go. It’s like trying to make-out with a wild animal.”
Asher rolled his eyes and laughed. “Fine, we’ll stop for now, but we are going to continue this later.” Asher said, his voice thick with desire.
Michael chuckled, “I look forward to it. In the meantime, let’s get you cleaned up.”
Asher and I are both home from the hospital. Weird how that happened at the same time
I am feeling better with each day. Thank you for all of your well wishes and thoughts! I'm trying to get back to writing so I can focus on the story. Let me know what you think. The dynamics have changed some between Asher and Michael but there is a long way to go.