Like every one of the seven billion and counting humans on the planet, Fiona had a weakness. The entire drive back to the hospital through leaving Rylan’s side with Aaron to the waiting room, she couldn’t stop jumping to the conclusion that the gay bar promo card was much more than a pity hand out on the street. That, together with seeing Aaron’s hands clasped around Rylan’s just as she walked in, drove her paranoia that her loving boyfriend was, well, no longer her boyfriend. Probably no longer loving, either. She needed something to believe.
Something firm. Anything.
Fi stared out the window as Aaron sat across from her in a firm, purple waiting room chair. She avoided his knowing blue eyes, aware that if they met she’d be forced to talk to him. Her mind was too far in thinking the love of her life was now a homosexual, and somehow it was Aaron’s fault.
She felt a surge of heat course through her skin, her temples pounding. What if sexuality had nothing to do with it? Rylan could easily be caught up in a drug ring and she’d have no idea. Anything was possible, but these were the facts in front of her at this moment, and it’s all that made sense. All she craved was clarity.
Fiona sighed, letting her guard down for a brief moment…just enough to make eye contact with Aaron.
As if on cue: “You okay?” he asked in a hushed voice.
Confused, hurt, and in so much emotional turmoil, Fiona only stared him down, keeping her tears at bay. Now was not the time for them. Now was the time to be strong.
She opened her mouth, but closed it in a huff. Fiona pushed her hair back and blurted, desperate for answers, “You had something to do with this, didn’t you.”
Aaron let his thinned, brown hair fall in front of his face. “I’m sorry? That’s absolutely ridiculous.”
“Don’t lie to me, Aaron. I’ve known you too long. Just fucking…fucking end this. I need something to go on.”
“Fiona, how could you believe I had something to do with this? You think I’d help Rylan kill himself?”
Why was everyone trying to make her seem stupid? She was starting to feel more rage than compassion. She could feel it in her marrow. The heat was everywhere. “No! But you don’t go around holding guys’ hands, yet there you were five minutes ago, holding my unconscious boyfriend’s hands like they were the only fucking things on Earth you wanted to hold!”
A few sly stares from other waiting room inhabitants came their way. Fiona didn’t care. She was beginning to feel played, beginning to feel a conspiracy or secret coming to light.
Aaron shifted so they sat next to each other. He lowered his face as he put his face near hers.
“Yes, what, Aaron?”
“Yes, I held his hands. Because I’m damn near terrified for him. And can you blame me for not wanting to let my friend slip away?”
Fiona’s brow trembled as she struggled with this possible truth, that Aaron was just being a good friend. Being compassionate. Who she wasn’t right now.
“This doesn’t make sense.” A crack in her voice. “This shouldn’t have happened.”
A single tear careened down her left cheek. Aaron brushed it away and put his lean arm around her, adding to her warmth with his maroon fleece sweatshirt.
“It makes some sense to me,” he whispered.
Fiona’s eyes sharply met his.
He continued: “I don’t know as much as you think I know. But I can maybe explain some things if that’s what you would like me to do. Honestly, I hate myself very much for letting it get to this point.”
Aaron removed his arm and stared straight at the floor, feet nervously tapping the clean tiles. “I want to tell you this might be hard to hear. That this might come as a complete shock to you.”
I was right.
“Or it might not.”
Oh my god, Rylan’s actually —
“Rylan’s gay. Has been his whole life. Will never accept it. Will always fight it.”
Fiona stared blankly at nothing in particular, not letting on that she was simultaneously caught between screaming and breathing relief. She had an answer. Confirmed.
“Okay.” One word was all she felt strong enough to say.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You know I’m not, right?” Silence forced him to color his tone with anger at being misunderstood. “Fiona, listen to me. I had nothing to do with what happened here. I was only doing what I was asked of me.”
In a monotone voice: “You could’ve done more. More than I could.”
“Rylan’s the one who made a fucking pass at me! Remember my housewarming party? When we went outside to smoke? He fucking kissed me the second we were alone. No hints. No warning. He was there. I pushed him off immediately, Fi. You have to believe that.”
“I don’t know what to believe since the man I’m supposed to love is lying in the hospital for trying to take his own life, all because he’s simply, secretly gay.” Those last few words took on a dangerously low, barely audibly tone. Then: “So what happened?”
“Dunno if you recall, but I agreed to go on a run with him the next day, knowing full well he was going to try to undo what happened. He tried to tell me he was just wasted and thought I was you, which we both now know is bullshit. I told that to him then. I said he could talk to me anytime he needed someone to listen –“
“You mean to hear the lies he told me.”
“I meant –“
“You mean to help him carefully construct the shell of a man I thought I knew one hundred percent.”
“Fiona, all due respect, but shut the fuck up.”
Her face broke her stoic expression so dramatically, the ground shook.
Aaron continued to defend his good friend. “You try living with something about yourself you know is true, but have tried in every way, shape, and form to prove it isn’t. To change. And then to suddenly realize there’s no way out. Do you have any idea how isolating that is? To know you’re stuck with being someone you don’t want to be?”
“I can’t believe you’re saying I’m in the wrong here, after everything –“
He gave her a look of pure disgust, eyes practically turning black. “Who the hell did you become in the last twenty-four hours? What happened to the woman who stood up for her mother’s right to get a fucking green card? Your best friend, the love of your goddamn life, is fighting for his life, and all you can think about is being betrayed? I know it’s much to process but holy shit, Fiona, I thought you’d have a mind to understand. Fucking empathize. Deal with the entropy.”
The entire room was sneaking glances at them every other second. Fiona couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She felt herself becoming numb to everything around her. Sounds became silent. Faces became blurred. Her mind shut off.
She stood up. Aaron grabbed her hand.
“Fiona. I’m still here for you, too.”
With no glance back, the numb girl, who just a day ago had her entire life together, left the building. The warm air outside swarmed her body, though she immediately felt stone cold. Fiona reached her car, slowly climbed inside and shut the door with a soft click.
A deep breath, a single tear, and a loud scream later, she punched her fist against the car glass, blood immediately coating her angry knuckles. Her veins pulsed, pushing out against her weary skin.
Fiona sat alone for the next two hours.
He never went to church, but now Rylan definitely believed in divine intervention. No matter how hard he tried – or wished he could – pursue Aiden, it never worked in his favor. Now, at possibly the weakest moment in his relatively short almost-ended life, Aiden was here. Standing in front of him.
Well, Aiden’s sister was. And he’d take it.
Not that Fran would’ve known it. She assumed he was panicking in seeing her before him as he awoke, but his convulsions represented quite the opposite reaction. He couldn’t believe after all he’d been through that, one way or another, Aiden had somehow been thrust his way.
His elation seemed to gloss over his current situation, ironically enough. Rylan could hardly pay less attention to laying in a hospital bed with a plethora of tubes attached to his forearms. All he cared about was fate throwing him a bone.
Meaning that he was supposed to live. Meant to live.
Rylan slowly shifted his weakened left hand to touch Fran’s. Fran took it as a sign to sit down.
“How are you feeling?” she murmured. The crinkles by both her eyes seemed fresh. Rylan hoped she wasn’t too worried about him.
He nodded fervently in response.
“Is it okay if I talk to you?”
Fran stroked his fingers softly, as Fiona used to do in the morning post-coital. But then she added to her soft touch a potent, jarring question that made him cold: “Why did you do this to yourself?”
In this particular moment, Rylan knew exactly why he did it. But was he going to tell Fran that? Absolutely not.
“I’m embarrassed,” he mumbled.
Fran looked off for a moment at the awful eggshell walls, musing. “Aiden was mortified after the fact. He was almost mute for two weeks. Never looked anyone in the eye. Hardly ate. Vomitted every day. Awake during the night. Slept during the day.”
Rylan stared at her until she met his gaze.
“Look, Rylan. I don’t know you at all. Just your name and that you have some fascination with my brother. And I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Aiden’s gone.”
A sharp intake of breath hurt. “…Gone?”
“No, not gone gone. He moved away.”
And suddenly his every nerve stung. “Oh.”
“So you need to let him go. Before you end up like Aiden was years ago. You’re too close to the precipice. You could lose everything if you don’t respect yourself and yearn to live. Please. I don’t want whatever you think of my brother to hinder anything about your life. I want you to be free.”
He looked away from her. His head was spinning. This conversation was going lightening fast in a direction he hadn’t anticipated.
Fran reached into her purse to pull out a piece of paper. She took a pen from Rylan’s nightstand and wrote something on it.
“Here,” she said, handing him the paper. “I want you to call me if you need to get away from…all of this. One hundred percent serious. I know that it feels like you’re alone. But you’re not.”
Still numb with the news that Aiden had left, Rylan watched Fran begin to step away. He desperately longed to tell her why he was so hung up on Aiden. Why this one man he barely knew had caused such a terrific storm of a magnetic pull.
Instead, he blurted, “I’m sick.”
Fran turned the face Rylan, her face showing warmth and understanding towards the lost man. “We’re going to get you better.” She began to leave again, calling to his assigned nurse to attend to him.
Rylan then sat alone for the next two hours.