For two weeks JC met with people regarding his album and decided to head back into the studio to re-record two of the songs. He wasn’t thrilled about having to re-work anything, but Carter cheered him up by inviting him over for a game night. JC hadn’t seen Fiona in two weeks, and hadn’t seen Carter in one. He was actually starting to miss them both, and he liked the feeling of having people he cared enough about to miss. He had the guys, of course, and his family who he missed terribly; but it was nice having someone else to miss as well.
JC told Carter that he wouldn’t miss it for the world before he hit the shower and primped up for a night of fun. He arrived at Carter’s house a little before eight and bounced up the front steps. JC knocked on the door, still not quite comfortable with just walking in. “Let me in.” He shouted through the door.
“I’m coming.” Carter shouted from inside, which was immediately followed by laughter.
“You’re crazy.” JC smiled as Carter opened the door. Hr dropped a quick kiss on Carter’s upturned lips then stepped inside.
“Hey.” Fiona forced a tight smile as JC walked in. She held her expression in place as JC’s expression registered shock. For a few seconds no one said a word. Fiona finally blinked and broke the spell.
“H-hey.” JC said softly, remembering to smile just a moment too late.
“Hello gorgeous.” Carter turned JC face toward him and dropped a kiss on JC’s lips. A little distraction never hurt.
“Can I get one of those?” Jamie asked from the table. He closed his eyes and puckered his lips in their direction.
“Dream on.” Fiona uttered under her breath with a small laugh.
Carter laughed and pecked Jamie quickly. “Anything for you, love.”
“Gross!! I was talking to him.” Jamie wiped his mouth and pretended to spit.
“Sorry, he’s taken.” Carter put his arm around JC’s waist and ushered him into the dining room.
“So, full house huh?” JC’s plastic smile never faltered as he looked around the room, finally meeting Carter’s eyes.
“Well yeah.” Carter cleared his throat.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” JC nodded toward Carter’s room.
“I… sure.” They walked to the bedroom together leaving Jamie and Fiona play fighting over the Monopoly pieces.
Once in the relative safety of the room, JC closed the door and sighed. “Carter… wow…” He raked his hands through his hair leaving finger lines behind.
“What?” Carter asked innocently, averting his eyes.
“Just… wow. I mean…” JC took a deep breath and looked at the wall.
“She’s doing real well.”
JC’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Are you serious? She’s half the size she used to be.”
“She’s not that – “
“Carter, you see her every day. Maybe you’re just used to it or… or something. But in the two weeks since I saw her last she has to have dropped like ten or twenty pounds.”
“That’s a little – “
JC cut him off again, “I’m serious. What’s going on?”
“Don’t be mad.” Carter said softly after taking a deep breath. “She’s home.” He made a point to look JC in the eye. “She’s home.” He repeated when JC didn’t reply.
“I can see that.” JC’s shoulders relaxed a little as he lowered his voice. “And I’m not mad.” He added quickly. Carter and JC stared at each other for a minute, but Carter was unable to maintain eye contact. “But she’s home… that’s good, right?” He moved a step closer and put his hand on Carter’s shoulder.
Carter bit his lip, “Can we talk about this later?”
“Not now JC. We’re having game night. We’ll talk about this later.” Carter’s voice warbled and JC knew the answer.
JC inhaled sharply and nodded slightly. “Yeah. Okay.” He pulled Carter in for a hug and kissed his temple quickly. “Let’s go play some games.”
“Thank you.” Carter mumbled into JC’s shoulder.
“C’mon.” JC opened the bedroom door and lead the way back to the living room. He cleared his throat and looked directly at Fiona, “He’s quick when he needs to be.” With a wink JC sat down across from her and reached into the box. “I get to be the shoe.”
For two hours and one and a half games everyone acted like nothing was wrong, which only made it more obvious to everyone that nothing was right. Fiona smiled and played and kicked butt in Monopoly, but by ten o’clock she was starting to fade.
She yawned and placed her money on the table. “Well boys, I think it’s time I cut my losses.” Fiona stood up and coughed as she clutched the back of her chair. She winced noticeably as her head throbbed.
“Want me to take you to bed?” JC asked innocently, only intending to offer her a hand.
Without missing a beat Fiona smiled as seductively as she could and cooed, “I’ve been waiting forever to hear you say that.”
“D’oh!” Jamie laughed as he stood up to refill his glass. “Ditto that.”
“All you had to do was ask.” JC stood up and swept Fiona up in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her cheek on his tight chest. Once again JC was startled at how small she’d gotten; he stood there for a moment wrapped in the feeling of her in his arms, feeling for once like he was helping.
“Take me to bed, baby.” She whispered as her eyelids drooped.
Carter opened his mouth to give her a smart mouthed reply, but the look in JC’s eyes stopped him before a single word left his lips. He simply smiled and looked away under the premise of putting the games away, but not before JC saw the glint of tears at the corner of his eyes.
JC carried Fiona effortlessly to her bedroom and got her situated under her covers. “Are you going to sleep in that?” He asked looking at her well-loved sweats.
“Yeah, it’s cold.”
“Okay.” He nodded and fluffed her pillow before pulling her quilt up to her chin. “How’s that?”
“Perfect.” She whispered as she closed her eyes to savor the moment. JC leaned down and kissed her cheek, lingering just a moment to realize that he could feel her cheekbone beneath his lips.
“Do you want me to stay?” JC asked with his hand on her shoulder.
Without opening her eyes she coughed then nodded. JC turned her overhead light off leaving just the light from her clock radio on her nightstand. Carefully, he climbed onto the bed behind her and, staying above the covers, curled up next to her, draping his arm over her body. “How’s that?”
“Heaven.” He could hear the smile in her voice. JC smiled too as his eyes adjusted to the darkness with her hair brushing his forehead. It’d been ages since he was in bed with a woman, but something that night felt so right. The feelings he had weren’t sexual; they were paternal if anything. He wanted nothing more than to hold onto Fiona to protect her, to make her okay again.
Unconsciously he pulled her closer to him and took a deep breath, waiting patiently until her wheezy breaths became more regular and more snore-like. JC moved slowly as he slid off the bed and stood up, taking one last look at Fiona’s half curled body under the blankets.
He went back out to the kitchen blinking in the harsh light. “She’s asleep.”
“Well I should hope so, you were in there long enough.” Carter smiled as he dried his hands on a kitchen towel.
“He had to go home.” Carter yawned. “Of course I think he was skipping off to The Edge, but that’s just me.”
“He wanted me to give you this though.” Carter bounced up on his toes and kissed JC.
“Ah ha.” JC laughed lightly.
“Did she do her mouth rinse?” Carter asked, getting down to business.
JC shook his head and pursed his lips. “She was half asleep when I put her down.”
“She should – “
“She’ll be fine.” JC cut him off. He frowned slightly and sat at the kitchen table where the game had already been put away. “So… so this is… you know… it?”
Carter stood perfectly still for a second, then pulled out the chair beside JC and sat down. “Uh… well… yeah.” He stared at his hands in his lap. “I think so. I mean, we think so. Her doctors, well they’re always looking out for the silver lining or whatever. They think… they think that if she tries this new drug or that new treatment…” He shrugged. “I just think she’s done, you know?”
JC nodded and tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t sound forced. “It’s been a long time.”
They sat in silence for a minute before Carter reached for JC’s hand and pulled him closer for a hug. It started out as just a comforting human contact hug, but soon turned into to something much more than either expected. Carter’s hold on JC grew tighter and tighter before JC realized that Carter was crying into his shoulder. His body shook as JC buried his face in Carter’s neck. They sat that way for what felt like an eternity, speaking volumes without words.
Carter mumbled something into JC’s shirt, but JC couldn’t understand. “What?” JC whispered, not releasing his hold.
Carter’s hands made fists in JC’s shirt as he repeated, “I’m not ready for this.”
JC’s breath caught in his throat. “I…” There were no words that JC could say that could comfort Carter at a time like that. JC wanted to tell him that he was ready, that he could handle it. But he wasn’t sure if any of them could. He wanted to say that Carter didn’t need to worry, that Fiona would be fine. But no number of words, no amount of cried pleas would ever make that true. And the last thing JC wanted to do was lie to Carter, if even to protect him.
“I’ll be here.” When the words finally left JC’s lips, Carter barely heard them.
JC spent the night curled up beside Carter, both of them taking up only JC’s half of the bed. In the morning, JC woke up and carefully slid out of bed to surprise both Carter and Fiona with breakfast. With what little provisions they had in the kitchen, JC was able to make ham and cheese omelets and fried potatoes. He could feel his thighs expanding at the thought of all the fat, but he knew Fiona needed it and she wouldn’t eat anything unless they ate it too. As he began to set the table Carter stumbled into the dining room. “Hey.” He said softly. His eyes were puffy and his hair was chaotic. Carter had not slept well at all.
“Food.” JC smiled. “Sit down and eat, I’m going to go get Fiona.”
“Not for long.” JC walked to her room and knocked softly before he pushed her door open. “Rise and shine.”
“Carter?” Fiona blinked at the doorway as she turned her head toward his voice.
“It’s me, JC.”
“I’ve got breakfast on the table, why don’t you come on out and eat.”
“Yum.” She closed her eyes as JC helped her stand up and find her footing.
“It’s not fair that you look so good in the morning. Carter looks like shit.” JC smiled as Fiona laughed lightly. “I’m serious. Look at me. My hair has a mind of it’s own, doesn’t it?”
Fiona looked up at him then laughed and nodded, “Scary.”
“Alright you guys, eat up.” JC sat himself at the table across from Carter and they ate every last bite of food on the table. Carter and JC were stuffed, both noticing that they’d eaten the lion’s share while Fiona had barely picked at her omelet.
“How are you feeling?” Carter asked.
Fiona blinked as though trying to focus. “I’m alright.” She coughed into her shoulder and sighed. “I mean… I’ve been better. But I’m alright.”
“You sure?” Carter asked quickly. “How are your eyes?”
“Fine.” She sighed and carried her plate to the kitchen. “I’ll clean up. You guys need showers.”
“I’ll get the dishes.” JC said as he stood up.
“Don’t be silly, you cooked. I’ll do the dishes.” Carter said.
“I’m serious. Take a look at yourselves. You need showers.” Fiona said as she rubbed her eyes at the counter. “Go.”
JC looked at Carter and shrugged, she had a point. “I need to go to the studio. I should probably clean up.”
“Work again?” Carter whined on the way to the bathroom.
“Work, work, work. That’s all I ever do. I’ll be done soon.”
“You always say that.”
“I mean it this time.” Their voices were shut out as they shut the bathroom door.
Fiona stood at the sink blinking her eyes, willing the black spots to disappear but all they did was move. The doctor told her it was CMV, and she knew exactly what to expect. Her father had the same thing and that scared her. It took a few minutes, but when she was able to see she rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. Just doing that drained her of the energy she’d reclaimed the night before. Tossing the dishtowel onto the table, Fiona crossed the room to the couch and plopped herself down in the corner.
MTV was showing a “Road Rules” marathon so she tuned in and pulled the blanket up to her shoulders. The sound of running water and lowered voices from the bathroom coupled with the drama on the TV lulled her to sleep before she knew it.
“I really do have to go.” JC said as he stepped out of the cramped shower, leaving Carter to rinse his hair on his own.
“I’m gonna get dressed in your room and take off.”
“You can’t wait five minutes?” Carter asked as he poked his shampoo-covered head out of the shower.
“If I wait five minutes I’ll be here all afternoon.” JC smiled and quickly placed a kiss on Carter’s warm, wet lips.
“Give me a call when you’re done.”
“I will.” JC couldn’t resist kissing him again, which was part of the problem. “I have to go.”
“Make Fiona do her mouth rinse stuff before you go.”
“Right.” JC gave Carter one final kiss then tightened the towel around his waist and went to Carter’s room. He dressed quickly, leaving his t-shirt clinging to his still damp back. He shook his hair dry before walking barefoot out to the living room. “Hey Fi, I’m supposed to remind you to take – “ He stopped when he saw her asleep on the couch. “Nevermind.”
JC slid his feet into his sneakers by the door then checked to make sure Fiona was covered before leaving quietly. The rest of the day he thought about what he would want if he were in Fiona’s situation; the hours in the studio were wasted, no work actually got done.
For almost a week Fiona stayed right where she was, healthwise. She didn’t get any better, but she didn’t get any worse. She told carter every day that without her four handfuls of pills a day, she was happier and that that was all he should be concerned with. Reluctantly she did her mouthwash whenever Carter “reminded” her because it did make her mouth feel better, but other than that she did a lot of sleeping, a little TV watching and a lot of listening to Carter ramble on. Jamie came over a few times to rub her feet and fill her in on the office gossip, something she could hardly do without.
Carter listened to her cough worsen every night as the air got damp. It was all he could do to not rush her to the hospital when she coughed like that. Any other time he never would have let it get as bad as it had, but now he couldn’t do anything. And that was the hardest thing for him to do… nothing.
Several days later, after a particularly rough night, Carter woke up and lazily stretched his arms over his head. His back cracked and the sun poured in through his small window. He frowned quickly as he looked at the clock; it was after nine in the morning. It had been an eternity since he’d slept in that late, especially with Fiona being so sick. He could always hear her clearing her lungs in the morning, or stumbling around in the kitchen, knocking into the chair she could barely see. But this morning the house was silent.
Carter worried for a split second, then remembered the hours she’d been up coughing the night before. “She’s finally sleeping it off.” He thought to himself. He allowed himself another half hour in his cocoon with the phone as he talked to JC who was at the studio finishing up the very last bit of details.
“I promise. This is it. I’ll be one hundred and fifty percent done today. If they want anything changed after this they’ll have to record it themselves.” JC laughed. “Oh man, it feels good to be done.”
“I bet.” Carter stretched again.
“Are you still in bed?”
“Must be nice. I’ve been up since six.”
“Ew. Sucks to be you.” Carter laughed and pulled his blanket tighter around him. “So what are you doing tonight?”
“Nothing much. Wanna catch a movie? We haven’t been out in a while.”
“Yeah. Yeah I think we can do that. Do you mind waiting till Jamie gets off though? That way someone he can stay here with Fiona?”
“Sure. I’m easy.”
“I know.” Carter laughed. JC smiled, he hadn’t heard the real Carter in a while, it was nice to have him back again even if it was just for this one call.
“Yeah we’ll see about that.” JC laughed back. “I’ve gotta go, babe. I’ll call you later.”
“Love you too.” Carter waited until JC hung up before he clicked the phone off and burrowed even deeper into his feather pillows. It was the first time in a while he'd been able to sleep in and enjoy his big empty bed. He liked… loved… having JC there with him when he woke up, but there was something exquisite about waking up slowly, at your own pace, stretching out to all four corners of his bed and knowing he could stay that way for as long as he wanted.
And that’s just what he did for another hour. By ten he figured he had lain in his bed long enough and Fiona was overdue for her morning round of mouthwash. She was probably sleeping and he hated to wake her when she needed rest so badly, but if she missed a dose it would make for a miserable afternoon and evening.
Carter struggled out of bed, hiked up his sweat bottoms, then padded across the hall to Fiona's closed door. He tapped softly and said, "Hey Fi? You up?" When she didn't answer he pushed the door open and stepped in. Her room smelled like a hospital and he crinkled his nose against the scent. Carter left the door open to air it out a bit, then sat on the bed beside her. "Hey there Princess Fiona, it's time for your magic potion." He smiled and tapped her elbow.
Fiona's face contorted into a soft frown as she slowly opened her eyes, "Go 'way."
"You need to rinse or you’ll be sore all day." Carter said softly as he forced a smile. She looked awful but he couldn't let her know that. "You need to do the rinse and have some breakfast, then you can go back to sleep."
"Don't want to."
"Too bad, sweetheart." He leaned down and kissed her sweat-coated forehead. "And how about losing one of these blankets, huh? You're roasting."
"You're not cold. You don't even have a fever. Come on." He carefully pulled back the top quilt that was covering her and folded it at the foot of her bed. "Do you want eggs? Pancakes? Oatmeal?"
Carter laughed softly, that was the answer he wanted. If she wanted fries then he knew she was doing all right. "Fries for breakfast? Are you crazy?" He played along, knowing that she'd get her fries anyway.
"Yes." She frowned and tried to push him off the bed. "Please?"
"Oh you've got manners all of a sudden now, huh?"
"Okay, okay. I'll run up to In & Out and get you some fries. Do you want anything else?"
"A chocolate shake." She smiled and licked her dry lips.
"Ew, no dairy kiddo."
"I don't make the rules." Carter shrugged. "How about a double double?"
"A veggie burger?"
"You have to have more than fries." Carter shook his head. "I can't let your ass spread just because you're sick. You've got new jeans you still have to fit into."
"Fine. Get me a cheese burger."
"Without the cheese." He shook his head. "Dairy."
"It'll still be good."
"Just bring me fries." She turned her head and coughed into one of the hundred tissues she had at her bedside. From the look on her face Carter could tell that it hurt to cough, and it didn't taste good either. She grimaced as she spat out whatever had come up and shook her head. "Ugh."
"Do you need a drink?"
"Yeah." She nodded, and then waited as he went to the kitchen and returned with a small glass of fruit punch. "Thanks." She sipped it slowly, then set it on her crowded nightstand.
For a moment Carter just stood and watched her. She looked worse than he remembered, but she sounded better. He'd take the good with the bad, and any improvement was a good thing. "I'll be back in a few, okay? Try to stay sitting up."
"I feel better when I'm sleep laying down." Fiona whined.
Of course she did. When she slept she didn't have to cough or feel the body aches, or notice that her vision was shrinking every time she blinked practically. Carter didn't want to lecture her about how when she laid down fluid built up in her lungs and might actually make her worse, she knew the argument and she knew what she needed to do.
"Okay." He said after a short pause. "Well… try." He smiled quickly, and then ducked out the door.
When he returned, Fiona nibbled on a few fries and took about three sips of her water before returning to her bedroom. “Thanks Carter.”
“You’re welcome.” He said softly from the kitchen. “Do… do you want me to bring you some juice or something?” His words were lost as she coughed violently.
“No.” She choked softly. “No thanks.”
“How about a movie?”
“I think I’m going to sleep now.”
Carter tossed their lunch in the trash and went to her room. “Tired?”
“Mmm hmm.” Fiona nodded and closed her eyes. Her breath sounded like a static channel on the radio but she didn’t seem to notice.
“Okay.” Carter sat on the edge of her bed and brushed her bangs off her forehead. “I’m going to make Top Ramen for dinner. How does that sound?”
Fiona smiled weakly and nodded. Carter pursed his lips left his hand resting on her hair. He waited until she was asleep before placing a quick kiss on her warm cheek. “G’night, Princess.”
Carter walked back out to the living room where the afternoon sun shined in through the sliding glass door. It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles and he did not want to spend it indoors. He slid his feet into his shoes and went out to their tiny backyard.
With the cordless phone by his side he sat in the December sun and tried to remember what summer had been like. It wasn’t that long ago, but it felt like a lifetime. Everything was a blur of Fiona, JC, New York, the hospital… in just a few short months his life had changed. And if things went as he knew they would, the next few months would turn his world around.
When he’d had enough of the sun Carter went back inside and fell onto the couch, stretching out his full length for the first time that he could remember. Without Fiona, JC or Jamie sitting on the end, he could actually wiggle his toes against the far armrest. He smiled to himself and turned on the TV, delighted by the fact that “When Harry met Sally” was just beginning. He settled into the couch and watched his favorite movie, commercials and all, without a single interruption.
Carter hadn’t heard a sound from Fiona’s room since the movie started, but he didn’t let himself worry. He pretended for a moment that he was home alone as he helped himself to an apple and danced around to the music in his head. As he danced he organized his thoughts. When he was done with the apple he’d check on Fiona and force feed her some juice, then call JC to hassle him about what he was doing and when he’d be done, then he’d clean up a little and hopefully head over to JC’s house for a little one on one time if Jamie was willing to baby-sit Fiona.
He finished his last bite and expertly lobbed the core into the sink like a basketball player. “He shoots he – “ Carter stopped and frowned as his eyes caught the clock on the microwave. It was later than he thought and his heart skipped a beat. Carter sighed softly with a slight frown as he wiped his hands on his pants and went to Fiona's door. Something wasn't right.
"Hey there beautiful. I'm on my way home, wanna get out of the house for a bit and meet me?" JC answered his cell phone with the usual smile when he saw it was Carter on his cell phone. He waited for a response then looked to make sure he had full service. "Hey babe, if you can hear me, I can't hear you." JC smiled. "Carter? Are you there? Shit… this phone doesn't get - "
"Jace." Carter's soft voice interrupted him.
"There you are." JC smiled and ran his hand through his hair in a vain attempt to primp himself up just to talk on the phone. "So do you want to meet me at my place?" He leaned forward to look in the lighted mirror on his visor as he waited at the light. "Carter?" JC asked when Carter didn't respond. He heard Carter's breathing so he knew they hadn't lost the connection. "Can you hear me?"
"JC?" Carter said again, but his voice cracked in the middle and his breaths came in little spurts.
The light turned green so JC pulled through the intersection then parked along the curb in front of a pawnshop. "Yeah, I'm here. What… is something wrong?" Carter's voice didn't sound right and the hairs on the back of JC's neck stood up.
"Come here." Carter whispered.
"Where are you?" JC frowned with worry as his mind raced. "Carter, where are you? Are you at your house?"
"Fiona." He choked.
"Fiona what? Is she okay?"
"Jace?" Carter's voice was barely above a whisper and the choking sobs stopped any words that might have followed.
"Carter. What is wrong? Tell me what's wrong? You're scaring me. "
"Fiona is – "
JC waited for him to finish but the only sound he heard was a choked sob. "She's what? Is she sick? Carter, call the hospital."
"She’s… she died." Carter interrupted and though he whispered, the words echoed loudly through the phone lines.
JC's blood stopped. His lips turned cold and his breath caught in his throat as a wave of nausea washed over him. "What?" He barely got the word out and that wasn't the one he'd been thinking.
"She's…" Carter repeated as he cried into the phone. Short sobs, wet with tears, were all JC heard after that.
"What? What happened?" JC's grip on the phone cause the plastic to crack slightly. The sound was so close to JC's ear that it brought him back to his current surroundings. He grasped the steering wheel with his free hand and tried not to hyperventilate as he forced himself to breathe slowly.
"Can you come?"
"What happened?!" JC demanded again in a harsher tone.
"She… just get here. Please. I…” Carter couldn't finish his sentence and JC swore he could hear Carter's panic, as a sound of it’s own; dark and loud louder than anything else.
"I'll be there in five minutes." JC glanced over his shoulder as he sped into the lane, cutting off a guy in a SUV. The other driver laid on his horn but JC didn't notice. "It's okay. It's okay." He repeated that over and over as he soared through traffic. "She's gonna be okay. Carter… just… just hold on. It's okay." Carter didn't respond with words and JC listened to his sobs as he sped across town, completely disregarding posted speed limits and common sense.
He flew around the corner on Carter's street and slammed on his breaks before crashing into the back of Carter's car. "I'm here." He flipped the phone shut and tossed it onto the passenger's seat.
The car door flew open so fast JC was sure he'd dented it, but didn't even look back as he slammed it shut and ran across the front yard. He tried the door but found it locked so he pounded on it, then pushed the planter to the side. The little silver key sat in the dirt and he stared at it for a second. Everything came clear just then. The past few months flashed before his eyes and he knew that as soon as he picked up the key and turned it in the lock, nothing in his life would ever be the same. Not that it was right then, but going in to face that was one huge step away from who he really thought he was. An irrational voice in his head told him to get in his car and leave. Leave with the memory of how it had been until then. Erase any memory of the phone call. Go on as if nothing had changed.
He scooped the key up and shook the dirt from his hands as he fumbled to get it in the lock. "Carter!" JC shouted when he walked in the door. The couch was empty and Carter's bedroom door was open. JC took two steps into the room and saw that it was empty as well, "Carter!"
"In here." He heard Carter's weak voice from across the hall.
"Where are the paramedics? Did you call?" JC's heart leapt into his throat as he pushed Fiona's door open and saw them lying on her bed together. "Carter?" He asked softly.
Carter looked up with tears running down his cheeks. "JC… I…” He choked on his words and lowered his head to Fiona's shoulder.
She lay there perfectly still under her blankets. Her head was turned slightly to the side as though she was sleeping, but something was terribly wrong. Thin fingers curled around the edge of the blanket beside Carter's hand, but they didn't move when JC reached out to touch them. The coldness of her skin was something JC expected, but the feeling of complete emptiness startled him into action.
"Move." JC panicked as his old CPR training flashed across his mind. "Move Carter, help her." He kneeled on the bed and reached for her neck to check her pulse. "Carter, help." JC said as tears rose in his eyes. Deep inside he knew it was pointless. Fiona had been gone for far too long, but he couldn't not try. He had to do something. "Help." He whispered as his fingertips trailed from her cool neck to her lips, undisturbed by breath. "C-call. Call someone." JC's own lips froze as death stared him in the face. It was all real. Everything. All the feelings he'd pushed aside for so long were surfacing right there in that moment.
"No." Carter sniffed and held his face against Fiona's t-shirt. "No, no, no, no, no." He chanted between sobs.
"God… Carter." JC couldn't stop his hands from shaking or his heart from racing. He felt as though he might have a heart attack himself, but oddly enough he didn't move from Fiona's side. Never in his life did he think he would voluntarily touch a lifeless body, or embrace it… knowing that it wouldn't bring the life back. But he did. He reached across Fiona and put his arm around Carter, then held them both in an awkward and chilled embrace.
JC's own tears started when his heart rate returned to normal and he truly realized the impact of what was happening. "You have to call." It felt like an eternity since he walked through the door, though it had only been minutes.
"I'll call." JC offered as he sat up but left his hand on Carter's back.
"Carter… we have to."
"No." Carter insisted as he looked up. "Not yet."
"It'll be okay." JC wiped at his eyes and rubbed Carter's shoulder. There was nothing he could say or do for Carter that would make anything okay. He knew that as the words left his lips, nothing would ever be okay in the same way again. "I'll be in the other room." He whispered softly as he turned to leave.
JC left the bedroom door open and blew out the breath he'd been holding as he collapsed onto the couch. The cordless phone was resting on the cushion beside him, just waiting to be picked up. With visibly shaking hands JC lifted the phone and went to Carter's room to pull the folder out of the safe in the closet. To his surprise he saw Fiona's folder sitting on Carter's pillow, as if waiting for the right person to pick it up.
JC held his breath as he slid his finger under the flap and pulled the thin stack of papers out. The first sheet was printed from a computer with very detailed directions, thinly coated with Fiona's sense of humor.
Well crap. I must not be doing well if you're reading this. Oh well… you won't have to do much; everything's taken care of already. Pull your head together kid, and call everyone in this order. The list is short, don't worry. Call the hospice; they'll need to send someone out. Then call Morningside. I know you don't like them but they're the ones I want, so leave me alone. They have my plans already there on file so you just have to call. Then call friends or whoever else you want. And don't cry, okay? I'll be watching you and if you start to cry I'm gonna back up your toilet or something. I love you Carter. I'll see you later.
The numbers that he needed were printed in a much larger and bolded font. JC bit his lip and dialed the hospice number listed. "Los Angeles Hospice, this is Marion. Can I help you?"
"I uh." JC took a deep breath. "My friend has um, well she died and she… I think she was a patient of yours."
Marion paused briefly. "I'm so sorry for your loss." Her sympathy was genuine. "What was her name?"
“Okay, do you know her case worker’s name?”
"No. I uh… I don't know if she had one. Her uh, she has AIDS and the instructions here just said to call you." English felt like a second language as he tried to speak clearly.
"Okay." He heard tapping on a keyboard before Marion came back on the line. "Okay, her case worker is Janice Patton. But it looks like she hasn't been out yet. When did Fiona come home?"
"No, I… I don't know. A couple days ago I guess. I don't know." JC shook his head and tried to keep his voice from wobbling out of control.
"Okay hun, I'm going to send an on-call nurse out to the house."
"Someone will be there shortly, okay?"
"Okay." JC nodded. "How… how long?"
"I'll try to have someone there within a half hour. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay." JC's voice escaped his lips with noticeable variances. "I… her friend is in there with her. Is that okay?"
"Yes… yes, that's fine."
"Okay." JC pulled on his lower lip. "Is there anything I should do?"
"No, you're doing just fine."
"Do I have to call the… the uh…"
Marion nodded knowingly though JC couldn't see, "I can take care of that for you if you'd like."
"Do you need the number?"
"We have it here on file. If you'd like, I'll call them when the nurse gets there. That way you won't have a house full of people all at once."
"I… yeah." JC took a deep breath. That was one concern lifted from his shoulders. It was hard enough for him to call the hospice nurse, he wasn't sure if he could hold it together enough to call the funeral home.
"Okay. Is… is it uh, okay to wait?"
"Until the nurse gets there?"
"Certainly." Marion nodded and lowered her voice. "Did you happen to note the time she passed?"
"No. I wasn't here. I just got here and she was…"
"Okay. Do you know if her friend noted it?"
"I don't know."
"Okay. You can do that when the nurse arrives."
"Okay." JC bobbed his head, glad for the reassurances of the faceless voice on the phone. "Thank you."
"Am I supposed to keep you on the line until the nurse gets here?"
"I can stay on as long as you want."
"Okay." He sat down and rested his head in his hands.
"Do you want me to stay on with you?"
"Okay." She smiled slowly.
"Thank you." JC bit his lip as tears started again. He cried softly and neither of them said a word. She didn't need to; just knowing that there was someone on the other end helped JC. In the silence his mind wandered to Carter in the other room, alone with Fiona. "My friend is… he's in there alone with her."
"Should I go get him?"
"That's up to you. How is he doing?"
"I don't know." JC answered honestly. "He's… I mean, they were close."
"Should I leave them alone?"
"That's really up to you. If you'd feel better with him near you, I can hold on." She spoke softly, like a mother soothing her fallen toddler.
"I'm on a cordless." JC explained, not caring that he sounded like he was babbling.
"Okay I'm going to go in there."
"Okay." Marion smiled as JC stood up.
He tapped on the open door and waited for Carter to look up and acknowledge his presence. "Hey." JC whispered with the phone still pressed to his ear. "I uh, I called the hospice."
Carter nodded in response and shifted to a sitting position on the bed. "Thanks." He whispered back.
"Are you okay?" JC asked.
"Do you want to come out here and sit with me?"
"No." Carter shook his head and wiped at his eyes.
"Do you want me to sit in here with you?"
Carter crossed his arms over his chest and held himself tight. "If you want to." His voice was crystal clear, but JC knew that between the lines was the true meaning of his words. He needed JC there.
"Okay." He crossed the room and sat behind him. JC wrapped his free arm around Carter and held him close, dropping his lips to Carter's t-shirt covered shoulder.
"Who are you talking to?" Carter whispered.
"Marion. From the hospice." JC said.
"She's on the line?"
JC nodded, "Until the nurse gets here. Do you want to talk to her?"
"No, I… I'm okay."
"Are you guys doing okay?" Marion asked, her voice cutting through the thick air of the room.
"Yes." JC licked his lips. "Thank you."
"It's no problem."
"Is there… should we be doing anything?"
"Whatever you're doing is fine. When the nurse gets there, she'll help you guys get everything ready, okay?"
"Are we supposed to do anything?" Carter asked, hearing only JC's side of the conversation.
"We're doing it." JC kissed his cheek and sighed into his neck as he held Carter closer. If he never let Carter go, he thought maybe he'd be okay. Maybe they both would be.
It seemed like an entire lifetime, but JC was sure it was only a short while before there was a knock on the door. "I'll get it." He unwound himself from Carter and walked to the door with the silent phone still against his ear. "Marion? She's… the nurse is here."
"Okay. Go ahead and let her in and let me speak with her please."
"Sure. Thank you… for everything."
"It's no problem hun. You're doing just fine."
"Thanks." JC said again as he pulled the door open. A motherly looking nurse stood on the doorstep in the fading light of day.
"Hello dear." She placed her hand on JC's shoulder as she stepped in and sat her bags by the door. "How are you?"
JC shrugged as tears pooled in his eyes.
"Of course, dear. Here, let me take that from you then we'll get started." She reached for the phone and had a short conversation with Marion before turning it off and setting it on the table. "Where are we going?" She asked softly, letting JC compose himself before leading the way to Fiona's room.
"In here." JC nodded to the open door. "Carter?"
Carter looked up and stood beside the bed. "H-hi."
"Hello. My name is Birdie." She smiled delicately and extended her hand to Carter.
"Carter." He nodded and shook her hand.
"JC." He introduced himself as an afterthought.
"I'm sorry for your loss Carter… JC."
"Thank you." Carter mumbled.
"I'll just…” JC spoke under his breath as he slid out of the room and went to the kitchen to get a glass of ice water. He drank the full glass quickly, then set the glass on the counter. He rested both hands on the counter and lowered his head to rest his chin on his chest. JC took a deep breath and tried to fully grasp everything that had happened, and everything that was going to happen. The only thing he could think of was Carter. No thoughts of work, the guys, or his home even crossed JC’s mind.
He didn’t know how long he stood there but when Birdie placed her hand on his shoulder, the front of his shirt was tear stained. “Excuse me JC, I’m sorry to bother you.”
“It’s okay.” JC sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Is everything done?”
“The funeral home will need to be called.” She said softly. “If you’d like, I can call if you have the number.”
“Um, Marion, the lady at the hospice, said she was going to call.”
“Oh, yes okay.” Birdie nodded.
“Do we need to do anything? With… I mean, with… Fiona?”
“No, dear, when they get here they will take care of everything. Unless there’s something special you or Carter would like to do.”
“N-no, I don’t think so.” JC took a deep breath as he closed his eyes. A tear escaped as his lower lip quivered. “I’m sorry.” He said almost unconsciously.
“Don’t apologize.” Birdie stepped closer and placed a motherly hand on JC’s elbow. “You’re doing fine. You’ve lost someone very special to you, you have every right to cry.”
“Thank you.” JC forced a smile. “I just… Carter…”
“He’s doing fine as well.” Birdie nodded. “You both have done everything right.” She said, knowing that so often survivors think they need to be doing something proactive.
“So… so when they get here, they’ll take, uh, her?”
“Yes.” Birdie took a deep breath. Do you want to know the process?”
“Yeah. No, not… not like, all of it. Just… just what happens next.”
Birdie nodded and took a step back. “The funeral home will come and take Fiona to the funeral home to prepare her. If you have arranged for a viewing for her friends and family, that will be set up for you.”
“Do you know if arrangements have already been made?”
JC nodded, “I’m sure they have. Carter, well he said everything was taken care of.”
“Okay, then they’ll call I’m sure when everything is ready.”
“Okay.” JC nodded again, hearing what she said but not really taking it all in. His mind was a humming stream of a million different thoughts, none of which paused long enough to let him focus.
It was almost twenty minutes later when the doorbell rang. Birdie joined JC at the door to welcome to Morningside representatives. “I’ll… I’ll go tell Carter.” JC mumbled as he headed for the hall, sheepishly leaving Birdie to give them the details.
"They're uh... they're here." JC said as he gently tapped on the doorframe to Fiona's room.
"What?" Carter looked up as Birdie stood up slowly.
"The funeral home, dear." She said as she patted Carter's shoulder. "Are you ready?"
"They're here already?" Carter looked up to meet JC's eyes, almost surprised that he was still there.
"Yeah." JC nodded and dropped his eyes to the floor as the two men made their way into the front door with the gurney. "Do you uh… why don't you come out here and let them do uh… what they need to do."
"Do I need to be in here?" Carter slid off the bed and stood beside Birdie.
"No, not if you don't want to."
"O-okay." Carter nodded then almost hesitantly he leaned over and placed a final kiss on Fiona's pale cheek. For a moment JC wasn't sure he'd be able to stand up without assistance, but Carter simply sniffed once, then stood up straight and walked out of the room without a single look back.
"How are you doing?" JC whispered as Carter brushed by.
Carter didn't pause to answer, he just continued to the kitchen and pulled the fridge open. He stared at the contents for a minute with his bottom lip trembling and tears rising in his eyes. "Are you hungry?" Carter asked.
"I… no. I'm okay." JC shook his head and went to stand beside him. "Are you?"
"No. Yes." Carter sighed. "I need to eat something."
"What would you like?" JC stepped between Carter and the fridge and began to move things around, careful not to touch Fiona's medications along the second shelf.
"Nothing. I'll be sick."
"You don't have to eat." JC shut the fridge and carefully reached for Carter.
Carter flinched away as the men from the funeral home wheeled the gurney in with Birdie to lead the way. "I don't want to be in here." He turned and strode out of the house, stopping at the bottom of the patio steps. JC was only a step behind and instantly wrapped his arms around the smaller man.
"Carter…” JC struggled to find the right thing to say, but nothing seemed to fit. They stood together on the walkway in silence. When they finally wheeled Fiona out on a sheet covered gurney, Carter turned his whole body away from the image.
"Do you want to ride with her?" JC asked carefullt. He wasn't sure if that was even allowed, or expected, but he felt like that was the right thing to ask.
"No." Carter said with no uncertainty.
"No." He repeated as he shook his head.
"Do you want me to go with her?" JC ran his hands down the side of Carter's arms and rubbed gently to try to transfer some heat as Carter shivered.
"No." He shook his head and clung to JC's chest. "No, that's not Fiona. She's already gone… she believed that and so do I."
"But we should - "
"It's not like she's going to the hospital. There's nothing for me to do now. I'll go over later." Carter took a deep breath, warming a cold spot on JC's shoulder. "I… she had it all planned. We did it a long time ago. We both did. It's all… it's all planned." His voice sounded hollow but tears refused to fall.
"Do you want to spend the night at my house?"
"Do you want to stay here?"
"Yes. No. I don't know." None of the answers he gave sounded right.
"If you want to stay here, I'll stay with you."
"You don't have to." Carter shook his head and stood up straight, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth as his bottom lip quivered.
"God, Carter… I… I want to. I don't want you to be alone tonight." JC held Carter's hand with his right then reached to stroke his cheek with his left hand. Conversations from long ago came back and JC was scared to leave Carter alone. "I don't want you to be alone tonight." He said again, leaving no room for objection. "We can stay here or go to my place. It's up to you."
"I want to stay here."
"Okay." JC nodded with his brow creased in worry and sadness. "I'll… " He was going to say he would run home and get his things but then he realized that didn't matter. "I'll stay here."
"Yeah." Carter whispered and dropped his chin to his chest. He took a deep but shaky breath as the car doors slammed shut and it took off down the street. Both men stood there and watched it go for a moment before Carter's face crumpled and he turned to walk into the house alone.
Carter left the front door open as he walked through, though JC couldn't tell if it was left as a reminder that he had promised to stay, or if it was left open simply because Carter didn't care any more. He sighed softly then trotted up the front walk and shut the front door behind him. JC flipped the lock into place and walked to Carter's room where the younger man stood at the foot of his bed.
Emotions were beyond anything Carter could hold onto at that moment. But JC knew. He had seen, and right then Carter's face showed every emotion possible. Stopping on none of them, because none seemed appropriate.
"It's late." JC said finally. Carter looked up from the bedspread and met JC's eyes, a look of careful surprise proved that he'd forgotten that JC was even there.
"It's late." JC said again as he took three steps and reached for Carter's hand. "Come on." He pulled Carter around the side of the bed and sat him down before bending to remove his shoes.
"I'm not tired."
"You don't have to sleep." JC's voice remained low, as though they were in a trance that he didn't want to break.
"JC, I just…” Carter's eyebrows furrowed into a deep and confused frown as JC tucked the shoes into the corner by the door. "Thank you." Two little words summed up everything he wanted to say and nothing JC needed to hear.
JC tried to force a smile but ended up just nodding into Carter's bare feet. "Lay down babe." He lifted Carter's feet onto the bed, then crawled over him to lay on the left side… his side.
With no further arguments, Carter pulled JC's arms around his waist and laced his fingers through JC's. It was late, but even in the darkness Carter remained awake. He listened to the hollow sounds of the house and the gentleness of JC's breathing until they seemed to merge into each other and the purring commenced. Minutes turned into hours and before long he could see the moon settling deep in he sky with a hint of blue light welcoming the dawn.
Carter lay completely still with his eyes open. Weariness consumed him but he couldn't make his mind stop racing or his body stop panicking. Sleep was an impossible dream when everything around him brought him back to the present. Back to the day he only wanted to forget. "Jace?" He whispered softly, in case the other man was asleep.
JC's arm tightened around his waist as he whispered back, "Yeah?"
"Can… can we go? To your house or something?" Carter asked softly.
"I just want to, uh…"
"It's okay." JC kissed the back of Carter's neck and sighed into his shoulder. "Come on." He sat up and pulled Carter up with him. "Do you want a change of clothes?"
"You can borrow something if you change your mind." JC pulled Carter to his feet then wrapped him in his arms. Carter was a strong man but he looked so small with the light taken from his eyes. JC held him close for a second, wishing with all of his heart that he could pass off some of his strength to Carter so that he'd be okay. As if that would help.
"Let's go." Carter turned out of JC's embrace and quickly walked to the front door without so much as a glance toward Fiona's room. He stood with his arms crossed staring at the closed door as his teeth began to chatter.
JC looked down at his bare feet and went back into Carter's room. He came out with Carter's sneakers and set them on the floor. "There you go."
"I don't want them." Carter insisted with his eyes on the door.
"You need to put shoes on, it's freezing outside." JC waited until Carter slid his bare feet into the untied shoes.
"I'm fine." Carter pulled the front door open and a rush of cold air hit him, sailing through his thin jeans and blowing his t-shirt tight across his chest.
"At least put your sweatshirt on." JC grabbed a sweatshirt off the back of the couch and took Carter's keys off the pegboard by the door. He followed Carter out then locked the door and ran to catch up.
Carter stood beside JC's car with his hands tucked under his arms hopping from foot to foot to try to keep warm. "Carter… put this on." He tossed the sweatshirt at him then went around to the driver's side to unlock the doors.
JC climbed in and started the heater as he rubbed his hands together. It was another couple seconds before he realized that Carter hadn't opened the door yet. "It's open." He said loud enough for Carter to hear outside.
When Carter still didn't open the door, JC stepped outside and tapped on the hood, "It's open hun. I've got the heat on so get in and get warmed up."
"This isn't mine." Carter mumbled as the sweatshirt hung off of his arm.
JC's heart skipped a beat before pounding in his ears. "Oh."
"I don't…” Carter looked up at JC over the top of his car. "I changed my mind. I don't want to leave."
"We don't have to." JC shook his head. "We can do whatever you want."
"I don't know what I want." Carter whispered as he dropped his gaze back down to the sweatshirt on his arm.
"Well I can tell you for sure you don't want to stand around outside and freeze to - " JC stopped himself. "You'll turn into an ice cube. Hop in and we'll drive around until you decide where you want to go."
Carter kept his eyes on the sweatshirt as his teeth chattered together even louder. JC watched for a minute, then walked around the car and opened the passenger side door. "Come on babe, just hop in. The heats on." He helped Carter into the car then shut the door and went around to his side. The heater was going full blast and slowly warming the interior of the small car.
JC put it into gear and pulled onto the street, unsure of where they were going. When Carter didn't offer a destination JC headed for the freeway and went south. They drove in silence for twenty minutes before Carter said, "I have to go to the funeral home." The warm air from the heater vents blew his bangs across his forehead.
"Not right now."
"Okay." JC nodded.
"And I have to call her grandparents." He added a minute later.
"Do… do you want to do that now?"
"No." Carter hugged his knees to his chest. "No, I'll call in the morning."
"Are you sure?"
"Is there anyone else you need to call?"
"I don't know."
"Jamie will tell them."
"Her… what about her mom?"
"No." Carter sounded sure for the first time that night. "No."
"Okay." JC nodded and licked his lips.
"Do you have your phone?"
"Yeah." JC removed it from his hip and flipped it open for Carter. "Here."
"Jamie will be up." Carter's fingers shook as he dialed his friends number. It was close to four in the morning but he needed to tell someone. To have someone else help him carry the burden. JC only heard Carter's half of the conversation, what little of it that Carter didn't whisper toward the door. "Jamie? It's Carter. Hi. No. No, she... yes. Uh huh. With JC. I'm okay. No, I'm sure. Yeah, tomorrow. Morningside on Slayton. I don't know. I'll call. No it's okay, I will. Jamie, I said I will. No. No. Okay. Thanks. I'm okay. We're just driving. No. Yeah. Okay. Thanks Jamie. Okay, I'll call tomorrow. Yeah. Yeah, bye. Love you too. B-bye." His voice didn't crack until the very end. Carter shut the phone and closed his eyes tightly as two tears trailed down his cheeks.
"Are you - "
"I'm okay." Carter said for the hundredth time.
"Did he know?"
"He guessed. She's been so sick, and he… he's worked with AIDS patients so I guess he knows kinda… what to look for I guess." Carter tapped his fingertips on the plastic phone and kept it in his hand. "We all knew really. It was only a matter of time."
"I didn't know it was that bad." JC said softly. Carter's shoulder raised in a half shrug as they continued south on the freeway. "I'm sorry Carter."
"Can I help? With the arrangements or anything?"
"It's done." Carter shook his head then turned to look at JC. "Can we talk about something else?"
"Or just not talk?"
"Whatever you want." JC nodded and reached over to place his hand on Carter's shoulder.
"Where are we going?"
"Um…" JC looked up at the freeway signs and shrugged, "San Diego?"
"Wherever you want to go. Or we can just drive…"
"I just want to drive."
"Okay." JC nodded and licked his lips nervously.
"Is there… do you need to call anyone?" Carter let his fingers run across the smooth surface of the phone.
"No. No it's okay."
"Are you going to tell the guys?"
"Yes. But not right now."
Carter nodded slowly. "Can we turn the radio on?"
"Sure. Of course." JC clicked the radio on and turned the volume up so that they could hear it. "You're in control, we can listen to whatever you want."
"Do you have your CDs?"
"Behind my seat."
"Do you have your own CDs in there?"
"What? Like Nsync?"
"Yeah." Carter nodded and looked out the window.
"I… I don't think so. Is that what you want to listen to?"
"Okay." JC bit his lip and thought fast. "Let me see the phone."
"Who are you going to call?"
"Information. I'll find us a 24 hour Wal-mart or something. They'll have it."
"It's okay." Carter insisted with a light sigh. "We can just listen to this."
"No… come on." JC took the phone from Carter's lap and called. He talked with the operator for a minute, then hung up and dropped the phone back in Carter's lap. "You are in luck. There's one in Manhattan Beach." He turned his signal on and headed for the right hand lane on the nearly empty freeway.
When they got to the store, Carter ran inside with the twenty-dollar bill JC handed him, and came out ten minutes later with the No Strings Attached CD in a bag. "This was the only one they had." Carter explained as he took it out of the wrapper.
"Okay." JC smiled and helped him load it in the player. The music started as JC pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the freeway again. "Where to?"
"Just keep going." Carter sunk deeper into the seat and fiddled with the volume. He set it at a comfortable level, then wadded up the sweatshirt and used it as a pillow against the window. For miles he kept his eyes open, staring blankly at the dashboard, mouthing the words of the songs as they played in the background. By the time they hit South Orange County Carter was finally asleep, sleeping deeper than JC had ever seen him. He knew that Carter needed that more than anything though so he continued to drive as the sun rose, stopping only once for gas.
Copyright © 2003, 2004 Amy Lynn