Marcus and I were transported to the hospital in the same ambulance. We were both hooked up to oxygen and didn't talk during the ride. At one traffic light, Marcus had a major coughing spell. I looked over at him with a concerned expression; he smiled at me and shook his head.
We were wheeled together into the ER. I pulled out my phone to give Jon a call. Dinner and game night plans were going to be postponed. There was no telling how long we'd be in the hospital.
"I hate to do this to you guys but we need to postpone tonight. Marcus and I arrived at Scott's bank, as the fire alarms were going off. We are in the ER right now waiting to be seen."
"Shit, James was listening to his scanner. Tell me you two were the ones who ran into the building. It was all over the scanner. Two guys ran into the building and saved an older woman and one of the bank officers. Seriously, leave it to you two. James and I will be there soon."
"You don't have to come down here. There's no sense ruining your evening. We can reschedule."
"First, I think you guys will need a ride to get your vehicles. Second, we all still need to eat, and finally, you may need police protection when the press gets wind of who the heroes were."
"I think hero is a bit of an exaggeration. But you're right about the rest of it. Look a doctor just came in; I need to go. I guess we will see you guys soon. Thanks."
The next thing I knew, I was being crushed in a hug.
"Seriously, who runs into a burning building? Are you two kidding me?"
"Hello, Jen." I smiled. Just then a small coughing fit hit me.
"This is Dr. Joshua Newman. He's our top pulmonary guy. Lie down, shut up, and let him check you out."
While being examined by Dr Newman, Marcus had a major spell. I looked over at him, but he just gave me a smile. I was suddenly overcome with a headache. I grimaced and struggled to get medicine out of my pocket. Jen saw my struggle and helped me get the meds.
"Do you still get these headaches often and are they always this intense?"
"No and no. It's been one of those days today. The headache will settle down after the medicine."
"Maybe... I think I need to get a neuro in here."
"I'll be fine. I promise. If it's not better by tomorrow, I'll call someone."
"Actually, how about we do lunch tomorrow? I can check up on you and we can catch up a little bit."
'That sounds perfect. Do you want to meet at the condo or out somewhere?"
"I'll bring lunch to the condo, Mister. I'm working second shift so it will give us a little time to talk."
Another short coughing spell hit me as I continued, "Excellent, I have some news for you. I think."
"What do you think, Doctor?" Jen asked.
Dr. Newman shook his head, and smiled.
"They will be fine. I expect a couple of very sore throats tomorrow. I think Marcus will need to follow-up with his primary to check on infection. He seems to have a bit more irritation than Anthony. I need to check on a couple of other patients from this fire. It was nice meeting you both."
Between coughs, Marcus managed to say, "Thanks Dr. Newman. I'll be sure to call my doctor. Thanks again."
"Good luck, gentlemen. Take care of yourselves."
After he left, Jen walked over to give Marcus a hug.
"Will you be joining us for lunch tomorrow? You are going to take some time off, aren't you?"
"I have court at one. Fortunately, I won't need to do much talking. I do think the four of us need to have dinner soon. Maybe you and Sarah could meet us at Amy's, how does that sound?"
"Sounds good; well, I need to get back to work. Go home and rest. You have a way to get home?"
I jumped in, "Yeah, we had plans with Jon and James tonight. When I called to cancel, Jon insisted they would come to the hospital. They are going to take us to our vehicles and grab some take out somewhere."
"Alright, time for me to get back to work. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Thanks. Tell Sarah we said hello."
Marcus and I walked out to the waiting room and found Jon and James.
"Sorry about our plans gentlemen." Marcus coughed.
"Look guys, there are two news crews just outside the emergency entrance. So unless you want to spend the next couple of hours being interviewed, we need to go out through the main hospital."
"I want to check on Scott, anyway. Let me find out where he is right now and if we can see him."
The nurse directed us up to the sixth floor. She wouldn't tell us how he was doing, but hinted it would be just an overnight stay. Marcus thanked her and we found an elevator.
When we got to Scott's room, Justin and Tommy were already there. Justin walked over to Marcus and grabbed him.
"There are not words. Thank you. Who knows what might have happened if you hadn't been there?"
"What are they saying? How is he?" Marcus asked.
"I'll be fine." Scott pulled the oxygen mask from his face. He coughed briefly and continued. "They are keeping me overnight on oxygen. I'll be just fine in no time. I guess I owe you another one. I suppose this is the biggest one yet."
"Don't worry about it. The firemen were right behind me. I just got you out a little quicker. Seriously, it was nothing."
"(Cough, cough) Bullshit. (Cough, cough)."
"Shut up and rest. Justin, when they let this stubborn idiot go home, call me. I'll come by and check on him in the afternoon."
"I'll do that... Thanks; seriously... " He teared up a little.
I gave Justin and then Tommy a hug. I walked over to Scott and smiled.
"You are such a pain in the ass. Next time I come to sign some paperwork, could you please not have the building be burning down around us?" I laughed and coughed some.
He shook his head and smiled.
"I'll take that under advisement."
When we left Scott's room, I stopped at the nurse's station to ask about the older woman from the bank.
"Are you the guys that ran into the bank? Oh, Mrs. Thomas would be thrilled to meet you. Please come with me."
"I just wanted to make sure she was okay."
Marcus grabbed my hand. "You should go say hello. I'm sure she wants to say thank you. I'm betting it would mean a lot to her. Go on, Babe. We'll wait for you here."
I followed the nurse to a room at the end of the hallway. As we entered, another nurse was checking vitals. She smiled and nodded towards the bed.
"Mrs. Thomas, we have a surprise visitor for you. This is the young man that rescued you from the fire. I'm sorry I didn't get your name."
"I'm Tony. I think rescue is exaggerating a bit."
She appeared small and frail laying there. She was wearing an oxygen mask and was hooked to an IV. With wispy gray hair and light blue eyes, she looked frightened.
"I just wanted to check to see how you were doing. I'm glad to hear you are doing okay, Mrs. Thomas."
"Please call me Emma."
I could barely hear her over the noise from the monitors. She reached to move the oxygen mask.
"Oh my, I can't thank you enough. I was so frightened sitting there on the floor. I couldn't see and was having such a hard time breathing. I thought surely it was going to be my last day on this good earth."
"All I did was help you to get your bearings; you just needed to get on your feet."
"I'm not sure I could have found my way out. That smoke was so thick."
She burst into tears and started gasping for breath. The nurse replaced her mask and brushed a lock of hair from her face.
"Mrs. Thomas, Emma, you need to get some rest. Would it be okay if I checked in on you tomorrow?" I asked.
She nodded her head and clutched my hand.
"I'll give you a call tomorrow to see how you are doing? Get some rest."
She blinked and mouthed the words thank you. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and turned to leave the room. When I got to the nurse's station, Marcus was deep in conversation.
"I know you can't tell us much, but does she have anyone inquiring about her? Anyone she asked to be called?"
"She is such a sweet lady. She told us she has a son in California, but she doesn't want us to call him."
I grabbed a pen and wrote down my number.
"Please have her call me if she needs anything. Please let me know when she's going to be released, if you can. I'm guessing she'll need a ride home."
"That is awfully nice of you." The nurse said. "I'll be sure to tell her. I think she'll be in the hospital for a few days. Her oxygen levels aren't coming back up very quickly and the doctor is afraid of infection, maybe pneumonia."
"Thank you. I'll call tomorrow to check on her."
Marcus grabbed my hand and kissed it. We headed for the elevator. In the elevator, I turned to Jon and asked if they could drive my car home.
"I'm sorry, but I have a raging headache. I just want to go home shower, eat, and relax, preferably in that order. I hope if I wash this smell off and get something in my stomach the pain will subside. You don't mind do you?"
Jon smiled, "Here's the plan. We will take you to your cars. You and Marcus can drive home in his car. James will drive yours and I'll go get take-out at Luigi's. We can eat together and then see how you feel."
"Okay, it sounds like a plan. Thanks."
James piped up, "We need to avoid the emergency entrance and the front door. There are news crews at both exits. Ma'am is there another way out of here? These guys have had enough today. They don't need to deal with cameras. It must be a really slow news day."
"Go out through the cafeteria. You can use the back alley. It will bring you to the parking garage."
"Thanks. You are a lifesaver." I said.
"You deserve the attention, but maybe another time would be better."
We managed to get to Jon's car without incident. After Jon drove us to the bank parking lot, I handed my keys to James. Marcus held my hand as we quietly drove home. My headache was only just beginning to ease.
The shower and food went a long way to making me feel better. I wasn't really up for game night, but it was nice to sit back and visit.
James and Jon seemed to be very happy. James was very attentive to every need Jon had. He refilled water, got napkins, and continuously found a way to touch his lover. It was sweet to see. Jon noticed my smile and blushed slightly. He leaned towards me and whispered.
"Yeah, he's still in 'make it up to me' mode; I've tried to tell him things are good, but the attention is nice."
I nodded my head and grabbed Marcus's hand.
After they left, Marcus and I went to bed early. He was still having some minor coughing spells, but except for sore throats we were just tired. He took the next morning off from work and made berry smoothies for breakfast.
"Are you going to call the hospital today to check up on Mrs. Thomas, Babe?"
"I think after my visit with Jen. I hope they talked her into calling her son. She shouldn't be alone; hospitals are depressing enough without sitting there alone for hours. Are we stopping in to see Scott tonight?"
"I have court at one, and then again at three. If Scott is still in the hospital, I want to check on him. If he gets released we can decide later."
"I would love a quiet night at home with you, if that's possible. Maybe we could check on the Diva and the Director later, they should have an off night if I remember their schedule correctly."
"Sounds good; Try to pin down Jen with a night to have dinner with her and Sarah, and a time to go dress shopping."
"Okay, I'll try. I will call you when Jen and I are done, if you are in court I'll leave a message. Love you."
"Love you more, Babe."
Jen arrived a half hour later with chicken salad sandwiches. We hadn't spent time together, just the two of us, in weeks.
"Okay, let's get the doctor stuff out of the way. How's the head? Are you still coughing much? And how sore is the throat?" Jen asked.
"I'm fine. The headache disappeared last night after I showered and ate. The cough is mostly gone, and the sore throat isn't bad. Marcus and I had smoothies this morning, and they helped. I think Marcus has more of a sore throat than I do. I hope he doesn't need to talk much in court today. I wish he'd just stayed home."
"You really are too much sometimes. I'm lucky to have been the recipient of that care, concern, and love. I hope Marcus knows how good he has it."
"He does... but speaking of love... How are things with you and Sarah?"
"Things are great when we are alone. I'm still not comfortable with any PDA. Sarah is getting frustrated with me; I won't let her tell anyone yet either. I don't know what my problem is right now."
"How's this for a thought... Maybe you aren't gay, but are still in love with Sarah?" I smiled.
"What? How is that possible? Are you trying to tell me I'm not a lesbian, but I'm in love with another woman? That doesn't make sense."
"Hear me out. I think everyone tries to put things in a neat little box. You're gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian... but maybe not everyone fits into a box. Maybe sometimes things don't get wrapped up with a pretty little bow.
"You know what I think about love. It's the most amazing thing... I think you and Sarah have something special. Sarah doesn't have a problem wrapping her head around it because she's been in love with you for a long time. You, on the other hand, would probably not have gone looking for love in that direction.
"If it was anyone else but Sarah, you would have never even considered it. I wonder if that's what's holding you back. You have the feelings, but don't see yourself in that box."
She stared at me for a moment. I could almost see the thoughts going through her mind. Finally, she smiled at me.
"You know maybe you're right. Maybe that is my problem. That's why I still find a couple of the guys in the program attractive. It is just Sarah. But, is it enough? I mean what if I decide I want to be with a man and not with Sarah?"
"Honestly, the feelings you have for Sarah might not be enough. None of us can predict the future. Look at the two of us. I thought all my dreams were coming true with you, but the feelings I buried were too strong. That might happen to you, but if it was me... I would love with all my heart right now."
Jen grabbed me and hugged me tightly. She had a big smile on her face.
"Thanks... Seriously, that really helps. I was having so much trouble wrapping my head around it. You are right I just need to see where it goes."
"Just let Sarah know what you are thinking. I was completely overwhelmed by the feelings I buried. They burst out of me and I will always feel guilty I blindsided you and hurt you. Promise me you'll let her know what you're thinking."
"You are the sweetest man I ever met. I thought we were clear... I was surprised, but you didn't hurt me. I think I hurt you more when I reacted so badly. Fuck, it just hit me. That's why Sarah knew... It takes one to know one. She was right about you being gay because she is too." Jen looked shocked.
"Yeah, plus she didn't like me much because I was in the way. I'm not sure she knew exactly what she was doing, but I think even back then she had strong feelings for you. I told you New Year's that a lot of things made more sense to me when you two got together. Believe me it's all good.
"Marcus was just saying we need to get together with you and Sarah for dinner at Amy's. That's after a little dress shopping, if you're up for it."
"It sounds like fun. Let me check our schedules and let you know. Look I need to get to work. I'll text you later. This has been great. We need to do it more often. Thanks for helping me start to understand some of the things going on in my brain."
I opened my arms. We hugged. She pulled back, smiled, and shook her head.
"I really need to dash out of here. I'll let you know when we can schedule dinner. I love you, Anthony Michael Wallace."
"I love you too. Don't work too hard."
After Jen left, I realized I never told her about the house. In the chaos of the last twenty four hours, we hadn't told anyone our news.
I called the hospital to check on Mrs. Thomas. The nurse only let me know her status was unchanged. I thanked her and hung up the phone.
My next call was to Marcus.
"Babe, I am just about to head into court. I'll call you back in a while."
"Okay, I think I'm going to check on Mrs. Thomas. I called and all they would tell me is her status is unchanged. Have you heard from Scott or Justin?"
"Scott was released this morning. Justin said his throat is really sore, but otherwise he's good. I'll call you when I get done with court. Go up to the hospital. Love you."
"Love you more. Talk to you soon."
As hospitals go, this one had modern decor. Instead of all the walls being off white, different floors were painted with different colors. The children's floor had incredible murals painted through all the hallways. The sixth floor, on the other hand, was painted to look like spring gardens. Bright red tulips and yellow daffodils, green leaves on trees, and blue skies greeted patients and visitors alike.
I walked to the nurse's station to find the same staff working. A black woman with strawberry blonde hair gave me a huge smile as I approached. The name badge showed her name was Rosalee.
"Are you here to check on that peach Emma?"
"Yes. How is she doing today? They wouldn't tell me anything over the phone."
"Well, we can't sweetie. Even though you rescued her, she's not family and we can't tell just anyone about our patients."
"Okay, I understand. Is it a good time to visit her?"
"I think she's asleep, but that's just because she's got nothing better to do. She hasn't had any visitors and she won't let us call her son. I think you'll be the perfect medicine for her. Go in and say hello, sweetie. I'm sure it will perk her right up. And while you're in there, see if you can convince her to let us call her son. She shouldn't be all alone at a time like this."
I rapped softly on the door. When I didn't get any answer, I slowly entered the room. I was glad I'd stopped and picked up a small plant. She was asleep. Instead of a full mask, she had a tube for oxygen set under her nose. She looked just as frail as the last time I saw her. I cleared my throat and softly spoke to her.
"Mrs. Thomas? Emma? Are you awake?"
"I'm awake. Who is it?"
"I'm Tony. The person who helped you get your bearings at the bank fire. How are you feeling today?"
"Hello, dear, I'm doing much better. I just wish they would let me go home."
"I brought you a little plant to brighten up your room. I'm glad to hear you are feeling better."
"Oh my, you are very sweet."
"Would you like to visit for a little while, or are you tired?"
We talked for a little while. She had a sharp mind and was fun. She had me laughing almost continuously. I learned about her grandkids and her late husband. We played a couple of games of gin rummy. I initially thought I'd just let her win, but she was a feisty card player who took no prisoners. She crushed me in a few quick hands.
We were having such a good time; I didn't notice the time passing. She started coughing slightly. Suddenly, she began to cough more and more. When she couldn't seem to catch her breath, I pushed the call button. Rosalee walked into the room. I stepped away from the bed and moved to the opposite corner of the room.
She paged for help, then took a look at me and pointed at the door. I bolted to the hallway. Another nurse and a doctor ran towards Emma's room. Two more people dashed by me and into the room. Soon, Emma was being rushed out of the room on a gurney.
Rosalee walked towards me.
"You didn't hear this from me, but she's headed towards surgery. I'm sorry but it will be a couple of hours before we know anything."
"Thanks. Is she going to be alright?"
"We can't be sure. She has developed fluid around her heart. There is no sense in you hanging around though. Even after surgery is over, Emma will be in recovery for some time after that. Why don't you go home?"
"Can you call me when you know something? Or least when she gets out of surgery? Please it's really important to me."
"I'll be sure to let you know when surgery is over. It's the best I can do. You are very sweet to care."
"Thanks. Here's my cell number, again. Please let me know whatever you can. I hope she'll be okay."
I walked out to my car. I got in to start it and burst into tears. I had no idea why. I must have sat there crying for the longest time. Eventually, I felt completely drained. Just then my phone started to ring. I didn't even look and answered it.
"Babe, what's wrong? You sound like you've been crying. What the hell is going on?"
"I'm not sure what's wrong with me. I went to visit with Mrs. Thomas. We spent a couple of hours playing cards and chatting. Suddenly, she had a coughing attack and couldn't catch her breath, I called for the nurse and before I knew it they were rushing her to surgery. I don't know what's wrong, or how serious it is, or even if she is strong enough to survive... "
I started sobbing.
"Babe, I need you to take a deep breath. I know you are upset, but right now there is nothing you can do for Mrs. Thomas. I love that you care so deeply. You are the most amazing man I've ever met.
"Look, under the circumstances, I hate to ask you to do this... Scott has our paperwork at his house. If we meet there we can sign all the forms and get the mortgage going. Can we do this now or do you need time?"
I sat for a second, just thinking. I chided myself for getting so upset about a woman I didn't even know. I couldn't even explain it to myself.
"Babe, are you still there? Are you going to be okay?"
"I'm fine. I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me. I hardly even know her."
I took a deep breath and said, "I can be at Scott's in about fifteen minutes. Does that work?"
"That would be perfect. Are you sure you are going to be okay?"
"Absolutely; I will see you in a few minutes. Thanks for pulling me out of my funk. Love you."
"Love you more. See you soon."
Paperwork with Scott went quickly. He seemed to be doing well. His voice was a little hoarse, but any residual coughing seemed minor. Justin doted on his every need, and even Tommy seemed to be paying Scott extra attention.
"Thanks for taking care of this paperwork. It could have waited. I'm happy to have it done, but seriously you could have taken the night off."
"Are you kidding? All I did was reprint everything. It was all on my computer. I'll ship this all off to the underwriter, but frankly it's the easiest mortgage I have ever written. I would be surprised if everything wasn't back and approved by mid-week."
I spoke up, "Thank you for taking care of this. Marcus is right though, you should have taken a night to just relax. But honestly, I'm glad you didn't... "
Justin smiled, "Can you guys stay for dinner? It's just going to be meatloaf and mashed potatoes. They are relatively easy to swallow. Seriously, I made plenty."
"Sure we can stay. I brought a bottle of wine to toast the mortgage. We can have it with dinner. How about I run out and get an ice cream cake for dessert."
"Oh boy, ice cream cake." Tommy yelled. "That sounds awesome. What kind are you going to get?"
"What kind would you like?" I chuckled. "Do you want to come with me to pick out a flavor?"
"Can I Dad?"
Justin smiled, "Sure why not... Just make sure you mind Tony."
"Of course I will." He gave his father a scathing look, his hand placed firmly on his hip.
"I'll mind my manners, I promise."
The local ice cream shop was just open for the season. I figured it was a special night, so we drove across town to get our ice cream cake. All the flavors were homemade right at the shop. Tommy wanted chocolate caramel ice cream for the base of the cake and peanut butter chocolate chip for the top layer. I wasn't a fan of peanut butter flavored ice cream so I bought a quart of chocolate raspberry truffle for me.
As we were headed back to Scott and Justin's place, my phone rang. I pulled over to answer it.
"Is this Tony?"
"Yes, who is calling?"
"This is Rosalee from the sixth floor nurse's station. I'm just calling to let you know Mrs. Thomas passed away on the operating table. Apparently, she was already quite ill. The surgery was just too much for her. I'm sorry to be the one to give you bad news."
"Thank you for calling. I appreciate it. Have a good evening."
I sat there stunned for a moment.
"Tony, the ice cream is going to melt if we don't get it in the freezer soon."
"You're right Tommy. Let's get back to the apartment."
We walked into the apartment. Tommy was excitedly trying to tell his fathers about the ice cream cake. Justin was setting the table and Scott was sitting listening and smiling. Marcus looked at me and grinned.
Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed. I excused myself and went into the bathroom. I sat on the edge of the tub and began to cry. It wasn't a wailing, sobbing kind of cry. I was just sitting there feeling completely defeated with tears falling down my cheeks. I don't know how long I sat there, but Marcus started knocking on the door.
"Dinner is on the table. Everyone's waiting on you. Are you okay?"
"Start without me. I'll be out in a minute."
The door opened and Marcus found me still sitting on the side of the tub. He walked over and put his arm around me. I leaned into him. He looked at me with such concern and caring it almost caused me to completely lose it on his shoulder.
"Mrs. Thomas died on the operating table. The nurse said she was already very ill and was just too weak. I got the call on the way back from the ice cream place. I'm sorry I just feel a little beaten down. She was a sweet lady. The little time I spent with her this afternoon was so much fun. She had such joy for life. It feels like getting her out of the bank was just a prolonging of the inevitable. She still died."
"Buttercup, think about things for a minute. Can you imagine the horrible death it would have been if she died in that fire? Instead, she spent the last afternoon of her life laughing and reminiscing and enjoying your company. What you gave her was a wonderful gift. Her time was done here, but you made her last moments, joyful ones. You should be very proud of yourself. Very few people would have taken the time to cheer up a complete stranger. I'm sorry she didn't make it, But don't get down on yourself. You brought her happiness in her final moments. I, for one, find you incredible."
I looked at him. His eyes showed such concern. He smiled and kissed me.
"Can we talk about this later? I know you are upset. I think I understand, and I don't want to make light of your feelings. But let's eat; we can talk about this at home. We just signed application papers to get the mortgage on our dream house. We should be excited."
I knew he was right. I was still feeling down about Emma, but it should be a celebration for us. I needed to get perspective on the whole thing. I just struggled to get a handle on it.
"You're right. I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't know why this is hitting me so hard. I'm really sorry."
"Don't... You don't need to apologize. You have every right to be down. I'm not telling you that your feelings are wrong. I just want you to be happy about moving towards getting the house. Is that okay?"
"Of course, I'm wicked excited about the house. I'm s... Let's eat."
"I love you."
I smiled and held up my birthday charm. He squeezed me closer and kissed me.
When we walked back out to the kitchen, Justin and Scott had dinner on the table.
"Sorry guys, on the way back from the ice cream shop, I got a call from the hospital. The woman I helped out of the bank passed away on the operating table a little while ago. It hit me a little harder than expected. But let's eat."
Dinner was fun. Scott and I joked about his throwing Marcus a bachelor party.
"I'm just saying, Marcus is not the stripper type. Besides, it's slim pickings in this town." Scott said.
Justin looked serious. "And how would you know that little bit of information?"
Marcus burst out laughing and said, "He tried to find a stripper for my thirtieth birthday last year and failed miserably, which wasn't a bad thing."
After dinner, Tommy ate two small pieces of ice cream cake, but since he had the week off from school, his dads weren't worried about the sugar keeping him up late.
Marcus and I finally got back to the condo about nine. I thought about calling Danni and Hunter. After checking their schedule, they had shows all weekend in Miami. I sent Danni a text saying hello and talk to you soon. I felt drained and just wanted to crawl into bed.
"Babe, come here. Look, it's been an unbelievable couple of days. I need to go into the office for an hour or two in the morning." He wrapped me in his arms as he continued. "I want to do something fun tomorrow. If you could do anything, anything at all, what would you want to do?"
"Yup, Anything at all, what would it be?"
"I want to drive to the mountains and hike up one of the trails. After a quick hike, you and I come back to the condo for a shower... with the shower chair." I winked at him. "Finally, we can do dinner and dancing to round out the day. We need to be home relatively early though because I really want to take the twins to the park Saturday and maybe a sleep over because Taylor family dinner is at our place on Sunday."
"That sounds incredible. Are you sure?"
"Absolutely positive... "
"Then, it's a plan. God I love you so much."
Thank you to David, my editor, for making me look smarter than I am. Any remaining errors are mine.