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It's What Brothers Do.png

CHAPTER 1

Lucky

Author's Note: The main character in this story deals with issues like depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. Please keep that in mind if this isn't a good time for you to be reading about that.

    "You keep checking your watch, Richard. Is everything okay?" Dr. Martinez asked.

    "It's fine. We... we're almost out of time," I replied dryly, bouncing my leg up and down restlessly.

    "I am aware of that, but that isn't anything you should be concerned about."

    "I know. It's just... in the past few months these sessions have become the highlight of my week. God, how pathetic is that?!" I laughed at myself.

    "I assure you that it is not. Many patients express that sentiment, not just to me but many other therapists as well."

    ("Yeah, right," I thought. "I'm sure it doesn't hurt that you got that incredibly handsome face and a perfect smile. With multiple degrees on your wall and a photo of your husband and your dog on your desk. You try to turn it away from patients but I noticed it, and now a pang of jealousy hit me every time I saw the back of the frame.")

    "Instead of worrying about being almost out of time," Dr. Martinez continued, "let's circle back to this date you mentioned you have on Friday. You mentioned feeling nervous, since it's been a while for you."

    "Ha! That's putting it lightly. A year, maybe? So many gay men in Chicago and no one interested in me except for the ones that charge for it. But this guy, he... He seems nice. He might be the one."

    "Richard, I have to say I'm somewhat concerned to hear you say that. This is a person you haven't met yet, correct?"

    "I know, I know, I'm getting way ahead of myself. I guess I'm just... starved for attention. And love," I added, looking at the floor.

    "It's a great sign that you can analyze your feelings like that. A lot of people struggle with finding love and companionship, and gay men who come out later in life like you can often have it especially hard. So please, don't rush yourself. Take your time."

    I looked down at the floor as he spoke. His tone was gentle, but I felt like I was being scolded by my mother.

    "Speaking of time, you were right and ours is up for now. We'll continue next Wednesday."

    "Sure," I gave a courteous nod, trying to hide my disappointment. 

    "I'll walk you out," Dr. Martinez offered as always. Past the waiting room, where a single man sat that I'd never seen here before.

    "I'll be with you in a few minutes, Caleb," Dr. Martinez and the patient smiled at each other. They seemed to be around the same age and height, and even though Caleb was white and blond, they looked alike in that they were both extremely attractive. 

    I felt another pang of jealously. I knew it was irrational, but I wanted to be Dr. Martinez's favorite patient. He wished me good luck for Friday and shook my hand. An ordinary handshake to him, but so much more to me. Maybe the only physical contact I'd have with another person today.

    I dug out my gloves and hat as soon as I was out the front door and into the snowy street. My lunch break was almost over. Like every Wednesday, I'd have to eat something quickly on my way back to the office.

    I examined my feelings as I walked as fast as the snow would allow. Leaving Dr. Martinez sometimes felt like the end of a date with a sex worker I'd hired. For fifty minutes, I got to tell myself "he really cares for me," until cruel reality set back in.

    Two days later, I left the office early to get ready for my date. I showered, shaved (despite having done it in the morning as well), and spent longer picking a shirt and a cologne that I can ever remember. I put away my glasses and put on contacts. I picked out a nice button-up, and decided to check the guy's Grindr photos again. He seemed to be wearing a polo shirt in most of them. Was he more the casual type? I changed into a polo shirt. Hopefully the bar would be warm, plus I'm driving there so I won't freeze.

    I looked at myself in the mirror, sucking my gut in. "I'm not that bad," I tried to psych myself up. Sure, my stomach wasn't flat anymore and my arms were getting kinda flabby. But I still had most of my hair for a man my age, and if anyone stuck around long enough for me to undress in front of them they'd see just how well endowed I was, if nothing else.

    "Google Maps says 18 minutes, let's say 25 just to be safe. Plus it's Friday so finding a parking spot round Boystown will take forever..." I did math out loud to myself, and left the apartment 45 minutes early.

    "Richard, hey! Good to see you again!" the 20-something-year-old bartender flashed me his blindingly white teeth. "It's been a while."

    I used to be his best customer, here almost every day and tipping way more than I could afford. I kept coming back in hopes this might be a good way to finally meet someone. But eventually I realized all the guys that were here on their own were just on their phones anyway. Soon, my nightly routine changed to include greasy takeout in front of the TV, pointless chats on various gay apps, and jerking myself off to sleep.

    "Hey, Eli! Yeah, I've just been really busy," I lied to the twinky bartender and took a seat at the bar.

    "What'll it be?" he put a coaster in front of me. "The usual?"[1]

    "You still remember? Aww," I smiled, feeling flattered. "No, I'm meeting someone, so we'll have a bottle of wine. And, actually..." I checked the time after picking a bottle; I was more than 20 minutes early, "I'll have my usual while I wait."

    "Wine and whiskey? You better be careful now," Eli laughed and brought me my glass of whiskey first. 

    "Do you want me to open this now?" he asked, coming back with the wine bottle while I sipped my first drink.

    "Sure, why not, so I can taste it before he gets here."

    He poured a small amount in a glass for me and I twirled it around a couple of times before sniffing it. To be frank, I didn't know the first thing about tasting wine, plus I already had the taste of whiskey in my mouth, but I wanted to impress Eli. "Perfect," I said, putting the glass down.

    It took me bout 15 minutes to finish my whiskey, and as time went by I was getting more and more nervous. I was tempted to pull out my phone but I didn't want my date to see me on it when he walks in, in case he thinks I'm chatting with other guys. One thing was certain: I needed to calm my nerves.

    "Another one," I tapped the empty scotch glass, and Eli brought me a second one. By now the bar was getting too busy for him to ask any questions.

    As I sipped my second drink faster than the first one, I started to notice how hungry I was. Hopefully this guy hasn't had dinner yet. I'd love to take him out for a nice meal later.

    "Any minute now," I thought, checking the watch my dad gave me when I graduated high school, that I only wore on very special occasions. I stared at the second hand like it was New Year's Eve. Of course, no one came busting in through the door just as it got to 12. 

    "Five or six minutes late, that's not too bad," I thought, and downed the last of my whiskey. "Another Johnnie Walker Black," I asked a second bartender who'd showed up, who I'd never seen before. 

    Ten minutes later, I finished that one as well. I started fidgeting even more, bouncing my leg on the footrest on the bar. "I'll give him one more minute and if he doesn't show up I'll text," I thought and counted down precisely sixty seconds.

    "Hey," I opened up Grindr and started typing. The green icon let me know he was online. "Stuck in traffic? It's crazy with the snow out there :)" 

    I tried to sound as casual as possible.

    There was no immediate reply ("He might be driving," I thought) so I put my phone away and lifted the empty glass to my lips, trying to drain every single drop.

    A minute later I checked the app again. What? I was confused. Was it glitching? I closed it and opened it again.

    The guy's profile was gone. I couldn't find it in my Favorites or my Messages.

    "That fucker blocked me!!" I screamed out loud to my phone, making the twink and his fag hag standing next to me jump and look at me with concern, then start whispering to each other.

    I had more profanities I could spew out, but this wasn't the time and place for it.

    "Can I get an empty wine glass?" I shouted at the second bartender as soon as I could get his attention. "Please," I added, trying to rectify my harsh tone. I was pissed off but this wasn't the bartender's fault. It wasn't even the fault of the guy who stood me up. It was my fault! All my fault for shooting so far out of my league and actually getting my hopes up.

    "Might as well drink you myself," I told the wine bottle in front of me. I never ordered wine but a bottle of it seemed like a romantic thing to have on a first date. Ha! Fucking joke's on me. And I'd picked the most expensive bottle to impress... Anger brewed inside me.

    After having a couple of glasses of wine, I don't remember much afterward. I remember looking at the people at the bar, with envy and rage at their joviality. I remember Eli asking if I drove here, and me lying that I took an Uber. I remember asking for more scotch when I'd finished the bottle of wine, but I don't remember if I ever got it. I don't remember getting into the car. I don't remember...

    "The patient's male, 45, type A-," was the first thing I half-remember hearing. "Inebriated. Serious injuries after causing a car crash. He's lucky to be alive."

    Lucky? Ha! If only they knew.

    I tried to speak out but I couldn't open my lips nor my eyes. I fought hard to get the words out my mouth with no success, so I just kept repeating them in my head. "What kind of car crash? Please... please tell me there wasn't anyone else."

    "A second ambulance's on its way," I heard the voice say, sounding distant even though it was coming from right next to me. "Two adults and two children."

    I passed out, unsure if it was because of my injuries or the grief that I felt.

    "Hey, Richie!" Olivia waved at me and tried to pass me her hand. She was still six years old, missing most of her baby teeth as she smiled.

    "Hey, Ollie," I tried to walk toward her but I couldn't see my body when I looked down.

    "Let'th play thoccer!" she lisped. She was wearing the same white lacy dress I vaguely remembered her wear at her baptism, only bigger.

    "We can't, Ollie. This... this isn't real," I said, wishing it weren't true.

    Ollie looked petrified, like she was about to start crying. I tried to walk up to her again but I had no legs, no body. Still I could hear footsteps around me. Loud, anxious footsteps pacing round and round.

    "Who's there?" I tried to ask, but I couldn't get the words out. The pacing around me intensified. It sounded real. I didn't know who it was, but I knew it couldn't be my dead baby sister.

    I finally managed to open my eyes. The room was bright. The sound of a machine beeping right next to me. The person pacing was out of my sightline, but they soon appeared: my older brother, Patrick. 

    "Oh, thank You God!" he said when he saw my eyes open and knelt on the left side of the bed. He took my hand in his and kissed it. I had never heard him thank God, or seen him get down on his knees for anything, except when being told to do so as a child in church. I'd also never seen him as an adult kiss anyone but his ex-wife and kids.

    "You're gonna be okay, Richie. You're gonna be okay," he stroked my hand. He was being so gentle it took me by surprise. He hadn't called me "Richie" in decades!

    "Nurse!" he yelled out loudly and weightily. This was more his usual tone.

    I still couldn't talk, so I listed to others talk around me. Multiple nurses and doctors came in and the consensus seemed to be that I was gonna take a while to recover, but I was gonna be okay. They kept repeating how lucky I was. "Stop saying that!" I wanted to scream out loud.

    My brother started asking the doctors all his questions, in his usual bossy tone. After a few seconds I couldn't stay up anymore and passed back out, without getting answers to any of my questions. 

    When I woke back up I felt a bit stronger. From what I could tell through the window it was dark out.

    "How long...?" I finally managed to mumble out to my brother who was still in the room.

    "Since you last opened your eyes? This morning. Since the accident that put you in here? Two days."

    "How... how are..." I tried to continue but I was still too frail.

    "Shut the fuck up, Richard!" he barked at me. 

    Aaand, there we are. Back to Normal Patrick. In a way I was relieved; at least now I knew for sure I wasn't hallucinating anymore.

    "Keep your strength!" he yelled again, somewhat softer. "If you're lucky and if you behave you'll be out of here in a few days. Every day you spend here is costing us a fortune."

    "The insurance..." I stuttered. 

    "You think insurance is gonna cover a car crash you caused while driving shitfaced?!" His loudest scream yet. "For fuck's sake, Richard! There were kids in that car, two little girls!"

    My heart stopped beating for a second.

    "Lucky no one died," he continued talking loudly when he saw the look of horror on my face. "No sir, you're gonna be paying for your bills and theirs. And then fuck knows how much to keep you out of jail!"

    I started crying, tears dripping down my face and onto the ugly blue gown I was wearing. I wasn't sad about the money, but what I'd caused to that family.

    "You better pray you don't lose your fucking job over this. We'll both be driven into bankruptcy."

    "We, both...?"

    "Shut up, pipsqueak!" If I were strong enough to roll my eyes at him calling me that I would've. "You didn't think I'd let you go through this shit alone?!"

    "Why not?" I thought. "Not like we've been close past few years. Decades, really." 

    "You're all I have!" he said with his voice breaking, visibly fighting the tears that were gathering in his eyes. "With Ma, and Pop, and Ollie all gone..." he stuttered, surrendering to his urge to let a couple of tears fall and kneeling next to my bed again. "Mona left me, the kids off to college... How the fuck did you get into this!!" he stood up rapidly, bellowing out again.

    He was like the Hulk and Bruce Banner, switching tempers back and forth.

    "I'm sorry, Mr. O'Sullivan," a young nurse came into the room. "I'm gonna have to ask you to –"

    "I'll keep it down, I'll keep it down," Patrick reassured her.

    "Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."

    "Please. My brother just woke up," he wiped the tears off his cheeks. I couldn't tell if it was real or exaggerating for sympathy. "I'm all over the place. I'll keep it down, I promise."

    "One more word," the nurse said threateningly, holding up her index finger, but then gave a discreet smile. She wasn't the first woman my brother had this effect on. He might be nearing 50 but he was a total fox.

    Patrick winked at her and came to kneel next to my bed again, holding my hand. I didn't know what was coming up. We both sat in silence. 

    "I better go get some fucking sleep," he stood up when he realized how late it was. "Gotta get up at six."

    "You should sleep longer," I mumbled. 

    "What, and miss going to the gym cause of your punk ass?!" he banged on his chest like Rambo. Even with a shirt on it was visibly buff. "See you tomorrow, Richard."

    "Patrick," I said, gathering all my energy. "Have you been here every day?"

    "Of course, fucker. If you die I wanna collect the valuables you had when you got admitted."

    The next day I felt significantly better. I kept asking the doctors about the family in the other car, but all everyone said was they couldn't discuss it with me and to try to get some rest. But the better I felt, the more restless I got.

    Patrick showed up after work. He told me he talked to the doctors and it seemed I was recovering well. He also talked to the lawyer.

    "As bad as this was, he thinks he can keep you out of jail. Your license's definitely getting suspended, though, if you don't lose it completely."

    I lay in bed quietly. Was I ever gonna be able to have a normal life after this? Has everything changed forever?

    "The doctors say you oughta be out in a few days," Patrick continued. "I pushed the single beds in the kids' room together, so you can have a large bed–"

    "What do you mean?" I asked.

    "What the fuck do you think I mean? You think you're gonna be able to take care of yourself after this? How the fuck are you gonna get to work? And how you gonna pay rent, with all the hospital and legal bills coming up? No. You're staying with me until you get your shit together. And if I catch you with a bottle in your hand I'm smashing it against your skull."

    After the divorce, my brother got a two-bedroom apartment. The spare bedroom was for his son and daughter to stay in if they came over, which they hardly ever did.

    I was speechless.

    "Now, I'm gonna see if the hospital lets me have your keys so I can go to your place and start packing shit up. You get some rest."

    "Patrick," I called out as he was about to leave the room. "Thank you."

    "Thank me by getting better, Richie," he said with his back turned to me.

    Three days later I was limping into my brother's apartment. In one hand I held a cane, in the other his hand. I'd never seen Patrick's place before. It was much more elegant than I'd expected from my brother.

    "This place is nice," I said, looking at the beige couches and the view from the large windows. 

    "It came furnished, so almost nothing here's actually mine." He dropped his keys in a bowl by the door and went to get a glass of water. "Here," he handed it to me.

    "Thanks," I said, looking around. The kitchen and living room were all one open space, with a small dining table. Next to the couch there was a bar table, with a dozen or so nice bottles, and an empty ice bucket. 

    "I need to put those away," Patrick said, noticing me eyeing the liquor. I didn't say anything.

    "Here, this is your room," he guided me to the door and opened it. There were two single beds pushed together and a bunch of boxes all around them. "This is some of your stuff, the essentials. Your lease isn't up until the end of the month, I couldn't get you out of it. So when you have some more energy we'll go back there and pick up the rest of your shit."

    "Thank you," I repeated, unsure what else to say after all the trouble I'd caused.

    Patrick and I stood in the small bedroom awkwardly for a few seconds. 

    "I'll... let you unpack. Holler if you need any help," he said and left me alone in the room, closing the door behind him. 

    I sat on the bed and cried for a good ten minutes, before starting to unbox my clothes.

    I moved slowly, still in pain. I noticed some of my stuff, shirts and underwear and socks, were already in some of the drawers. I felt weird that my brother had to go through it, but I was impressed how neatly he had folded everything.

    We had dinner together, talking about lawyers and how long I'd have to take before going back to work. Patrick had managed to find out that the family from the other car was also released from the hospital, and as far as he knew they were all gonna be okay.

    After dinner, Patrick watched TV. Not wanting to impose on him, I pretended I had more unpacking to do. In my room, I went through the books my niece Hannah had left there and settled for Less.

    That night, I couldn't fall asleep. The gap between the beds was noticeable, even with the blankets my brother had stuffed in it. But that wasn't what was keeping me up; it was all my thoughts. God, I could use Dr. Martinez right about now. But he was probably sleeping next to his sexy husband, not a care in the world. If they weren't up fucking each other's brains out.

    After a few hours of lying in bed, I was too uncomfortable and got up to get a glass of water. What I'd normally drink for insomnia would be a glass or two of scotch. In the living room, I looked at the bar. The bottles were still there.

    I picked up the bottle of Johnnie Walker carefully, making a note of exactly where it was facing for when I put it back. It was open, but mostly full. Patrick surely wouldn't notice if I had a sip.

    "What're you doing?!" his deep voice startled me. I almost dropped the bottle.

    My brother was standing there in his white boxers, barefoot, so I didn't hear him approach. The light from the large windows was illuminating his hairy, beefy body.

    "Nothing, I... I just couldn't sleep." 

    My hands had started to shake. I tried to put the bottle down as carefully as I could.

    I expected Patrick to start yelling at me. Instead, he just said, "Come with me."

    I followed him to his room obediently, like a scolded child.

    "You're sleeping here tonight, so I can hear you if you sneak out," he said, and I didn't argue. He got in bed and I lay next to him, on his left.

    Nothing else was said. I wasn't sure if Patrick was asleep or not. I sure as hell wasn't. I stared at the ceiling, feeling even worse.

    "Patrick... I'm sorry," I whispered softly.

    My brother turned around and patted my chest a few times with his right hand. When he was done, he left it there.

    "I feel so fucking lonely," I confessed to the ceiling out of nowhere. 

    Patrick moved his right arm to give me a tight hug.

    "Shh," he whispered reassuringly. 

    We lay like that for a few minutes, until we turned to both lie on our right side, with me hugging my brother now and him as the little spoon.

    Just like him, I was wearing nothing but a pair of loose boxers. In the cold Illinois winter, his warm body felt like the most precious thing in the world to cling to. Unintentionally, I started to pop a boner and prayed to God my brother couldn't feel it.

    "Thank you for everything, Patty," I whispered in his ear, his beard scratching my cheek as I leaned in.

    "Shh. It's what brothers do," he mumbled and started snoring.

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[1] Eli is the main character of My Son's Boyfriend is My Age

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