Exhaling with a small sigh, Brian sat upright on the examining table as the young nurse excused herself from the room with a promise of the doctor returning shortly, and slipped his long sleeve shirt back onto his shoulders. He fiddled half-heartedly with the buttons, frowning in distaste as he found them almost unmanagable, but he completed the task and rose to his feet. It had been an unnerving morning up until that point. He had awoken with an unease settling in his system and it hadn't helped that Leighanne's mood had proved to be unchanged from the night before. But that was the least of his worries. More pressing on his mind was the countless tests he had been subjected to that only sent his body into an aching spin of distress. He hated it but they told him it was necessary. Necessary...he didn't see the point. Now he stood alone in the cold room with only his thoughts and an annoying ticking clock mounted on the wall to keep him company. Brian eyed it with a frown before ambling over to the window a short distance across the small room.
It was moving into early afternoon and the sky had become clear with the sun lighting it all around. Brian reached up to run a hand through his disheveled hair before leaning slightly forward and resting his forehead against the cold surface of the glass. It felt good against his skin, but it did nothing to calm his nerves. He wanted to be anywhere but there. His shoulders slumped, almost in defeat and he tried to focus on the landscape multiple stories below him, but still his mind wandered dangerously with the thoughts that constantly plagued him to no end. It wasn't helping much that it seemed his heart had suddenly lodged itself high into his throat and was still beating rapidly from the previous stress test they had just put him through not too long before. Brian had plenty of stress to offer them, if only they really knew. His head began to ache with a dull throb and he tenderly rubbed at his temples to will it away.
The door creaked open again a moment later and Brian was no more pleased to see the cardiologist step back into the room then he had been when the nurse left minutes before. Brian withheld a frown of displeasure as the lanky man shuffled further inside and pressed the door closed behind him. He brought with him a medical folder that only thickened with each visit and a large manilla envelope that Brian was almost certain contained the results from the xray procedure. The doctor offered him a tight smile as he discarded the items atop the counter and motioned for Brian to sit back upon the examining table, then turned to switch the light board on. "Your vitals are as best as can be expected after the stress test for what we are dealing with, but I am afraid they are far from normal," he began to explain.
Brian wanted to thank the man for stating the obvious, but he bit back his sarcasm and instead tried to focus upon the xray sheet the cardiologist was putting on the light board. It was a ghastly image of his own heart, the same heart that was pounding so horrendously against his ribcage at that moment that he was nearly ready to bet his life's fortune that it was about to explode from his chest. Brian grimaced as he studied the image and wiped the sweaty palms of his hands against his khaki cargo shorts.
"You're xray is showing what I had been expecting," Dr. Eransen continued to explain and began to outline different areas upon the image that he was specifically speaking of. "As you can see, the hole has already opened further which poses particularly damaging weakening effects to your heart, Mr. Littrell. Although it's increasing at a some what slow rate, it still alarms me to the extent it's increased already. However, right now, that is the least of my worries. What concerns me even more is the fact that the xray is showing your heart is enlarging and already has enlarged a dangerous percentage. This poses the problem of effecting how well your heart is able to operate."
"What does that mean exactly?" Brian asked numbly.
"You were saying earlier that you have been experiencing increased difficulty in breathing, especially when it comes to simple physical activities. Difficulty in retaining body heat. Increased exhaustion. Correct?" Brian could only find himself able to nod as Dr. Eransen listed off the multiple symptoms that had become particularly bothersome recently and even as he listened, he could feel the familiar eerie chill pass over his tired body. "As the percentage at which your heart functions decreases, the less it is able to adequately circulate the blood and oxygen throughout your body. You'll experience exhaustion easily and more frequently, simple activities will start to leave you short of breath, and you will find it more difficult to retain a comfortable level of body heat. With the continuing degradation, the severity of these symptoms will only increase."
"And the enlarging?" Brian forced himself to ask even though he knew the answer, he dreaded hearing it all the same.
"With the passing of time your heart will continue to grow in size and that's what poses the most threatening problem. The heart is not meant to be an overbearing organ when it comes to its size and already at the stage you are at, your heart has passed a dangerous capacity level. It needs enough room to be able to function properly and the larger it gets and the less room it has it starts to shut down."
Brian averted his eyes away from the light board and away from the cardiologist's uncomfortable stare. He attempted to clear his throat, suddenly feeling very suffocated, and rung his hands together out of nervous habit. Anything to ignore the fact that every inch of his body was beginning to tremble and his stomach was twisting into tight knots. "...How long?" he whispered in a barely audible tone.
Dr. Eransen frowned, switching the light of the board off. "There's no way to really say-"
Brian looked up sharply but he could hardly get his voice to project. "How long do I have?" he repeated.
"Without a transplant...months maybe?" Dr. Eransen answered vaguely. "At the rate your condition is progressing it places you at a disadvantage-"
"Yeah, I'm gonna die. So of course that's a disadvantage," Brian interrupted with a tone tinged with a hateful sarcasm. But when he met Dr. Eransen's gaze, Brian's features spoke otherwise. Distressed tears were brimming at the corners of his azure eyes on the verge of spilling over. He looked away again. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for..." he murmured and leaned over, resting the points of his elbows on his knees and pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
"It's alright Mr. Littrell," Dr. Eransen responded softly.
Brian inhaled deeply, hoping to calm his palpitating heart. "So...um, where...where do we go from here?"
Reaching to grab the medical file from the counter top, Dr. Eransen scribbled several notes inside, flipped a couple of pages and scribbled some more. He looked back up. "I'm going to raise the dosage on several of the medications you are taking. I'm hoping by doing so that it will work to possibly slow down the degradation that is taking place. I must warn you that there are some increased side effects that come with taking a higher dosage, but giving your body a chance to become acclimated to it, those side effects should eventually fade with time."
"Is it possible that I could have another heart attack?"
"It's a possibility, but whether or not it will actually happen, I can't give you an honest answer. That's why it is imperative that you keep physical stress to your body at a minimum. What I also want to do is set you up with a portable heart monitor that I want you to wear daily. That way by your next check up I will have some idea of how your heart is functioning on a day to day basis, outside of the stress test you went through today. It's just a small device that you can clip on to your pants and it is easily hideable beneath your shirt. The readings will be stored on a microchip, that way I can get a better idea on how your heart is functioning when you are not here."
Brian nodded but he found no reason to answer. He wasn't so sure he could get his voice to project even if he wanted to and he didn't feel the least bit apologetic for remaining silent. He tried to grasp onto the idea that his death sentence had just been sealed tighter, but it soared past his comprehension. It didn't make sense and Brian doubted it ever would. When he felt a gentle hand land upon his shoulder, he weakly looked up and tried to focus on the cardiologist's sympathetic face, but his vision was steadily blurring. He had always prided himself for being strong emotionally, and at times he'd almost forgotten to some extent that he was still capable of breaking. But sitting there, helpless in the scheme of things...Brian had never felt so small. "T-there's nothing else we can do?"
Dr. Eransen shook his head in a subtle fashion. "I'm sorry, Mr. Littrell. I wish there was. Right now the only thing we can do is hope and pray that we find a donor."
He had lost count of the amount of times he had heard the doctors tell him that and just by the tone of their voice, the outlook never appeared positive. The act of hope seemed like an utter impossibility and his unanswered prayers a waste of his time. "I..." Brian's voice trembled as he struggled to get anything intelligent to pass his lips, but failing horribly he slumped over further where he sat. There were no other words to say, no consolation that could calm his tortured spirit falling victim to a raging storm of emotional despair.
Brian watched as the cardiologist excused himself from the room a few minutes later to retrieve the heart monitor, and as the door closed with a click, he could no longer contain the strangled sob waiting to erupt from his throat as reality hit him head on and he realized the horrible truth.
He really was living on borrowed time.
If there were ever a word to sum up the way Brian was feeling at that very moment, numb would almost be a far cry of an understatement. Aside from the throbbing taking place in each temple, his body felt completely numb to all emotions. He felt nothing, subconsciously building a wall between a fantasy world in his mind where all was well and the nightmarish reality he found himself living in. He couldn't cry. His eyes were dry and bloodshot from the emotional breakdown he had experienced during the twenty minute drive it had taken from the hospital to the solitude of the beach where he found himself escaping to. They itched and the skin beneath his eyes stung where the salty tears had soaked. Brian vaguely remembered planting himself unstably on his two feet and leaving the hospital, only to collapse inside his SUV moments later where he spent the better part of an hour sobbing painfully against the steering wheel. It all just seemed too surreal. Never in his entire existence did he imagine it would come to this. Yet there he was, meeting fate face to face and living out one of his worst fears.
He ambled slowly along the soft sand, his socks and shoes grasped in one hand and the other buried deep within the pocket of his shorts. It used to be a favorite spot of his, this section of the beach. With the golden hues of the sand that glowed from the sun and tickled the soles of his bare feet, he enjoyed the view of the sparkling ocean so close to his finger tips. It was a spot for day dreams to evolve and peace of mind to break away the binds of the real world that every now and then Brian wanted to take a break from. There was no breaking away this time and the once favorite location appeared just as devestating as Brian himself.
He paused abruptly and with a hallowed breath of air, Brian dropped his shoes to the ground without a second thought and sank to the surface of the sand. He could feel the warmth of the sun beating down on his back but it wasn't in the least bit comforting. It hardly concerned him as he pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. Faint echos of the ocean lapping at the shores became nature's music and a light breeze nipped at the short wispy curls that had accumulated at the base of his head.
Brian reached up and ran a hand through his disheveled locks of hair. Sometimes he wondered if he was destined from the beginning to meet such an early demise. He had come so close to losing his life at a very young age, that he'd always believed it was a miracle he was still walking the earth to that day. Throughout his life he was constantly reminded to never take for granted the life he'd been allowed to keep and he did his best to never stop thanking God for such a precious gift. He was by no means perfect, but he couldn't understand why God would choose him to be so deserving of such a horrible ending. It was nothing but a pathetic attempt to pity himself, but he couldn't help but feel bitter. God had given him a gift and was ready to snatch it back within the blink of an eye. Brian didn't care if it was God almighty and the ultimate creator of his existance to begin with. It was all unjust, no matter how he managed to look at it. Where could faith be found in all of that?
He breathed deeply, closing his eyes to the world surrounding him and tried to fade away from the present concerns that pestered him endlessly. But there was just no escaping it. He couldn't stop from thinking of his family and the sorrow he was putting all of them through. Leighanne's beautiful face remained emblazoned within his mind and it was only a painful reminder that he would be leaving her without a husband and his children without a father. Brian wheezed as the thought crept upon him. Oh God how he thought he was failing his children. He wouldn't be there to protect them like he had promised. Baylee wouldn't grow up having his father ready to teach him the things that all fathers were supposed to teach their sons and his unborn child...a daughter. He and Leighanne were going to be having a baby girl in only some collective months time and it killed himself inside to be unsure of whether or not he would even get the chance to be there to witness the birth of the daughter he had always wanted.
Brian brought an angry hand swooping down across the surface of the sand, unphased by the cloud of dust that resulted as he cursed quietly towards the sky.
"Not too close to the water son!"
Brian slowly looked over to where a ways down the beach he noticed he wasn't indeed alone like he had originally thought. A man was rising to his feet, very similiar to his own height and size, and strolling over to a small boy toying at the water's edge. The boy immediately looked up and grinned before bending to fill a bright red plastic bucket with the cool water and running back over to where his mother sat coddling his infant sister. Holding his plastic shovel up for show as if the baby would understand, the child scooped some of the sand into a small pile and mixed it with the water to make it more pliable. It was the obvious beginning stages of a sand castle and Brian couldn't help the small smile that curled at his lips towards the thought of how much Baylee enjoyed creating such things during frequent trips to the beach.
The infant's giggles wafted through the air as she squirmed within her mother's embrace, straining to reach forward to grasp tiny handfuls of the soft sand that surrounded them on all sides. She couldn't have been any more then eight or nine months of age, but she projected a feisty spirit of determination that didn't seem to falter in the least. Brian continued to watch as the mother propped the baby up on unstable feet, cooing words of encouragement as her daughter kicked at the ground with short grunts and babbles of excitement, not once giving up at attempting to aid her brother in building, or rather destroying the sand castle. In a moment her tiny foot connected with the semi solid structure and sent it crumbling to the ground. Brian chuckled as the young boy began to complain in displeasure and his father quickly helped him to begin rebuilding.
They seemed like the perfect little family with two wonderful children and a happpy couple who appeared to leave each other without doubt. Brian found himself envying them with a deep pitted jealousy that stemmed from his own less then perfect life. It hadn't always been that way, at least not until recently before his whole life seemed to cascade downhill. He had once been in that man's position, interacting carelessly with his young son. Even now he was supposed to be enjoying the anticipation that came with bringing another child into the world. A daughter at that. But that joy had been prematurely tainted when he'd found out there was a chance that he wouldn't even be around to witness the birth of his second child. What would his baby girl be like? He often wondered if she would inherit his looks just like Baylee had or if she would turn out to be just as stunning of a beauty as her mother was. Would she have his personality and determination? Would she share his love for music and develop the same vocal chords that had taken him far in life? Brian was afraid he would never know and that was enough to bring his resolve down around him in shambles.
"Figured I would find you here."
Brian twisted sharply in his seat and was no less then surprised to find a familiar tall figure steadily heading his way. He squinted against the glare of the sun and moved to stand, but a quick hand forced him to remain seated. "How did you know?" he asked wearily a moment later and returned his attention forward to the expansive open stretch of ocean.
"I'm more intelligent then you may think?" Nick offered with a simple shrug as he lowered himself to the ground.
"I'll believe that the day your IQ rises above 50," Brian snorted in return.
"Ah, so you haven't lost your sense of humor after all."
"Not so much. It's just become a little more subtle I suppose."
"Then there might just be hope yet."
"You still haven't answered my question."
"How you knew I'd be here?"
Nick pursed his lips together in thought as he mindlessly shrugged off his shoes and found a small amount of humor in burying his toes beneath the sand. "Well, you see, the thing about that is-"
Brian sighed. "I really don't have the attention span right now for a lengthy explanation, so please just get to the point."
Nick frowned openly as he leaned back to rest all of his weight upon his hands and stretched his legs out. "I spoke to your wife a short while ago and she told me you had gone this morning to a check up appointment with your doctor, although she still hadn't heard from you and had expected you back nearly two hours ago. You haven't been answering your phone-"
"I left it in the car," Brian answered indifferently.
"Well, why the Hell do you have one if you aren't going to use it?"
"I'm just saying-"
"Did you think that maybe I just wanted some peace and wanted to be left alone?"
Nick smirked. "Which is why I knew I would find you here; the same spot you always go to when you have something on your mind that you need to work out. Now the being left alone part might not be such a great idea though."
"I appreciate it Nick, but why are you really here?"
"Thought you could use some company? Besides, we haven't had much of a chance to hang out since the game and we both know what a disaster that turned out to be."
"Thanks for reminding me..." Brian grumbled.
Nick turned towards the dejection in his friend's tone and contemplated Brian's demeanor. The man seemed far too worn down as he sat hunched over and it concerned Nick even more because he couldn't find a trace of that same smile that usually warmed Brian's face. "Something happen between you and Leigh that I should know about? She sounded pretty damn bitter over the phone."
Brian swallowed his groan of irritation and ran his hands over his face. He realized Nick honestly cared, but he himself was in no means the right state of mind to even be trying to explain his own personal problems. He hadn't even given himself the chance to work it out within his own mind, which was partly the reason why he was sure he had chosen to go straight home. He considered ignoring the blunt question, but Nick was staring intently and silently demanding an answer that he relented after a moment of hesitation. "She's slightly unhappy with me right now."
"What could she possibly be unhappy with you about?"
"Lets just say I messed up yesterday and forgot about the appointment with the Obstetrician. We were supposed to find out the sex of our child."
Nick hissed through his teeth. "Guess the pregnancy hormone are already starting to get bad huh?"
Brian glared slightly. "She has every right to be upset. I promised I would be there and I never showed up. So I don't blame her for being angry. But damnit, I don't know what else I am supposed to do. I'm only one person! I can't do this on my own!"
"No one is expecting you to do it on your own..." Nick trailed slowly.
Brian shook his head irascibly. How many times had he heard them all say that and how many times had he yet to believe them? "Yeah, so I've been told," he murmured, shaking his head in disbelief. He grunted in discomfort as he rose to his feet and brushed the sand from his shorts. "Then why do I feel like I'm alone?"
"But you're not-"
"Feels like it. I don't know what to do anymore. Honest to God Nick I feel like I am going crazy," Brian exclaimed weakly, and he started to slowly pace around, grimacing with each step. "Y-ya know...I just don't get it. I've tried arguing with myself that there is a perfectly logical reason why this is happening and I can't think of a single thing! Why is that? Why is this happening to me?!"
Nick hesitantly stood also. He watched Brian carefully for any sudden irrational movements before approaching him. "Honestly?" he replied quietly. "I can't give you that answer, no matter how much I wish I could. But what I can tell you is that you need to stop doing this to yourself. Stop trying to bear all of this upon your shoulders alone. I hate seeing you do this to yourself. Jesus Brian, I hardly recognize you anymore!"
Brian stared off in the distance, avoiding Nick's thick stare of concern. "I don't know how to. I don't think I can."
Nick stepped up to him. "Yes you do know how to and you are going to start doing it right now."
"C'mon, I'm taking you out."
"No buts B. I'm done standing around watching you trying to go through this alone and stubbornly refusing anyone elses help. That stops today, right now. So shut up for once and let me help you because you'll see I'm not as stupid as you might think."
"But Leigh will-"
"Leigh will be fine. She knew I would find you. Stop with the excuses and lets go. We'll get your car on the way back. But first I'm taking you to get something to eat because you are starting to become even skinnier the pre-puberty AJ and that's...well that's just sick. Afterwards we will work on coming up with a plan on how you can get back on your wife's good side." Nick winced as the silence settled between the two and Brian remained wordless. "B?"
Brian heaved a deep breath as his shoulders almost slumped in defeat. Finally he slowly turned his attention back to his friend and fought to withhold a displeasured frown. But he relented, offering a short nod before whispering, "Deal."