The main lobby of the hospital shut down after seven in the evening, leaving the only entrance inside through the Emergency Room doors. The lobby remained quiet and abandoned until daylight rose the following day and the traffic of visitors of patients moved in and out on an hourly basis. However, on that particular evening, the grand room had been converted into an impromtu media area. It was abuzz with various levels of media personnel who had caught wind of Brian's admission into the hospital. Video recording devices were set up sporadically around the room and the lighting had multiplied a hundred percent its origional strength. A small plain rectangular table had been set up at the head of the room, four chairs tucked neatly behind. Several rows of identical stairs faced the table, waiting to be seated.
Howie stood with his faced pressed against the door, peering silently through a thin crack as he watched everything being set up. He'd forgotten about the cooling cup of coffee in his right hand as he tried to remember the last time they had given a press conference. He drew a blank, the middle of his forehead creasing with a frown. With a sigh he turned from the door and looked around the room for his three bandmates. AJ was at the furthest side of the room, his back turned and his cellphone pressed to his ear. Kevin and Nick stood a few feet to his left, speaking quietly with a representative from the hospital's public relations office. It took him a moment before he realized Kevin was motioning for him to come over. Howie discarded his coffee in the nearest waste bin and took slow steps towards the trio. "What's up?" he asked, noticing Nick's degraded posture and the way Kevin's shoulders seemed to slump as he stood there.
"Mr. Berris," Kevin answered, motioning to the man standing with them, "was just going over how we're going to run this. We're going to get started in a minute. Just wanted to make sure you were ready."
"I'm as ready as I'm going to be," Howie answered with a tight nod. He watched as Mr. Berris said something more to Kevin before turning and slipping out the door. AJ walked over.
"Mom sends her regards," AJ stated oddly, slipping his phone back into his pocket.
"Lets just get this over with," Kevin mumbled, looking from one face to the next. All he saw were the withdrawn expressions of his bandmates and he knew without a doubt they all matched his own expression. When he received no protests, he turned and led them over to the door. The handle was cold as he gripped the metal and gave it a soft twist. Mr. Berris was waiting for them on the other side of the doorway and motioned for them to follow.
The flashes of light started immediately when the four men stepped from the room and into the hospital's lobby. The crowd was small and limited strictly to selected media personnel, mostly local and some from the surrounding areas. They all took their respective seats at the conference table; AJ and Nick guarded the ends while Howie and Kevin filled the two middle places. They stared out at the crowd. Kevin leaned forward, crossing his arms atop the table and cleared his throat. "We want to start off by thanking you all for being here today on such short notice," he started in a somber tone. The microphone in front of him responded with a screeching feedback and he cringed. When the silence returned, he cleared his throat once more and opened his mouth to continue. "We know you are wondering about Brian and we want to be able to answer some questions you may have. Any questions we are unable to answer, you'll have to forgive us. But be assured that a doctor overseeing Brian's care will come forward. First question?"
"How is Brian doing?" a thick male's voice called out from the back row of spectators.
"Brian is doing as best as can be expected at the moment. He is currently recuperating from an emergency surgery he underwent five days ago," AJ answered. He glanced sideways in Kevin's direction and received a greatful smile before adding, "you'll have to excuse his absence this evening."
"What exactly is wrong with Brian?"
"His doctor would be able to better explain the details of his condition. But what I can confirm is that it does have to do with Brian's heart," Kevin explained, blinking as an aray of more flashes went off. He paused for a moment, just staring. There were pens poised above note pads. Hand held voice recorders were held in the air. Tiny red lights on video recorders captivated his attention. "Brian had been feeling ill for a couple of weeks. We don't yet know the exact cause of his illness...they are still running tests to determine that. However, Brian suffered from a heart attack which led to the emergency surgery AJ just mentioned a minute ago. Um-"
"What is his condition called?" It was another shout from the back.
"Again, the team of doctors overseeing Brian's care are still trying to determine the cause of his heart attack."
"Is it a direct result of the heart defect Brian has had since birth and didn't he have a surgery years ago to correct that defect?"
"We believe it is very possible that it could be a direct result and yes he did have a previous surgery that was supposed to of corrected the problem."
A woman in the second to front row stood up with an inquisitive look. "You all are currently in the process of recording a new album. How does this effect further recording plans and release dates?" she questioned.
Kevin looked to Howie. "I'll turn it over to Howie here and have him answer this one. He has been in constant contact with our management team and will be able to give you better details into the matter."
Howie inhaled deeply. "Our management and record is well aware of all that has been happening the past few days and we are postponing all recording and release dates of any album singles until we know for sure what we are dealing with here and until Brian is back to a healthy state, at which point he will be able to return to the studio and continue recording," he said, feeling the pit in his stomach grow deeper with the knowledge that he was basically lying through his teeth to the press right then. Truth be told, none of them knew for sure whether or not Brian would ever make it back to the studio or whether he would ever be performing on stage again. He knew better then to speak of such fears yet.
"When can Brian be expected to be released from the hospital?" another reporter asked.
"As of right now we don't know. His primary physician will be able to give you a better answer."
"Is Brian going to die?"
They all froze as the question was made. Silence seemed to drape over the room as the answer was anticipated. "I..." Kevin stumbled over his next words as he looked to his bandmates. They stared back with the same deadpan look reflecting in their eyes. "I beg your pardon?"
"Is his heart defect fatal?" the same reporter fired.
"Will he need further surgeries?"
"What is the plan to fix the problem?"
"Brian is stubborn," Nick stammered. "He doesn't let anything take him down easily."
"Brian has been placed on the national heart donor recipient list and that is all we have to say about that right now," Kevin interrupted, eying Nick wearily. He motioned for the others to stand as he pushed back his chair. "Any further questions will have to be answered by Brian's doctors. I'm sorry."
Brian sat upright in the bed, staring numbly at the low volume television. It was the same position he had been in since watching the press conference nearly two hours earlier and he couldn't seem to get his mind off all that had been said. it almost sickened him to know the media was so eager to get all the facts concerning his ailment so they could make their evening deadlines and have the story printed in the morning papers, adding their own mind warping twists for just the right touch. He could just imagine how many headlines he would see come morning claiming he was on his death bed or how many would go so far as to claim he was already dead. If only they knew the full story because his bandmates had strategically manuevered around imperative details. His own cousin had refused to reveal the fact that he was indeed dying. Brian couldn't understand it. The media had their own suspiscions concerning Brian's fate and they would eventually find out about the truth. Why try to hide it?
"I'm sure Daddy won't mind if you ask him," Leighanne's voice echoed against his eardrums and pulled him from his seemingly catatonic state. He turned his head and glanced to his wife and son. Baylee's eyes sparkled as he hopped off his mother's lap and moved to Brian's bedside. He stood there smiling impishly up at his father, his lips moving in a whispered request. Leighanne watched, waiting for her son to speak louder and when Brian looked at her questioningly, she rolled her eyes and smirked. "He wants to cuddle and watch cartoons with you," she explained as Baylee nodded his head in agreement.
Brian appeared to ponder it for a moment. "Cat got your tongue?" he teased his young son, but when he received a look of confusion in return, he chuckled and opened his arms wide, beckoning his son onto the bed. Baylee scrambled up and nestled against his father's side. "Which cartoon?"
"SpongeBob..." Baylee answered shyly.
Brian cocked his head to the side. "I reckon SpongeBob may just be on right now," he replied, ruffling his son's hair. He looked to Leighanne with a small playful pout. "Mommy... A little help?"
"Certainly," Leighanne answered with a small smile and moved over to the television mounted on the wall. She carefully reached up to switch quickly through the channels, hoping to find the specific show her child had requested, knowing it would keep her child satisfied and happy for the time being. After several more channels, she landed on the correct station which indeed was playing the cartoon. The revelation produced an excited squeal and clapping of hands from the four year old, causing both parents to laugh. "I guess that will make due?" she continued to laugh, raising the volume.
"Look Mommy! SpongeBob!" Baylee called out, manuevering under the layers of blankets. "Come watch with me and Daddy!"
"Why don't you watch with Daddy while I go get us some dinner?" Leighanne suggested warmly, noticing the frown that instantly appeared upon her husband's face.
"You're leaving?" Brian asked.
"I'm only going down to the cafeteria and your dinner should be arriving soon anyways. Besides, Baylee and I haven't had dinner yet and I am eating for two now," Leighanne answered. "You're a big boy. You'll be alright."
"I guess..." Brian trailed childishly. He puckered his lips for a soft kiss which lingered longer then he expected. He grinned. "Alright...now you can go."
"Brian Thomas," Leighanne groaned and pulled away. She placed a quick kiss atop Baylee's head and left the room.
"Daddy in trouble?" Baylee questioned innocently.
"Not so much," Brian mumbled and allowed the sullen cloud to hang over his head once more as he returned his attention to the cartoon program. Knowing Baylee was content enough with the cartoon enabled Brian's mind to wander elsewhere. He grimaced as his son leaned roughly into his side, the pain radiating in his chest. He reached up to gingerly rub the skin around the surgical area, willing the pain to numb away. He forced a smile as Baylee glanced up at him once more and pulled the child closer, ignoring the pain.
The door opened loudly at that moment, making passageway for whoever was standing on the other side to walk in. Brian craned his neck to watch as Nick stepped into the room, pushing the door shut behind himself. "Hey," he greeted sheepishly, moving slowly towards the bed.
"Hey yourself," Brian greeted in return. He cocked an eyebrow as Nick stopped just short of the bedside, standing silently in place. "We're watching SpongeBob...care to join us?"
"SpongeBob only happens to be my favorite," Nick joked quietly and took a seat. He sat there in an odd position, staring blankly at the television.
"Didn't think I would see you around here for a while," Brian stated.
"Why do you say that?" Nick asked.
"Figured I scared you off pretty good the other day," Brian pointed out. He couldn't help but see the dejection appear on Nick's face as his words echoed throughout the room. "What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were out to dinner with everyone?"
Nick shrugged. "The service sucked so I came back here?" he attempted to explain, although he could tell Brian wasn't buying a word of it. It was a lame excuse, he knew that much. He just didn't feel like trying to explain his reasoning. That hadn't gone over well with AJ earlier that day and he was certain Brian wouldn't understand either. "You scared me shitless the other day...I'll admit that much. But that doesn't mean I don't give more then two cents worth of thought towards what is happening to you. I just didn't feel like being around a big crowd. The conference was bad enough so I came back here. Thought you, Leighanne, and Baylee could maybe use some company."
"You're always welcome with us Nick," Brian sighed, moving Baylee slightly so he could sit up straighter. "Don't ever second guess that again."
"I never second guessed-" Nick started to argue but when he noticed the steady glare Brian was shooting at him, he fell silent. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not sure, but that always seemed to work for Kevin back in the day."
"Well, I was taught never to say sorry unless I knew what I was apologizing for," Brian smirked.
"Now you're making fun."
"Shhh Uncle Nick! I cants hear SpongeBob!" Baylee growled, attempting an icy glare as he bolted upright and jabbed his father sharply in the ribs in the process. Brian cried out in surprise as his hands shot to his ribcage protectively. Baylee shuffled out of the bed and cowered in the chair next to the window.
"You ok?" Nick asked hesitantly.
"I'll...be fine," Brian gritted, clenching his eyes shut as he sunk back against the pillows. He felt foolish upon hearing Baylee's soft whimpers reach his ears, knowing he had frightened his child with his cry of pain. "It's ok Bay...you can come back over here. Daddy is fine."
"No. Hurt Daddy," Baylee whimpered.
"B...you sure you're ok?" Nick moved to stand.
"I'll be fine," Brian repeated sharply.
Nick found himself nodding, wondering whether he was doing it because he believed his friend's words or because he was trying to force himself to believe that in the end everything would be ok. "Brian?"
"Honestly?" Brian clarified in a whisper, sending a steady glare. "I hurt...I'm falling apart from the inside out...and to top it all off Nicky, I'm dying. There's not a thing I can do about it. So how do you think I'm?"
"I didn't mean it like that."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Now who's apologizing?"
Brian chuckled, bringing a hand down over his face. "I don't think you'll ever change Nicky."
"And I don't think you'll ever stop calling me Nicky."
"Maybe when pigs learn to fly," Brian trailed with a miscievious wink. He withheld a sigh and looked over at his son who was once again captured by the cartoon on the television. He felt his stomach twist hard as a small smile toyed at his son's mouth. It was an innocent expression and it tore him apart inside to know his time was limited to witness such a treasure. "What am I going to do?" he found himself mumbling.
"Say what?" Nick tried to clarify as he leaned forward.
"I..." Brian tried but his voice faltered briefly. "Nothing. Forget it."
"B, just say it."
"Knock knock Mr. Littrell," a sweet voice called from the doorway. The two men looked up and Brian recognized Marge as she gingerly entered the room. She smiled sheepishly as she carried a tray in, one that looked identical to the one from earlier that day. "Ah, I see your cute friend is here to visit you this evening."
Nick could feel his cheeks burning as he attempted to shield his face. It didn't make him feel any less uncomfortable to hear Brian snickering in amusement. He shot a glare of annoyance towards his friend before finally glancing up to give a friendly nod of acknowledgement. "I'm Nick," he replied.
"You're quite the charmer Nick," Marge teased lightly as she set the tray down.
"Don't be fooled by that face," Brian joked. He watched as Marge lifted the lid carefully. "Please be a Big Mac. Please be a Big Mac," he chanted almost silently under his breath.
"I'm afraid not hun," Marge answered with a sympathetic smile. "However, I was able to get you something a little more appetizing this time. A cold turkey sandwich and fruit cup. I think you'll like it."
"Beggars can't be chosers I guess," Brian grumbled, scrunching his nose. "Thank you Marge."
"Will you be joining Mr. Littrell for dinner tonight?" Marge inquired, turning to Nick. "I'm sure I can supply you with a sandwich also."
"Um, no...that's alright. I've already ate," Nick lied, fighting the urge to turn his nose up in disgust.
"Very well then," Marge said as she quickly checked over the readings on the machines. "I can trust you'll make sure he eats every last bite?"
"I'm not his keeper. But ok."
"Do rest up tonight Mr. Littrell," Marge stated as she moved towards the door. "Dr. Henrich has you scheduled for tests and some extensive therapy tomorrow morning."
Brian waited until the nurse had stepped through the doorway before he hesitantly picked at the meal before him. He feel Nick's eyes watching him carefully. "I don't need your supervision."
"I wasn't trying to give it," Nick replied, leaning as far back into the chair as he could possibly manage. But Brian would have none of it, sending Nick's head spinning further. He looked off to the side as his friend discarded the sandwich. "I don't know what to tell you B," he choked hoarsely. "But I'm still here for you alright?"
Brian pushed the tray away with a disgruntled exhaling breath of air. "I appreciate the gesture...but unless it can keep me from dying then you are wasting your time. Just go home Nick."