It was pushing into mid afternoon as Brian sat on the edge of his hospital bed, slowly and carefully pulling a navy blue polo shirt over his head. Leighanne had brought him the clothing the night before, along with a pair of khaki cargo shorts and Nike running shoes to wear for when he was finally released from the hospital that afternoon. He paused in pulling the shirt down, his eyes traveling to the spot on his chest where the surgical site lay. It was covered strategically with medical gauze, hiding away the staples that were holding the incision together. He didn't care to see it much anyway. He had watched Marge and another nurse clean the site earlier that morning and found himself repulsed from the image. It was disgusting and he knew it would only leave another ugly scar from the trauma. Sighing, he hastily pulled the shirt down the rest of the way, wincing as a small pain burned. Although even the faint pain, a reminder of the recent surgery, wasn't enough to taint the joy he felt at finally being able to walk out the hospital doors and return home where he belonged. He felt suffocated trapped within the thick walls and the strong smells of disinfectants were enough to make him more nauseous then he already was. He looked forward to the simplicity of being back within his own household where the restrictions were little and the constant reminders of his ailment weren't staring him in the face from every angle.
Brian stood from the bed and smoothed the hem of the polo shirt before taking a few short strides to the window ledge where he stood stiffly staring out to the paved walkway several stories below. The sun was high in the sky with bright rays that eccenuated the scenic features surrounding the hospital. He could almost feel the fresh air hitting his face and for a moment he closed his eyes, allowing his imagination to drift him away from reality for a few precious seconds of bliss. But when he opened his eyes once more, he found himself still trapped within the walls surrounding him on all sides. He frowned and ran his fingers through his tassled locks, which he had left untamed for days on end.
He was still facing the window when a set of footsteps came into the room with an even pace. Turning, he watched as Dr. Henrich made his entrance. The man appeared worn down, hinting towards the long hours he pulled during each shift. Still the man walked forward with an air of endurance and proved he could keep himself together admist his exhaustion. Brian had to admire the doctor's perserverance. "How are we feeling, Mr. Littrell?" Dr. Henrich greeted with raised brows as he stopped just short of his patient. He clutched a few papers within his grasp and appeared as if ready for a lengthy conversation.
"Anxious to get out of here and go home," Brian answered shortly, wondering the effort to which he would have to put forth to avoid the lecture he knew his doctor was surely ready to give.
"I bet you are," Dr. Henrich answered and surprisingly offered a kind smile. Although Brian could still see the concern reflecting within the creases of the man's facial features. "Your wife just arrived and is down the hall at the nurses station filling out your release forms. However, I was hoping to have a few words with you before you leave.
"I suppose," Brian shrugged and slowly followed the doctor over to the bed. He took a seat on the edge while Dr. Henrich went for the chair beside.
"These are a few slips for the medication I want you to start taking, so you will need to get them filled as soon as possible," Dr. Henrich explained, holding out several small pink sheets of paper for Brian to take. When they had left his hands, he continued. His brows bent as he looked over the other multiple sheets left within his hands. "With the severity of your condition, you are going to have to make some serious lifestyle changes when you leave here today. Your diet will need to change and you will need to keep any strenuous activities at an utmost minimum. You realize this?"
Brian tried to focus on the doctor's scrawl, but the ink seemed to only blend together and form a blur. He was well aware of how his life was changing and what he was to look forward to. They had all made that perfectly clear to him since he had been admitted into the hospital and told that he had only a limited amount of time left to live. When he glanced up briefly, Dr. Henrich was watching him intently, waiting for an answer, though neither knew there was no point in giving one. Brian remained silent.
"Mr. Littrell," Dr. Henrich sighed. "I respect your wishes, and although I can't go against your decision to go home, I only wish that you would reconsider the opportunity you have to go to the cardiac center."
"I appreciate your advice..." Brian drawled. "But I've made my decision. I want to go home where I belong, despite whatever consequences doing so may bring."
"I understand that, Mr. Littrell, but-" Dr. Henrich started.
"I've made my decision," Brian repeated softly.
Dr. Henrich nodded and filed through the papers once more. "Then I can only wish you the best of luck and hope that you do keep in touch," he answered, his tone hinting at the lack of his willingness to let the argument drop. "You will need to schedule a follow up appointment with your regular doctor, at which time I will have your medical files sent over. Do rest up and keep any stress at a minimum."
"I will be sure to keep that in mind," Brian replied and as they rose to their feet, he reached out his hand, grasping the doctor's in his own. "Thank you, Dr. Henrich...for all of your help." Dr. Henrich returned the gesture then turned on his heels and left the room without further words. brian watched his retreating form before allowing the prescription papers to flutter to the bed top. He glanced down, letting his mind wander, until he heard another interruption disturb the silence of the room. Only he found himself pleasantly happy to watch as Leighanne shyly poked her head through the doorway, smiling just as happy as if she had never been absent from the room in the first place. Brian took a step forward. "Hey..." he breathed, nearly unable to contain the smile that was curling upon his lips.
Leighanne moved quickly to him and wrapped her arms carefully around his neck. "Hey yourself," she returned and pressed her lips lightly against his cheek. Leighanne pulled back. "I passed Dr. Henrich in the hall. He said you were dressed and ready to go."
"Been ready since I've been here," Brian murmured.
"You look as if you haven't slept in days," Leighanne mentioned with concern, brushing a few stray curls away from her husband's forehead.
"DIdn't sleep last night," Brian answered sheepishly. "Where's Baylee? I thought you were bringing him today?"
"Well," Leighanne started to explain, absentmindedly bringing a hand to her abdomen. Brian watched the subtle movement, knowing within time he would see a little bump upon his wife's stomach begin to expand and signify the new life that was growing within. "He's been up since seven this morning drawing pictures and helping Nana bake 'welcome home' cookies for his daddy. Now I assume he is still in a deep sleep in his bed where I left him before I headed here."
Brian appeared thoughtful for a moment, imagining the excitement his son must have expressed at the prospect of his daddy finally coming home. As it was, Brian's homecoming was all Baylee had been speaking of for days on end, besides him trying to work out the idea that he would be having a baby brother or sister within a few months time. Brian longed to see his son again. "I was looking forward to him coming this afternoon," he pouted playfully.
"You will get to see him soon enough," Leighanne smirked towards her husband.
Brian prepared to offer a sarcastic quip in return when Marge entered the room, navigating a hospital issued wheelchair closely in front of her. He had to withhold the groan of displeasure bubbling in his throat, but he had already known they wouldn't let him use his own two feet to walk out the hospital doors. "Suppose I won't be able to convince you to stay with us, Mr. Littrell?" Marge questioned, smiling apologetically when she noticed Brian's obvious hesitation towards taking a seat in the mobile chair.
"I'm afraid my wife might miss me too much," Brian grinned wryly and slowly lowered himself into the seat.
Marge patted his shoulder affectionately. "I will certainly miss you then. Your humor especially, when there isn't a frown on your face. You've been one of my best patients yet."
"Oh stop. You'll give me a cavity," Brian returned, pretending to shield his face to hide a nonexistant blushing tone in his cheeks.
"All ready to go then?" Marge chuckled, glancing at Leighanne for her nod of approval before turning her attention back to Brian.
Brian smiled coyly and stared straight ahead. He couldn't help but ignore the faint pain drumming in his chest. Despite the strong unease settling in his system, he found himself able to focus on one thing and one thing only: he was going home.
He was content with the silence that had formed a thick blanket over the interior of the vehicle. The lack of words did nothing to tear his demeanor down, allowing him to sink comfortably back into the cushions of the passenger seat as Leighanne directed them along with the mainstream traffic on the roadways. He wanted nothing more at that moment then to be within his household, ignoring the outside world and all of the troubles that came along with it.
"Harry called this morning to check up on you. He wants you to give him a call when you get home," Leighanne mentioned as she reached to grasp her husband's hand. Brian made a mental note of the request to contact his brother, although his wife's words barely registered in his mind. He watched the scenery passing by thoughtfully as Leighanne turned onto their street of residence. His heart lept in his chest as they approached the gate to their house.
"Kevin's here?" Brian questioned quietly when he noticed his cousin's SUV parked in the half circular drive way.
"He wanted to make sure you made it home alright," Leighanne answered shortly.
Brian eyed his wife. "He didn't think you were capable of getting me from there to here safely?"
Leighanne cocked an eyebrow as she inched their vehicle through the opening in the gate. "Maybe he just wanted to be here when you made it home?" she suggested and came to a slow halt behind the SUV. She killed the engine and withdrew the keys. "Did you think about that?"
Brian glanced away, fumbling hesitantly with the latch on the seat belt. "Whew, pregnancy hormones starting already," he wheezed.
"Brian Thomas," Leighanne sighed and smacked his shoulder lightly.
Brian smiled coyly and stepped from the vehicle, pausing briefly as the sun sparkled against his face and a warm breeze grazed his skin. He looked up at his large household, pondering the massive structure. It felt as if it had been ages since he had last stood in that very spot, not the couple of weeks he had spent in the hospital. Yet he felt absolutely elated to be standing there. "Feels good to be home," he murmured as Leighanne appeared at his side.
"Then lets get you inside so everyone can see you," Leighanne suggested with a raised brow and gently nudged her husband forward. She carefully grabbed his arm and lead him towards the front door, keeping her pace perfect with his slow concentrated steps. "Are you alright?" she questioned a few short moments later when they paused briefly and Brian seemed to wince as he inhaled a deep breath.
Brian blinked and started to move again as if the episode hadn't just phased him. "Still getting used to feeling and moving around like a ninety year old senior citizen," he joked lightly and forced his feet to climb the carved stone steps leading up to the front door. He reached out for the handle but when it didn't turn, he stared at his wife quizically. "Why is the door locked?"
Leighanne shrugged and inserted the key into the lock hole, giving the object a sharp twist. The lock unlatched with a soundable 'click' and she gave the handle a second turn, pushing the door inward. They stepped into the domed entry hallway and immediately the familiar scents of the household invaded Brian's nostrils and took over his senses. "Mom? Dad? We're home," Leighanne called out only to have her voice echo back at her against seemingly empty walls.
Then footsteps were heard hurrying in their direction and Jackie Littrell appeared in the open doorway. Her eyes lit up and glistened with tears at the sight of her son standing before her. Even despite Brian's haggard appearance she was just happy to have him there in front of her. "Brian, you're home," she spoke warmly and moved forward to pull her son into a tight embrace.
Brian wrapped his arms around his mother's shoulders, allowing himself to enjoy the soft expression of his mother's affection. He pulled back after only seconds and noticed the tears that were brimming his mother's eyes and threatening to fall. "Mom, stop...there's no need to cry," he chuckled and hugged her once more.
Jackie muffled a tiny embarrassed laugh into the material of Brian's shirt and wiped at her eyes. "I'm just so glad you are finally home," she said and squeezed her son's hand.
"I'm glad to be home," Brian replied and felt himself being tugged forward as Jackie led them through the front walkway. "I told you I would be back."
"And not a moment too soon," Jackie answered with a delighted smile. "Come now. Your father is down in the den waiting to see you."
"And Kevin too?" Brian questioned.
"Kevin's here?" Jackie repeated, stopping abruptly so that Brian and Leighanne nearly collided into the shorter woman.
Brian raised a brow oddly towards his mother. "His car is in the driveway...?"
Like a lightbulb flashing on above her head, Jackie nodded almost too enthusiastically. "Oh yes, silly me. Of course Kevin is here. I have been far too busy in the kitchen today and haven't been able to visit much with him and your father. They've been oddly quiet too...almost like they aren't even here."
"Dad and Kevin quiet? Now there's an interesting concept," Brian smirked and continued to follow his mother slowly across the threshhold of his home. "Where's Baylee?"
"Asleep in his bed."
Jackie offered an amused smile. "Your son is quite the bundle of energy. It's a wonder who he may have gotten that characteristic from, with him bouncing off the walls all morning."
They walked in silence for several feet before reaching the set of stairs that would lead them to the den below and began to make the short trek downward. Brian's head swam with each step he took and he found himself unable to distinguish the cause of the feeling from his palpitating heart and the overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. Leighanne seemed to take notice in the sudden change in her husband's demeanor as she reached out to squeeze his hand with a small smile. It calmed his nerves and he inhaled a long deep breath.
When they reached the bottom landing Jackie took great care in grabbing the brass door knob and slowly twisted it to the right. The hinges on the door squeaked loudly to give evidence to their presence, only reminding Brian that he had yet to oil the hinges like he had been promising to do for weeks on end. He squinted as the bright lights from the room inside filtered into the darkened stairway and illuminated sillhouetes of their statures against the wall and then-
The shout sent a shock of surprised electricity throughout the entirety of Brian's body. He stumbled backwards a step as he fumbled to look around the gathering in the room. He fought to focus on the bodies inching towards him, but he could only seem to sway dizzingly. His father was quickly making his way over, arms outstretched and he found himself engulfed in a smothering hug that knocked the breath from his chest. "Welcome home son," Harold was saying but the words didn't register.
Kevin was next to grasp his shoulders and give him a welcoming pat on the back. "Welcome back, cuz," the taller man grinned as Kristin gave a nod of agreement, and when their rightful turn for greetings was over, she stepped to Leighanne and engaged in conversation that one could only guess was about the new baby.
Brian stepped backwards from the oncoming engagement. Howie and AJ were coming at him from both sides, but he waved them off with a shaking hand. "W-what is all of this?" he questioned with a labored breath.
"You ok B?" AJ hesitantly asked.
Brian felt his insides twist sharply as their stares of concern radiated against his skin. "Why are you all here?"
"Everybody has been worried about you, son-" Harold started to answer.
Brian brought a hand up to his forehead. "I-"
"Brian, what's wrong?" Kevin called out.
"I don't need your stares of pity," Brian murmured, but his voice hardly projected. "You don't need to be here."
"Of course we need to be here," Howie stated.
"No, you don't," Brian answered, shaking his head.
"You don't need to be here. Please, all of you...just go-"
"Brian?" Jackie uttered in a withheld surprise.
"Just go," Brian whispered and turned on his heels, storming up the stair case as fast as his worn body would carry him.
Brian climbed the last step to the upstairs landing and felt his feet almost sink into the plush cream colored carpeting as he paused to catch his breath. His heart slammed madly against his ribcage and he couldn't get the stares of bewilderment from those who were only trying to care out of his mind. He just couldn't understand it and he really didn't care much to at that moment. With faltered steps Brian shuffled down the hallway into the dark shadows that were created from the lack of lighting. He stopped just short of the door of his son's bedroom and listened carefully, waiting to hear the soft even breathing that would mean Baylee was still sleeping. The child's room was just as dark as the hall if not for the small night light on the wall just inside the door.
He stepped through slowly and moved to the far side of the room where Baylee's bed, in the shape of a red race car, was placed. Within the realms of slumber, the child had managed to kick all of the blankets to the foot of the bed only to curl within the soft folds of his favorite blue blanket. Baylee had always been partial to the velvet fuzzy material which had been a present from his grandmother Littrell on the day of his birth. He had to drag it with him almost everywhere he went, which was ultimately causing the blanket to begin to fray along the edges. Brian smiled and carefully lowered himself to the edge of the bed. Golden blonde curls were matted to the child's forehead with a warm perspiration and his cheeks had turned a deep rosey red color. Brian reached out to brush the strands of hair away but paused with hand in mid air as Baylee began to stir. Quiet whimpers escaped his lips and his eye lids fluttered wildly until eventually he let loose of a startled cry that bubbled up through his throat.
Brian instantly brought a hand to his son's back, rubbing it in a circular motion in hopes he could calm his child before Baylee was distraught beyond hope. But Baylee's cries raised in volume, causing Brian's heart to leap into his throat. He pulled the blanket from Baylee's body and brought him into his arms where he sat rocking him gently and whispering soothingly into his ears. "Oh Baylee Boy...everything is alright. You are ok...Daddy is here...Shhh..."
Baylee struggled against his father's embrace as the tears slowly began to slip from beneath his closed eyelids. "Bad...owies! No! W-wan' D-Daddy! Owies!" he cried helplessly and his tiny frame began to quake within his father's grasp, tugging at Brian's shirt and trying to break free. "Nooo!"
"I'm right here buddy," Brian continued to soothe, holding Baylee as tightly to his chest as he could possibly manage with the boy's frantic thrashing of limbs.
"W-wan' my d-daddy!"
"Daddy is right here, Baylee...it's alright," Brian spoke, raising his tone to be heard over his son's wails. He placed a soft kiss upon Baylee's forehead and the sign of loving affection finally broke the erupting howls. Baylee's body gradually relaxed and he wrapped his arms around his father's neck, whimpering. "That's right buddy...no more tears. Open your eyes for Daddy..."
Baylee sniffled and rested his head against his father's shoulder, grasping the collar of his father's shirt within his fist. He tentatively opened one eye and stared up through hazy vision. "D-Daddy?"
"You're ok..." Brian cooed, offering another kiss for reassurance.
"You come home."
"I'm here now, buddy."
"I'm not going to, Bay. I'm staying right here."
"What are you scared of?"
Brian fought to withhold a small chuckle as Baylle overexaggerated a tremble of fear. But Brian had his own monsters to be afraid of, ones that were all too real. Not the ones that were from a child's dream world. He hugged Baylee closer. "I'm scared too buddy, but you know what? As long as we stick together, no monsters can ever get us."
Satisfied with the answer, Baylee released a quiet sigh of contentment and fell limp against his father's chest. Brian remained in that position, unmoving as his and Baylee's breaths moved in sync with one another, until a clearing of throat in the doorway made him jump in a startled fashion. He twisted in his seat to see who had interrupted the silence and noticed Kevin had appeared and was patiently awaiting permission to enter the room. Despite the interference that was causing the irritation to course through his veins, he beckoned his cousin into the room with a nod of his head.
Kevin sauntered over and proceeded to take a seat next to Brian. However, before he was even half way down, he changed routes and took a quick seat upon the floor. For a few tense moments they stared. "What's going on?" Kevin finally asked.
"What do you mean?" Brian returned.
"You bolted from downstairs-"
"I wanted to see my son."
"You're practically lying through your teeth right now. I'm not stupid, Brian. You left your wife and your mother down there in tears and the rest of us without a clue. I want to know what is going through your head right now."
"It's nothing, Kevin. I just wanted to see my son-"
"Stop lying to me," Kevin spat, his eyes turning several shades darker, mirroring the stormy ocean that was twisting deep within his soul. "You don't blow off your family just so you can go see your son like you did back there."
"Didn't you see their looks?" Brian whispered, feeling Baylee tense within his arms.
"Their looks?" Kevin repeated.
"They all winced the moment I walked through the door like I was going to break into pieces as if I am some sort of porcelain doll. They looked at me as if I'm death itself. You looked at me that way."
"Is it?" Brian scuffed.
"We've all been worried about you, Brian-" Kevin started, but once again found himself interrupted.
"Why now, huh?" Brian demanded sharply. "What's different now? Is it the fact that I'm dying this time and suddenly you all feel like you need to congregate around me out of some sort of pathetic guilt to give me sympathy? I don't need your pitious stares, Kevin. And I certainly don't need to be the cause for any unwanted strain that would taint your perfect lives."
The creases at the corners of Kevin's eyes suddenly became more apparent. He leaned away, taken aback from the quiet out burst his cousin had just expressed. "Is that what this is about?" he clarified in a somewhat choked voice. "This is about the first time this happened? I know we weren't there as much as we all could have been, but-"
"You guys were hardly there at all!"
"We made a mistake, Brian, but we'll be damned if we make that same mistake again. We're not gonna just stray away like we did before, so why are you pushing us all away?"
Brian winced as he broke his eyes away from Kevin's stealthy stare. He didn't know how to explain it and knew Kevin wouldn't understand even if he tried. Nobody could possibly begin to understand unless they were in his position and he hated that. He hated the fact that he felt so alone. "Kev, just forget it, ok? I'm sorry...I wanted to see Baylee."
"You're pushing us away Brian and now's the time you need us more then ever." Kevin stood up at that moment and reached out to rustle Baylee's soft curls as the child looked up at him innocently. He mustered a small crooked smile for the child's sake and left the room without another word.