Kevin was unable to stop his right foot from tapping nervously against the ground as he sat hunched forward in a chair, his elbows pinned on his knees and his head resting in his hands. Steril smells of medicines and chemicals wafted sickeningly through his nostrils, reminding him where he was. Behind him on the wall, seconds on the clock ticked by, but it had felt like hours that they had all been sitting there. Sitting and waiting to be told anything. Images of the previous events replayed in Kevin's mind until it seemed as if his head was going to explode. He couldn't think straight and amidst it all, his stomach had managed to tie itself into extremely tight knots. He felt like he would lose the contents of his stomach at any moment and all he could hear were the desperate strangled cries ringing in his ears of his cousin begging Kevin to help him.
"Any news yet?"
Kevin looked up as AJ seated himself into the chair next to him, offering him a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee. "No, nothing yet," Kevin answered, shaking his head to decline the kind offer. Despite his throat being uncomfortably dry and scratchy, Kevin wasn't so sure he'd be able to stomach anything at that moment, whether it be liquids or not. He rubbed at his eyes and exhaled deeply, turning his head to focus on his somber friend. AJ didn't blink once under Kevin's stare and the redness of his eyes didn't escape Kevin that AJ had allowed himself a fair share of tears. Kevin didn't blame him. Death had become very apparent to all of them that afternoon and not one of them knew whether or not they would see their brother alive again. Just that thought alone hit Kevin hard in the chest like a pile of bricks. Tears had continuously brimmed his eyes since the moment he had watched Brian's eyes roll back into his head.
"Someone should have come in to tell us something already," AJ grumbled and discarded his own cup of coffee on the table next to him. He raised himself from the chair and walked over to the large window on the far side of the room, staring blankly through the sun dusted glass. The glare of the sun burned against his irises, but he made no move to retrieve the pair of sunglasses from his pants pocket and shield his eyes.
"He might not be out of surgery yet," Kevin suggested quietly, pressing the statement more for his own sake in the hope that his cousin was somehow still alive. He watched AJ for a moment longer, but realizing his friend's silence was a personal way of dealing with the present situation, Kevin lowered his head back into his hands. He found himself unable to process any of the thoughts racing through his mind and yet he still felt responsible towards everyone to be able to find a likable solution to everything. He couldn't think of a single thing and it left him feeling the least content that he had ever felt. Moments later a new pair of foot steps entered the waiting room, causing Kevin to glance up abruptly in hope that it would be someone dressed in a white lab coat bearing positive news. However, Kevin found himself frowning apologeticly with disappointment as Howie stepped further into the room. He could see the hopeful question reflecting in Howie's eyes and Kevin felt his stomach tighten as he shook his head, silently answering the question they were all still waiting upon.
"Jackie and Harold should be here tomorrow morning," Howie spoke, his crisp voice slicing through the deadly silence. He'd taken it upon himself to contact Brian's family, although the task in itself had been hard enough. He had volunteered to make the call, knowing Kevin had been in a rather terrible state of shock upon arriving at the hospital and Howie preferred keeping himself busy as opposed to just sitting around and waiting.
Kevin nodded, knowing full well if his cousin made it through the night, then it would do him much good to have his family by his side. "Did you get in touch with Leigh?" he questioned, knowing his cousin's wife had been rather difficult to get a hold of as of late. Her schedule had kept her time rather tight. But Kevin also knew Leighanne would be one of the first people Brian would be asking for. So when Howie shook his head to answer 'no', Kevin figured it would up to him later to reach his cousin's wife.
"God, how long could a fucking surgery possibly take?!" AJ growled, slamming his hand against the window, causing the other two men in the room to jump in their seats.
"It all depends on the type of surgery, Aje," Howie answered uneasily, knowing all too well how quickly AJ's temper could flare whenever he was upset. And given the situation, Howie wasn't sure to what extent his friend could possible take his temper this time. "We just need to stay calm-"
"Stay calm, Howie?" AJ laughed cruely, turning around to face his friends. He narrowed his eyes dangerously, even though both Kevin and Howie could see past AJ's destructive demeanor and knew AJ was falling apart inside. He had never dealt well with tragedy.
"J-" Kevin began.
"No, Kevin! Maybe you can handle just sitting around waiting. I on the other hand actually want to know what the Hell is wrong with Brian. Maybe if I knew what was going on and what kind of fucking surgery they were doing to him, then I'd be content sitting on my ass and waiting!" AJ spat with a burst of broken emotion. He reached for the closed door's handle and slammed it open. "I just want to know what the fuck is going on so I'm going to stop sitting on my ass and go find out!"
AJ made it barely a foot out the door before colliding directly with a man that towered several inches over him. He glared offensively towards the man, until he was met with a soft, apologetic smile and AJ realized the whole attire that the man was wearing. "Kevin Richardson?" the man questioned AJ hopefully, but before AJ could tell the man otherwise, Kevin was up from his seat and speed walking their way.
"I'm Kevin Richardson," he corrected.
"Yes. Mr. Richardson, I am Dr. Henrich," the man replied, shaking Kevin's outstretched hand. "I am one of a team of doctors overseeing your cousin's case."
"It's about damn time!" AJ declared.
"One of a team?" Kevin interrupted, ignoring AJ's outburst. "How many doctors does Brian need?"
"Quite a team of specialists. However I have been assigned as his primary physician," Dr. Henrich answered. Kevin stared at the doctor blankly, unsure of how to read the hesitation in the man's eyes. Somehow Kevin figured he wouldn't like any sort of news this man had brought with him the moment he stepped through the doorway. "I was hoping to speak with you privately in the hall for a moment."
"Of course," Kevin nodded and hushed AJ's disapproval with an icy glare that also pleaded with him to be patient and show respect. The two men stepped out of the room and Kevin shut the door quietly behind them. Once they were a few feet away from the doorway, Kevin turned to the doctor, his brows furrowing and his lips curling into a frown. "What's wrong with my cousin, Dr. Henrich?"
"That is what I wanted to talk to you about, Mr. Richardson."
"Is it the flu? Our friends were saying that he was complaining earlier this afternoon of feeling like he was coming down with the flu. He thought possibly he had caught what his son had two weeks ago." Dr. Henrich's facial features remained set in stone as he looked away briefly. "So maybe it's just the flu?" Even as the words left his mouth, Kevin was strongly doubting his own pathetic assumption. He just didn't want to believe it was anything more.
Dr. Henrich shook his head. "I'm afraid it's something much worse then that."
"What is it then?"
"It's his heart, Mr. Richardson."
He could feel himself floating along, warm and secure in a blanket of darkness. Periodic blurred images and lights flashed in his peripheral vision and skewed sounds faded into an unknown distance. But he could see nothing and had the sensation of sinking lower and lower into a black hole of fate that would never allow him to see the light of day again. He tried reaching out, but there was nothing to grasp ahold of. He tried yelling, but no sound escaped his lips. Only the sound of his heart pounding echoed in his ears. Then a brief, small burst of pain shook his chest and he gasped to suck in a breath of air, but it was strained and difficult as he tried to exhale. His lungs felt constricted and the warmth and security he had previously felt vanished, replaced by an utmost dread and fear. He suddenly felt as if he were drowning in an ocean of confusion, desperately clawing his way towards the surface before time ran out.
A cold air settled over his body, jolting all of his nerves with electricity and pulling him from his numb state. He felt himself breaking the surface of the black hole he had been pulled under and a sufficing breath of air entered his aching lungs. He moaned quietly as his body quivered from the unpleasant temperature and he fought to open his eyes, but his eyes felt like they were held shut by a pair of invisible lead weights. Despite the struggle, he forced his eyelids to part until he began to catch sight of small, blurred objects all around him. The light was by no means bright or blinding, but it stung his eyes nonetheless and he quickly shut them again, hesitating as he opened them once more and blinking rapidly to allow his pupils to adjust.
Moments later he cocked his head to the left and then to the right, attemtpting to get a better understanding of his surroundings which were looking more unfamiliar and foreign as the seconds passed. White walls, bare and sterile in appearance, seemed to close in on him from all sides and the only way out was a windowless door on the far opposite side of the room. Whoever had failed to decorate the bland room was considerate enough to mount a crudely painted picture of a flower vase on the wall to the left of the bed he was lying in.
He looked down the best he could and noticed the white crisp linen sheets and top blanket that were hugging his frame. Several tubes ran next to his body and draped over the side of the bed, connecting with a multipurpose monitoring machine that was obviously delivering different fluids into his body through the tubing. His heart sank low into his chest as he followed the line of tubes and noticed they were indeed inserted into his left hand. A light blue speckled hospital gown lay lightly against the skin of his upper torso, yet he couldn't fail to notice the multiple wires poking out from beneath the thin material that lead to another machine at his right. It all added up but he found himself still unable to make sense of anything.
Before he could think further, the door across the room slowly began to creak open, the hinges squealing quitely as it made way for passage. He turned his head to see a familiar tall figure step through the doorway, eyes down cast and a visible frown cast drawn across his face. Finally the man looked up and for a brief moment, a sigh of relief washed over his demeanor. "I didn't think you would be awake," Kevin mentioned hesitantly with a certain hint of surprise as he closed the door behind himself and strode over quickly. He looked his cousin over, frowning further at the frailty he saw before him. "Thank God you are awake..."
Brian's eyebrows furled in a growing confusion as Kevin pulled a chair next to the bed and took an unsteady seat. "I...I don't understand," Brian whispered, surprised to find that he could barely manage to get his voice to project.
"How are you feeling?" Kevin asked.
Brian felt himself becoming rather unnerved from the small talk his cousin was attempting to begin. Something in Kevin's tone rattled every nerve in Brian's body, forcing his blood to run somewhat cold through constricted veins. "Tired...my whole...body is aching. what happened?"
"You're in the hospital, Bri..."
"I guessed that much," Brian mumbled, wincing as he shifted under the blankets. He gripped at the blankets, waiting for the burning sensation to pass, before pressed his sight onto Kevin again. "What happened?"
"Do you remember anything that happened?" Kevin questioned, noting the pale tone of Brian's skin and how it seemed to be getting lighter and more grey as the seconds passed. He could see his cousin's condition deteriorating right before his eyes and Dr. Henrich's words continued to ring in his ears. It made Kevin sick to his stomach and it took all he had to sit there and face his cousin, knowing what he knew, when all he wanted to do at that moment was run and hide from the world. However, Brian barely shook his head 'no', his eyes begging for an explanation. Kevin felt like he could crumble under the pressure.
"All I remember is not feeling well at the recording studio, then I woke up here," Brian answered after a long thought. "Howie and AJ were making me go home...said they would watch Baylee...Kev...what is going on?"
Kevin looked away, searching his mind desperately for a way out. He couldn't say anything, yet knew that he would be doing his cousin a worst injustice by not telling him what Dr. Henrich had revealed. "You just need to relax right now, Bri..." he replied, his voice cracking. "I'm sure your doctor will be in here in a little bit to see you. You just need to relax and rest until then."
Brian sighed, hating the way his body surged with pain at the mention of resting. Sadly, he was so drained he couldn't raise his head from the pillow, let alone get out of the bed. All he could picture himself doing was resting. "Where...is Baylee?" he asked a few seconds later, closing his eyes as a wave of exhaustion overwhelmed him. He felt so sore and cold.
"Nick's watching him at your place. I didn't think it would be such a good idea for Baylee to be here all night and you've been out for quite a few hours," Kevin answered.
"Is he ok?" Brian whispered.
"He's fine, cuz. I talked to Nick on the phone a little while ago. Baylee was upset that you weren't home, but a McDonalds Happy Meal and Spongebob Squarepants suited him just fine," Kevin attempted to joke.
"Don't tell Leigh."
Kevin nearly rolled his eyes with a smirk towards the comment, knowing his cousin's wife was rather particular when it came to what was fed to her child. Brian was more lenient, however, it drove Leighanne up the wall. Kevin just couldn't understand how Brian could be finding any humor it all and it tore at Kevin's heart. "It's our secret," he answered. Kevin opened his mouth to speak further, hoping to question his cousin about what had led up, but he could see that Brian's breathing had evened out and become more shallow and he knew that Brian had fallen into another sleep. Somehow knowing that allowed him a sense of relief.
Pushing his chair back, Kevin stood upon wobbly knees and moved in the direction of the doorway. He opened the door as quietly as possible and stepped into the hall, fighting to keep his composure. Brian looked as if death had already washed over him and Dr. Henrich warned it would only get worse. He made sure Kevin was well aware of the fact that their options were slim and time was of the essence. As it was, Brian's life was hanging on a thin line and he was living on borrowed time.
Slowly Kevin made his way back towards the waiting room where he had left two of his closest friends to wait in question for his return. He hardly felt each step as the soles of his shoes slapped against the white linoleum tiled flooring and his mind wandered, becoming easy prey to the demons that seemed to be plaguing his soul at that very moment. Hot tears stung the corners of his eyes as he continued walking, fighting to keep his composure. All he could keep asking himself was where everything had gone wrong...how it had all started to so dangerously unravel. He wondered if his cousin had even had the slightest clue that something could be seriously wrong with him before he ended up in the hospital and if so, why hadn't he said a single word to any of them. Brian was a stubborn man, Kevin knew this. But he also knew Brian was well aware of the dangers of playing with fire when it came to his fragile condition that hung in the balance on a day to day basis since so many years before.
Finding himself before the closed door to the private waiting room, Kevin attempted to collect himself with a bated breath and pushed through into the threshold. He immediately saw Howie and AJ sitting in opposite corners furthest from the door; AJ sat with his back almost facing Kevin as he stared blankly out a window into the night and Howie flipped through an old tattered magazine with a certain disinterest. However, the moment Kevin entered, both men gazed in his direction, waiting silently. But Kevin couldn't find it in himself to answer their silent interrogation.
"What did Dr. Henrich say?" AJ was the first to speak as he turned his body fully around and sat straight up.
Kevin remained silent as he paused briefly to study both his friends, then began moving towards the closest seat. He was afraid his legs wouldn't be able to withhold his body weight for much longer a period of time.
"How is Brian doing? You saw him didn't you?" Howie asked hopefully, his deep brown eyes sparking with light. He frowned when Kevin still failed to answer either question and when the older man slumped forward in his chair, only to rest his head in his hands, Howie's felt as if it had just sank into the deepest pit of his stomach. "Kev? Is Brian ok?" he repeated hesitantly.
"Kevin?" AJ called out quietly.
Kevin finally looked up, his eyes washed over with hot tears and his voice came out strained as he spoke. "H-he...woke up b-briefly...hardly coherent and doesn't remember m-much of what h-happened..." Kevin explained softly, his foot tapping nervously against the floor as he struggled to keep a weakened grasp on his composure. He knew he was failing horribly. "He asked w-what happened... My cousin is d-dying and I...c-couldn't even tell him..."
The magazine fell from Howie's hands and hit against the hard floor with a loud slap that sliced through the sudden silence and echoed throughout the entirety of the room. "What do you mean dying...Kev? What do you mean he's dying?"
Kevin shook harder as the tears slipped from his eyes and ran in long streaks down his reddened cheeks. "He h-had a massive h-heart attack today...His heart is f-failing... His heart is failing and I c-couldn't even tell him."