Brian watched with a troubled expression as Baylee continued to lay nestled against his side, deep in a peaceful slumber. He was at least thankful for that much because his child had grown extremely cranky throughout the evening hours, refusing to part from his father and begging in a tearful frenzy for Brian to come home with him. The small boy couldn't grasp onto the idea that Brian leaving the hospital just wasn't possible at that moment and it made Brian feel like an unloving parent to have to tell his child so. But after hours of tearful pleas, Baylee had become restless and only agreed to calm down once he had been allowed to snuggle in the bed with his father. It had taken nearly an hour more before the boy finally slipped into a sleep that Brian hoped would last long enough so his child would get substantial rest. Now he sat propped in bed, the first time doing so since he had been in the hospital, and stared numbly at the wall mounted tv directly ahead. The volume had been set down low, but he paid not the least bit of attention to the images that flashed. They blurred one into the other until they were lines and shapes Brian wasn't able to make out individually.
"He's finally asleep," Jackie called from the doorway as she first poked her head in, then stepped onto the threshhold with Brian's father close behind. Jackie moved to her son's side and peered down at her sleeping grandchild for a moment, a frown curling her lips downward. She smoothed the blonde curls atop the child's head before leaning down to press a light kiss against his cool forehead.
"Well...it's late so it's best he be sleeping," Brian answered quietly, avoiding his mother's stare to keep from seeing the overbearing concern and sadness radiating in her eyes. He didn't like it.
"He was terribly upset...wore himself out I suppose," Jackie added softly and lowered herself onto the edge of the bed.
"He's a child who's upset because his daddy is in the hospital and he doesn't understand why his daddy can't go home with him," Brian rambled absentmindedly as he wrapped his arm tighter around Baylee's small frame and pulled him closer, almost more so for his own personal comfort. "He doesn't understand the concept of a hospital...he's just a child..."
"Baylee will be fine," Harold spoke and grabbed the closest chair to take a seat. He could hear the uneven tone in his son's voice and hated that he could read the second meaning behind his words without difficulty. The fear was only all too evident in Brian's eyes and Harold hated the fact that there wasn't a single thing he could say or do that would tame the demons plaguing his son's soul. "What's important right now is that you focus on yourself and make sure you rest."
Brian opened his mouth to object, but realized his argument would be weak in comparison to all that was taking place. He turned his head downward and focused on listening to the soft even breaths that blew from Baylee's parted lips.
"Brian?" Jackie said in a questioning tone as a heavy silence began to settle over the room. She reached out to grasp her son's shoulder, hoping to keep his attention for more then just a brief moment. It stung to watch him trying to avoid their eye contact and made her wonder just what all was going through his head.
"Hmmm?" Brian murmured.
"We spoke to Leighanne-"
Brian immediately looked to his mother, his eyes coming alive for the first time since his parents had entered the room. He appeared absolutely elated at the mention of his wife and seemed to straighten in his posture. "When?" he eagerly questioned, his voice a mere whisper as he struggled to force it to project.
"A few minutes ago before your father and I came back in to see you," Jackie explained, glancing at Harold briefly. "Everybody has been trying to reach her since you have been in the hospital, but she said they are having a nasty bout of weather that has been going on for the past few days and it's been interfering with the phone lines as well as the cell phone towers, so her phone has been off." Jackie frowned towards her son's paling complexion. Dark bags had begun to accumulate under his eyes and only worsened as the time passed.
"Does she know?" Brian croaked with a deep breath.
"Your father explained to her what was going on," Jackie answered, offering a tight nod. She placed her hand lightly over Brian's, squeezing it gently. Seeing the continuing question blaze in his fading blue eyes, she smiled briefly. "She is going to try her best to get a flight home as soon as possible, but with the weather situation, you need to understand that it is going to be difficult. Alot of flights have been grounded because of it, but she is trying sweetheart and she sends her love to you and Baylee."
"When can I talk to her?"
"She said she would call back as soon as she finds out about flights."
"Leighanne will make it here. You know she will do whatever it takes to make that happen," Harold added.
"What am I supposed to tell Baylee?" Brian asked as he gazed down at his son. "He was asking about her before he fell asleep..."
"We tell him that his mommy will be home as soon as she can," Jackie answered. "Baylee will be fine though. It's you we need to focus on. You need to keep from getting worked up-"
"I'm fine," Brian interrupted sharply. "It's Baylee I worry about...and the others. They haven't even been in to see me, besides Nick, and I am afraid that I have scared him off..."
"He's only worried about you and is feeling guilty for earlier today. Your father calmed him though, but he's just as much in the dark about all of this as we all are. He's having a hard time understanding."
"I told him to go home for the evening; he needs to calm down," Harold said, noting Brian's expression of trouble. "AJ and Howie have been in meetings all day with various levels of your management and they said they would be by early tomorrow. As will Kevin with Kristin. She just got back into town late this afternoon; he had to pick her up. But none of them are abandoning you, son."
"Why wouldn't they if I am dying?" Brian stated bluntly, his voice cracking. He looked away almost instantly, ashamed of the statement even as it left his mouth. But his fear of abandonment elevated that much more with their absence and his incapability to know what was going to happen.
"Don't you let me hear you talking like that again, Brian Thomas," Jackie scolded weakly as she leaned back from her son. "I don't want to hear that kind of talk again."
Brian watched his parents for several minutes in a thick silence. He could feel himself melting under their returning stare, yet he still found himself speechless. He knew his words had been foolish, but they just didn't understand. How could they possibly understand? His parents were only outsiders looking in and witnessing a once healthy man suddenly beginning to die. It just so happened that that man was their son. "I'm sorry..." he finally whispered.
"I'm not going to sit here having you talking like you've already given up," Jackie trembled.
"I'm scared Mom."
"You have every right to be scared but don't you start talking like you've already given up."
"Your mother is right, son. And we're going to look into every option we have," Harold said. "But the best thing we can do is stay calm and focus on now. There's no sense in getting worked up over something we have no control over at the moment." He rose slowly from the chair and smoothed out his untucked thin polo shirt, fidgeting with the hem and the sleeves...anything to keep his mind diverted from the sight before him. But there was no getting past it and when he finally looked up again, he found Brian watching him expectantly. "I'm going to take Baylee home for the evening. Mom is going to stay here again tonight."
"You're taking Baylee?" Brian repeated.
"You know the doctors won't allow him to remain here all night with you. Besides, it's late and you know as well as I do that he should be at home, sleeping in his own bed," Harold answered.
"I..." Brian trailed, but he relented softly. "Ok..." He watched his father move carefully to the opposite side of the bed, taking great care to not tangle any of the IV tubing. Harold leaned forward, removing the extra blanket a nurse had brought in, and cradled Baylee in his arms. The boy cried out in his sleep, squirming slightly within a burst of weak whimpers, but sank into his grandfather's embrace, not waking for a second. Brian sighed, both in relief that Baylee remained asleep and also for the fact that he would no longer have his son by his side. And then the two were gone, Harold taking the one thing that could keep Brian sane.
"Alright, Mr. Littrell...we're going to take this nice and slow."
Brian cocked a humored brow in the nurse's direction. This one was different from the one he'd encountered in the days before. Her name was Marge, he believed, if he had read her name badge correctly. He actually felt a sense of comfort from her actions and the tone in her voice, something he was surprised to find. She was up in her years with a kind warm smile that set Brian's mind at ease and her accent, english he was guessing, was refreshing. "I don't believe I'm in a position to be making any sudden moves," he joked as he pushed his legs to drape over the side of the bed. With Marge on one side of him and his mother on the other, he placed his body weight against the cold tiled flooring and slowly began to rise. Almost immediately Brian felt himself waiver and he reached to grab his mother's arm for support. His legs wobbled like jello and his head spun dangerously. He blew out a quick breath. "Wasn't expecting to feel like that..."
"You've basically been lying flat on your back for the past couple of days, Mr. Littrell, and your body has been under quite a load of stress," Marge explained, keeping a firm yet gentle grip on Brian's arm. "It may take a minute for your body to readjust to being upright once again. That's why we need to take this slow."
Brian grimaced as a small tremor ran down the length of his spine. He breathed deeply. "I'm not much in the mood to be up and moving. I mean, is this really necessary?"
"Brian, you haven't even moved an inch," Jackie chided her son lightly. "Don't be so stubborn."
Brian frowned in a pout. "I'm allowed..." he mumbled.
Marge chuckled, working with Jackie to keep Brian steady and upright. "I'm afraid it is necessary, sweetheart. It's Dr. Henrich's orders to get you out of bed and moving around this morning, before they take you down for testing and x-rays," Marge explained further. "It will just be a few paces around the room. That doesn't sound so bad, now does it?"
"Yes," Brian answered seriously. His head pounded as he focused on the wall ahead of him. His heart was beating something horrible against his ribcage, causing a dull pain to echo in his chest. "Should my heart be beating this quickly already?"
"Just relax..." Marge soothed. "Lets have you take a step forward."
Sighing, Brian did as he was told, only to find that his feet didn't seem to want to move as quickly as he had expected and any reserve of energy he had saved drained from his body further. But he trained his focus downward, feeling all too much like a cripple and the helplessness was almost overpowering.
Marge smiled. "There we go. That wasn't so hard."
"Look Mommy...I can walk..." Brian cackled quietly.
"Do you think you can take another step, Mr. Littrell?" Marge asked.
Brian appeared to ponder the question for a moment. "I think I can...I think I can...I think I can..." he mimicked, only to receive a sharp squeeze of warning against his arm coming from his mother's direction. "What?" he whined.
"Stop being so stubborn," she repeated, although she was trying to hide the laughter in her voice.
"You're doing a good job, Mr. Littrell," Marge commented, "Before we know it, you will be running laps around these halls."
"You're joking right?" Brian breathed heavily through several more paces around the room. Only for him, his feet seemed to feel as if they were dragging through a thick sludge. The room spinned further, his heart beat faster, and with each second that passed it became increasingly more difficult to catch his breath.
"Of course I am," Marge answered.
"Good..." Brian wheezed, pausing and leaning slightly sideways into his mother. "Because I'm not feeling so great right now."
Jackie stumbled slightly with the new weight and studied her son's complexion. Beads of sweat had begun to accumulate along the hairline of his forehead. His eyes drooped and he breathed heavily. "Honey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing...just lightheaded..." Brian murmured. He swayed slightly and reached upwards towards his chest. "My chest..."
Marge frowned. "What is wrong with your chest, Mr. Littrell?"
"H-hurts..." Brian murmured and lurched forward. He felt himself falling face first towards the floor, but his mother quickly caught him before he could hit, causing his stomach to churn. His face paled considerably and he gagged as the knots in his intestines tightened. "I-I think I'm going t-to be sick..." Then before he could prevent it, a hot liquid spewed from his mouth, the acids of his stomach stinging the inside of his mouth. He watched pathetically in embarassment as it splattered the floor around his bare feet and Marge's white shoes. "Oh God..."
"My my...now we weren't expecting that to happen," Marge spoke as she slowly diverted the ailing man away from the mess and back to the awaiting bed. Brian sank against the mattress weakly as the nurse pulled the loose hospital gown down from his shoulders. She examined the area of gauze covering the surgical site, carefully proding at the red, irritated skin. "I suppose we may have pushed it a little too far for the first time. We'll take it slower next time."
"The moving around caused him to get sick?" Jackie questioned in confusion as she assisted Marge in readjusting the blankets over Brian's body.
"I suspect it's the new meds I administered when I first came into the room. Dr. Henrich is trying different regimens to see which ones work best in Brian's case. He probably just had a bit of an allergic reaction. It's not unusual," Marge answered and adjusted a few knobs on the IV machine. "We'll let you rest for right now, Mr. Littrell."
"Those weren't new shoes were they?" Brian asked shamefully.
"Hospital issued," Marge smiled. "Don't worry about it, hon. It happens. Just lay back and take it easy. Dr. Henrich should be in soon to see you."
The room was nearly empty with the exception of a few chairs lined against the opposite wall and a small foot table that was oddly placed in the middle of the room. He looked around, his nostrils flaring at the sterile scent. They had brought him to that room nearly fifteen minutes before, promising he would be attended to shortly. Now he sat in the discomforting silence, one that brough a heavy unease. He looked around, but all he saw was a bland dreary sight. Grey walls, cold hard floor, and he could feel the air conditioning that was cranked too high. It was like being stuck in a could lonely cell; all he had to wait for was the lights overhead to go out and enguly him darkness. Brian shivered against the automated draft.
The door opened, echoing an eerie creak throughout the entirety of the room. Brian looked up to watch as a small girl was wheeled into the room by a middle aged nurse, one that reminded him of Marge, only younger. The woman smiled at him briefly before moving the small girl only feet away. "Mr. Henry will take you for xrays in a little bit," the nurse said. "You behave until then."
"Always," the girl smiled sweetly, glancing up. She watched as the nurse left the room, then went back to a small sketch book she had been cradling in her lap the entire time. For a few moments she etched in silence, her face poised in concentration. Then like a flip od a switch, she looked up and studied Brian as if she was just now noticing his presence in the room. "You here to see Mr. Henry also?" she asked simply.
"Mr. Henry?" Brian repeated, blinking.
"The guy that runs the xray machine," the girl explained. "He's really smart...knows lows of stuff. You here to see him?"
Brian nodded slowly. "I guess..."
The girl abandoned the sketch pad in her lap and wheeled herself closer. She continued to study Brian, looking him over from head to toe. She seemed to be contemplating his stature. "Name's Isabella." She thrust her hand out for him to shake.
Brian just stared at the girl. She could have been any older then seven or eight years of age and appeared way too thin and lanky for her frame. It made him wonder. "I'm Bri-"
"I know who you are," Isabella interrupted with a small giggle of awe. "My mom is a fan. But...why are you here?"
"I..." Brian hesitated. His head swam towards the innocence of the child's nature. Yet she still couldn't get past her frailty, despite the air of strength she was trying to create to hide her weakness. "I got really sick a couple of days ago...they wanted to run some tests," he finally answered with a small shrug.
"Is it your heart again?" Isabella asked quietly.
"How do you know about me having a heart problem before?" Brian returned in surprise.
"My mom is a fan, remember?"
Brian nodded and opened his mouth to reply, but never got the chance to speak. A short, stuby man came shuffling into the room, face bearded like a lumberjack. The only thing that said he was otherwise was the generic navy blue hospital scrubs that appeared one size too small for his body. "Miss Izzy! How are we feeling today?" the man greeted with a genuine smile. He walked over and gave the child a tight squeeze. "Still getting those headaches, I suppose?"
"Yeah..." Isabella mumbled and immediately turned her attention back upon her sketch pad. Although this time she just sat there with the pencil poised above the paper.
The man frowned. "Well, hopefully we can figure out today what is causing you to get those headaches. We'll solve the mystery."
"Yeah," Isabella repeated, not once looking up and all traces of the innocent child like smile had disappeared.
The man's name was Mr. Henry and five minutes later as Brian was being assisted onto a stiff retractable board with the help of several nurses who had been waiting in a seperate room, he understood exactly what Isabella had been talking about when describing the technician. The man hadn't stopped speaking once since bringing Brian into the room and showed an obvious need to explain every single detail of the xray procedure Brian was about to undergo. Rudely, Brian hadn't listened to a single word the man had said thus far. Instead he found himself focusing on the large machine he was about to be shoved into.
"Alright, Mr. Littrell," the technician's voice echoed from within the PA system embedded in the wall. "We're gonna get this started and see what's going on with that heart of yours. Just remain still, try to relax, and this will be perfectly painless. If you feel any discomfort at all during the duration, just give me a shout."
Brian let out a slow breath as the machine kicked on with a quiet whirl. He could feel his heart beat rise in pace as he was electronically slid backwards into the encasing. "That little girl out there...Isabella...can you tell me what's wrong her?" he called out, his brows furling as worked to keep his breathing steady against the unease of being stuck in such a small space.
"She's very sick, Mr. Littrell. The poor thing has cancer and her doctors suspect there may be tumors on her brain that are causing her to suffer from migraines constantly," Mr. Henry answered in a hollow tone. A few clicks and low whirl echoed after his voice. "Here we go. Remain as still as possible as the machine scans you. It'll be over before you know it."
Brian bit down on his bottom lip and closed his eyes as the red beam began to slow move up his chest.