“When was the last time you were home?” Robbie asked Jamie as they walked into their parents’ house.
“Um, about two months ago. Why?”
“It’s just that nothing has changed.”
“When was the last time you were home, Robbie?”
Robbie shook his head. “I don’t know; I was still in college. It’s been awhile.”
They were in the formal living room and Robbie looked around to see the same furniture, the same drapes and carpet. It was soothingly familiar and oddly haunting at the same time.
“You want to pick out some things you think Mom would want?” Jamie asked. “You’re better at that sort of thing.”
“Why? Because I’m gay?”
“No! Well, yeah….”
Robbie smiled. “Whatever.”
“I’m going to call Sara.” Jamie pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and sat down on the sofa.
Robbie walked down the hall to their parents’ bedroom. He stood in the doorway looking at the bed their parents had shared ever since he could remember. His thoughts turned back to a day when he was seven or eight. He had been playing on the floor in this room while his mother had been cleaning out a closet.
“Momma, I don’t like girls, they’re icky,” the young Robbie had said.
“That will all change soon enough,” had been her reply.
“I don’t want it to change. I don’t ever want to like girls, they have cooties.”
Susan laughed. “Well, what about me? I’m a girl.”
“That’s different. You’re my mommy,” Robbie reasoned.
“So I don’t have cooties?”
Robbie went back to his color book for a while, then stopped and asked, “Momma?”
“Is it okay with you if I don’t ever like girls? I don’t think I will want to marry a girl when I grow up. Will that be okay?”
Susan stopped what she was doing and walked over to her son. She bent down so that she could stoke his hair back from his face. “Robbie, you will always be perfect to me, no matter what you do. It will be just fine with me whether you get married or not.”
“Hey, Sara,” Jamie said.
“Hey. How’s your dad?”she asked.
“Not good. It sounds like he may not survive and if he does he’ll be disabled.”
“Oh, Jamie. I’m so sorry. How’s your mother?”
“I’m not sure. She seems to be hanging tough, but I don’t think it’s really hit her yet.”
“Probably not,” Sara said. “Should I book a flight?”
“No, not yet, but you probably should start clearing your schedule for a few days out.”
“Is Lisa there yet?” she asked.
“No, but Sara, it doesn’t matter if Lisa gets here before you.”
“Will you call me and let me know when she’s coming? It would look bad for her to be there and me still here working.”
“Sara, it’s not a competition. Mom knows you have a job.”
“I need to be there, Jamie. You’ll call me?”
“Yeah, I’ll call you.”
Jamie flipped the phone shut and looked up to see Robbie watching him.
“So Mom and Dad have even managed to get the in-laws to compete for their affection?”
Jamie shook his head, “No, Sara is just imagining it. She thinks Mom treats Lisa differently.”
“Maybe a little,” Jamie shrugged. “But Thomas and Lisa are married, and Lisa’s been a part of the family longer.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Robbie asked.
“I don’t know.” Jamie looked as weary as Robbie felt; neither were compelled to continue the conversation.
“You ready to go back?” Robbie asked.
“Yeah, sure. Did you get everything? Her crosswords?”
“Yep,” Robbie said holding up a small suitcase Jamie recognized from when his parents had visited him last summer.
Thomas sat in the waiting room rubbing his temples. Susan was in with Fred; the nurses had let up a little on the rules and were letting her stay in the room with him more. Thomas supposed it was another sign that the hospital staff didn’t expect Fred to live.
Thomas pulled out his cell phone and held it in his hands. He had turned the phone off before getting on the plane and had yet to turn it on, knowing Lisa would be calling. He could always say that cell phones weren’t allowed in the hospital. It was the truth, even if no one seemed to obey that rule. But the real reason his phone remained off was that Thomas had no idea what to say to her.
He had yet to see her or talk to her since receiving the pictures from the PI. After the call from his mother he had driven home to retrieve some clothes. Lisa had, thankfully, been gone. He tried not to think about where she might be. Instead he packed an over night bag and left her a hurried note on the kitchen table.
On the plane, he refused to think about his marriage, instead focusing his concern on his father’s health and how his mother would be dealing with things. Now sitting in the hospital waiting room, thoughts of his wife’s infidelity haunted him.
Some time later Jamie and Robbie walked in, pulling Thomas from his thoughts.
“Hey. Where’s Mom?” Jamie asked taking a seat across from Thomas.
“In with Dad.”
Jamie noticed Thomas’s red puffy eyes. “Are you doing okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, just need some air. You’ll stay here with Mom?”
“Yeah, sure. But are you okay?”
Thomas shook his head, frowning as he stood.
He held up his hand to stop Jamie’s questions and hurried out of the room.
“Wow,” Robbie said as he dropped their mother’s bag into a chair and plopped down in the seat next to it. “You think that’s because of Dad?”
Jamie sighed. “Maybe, I don’t know. I think I’ll go check on Mom.”
“ ‘kay,” Robbie said sinking deeper into the chair. He laid his head back and closed his eyes, relaxing for the first time since his mother’s call. He knew he should get up and follow Jamie. He would in a little bit he told himself. He would just rest his eyes for a minute.
“How’re you doing, Mom?” Jamie asked as he slipped up behind her. He placed a hand on her shoulder and she reached up, patting it.
“I thought you boys went to the house,” she said.
“We did. We just got back. Robbie has an overnight bag for you out in the waiting room.”
“You’re such good boys. You’re father has always been so proud of all of you.”
Jamie wasn’t sure what to say to that. He knew his mother had a different view of the world, but pride was never something he associated with this father’s feeling toward him or his brothers. Disappointment maybe, certainly not pride.
“Would you like me to bring you anything? Something to drink?”
“No, I’m fine, dear. You must be tired from your trip. Why don’t you go rest?” she asked.
“Is it okay if I sit here with you?”
“Why of course it is, Jamie. You don’t need to ask me that.”
Thomas felt a little better after walking around in the hospital’s courtyard, more under control anyway. The cool air helped clear his head.
He walked back into the bright lights and antiseptic smell knowing he needed to put his marriage on hold for now. Also knowing that he probably wouldn’t be able to do that. He should wait to deal with Lisa’s infidelity later; right now he need to be here for his parents, for his mother especially.
Thomas walked into the waiting room and saw Robbie asleep in a chair in the corner. He sighed and sat down not far from him, wishing he could find a few minutes of peace for himself, but his thoughts wouldn’t let him; not now.
“He always could sleep anywhere,” Jamie said of Robbie as he walked up beside Thomas.
“Were you with Mom?”
“Yeah,” Jamie sat across from him.
“She doing okay?”
Jamie shrugged, “As well as can be expected.”
There were both quiet, Jamie waited for Thomas to speak. He knew better than to pry. If he would wait, Thomas would tell him what was on his mind. When Thomas finally did speak, the subject took Jamie by surprise.
“What would you do if you found out Sara was cheating on you?”
“Um, well I’d be upset, pissed off even, but hurt too.”
“No, I’m not asking how you would feel, I’m asking what you would do. Would that be it for you? Would she and you be done?”
“Well, yeah. I mean… Yeah.” He watched Thomas for a moment. “Is Lisa…?”
Thomas nodded. “I got confirmation just before Mom called.”
“Lisa admitted it?”
Thomas smirked. “No, she doesn’t know that I know. I hired a PI. He brought me in pictures.”
Jamie tried not to smile. Of course Thomas would hire an investigator. Never ask a question if you don’t know the answer. Thomas was a trial lawyer and that was rule number one. “Is it with some one you know?”
“Are you leaving her then?”
Thomas bit his lip, “I don’t know.”
When Robbie first woke up he wasn’t sure where he was, then he heard his brothers’ muffled voices. Oh yeah, the hospital, his father… He sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“A little after one,” Jamie answered.
“She’s laying down, hopefully asleep.”
“Any change in Dad?”
Robbie leaned back in his chair and let his eyes fall closed again. He was almost back asleep when Thomas asked. “What would you do if you found out Koi was unfaithful?”
Robbie kept his eyes closed and hoped his face remained emotionless. He didn’t know that Thomas was even aware that he was in a relationship, let alone know his name. “Koi and I have an open relationship,” Robbie said. “So I wouldn’t do anything.”
“So, he’s free to fuck around?” Thomas asked.
“We both are.” Robbie had yet to move.
“Yeah. We do have a few rules, but yeah.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
Thomas seemed to be mulling this over. “What are the rules?” he finally asked.
Robbie opened his eyes. He and Thomas had barely spoken since he was sixteen. Hell, the whole reason they weren’t speaking was because of Robbie’s sexual orientation, and now Thomas wanted to know details about his relationship? Robbie just didn’t get it. “No repeats, and not with each other’s friends,” he said staring straight into Thomas’s eyes, almost daring him to criticize.
“And it works?” Thomas didn’t sound surprised so much as just curious; just wanting to know if it were possible.
“We’ve been together over two years. Why?”
“You’ve barely had two words for me since I told you I was gay and now, suddenly you’re interested in the rules of my relationship? What gives, Thomas?”
Thomas looked him in the eye, his face showed his weariness, “Lisa is having an affair.”
Robbie’s jaw dropped as he let that soak in. His perfect brother’s perfect wife was fucking some other guy. “Wow, that sucks, Thomas.” He couldn’t help it if there wasn’t much sympathy in his voice.
Thomas softened a bit. “Does it? I can’t decide.”
Robbie furrowed his brow, looking to Jamie for explanation. Jamie only shrugged.
“Okay, how does it not suck?” Robbie finally asked.
“I wouldn’t know, wouldn’t even suspect it if I hadn’t found a birthday card stashed away in a drawer. She probably forgot it was even there. That was months ago and since then I’ve been looking for any other sign that she’s unhappy. I haven’t seen any. We still have sex. She still chats about her day at the dinner table… I couldn’t see where anything was different. But the question was driving me insane; I had to know. Now, I know, but I don’t know what to do with this knowledge.”
“What did she say? How did she defend herself?” Robbie asked.
“I haven’t confronted her.”
“So, what makes you so sure she’s having an affair?”
“These,” Thomas said, pulling the pictures from his jacket.
“You were spying on her?” Robbie knew his brother could be a little obsessive, but he was still shocked.
“No, I hired a PI from our firm, but how I know isn’t the point. What do I do now that I know?”
“Well,” Robbie said. “Maybe you should talk to her and see what she wants. Maybe she wants out of the marriage. Or maybe she doesn’t, maybe she doesn’t feel she gets to spend enough time with you. What you need to ask yourself is why she would feel the need to have an affair.”
“Says the man who lets his husband fuck around all he wants,” Thomas sniped.
“Thomas!” Jamie admonished. He had sat quietly listening to his two brothers talk, but Thomas had just crossed the line.
“What?” Thomas hissed back. “He knows nothing about what kind of husband I am. He has no right to assume that I ‘drove’ Lisa into this.”
“I never said that,” Robbie protested.
“Sure you did, and I should have known that a little faggot like you would take her side.”
Robbie stood up. “Stand up and say that,” he challenged.
“No,” Jamie said, jumping to his feet and standing between his two brothers. “You aren’t going to have a fist fight in the hospital while Dad is lying down the hall dying and Mom is asleep in the other room.”
Thomas glared at Robbie, who met his gaze with matching anger. “I’m out of here,” Thomas said as he stormed out.
Thomas sat on the front porch of their parents’ home. He knew he had been wrong to snap at Robbie back at the hospital, but somehow the little twerp always pushed his buttons. Of course he had been asking himself if he had brought this on himself; if he had pushed Lisa into another man’s arms, as corny as that sounded. But somehow when Robbie articulated it, Thomas’s rage had erupted. He was mad at Lisa, not Robbie; surely Jamie would be explaining that to Robbie now back at the hospital. Jamie got him; understood him; Jamie would set things straight with Robbie for him. Hopefully.
The important thing was that Lisa was the mother of his children. Lisa was the center of his universe. Lisa was his life. Thomas couldn’t imagine his life without her; didn’t want to even think about his life without her. So as badly as it hurt that she was seeing someone else, he didn’t want to lose her.
He pulled his phone from his pocket and turned it on. Four messages.
“Thomas? I just got home and saw your note. What’s going on? How bad is he? Call me.”
Thomas deleted that message and played the next one.
“Thomas, it’s me again. I’m sure you’re with your mom, but I’m just wondering and worried. Please call and update me. Love you.”
“Deleted, playing message three,” the electronic voice said as Thomas pushed the buttons on the phone.
“I called the hospital, but they won’t tell me anything, not even if Fred is a patient. Okay, I don’t mean to bug you; I’m just worried. Call me, please.”
Thomas felt a twinge of guilt; Fred was her father-in-law after all. She had known him for almost fifteen years if you add in the years she and Thomas dated in college. Of course she would be concerned. He was their children’s grandfather.
“Listen Thomas. I want to be there. I can’t stand sitting here not knowing, and not able to do anything, so I just called and booked a flight. I’m bringing the kids. We’ll stay at your parents’ house, unless you don’t think we should. In that case we’ll get a hotel. But I need to be there. I want to be there for you, and for Fred and Susan. Our flight gets in at nine thirty tomorrow morning. Hopefully you’ll get this and be there to meet us, but if you’re not, then I’ll just get a cab, or maybe rent a car. Anyway, call me. See you soon. I love you.”
“Fuck,” Thomas said, flipping his phone closed. He looked at his watch; it read three in the morning. He had six and a half hours to get ready to face her.