Fleeting Eternity

Fleeting Eternity - Chapter 16: Loss and Hope

 Chapter 16: Loss and Hope

Nate woke early in the morning on Monday to Christopher shaking him. There was no Tad to be found in bed. They got up, and they discovered him at his desk, working feverishly on his tablet.

"Tad?" Chris stood next to him, and Tad turned the tablet over so that they couldn't see the subject matter on the screen. "What are you doing up? It's just after two."

Tad nodded. "I know. This thing, it's letting me stay awake, and I need to now. Every second that I can, I have to be awake and working." He looked up at Christopher. "Bear, I don't have much time. I know it. I can feel it." Tad's eyes went misty, and he shook his head. "I want to be selfish, and I want to just lay with you both, but this is too important. I have to get it done, okay?"

Nate watched Chris as their tall, strong man gently rubbed Tad's neck. "Okay. Whatever you need, Tad. That's what will happen."

Nate looked toward the bedroom. "You need the desk to work best." Nate slowly nodded to himself. He went, grabbed their bedding and came back to the living room. "Chris, why don't you take the recliner, and I'll take the couch? Let's pull the desk out, so it's closer to us."

Tad gave Nate such a loving smile, it felt like a physical thing. "Thanks, Nate." Tad frowned, and he shook his head. Tears dripped from his nose. "Uh, yeah, thanks."

Nate went to him, and then he and Christopher both embraced Tad. They didn't take long though. Tad vibrated with the need to work on his project.

They moved things around and soon Tad was back at the desk now placed between them. Christopher lay stretched out on the recliner and Nate was on the couch. They sandwiched the desk between the recliner and the couch. Now, if he stretched, Nate could reach and touch Tad as he worked. He refrained. Instead, Nate watched Tad, his face lit from the screen of his tablet, and Tad's hand moved over the device in fast, confident strokes. Nate sensed the urgency in Tad's manner. It was akin to watching a sprinter near the finish line.

Despite his desire to watch Tad, Nate fell to sleep quickly, and deeply.

Nate woke to the sun streaming through the eastern windows. He yawned and sat up, and he saw Tad, leaned back in his chair. Nate's immediate reaction was a flush of apprehension, but he forced himself to get up and calmly step over to check him.

Tad's chest rose and fell in the rhythm of sleep. His tablet lay dark on his desk, and the stylus was still loosely held in his hand. Kali blinked and looked up at Nate from her spot where she was curled on Tad’s lap, then she stretched and hopped down.

Nate gently took the stylus, and he laid it beside the tablet. He put a warm hand on Tad's chest. "Hey. Hey, sleepy." He shook him a bit. Tad didn't stir, and he slept on.

Nate rubbed his face, worry and sadness written on his features. He heard movement, and then Christopher was behind him. He patted Nate's back. "I've got him." Nate stepped aside and Chris effortlessly scooped Tad up into his arms. Chris softly kissed Tad's face, then he walked with him to the bedroom, while Nate gathered their bedding and followed.

Christopher laid Tad down. Nate handed the blankets over, and Chris covered their stricken lover. Nate watched as Chris's strong and rough hands moved over Tad as gently as a feather. "Regardless of why he's asleep, he needs the rest."

Nate mutely nodded. He stood by Chris as he straightened, and they both looked down at Tad. While at Miranda's, Tad had made his wishes known. He didn't want any sort of extraordinary life-saving efforts related to his condition. When the time came, he wanted nature to take its course. Yet Nate couldn't help but feel powerless as they watched Tad sleep.

Chris's arm went around Nate, and he leaned his head over against him. Christopher exhaled in a heavy sigh. "I'm glad you're here, Nate. I don't know if I could do this without you."

The redhead turned and Chris folded him in his arms. Nate didn't trust his voice, so he quietly communed with Christopher in that intimate, indescribable way close, emotionally connected people share.

Nate let Chris's presence calm him. He had to prepare for Stanley. It was just before seven in the morning and they planned to meet at eight in the coffee shop to finish the formatting needed for Tad's book.

Nate squeezed the tall man once more. "Thanks, Chris."

Tad stirred a little, and they released one another to look down at him. Tad worked his mouth a bit, and he made a sleepy noise. It seemed as if he just slept normally now, as opposed to the deep, unconscious state which resulted from the glioblastoma.

They both sighed with relief. Christopher smiled at Nate. "We'll be fine here." He put a hand on the back of Nate's neck, and his hazel eyes locked with Nate's blues. "Before you get going, I wanted to tell you," his fingers moved slightly against Nate's skin as he spoke, "I love you, Nate. I just want you to know."

Nate grinned at the unexpected declaration, and he felt a flood of happiness which mingled with his worry. "Awww, Chris." His voice cracked, then his face twitched as he tried to hold back the emotion of his joy, and sadness, and their shared pain. "I love you too." He couldn't manage it and put a hand tightly over his mouth. He closed his eyes and sobbed, almost silently. Nate had only let little bits of emotion out at a time, but now he was overwhelmed.

Christopher hugged him tightly. "It's okay." He stroked Nate's back as the redhead cried. He held Nate as he finally allowed himself to feel the full pain of their situation. Nate could do nothing but hang on, and Chris let him. "I'm here. I love you, and I'm here."

Tad woke a couple of hours after Nate went to the coffee shop to meet with Stanley. He immediately got up and began to draw. He forced himself to avoid rushing, but he moved as fast as he could while still holding the art to the best standard that he could manage. Christopher continued to check on him and each time Tad covered the tablet. Chris had no desire to ruin whatever Tad had planned, so he made it obvious when he headed toward his suddenly secretive partner.

Tad startled awake once, covered with a blanket in his desk chair. Tad hadn’t even felt it happen that time, and he frowned in worry. He had simply lost an hour and a half to the tumor, locked in forced hibernation. He couldn't let it stop him, he had to finish.

Tad went back to it. His awareness of time dulled. There was only the promise of completion, and he was closing in on his goal. He was nearly there.

Nate and Stanley returned from the coffee shop in the early afternoon. They'd done it. They had completed all of the edits and the formatting needed for his self-publishing project. At some point, Kent had joined them, just to keep them company while they worked. They were all there, and they watched as Tad uploaded the large file to Lulu's publishing software. It compiled and Tad looked through the PDF version of the finished product with his lovers and their friends behind him.

"Holy fuck, that's awesome." Kent's whisper bordered on reverent as he looked on. Stanley agreed with an astonished chuckle, and the two guys put their arms around one another's shoulders. Kent turned his face to look at Stanley. "You did really good, boy."

Tad caught the term, somewhere in the back of his mind. Stanley responded by smiling and leaning into Kent. The expression on Stanley’s face was of contentment and security, while there was a protective, proud air in Kent’s manner.

“Thanks again, guys.” Tad cleared his throat. "Okay. I'm going to do a rush order for both printing and shipping. It'll cost a lot per book. I'll probably lose money on this set, thanks to the added expense of the rush job. I don’t care. I want to have them in my hands, and I want to sign them. I want to watch as people look through them."

They all nodded. Nate patted Tad's shoulder. "I'm going to go down and see if Mrs. Stewart is around. What day did you want to do the signing, Tad?"

"As soon as they get here." Tad clicked through the final screens, and he now looked at purchasing options. "There's a rush print and shipping option." He looked over his shoulder at Nate. "Luckily, they'll start rush orders immediately." He turned back to the computer. "The earliest they can be here is Wednesday." Tad bit his lip. "I think we need to schedule it for that same evening."

Nate nodded. "You got it. I'll be back." Nate left, headed downstairs on his way to the bookstore where Tad hoped to do his book signing.

Kent still had an arm around Stanley. He looked thoughtful. "Have you done any advertising, Tad? Is there anything out there to let folks know what you're doing?"

Tad sighed, and he shook his head. "No. There was no time. There is no time. I'm fully aware that none of them may sell."

"One will, at least," Stanley spoke, his voice confident. "I want one."

Kent nodded. "Same here."

Tad smiled. "Guys, you don't have to buy them. I'll give you each a copy, for everything you've done for me."

"Thanks, but that's not acceptable," Kent said with such authority that Chris frowned and looked at him. "We're paying for them. It's too impressive to give away, Tad."

Tad grinned. "Well, if you insist."

"We do," Kent and Stanley said in tandem, and they both laughed and grinned at one another.

Nate returned a few minutes later. The bookstore owner had agreed that Wednesday evening was fine for Tad’s event. Typically the store closed at six p.m., but she said she'd stay open until nine for his signing. Tad put in the rush order for thirty books. The cost came up to almost eight hundred dollars, but he didn’t hesitate to accept the terms. He also made a secure PDF version available for purchase.

Tad leaned back after he submitted the order. “Done.” He wanted to feel relief, but he couldn’t until he held the books in his own hands. “Okay, guys, I’m sorry, but I need to finish the last bits of my other project.”

After some muted goodbyes and promises to come to the signing, Stanley and Kent left.

Tad turned his tablet on again, and then he swiveled in his desk chair. He looked at Nate and Christopher with his intense, dark eyes. "Guys, I want you to do something for me."

Chris nodded. "Sure, what do you need?" He and Nate both were attentive, engaged in everything he said, and eager to do whatever Tad asked of them.

Tad smiled. He took his wallet which lay on the desk, and he pulled out fifty dollars in cash. "Go get some dinner. Just you guys. I'll be fine here." Before they could object Tad waved a hand. "The worst that happens is that I fall to sleep."

Christopher grudgingly took the money. Nate stepped up and put a hand on Tad's shoulder. "You'll call? If you need us, you'll call?"

Tad nodded. "I really will."

Nate sighed. "Okay." He looked at Christopher. "Bear -" Nate stopped mid-sentence and blinked. Tad's nickname for Chris had just slipped out of him, and Tad could tell that Nate hadn't even meant to say it. "Uh, Chris," Nate shook his head at himself, "let's go to The Diver. I feel like a burger."

Christopher nodded, and he slipped an arm around Nate's shoulders. The two guys walked to the door. As they opened it to leave, Tad heard Christopher murmur, "I can be your Bear too, Nate."

They left. Tad looked thoughtfully at the door, and he smiled.

Miranda was just about to get up and leave their study to join David in bed. She felt her phone vibrate and she saw on the screen that it was a message from Tad. She quickly opened it.

'Sis. These are my last projects. I've already submitted them to Lulu, and there's a print copy of each on the way to your address. Though I finished my part, I need your help to see this through.'

Miranda read Tad's plan and his instructions for what to do with the copies when they arrived. She typed a reply with shaking fingers, to reassure Tad that she would do exactly as he asked, then she let the phone fall with her hand into her lap.

She thought about how talented, driven, and unique Tad was. "The brightest stars burn the quickest," she whispered. Miranda sighed and wiped her face. She stared down at her phone in her lap. "It's just not fair." She would do anything to fix it. Instead, the best she could do was follow through on his wishes.

Miranda set her jaw, and she nodded. "I've got your back, Tad." She blinked back tears as she closed her email. "Even after the end."

"What are you doing, Sir?"

It was now Monday night. Stanley had spent most of the day in Eureka finishing up Tad's project while Kent covered Nate's shift at the bookstore. Stanley's hands were warm on Kent's shoulders as Kent sat at the desk in Stanley's house. Tad's newly published e-book was on the screen, and he pulled up the review tool. He'd already created an account on the site for one specific purpose.

"I'm buying an electronic copy and reviewing Tad's book." Kent looked over his shoulder at Stanley. He smirked. "Give me a kiss, boy."

Stanley leaned down and the two men kissed. Kent felt Stanley smile against his lips. He could sense Stanley's deepening trust and a broadening of their connection. It wasn't just the bedroom anymore, at least it wasn't to Kent.

Kent pulled back, and he stared at Stanley. "Go. Strip. Lay face-down on the bed. I'll be in shortly and I'll take care of you then."

Stanley grinned. "Yes, Sir."

Kent's skinny lover disappeared down the hallway and ducked into the bedroom. Kent continued to smile. He looked forward to his night with Stanley, but first he had some work to do. He refocused on the computer screen, and he began to type.

In Amarillo the next day at lunch, Markus saw Heather when she entered the cafe. He waved to get her attention in the crowded space, and she headed his way. "Hi, Markus!" She hugged him, a happy expression on her face.

"Hey, Heather." Markus motioned at the chair. "Have a seat."

They both settled in their chairs, and Heather leaned forward. "Markus, I'm so sorry for how Shane treated you." She frowned and shook her head. "He was wrong to do that, and I hope he didn't upset you too much."

Markus quelled his initial response. He agreed with Shane. Markus knew that who and what he was were an abomination. Yet he couldn't let Heather know that. He smiled. "I'm fine." Markus shrugged. "It's okay that Shane doesn't want to hang out with me anymore. I get it."

Heather frowned. "Well, it's not okay, and I don't get it." She reached across the table, and she patted his hand. "You deserve a better friend, Markus." Her eyes were hopeful. "I bought you some things. Some books. They're all about coming out, and how to sort of deal with all of that. Did you get them?"

Markus felt a spark of appreciation for her attempt to fix him. He nodded affably. "Yeah, I did. Thanks. You didn't have to do that."

Their server appeared and they ordered lunch. After the woman left, Heather leaned toward him. "I was happy to get them for you. There's another one on the way. I found it online this morning, on some print-on-demand site." She shrugged. "It's brand new, but it had a really nice review. Make sure to look for it. I rushed it. It's supposed to get to your place on Thursday."

Markus smiled and nodded. "Sure."

They chatted a bit. Their food arrived and Markus had a pleasant enough time with Heather. What he didn't tell her was that he had already thumbed through the books she had sent, and he had rejected them all. They all hinged on a single, flawed premise, and he was just unable to accept it. They all tried to convince him that the problem was other people - that he wasn't the one in the wrong. Well, he knew better.

They finished up, and Heather made him promise her another lunch date next week. Markus felt a little sorry about that. As he got into his car, he sighed. He hated lying to Heather. She was a caring person and Markus had always liked her.

Yet it'd be hard for him to show up to lunch after he killed himself on Friday.

Kent was nervous. He'd never outed himself, and yet, as he spoke to Naomi, the woman who led the Queer Student Union, he realized that was precisely where things were headed. "Uh, so, I wondered if I could speak at your meeting tonight." It was Tuesday evening, and the QSU was due to begin their session in a few minutes. Kent looked over his shoulder and eyed the slowly growing crowd of young students. The meeting was held in one of the many halls on campus, and the echoing room soon filled with the sounds of chatter, laughter, and the murmurs of conversation. He turned back to her. "There's this book signing, and it features the work of a really awesome gay artist friend of mine."

Naomi smiled. "Okay. Well, can I see an example?" She moved her head, and her long, straight hair fell across her shoulders in a rippling wave.

Kent was ready for that. He stepped forward and handed over his phone. Loaded on the device was the PDF version of the book that he had purchased. Naomi's green eyes slowly widened as she swiped through the pages. She looked at a dozen, then she blinked and shook her head. "Wow. I'm not into guys, but this is really, uh, it's surprisingly moving, even to me."

Kent grinned. "That's how I felt too." He took the phone when she held it out for him. "He has thirty of these for sale. He's doing a signing, tomorrow at Eureka Books." Kent sighed. "It'll probably be his only signing."

Naomi nodded, and she looked at the time. "Okay, you've got your spot, Kent. Your business can go first, then we'll start on our regular agenda."

"Thank you. It'll mean so much to him." Kent was thankful for the opportunity. Naomi left the front of the room, and she sat with the other students.

Kent looked out over the space. There were now over two dozen young men and women gathered. One by one, they stopped talking to each other and instead looked up at the front of the room at Kent.

Kent swallowed. He felt the icy finger of doubt and fear run down his spine, and he gulped. 'Be the man Stanley believes you are.' Kent let out a breath. 'Be "Sir".'

As he thought about the way Stanley looked at him, and how his boy made him feel, his resolve hardened. 'I am Sir.'

His spine straightened and Kent smiled at those gathered. "Hi everyone. I'm Kent. I'd like to tell you about a really cool guy, and an awesome book that he made."

Things were grim. The tumor had been with Tad for months, and in that time it had grown - symptomless and silent. But now it had reached a critical mass and he was obviously in the last stage of his condition.

Tad felt an almost constant sensation of near-unconsciousness, and he fell to sleep anytime he stopped fighting. He didn't even trust himself to walk across the room. His Bear took leave from work to care for him, which was necessary now because he had to carry Tad around the apartment, feed him, and help him bathe.

There was only one thing that kept Tad going, and it had just arrived only minutes ago. He sat in his desk chair and struggled to stay awake.

Nate and Chris opened the thick, heavy box. Then Christopher reached inside, and he grinned as he held up the glossy book. "They're here." He looked down at the cover. "They're beautiful, Tad."

Tad smiled. "I'm so glad."

His two men helped him get ready, then Tad let them help him downstairs. Miranda was there with a wheelchair. Tad didn't remember calling her, but he was glad she was there.

His perception blurred occurrences, faces, and buildings. He remembered being happy, hearing his name, the cool sensation of a writing implement in his hand, and his own voice asking the name of who it was the book was to be dedicated to. He heard Stanley and Kent speaking softly to Bear and Nate.

There were flashes of lucidity. He recalled young, smiling faces, voices tinged with wonder, appreciation for the book, gentle touches, and hugs from those gathered.

'They like it,' Tad thought. 'We did it.'

Then there was the brisk caress of the evening March air on his face, and soon after he was lifted in Bear's strong arms as they went upstairs. He knew those arms, and that comforting scent as his face lay against Chris's neck. He heard soothing words from Nate, and Tad felt himself smile.

Soon, his body lay on a soft, yielding surface, and he was warm and comfortable. His perception fuzzed out again, and he slept.

Author's Note: Let this song play in the background while you read the rest of this scene. Right click and "open in new tab" so that you can do both.
Song - Lay by Me, Ruben

He had no concept of how much time had passed, but something woke him. Somehow, some tiny flaw in the grip of the glioblastoma allowed him a spark of consciousness, and he clung to it fiercely.

​He lay there in the dark in his favorite spot - spooning between his lovers​​. His head swam with that same sensation. This time, it was so intense. It was so consuming Tad knew that it was time.

"Bear. Nate." His voice was a whisper, but both men woke instantly.

"Tad?" Christopher rubbed his chest from his spot behind the dark-haired man. "We're here, Tad."

Nate turned. "We're right here." Nate gently ran his fingers over Tad's face. "What do you need?"

"Just. This." Tad's eyes were so heavy. "Won't. Wake." He smiled sadly, and he fought for every second.

Christopher's body hitched in a sob, and he squeezed Tad to his chest. "I love you. God, I love you."

Both men lay sweet kisses on his skin and lips and Tad tasted the salt of tears. He heard the murmurs of love from both of them.

"I. Love. You. Both." Every word was a monumental effort. "Take. Care. Each. Other." He blinked, and a tear rolled from his eye. "Remember. Me."

"We will, and the world is going to remember you too, Tad." Nate looked at him with teary eyes. "We'll make sure of it."

Tad grinned. He only had one more thing he wanted to get out. "Happy. Anniversary."

He had just enough time to see the confused looks on their faces. The anniversary date of their three-way relationship was over half a year away. Then his eyelids slid closed, and he crashed headlong into a merciful and deep unconsciousness.

There ceased to be input from his senses. Tad was unaware of stimuli, of the things happening to his body, or around him. He never knew that his sister had arrived and held his hand after his men called her. He didn't feel Kali as she lay on his chest and headbutted his chin.

Instead, there was only emotion. Over the next two days Tad's grip on his physical shell failed, and what remained for him was the strongest feeling a sentient being can have.

Tad Coleman died loving and knowing that he was loved.

Friday night had arrived, and Markus hummed to himself. His gun lay on the table, along with the single bullet he required for the evening's activity. He typed his letter in an email to his parents, Shane, and Heather.

Markus set the email to send at midnight, then he reached for the gun. In the process, he knocked the unopened package that Heather had sent to him off of the table.

He looked down at the package, the gun in his hand. Markus sighed and bent to pick it up. He noticed again that it was heavy, and he put it back on the table.

"Oh yeah, a book. That's right. She sent me another book." Markus smiled. It was nice of her to try and help. He grimaced. "I guess she's gonna be disappointed." He suddenly had a strange thought. "She'll know I never even looked at it. It's not opened."

Markus loaded his bullet and put the gun back down on the table. He sat in a chair and opened the cardboard package.

He expected to see something like the rest of the books he'd already gotten from Heather. Instead, it was a beautiful, warmly colored artistic rendering of two men with hands clasped on the cover.

"Huh." Markus opened the cover. There was a dedication.

'This book is dedicated to the men I love: Bear and Nate. You made me wish I could have lived forever.'

Markus frowned. "Gay people can't love. That's a lie. They can't love." Markus couldn't comprehend that someone so flawed as him would be allowed to love anyone. Such a positive emotion was something only straight people got to experience.

He shook his head. Markus hesitated, and he reread the dedication. Then, with a clenched jaw, he turned the page.

There was a beautiful, full-page drawing of a pair of men. Both were naked, but careful positioning and perspective meant neither showed their groins. The taller of the two was behind the shorter fellow. They stood together in such an emotional and connected way.

Markus stared down at the picture. The light framed them and dark, bold lines outlined their bodies. Though they were naked, it wasn't a depiction of sex or lust. It was a celebration of emotion. That was obvious to anyone who saw it - these two men were in love.

He ran his fingertips over the image, and then he began to cry. They were silent tears, and they sprang unbidden to his eyes as he looked down at the book. Markus didn't believe someone like him, someone so naturally wrong could fall in love. It had to be impossible. Why would gay people be rewarded with something so magical if they were so inherently wrong?

But there it was. Proof.

"It's not wrong?" Markus whispered, and he made an agonized sound. Tears dripped from his nose and his chin. He shook his head, and he continued to look through the book, careful now to avoid getting his tears on the treasure in his lap.

After another half-hour, his slow and careful evening with the graphic novel was done. He closed it and stared down at the cover of the work. His tears had disappeared and he had only an unsure and questioning expression on his face. He was no longer certain of his path. The "rightness" of it now rang false in his heart.

Markus closed his eyes. He took a breath and reached into his pocket.

He dialed a number and moments later a pleasant female voice came over the line. "Hello, my name is Susan. Thank you for reaching out. How can I help you?"

Markus propped his head on his hand.  "Hello. I'm Markus."  He opened the cover of the book again and looked down at those two men tangled in one another's arms.   "I'm gay, and I need help."


Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

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