The Magic in Your Touch Ch. 13bywavyscribe©
Gale poured herself another cup of coffee and sat down at the table across from Brandon. “How long has he been like that?”
“Since the funeral.”
“He’s been in that room by himself for three weeks?” Gale sounded as outraged as Brandon felt, outraged because Bran knew there wasn’t a damn thing he could do for Nate. He understood grief. Hell, he’d stood over the mutilated body of one of his closest friends. But even knowing that, even understanding it, didn’t take away the sense of lose he felt. He wanted his partner back. He missed the early morning smiles and the quiet nights of holding each other. He wanted Nate.
Brandon took a sip of his own coffee. It was cold, but he didn’t care. “He came out once after the funeral, when I insisted he go see one of the staff psychiatrists at Chicago General. I thought he might be suffering from post traumatic stress, but the guy says he isn’t. According to Dr. Carson, he’s grieving, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. So much for a degree in clinical psychology, huh.” Brandon took another swig of his bitter drink. “You know what the worst part is? He hasn’t even cried. Not one tear. Not for Amy, not for himself, and not even when I told him Howard’s men had arrested his father at the airport in Atlanta.”
Gale said, “How strong is the case against Calder, do you think?”
“Circumstantial. He was here when the rent receipt was planted, and he could have stolen the key and planted those bugs while he and Leda were in our house. Sasha was drugged with a generic form of valium, which Calder could have gotten from any one of his stores. We haven’t found a definite link between him and Wilson, but with his connections, he would have no problem tracking down and hiring a hit man. His hatred of homosexuals is clearly documented, and would explain the arsons and the attempts on Nate. The fact that he hired Patterson to break Seth’s heart doesn’t exactly make him a father-of-the-year candidate, either. A good prosecutor could sell it to a jury.”
Gale nodded. “Alicia said the same thing.” Gale studied Brandon’s face. “You just aren’t convinced, are you?”
“I hope it is Calder, but I have to tell you, I’ve got my doubts. Why would the man have Wilson plant that rental receipt? He had to know it would expose his relationship to Patterson.”
“Could Wilson have gotten mad at Calder and decided to get even?”
Brandon walked to the sink and dumped the dregs of his coffee. He folded his arms and leaned back against the counter, ankles crossed. “That’s the way the DA will spin it, and it could very well be true. Maybe I’m making too much out of nothing. God knows I’m rattled over everything that’s happening with Nate. Maybe my instincts are off.”
Gale nodded. “Mike’s behavior at the funeral didn’t help. I know the man is devastated by the loss of his wife, but that’s no excuse for the way he treated Nathan. He practically accused Nate of killing Amy.”
Brandon clenched his fists. “I should have arrested the little bastard when he made a dive for Nate at the graveside service. I would have if Nate hadn’t insisted I leave him alone. As it is, I wish Dad hadn’t held me back when I took a swing at the son-of-a-bitch.”
Dean came in from the living room and poured himself a cup of coffee. “I wanted to see you deck him just as much as you wanted to do it, believe me. But that wasn’t what Nate needed, and you know it.”
He did, but that didn’t make it any easier. Lashing out seemed the best way to rid himself of the frustration. “So just what does he need, Daddy? He doesn’t want me to touch him. He’s made that clear enough. He won’t talk to his mother, or to Seth. He even insisted they not come to the funeral. He doesn’t need food, doesn’t need sunlight. The psychiatrist can’t tell me what he needs. Nate won’t tell me what he needs. So maybe you can.” He was yelling by the time he finished.
He expected Dean to yell back, maybe even to swat him on the backside like he would have done a few years ago. He never expected Dean to wrap him in his arms and start rubbing his back. He certainly never expected himself to need it so much.
“I know it hurts, Son, but you have to think about how much worse it could have been. At least Nate is still here. In time, he will get better. If he’d gotten back just a few minutes sooner, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Brandon pulled away and went back to the table. He made no move to sit down. Instead, he stood with his hands braced on the back of a chair. “Don’t you think I know that? Not a day has gone by since that bomb went off that I don’t get down on my knees and thank God that Nate wasn’t in there. I’m sorry that Amy died. I wish things could have been different, but not if it meant Nate had to take her place. I may be a selfish bastard, but that’s the way it is.”
Gale shook her head. “You aren’t selfish, Brandon. You’re human. No one expects you to make a choice like that.”
Brandon ran his fingers through his hair. “Nate does. When I brought him back here after the funeral, he kept saying it should have been him instead of Amy. He wanted me to agree with him. We argued, I opened my big mouth, and all hell broke loose.”
Dean said, “Is that what landed you in the guest room?”
Brandon winced. “Partly. I told him he was being selfish, that Amy wouldn’t want him to stop living just because she died.”
Gale tilted her head and studied her son. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It wouldn’t have been if I’d stopped at that.” Brandon took a deep breath. “I told him that he should be grateful to be here. I told him that bitching and moaning that he was still alive was like killing Amy all over again.”
Dean swore. “Jesus Christ. I love you son, but you can be a real dumbass some times.”
The back door opened and Brandon heard the electronic melody of the keypad being reprogrammed. Keith came through the mudroom and into the kitchen. He took one look at the serious expression on Brandon’s face and said, “What are we talking about in here?”
Brandon shook his head. “Nothing important. Just the fact that I’m a dumbass.”
Keith grinned. “Well hell, I knew that.”
Gale ignored him. “We were talking about the situation with Nate.”
“Still no change?”
Brandon turned to his brother. “Not unless you count moving from the bed to the chair.”
“How are the cuts on his chest from the impact of the blast?”
“How the hell should I know, Keith? He can’t stand to be touched.”
Keith nodded. “I know. Mother told me. That’s why I brought someone with me who can help.”
Grandma Taylor came out of the mudroom carrying a heavy brown shopping bag. “Was that my cue?”
“Grandma, no offense, but what are you doing here?” The last thing Nate needed right now was another lecture on the joys of butt-sex from an eighty-three-year-old woman. The fact that she was wearing a purple shirt-dress tied in the back with a giant pink bow did not bode well.
Abigail looked up at him with a patient smile. “I know you all think I’m dotty because I dress funny and say the first thing that comes to mind. Well, tough. I’m old and I can do whatever the hell I want to. Right now, I want to see my new grandson, and I’d like to see you try and stop me.”
Keith interrupted. “Bran, just let her try, man. What have you got to loose?”
Brandon thought of all he’d already lost. Three weeks without Nate and he was in purgatory. He was desperate enough to try anything. He nodded and led the way upstairs.
Sasha lay outside the door to the master bedroom. She missed Nate as much as Brandon did. For three weeks, she’d kept an almost constant vigil. She scratched and whined and begged, but Nate refused to open the door. Like the rest of the world, he’d shut her out.
Brandon opened the door without knocking, shooing Sasha out of the way as he went. It was just past lunchtime on Sunday, but the bedroom was dark and stale. Nate had the shades pulled and the curtains drawn. He was sitting in a chair with his back to the door, staring at the wall. Brandon could barely see him, but his heart ached at just the sight of Nate’s unruly tuft of blonde hair sticking up over the back of the chair. He wanted to pull him out of the chair and hold him until he cried out all the bitterness and pain. Instead, he walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.
* * *
Nate watched with detachment as Abigail made her way over to him and turned the room’s other chair around until she was sitting next to him. She sat in silence for at least ten minutes. Finally, she said, “Are you planning on remodeling sometime soon? Personally, I think that’s a fine wall. The way you’re studying it has me thinking you might be ready to tear it down with your bare hands.”
Nate wanted to say something, anything to make her leave so he wouldn’t have to think. It didn’t hurt as bad when he didn’t think. When nothing came to mind, he kept his mouth shut and his eyes focused on the wall.
He expected Abigail to try and force him to talk, the way Brandon kept doing, but she didn’t. She seemed to be having a conversation all on her own.
“I’ve always liked this house. Brandon’s other grandmother, Emily, and I were friends long before she married Ed Nash. Went to grammar school together. When she told me she and Ed were buying this house from his father, I made her a quilt for this very room. Nothing fancy, just a simple Nine-patch made with fabric I bought with my trading stamps, but she loved that old quilt. Still has it, too. She took it with her when they moved to Florida. I don’t really know why. The whole purpose of moving to Florida is so you won’t need a quilt in the first place.” Nate could see her looking at him from the corner of his eye, but he gave her no response. If he stayed quiet he could pretend he was alone and he wouldn’t have to feel anything.
He should have known Abby wasn’t finished. “Every bedroom needs a quilt. I mean a real one, not those stamped monstrosities they sell in discount stores. I’m talking about a quilt that’s been cut and sewn by flesh-and-blood hands, not a machine.” Nate could hear the rustling of a paper sack and the unfolding of cloth. Abby laid the bundle in his lap and said, “I believe this belongs to you.”
Nate stared at the familiar hues of gray and burgundy in disbelief. “This looks just like my quilt, the one my Grandmother Morris made for me.”
“No, honey. It doesn’t look like your quilt. It is your quilt.”
Nate’s voice was struggling to rise. “That isn’t possible. That bastard destroyed my quilt, the same bastard who—” He couldn’t say it. If he said it, it would be true.
Abigail didn’t seem to notice the sudden stop. “He almost destroyed it. In fact, he did his level best. I’ll give him that. But you see, Nathan, your grandmother knew something that man didn’t.” She didn’t wait for him to ask. She just kept right on talking. “There are lots of ways to make a quilt. I learned to sew on my mother’s old treadle machine. When I was a teenager, electric sewing machines were still considered new and exciting. As they became more popular, strip piecing was all the rage. I know you don’t sew, so I’ll tell you that strip piecing involves sewing the whole quilt top together by machine and then attaching the backing. It’s quicker, and all us girls wanted to try it. My mother laughed when I told her I wanted to strip-piece a quilt, but I did it anyway. It was beautiful, all purples and reds. I can still see all those little squares floating around in the water after it fell apart on the first washing. No, Nathan, your grandmother was smart. She foundation pieced your quilt.”
He didn’t want to ask, but he couldn’t stop himself. “What’s ‘foundation piecing?’”
“Your grandmother sewed each piece by hand to a muslin backing. She didn’t scrimp on the fabric either. No sir, she bought the best fabric money could buy and secured each scrap of fabric with the strongest thread she could find. That nasty Mr. Wilson or whoever he is damaged the top of the quilt—the surface—but he didn’t touch the foundation. I was able to repair the surface because the foundation was so strong.” She looked at the bandages on Nate’s shirtless chest. “Looks like your surface took a beating, too. I’d be willing to bet your foundation is still just as strong as that quilt’s, though.”
Nate’s laugh was bitter, resentful. “Strong? How can you say that? I’ve spent the last three weeks staring at a wall because my best friend is . . . If it weren’t for me, she would. . .”
Abigail said, “She would be alive. You’re right. If she’d gotten into that car instead of you, Amy would be alive and Brandon would be the one up here staring at the wall. The only difference is, you’ve got a man down there who would stop breathing if you asked him too. If you’d died, Brandon would have had no one.”
“He’d have you, and Gale, and—”
“No, he wouldn’t. Because if you had died, a vital part of Brandon would have died, too. I know that Amy was your friend, and I also know that you blame yourself for her death. She held a piece of you that went into the ground with her. But she didn’t own you, not like you own Brandon. Not like he owns you. You can punish yourself by cutting him out of your life, but you’ll never cut him out of your heart. You could die tomorrow or eighty years from now, but it wouldn’t matter. The two of you have the real thing, Nathan. You gave Brandon a piece of your soul, and he did the same. You can’t take back something so freely given.”
Nate got up and paced in front of the shrouded windows, still clutching the quilt in his hands. “You don’t understand. It’s my fault Amy is dead. If I hadn’t left her there by herself, she’d still be alive.”
“Maybe, and maybe you would have died with her. But the fact remains that you’re alive and she isn’t. Do you think if God had given her a choice, she would have had you die in her place?”
The very thought was blasphemous to Nate. “Of course not. Amy loved me. She would have given her life for me in an instant.”
“And so she did. Is this how you chose to repay her, by ruining the life she so generously paid for?”
Nate sank down to his jean-clad knees on the carpet, the quilt held tight to his body. “You’re right. Amy paid the price for my life. This time. Who has to pay next? Brandon?”
“If giving my life is the cost of loving you then I’ve already paid it, Nate. I paid it the first time I touched you. You were mine from that moment on, you just didn’t know it. It took some doing, but I finally convinced you. You can’t just give me your heart and then take it back. It doesn’t work that way, dammit.”
Nate looked up to see Brandon standing in the doorway. He looked tired and worn, his glorious eyes red rimmed from lack of sleep. Nate thought of Amy’s hazel eyes, eyes that would never open again, never see. He thought of Mike, and all he’d lost. What would he do if he was in Mike’s place? The thought of standing by Brandon’s grave and watching him being lowered into the ground was too much. Nate let loose with an anguished wail and collapsed fully onto the floor, his entire body racked with the sobs that had been fighting for release for days now.
Abigail slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her. Nate heard Sasha scratching to come in, but he couldn’t have gotten up if he’d wanted to. He felt himself being lifted and carried to the bed by the same strong arms he’d been denying himself for days on end. Well, no more. If he and Brandon were just living on borrowed time, he was going to take what he could get and be damn grateful for it. The tears kept coming until Nate finally fell asleep.
* * *
Brandon felt a slight stirring next to him and opened his eyes to see Nate, propped up on his good elbow looking at him. He smiled. “Hi.”
Brandon wasn’t sure how to proceed next. Finally, he said, “Are you all right?”
“Not quite, but I will be.” Tears filled Nate’s beautiful eyes. “I’ll always miss her, you know? For a long time, Amy was all I had.”
Brandon reached out and stroked his unshaven cheek. “I know, but you aren’t alone anymore, Nate. You have a family now who wants to help you.” He lowered his voice. “You have me.”
The tears started falling then. “I know that, and it scared the hell out of me. All I could think about was if losing Amy hurt that bad, what would it be like to lose you? I mean, Wilson is still out there, even if my father is in custody. What if he comes to finish the job? I was trying to protect myself.” Nate reached out his right arm and flexed his fingers awkwardly around Brandon’s hand. His cast had been damaged during the blast. When the ER doctor who treated him after the explosion took it off, he’d replaced it with a cotton sling. For the first time, Brandon noticed that Nate wasn’t wearing it. “How’s your arm?”
“Better. I don’t even need the sling anymore.” He looked down at their joined hands. “It’s well enough to do something I’ve wanted to do since before the car accident.”
Brandon raised a brow. “What’s that?”
“Hold you with both arms.”
Brandon wanted to cry out his relief. He also wanted to jump into Nate’s arms and do all the things he’d been denied for so long. Rather than rush him, though, he said, “Why don’t we get you cleaned up first? No offense, babe, but you’re looking kinda scruffy.”
Nate rubbed his fingers over his scraggly chin and laughed, the sound rusty from disuse. “Yeah, I guess I am. Not exactly a sex object, am I?”
“If you knew what I was thinking about doing to you right now, you wouldn’t even ask that.” He got up and offered Nate his hand. “Come on.”
Brandon led him into the bathroom and turned on the taps. While the sink was filling, Brandon gathered Nate’s shaving cream from the medicine cabinet. Instead of reaching for Nate’s safety razor, he grabbed his own straight razor.
Nate eyed him with suspicion. “There’s no way I’m going to shave myself with that, Bran. Grandma Taylor may have fixed my quilt—for which I owe her a big thank you, by the way—but I doubt she’ll be able to patch me up if I shave with that thing. I’ll turn my face into hamburger meat.”
“I don’t want you to try shaving with it. You aren’t used to using a straight razor.” He swirled a washcloth around in the sink and then moved closer to where Nate was standing. “I’m going to do it for you.”
“Let me do this for you, Nate. You know I’ll be careful. I would never hurt you.”
Nate looked up into his eyes. “I know.” He eyed the razor again and then sighed. “Where do you want me?”
Brandon positioned him so that he was leaning with his back against the sink. “I think this ought to be about right.”
“You’ll have to reach around me to get to the water.”
Brandon grinned. “I know.”
Nate rolled his eyes. “I should have known you had ulterior motives.”
Brandon smoothed the warm cloth over Nate’s heavy stubble. “How does that feel?”
Nate closed his eyes as Brandon’s fingers worked the cloth against his skin. “Good. It feels good.”
When he was satisfied that the hair was sufficiently softened, Brandon tossed the cloth onto the counter and reached around Nate to get the shaving cream. He sprayed a big glob of cream into his hand and smoothed it all over Nate’s face and neck. When he reached for the razor, he expected Nate to flinch, but he didn’t.
Brandon brought the edge of the blade against Nate’s cheek and removed a wide strip of hair with one smooth stroke. When he reached around Nate to rinse it off, Brandon’s groin pressed directly into Nate’s growing erection.
Brandon grinned. “Someone’s decided to wake up, I see.”
Nate’s eyes became cloudy. “I know. I tried not to get turned on, but with you leaning up against me like that, I couldn’t help it.”
Brandon took off another strip of Nate’s beard. “Why were you trying not to get an erection? It’s perfectly natural, under the circumstances.” He paused with the razor in midair as reasoning dawned. “You feel guilty about wanting me when Amy’s only been gone for a few weeks.”