The Unused Room Ch. 01byvelvetpie©
September 11, 2001
The moment the bell rang, Hardy Reyes knew it was trouble. The rumble that reached the firehouse was not ordinary and its genesis was shown moments later. World Trade Center Tower Number One had been breached by an airplane and clouds of black smoke billowed out from its wounds. His first thought was of Caiden and he thumbed his cell phone into life. Unfortunately, the airwaves were already jammed and he shoved it into his pocket, tugging his jacket on as he jumped onto the truck.
The enormity of the situation hit him as they neared the scene and saw fire leaping from the second building. The second tower had also been hit.
"Listen up!" The commander shouted. "Grab your gear and get ready. We have a lot of people to help!"
Hardy fished the phone out of his pocket and his heart thumped in his chest as he gazed at his lover's smile. The picture had been the first he'd taken with his new phone and though it was crisp and clear, it couldn't show the depth of Caiden's heart or the beauty of his soul. He forced his tears away and activated the recorder.
"Caidy, the Towers have been hit and my company is heading over to help out." He glanced up at the smoke and a feeling of dread swept through him. "I don't know what's going to happen but I just wanted you to know that I love you very much and I'm looking forward to seeing you next week. Keep my heart warm. Love you."
Caiden Silverberg stared aimlessly out of the window, the cell phone pressed to his ear as he listened to Hardy's last message. It had been four years since his death but to Caiden, it was just yesterday. Just yesterday when Caiden had seen a pensive pair of amber eyes that had taken his breath away. Just yesterday when Hardy had stolen a kiss over English cucumbers and wood ear mushrooms. Just yesterday when they had decided to make a future together.
His thumb automatically moved to the END button and the tinny recording lapsed into a deafening silence that rang in his ears. He felt empty, hollow inside like one of the decorative gourds spread throughout the house. Maybe it had been a mistake to come back here. He hadn't had the strength to come to New York in all this time and now, to be back in the same space that they had shared … Caiden swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. In his heart, he knew it was time; time to let Hardy go.
A knock on the door startled him from his thoughts and he slowly walked over to it, wondering who it could be. Surely after four years, none of Hardy's old friends would be coming to visit. A slim, tall man in a paint-covered smock stood on the doorstep, a covered dish in one hand and a canvas in the other.
"Hi, I'm Michel Fontaine. I'm hope I'm not bothering you."
"No." Caiden nodded, slipping the phone into his pocket. "I was just … thinking."
"I live right downstairs and I … " The young man's voice cracked, the sudden appearance of tears startling Caiden. "I used to hear Hardy come in and bring him up some of whatever I was eating."
Numb, Caiden pulled the stranger into his arms and held him as he sobbed for a few minutes. Michel apologized profusely, embarrassed that he let his emotions get the best of him, keeping his head down as Caiden allowed him into the apartment. He set the bowl on the counter and turned to Caiden.
"Hardy commissioned me to do this for your birthday. He was going to bring it with him when he came to visit you but … " The silence hung between them. "When I heard footsteps up here, I thought I'd bring it up to see if someone would give it to you. I'm very honored to present it to you in Hardy's behalf."
Michel turned the canvas towards Caiden and his world exploded. It was a beautifully rendered charcoal sketch taken from a photograph of one of Caiden's favorite moments. It was the day they had realized their love for each other. Hardy had surprised him with a trip to Catalina and on the end of a moonlit pier with tears in his eyes, he had declared his love for Caiden. Caiden had responded with his own tears and they had kissed, a soft, gentle kiss that promised the future. They didn't know until the next day that the proprietor of the restaurant had taken a picture and she'd had it framed for them, touched by the warmth of their relationship.
If only he could reach out and touch Hardy's cheek, he could bring him back to life. He could make everything right.
"Hardy … " Caiden fainted.