Didn’t post this last year. Guess it’s time to do it this year. Here’s the “soundtrack” I had in my head when I wrote it.
Ryan took two mugs from the cupboard and put them on the tray. He then put the kettle on the stove and lit the burner. The blue gas flames leaped into life under it with a quiet hiss.
Outside, Ryan saw it was lightly snowing. This is what he had always loved about his cabin home in the foothills of the mountains: winter snowfalls. His favorite thing to do was to sit on the couch with Don, the fireplace casting a warm glow on everything, and watch the tiny flakes drift down. All that had changed now.
He went back into the living room, turned on the stereo, and sat on the floor next to the Christmas tree. It hadn’t been decorated, yet. In fact, Ryan had only gotten it that morning and put it in the stand. Doing that was even difficult for him now.
The decorations sat in a large box he pulled from the attic earlier in the day. Ryan broke the tape with his fingernail and pulled it open. Folding the flaps back he reached in and began removing decorations. He pulled out several boxes of small white lights followed by the crystal ornaments he so loved.
As he lifted out the ornaments he suddenly stopped when he saw what was underneath. It was a frame made out of fake gingerbread with two little gingerbread men in the lower corners. Ryan stared at the picture in the frame and felt the tears returning. In the picture he and Don were in their tuxedos at a company Christmas party. They had on red bow ties and Santa hats. Their arms were around each others wastes as they smiled happily. It was hard for Ryan to believe the picture was over 5 years old. He could still remember that event like he and Don were just there.
Ryan took the frame and hung it by its ribbon loop over the nearest tree branch. He slid back against the recliner and just looked at it. He wiped away the tears with his hand and continued to look at the picture. The frame was a silly impulse buy from Don when he was out Christmas shopping one day. He picked it up and showed it to Ryan.
“I know the perfect picture for this.”
“Which one?” Ryan asked.
“I’m going to leave you hanging on that one. I’ll make it a surprise for you.”
Don always loved creating little surprises for him. It might be the plate of homemade cookies he would see in the kitchen when getting home from work, or the small cards he would find in his briefcase from “the man who loves you more than you’ll ever know.” Once there was a very racy Polaroid photo with the strategically placed flower Ryan found in his suit pocket. After finding that, he took the rest of the day off and spent that time making love to Don in bed (and the den, and the kitchen, and the back porch).
The whistling of the kettle shook Ryan from his daydreaming. He got up and walked towards the kitchen. Don’s office was next to the kitchen. Ryan kept the door closed at all times now. He paused at the door and put his hand on the doorknob. If he opened it would Ryan be there behind his desk hard at work?
Ryan decided not to look, but instead, answer the shrill whistle of the kettle. He turned off the burner and began filling the two mugs with boiling water. He put the kettle down and looked at the tray. He laughed at what he had done. There was only one person now who would need a mug of hot tea. He sniffed and wiped his eyes again.
The phone began ringing as he stirred his tea. The second mug was left on the tray. Ryan hadn’t wanted to answer the phone anymore. Instead he left that duty to the answering machine. The machine finally picked up.
“Ryan? It’s Jean. We made it to Mom’s. I’m so glad to finally get away from work! I hope you’re doing OK. Wade and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. You are coming over tomorrow, right?”
Ryan stood in the kitchen doorway to hear the machine better. Was he going to his Mom’s tomorrow? Lately, it seemed he didn’t want to think about things beyond the current day.
There was a pause from the machine. “Ryan? I miss you. I know things are hard right now, but you’ll get through them. Come spend time over here with us. I don’t want to think of you all alone for Christmas. See you tomorrow, OK? I love you. Bye.”
The machine beeped indicating the message had ended. He stood there listening to the quiet music from the CD player and watching the snow fall. He walked over to the tree and took the frame off the branch.
Ryan got his coat on and shut the kitchen door. He walked off the porch and began following a path into the trees. The snow had stopped and the moon shone through a break in the clouds illuminating everything. But Ryan didn’t need any help finding the field. He could probably find it blindfolded.
The field was a small, open area in the middle of the trees about 500 feet away from the house. It was the perfect place for picnics and just relaxing. Don built a bench and put it in the field and they both spent many afternoons sitting and enjoying the surrounding nature.
In the center of the field stood a stone memorial. On it was carved, ‘In memory of Don Warrell, 1973 – 2003. You are loved but not forgotten.” A thin layer of snow lay across the top of the memorial. Ryan brushed if off with his bare hand and placed the frame ornament on top. He lowered his head and cried again.
It was an accident according to the police. Nothing could have been done to prevent what happened. Ryan got a call from the hospital. It felt like a hole opened up under Ryan when the nurse informed him Don had been in seriously injured. He raced from work to the hospital. Don was connected to all sorts of machines. God, he hated hospitals. He took Don’s hand in his.
Don’s face was badly bruised with his left eye completely swollen shut. Most of his exposed skin, Ryan saw, was in bad shape. His right eye was closed so Ryan assumed he was sleeping or unconscious. The doctor was in the room checking Don’s vital signs.
“How is he doing?” Ryan quietly asked.
“Not very well. He’s suffered a major blow to his head. We’ll have to monitor him closely.”
“Will he regain consciousness?”
“I can’t say Mr….?” The doctor looked at him expectantly.
“Ryan Collins. I’m Don’s partner,” he explained.
“Yes, Mr. Collins. I don’t know if he’ll wake up. He wasn’t awake when he was brought in, but that’s not to say he won’t. You’re welcome to stay by his side. Hit the call button for the nurse if anything changes.” The doctor turned and left the room.
“Don, can you hear me? Are you awake?” No response. Ryan pulled a chair over with his other hand. He didn’t want to let go of him.
Ryan kept talking to Don for the next 45 minutes to get a response but none came. Using his cell he called his mom and dad and told them what happened to Don. They said they would drive up as soon as they could. He began to doze off from the constant hum of the machines. Suddenly he felt a feeble squeezing on his hand. He opened his eyes and looked at Don.
Don’s right eye was open and was looking at Ryan.
“Hi, honey. How are you? Can you talk?”
Don opened his mouth but nothing came out. He made the smallest of shakes to indicate he couldn’t.
“That’s alright. Just rest your voice. I love you.”
Another squeeze on his hand and a slight smile appeared on his lips. Ryan told Don all the things he wanted to do when he was better. The cabin needed some exterior fixing up; what would be planted after the winter was through; out-of-state friends who they needed to visit.
The nurse came in and gave Don a sedative and told Ryan that Don needed his sleep. Ryan kissed Don’s forehead lightly and gave his hand another squeeze. He then left the room in search of something to eat. Sitting in the cafeteria, he saw his parents walk past. He left his table and caught up with them. Ryan hugged them in one embrace and promptly broke into tears.
Ryan brought his parents into Don’s room. His parents and he sat by Don’s bed for a few hours while Don slept. They tried to keep the conversation positive but Ryan’s mood was starting to crash. Ryan looked at his watch. It was 12:30 a.m. He gave his house key to his mom and dad and told them to go get some sleep. He would call them if there was a change.
Don went into convulsions a short time later. With the heart monitor beeping loudly Ryan pressed the call button. After several presses and some yelling for help out into the hall, several nurses hurried in and took over. A doctor Ryan hadn’t seen before showed up and began assisting. One of the nurses escorted Ryan out telling him he would need to wait outside so he wasn’t in the way. She went back in.
Ryan’s partner was pronounced dead 20 minutes later. The doctor and nurses could not revive him; the injuries were too much for his body to handle.
He walked out to his car totally stunned. He was too shocked to even cry or think of calling his parents. He got behind the wheel of his car and drove home. When he entered the front door his mom was sitting on the couch watching television. She saw the look on Ryan’s face and immediately knew what had happened. Throwing her arms around her son, she started crying while Ryan held her tightly.
The cold was stinging Ryan’s face. He wiped his tears away and turned back towards the cabin. The moon went back behind the clouds but the light from the cabin was enough to guide a person home. The phone began ringing as he reached the porch. He went inside and answered it; no waiting for the machine this time.
“Hello?” he answered.
“Ryan, it’s Mom.”
“Oh, hi Mom.”
“How are you doing tonight?”
“I’m getting by. I bought a tree and set it up, and pulled out the decorations.”
“Well, that’s good, Ryan. I was worried because Jean said you didn’t answer when she called earlier.”
“I was busy,” he replied. “Mom?”
“I miss him. I miss him so much. And everything around here reminds me of him. I don’t even know why I bought a tree and tried to make this place look festive!” Anger was creeping into his voice.
“Ryan, I understand, I really do. Christmas is going to be a tough time for you, as will be birthdays and anniversaries. But don’t go through them alone. I’m here. Your father is here. Your sister is with us for a few weeks. We’re not expecting you to be over Don’s death. It was only a short time ago we were having dinner together. And your father and I miss him, too. So spend time with us and we can remember the good times we all had.”
“It hurts,” he barely whispered into the phone.
“I know, Ryan, I know. But you have to keep living. Don’t waste your time pining for Don. He wouldn’t want that. Now how about we drive out to pick you up and stop for dinner on the way back here?”
“Alright.,” he replied.
“Good. Be ready with your weekend bag. We’ll be there in little over an hour.”
“You’re welcome, Ryan.”
“Tell dad to drive carefully. It’s been snowing here.”
“He will, Ryan. We’ll see you soon. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mom.”
They both said good-bye and hung up. Ryan went to the bedroom and packed the things he would need. Once he finished he went through the house and turned off all the lights and sat on the couch to wait. The fireplace cast a dim, flickering light over the room as it died out. Ryan stared out the window. The snow had started again. He watched it fall silently past the window.