“Goddammit, move!” Damien slammed his fist into the steering wheel. Traffic on the eastbound QEW hadn’t moved in twenty minutes. The worst part was that he could see the exit for Islington Avenue, and that meant he was almost home. He turned on the radio and, searching for a traffic update, kept switching channels. No one talked about an accident, just the usual heavy rush hour gridlock. “Fuck!”
He’d been dating Shane for eight months, living with him for almost half that time. Waking up to those mesmerizing coffee-brown eyes still made him smile. But the forty minutes added to his commute — most of that time spent parked on the highway — had him rethinking his decision. Well, not really. He loved Shane, the first guy to pry his heart open in years. Together, they’d been carving out a little piece of heaven on earth. And despite the frustration of his commute, he wouldn’t abandon Shane. Not when he needed him the most.
“Hey, Siri, call Shane’s mobile.”
“Calling Shane Wright … mobile,” the robotic voice said.
Like his three previous calls, Shane’s voicemail cut in right away. Damien didn’t want to admit it, but something was wrong. He knew as much by the way Shane, over the past few days, wouldn’t look at him. And when he tried to touch Shane — kiss him goodbye in the morning, reach for his hand, hug him when he came home — there was always resistance. More than that. Avoidance. The silence made his stomach churn. Shane, lost in his labyrinth, wouldn’t let him in. Damien swallowed hard. When he thought about the past few weeks, and Shane being back on his meds, he wasn’t sure that anything had changed.
Traffic began to move again. Fifteen minutes later, Damien pulled up next to Shane’s black Matrix and scrambled out of the car. Jammed the key into the lock of the grey-brick house on Lake Crescent and opened the door. Roamed from room to room on the lower level, immured in a silence that had a metallic taste swirling in his mouth.
“Shane,” Damien called out, mounting the stairs. “We don’t have a lot of time if you want to get something to eat before the game.” It took a lot of convincing, perhaps even begging, but Damien had finally persuaded Shane to go to a Raptors game with him. It wasn’t necessarily the date night he imagined, but he’d have done anything to get Shane out of the house for one night.
Damien, at the end of the hall, pushed on the bedroom door that had been left ajar and entered the room. “Come on, sleepyhead,” he said as he dropped onto the edge of the bed, then gently shook Shane. “You agreed to go. No backing…” His voice trailed off when he saw the empty pill bottle on the nightstand. His heart raced as he held his fingers to Shane’s neck. A pulse … barely. He yanked his phone from his inside jacket pocket and dialled 9-1-1.
“Stay with me,” he pleaded, tears banking in his eyes. “I still need you.”
He heard the sirens growing louder and, when it sounded like they were wailing inside the house, raced downstairs to open the front door. Led the paramedics upstairs and, back in the bedroom, watched as they worked on Shane. Damien couldn’t stop crying because Shane never responded, never opened his eyes, never twitched.
Following behind the gurney, Damien staggered on the front steps when he saw his neighbours gathered on their stoops and the sidewalk watching the scene unfold. He closed the door quickly, locked it, and then, with his head down, hustled to the ambulance and climbed in. Never took his eyes off Shane. Sat quietly holding his hand, smiling and crying as he thought about the day they’d met and the rocky debut to their romance.
It’d happened at Mikey’s, one of the less popular hangouts on Church Street. Damien, seated at the bar, didn’t seem to blink as he watched the Penguins take on the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. At a commercial break, he drained his beer stein and that was when he saw the man at the other end of the bar. Something about him — the smooth caramel skin, the way he nursed his drink, his focus on the book he held in his hand — everything had Damien swooning. He slid off his barstool and walked over to the guy who he’d already decided would be his future husband.
“What’s that you’re reading?” Damien asked, his voice cracking.
“A book,” was the curt reply.
“Right.” Damien held out his hand. “I’m Damien.”
“Good for you.”
Damien started to walk away, then spun around. “A guy tries to say hello and you go all Perez Hilton on him? Fuck you! I mean, what’s a little courtesy? You know, ‘Hey, you seem nice but I’m not interested.’ No, you gun straight for the Prick of the Year Award.”
The guy put down his book. “I went all Perez Hilton on you?”
“Well, you know…” Damien dropped his head as the heat burned in his cheeks.
“It’s Damien, right?”
Damien looked up. “Yes.”
“I’m Shane.” He pointed to the empty stool next to him. “I had a crap day, but that’s no reason to take it out on you.” He extended his hand and, after a quick handshake, added, “Let me buy you a drink.”
Damien plonked down onto the stool and smiled coyly. “I think a better apology would be dinner.” He winked. And when Shane flashed him a broad, life-affirming smile, he was hooked.
The rapid beeping of the heart rate monitor brought Damien back to his present nightmare. His gaze latched onto the flat line streaming across the screen of the heart rate monitor.
“No shock advised,” was the audible prompt. “Begin CPR.”
Damien let go of Shane’s hand and gasped for air as the paramedic began vigorous chest compressions.
“Stay with me,” he prayed, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Please, stay with me.”
As the ambulance sped through the city streets, Damien thought about God, salvation, and eternal life. Now, he wasn’t sure about any of them.
Diane Fair says
‘Stay With Me’ was heart wrenching. So much pain in people’s lives. You wrote this short story with such eloquence. Thank you for sharing…I’m torn with how I think it will end.
Thank you, Diane! I’m torn with how it will end too…