Chapter Eighteen: Giving in the the Nothing

I open my eyes slowly, trying to remember what happened and where I am.

When my eyes adjust, I look around...

I'm in a hospital.

Dana's sitting by my bed, nearly breaking my hand as she holds it.

There's a large...thing on my lower torso, making it very uncomfortable for me to lay in this bed.

My head throbs as I reach up with my free hand to remove the oxygen mask, which is a little too tight. My throat is dry when I try to talk.

"What happened?" I ask, but I doubt that Dana can hear my voice.

She looks at me, almost unsure if I'm the one who just spoke, and smiles. "You're awake."

"Really? I had no idea," I joke weakly. "What happened? Why am I in the hospital?"

Dana releases the death grip on my right hand. "You collapsed at school. Everyone's very worried about you. I almost died of worry." Her face falls, as if using the word died was a large mistake.

"What's crushing me?"

"Hmm? Oh!" Dana looks over to whatever it is that's laying on me. "It's Marco, dear. He's been here all night." She casts a small smile at me. "Poor thing was a nervous wreak. I almost had to give him a few sleeping pills in order for him to get some rest."

I blink. "So you let him lay on me?" I try to sit up, in an effort to see Marco, but I'm too weak. "How bad am I?" I don't think there's much of a point in asking. If I look and am as bad as I feel, Death must be so close to me It's breathing down my neck. Needs a few mints if you ask me.

Dana frowns and replaces my oxygen mask. "Try to go back to sleep, okay? Is it all right if I go home and shower? I'll be as quick as I can."

"Take your time," I say, but nod in case my voice was softened even more by the plastic around my mouth and nose.

Dana's bloodshot eyes crinkle slightly as she smiles. "I'm so glad you're awake. I promise I won't be gone too long." She kisses my forehead and stands up. She walks around my bed and starts for the door.

I watch Dana as she heads for the hospital room door, her head down slightly and her gnome-like frame quivering.

I remove my oxygen mask again.

"D... Mom?"

I don't know why I just said that, it just kind of came out... it felt good though; finally being able to call a woman Mom and even if she doesn't like it, I said it. I thought I forgot how to say that word, Mom, I haven't said it in so long. It feels all kinds of right, calling Dana Mom.

Stopping abruptly, Dana slowly turns around. Fresh tears slide down her cheeks as she says. "Y-yes, honey?"

"Could you shift Marco for me? I think I've lost the circulation in my legs."

Dana laughs softly and walks over to the bed. She carefully moves Marco back, so that he's leaning back in the chair he was falling out of, and then kisses the top of his head. Dana walks up to me and, after yet again replacing the oxygen mask, plants a kiss on my forehead.

Five minutes later I'm staring at the sleeping body that is Marco.

He doesn't look like he used to when he slept, now he looks like he's seen a million kilometers of bad road. His face looks drawn and sick, worry is plastered to his features, and his eyes are shut tight.

Marco groans softly. He must be having a daymare.

His body seems weaker than mine and thin, his usually perfect hair disheveled, and arms hanging limply, missing the arm rests.

Somewhere along the line I have a small coughing fit, bad enough to make my throat even rawer than it was before. My entire body shook and the spell seemed to have taken most of the energy I had left in my body.

So this is what it feels like to die?

The cold blanket wrapping around you more and more, the loud yet subtle aching of your organs shutting down.

So this is what it feels like to die.

I'm looking up at the ceiling when I hear Marco shift in his chair and yawn. I turn my head to look at him. I must really not look that good, for Marco's eyes dull.

"How long have you been awake?"

I shrug.

"Are you feeling all right?" he asks, sounding as if he doesn't know whether or not he should be talking.

"Horrible," I say flatly.

Marco leans closer to me and pulls the mask down to my neck. "That bad, huh?"

"Yeah... How is everyone?" I ask.

"Worried I suppose. They all went home last night, but they left cards and things," Marco explains, motioning to the night stand beside my bed. Colorful envelopes and small knickknacks cover it, choking it within a meter of its little life. "Dana and I didn't know whether or not you wanted to open the cards so we just left them."

I move my eyes back to Marco. "Thanks."

"I'm really sorry about what happened. I'm sorry about everything."

"I know you are, there's no need to be sorry."

Marco frowns. "I got you worked up..."

"So? This was bound to happen sooner or later. It's not your fault, Marco."

"Still, I—"

I sigh softly. "Why are you apologizing? I'm the one treating you like crap. I can't even apologize myself."

Marco shakes his head. "I never should have ignored you like I did and—"

"I'm sorry," I say, putting emphasis on the word I'm.

We stay in silence after that, Marco looking at me while I'm looking past him at nothing in particular. After what seems like hours I move my gaze to the ceiling and heave a deep sigh.

"I'm so tired of being ill," I blurt out, my voice shaking a bit.

"What?" Marco asks, caught off guard.

"I finally get a foster parent who really cares about me, I finally make friends, I finally meet someone like—and it's all going to be taken away from me." I continue on, not really talking to Marco: "It's not fair. I've been ill for so long and deprived of so many things and when I do finally get happiness it's going to leave. Sometimes I wish that I could just get this over with, that one day I won't wake up and that'll be it... but I'm scared."

My voice cracks and I shut my eyes, a warm tear making its way down my cheek.

"I don't want to die, not like this. I used to think that I'd meet my end by being shot while saving children in Africa, of old age, or quick and painlessly...not from AIDS. It's so hard to do this, so bloody hard..."

I feel Marco take my hand in his. "I know it must be, but you've still got a few good years, don't you? You can still—"

"I don't, Marco. I've stopped taking my medication. I may not have 'a few good years.'" I blink back more tears, some streaking down my face.

"You what?"

I laugh dryly. "I stopped taking my medication a long time ago. I'm not going to live much longer, I can feel it. God, Marco, I can feel it."

Marco goes quiet again. What his facial expression looks like I don't know.

"I never really found a point in taking them, why prolong something that's going to happen no matter what? I used to think and now look at me. I'm terrified, Marco. I don't want to die. Not like this, anything but this. My mother abandoned me as a child because I had HIV, that's the real reason. That's how I really got it, Marco. I couldn't tell you or anyone because then you'd know my own mother hated me enough to leave me on the steps of a church she never set foot inside. I came from nothing, Marco. No one ever loved me, but I finally have that now. I have a mother who really loves me and not some junkie who only stopped sticking needles in her veins to carry me to term and give me this bloody disease—the only thing my birth mother every gave me. I have something now and I'm going to lose it all. I don't want it taken away from me, Marco. What kind of God does that? He gives a boy who had nothing everything and then changes His mind."

Still, Marco says nothing.

I sigh again. "I'm sorry for everything I've ever done to you, Marco." I hear a soft sniffle as a reply and I then lapse into the silence of the room except for the noise of the machines I'm hooked up to.

"I called my parents and I have to go home, okay? Dana came back an hour ago," Marco's voice invades my cloudy mind.

I open my eyes and turn my head, noticing that that damned oxygen mask has been put back where it belongs. I nod slightly and watch Marco turn his back and walk to the door. Walking out of the room, he turns left. As quickly as I can (which isn't that quick) I take off my mask. "Marco?"

He appears in the doorway a few seconds later. "What's wrong?"

"I love you," I say, surprised and wanting to know how I said it.

Marco turns around and begins to walk out of the door, but stops and turns his head to look back at me. "I love you too, Cyril." From across the room I can see his eyes light up and twinkle.

I smile at him, a huge weight lifting off my shoulders. Dana's hand, at some point in my sleep wrapping itself in mine, squeezes mine.

"I'll visit you tomorrow," Marco says, returning a smile before he leaves.

Looking back up at the ceiling I watch the ceiling tiles blur before I close my eyes.

I don't know how long I've been here now. The nurses have told me what day it is of what week of what month, but I forget it all. It might have been two weeks, maybe more or maybe less.

The first day I was here I could sense creeping Death standing just outside of my door, fingers brushing against the wood, waiting for me to open the door. I had thrown my body against that door, praying that it would never open, but the longer I'm here to more the door is opening. I can feel my body decaying more and more each day. I'm more frightened than I ever was before.

"I want you to promise me something," I say softly. I had planned what I was going to say for a long time now. I only hoped the words would could out right.

"Sure. What is it?" Marco asks. He's sitting in the chair to my left, reading me an article from the most recent Rolling Stone. I had never been paying attention to it, just wanted to hear Marco's voice, so I don't feel bad interrupting him.

I pause, going over the sentences in my head before I actually say them. I turn my head to look Marco in the eyes. "This is really important to me." He had set the magazine down, meeting my gaze like if he didn't the last string to my life would break. "So I want you to promise me that...that you won't forget me."

"Why would I ever forget about you?" He looks at me like my brain had turned to jell-o, like I had gone insane.

Answering that question was in my booklet because I knew he was going to ask that, but I skipped that part. The door was splintering. "I want you to get married, committed, however you'd like to put it, and adopt hundreds of kids...but I want you to promise me that you won't forget about me." That was the most selfish thing in the world to ask for, but I don't want to go forgotten. Apart from the death trying to get to me that is the biggest fear of mine.

"I'll never forget about you, Cyril," Marco promises. He leans forward and takes my hand, weaving his fingers with mine. He lays his head down on my chest, turned so that we're still looking at each other.

I watch him as his eyelids grow heavy and eventually he can't keep them open anymore. I smile and watch him sleep, just holding his hand and praying to God that I forgive Him for what He had to put me through. He brought me into this world the ill bastard son of a junkie, He had given me HIV but had spared me a heroin addiction, He made me live all those years in an orphanage and in homes that never fully cared about me. But He had given me Dana, the mother I was always meant to have, and He had given me Marco.

I'm dying, I feel it. I feel the wood splinters being driven into my flesh and I can feel the heat radiating from Death. I can smell the toxic stink of Death's breath, I can hear his deep, scratchy throat tell me that it's time to go. I'm dying so young and I'm angry for that, absolutely terrified, but I can deal with that. God kept me alive long enough to meet Marco and I'll be the first in line to hug Him for doing that for me.

Just give me a few more minutes. I might be impatient, but I need to say some sort of good-bye.

I'm not wearing my rings and I'm glad for that. I don't want to try getting one off using only my thumb because my other hand is otherwise engaged. They're resting on my night stand because I want them there. I don't want to have to search around for them when I knew this moment was going to be happening soon.

With my left arm I reach out toward the table. It's hard because I'm so weak, but with my arm being as long as it is eventually I'm able to grab one of my Death's Head rings. It's ironic, but as good a gift as any.

I put the ring in Marco's free hand and close his fingers around it. I kiss the top of his head. I'd be bawling now, but I'm just too weak to cry. Besides, if I was weeping I'd never be able to whisper understandingly: "I love you more than you'll ever know."

I doubt Marco heard me, but maybe he did. I needed to say it and I did. Whether or not he heard me at least I said it.

I lean back into the pillows and stare at Marco again, the man I love with everything my fading soul has in it. I'd die for him and guess what? I am. How many angels can say that they actually died for the one they loved?

So come on, Death, come and get me. I've back away from the door now, but all I ask of you is to not take my Marco for a while. Give him a few years to make some other man happy. Give him a chance to become something.

And, God, don't ever let him not feel the love I have for him. Don't ever let him feel like I'm not there because I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that I am there, that I haven't really left him.

Just in body I'm leaving him, but never in spirit. Never in spirit. Never in spirit….