A date is set for Carlos' homecoming, but there are things to be done first. They need to change apartments, for one thing. Carlos won't be able to get upstairs to his bedroom and will need one of the handicapped accessible apartments in the building. Unsurprisingly Mr. Bitters fights them on it until Gustavo calls and offers to hire a lawyer for Carlos that the tune changes quickly and they're given an apartment that suits Carlos' needs. Everyone works hard to get the place set up nicely for Carlos. Carlos' bedroom in the new place gets a fresh coat of paint, posters of his favorite singers and movie stars and athletes are put up on the walls. They buy him a new king sized bed instead of the old twin sized bed he used to have. He gets new sheets, new fluffy pillows, and a soft and soft new comforter, in all his favorite colors.
Though everyone works hard to make the entire apartment perfect for Carlos' arrival no one works harder than James. Suddenly everything has to be meticulous, as if Carlos would even notice or care that maybe one of his posters is a little crooked. That the shade on the brand new lamp they bought for his bedroom doesn't match his curtains. That the rug is a little too scratchy under bare feet. He manages to find something wrong with nearly everything, so the other guys learn to step back and let James take over. Whenever they're not working or with Carlos at the rehab center James is hard at work making everything just right. It won't make up for what's happened but it keeps his mind off the guilt, stops it from eating away at him so badly.
Finally everything is ready, two days before Carlos is scheduled to be released. James stands in the middle of their new apartment, smelling like fresh paint and new carpet. It's different, it isn't the apartment they once made their own, with the swirly slide that Carlos loves so much. It's bigger, with everything on the same floor, no bedrooms on an upper level. The counters in the kitchen are low, so Carlos can reach. The bathtub is huge, there are metal rails along the sides of both the tub and the toilet, forever reminding James that this is soon to be the home of a handicapped person. And none of it feels right; this place doesn't feel like home. James can only hope that together the four of them can fill it with new memories, that they can make it feel lived in and homey soon. Maybe once Carlos comes home it'll feel right. James is praying for that.
It's early on the morning of Carlos' release. He isn't scheduled to leave until later in the afternoon but James' phone rings before the sun is even fully out. He groans tiredly, pulling the pillow over his head. He was up late last night, scrubbing the house clean, washing every article of bedding and clothing that Carlos owned just so it would smell freshly laundered and homey. But the phone keeps ringing so James looks at the caller ID and it alarmed to see it's the rehab center. Sitting up quickly, he snatches the phone, hands shaking as he answers. It hadn't occurred to him at first that the call might be important. Health wise Carlos is doing great, so why is the center calling him so early?
"Hello?" he answers, his voice tinged with sleep and worry.
"James." It's Carlos and there's urgency in his voice. James doesn't know if he should be relieved because Carlos is on the phone with him, he's actually hearing his voice and that means nothing horrible is happening. But there's still the fact that Carlos called him at 5:30 AM and judging by the tone of Carlos' voice there's definitely something going on. He hears a noise on the other end and it takes him a minute to realize that Carlos is crying. His heart jumps in his chest and he can feel it pulsing. "Carlos. Are you hurt? Are you sick?"
There's no answer right away and they're the longest few seconds of James' life. Then comes a big sniffle and Carlos is responding, "James. I just need you to come here. Please."