Compared to how stoically he took the news in the doctor's office, Ryan was surprised by how difficult it was to call his adult children and explain that after years of fighting, death finally had him on the ropes. It was the final round, and he was not going to win.
Alex let out a shaking breath before asking him how he was feeling, what his plans were for a “good death”. The two men cried between every other word. His son would fly out with his husband and their children by the end of the week.
Millie was more clinical. She was not satisfied by his simply “giving up”, and interrogated him over his prognosis, medication and treatment options. The phone call lasted over two hours. It wasn’t until Ryan reminded his daughter, with an amused laugh, that he was seventy-four and “ready” did she finally concede to respect his wishes. Millie would also be at his retirement community by the end of the week.
It was difficult to look at Alex without feeling a sharp sting in his lungs. He appeared so similarly to Shane, it reopened the wound left in the wake of his husband’s sudden passing, taking his breath away. They even shared the same small birthmark beside their left eye, and knowing he would never kiss that small imperfection upon his husband’s face again made his slowing heart ache.
Though Ryan didn’t make his feelings known, his child had always been rather perceptive. Ryan didn’t miss how Alex would choose to do the chores that kept him in another room.
Alex’s teenage children did their best to keep Ryan entertained and comfortable. Anytime his expression would contort with discomfort, they would be quick with a video, story or heated debate over conspiracy theories.
Millie often put her children on the phone, but she refused to allow them to join her in LA. They were simply too young to watch someone die.
At the very least, her daughter was old enough to quilt him a blanket, using the remnants of Shane’s old shirts as flamboyant patterns. “It’s so like grandpa is with you,” she explained. Ryan was glad they elected not to turn on the video on Millie’s phone; it was easier to hide his weeping that way.
Ryan deteriorated quickly. By his third night in hospice care, he was having difficulties breathing. Oxygen was administered to make him more comfortable, but he knew it was the beginning of the end. No treatment could prolong the inevitable.
At 2:33 am, Ryan opened his eyes for the final time to find his family surrounding his bed, keeping vigil.
“Shane?” Ryan called out to his husband, sitting by his side, young and beautiful again. Shane came for him! He knew it! He knew he would.
Shane’s expression tightened. His frown deepened. The glossiness over his reddened eyes gave way, spilling over his cheeks. A sob bubbled passed his lips, but a moment later, the corners of his mouth quirked upwards into a small smile.
“Yeah, it’s me, R-Ryan,” Shane confirmed shakily.
Shane glanced up at Millie briefly. She nodded back at him. A whimper was wrought from Shane, as if he had been struck, before his focus was brought back to Ryan.
“Is it time?” Ryan asked, calm and collected. He had no fear. On the contrary, he was excited to begin this journey with his lover.
Shane’s brown gaze was hidden behind his tightly shut eyelids. “Yeah,” he murmured, opening his eyes and nodding. “Yeah, baby, it’s time. It’s time to come home to me.”
Ryan closed his eyes and exhaled.
The heart monitor let out a high-pitched wail.
Alex didn’t like to cry in front of his children. Their helplessness was palpable during the rare times he allowed tears to fall. He was supposed to be their support! Of course they would worry when the foundation beneath them crumbled. It was the worst feeling in the world, and yet, he couldn’t stop the flow of sorrow staining his cheeks.
In the rental car, on the drive back to their hotel, Alex took a moment to find solace in giving his father a few moments of peace prior to his passing.
As if his husband could read his mind, he reached out and placed a bronze hand over his. His almond-shaped eyes and pouting lips conveyed the condolences Alex didn’t want to hear. “That was a good thing you did,” he whispered.
Suddenly, the electronic screen on their dashboard console lit up. The radio, originally set to a pop station, changed channels without prompting from either man.
“Sad news in the ghost-hunting world today,” a male radio DJ began solemnly, “Ryan Bergara, famed paranormal investigator, has passed away at the age of 74. We don’t have a lot of details, but -“
“- Yeah, he’d had cancer for years now, right?” another host cut in.
“Yeah. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
“He’s with his husband now, probably hanging out with the other famous ghosts in LA.”
Alex shut off the radio, unsure whether to focus on his fear or exhilaration.