Chapter Two

Geoff's heart jolted. "What?"

Tim coughed self-consciously into his fist and wouldn't meet his eye. Geoff quickly stood and snatched the folder, expecting to see in bold, red rubberstamp: Rabies. HIV. Bubonic plague.

Uric acid, Blood Urea Nitrogen, Creatinine, Glucose... Glucose. Geoff looked up. "He has diabetes?"

Tim's poker face broke and he clapped Geoff on the back so hard his heart stuttered back into beating regularly again. "Yep," he said, "you got bit by a hypoglycemic. Sorry to disappoint." He winked and poked Geoff's bandage.

Tim spun the fishbowl's single chair around and sat, saying, "About time you went home. Sun's almost up. Better rest up that bum arm of yours."

Geoff forced a laugh and continued to stare down at the documents, inwardly chiding himself for being so paranoid. Again.

Back in his room, Paul the diabetic had roused from sleep and was back to pacing the room. His lips moved but no sound was transmitted back to the fishbowl. Occasionally he would pause, squeeze his shoulders up around his ears, and slowly look around the room as if he knew, somewhere, someone was watching his tensed-up scarecrow walk with renewed interest. As Geoff clocked out and Tim turned his attention to the patient smearing her creamed corn across the cafeteria table, Paul went back to muttering and pacing in privacy.

The Christian Mallen Memorial Hospital's grey and white exterior slowly faded in Geoff's rearview mirror as he signaled his turn onto 22nd north. Several blocks of thin, cramped housing interspersed with blank storefronts passed and he pulled into the driveway of his anonymous townhouse. He opened the door, shut it, and was immediately met with a groan from the back shadows of the living room.

"Hello?" Geoff clicked on the light

"Gar!" his brother countered. He slumped further into the couch cushions, grimacing at the sudden light intruding on his private pain.

Geoff's expression didn't appear to change at the sight of his stricken sibling. Instead, he tossed his backpack on the over-stuffed chair with threads picked out along the bottom - evidence of the cat of the chair's former owners. Brendan threw his arm across his face and sighed the sigh of a well-rehearsed part.

His brother walked across to the kitchen and measured out two heaps of grounds into the coffee maker. He sat for a while, letting the warm, dark scent seep into his mind. He calmly realized how absolutely exhausting being terrified for one's life was and decided he would leave his brother to nurse his own hangover back to health.

Before he could reach the third step to his bedroom, however, Ezra rolled his arm away from his eyes and peered at him. "Where're you going?"

Geoff's foot paused part-way in the air. He sighed. "Going to get a cool washcloth," he said. Once he had returned to dab at his brother's forehead, he found Ezra had managed to at least right himself on the couch.

"Thanks," he said, flinching somewhat as he attempted to open his reddened eyes.

Geoff shrugged. It was his job.

"Can you guess what I did last night?"

"No."

Ezra laughed and winced. "Ha, yeah, I can't either," he said. "It's all a little muddy, you know?" I know, Geoff thought. I'm not surprised. He laid the washcloth over Ezra's forehead and took the coffee off the plate.

The sun was just beginning to rise in the sky. Although it left pastel blots of color over the city's sky, its light filtered flat and yellow through the dusty shades. A strike of light left a bright band across the far wall, cutting through several family photos in the process: Geoff, Ezra, and their parents at the beach, their mother in a wide-brimmed sunhat and polka dot sundress and their father hoisting each small boy in his arms as if he were the poster-dad family man of the fifties; Ezra, with spiked hair and thin-rimmed glasses, in his fourth grade picture; Geoff in the fifth grade with his naturally curly hair tufting out around his head.

Geoff handed his brother a mug and sat down. His hair was still curly, but its close-cropped ringlets looked like those of a newly shaved lamb compared to his woollier younger self. Ezra smiled the same school boy grin he'd mastered decades ago and sipped his coffee gratefully. The coffee seemed to restore his omnipresent humor and he joked about the bar he and his university friends had found squeezed between a pawn shop and an Episcopalian churchyard. Geoff laughed, feeling his own spirits pick up at hearing the story and seeing the light glow stronger behind his brother's eyes.

Ezra chuckled and nudged his brother in the ribs, whispering something private. Although the room and house were empty and there was no need for the soft voice and stifled laughs, the gesture seemed to encircle the brothers in again into the small sanctuary they'd created for themselves back from the moment of Ezra's birth and Geoff had first found something to care for.

In the dim, yellow room in the anonymous townhouse, the two brothers smiled and settled back into their lives.

Briefly, a shadow cut through the band of light between the blinds, a person walking by the window along the sidewalk. Briefly, Paul Cothridge's path cut across Geoff Lander's as he calmly wandered away from the chaos left behind in the moments following his escape.

The End

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