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Petit Morts Countdown...#10

Tomorrow's the big day! Release day! Yay!

Dying with dignity. Passing on one’s own terms. Approaching the end in a caring, nurturing atmosphere. There are plenty of reasons people check in to Hospice House…but Eddie Flynn’s just there for the morphine.

Eddie’s lung capacity is down to 15%, he’s in continual pain, and he’s constantly burning up with fever from the infection he just can’t shake. Given his physical condition, he’s baffled to find himself fawning over the hot guy stocking the vending machines.

Eddie figures it’s futile to even flirt with someone, considering how little time he’s got left. But there’s something about the guy with the name “Chance” embroidered on his coveralls that he just can’t stop thinking about—not only for Chance’s naughty smile and bedroom eyes.

It seems Eddie’s somehow ended up with Chance’s pen.

Chance’s fingers drifted to his throat. His red bandanna was gone. Strange…he hadn’t realized he’d grown so enamored of it.

His shop was gone, too. No subtlety whatsoever. There one minute, gone the next. The Fates must have been in quite a hurry. The thought of them scrambling, breathless and frantic, to fling everything into place for his next task—that notion pleased him. He smiled to himself.

The hall in which he now stood was plain. A hint of disinfectant that was supposed to smell like something pleasant, but didn’t, lingered. A bank of vending machines spanned the wall. On the corner of the plexi that covered the front of the nearest machine, a gold sticker read:

Sweets to the Sweet Vending Co.
Comments? Complaints?
Call 1-888-CHOKLAT


Chance supposed it explained the hand truck stacked with boxes in front of him, and the butch work clothes—black, of course, with his name embroidered in red over the place his heart would have been. English, like the sticker. American, to be precise, judging by the toll-free number. He ran a hand through his hair. It was long enough in front to tuck behind his ear, short in back. Then he peered down at his shoes: steel-toed work boots. Terribly butch, indeed.

While the hall was empty, for the moment at least, the sounds of humanity were close. Voices, a television, a phone ringing. Chance opened his senses. The place felt good. It felt right.

Which was more than he could say for most places.

He tore open the top box, and the smell of cheap, commercial chocolate momentarily blocked the scent of chlorine and phenols. As he stared into the box, a couple rounded the corner—no one he needed to concern himself with. They stepped around him like he was invisible, and fed some quarters into a nearby vending machine. The machine whirred and clunked, a cup dropped into place, then syrup mixed with hot water and sprayed into the cup. Chance saw the workings of it as it went through its motions. It made him miss his espresso machine, all steam and bombast.

Ridiculous. He unlocked the machine directly in front of him and began stocking the plastic-wrapped cupcakes with sure, economical movements, and he told himself that sentimental nonsense about the espresso machine was unacceptable. He was perfectly at ease here in this—what was it, a clinic? A hospital? He didn’t miss the shop.

“It’s nice here,” the woman said to the man as he waited for the spout to stop dripping. Accent? Midwest. Ohio, maybe. Michigan. The flat, nasal A and hard R danced at the edge of Chance’s tongue, should he need to speak. “Homey,” the woman went on. “And the staff is so nice.” The man nodded. If he answered her, Chance saw, he would cry. Once his cup was ready, they stepped around Chance again, blowing on their coffees, and disappeared around a corner.

The gluttony, the dirty, secret pleasure, the want, the need. Missing those things from the shop was understandable. Wherever he was now, though…it reminded him of other things he missed, too. The weight of human mortality settling around his shoulders was comforting, like the embrace of an old lover whose leaving would always be a mystery. He’d enjoyed his old vocation. He’d been good at it. And yet….

He squeezed a pair of plastic-wrapped cupcakes packaged side by side on a cardboard strip. They sprang back into shape the moment he released the pressure.

One didn’t want to become stale.

It had been a long time. He’d come a long way. Farther than he would have ever thought possible. So many people, so many pleading faces, all of them yearning for one simple thing. Love.

The tempered glass had gone opaque. Frost rimed the interior of the vending machine, sparkling on the crimped edges of the plastic packaging. Chance wondered how long he’d been lost in his thoughts. If anyone had come or gone while he’d been wandering down memory lane, he hadn’t noticed them, nor they him.

They weren’t The One.

Since the cases were refrigerated, it took quite a while for the glass on the first machine to clear. Traffic in the hallway was not exactly bustling. Chance began to work more slowly. With his shop, it was at least more obvious what he was supposed to do—tend the counter. If The One didn’t show up, eventually Chance would lock the door and make candy. The next day, he’d do it again. Sometimes The One showed up within a day, or a week—then again, it might take months. But surely it would only take so long to re-stock the vending machines. And then what?

• • •

Blip. Blip. Blip. Blip. Blip. Beeeeee….

Eddie glanced at his heart monitor. Funny, he didn’t feel dead. He’d always imagined halos and wings and a chorus of harps. Or maybe a long tunnel with a light at the end.

A couple of months ago, once the laundry lists of diagnoses had begun, he’d tried to shape his vision of the great hereafter into something a bit more exciting. Men with washboard abs, tanned skin glistening under the sun as they mopped their brows with the T-shirts they’d just peeled off. Doing some sort of non-specific construction work, he supposed, although why they would need hot, gay builders when St. Peter could just wave his hand and make it so, Eddie hadn’t quite worked out.


If there even was a heaven. Eddie wasn’t exactly sure, because his boon pal Leah always said he was made of “source,” and that he and everyone else were all “source” having experiences, and when his experience was over, he would be re-absorbed into the energy that was everyone, and everything. Conceptually, it intrigued him, but the thought that Eddie Flynn’s thirty-eight years of life on the planet would add up to the same shapeless, formless energy as everyone else’s—including the bacteria who died their quiet deaths every time the cleaning crew hit them with Lysol—made him feel melancholy, and preemptively disappointed.


A face poked around Eddie’s doorjamb. Travaughn, his day nurse. Travaughn looked more like a gang-banger than a nurse. Whenever his sleeves rode up, Eddie couldn’t help but ogle the do-it-yourself ink, indigo against brown skin, and wonder what all the blotches and symbols were supposed to mean. Probably nothing good, given that Travaughn had ended up with the spooked look of someone who’d seen more death than even a hospice nurse was supposed to.


“Sorry, man. We had a power surge. Knocks everything all crazy.” Travaughn leaned across Eddie’s bed railing and turned off the monitor.


Eddie took the clip off his forefinger and set it on the tray beside his untouched tapioca pudding. He felt too hot to do dairy. Especially tapioca. He’d never been clear on what that stuff actually was.

“You been up for your walk today?”

Eddie would have sighed, except that it hurt to sigh.

Travaughn looked him over. “You makin’ that face that say no.”

Eddie almost did sigh. And then he almost coughed—and coughing was the worst, because even though the doctors said the shunt in his right lung was nowhere near any nerves he should be able to feel, he swore that when he coughed, he could feel it stabbing him, tearing his lungs up from the inside. “Can’t I just lie here and listen to the chorus of a half-dozen heart monitors malfunctioning?”

“You could…but you’d feel better if you get yo’ ass outta that bed and walk.”

Eddie loved Travaughn. He wouldn’t say as much—undoubtedly it would just be awkward. Travaughn: straight, black, alive…Eddie: gay, white, and barely.

Travaughn said, “I’ll come get you once I let everyone know what’s happening.”

Eddie pushed down his bed rail and swung his feet over the side of the mattress. His slippers felt cool, for a moment. And then, like everything else his fevered body touched, they warmed. “No, s’okay. I’m good to walk.”

Pop would hit the spot. Either he could drink the thing—no need to worry about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup anymore—or he could roll the can around on his body, at least until it grew as warm as everything else he touched.

Travaughn pulled the I.V. stand around so Eddie could use it to steady himself, and when it seemed that all systems were go, left to help the other patients discover that they were not yet dead, either.

Walking. Such a pain in the ass. Yes, he knew he would feel better afterward—even though it was looking like the COPD or one of its many complications would finish him before bedsores set in. But walking meant breathing, and breathing meant that little fucking shunt tearing him up from the inside out.

Minor commotion in one of the rooms. Evidently they’d taken the heart monitor’s word over the evidence of their own two eyes. Maybe. Or maybe someone had actually died. The first time it had happened, Eddie freaked out—quietly, to himself, without a lot of heavy breathing. But after the second or third, he’d come to terms with the fact that dying was what people came here to do, so being a drama queen about it would get old, fast.

Eddie walked to the end of the hall, turned, and made his way through the double doors that led to the public areas. The sound of the few heart monitors still bleating silenced as the doors swung shut behind him. Lights clacked on overhead, one by one, activated by an energy-saving motion detector, and a gentle fluorescent tube buzz filled the newborn silence. Eddie turned another corner.


Too bad his heart monitor wasn’t on, because the guy filling the vending machine looked suspiciously like the last gasps of a dying brain, and the reality check would have been welcome. Because if it was all a wish-fulfillment fantasy, Eddie would have liked to take a big, deep breath. Shout, sigh, wolf-whistle. All of the above.

Pain, however, had made Eddie more cautious, as pain tends to do. He took a careful breath. It hurt.

Too bad. Eddie had been hoping it might be a fantasy. Because then some music would have piped in, the hot vending machine guy would have turned toward him, grinding his hips, and the strip show would begin. Instead, the guy glanced at the ingredients on a candy bar wrapper, shook his head in disgust, and stuffed the candy into the corkscrew-shaped dispenser.

It wasn’t that Eddie thought he could cruise someone in hospice—especially given his 15% lung capacity. More that old habits died hard. And that maybe it was beneficial to check someone out—like walking. He didn’t technically need to do it. But it did feel good.

Suddenly the I.V. was an embarrassment, like maybe he should have hung a few jackets and a hat on it and pretended he just happened to be leaning against a coat tree. But the vending machine guy hadn’t noticed the clack of the wheels against the tile, nor had he acknowledged Eddie’s approach.

Probably for the best. After all, with his arm tubed to the I.V. with a six-inch midline catheter, it wasn’t as if any sort of fantasy, however brief, could come to fruition. He couldn’t act as if he was there visiting a dying friend because he was such a great guy. He couldn’t pretend he was skinny because he liked the way it made his ironic T-shirts hang. And seeing the look on the vending machine guy’s face once he got a load of the I.V. would not likely be something Eddie wanted to dwell on.

Eddie fed his quarters into the pop machine and pressed a button. A series of elaborate clunks sounded. A wisp of frosty air escaped the flap on the bottom. But no can.

Great. Now he’d have to talk to the cute vending guy, I.V. or no I.V. “Excuse me.”

The guy—“Chance,” according to the embroidery on his shirt—turned and locked eyes with Eddie. He didn’t look startled. He didn’t look dismayed. He didn’t look…much of anything. A blank slate. A very pretty blank slate. A blank slate Eddie would have cruised in a heartbeat, if his gaydar bleeping like a heart monitor on the fritz was anything to go by—if not for the damned I.V.

Oh well. He’d settle for a can of pop.“The machine ate my quarters.”

Chance considered Eddie’s statement with profound gravity, and then he swiveled his gaze onto the offending soda machine as if he expected an explanation from it. His brow furrowed—great eyebrows, wickedly peaked—and then he pulled a slip of paper and pen from his pocket as if he’d only just realized they were there. “Here you are. Fill this out, and the company will send you a refund in four to six weeks.”

Eddie couldn’t help it. He laughed—and dear God, how it hurt. He held his breath, pressed his eyes shut against the pain, and sagged against the side of the machine. “Are you kidding me? I don’t even have four to six days.”

Chance cocked his head and looked at Eddie again, a soul-deep look that made the hairs on Eddie’s forearms stand at attention. “Funny, how that works.”

“Funny weird. Not funny ha-ha.”

“No. Not really.”

“All I want is a Pepsi.”

Chance narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

“Don’t tell anyone I told you, but if you pull that ring on top, you can get to the fizzy sweet stuff inside and drink it.”

Undaunted, Chance eased forward. Eddie stared. If it weren’t for the I.V. propping him up, he would have sworn he was getting cruised in return. “What I meant,” Chance said, “before you bowled me over with your oh-so-rakish wit, was that I wonder why a Pepsi is all you want?”

“Color me a realist. I find it more useful to want things I have some chance of getting.” Eddie’s gaze dropped to the open vee at the neck of Chance’s work shirt. Tendons played under the ivory skin of his throat. He looked profoundly smooth. Eddie wanted to lick him, right there where his top button was open, and feel the sublime smoothness beneath his tongue. He wanted it much more than he wanted a soda. But he was indeed a realist. “Can’t you just open up the machine and nudge the can the rest of the way down?”

Chance pushed the pen and paper, both cool to the touch, into Eddie’s hand. He turned toward the soda machine and gave it a long, critical once-over, then whacked it on the side. It shuddered and groaned. A Pepsi dropped from the chute. Vapor rose from the aluminum as Chance held it out to Eddie, and white frost spread from the bottom of the can halfway to the rim.

The frost inside the machine must have stopped up the works. But Chance didn’t seem keen to investigate.

When Eddie reached for the can, Chance pulled it back and smiled a teasing smile. “Be careful what you wish for. Isn’t that what they always say?” Eddie looked deep into Chance’s eyes, though he couldn’t say for sure exactly what color they might be. “And yet…I’m not so sure I agree. Why is it such a crime to get what you want?”

The can was so cold it hurt Eddie’s fingers to touch it when Chance finally held it still enough for him to take it. He wanted the pop, yes. But more than that, he wanted to lean in farther and close that distance to Chance’s lips; he wanted to do so even more sharply than he wanted to take a long, deep, pain-free breath. And he’d been wanting to breathe for months. As Eddie hovered on the cusp of initiating the kiss, he agonized about how, and what if, and why even bother when it wasn’t as if it could lead to anything…and the pause stretched just a moment too long.

Inside that pause, Chance backed away. He smiled his goodbye, kicked his hand truck back on its wheels, and carted his stack of half-empty cardboard boxes down the hall.

Eddie watched the spot where Chance turned a corner and walked out of sight. He shook his head. The sexy vending machine guy would have kissed him, he realized. A pit of hurt blossomed in his chest that felt something like the shunt in his right lung, but filled more deeply with regret.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 28th, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
I just have to say, this story is brilliant - and what a way to end this batch!
Oct. 28th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
This is a brilliant story. And should most definitely be read last. It's a perfect way to end the batch and will have readers eagerly awaiting the next.
Oct. 28th, 2010 01:05 pm (UTC)
I didn't pay either of them to say that, either.
Oct. 28th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
um. I don't suppose these'll be out *before* I get on my eight hour cross country flight tomorrow... will they?

Looks hopeful. Morning, maybe?

Ah well. Give me something to read in the hotel room late. :)
Oct. 28th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
They might be...it depends on when you leave! I plan to put them up for sale when I wake up tomorrow. I just wanted to be here and awake to monitor the store in case anyone has trouble with Google checkout. It only happens to one out of every four hundred customers but I don't want it to also be 1am my time and I'm asleep, you know?
Oct. 28th, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)
And I don't remember which device you read on, but Kindle's got the stories for sale already. I don't have to mind THEIR store ;-)
Oct. 28th, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
I read from my PC. Keep thinking I should download a kindle reader, but then have been thinking of buying a Kindle or Sony, too, so nothing gets done. *lol*

Nah, I'll wait, in any case. :) Stories'll be just as good tomorrow night if I leave too late to download. :) But the excerpts do have me jonesin'.

Haha. That one A.M. pain in the ass? That'd be me. :p

Smart, waiting til morning. Enjoy the excitement, and congrats!!
Oct. 28th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
Definitely try the free Kindle for PC software! (I read on Kindle for iPhone.) I have Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac installed so I can test my ebooks on them all and make sure they look good. Kindle for PC looked pretty user-friendly. Plus you'll be able to read big excerpts of any Kindle book you want. I love that.

I'll bet you really end up liking the reflowable text of a mobi/prc file. Then if you get a Kindle device, your stories will synch between the PC and the Kindle.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 28th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
I'm excited too. Woo!
Oct. 29th, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)

Did you say they were available for Kindle? Oh look - somehow they've ended up on mine already. =) Can't wait to read these!


P.S. Did anyone else but me read the LJ cut as "Where Chance misses his red bananna"? I saw that and the so-not PG-13 part of my brain went "Huh. So that's what colour it is." **facepalm** I really need to get some sleep.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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