The 37 Days of Gusmas
Hello. I am Rebel, the dog of xie_xie_xie (not her real name). I've been in heaven. Have you missed me?
I am very sorry this is a few minutes late, but we don't really have time in heaven, so sometimes I lose track of earth time.
This is my new Christmas story about Rage the kitten, who is now a cat. I hope you like it very much. Thank you to xie_xie_xie who, despite using a false name, is a very good typist.
There are 37 drabbles, in order.
Rage the Kitten (Now Cat) Goes to Vermont A holiday story by Rebel
Rage sat on the bottom stair, tail twitching. Justin and the man were yelling at each other with red-hot angry voices. It didn't happen often, but when it did, Rage always wanted to run up to them and make them stop, or to hide, and also to scratch the man for yelling at his Justin. And to be honest, since the man gave Rage anything he wanted when Justin wasn't there to see, he almost thought he wanted to scratch his Justin, too.
He didn't know which to do, so he sat frozen on the bottom stair, twitching his tail.
"I can't believe you're canceling again."
Brian poured some scotch into a glass. "It's business."
Justin took the drink out of his hand and dumped it into the sink. "I have business, too, but I didn't throw our plans out the window at the first…"
"Christ, can you hear yourself?" Brian tried to get his voice under control. "I had no way of knowing Brown Athletics would…"
"You knew something would come up. It always does."
Brian's voice was sharp. "Be fair, Justin. This isn't an ordinary…"
"This isn't about being fair," Justin said coldly. And he left the room.
Brian stared out the window. He missed the loft, missed seeing streetlights instead of starry nights, missed the thumping beat at Babylon and getting lost in some stranger's mouth or ass.
"I need a drink," he said to no one, and turned back to the bar.
Rage was sitting next to the scotch, not blinking.
Brian poured a drink, and raised his glass to the cat. "It's hard on the kids when mommy and daddy fight, isn't it, Rage?" He took a sip, then frowned. "Shouldn't you be attempting to console Justin? To what do I owe this feline intervention?"
Rage tipped his head as if he was thinking about the man's question. Justin had, in fact, shut himself up in his studio, and Rage felt it was beneath his dignity to meow and paw at the door. Besides, he was still considering scratching the man. Or Justin. Or both.
The man had finished his drink, and poured another. "You know what the problem is, Rage?" he asked.
Rage, of course, didn't answer.
"He's not happy." He knocked back the entire glass of scotch. "And I don't fucking know what to do about it." He looked at Rage. "Do you?"
Brian laughed bitterly as the cat jumped down off the bar and trotted out of the room. "It's just you and me, I guess," he told the bottle as he filled his glass again. "Even small animals don't want to be around me tonight."
As the burn of the booze spread from his mouth to his brain, Brian thought about following Rage and trying to explain it all to Justin again. Brown Athletics was Kinnetik's second biggest account, and in the current economy, losing them would mean layoffs, restructuring, and a devastating loss of prestige in a fiercely competitive market.
Justin knew all that, Brian thought. He couldn't just get in the car and drive off to a romantic Christmas in Vermont with that axe hanging over Kinnetik's head. Over Brian's head.
He'd been in Chicago that morning, in DC meeting with Ramson the day before, and out in LA with Cynthia pitching a new account the day before that. He was jet-lagged and pissed off, and if Justin thought he was in the mood to…
On second thought, Brian reflected, now was probably not a good time to try to get Justin to see things his way after all.
Justin thought about taking the tunnel, but at the last minute he headed across the bridge instead. Maybe the view would calm him down.
He'd slept on the sofa in his studio the night before. Rage had slipped in when he'd gone out to pee, and then sat on the arm of the sofa looking at him reproachfully before he finally curled up behind Justin's knees and went to sleep.
It turned out he could have gone up to bed; Brian had passed out in the media room, an empty bottle of scotch on the floor next to the sofa.
"I can't believe this is happening again," Daphne said over brunch at their favorite Mt. Washington restaurant. "You guys and Vermont are like cursed."
Justin sipped his wine and nodded glumly. "No shit."
She frowned. "Are you going to go anyway?"
"That didn't work so well last time," Justin said.
"Not so he'll follow you," she said, then hesitated. "I mean, just to go."
Justin looked out the window before answering. "It would be a shame to just sit home pining while he works," he said slowly. "I guess, maybe…"
Daphne took a bite of bread, and didn't say anything.
Justin put a sweater into his bag. "Don't look at me like that," he told Rage. "Brian of all people understands I need to do what I need to do for me, just like he does."
"Mrrrow," Rage said disapprovingly.
"He can have his workaholic holiday, and you and I can have a festive one at a resort in Vermont." He zipped his bag. "You'll love it… we'll sit in front of the fire and I'll sketch you. I understand there's a lot of money in cat art."
Justin picked up his duffel, and looked around. "Come on," he said.
Brian had woken up with a raging hangover and a stiff neck. He snapped at Rage for meowing too loudly while he tried to overcome it with caffeine before going to the office. He yelled at the art director and two account executives, and would have yelled at Ted and Cynthia except he thought they'd probably quit, since both of them were supposed to have been off that weekend.
When he got home that night, the house was dark, and there was a note on the bar. "Gone to Vermont with Rage," it said. "Call if you want to talk."
Justin felt calm for the first time since… well, in a long time. "Smell that?" he said, turning onto a tree-lined road. "It's going to snow."
"Mrrroww," Rage said sleepily from where he was curled on the passenger seat. He didn't like snow. It was cold and wet and hard to get out of your paws. He loved Justin, but sometimes he wasn't very smart.
"Go back to sleep," Justin said. "We're still a couple of hours away."
Rage decided maybe Justin was pretty smart after all. He pawed his bed into a better, warmer configuration, and took his advice.
The next time he woke up, Justin was getting back into the car, steaming cup of coffee in one hand, a bag in the other.
Rage stretched, and put his paw on the bag.
"Lunch," Justin agreed, opening it.
They were parked overlooking a snow-edged waterfall. Rage shivered just thinking about the snow and cold and ice, and Justin started the engine and turned up the heat.
Justin sipped his coffee, and thought about their first Christmas with Rage, at the vet hospital, when he was just a kitten.
"Time to go," he told his cat, fastening his seat belt.
"This is the biggest bunch of crap I've ever seen," Brian started. "If you losers seriously think…"
Cynthia's hand appeared in front of the storyboards, and Ted's voice interrupted him. "Everyone, let's re-group tomorrow," he said as if he owned the place.
Brian stared at him in shock as the art team filed out the room, heads down, clutching their pathetic portfolios.
"What the fuck are you doing, Schmidt?" Brian said.
Cynthia answered. "He's trying to keep our entire art department from quitting and making it impossible for us to get this proposal in front of Leo Brown on time."
Brian laughed. "It won't matter if it's on time if it sucks," he pointed out. "And if you didn't notice, it does."
"I noticed," Cynthia told him. "I also noticed your attitude sucks worse."
"We think you should go home," Ted said. "We'll get a proposal together for you to look at next week, when we'll still have plenty of time to make revisions, and give the team a better chance to do their best work."
"You want me to go home?" Brian's voice was amused. "What, sit around at home, watching TV, while the minions take care of everything?"
"Sure," Ted said, somehow getting Brian out of the chair and onto his feet. "Better yet, go to Vermont like you planned." Brian started to say something, but Ted cut him off. "Delegate. Trust us."
Cynthia was nodding. Ted was still steering. Brian had no idea why, but he let Ted get him into his coat and out the door.
Fuck if he was going home to an empty house, though. He pulled out his phone. "Theodore threw me out," he told Michael. "What are you doing?"
Michael didn't answer right away, then said, "Playing the hand I was dealt."
Brian heaved a sigh. "That's either profound, or inane."
"Don't pretend you don't know what's going on."
Brian stared at the phone. "Are you at the store?"
"Where else would I be, South Beach?"
"I'll be there in five minutes."
When he pulled up in front or Red Cape, Michael was out front, a "Be back soon" sign on the door, bouncing from foot to foot in the cold.
Brian shoved the car door open, and before Michael had even gotten all the way in, said, "So, care to tell me what I'm pretending not to know is going on?"
"I know you think you're above mundane human needs like having someone to hold you at night, or some balance in your life…"
Brian stared. "Save the Oprah philosophizing for Debbie, and the Buddhist 'balance' crap for your husband."
"Justin's not happy," Michael said after a short silence.
"Funny, that's just what I was telling the cat."
"And neither are you," Michael said.
"What is this, a fucking intervention?"
"Call it whatever you want. Go work yourself into a heart attack. Or go out and get drunk, or laid. Do whatever you want. Just don't pretend it's making you happy."
Brian peeled away from the curb after Michal got out, and a minute later realized it was raining. He turned on his wipers, but they barely cleared the glass at all.
His phone rang, and he pulled over to answer it. "What, another intervention?"
"Hello to you, too," said Lindsay.
"I can't believe Michael had time to call you."
Silence, then, "He told me you weren't going out of town after all, so Gus and I thought you might like to come light the Hanukkah candles with us tonight."
He sighed. "Playing the Gus card. You're all getting truly desperate."
"And you're getting paranoid. I just thought you might like to spend time with your son, who you haven't seen in three months."
"Has it really been three months?" That couldn't be right.
"Yes. Since his birthday."
He sighed. "I'll come." Then he frowned. "Is this the first night, or the last?"
"Is that the one that counts?"
"They all count." She sounded exasperated. "Here, he wants to talk to you."
"Hey, Gus. Happy Hanukkah."
"Will you come tonight?"
"Love you! See you tonight!"
"I love you, too," he said, and hung up the phone.
Then he dialed again. "Mikey," he said. "Do you have the name of this romantic resort Justin's hiding at?" He glanced at the clock. "I'm going to light candles with my offspring, then take a road trip."
Brian was entering the address into his GPS when he heard squealing tires and a crash. He got out of the car and raced through the rain to where a woman was slumped over the wheel.
He was just dialing 911 when he heard another squeal. He felt something hot and broken against his body, and then he didn't feel anything at all.
Justin ran his hand firmly down Rage's back, feeling his purr rumble against his palm.
They were sitting in front of a roaring fire. Room service had brought dinner, and now Justin was sipping a brandy while Rage stared at the flames, eyes half-shut.
"Well," Justin said, "at least neither of us is in the hospital again this Christmas."
"Rowwwr," Rage agreed. He never wanted to go to a hospital again, ever.
Justin bent over him. "This was stupid, wasn't it? Coming without Brian."
Rage didn't say anything, just dug his claws lightly into Justin's jeans, purring a little louder.
Lindsay frowned at the phone. It had rolled to voice mail for the fourth time.
"Typical Brian," Melanie said.
"I don't know, Mel. He usually keeps his promises to Gus."
Melanie thought it a minute. "True. Maybe he went to Vermont after all?"
She sighed. "Michael said he and Justin had a huge fight. Maybe they're in the middle of…"
"Make-up sex? He could still show up for his kid."
"Okay," Lindsay said. "I'll call Justin."
She dialed his number, and wondered if it would go to voice mail, too. But he answered.
"Justin! Happy Hanukkah! Is Brian with you?"
Justin hung up, hesitated, then called Brian's phone. Voice mail. He dialed Michael.
"I don't know, Justin. He said he was going to Mel and Linds' to light candles with Gus, then…"
"Driving to Vermont to see you."
Justin sat there for a minute. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Michael said. "I gave him the address. I'm sure."
"Then where the fuck is he?"
"Maybe his phone is out of range."
"He wouldn't have left without seeing Gus, if he told him he was coming."
Justin could hear Michael thinking.
"Want me to call Carl?"
"Yeah," Justin said. "I do."
It was an 11 hour drive back to Pittsburgh, to the hospital where Carl found Brian. It was snowing as Justin drove down out of the mountains, but it turned to rain long before he got to Pittsburgh. The taillights of all the other travelers turned the road and his windshield into a field of red lights, like some underwater Christmas tree.
He grabbed the phone from the seat next to Rage when it rang. "Brian?"
"It's me, Sunshine," Debbie said. "We're here at the hospital with him."
Justin felt like he was going to throw up. "Is he okay?"
"They don't know yet. He's unconscious. His car…"
"What about his car?"
"It's totaled," she said. "If he'd been in it, he'd be dead."
"He wasn't in it?"
"No," she said. "He'd gotten out to help someone else who was in an accident, like some other do-gooder asshole I know."
Justin swore. "He's totally incapable of doing something heroic without ruining his fucking life, isn't he?"
Rage meowed as Justin hung up. "He stopped to help someone and now he's in a coma," Justin told him. "Sound familiar?"
"Mrrrroowwww," Rage said, mournfully. He should have known more hospitals would happen.
Rage always liked to go where Justin went. He didn't mind car rides, unless they involved the vet, and Justin had seemed as unwilling to go there as Rage was, after the whole Christmas light incident.
But he'd spent the better part of two days in a car now, and he wanted to be somewhere. Home, preferably, but the visiting place with the nice fire and the people who brought food was fine, too. Just not this car, and definitely not hospitals.
"Not the holiday getaway I promised, is it, Rage?" Justin said, reaching across the seat to pet him.
It was dark when Justin left Vermont, and still dark when he pulled into the parking lot of the hospital early the next morning. The rain had finally turned to snow again, and it was bitterly cold.
Justin hesitated a minute, then tucked Rage inside his down jacket. "Be quiet," he said as he walked toward the door. "You know they don't allow cats in hospitals."
Rage settled himself more securely against Justin's chest, and thought to himself that "no cats in hospitals" was a very sound policy.
When Justin got out of the elevator, Michael was waiting for him.
What scared Justin wasn't the bandage around Brian's head, or the cast on his leg. It was how pale he was, how quiet. It wasn't like watching him sleep. It was like there wasn't anything going on inside his head.
Michael had told him what was going on before leaving to get some sleep. Broken ribs, broken leg, head injury. The doctors expected him to wake up, but until the swelling went down, they couldn't know whether or not there would be permanent brain damage.
Justin just nodded, thinking about other nights in the hospital, and other kinds of damage.
Rage didn't mind being inside Justin's jacket. It was one of his favorite places to be, although he was getting a little squished from Justin leaning over the bed.
He wriggled to the side, and heard a terrible sound. His Justin was crying!
"Meeeroooo," he said, sticking his head out.
"Shhhh," Justin said, swiping his nose with one hand and tucking Rage back inside with the other.
"I must have been in a coma," a hoarse voice said, "if you had to bring the cat."
"BRIAN!" Justin was kissing the man, and Rage got squished again. But he didn't mind.
They moved Brian to a regular room while Justin took Rage home and showered.
When he got back, Brian was asleep, but it was real sleep. He looked warm and alive. He looked like Brian.
Justin was dozing in the chair when he heard Brian's voice. "Hey."
He smiled, leaned forward, and kissed him. "Hey."
Brian cleared his throat. "When the fuck can I get out of here?"
"Tomorrow," Justin said. "If everything is fine, tomorrow."
"What's tomorrow?" Brian asked after a moment.
"Christmas Eve," Justin said.
Brian snorted. "How festive."
"I'll take it," Justin said, squeezing his hand, hard.
Michael went home with them the next day, but Brian refused all assistance until he was ten steps from the media room sofa. He stood there, swaying on his crutches, pale and sweating.
"You're such an idiot," Justin said, slipping his arm around one side.
"A total asshole," Michael agreed, sliding his arm around the other.
Brian let them lower him onto the sofa, but he shoved them away when they tried to put a blanket over him. "Will you two just fuck off?"
Michael and Justin looked at each other, satisfied. "Merry Christmas to you, too," Michael said, grinning.
They finally got Brian upstairs, but he was so exhausted Justin had to wake him up to give him his pain pill. Brian woke up late Christmas Day, Justin sitting cross-legged on the bed next to him, working on his laptop. Rage was sitting on his good leg, purring loudly.
Brian licked his lips, and Justin looked up.
"Have to pee."
Justin helped him to the bathroom, and while Brian peed, he said, "I guess I missed Christmas. Sorry."
"Don't worry. Kwanzaa starts tomorrow. Lasts a whole week."
Brian laughed, even though it hurt. "My new favorite holiday," he said.
Rage was bored. Normally there was nothing he liked more than a long winter's nap, but all the man did was sleep, and his Justin seemed wrong, somehow.
So he started poking and nudging the man, until he finally opened his eyes and grunted. "Time I went downstairs, I guess?"
"Meeerrrrooow," Rage said.
"Look who's awake." Justin was standing in the door.
"Where's my phone?" the man asked, looking around.
"Crushed in the accident."
"Fuck," the man said. "I have to find out how the Brown Athletics…"
"Fuck the phone," Justin said. Rage didn't like the way his face looked.
The man didn't move. "Fuck the phone," Justin said again. "Fuck Brown Athletics, fuck Kinnetik, and fuck you if you mention work one more fucking time until you can at least pee on your own."
Rage looked from one face to the other. His tail twitched.
Justin was standing over the bed. "Brian, what's going on? This is totally fucked."
The man made a weird sound. "Well," he said, "it's not like it's been a bed of roses for me, either."
"Things were so good last year, after I got out of the hospital…" and then he stopped. "The hospital."
Brian didn't like the way Justin and Rage were staring at him. "What about the hospital?"
"Is that what this whole fucked-up year has been about?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. And I have to pee."
Justin's lips got tight, but he helped Brian into the bathroom.
"It's been since I was in the hospital last year," Justin started the minute Brian was back in bed. "You've been drinking too much, and picking fights with everyone, and working too much…"
Brian flinched. "Maybe. Probably. I hadn't really thought about it."
Justin sat on the edge of the bed.
Well, Rage thought, that made sense. Everyone knew hospitals were bad places, and if his Justin and the man were fighting, it was probably because of hospitals.
Now, though, the two of them were kissing and talking in very quiet voices. He relaxed, but just as he started to give himself a bath, he heard his Justin say, "No."
"I'm never going to Vermont again. It's cursed."
"Well," the man said, "anywhere you want. For a whole week."
"Can you really get away for a whole week?"
"Why not?" The man smiled and touched Justin's face. "It's only time."
Rage jumped off the bed. Justin and the man were laughing and kissing and making a big mess, drinking something sour and bubbly that Rage didn't like.
Maybe, he thought as he trotted down the stairs, there was some of that nice chicken left over in his bowl.
There was. And after he ate it, he had a drink of sweet, non-sparkly water. Then he went into the room where they liked to watch television, and jumped onto his favorite chair. Life is good, he thought, drifting off to sleep.
His tail was wrapped around him, not twitching at all.