Hunter Parslowe would never forget that day, even if he tried.
It was a couple of weeks after the long trip to Canada – his first out-of-town trip with Blake that year, 2010.
Med school and working at the hospital had kept Blake very busy. When their schedules finally matched and Blake was granted a three-day break, Hunter made sure to have everything carefully planned out – from the places they’d visit, down to the hotel accommodation.
But by the time they arrived in Canada, they were both worn out and weary from the trip. It was a full 24-hour excursion spent on the road, so they decided to go straight to the hotel.
The following day, they ticked a couple of places off their list when they visited the Banff National Park and the Rocky Mountains. But while Hunter enjoyed most of the tour, he began to experience severe stomach cramps by the time they reached the Rockies. He endured it for most of the day; made sure Blake would not notice what was going on with him. It was a special day after all, and he didn’t want to spoil it just because of some stomach flu.
But this wasn’t his first bout with abdominal pain. It had been happening to him for several months now, often due to irregular bowel movements, coupled with minor bleeding. Sometimes he also had to deal with unexplained fatigue.
He assumed all these signs were connected to stress and overwork; things that would soon go away on their own once he completes his contract with two of his part-time jobs. Naturally, he never bothered Blake with these trivial matters. Being a doctor himself, Blake would just worry and force him to go to the hospital. But like most people, Hunter hated hospitals – from the snow-white walls to the sterile smell of disinfectant. He could not be bothered to go to a hospital just for something so minor.
After a long and fruitful day, they returned to the hotel for a nice dinner, listened to the band play, and had a couple of drinks. At 11 PM, Blake suggested they turn in for the night and return to their room.
By the time they reached the front door, neither of them could keep their hands off each other. They barely made it inside before they stripped off each other’s clothes as fast as fingers would move. The first time they made love, they didn’t make it to the bed. Instead, they gave in to their passion in the middle of the living room floor. Eventually, however, they managed to make it to the bed, where Hunter claimed and worshipped Blake’s body once more.
It was pure magic. Once again, they were like a couple of newlyweds on their honeymoon.
Later, after making love a third time, Hunter lay curled in Blake’s arms and wondered how long this magic would last. Barely five minutes later, he suddenly felt something wrong with his stomach. It’s as if his insides were being dug out, causing a pain so sharp he had to sit up abruptly and clutch his stomach.
Blake propped himself up on one elbow and placed a hand on Hunter’s arm. “Are you okay? What’s wrong? You’re cold and clammy.”
“I’m – I’m fine. I think I ate something bad earlier at the restaurant.” Carefully, Hunter got off the bed and made his way to the bathroom. “I should feel a little better with a Zantac.”
“Did you bring some with you?”
Hunter closed the door behind him. “Y-Yes…”
“What could you have possibly eaten that made your stomach upset? We had the same course earlier and I’m perfectly fine.” When Blake didn’t get a response from Hunter, he added, “If it doesn’t get any better, I’ll send you to the hospital first thing tomorrow morning.”
Hunter leaned against the sink, one hand still clutching his stomach. Not only wasn’t the pain gone, it had increased in intensity and was getting worse by the second. The excruciating cramps came in unrelenting waves.
“I’ll – I’ll be fine, love. Don’t worry. Just… Just go to sleep. This won’t take long.”
Hunter’s temples were wet with cold sweat. He tried to get some relief but after ten minutes of sitting on the toilet struggling to move his bowels, he had no luck. He washed himself and was about to flush when he saw blood in the toilet. Copious amounts of it.
He had no idea what was wrong with him, but something was definitely not right this time around. He took deep breaths and tried to remain calm. He grabbed his medicine pouch from the sink, popped a couple tablets of Zantac in his mouth and washed them down with a glass of water.
By the time he came out of the bathroom, Blake was already fast asleep, probably exhausted from the long day and all that impassioned lovemaking. Careful not to wake him, Hunter gently rolled back the sheets and slid into bed. He turned and for a moment, stared at Blake’s sleeping face.
The pain had somehow subsided. Hunter surmised he would get a good night’s rest, even for just a couple of hours.
He was still staring at Blake when he saw him stir in his sleep. He blinked open his eyes drowsily, his mouth instantly curving into a timid smile as he gazed up at Hunter.
“Are you going to keep staring at me like that, Mr. Parslowe?” Blake queried in a groggy voice.
“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”
Blake shook his head as he snuggled closer to Hunter, one arm wrapped around the other’s waist.
Hunter smiled as he slid an arm under Blake’s head, pulling him over to rest on his shoulder. “You looked so peaceful.” He sighed helplessly as he kissed the other on the forehead. “I just want to keep looking at you all day.”
Blake let out a soft chuckle as a blush rose to his cheeks. “Not every man could get away with saying such corny things. But okay, I’ll let you off this time,” he teased.
Hunter leaned over slightly and nuzzled Blake’s neck, inhaling his scent. “Another round…”
Blake gave him a quizzical gaze.
“Let’s do it one more time,” Hunter said earnestly.
Blake gasped. “Really, Mr. Parslowe?” There was a look of awe on his face. “Seriously, I can’t keep up with your stamina. Earlier we did it so much I thought I would die. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was incredible. But baby, I’m all spent now…” He patted Hunter’s cheek and gave him a kiss on the tip of his nose. “Let’s save it for tomorrow. You clearly look tired yourself.”
“I know, I know… I was just kidding.” Hunter shifted his weight off Blake and flopped onto his back. He didn’t think he’d be able to do it one more time, either.
They lay in silence for a moment, wrapped in each other’s arms until Blake turned his face up to look at Hunter. “The color’s come back to your face. You looked so pale earlier. Are you feeling better now?”
Hunter stared blankly at the ceiling. “Yes, I took some Zantacs. It’s going to work its magic pretty soon. Don’t worry now.”
Blake slid a hand down Hunter’s stomach and laid his head on his chest. “Do me a favor and take better care of yourself, Mr. Parslowe. I don’t want to see you getting sick. I think you’ve been pushing yourself too hard these days. Look, you even lost quite a bit of weight. You need to cut down on the junk food and energy drinks.” He paused for a moment and continued, “Say, would you like me to prepare meals for you instead?”
“Hmm… That would be nice.” Hunter slipped a hand into Blake’s hair and rubbed the base of his scalp in a slow and sensuous motion. “But you already got your hands full, and I know you’ll only get busier once we get home. I appreciate the gesture, but I can manage. I’ll try my best to make healthier food choices, Dr. Gao.”
Blake chortled. “Don’t just ‘try’. Do it.”
“Oh, yeah?” Hunter growled playfully. He wiggled his eyebrows mischievously as a hand shot out to Blake’s waist where his fingers started tickling the other. “’Make healthier food choices’, you say? Then I’ll start by eating you up.”
“Stop!” Blake shrieked, convulsed in a fit of laughter. He wriggled uncontrollably and shook in a spasm of giggles. “Mercy! Mercy, Mr. Parslowe!” Tears of mirth streamed from his eyes as he weakly begged the other.
A couple of minutes later, Hunter stopped tickling and slumped back on the bed. “You let your guard down again,” he said, trying to catch his breath.
“Ah, seriously,” Blake gasped. “Stop it. I think I’m going to pass out soon. I’m dead tired.”
There was a brief pause between them. Hunter looked at Blake, smiled and said, “I’m so happy we finally made this trip work out. I wish we could spend more time together like this.”
Blake muttered a gentle “Mhmm” and added, “I know. It’s hard right now, isn’t it? But… just hang in there. Just a few more months left, and I’ll finally be free from all the pressure I’m under at work.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to whine. I just missed you a lot. I must sound like an idiot.”
Blake smiled faintly at the quick, guilty look Hunter gave him. He shook his head. “No, you don’t. I’m always glad that you let me know how you feel. No secrets, remember?”
Hunter felt a slight pang of guilt when Blake said this, and he responded with a weak nod.
“I missed you heaps, too. I promise to make it up to you once I’m done with the internship.” And then, Blake yawned and slowly closed his eyes. “We have an early start tomorrow. Let’s get some sleep.” He leaned close and kissed Hunter again, whispering the same words he’d say to the other each and every night: “Tomorrow will be a beautiful day. Good night. I love you.”
Hunter returned his kiss. “Good night. ‘Love you, too. Always have and always will.”
Blake slept peacefully, his head still lying on Hunter’s chest. The sound of his steady breathing was like music to his ears. He wished things would always be this way. That they both had to end the day with complete peace of mind.
But while Hunter’s tired body was already unwilling to move, his mind was still racing. So many things were going through his head, drowning him with questions he couldn’t answer. He wanted to tell Blake about his current condition yet at the same time, he didn’t want to cause unnecessary panic.
So far, the latter was winning over the other. Knowing Blake, he would cut the trip short, drive them back to the US, and force him to get properly checked up on by another doctor. He didn’t want that. At least not yet.
Two more days, Hunter thought. Just let me enjoy this moment right here. He decided he would go to see a doctor himself and would let Blake know once he gets the results.
His eyelids felt heavy. He needed sleep. They have a busy schedule ahead. He placed a hand on his stomach. Good, he said to himself, at least the pain has significantly subsided.
At 1:30 in the morning, Hunter switched off the bedside lamp and laid his head back on the pillow. He closed his eyes and drifted into a dreamless sleep.
The following day, despite the obvious lack of sleep, Hunter and Blake decided to push through with their plans. They spent half of the day torturing themselves by hiking trails along the Icefields Parkway, which led to scenic lookouts over surrounding glaciers.
Luckily for Hunter, his stomach didn’t act up the entire day, and so he fully enjoyed the tour; even daring Blake to hike up two more stopping points further. But Blake, ever the frail one, almost begged to return to the hotel when they have barely reached past the second stop. And so, they ended up lounging at the nearby Icefields Center instead, where they enjoyed the majestic view of the Athabasca Glacier.
The rest of the day was spent travelling to Calgary, where they decided to have dinner at the Sky 360, a revolving restaurant located at the Calgary Tower – the highest 360-degree observation deck in the world. Perched up on the city skyline, Blake and Hunter enjoyed the outstanding view of the city and the nearby mountains. The hearty meal they had was only a welcome addition to wrap up their final night in Canada.
After dinner, the couple went shopping for some souvenirs then went to their hotel. They spent much of their last night together alone, talking, finishing a bottle of red wine, and engaging in passionate, unhurried, and intense sex.
There was no doubt in their minds that it was the best vacation trip they’ve had in years – and quite honestly the best marathon sex they could ever recall. It could even have been perfect had it not been punctuated by Hunter’s occasional stomach pains.
The pain struck again early in the morning of the following day, just an hour before they were supposed to get up to prepare for the long trip back to the US. It was supposed to be Hunter’s turn to take the wheel, but Blake immediately noticed him break into a cold sweat from the excruciating pain. He had no intention of letting the other drive. Hunter slid onto the passenger’s seat without a word, face writhing in agony, hands tightly clenching his stomach.
It wasn’t until in the afternoon of the following day when they finally arrived back in Florida. Blake had driven all day and through the evening, making frequent stops along the way for meals, coffee, and toilet breaks. He was bone tired. Twice he was forced to pull off the road to sleep for at least an hour.
By the time they entered the state, Hunter announced he was feeling much better, after having taken three tablets of Zantac. He insisted to take the wheel for the rest of the drive home, but Blake would have none of it.
“Just promise me you’ll go see a doctor when we get home,” Blake advised sternly. “I know a gastroenterologist who can check up on you. I’ll schedule a visit for you as soon as possible.”
“A friend? I don’t want to be checked up on by someone you know personally,” Hunter protested. “I prefer to go to someone who doesn’t know you.”
Blake frowned. “Why would that bother you? I’m not the one who needed the check-up – it’s you. If you’re worried about them finding out you’re my boyfriend – “
“That’s not my point.”
“Then what is?”
Hunter sighed sharply. “Just let me handle this and allow me to pick my own physician. Is that too much to ask for?”
Blake tried to rein in his frustration. He gripped the steering wheel tightly and it groaned under his fingers. It’s never good to fight fire with fire, he told himself. He’s just agitated right now. Easily provoked. Just calm down.
He took a long and deep breath, his eyes never leaving the road. “Fine,” he said after a long while. “Have it your way. Just let me know the findings right away. And get plenty of rest when we get home. Screw all your part-time jobs.”
The rest of the trip was tense and had been spent mostly in silence. Both Blake and Hunter did not expect their vacation to end in a petty argument. Nevertheless, they both wanted the silence to remain that way.
Every now and then silence really was golden.
Blake had immediately gone back to the hospital the moment they arrived in the US. Sensing that Hunter was already well enough to drive, he asked the other to drop him off at the University Hospital and Medical Center, where he was doing his internship.
They ended the trip with a rather cold kiss, each refusing to apologize to the other.
“I’ll be back home tomorrow afternoon,” Blake said with a rigid tone as he stepped out of the car and went over to the back seat to grab his sling bag.
Hunter nodded wordlessly before driving off, watching Blake from the rear-view mirror as he sauntered across the driveway and into the hospital’s emergency area.
That night when he finally got back home, Hunter began to feel sick again. His forehead was warm to the touch, and cold and clammy at times. He found a thermometer in one of the drawers and, a few moments later, realized he was running a fever. The thermometer read 100.9 degrees. This confirmation only made him feel more ill.
Weakly, he stumbled to bed, quickly realizing he wouldn’t be able to get up even if he wanted to.
“How can I make it to work at this rate?” he talked to himself. He fumbled for his phone and decided to send his employers a text message to let them know he’d be calling in sick for probably the next couple of days.
Staring blankly at the ceiling, he remembered what Blake had said: “Screw all your part-time jobs.”
He placed an arm on his forehead, closed his eyes, and let out a huff of frustration. “So easy for you to say that…” he mumbled furiously. He then turned to his side, staring at his phone for a moment.
I should at least tell Chen-hong I’m not feeling well.
He started typing a text message to Blake:
I’m feeling sick. I have a fever. 100.9 degrees.
He didn’t get a response from Blake until three hours later.
CHENHONG 19:37 PM
Sorry for the late response. That’s pretty high. Take some Tylenol and keep me up to date. I might not be able to come home tomorrow after all. Please get some rest.
After reading Blake’s reply, Hunter fell asleep almost immediately and didn’t wake up until the following morning. He felt his head hurt and his body was completely sore. He lay for a few more minutes in bed and then slowly got up and went to the bathroom.
He rummaged through the medicine cabinet for some Tylenol. He popped two tablets in his mouth, his lower lip trembling. He closed his eyes, breathing through his mouth. He felt worse than he did the night before.
Should I call Chen-hong? Ask him to bring me to the ER?
“No, no, no,” he answered himself, shaking his head as he closed the medicine cabinet and crawled back to bed.
101 degrees. I took some meds.
Blake replied almost immediately.
CHENHONG 06:09 AM
Have you eaten? I’m on my break. Will drop by for a bit. Give me 15 minutes.
Very quickly Hunter’s head began to feel fuzzy. While his headache receded, it still throbbed gently in the background. Somehow, he felt very disconnected, as if his body belonged to someone else. The moment he laid his head down on the pillow, he fell back asleep.
Half a minute later, Hunter stirred. He opened his eyes to see a face hovering close above him, then felt a palm on his forehead.
“Hunter?” Blake whispered. Hunter found his voice nearly lost and muffled. He had a look of concern on his face.
“How long have you been here?” Hunter asked groggily.
“Few minutes ago. How do you feel?” Blake began to lightly scan him.
Hunter ignored his question, his mind currently too fuzzy to think of answering how his body felt. “I’m hungry.”
“Here, I brought over some food.” Blake handed him a blue plastic lunchbox and a Thermos flask. “It’s just cafeteria food, but it’s better than nothing. There’s soup in the flask, too.” He poured out a fresh mugful, handed it to Hunter for him to drink. He ignored it. With a sigh, Blake said, “I know you’re feeling shitty right now, babe. But I also know you haven’t eaten since last night. You took some medicine, too. Won’t you eat the food I brought you? Please?”
Hunter tried to eat a little, but he had no appetite. Blake warned as he looked over, and so he forced himself to eat a few more bites of the mashed potatoes, carrots, and broccoli, until he couldn’t stomach anymore.
“Thank you for this, and for going out of your way to check on me.” He kissed Blake on the cheek as he set the lunchbox down on the nightstand. “I’ll finish the rest later. You should go back to the hospital.”
Kneeling on the edge of the bed, Blake rested his head on Hunter’s lap. “I’m so worried about you. I don’t want to go back to the hospital anymore… I just want to stay here and take care of you.” He looked up to gaze at the other’s face. “Could it be that you caught the flu? It’s almost flu season, after all.”
“Uhm, maybe?” Hunter replied, scratching his cheek.
Blake pulled him closer as he buried his face against his chest. “I was meaning to apologize to you. I’m sorry. I was being inconsiderate. If you already have a physician in mind, then let me accompany you to go see them.”
Hunter nodded helplessly as he watched Blake straighten up, reaching for the coat hanging over the back of a chair. “Alright. But for now, you need to go back to work.”
Blake put his coat back on and stooped to kiss him on the lips. “Get some more rest, okay? Drink lots of water and finish your food. If you need anything else, I’m just a phone call away.”
Hunter slept most of the day, waking only for meals and a warm bath, and then went back to sleep. At night, he vomited twice, throwing up almost everything he had eaten that day.
The sickness continued well until the next morning. And although the fever had abated, Hunter still had no desire for food and was not inclined to get out of bed until Blake finally arrived from work in the early afternoon.
The fever came and went for another day, leaving Hunter confined to his bed. Blake decided to take the day off and stayed at home to take care of him. At this point, Hunter knew that something needed to be done as soon as possible.
Whether he liked it or not, he had to go and see a doctor.
Thankfully, the following day the fever went down to 99 degrees, and Hunter was well enough to drag himself to the clinic.
The couple had light breakfast prior to their departure to the hospital, where a meeting had already been arranged by Blake, between Hunter and his primary-care physician. Upon their arrival at the hospital, they went straight to the doctor’s clinic. Having arrived ten minutes earlier than scheduled, the receptionist seated them as they waited for the doctor.
Dr. Chris Gordon, Hunter’s would-be attending physician, arrived within minutes, and asked them to join him in his office. The doctor immediately seated himself at his desk and went through Hunter’s patient record, which he had filled out earlier.
Having Blake around meant Hunter needed to be completely open and honest to the attending physician. He told Dr. Gordon of his symptoms and when they have started manifesting.
Although Blake had been calm and quiet the whole time, his eyes were burning with shock and a hint of anger. He had no idea about the bleeding; even more so by the fact Hunter had been toughing it out for over four months now. He felt utterly betrayed.
“You need to be more observant and forthcoming about these symptoms, Mr. Parslowe,” Dr. Gordon said as he pulled out a small piece of paper from one of the drawers and wrote out an order for a colorectal MRI scan. “Please hand this over to the medical lab and come back tomorrow so we can have an MRI done. We need to see exactly what’s wrong with your stomach.”
Murphy’s eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the lab request form. “I know what an MRI is, but… do I really have to do this?”
Blake suddenly bolted from his seat and headed for the door. “Stop asking stupid questions, Hunter. Just do what you’re told.” His voice held an undertone of cold contempt.
Five minutes later, Hunter rejoined Blake who was waiting in the hallway, leaning against the wall, arms crossed on his chest. They started arguing almost immediately.
“How long were you planning to keep these things from me?” Blake demanded as he glared at Hunter and strode down the hallway.
“See? That reaction of yours. That’s the reason I didn’t want to tell you anything in the first place!” Hunter shot back. He was a few steps behind Blake, trying to keep up.
Blake clenched his fists, struggling to control his anger. “Oh, so it’s my fault now? You were so scared to tell me because you’re afraid about what I would feel? What do you think I’m feeling right now, Hunter? That I’m happy? Okay, then! I’m happy to know that you’ve kept me in the dark about your condition for four fucking months!”
“Hey!” Hunter grabbed Blake’s arm and turned him back to face him. He felt a sharp pang in his chest as Blake looked at him with a sad expression in his eyes. He seemed on the verge of tears. He let go of his arm almost immediately.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Blake fixed his eyes on the other and said, “Please. Not here. We’re already causing a scene.”
Hunter lowered his head and looked around to see that there were several people looking at them curiously. But he paid no attention to them – he didn’t care.
“Let’s talk in the car,” Hunter muttered as he grabbed Blake’s hand and hurried outside, leaving the hospital.
By the time they got inside the car, Blake was already crying silent tears.
“How could you? Seriously, how could you?” Blake buried his face in his hands. “I told you there shouldn’t be secrets between us. Did you forget? Do you want me to drill it into your head?”
Hunter felt absolutely remorseful and helpless for making the other cry. “I’m sorry. I know, I’m at fault. I should’ve told you. Stop crying now…” He gathered Blake in his arms.
Blake’s body shook as he cried softly against him. Hunter smoothed his hair back, holding him tightly. “It’s my fault. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s the worst thing you could keep from me,” Blake said between short gasping breaths. “All those things I heard earlier… Your symptoms… Jesus, Hunter, I’m scared to death…!” He began to sob quietly against Hunter’s chest.
Hunter held him close, wondering what to say. “Why are you scared? For all we know, this could just be hemorrhoids.” He made a lame attempt at humor but knew he failed miserably, seeing as Blake continued to cry.
Blake wiped his face and looked up at the other. His eyes were red and swollen now. “I’m a doctor, for fuck’s sake,” he said gingerly. “When you mentioned all those symptoms, all sorts of alarms went off in my head…!”
Hunter knitted his eyebrows. “But why? Do you think it’s worse than stomach flu?”
“Come on, Hunter, you can’t possibly have stomach flu for four months. With the bleeding and the unexplained weight loss, it could be…” He didn’t dare to finish his sentence.
“Could be what, Chen-hong? Tell me.”
It could be fucking cancer!
Blake wanted to say those words as clearly and as loudly as he could, but he lost his courage before he could say more. He sniffled as he buried his face against Hunter’s shoulder. “Please, just promise to tell me everything from now on, Mr. Parslowe. Stop hurting me like you just did today. Aren’t you the least bit scared? You know well I’m afraid to get hurt. And I hate getting into fights with you.” He lifted his head to kiss Hunter. Hunter kissed back. They kissed languorously for a long moment, forgetting everything around them. Forgetting they just had a fight.
After a while, Blake broke the kiss and wrapped his arms around the other’s neck. For a moment they stayed locked in each other’s arms, enjoying the soothing silence between them.
But Blake could only wish his heart and mind were just as calm. Somehow, he found himself saying a silent prayer for the first time in a very long time.
Don’t let it be cancer… Please, God, don’t let it be cancer…
Hunter hated hospitals even more. As he walked along the corridor towards the MRI lab, he could not help but notice the people walking around with expressions of either pain or numbness on their faces. It felt as though he was walking through hell on earth, surrounded by zombies.
Thank goodness Blake wasn’t around to keep him company. Sometimes, it’s better to be alone. Anxiety shared is anxiety halved, after all. And without Blake, the feeling of anxiety was significantly less.
For the most part, Hunter had never suffered from claustrophobia. He could walk straight into a closet and close the door without a twinge of anxiety. But as the white curved walls of the MRI scanner closed in on him, he felt a very slight feeling of claustrophobia kick in. Being inside that closed machine felt a lot like being inside a coffin. Hunter thought it’s normal for most people – not liking to be confined in an MRI scanner or being encased in a coffin.
Hunter was fully awake during the procedure. He had to be perfectly still during the scanning process, and the whirring sound of the machine was lulling him to sleep. But the MRI scan took less than an hour to complete. He was out of that coffin-like apparatus before he knew it.
Dr. Gordon, his attending physician, was waiting outside the MRI lab. Seeing as he wasn’t required to be sedated, Hunter was immediately advised to go home.
“I’ll call you with a date for the MRI results,” said the doctor. “It takes no more than a week.”
Hunter thanked the doctor nonetheless. Although frankly, he didn’t think he’d be able to wait that long, given the level of stress and anxiety he had to endure.
If there’s anything worse than waiting, it would be the fear of the unknown.
It wasn’t until five days later when Hunter received a phone call from Dr. Gordon. That day in the late afternoon, Hunter drove to the hospital to see his physician.
Hunter waited for a fidgety half-hour before Dr. Gordon finally arrived in his office, brown envelope in hand. He closed the door behind him and sat down at his desk, putting on a pair of reading glasses he pulled from his shirt pocket.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Parslowe. How are you feeling today?” the doctor asked as he opened the envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper.
“Good,” Hunter replied rather stiffly. “I felt some slight cramping two days ago but other than that, I’m perfectly fine.”
Dr. Gordon nodded as he silently read Hunter’s MRI result, line by line. After a while, he put the paper down, took off his glasses, and looked at Hunter squarely.
“We found a sizeable mass in the inner wall of your colon – somewhere in the cecum. And from the looks of it, it’s extended more deeply through the wall.” He said it in such a matter-of-fact way that his words didn’t register right away with Hunter. The doctor waited a few seconds for him to respond and seeing that he seemed to still be processing things, he continued speaking. “I’ll give you a copy of the MRI result. I can refer you to someone else for a second opinion – someone who can better discuss the results with you and give you appropriate treatment – “
“Woah, wait. Hold on,” Hunter cut him off. He snapped back to his senses. He rubbed his temple with his fingers, trying to make sense of the other’s words. “A mass… You mean to say I have polyps? Is that it?”
The doctor’s gaze narrowed as he fidgeted his pen through his fingers. “Yes, it’s a polyp. But this is a single mass that requires further workup, including colonoscopy and biopsy…”
After explaining a dozen things that sort of made sense and sort of didn’t, Dr. Gordon took out a piece of blank paper and a pen. “We need to determine whether it’s benign or malignant, so I’m going to refer you to Dr. Tonya Baker. She’s an oncologist in South Miami Hospital, and she can discuss things with you in more detail. Cases like this are her area of expertise.” He wrote something down, and then handed the paper to Hunter. “Here’s a referral form. You need to go and see her as soon as possible. Tomorrow couldn’t be a better time.”
Hunter was scheduled an appointment for the following day, with an oncologist who could look at his MRI results.
Oncologist. The thought made his stomach churn.
For ten minutes, he sat inside his car in a complete daze. He looked down again at the paper in his hands.
Irregular circumferential soft tissue mass in the cecum, with narrowing of the lumen.
Those words didn’t make sense to him at all, except for the word “mass”. Hunter decided that there was something inherently nasty about that word. It immediately brought to mind images of a growing, festering wad of fat that had a life of its own. The idea that one was lodged in his gut made him feel nauseous. He felt, quite literally, violated.
By the time Hunter arrived at the house, it was already dark. Blake was back from his duty and was in the kitchen preparing dinner.
Blake looked up from the counter where he was busy chopping spring onions. He paused, smiled at Hunter. “Welcome home. Where have you been?”
Hunter went up and stood behind Blake. “Chen-hong.” He called the other’s name. He placed a piece of paper on the counter and wrapped his arms around Blake’s waist, nuzzling into his neck. “I went to see Dr. Gordon.”
Blake stopped and turned around to face him. “You got the MRI result?” He noticed the paper on the counter and started reading it.
Barely ten seconds later, he looked up at Hunter, tears already brimming in his eyes. He clung to Hunter and began to sob.
Hunter softened. “Oh, baby…” He ran his hand over Blake’s hair and rubbed his back, trying to comfort him. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s nothing conclusive yet. Just… Just calm down.”
“Please don’t do this to me, Hunter… I can’t deal with something like this. I don’t know what to do…”
Blake’s agony for him sounded far worse than his hurt.
“I’m so sorry. The last thing you need right now is for me to break down. But… God… I won’t be able to bear it if it’s…” Blake’s voice choked in his throat, unable to say anything more.
Hunter held Blake closer to him and rocked him gently back and forth. Finally, when Blake pulled away, he raised his head again to look into Hunter’s eyes, piercing his with anguish and fear. “Stay strong for yourself. For me. Let’s do everything we can to overcome this. Okay? Let’s do this together.”
Hunter could only nod before he lifted Blake’s chin and kissed him tenderly. After some time, he said, “I was referred to another doctor for a second opinion. Her clinic’s in South Miami Hospital, so I’ll be heading there first thing tomorrow morning.” He deliberately left out the part about seeing an oncologist, specifically, so as not to distress Blake further. But then he figured Blake probably already knew how these things work, so it might not be such a big deal.
“Let me go with you,” said Blake as he wiped away his tears. He was still a little shaken but managed to continue chopping the spring onions.
Hunter walked over to one of the kitchen cabinets and pulled open the top desk drawer. He took two ceramic plates, two spoons, and two forks and arranged them on the dining table. “I remember you saying you’d be away for a few days for an outreach program,” he said, breaking the brief silence.
“It’s not as important as you are. I can always choose to schedule it another time.”
“I don’t want you getting out of your way for something I can do myself.”
Blake stopped his chopping and shot the other a sympathetic look. “’You sure you’ll be okay on your own?”
Hunter nodded as he pulled up a chair and sat down. “Yes. I may be a little sick but I’m no handicap. I can still manage on my own.” Blake studied him worriedly but before the other could comment, Hunter smiled and reassured him. “Stop worrying now. I’ll be perfectly fine.” And then, to lighten up the mood, he clapped his hands and rubbed them briskly together. “I don’t know about you, but I’m famished. I can’t wait to eat some good home cooking.”
Hunter had a solid night’s sleep until the alarm went off and he woke to find Blake gone. He placed a hand on the space beside him. The sheets were cold where Blake had lain, which meant he had left some time ago.
As expected, he left a note for Hunter, on the nightstand:
Left early to avoid traffic in Miami. There are apples and some granola bars in the fridge. Make sure to eat before driving.
Take care and I love you always.
He turned off the alarm, took a shower, and got dressed. Ten minutes later, he was on his way to Miami.
The wait in Dr. Tonya Baker’s clinic wasn’t as long as Hunter had assumed it would be. He was the first in the queue of patients waiting to be seen. The doctor arrived ten minutes later, smiling up and greeting everyone at the waiting room.
As Hunter sat in that room, terror and denial were competing inside him. He felt like he was on some horrible roller coaster ride, and there was no way to get off it. But when he met the doctor, he instantly felt at ease. He knew right away that this was a doctor who genuinely cared about her patients.
Dr. Baker shook Hunter’s hand and ushered him inside her clinic. “Hello, Mr. Parslowe, my name’s Tonya Baker,” she said with a deep Florida accent.
“Hello,” Hunter responded as he planted himself in a comfortable leather chair in front of the doctor’s desk.
“So, tell me what’s bothering you today.”
Hunter gave her his copy of the MRI results and relayed a list of his symptoms. It took no more than a couple of minutes for Dr. Baker to read and interpret his scan result. He watched her carefully to see if she was still okay, but he couldn’t read her expression.
The doctor’s nonchalance somehow distracted him from his own emotions, but now he was feeling the full weight of anxiety.
“Your primary-care doctor sent me your records last night. The notes said you’ve been having these symptoms for over four months now. Is that correct?” Dr. Baker raised an eyebrow at Hunter.
He held his breath. “Uhm, yes,” he replied, tearing his eyes away from the MRI result.
“There’s a reason Dr. Gordon referred me to you. He’s concerned that this tumor could be extremely abnormal and aggressive.” She pulled out a sheet of paper from the drawer and produced a pen from her pocket. “Sometimes, some doctors can be a little quick in assumptions, so I’m ordering my own colonoscopy and a biopsy.” She looked up at Hunter. “Will you be available tomorrow?”
Now we’re getting somewhere, Hunter thought. But now this meant more waiting and worrying.
“Yes,” Hunter replied, nodding. “Let’s have it tomorrow, please.”
It was the beginning of Blake’s three-day absence from home. It was also the beginning of flu season and naturally, hospitals and clinics were packed full of patients. Somehow, the outreach program had turned into an extended round-the-clock duty away from Coral Springs.
At first, Hunter thought he’d be disappointed but thanks to that, he had one less thing to worry about while he prepared for the colonoscopy. He opted for the general anesthesia, which meant he would have to stay in the hospital overnight, after the procedure.
Going to the OR in 5. Wish me luck, babe.
Blake replied in a matter of seconds.
CHENHONG 09:56 AM
Can I call before you go?
Hunter sighed as he typed a response.
They’ll be confiscating my phone soon. Will call you later tonight.
Another quick reply from Blake:
CHENHONG 09:57 AM
Fuck I really should’ve pulled out from this program. Now I can’t be there to watch over you. Can’t even visit because I’ve handled patients with the flu. I’m worried you might catch it. I feel absolutely shitty right now. Baby I’m so sorry.
Hunter sent him one final response before surrendering his phone to a nursing staff.
Don’t be. It’s a painless procedure so I’m gonna be fine. Focus on your job instead. Please don’t get sick yourself. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow. Love you.
From there, Hunter was wheeled into the operating room to see an anesthetist and a general surgeon for the colonoscopy. This ought to be fun, he thought.
Dr. Kells, the surgeon, came to Hunter’s bedside and reiterated what procedure he was performing on him. Hunter agreed that he understood the procedure and on what site. A few minutes later, he heard the sound of pop music playing in the background.
Dr. Garcia, the anesthetist, told him to count backwards from ten, as he slowly injected the anesthesia through a cannula on the back of his hand. Hunter began to count but the next thing he remembered was being in a hospital room when he awoke.
Dr. Baker came to his room and said that the colonoscopy and the biopsy were done hours ago.
“They removed a tissue from the tumor and was sent to the lab for further evaluation and diagnosis,” she explained. “At best we’ll get the result in two or three days.”
Hunter was still trying to grasp what was to happen next but two days after the results of his colonoscopy and biopsy, he met again with Dr. Baker in her office.
There were a couple of white papers laid out on her desk. Once Hunter was seated, she slid one of the papers close to her. She took a deep breath, let it out, then looked up at Hunter.
“Mr. Parslowe, I’ll cut to the chase. Initially, Dr. Gordon was worried this tumor might be cancerous.”
Great, Hunter said to himself, she finally said the ‘C’ word.
She cleared her throat and continued, pointing a finger to a few lines on the biopsy result. “We found a tumor the size of a marble in your large intestine.”
The hairs on the nape of Hunter’s neck rose and his palms grew sweaty. A part of him didn’t want to hear what she was about to say next:
“It’s a malignant tumor. An aggressive one at that.”
“What… What does that mean?” Hunter asked, frowning.
“Colon cancer,” Dr. Baker said as she clasped her hands together and looked at Hunter squarely in the eyes – an act Hunter was sure she had played a thousand times, “late stage three. Without more medical treatment, it’s hard to tell. I’m sorry.”
Dr. Baker pulled out a variety of pamphlets and put them on her desk facing Hunter. She began explaining what was about to happen next. Hunter nodded along impassively, digging his fingers into his lap while the physician explained the benefits of treatment, including chemotherapy and surgery.
The truth is that Hunter wasn’t scared about the judgment that was just passed down on him. He wasn’t stupid to not know what his body had been saying, and in his mind, seeing Dr. Baker was more of a confirmation.
What he feared the most was Blake’s reaction to what’s undeniably the unhappiest, most tragic news he’s received his entire life.
At that moment, the reality of it was slowly starting to sink in. Hunter stared at the biopsy report on the desk.
In the end, my life was determined by a mere piece of paper.
Hunter couldn’t help but laugh. But it was a hollow laugh, devoid of any real emotion. His hand came out to get the biopsy report. And then, he looked at Dr. Baker and said, “Jeez, Doc, I was really hoping you’d tell me it’s Can’t-cer.”
Hunter laughed again, without humor. After a while, a muted silence stretched out between him and the physician.
And then, he began to cry. It was the kind of desolate cry that comes from someone who’s drained of all hope. Hunter had always been so self-conscious when he cried – even around Blake – but now he just gave way to the wretchedness of his current situation. He sobbed into his hands, heavy tears dripping between his fingers.
He cried until no more tears came, yet the emptiness and sorrow remained.
Hunter found himself in a terrible position. Despite Blake’s tearful plea, he was still stuck at a fork in the road, struggling to do the right thing. No. At this point, it was having to choose the lesser of two evils.
Tell Blake the whole truth or lie about everything.
He had been standing outside their house for a good fifteen minutes, just gazing up at it, feeling all the years he had spent with Blake in that place they call ‘home’.
“Hunter?” The sound of Blake’s voice brought him back to the present. He blinked and looked at the other who was standing at the front door, holding a large black garbage can. “How long have you been out here? It’s freezing cold.”
Hunter lied. “Not long.”
Blake smirked. “Get inside right now.”
They walked towards each other and embraced with a big hug.
“It’s garbage day tomorrow so I’m rolling out all the trash,” said Blake as he leaned up to kiss Hunter on the lips.
Hunter looked down into Blake’s dark brown eyes and instantly felt a stab in his heart.
What should I do? What should I tell him? God, please help me…
Blake rolled the garbage can to the edge of the alley, grabbed Hunter’s arm, then pulled him inside the house. “Let’s get you inside. You need to tell me about your test results.”
Once inside the house, they sat opposite each other; Hunter on the sofa, Blake in an armchair. Blake placed his hands together as if praying and tapped his forefingers on his lips thoughtfully while watching Hunter. He was eagerly anticipating what the other had to say.
For a moment, Hunter couldn’t even speak. He kept his face impassive, but his mind was racing madly.
It’s time to make a decision.
“The mass they found in my colon…” Hunter’s eyes softened, and the corners of his lips curved up in a faint smile. “… It’s benign.”
A sharp gasp escaped from Blake. His eyes, which a while ago were filled with fear and apprehension, now reflected solace and absolute bliss. “Oh, Hunter…!” He flung his arms around the other’s neck and rained him with kisses. He clung to Hunter as he cried huge, gulping sobs of pure release. “You have no idea how happy I am right now!”
But to Hunter, the joy in his voice was a knife deeply embedded in his chest. He hated himself almost immediately. He buried his face in Blake’s shoulder, trying his best not to cry.
There’s no turning back from this.
After a while, Blake broke away from the embrace and looked up at Hunter. “The biopsy result,” he said as he held a hand out, palm up. “Let me see it.”
“Oh, uhm…” Hunter slowly pulled back and averted his eyes. “Shit, I left it at the doctor’s office. I’ll – I’ll give Dr. Baker a call and tell her I’ll drop by tomorrow to get it.”
It was a lie, of course. He had kept the envelope in his car’s glove compartment; made sure Blake would never see it. Now, he could only bank on the hope that Blake would eventually forget and not nag him about it.
Blake shifted from the armchair and pulled himself onto Hunter’s lap. “Get dressed, Mr. Parslowe. We should celebrate. Let’s have a nice dinner with Sam.”
“What, right now?”
Blake nodded as he rested his hands on Hunter’s shoulders. “Yes, I feel like celebrating. This is a happy occasion. You’re finally out of danger!” He was giddy with happiness and excitement as he crushed Hunter in his arms again, shaking him from side to side. A minute later, still on Hunter’s lap, he pulled out his phone from his pants pocket. “I should text Sam and tell her to make a reservation at – “
“Baby,” Hunter reached out and slowly removed the phone from Blake’s hand, “would it be okay if we just, you know, stay home?” He slowly put the phone down and looked dead into Blake’s eyes. “I want to have you all to myself tonight.”
Blake winced in surprise, then chuckled for a second. “Uh, sure, but… aren’t you tired? You’ve been driving all day today.”
Hunter shook his head as he nestled his face into Blake’s neck, feeling his heart beating at the base of his throat. And then, he slowly slid his hand under Blake’s shirt. “Let’s do it right now...”
As Hunter was busy unbuttoning the other’s shirt, Blake bent his head with a sigh and said, “You know, I was a little scared to tell you this, but… I was really worried back then. As a doctor, I should always prepare myself for the worst.” He paused to cup Hunter’s face between his hands. “I honestly thought it was cancer. But… thank God my prayers were heard.”
Hunter sat very still as Blake kissed him full on the lips. Blake’s words burned him like acid. Deep inside, his heart and mind were screaming. He wanted to cry out, to run away from it all, but he could do neither.
He lowered himself onto the sofa so that Blake straddled his thighs, pressing against his growing arousal. He kept his eyes locked onto Blake while reaching around to tug at his boxers. “Please hold me tonight, Chen-hong...”
Blake leaned over to kiss the underside of his jaw, the cleft in his chin, his lips. “Will you be okay though? It’s been a while since you’ve received...”
“I’ll be fine. Just… take me. Please.”
The sex was euphoric. Despite being together for many years, Hunter and Blake still couldn’t get enough of each other.
Between the two of them, Blake was the innovative lover in bed, making Hunter look like a complete amateur. There were still a few venues where they had not had sex: on the living room carpet, in the kitchen, in Blake’s study room, in the hallway.
Once is never enough. That night, they had sex on the kitchen counter, and then on the carpet.
When Blake claims Hunter, he tends to be wild and rough, letting go of all his inhibitions. Hunter liked that about him because it’s a complete opposite to his usual calm and composed demeanor. But tonight, Blake’s roughness was a little too painful for him.
Not that it mattered. Eventually, pleasure overpowered pain, and it made Hunter forget he was carrying a dark and heavy secret. It made him focus on the moment. On Blake.
But like a drug, the feeling was short-lived. Later that night, when they reached the bedroom and Blake lay asleep, Hunter went into the bathroom to shower.
Reality hit him between the eyes and he thought what life would become for Blake if he’s gone. Slowly, he backed against the shower wall and began to cry.
“I’m sorry… I had to do this… I’m so sorry, Chen-hong…” He cried softly as he slid down the wall onto the floor.
He didn’t want to show any weakness. He just wanted to live. He wasn’t ready to die and leave Blake behind – alone and completely heartbroken. But now, things are no longer the same. They will never be. There was no turning back from it.
He stayed in the bathroom for almost an hour, reflecting on his next step.
“When cancer escapes from the colon, it doesn’t send out a press release announcing the event. Oftentimes it goes unnoticed, as silently as it appeared in the body in the first place. And then it’ll be too late.”
Hunter had apparently ingrained Dr. Baker’s words on his mind, like an alarm clock that would go off each time he decides to put off plans to undergo chemotherapy. It’s not that he was afraid of the pain; he was more concerned of its after-effects.
At this point, Hunter had been doing everything regarding his treatment, behind Blake’s back. It was one lie after another.
Undergoing chemotherapy was his top priority. It was something he needed to decide on as soon as possible, but two things had kept him from taking that huge leap.
One, there’s the issue with the money. Hunter was not exactly the 9-to-5 type of guy. He hated being restrained to an office desk. While he did manage to get a steady job at a local coffee shop, earning $9 an hour for 25 hours a week, was barely enough to cover his share of the living expenses.
When Dr. Baker laid out a plan and a series of treatments for Hunter, he immediately realized his health insurance wasn’t going to be enough to pay for the chemo alone – much more the cocktail of medications, tests, and quite possibly the surgery he would need to undergo in the months to come. If worse comes to worst, he would have to resort to selling off his three-year-old Silverado Chevy and applying to a few more part-time jobs.
Eventually, he did both. Although he was able to keep his side hustles a secret from Blake, there was much protest coming from him when he found out Hunter had suddenly sold his car without first consulting him.
“I don’t understand. Why’d you do it?” Blake probed. “Are you going to keep commuting to work from now on?”
Hunter replied with a shrug. “Yeah. I’ll take the bus, the train… whatever. It’s not like the coffee shop’s a hundred miles away. It won’t be a problem.”
Blake eyed him shiftily for a moment and said, “It’s just… odd. You loved that car so much. What do you need the money for, anyway?”
“Just… saving up money in the bank for emergency purposes. We’re not getting any younger, babe. We… We need more stability. And anyway, it’s not like I travel around a lot. I don’t want to keep paying for maintenance for a car I barely even use.”
Blake sighed, decided to finally let him off the hook. “Alright, alright. I’m just… a little surprised you’re actually thinking about stuff like saving up money. It’s good,” he said endearingly as he smiled and ruffled the other’s hair. “Mr. Parslowe’s all grown up now and thinking about the future.”
That’s right. Hunter was thinking about the future. Although in his point of view, that future was bleak and muddled with uncertainties. He had to constantly remind himself that Blake can be the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s perceptive and would easily figure things out if he puts his mind to it. One wrong move and he’ll discover Hunter’s secret.
Hunter knew all too well that chemotherapy isn’t a magical pill that would miraculously heal him overnight. There will be frequent trips to the hospital, which meant he’ll have to come up with various excuses to keep Blake from becoming suspicious.
But that was the least of his worries.
While he never wished for instant healing, he wanted to at least go through the entire ordeal with as little pain as possible. He didn’t want to be confined to bed for days and miss work. Otherwise, Blake would get wind of his condition. And anyway, he needed the money. His personal savings were about to run out, and his plight was now much more desperate.
But there were days Hunter thought he’d never make it – that it might be better to just let Blake know so he could get the emotional support he desperately needed. With an aggressive illness like cancer, some people say that the only way to make you better is to kill you with chemotherapy. So if it’s not the cancer, it’s the chemotherapy that would kill him.
Hours upon hours of sitting in a chair with toxic chemicals being pumped into his system took its toll on his mind and will. And depending on the drugs he was taking, he was also subject to terrible temper tantrums and mood swings.
On his first course of chemotherapy, Hunter spent countless days of pain, nausea, and insomnia; often accompanied by loss of appetite and constipation. A couple of weeks later, Blake noticed that he had lost even more weight.
“You look so pale,” Blake remarked one day, as he took a closer look at Hunter’s face. “I can see your cheekbones poking out. Are you even eating?”
Hunter scrunched his eyebrows as he rolled his head away from Blake. “Are you saying I’m anorexic?”
“N-No, that’s not it,” Blake stammered, shaking his head. “It’s just that… you’re losing weight way too fast. Is everything okay at work?”
“Yes, it’s keeping me busy and I’d like to keep it that way,” Hunter replied crisply. It was the mood swing talking.
“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying your job this time around but, if they’re letting you work too much to the point it’s taking a toll on your body, then maybe they should compromise by giving you a raise –“
Hunter let out a sharp sigh as he glared at Blake. “Are you saying I should just quit my job?”
It was Blake’s turn to get mad. “What’s with you all of a sudden? I never said anything about you quitting your job. I’m just saying you need to take better care of yourself! Do you want the thing from last month to happen again? Do you want to make another trip to the hospital? Because, you know, I’d happily oblige!”
You don’t have to worry about that, I’ve already got that covered!
That was what Hunter wanted to say to the other but thankfully, he still had enough will in him to not snap and give in to anger and frustration.
He took a deep breath and tried to rein in his patience. “You just had to keep poking your nose on every single thing I do and say. Stop worrying about me for once. I’m not a kid who needs to be looked after all the damn time. For once, just focus on yourself and your job.”
Blake clenched his hands into fists. “Is that so? If you don’t want me to treat you like a kid, then you better stop throwing a fit like what you’re clearly doing now! I can’t expect you to have a decent conversation with me if you’re acting like a little boy on a temper tantrum!” He said these words so viciously that his eyes turned red with anger. He turned away from Hunter, strode towards their bedroom, and slammed the door shut behind him.
It is precisely this moment that the first crack in their relationship had appeared.
The first of many.
It was the turn of the year when Hunter had finally completed his first cycle of chemotherapy. But contrary to his expectations, the string of treatments and tests seemed to have only made him feel worse.
The endless waves of nausea and fatigue made him feel like he couldn’t do anything at all. Afraid to make commitments and worried he might not be able to carry them out, Hunter was forced to quit a couple of sideline jobs.
His relationships became extremely difficult as well, particularly with Blake.
It was Blake’s final year in med school, and he was busier than ever before. Sometimes he was gone for several days at a time. Other times he’d come home and spend a few days with Hunter. Then he’d be off again. Somehow this played in Hunter’s favor. He was able to schedule his visits to the hospital without rousing the other’s suspicion. But because of this, they eventually spent less and less time together.
But Hunter didn’t think he’d be able to keep up with this kind of routine for too long. He knew it was bad when his ‘best friends’ became his oncologist and the medical technicians.
Several days after the New Year’s celebration, he went to see Dr. Baker for a follow-up check-up. He expected her to tell him he was doing well and was finally finished with chemotherapy.
But she didn’t. Instead, she told him she was expecting ‘better’ results. Apparently, he wasn’t responding well to the treatments and wanted him to have stronger chemo. She also added one more medicine to his cocktail.
Hunter almost wanted to scream at the doctor when she said, “We need to give you more chemotherapy.” He remembered overhearing one of the nurses saying that the next cycle is more “aggressive and painful”.
But before he began his second cycle of chemotherapy, Dr. Baker ordered another biopsy.
That was when Hunter’s life began on a downward spiral.
Hunter thought he was ready for it. He was Dr. Baker’s last patient that day, and so he figured he shouldn’t be in a rush to end the consultation.
In times like this, he felt bad for the doctor. Because for many people, she was the messenger of Death. While she has the ability to cure and save, she also has the heavy task of often delivering the bad news and estimating the amount of time a patient had left.
Hands clasped tightly together, Hunter looked at the doctor and in a firm voice, said, “Please don’t talk to me in a roundabout way, Doc. Just say it to me straight.”
Dr. Baker bit her bottom lip as she slipped her glasses off and massaged the bridge of her nose. She seemed a little nervous, as well.
“It’s… not looking good. The first cycle of the chemo didn’t show any favorable results, if at all.” She laid out the biopsy result for Hunter to see. “It’s… quite understandable to be angry or upset. At this point, the next step would be to make sure you have the best quality of life going forward.”
“Please,” Hunter implored, firmer this time and with a sharp breath to steady himself, “I’ve never really liked people skirting around important matters. So I’ll have to ask again: Say it to me straight.”
“It’s… progressed to early Stage 4. It’s beginning to spread to your liver,” Dr. Baker said slowly, and this time more honestly, “and if we’re being realistic, the actions you take from this point on will directly affect your prognosis.”
This completely shattered Hunter. He was dumbfounded and simply could not believe it had gone this far. He allowed it to get to this point. The sickness was eating away at his insides, but he had chosen to ignore it for so long.
So then, what was the point of all that pain and the hiding and the lying? This is karma for you, Hunter Parslowe. Good, old-fashioned karma.
“What’s my prognosis, then?” he asked.
“Like I said, it entirely depends on the actions you take. Are you seeking for my recommendation?”
Hunter nodded wordlessly.
Dr. Baker continued by discussing her goal for Hunter’s treatment. At this point, it was no longer curative, but palliative. For Hunter, it simply meant they would do everything they can to keep him well and alive for as long as they could.
“One year, Mr. Parslowe.” Medical ethics compelled Dr. Baker to tell Hunter the truth. “But with targeted treatment, you could live two more years.”
Hunter couldn’t help but laugh at this. “That’s it, that’s all you can do? Ridding me of this fucking sickness is no longer an option, isn’t it? No cure. No surgery. Nothing else could be done but extended, indefinite, useless treatments!”
“Mr. Parslowe, I want you to be able to maintain a good quality of life,” Dr. Baker said firmly.
Again, Hunter laughed. He was amazed at the doctor’s ability to speak with such baseless optimism, while she was already laying out a master plan for his demise. “You make it sound like it’s not yet too late for me. This is too funny, I can’t even…” his voice wavered. He lowered his head and drew the back of his hand under his nose, trying to stop himself from crying.
“The best we can do now is to control it.”
“And play hide-and-seek with Death when I know he’s already knocking at my door?”
It was all coming at Hunter like a storm. He was not ready to rage against it, but he didn’t really have a choice. Ingesting everything that had unraveled that day felt like swallowing a knife. His head was reeling, and his insides were twisted and mangled.
After a while, Dr. Baker found her voice and said, “You need to decide as soon as possible, Mr. Parslowe.”
“Thank you, Dr. Baker,” Hunter said with finality as he took his biopsy result and stood up, “we’ll be in touch.”
That was the last day he’d ever seen Dr. Baker. That was also the same day he decided once and for all, to stop getting treatments that would only extend an agonizing life that’s one step closer to impending death.
Hunter knew that cancer stage 4 was the worst. The final stage. End of the line.
His mind was distorted at that point. He wasn’t sure where he belonged or if he would be able to conquer this burden. His life was at a complete standstill – not to mention about to be cut extremely and unexpectedly short.
It was a hazy present and a shaky future for him. For Blake. Everything just spiralled out of control.
Ultimately, he came to a final decision: It’s time to slowly break away from Blake and write his farewell letter.
While Hunter has a monster inside that’s slowly bringing him closer to Death, life goes on for the rest around him. The clocks are still ticking. Days still come and go. Everywhere there are people still laughing, talking, dancing, living. Life simply goes on. Nothing could be more unfair.
It had been a month since he last went to see Dr. Baker. He was, quite literally, running out of time.
Cancer had infringed on his plans to live a long and happy life with Blake. They could have had a bright future ahead of them but just like that, it had all been shattered to pieces. He could just walk away and live the rest of his short life as if there were no consequences. But no. If he’s going down, then he should at least make sure Blake is not going down with him.
It would be painful, yes, but this pain he was planning to inflict upon the other would only be short-lived. Soon, he would move on from it. Heck, even forget about it. Time heals all wounds, after all.
For now, he should find ways to give Blake a good reason to hate him. To leave him for good. There’s no point staying with him now that he’s about to die. There was no future to speak of. The best send-off would be to die knowing Blake did not suffer from seeing his own suffering.
Yes. It’s better to die alone.
Having an untreated terminal illness felt a lot like when a boxer breaks his hand: one time it would hurt like hell, and it’ll hurt again afterwards, but your brain tries to numb it so that you can carry on the fight. So while Hunter was silently struggling with regular bouts of excruciating abdominal pains, vomiting, and bleeding, he was also getting into fights with Blake.
Their first big fight happened sometime in early March. At around this time, Hunter had already brought himself to the hospital more than a couple of times due to high fever, and severe vomiting and bleeding. Whenever he’s suffering from pain he knew he couldn’t hide from Blake, he would always come up with lies, telling him he’d be away for several days due to work, or that he’d be out of town with college friends. Oftentimes he’d be away from home for days on end.
Other times the pain would suddenly strike when Hunter was home with Blake. It would often happen in the middle of the night, just minutes after they’d gone to bed. When the wave of nausea sets in, Hunter would rush to the bathroom, lock himself up for an hour or so, until the pain and nausea subside.
Instances like these had been happening more often than usual and Blake, ever the sensitive and perceptive one, had eventually grown suspicious of Hunter’s behavior.
Frequent out-of-town trips with unnamed “friends”. Locking himself up in the bathroom for no less than an hour. Sudden, unexplained changes in work schedules. Coming home late at night just to sleep, saying he’s extremely tired.
Hunter Parslowe is having an affair behind his back! What else could be the reason?
One night, Hunter returned home from one of his side hustles at a construction yard. Blake was in the living room, watching television.
“Where have you been?” Blake asked, not turning around to acknowledge the other’s arrival.
Hunter kicked off his boots and laid them down by the doorway. “Good evening to you, too,” he said with a hint of sarcasm. He leaned over Blake to kiss him, but he turned his head away.
“I’m asking you a question, so back off.”
Hunter raised his hands up in the air and slowly stepped back. “Someone’s having a bad day.”
Blake kept his eyes on the television all the time Hunter spoke.
“Where else do you think I was?” Hunter said with a sigh. “Of course, I was at work.” He shrugged and turned away, but not before he had seen a muscle working in Blake’s jaw. He was clenching his fists so tightly, Hunter could see white.
Blake was rigid with anger. “Liar.”
While Hunter struggled for calm, he watched Blake silently.
“I bumped into Theo in Little Chinatown,” Blake said, barely able to hide his rage. Theo was the manager of the coffee shop Hunter was working in. “He said it’s your day off today.”
Hunter placed a hand on the back of his neck, unsure of what to say. Blake had caught him in a lie. While it’s true he had just come home from work, it wasn’t the one in the coffee shop – the only job Blake knew about.
Blake didn’t wait for him to respond. He got up from the sofa and turned to face Hunter, breathing shakily. “Why are you lying to me like this?” His shoulders shook, his face contorted, and his lips quivered. He was clearly about to cry. “Just… what are you keeping from me, Hunter?”
Hunter’s stomach was in knots. He resisted the urge to hug the other. Instead, he said nothing to Blake as he walked past him and headed to their bedroom.
“You really won’t tell me where you’ve been?” Blake’s eyes brimmed over at his words. “Hunter!”
“I’m tired, Chen-hong. Let’s talk about this some other time.” Hunter bit his lips so as not to let a cry escape him. And then, he shut the door behind him.
That’s right. This is how it should be. Even though I love you, I need to hurt you. Once you learn to hate me, it would be a thousand times kinder. You’re doing me a huge favor here, baby. And you’ll thank me for it later.
That night, Hunter stayed up to punish himself, listening to the hiccupping echoes of Blake’s heart-wrenching sobs and endured every stab of pain they inflicted.
Just when Hunter thought he’d already endured the most agonizing pain, things just got even worse by the following month. Some days he took pain relievers and some days, he didn’t. Though the medication often brought immediate relief, the following days would be nothing but a hard battle that obliged him to remain in bed.
Going to work made things even worse, especially when he was always feeling tired and out of it. There were even days he went off to work without a wink of sleep. Hunter hardly slept during the past couple of months. It’s almost impossible to get a good night’s rest when you’re sleeping with a screaming, moaning pain inside you.
Despite the constant fighting, there came a time when Blake, the prideful one, had to step down and almost desperately begged for a truce.
One night as they lay quietly in bed, Blake suddenly turned to face Hunter and leaned over him, eyes roving over the other’s face. “I want to make love to you, Hunter.”
Hunter smiled softly as he closed his eyes and laid back, letting Blake unbutton his shirt and pull it over his head. Blake liked undressing him slowly, and Hunter liked letting him, never failing to blush slightly despite the many countless times they had done this.
Hunter would never tell him about the fiery pain he’d been feeling. He had hidden all his medicine from Blake. He would fight it until there’s no longer any way left to fight.
Dr. Baker advised him a long time ago that, given his condition, he should refrain from sex altogether. In fact, he was strictly forbidden from engaging in any form of physical activity that would put a strain on his already weakened body.
It’s a shame. Hunter could no longer make the extended and sometimes violent love of the past years. He wanted to pleasure Blake, maybe this one last time.
But his body said otherwise.
Before Hunter could even enter Blake, a pain so unbearable stabbed him in the gut. Even the slightest movement caused such an excruciating pain that would shoot through his entire body. He had never felt such torture.
Why does it have to be now, of all times?
Blake sat up, staring down at Hunter as he dropped to his side, curling up in bed. He was baffled and his heart sank back into his chest. “Baby, you’re scaring me,” Blake said as he tried to soothe the other. “What’s wrong?”
The pain was getting worse, Hunter felt as if he were about to lose consciousness. He slowly got up from bed and made his way towards the bathroom.
Blake stood at the bathroom door, dazed, unsure of what to do. “Hunter… just… what’s happening to you? What’s happening to us?” He tried to brush away the tears that were threatening to roll down his cheeks. But they wouldn’t stop falling no matter how hard he tried to control his emotions. “You’re always avoiding me. You don’t talk to me anymore. And now… you don’t even want me to touch you.” His voice trembled, trying to get the words out between sobs.
Hunter knelt in front of the toilet bowl and gripped it. His stomach felt like it was going to turn any second. But more than anything, his heart ached so badly that the physical pain was nothing more than an aching numbness. “I’m sorry, Chen-hong…”
Blake sniffled. “Do I disgust you now?” he managed to ask, his voice breaking in desperation.
Hunter hung his head low, but did not respond.
“Mr. Parslowe,” Blake said finally after a long silence, “I love you. I love you so, so much. You know that very well. But I have my limits, too. And if you keep pushing me away like this, then I will definitely be gone from your life for good.” He paused again, and Hunter heard him sniffle. “But it doesn’t have to be this way. Please, just talk to me…”
As he walked away, he half-expected Hunter to stop him, but he didn’t. Blake told himself he wasn’t disappointed and heartbroken.
But he was.
Hunter felt like he was falling apart, both physically and emotionally. There was no way to pull back from the depths of sorrow he was drowning himself in.
That’s right, Chen-hong. Drain all that love away until there’s nothing left but anger and resentment.
Most days, Hunter would wake up to find Blake already gone for work. No more notes on the nightstand. No more breakfast together. Blake used to greet him and kiss him on the forehead before leaving, but Hunter hadn’t felt that in a long time.
That’s how it had been going for several weeks. And to cope with the loneliness, they would often keep themselves busy at work, sometimes not seeing each other for days on end.
At this point, the only constant in Hunter’s life was the pain. It’s finally coming to a point where he almost wanted Death to take him right away. But there’s one more thing he needed to do before he surrenders himself to the inevitable.
Before everything went on a downward spiral, Hunter’s initial plan was to take on more jobs to save enough money for treatments. But now that the idea of getting well was completely out of the question, he decided once and for all that his savings would go to his dream trip to Taiwan, with Blake. He withdrew all his money from the bank, closed out his personal account, and kept them in his private stash.
Years ago, his original plan was to propose marriage to Blake. They were practically married anyway. It was just a matter of formality. He dreamed of traveling to the Nantou county, and then bring Blake to the famous Sun Moon Lake. It would be their last stop. And then, as they row a boat in the picturesque lake, Hunter would pop the question, and Blake would cry happy tears.
“Yes!” Blake would cry out jubilantly. “Yes, I will marry you!”
Hunter would sometimes smile at the thought. But lately, it would bring nothing more but pain and disillusionment. He had long given up on the idea. It was almost like a bad joke now. If he did, he would have chained Blake to his tragic fate.
No. Right now, the best thing to do would be to leave one lasting happy memory of togetherness. And then, once everything is said and done, Hunter will officially break up with Blake.
Hunter worked as hard as he could, for as long as he could. So while he can still stand and walk with his own two feet, he would push through with the trip no matter what.
He planned this thoroughly and with such enthusiasm, all while writing his final letter to Blake…
Their worst argument happened in late May. Spring was finally catching a good hold, slowly making way for summer. But for Hunter, summer was the worst season. The sweltering Florida heat made it nearly impossible for him to concentrate on his work.
A hellish heat wave had settled upon Coral Springs, and tempers were short. Everyone was looking to cool off. But as luck would have it, the air conditioning system in the bookstore Hunter worked in, hit the fritz the day before. It was hot as hell.
Hunter struggled to adjust to the heat, making him feel light-headed. That day, there was an unusually thick crowd inside the store, which only worsened the heat and humidity. Barely an hour inside the store, Hunter could barely concentrate and was liable to throw up anytime soon.
And then, he felt his strength seeping out of him; his vision getting blurry. Seconds later, the only thing he could make out was the store manager’s face, hovering over him with a worried expression. The first thing he felt was embarrassment. Shit, why now? Why in front of such a crowd?
And then, he felt the pain. He saw the store manager grab his head and keel over, and then he passed out.
His eyes came suddenly open, wide and staring. Hunter thought he was dead at first since he felt no pain, although his vision was still a little blurry. And then, the pain in his stomach came in a surge of agony that flooded over him like a tidal wave.
He found himself in unfamiliar surroundings. Sitting up he looked around and soon realized that he was in a hospital room. Apparently, the bookstore manager and some of the staff managed to get him out of the store and into an ambulance. From there he was taken to the hospital where he was being treated for severe dehydration.
Among many other, far more complicated symptoms.
The first thing he asked from his manager and the physician was whether they had contacted any significant other. When they said they have not gotten in touch with anybody yet, he felt immense relief. Blake should not find about any of this.
The physician told him of the raging fever he had and how it’s weakening him. He had to stay for a couple of days in the hospital. But while his body was struggling to recover, his mind and heart continued to remain in a very fragile state.
It’s time to lie to Chen-hong again.
He reached for his phone and opened his message box. There was one unread message from Blake:
CHENHONG 16:05 PM
Where are you? Let’s go watch a movie. I’ll come pick you up.
It was already 6:15, and Blake sent it two hours ago. Hunter said a short, hard prayer before texting back.
Sorry for the short notice. Should’ve told you sooner but the boys from Colorado came to pick me up. Annual reunion with some college buds in Miami. Might not be back until tomorrow night.
Even for Hunter, it seemed a bit too harsh. He hit SEND anyway.
He didn’t get a reply from Blake, but that didn’t surprise him. All that pent-up anger and frustration would come spilling out later when he got back home.
Two days later, Hunter was discharged from the hospital at his own request and against medical advice. There was nothing else they could do to help him, anyway.
When he returned home, he saw that Blake wasn’t in the living room. In the past, no matter what, Blake would always be waiting at home for him to come back. He decided to head down the hall to their bedroom.
Hunter found Blake sitting on the edge of the bed, phone in hand. He turned on the wall lamps as he went.
Blake’s face was pale, his eyes swollen from crying. Hunter couldn’t help but feel anguish in his heart, and felt even more regretful about the lie he’d made up. He sat down on the bed beside Blake.
Now for the first time in many months, Hunter saw in Blake’s eyes a man who was completely dejected and forlorn.
“Where have you been?” Blake’s voice was absent of any of the animosity Hunter would often hear from his usual responses. He was a little taken aback by this.
“I told you. I went out to party with some college friends. It was an impromptu reunion.”
“… With who?”
“Why would you –“
“With who, Hunter?” Blake cut him off sharply. He whipped around to face Hunter; his face livid with resentment.
“With Jones, Ephie, and some other guys. You know who they are. You’ve met them before. Wait, why are you even – “
“Screw you!” Blake hurled his phone at him. Hunter flinched as the phone hit the side of his face. He knew at this moment that Blake had caught him in a lie. “How dare you lie to my face?! You say you love me, that you will never keep secrets from me, but you keep serving me up bald-faced fucking lies!”
As Hunter picked up Blake’s phone, his eyes immediately settled on the small screen that displayed a bunch of chat logs.
It was an exchange between Blake and one of is college friends, Ephie.
“I already had my doubts a long time ago,” Blake said, his voice clipped. He looked at Hunter with no attempt to hide his contempt. “I wanted to turn a blind eye to your affairs but this time, I’ve had enough! A college reunion? Ha! Couldn’t you have come up with a better excuse?!”
Shame constricted Hunter’s throat as he read through the chat logs. Apparently, Blake had contacted Ephie to ask about the reunion party, only to find out there was none.
Hunter dropped his hand and the phone to his side. He looked into Blake’s eyes and was apologetic. “I’m – I’m sorry… Blake, I’m sor – “
Blake slapped Hunter across the cheek, hard enough that his head jerked back. “How long has it been going on behind my back?!” he snapped in a vicious tone.
So all this time, he’s been thinking I’m having an affair? Hunter thought. The cheek where Blake had hit him was beginning to sting. He wanted to feel that pain. He wanted to feel Blake’s anger.
“What, so now you couldn’t stand being with me anymore? You want to spend more time with your side whore? Is that how it is now? Or is it the other way around? Am I the side whore now, Hunter? Am I?!” Blake let out an indignant cry and gave the other a scathing look of scorn.
The next thing Hunter knew, Blake had bunched up his fists and began hitting him in the chest over and over. “Just say it to my fucking face! Just tell me you’re sick and tired of me!”
Hunter wished he could disappear under that murderous look in Blake’s eyes. “… I’m sorry.”
Blake’s jaw tightened. “’Sorry’? Is that the only thing you can say? ‘Sorry’? Well, fuck you!”
Hunter grabbed his arms so he wouldn’t try to hit him again. “Stop it!”
“Shut up! You meant for all of this to happen!”
“You seem like you already have your mind set on believing I’m having an affair! What else do you want me to say?!” He threw Blake’s arms to the side and gave him a light push that sent him falling lightly on the bed. “If you want this to be fair for the both us, then go ahead, you have my utmost permission to have an affair yourself!”
Blake was so shocked by his words that for a moment, he was speechless. And then, his eyes widened in unspent rage. He sat up, leaned forward, his muscles tensing. “Hunter Parslowe, know your fucking limits!” He unsheathed his anger and gave Hunter another hard slap across his left cheek.
Blake’s façade crumbled. He started to sob uncontrollably. And in his sobbing was the sound of a heart breaking. The world seemed slipping from him. He tried to stop the tears, but they would just keep flowing.
For a long moment they sat side by side in silence. It was only broken by a long and deep sigh coming from Hunter. “This relationship has no future.”
When Blake heard this, another heart-rending cry erupted from him. “Why are you saying these things to me? You don’t mean it… You just want to hurt me. Please stop it. Stop it right now…!”
Hunter struggled to block out the other’s words. “Why not Samantha? She’s obviously in love with you. She’s got her eyes on you since the moment she met you.” Every word that came out of his mouth pierced him like a dagger. “That’s right. You look perfect together!”
Blake clutched his hands to his chest, tears streaming down his face, choking back his heavy breathing. “Why are you doing this to me? I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this at all…!”
“I’m tired of this. Let’s stop pretending everything’s okay,” Hunter said in a low voice. And then, he too started crying.
Blake put his hands over his face. “Don’t make me regret all the sacrifices I’ve made just to make this relationship work!”
Hunter scoffed. “So you’re regretting it now too, huh?” That’s right. Keep at it. You’re almost there, Chen-hong. Let it snap and break apart!
“You can’t take the last ten years back and pretend those years never happened!” Blake’s voice tightened. “How can you possibly give all those years back to me? How can you undo everything?” Slowly he rose from bed and stood quietly for some time, looking out the window as he wiped away the tears that dimmed his eyes.
When he finally calmed down, he angled his head to look down at Hunter, searching his expression through tear-stained eyes. But he couldn’t see his face clearly in the dark. Fists tightly clenched by his side, he said, “If you want to end this now, just say so. Just tell me you don’t love me anymore. What’s the point of us being together, Hunter? Stop making me feel so fucking miserable!”
Blake had taken all that he could handle. A person can only endure so much heartache, and then it has to stop.
Blake did not wait for Hunter to commit another mistake. The bitter grief of betrayal was still fresh.
Anger can be good. For Hunter, it was good for hurting him. But for Blake, anger gets things done and makes sure he’d do it well and quickly without fuss nor drama.
Last night’s argument was the final straw. Blake waited until Hunter left for work, then began to pack his things. He was going to leave him. That’s what Hunter wanted, after all.
He arranged to stay in the University Hospital’s doctors’ quarters for several days, while he was out to look for a new apartment. It took some time to get a slot and by the time he secured one, it was already 3 in the afternoon. He was done packing an hour ago but getting all his stuff in the car took thirty more minutes. He was on the phone talking to a colleague when a taxi pulled up and stopped abruptly in front of him.
It was Hunter.
Blake quickly hung up the phone and checked his watch. 4:15 PM. Shit, why’d he have to come home early, of all times?
Hunter saw the luggage at his feet and panic instantly registered on his face. “What’s all these?” he asked tersely. Blake could hear the edge of panic in his voice. “Where are you going?”
Blake walked past Hunter as he stowed his suitcase in the trunk of his Picanto. “You don’t expect me to just sit around here while you’re busy messing around, do you? I don’t have time to nurse you through your hissy-fits. I need some time for myself.”
“Baby...!” Blake nearly dropped his suitcase when Hunter grabbed him by the arm. He was crestfallen as the tears welled up in his eyes. “You’re seriously going to leave without saying a word?” He tried to put his arms around the other, but Blake was quick to push him away.
Blake saw something in Hunter: a fragile, helpless look of terror, as if the world had suddenly become too huge to handle. All of a sudden, he felt lost and confused.
Why are you giving me that look, Mr. Parslowe? You’re supposed to be happy to see me leave. Did you suddenly get cold feet?
“Just let me go, Hunter. Let me leave in peace…” Blake was about to get into the car when two arms wrapped around his waist and a head buried into his stomach.
“Please don’t go, Chen-hong. Don’t leave me. Let’s talk. Please, we need to talk…!” Hunter was sobbing, kneeling on the ground.
Just then, Blake realized neighbors were watching from their porches. “Hunter, let go…!”
“I’m so sorry, Chen-hong. I – I’ll try to be better from now on. I’ll make it up to you. Just please… please don’t go!”
Blake yanked Hunter by his arm. “Don’t make a scene out here, Hunter!” He opened the door to the front passenger seat, pushed Hunter inside, then went around to sit in the driver’s seat.
“Just what is your deal? I’m just doing what you wanted me to do. I’m leaving you so you can be with your new man!”
“You’re wrong!” Hunter cried. “There’s nobody else. I… I was just lying. I was just making all that shit up!”
“Bullshit!” Blake yelled as he banged on the steering wheel with his fists. “You can’t just take words back and pretend they weren’t spoken – just like the years I’ve spent with you!”
“Don’t say that…!” Hooking his chin over Blake’s shoulder, Hunter wrapped the other in a tight embrace and held him hard. “I know I’m to blame. The problem rests with me. So please forgive me. This will be different now, Chen-hong. Just… Just give me another chance!”
When Blake found himself enveloped in Hunter’s embrace, his anger and frustration dissipated instantly. “Stop confusing me like this… You’re so cruel, Mr. Parslowe. So fucking cruel…!” His arms stole around Hunter’s neck and he clung to him as well, feeling tears sting his eyes. He felt utterly helpless and defeated.
They stayed that way for a long time, neither of them saying a word. At the moment it was enough to just hold on to each other, to share each other’s warmth.
“What made you change like this, Hunter? I thought we were doing perfectly fine,” Blake whispered at last, cradling the back of Hunter’s head. “What did I do wrong…? I don’t want to be selfish. I wanted you all to myself but if that meant you’re going to end up feeling miserable, then…” He couldn’t bring himself to say the rest.
“I’m sorry,” Hunter’s voice shook. “You didn’t do anything wrong at all. It’s me. I’m at fault. I didn’t know what to do… I’m so sorry for making you feel this way. Can you ever forgive me?”
Although Blake was still too upset to answer, he once again felt the safety of Hunter’s love. He had missed it for a long time now.
Even then, he couldn’t help but wonder how long this happiness would last. Despite his resiliency to bounce back from the disappointment and heartbreak, the emotional scars might be too deep to overcome the second time around.
Somehow, both he and Hunter managed to delay the inevitable…
It was Hunter and Blake’s eleventh anniversary. Earlier that day, they celebrated with dinner together at the Lobster Shack. Afterwards, they booked a room at the Pearl Hotel, enjoying room service and each other.
Just a couple of weeks ago, they were at each other’s throats; Blake almost leaving Hunter for good. But now, it’s as if the whole incident was nothing short of a bad dream.
They cuddled on the couch while they watched a rom-com movie. Hunter rested his head on Blake’s shoulder and wrapped his arms tightly around him. “Hey, I was thinking maybe we should push through with our dream trip to Taiwan.”
Blake’s eyes were already drooping as the movie threatened to lull him to sleep, but Hunter’s words woke him out of his drowsy slumber.
“Lately we’ve been too busy to travel around,” Hunter continued. “Our last trip together was the one in Canada. We’ve always planned to go to Taiwan, remember? Now’s probably the right time.”
Blake straightened up and gave the other an inquisitive look. And then, he let out a soft chuckle. “I’m not sure if you’re joking or being serious here.”
Hunter pulled out his phone and scrolled through his email. “I’ve been looking up cheap flights for quite some time now.”
“But… do you have the money for it?”
“Don’t worry about the money. We need to plan our itinerary instead.”
Blake smiled softly as he rested an elbow against the back of the couch. Resting his head in his hand, he gazed at Hunter as he busied himself with his phone.
It can’t be. He’s not serious. He doesn’t have the money for it, Blake said to himself.
“Babe?” Hunter’s voice snapped him out of his momentary daze. “So, what do you think? Should we make the Sun Moon Lake our last stop?”
Blake gave a soft “Hmm” and nodded. “Up to you.”
Hunter frowned. “Come on, babe, put your mind to it. This should be a team effort. I need your input, too. Here, listen to this. There’s a province called…”
As Hunter was enthusiastically talking about a trip Blake didn’t fully believe they’d be able to make, his mind wandered back to that moment two weeks ago, when his anger was so intense the only solution he had was to break up with Hunter.
They never talked of Hunter’s infidelity, as if it were taboo. Things had been good for some time, quite possibly even better. It’s as if they were back to being a newlywed couple. They would both make the effort to come home early, spend much of their free time together, and simply enjoy each other’s company.
However, a gnawing suspicion grew deep within Blake. And the longer they refused to confront the real problem, the more that paranoia ate him up inside. In the end, it never completely disappeared.
It’s true what they say: “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Each time Blake sees Hunter smiling whimsically while on his phone, he would always think he’s talking to his other lover. But confronting Hunter about it now would make him look like a whiny old wife. He allowed it to come this far. He missed the chance to face the problem.
Now, it’s as if nothing happened at all. But it’s exactly because of that, that the trust wasn’t completely there anymore. Blake knew that their relationship had become fragile. It was like a ticking time bomb.
Not long after their anniversary, Hunter had gone back to his old, rotten ways.
Blake figured that he had probably gone back to chasing his other man. At first, Hunter would come home late. Then he started staying out later and later. And then, it got to the point that he started staying out all night. He did not call to tell Blake where he was.
One time when Hunter did call to tell where he was, Blake heard a man laughing in the background. He told him that he was out with a “friend”. Of course, he knew better.
Or so he thought. Blake never really found out about Hunter’s sideline jobs nor his frequent trips to the hospital.
Blake had been more angry than it was healthy to be. And then, the fights ensued. He would cry while beating the other with his fist. Hunter never once tried to defend himself. He would just let Blake hit him until he got tired and stopped.
Indeed, Blake was fed up with all of it. Each time Hunter leaves the house, some of the love he had for the other would leave with him.
You’re such a fool, Blake Gao. You should have done this a long time ago.
It had the sound of self-criticism, but every word struck him like a knife. He wanted to convince himself that Hunter had completely wasted all his love. He wanted to express his regret about their relationship. He wanted to save it but, foolish and inexperienced as he was, he didn’t know how. Actually, it was a relationship that was headed nowhere. At least Hunter got that part right.
They have no future together.
Hunter was tired. He was also tired. The only difference was that he was willing to dive into the trap.
This time around, however, Blake was determined to distance himself from Hunter. Gone was the young and fragile kitten that could only nibble, and even when it was enraged, the tiny pain it could cause would only prompt you to pet it. This time, he was no longer a kitten, but a full-grown animal with claws and sharp teeth.
It’s time to leave Hunter for good.
Hunter had a graveyard shift the night before so when he woke up, it was already two in the afternoon. He was lying on his side and when he went to roll onto his back to get up, he felt something. He eased around and saw Blake all curled up beside him, sleeping soundly. He had just finished a weekend shift and was probably extremely tired.
Hunter decided not to wake him. Sadly, he didn’t have time to sleep it off and just snuggle beside Blake. His next shift starts in an hour – a construction project offered to him by his friend, Cyrus O’Malley.
He tiptoed his way towards the bathroom to take a shower and get dressed, and out of yesterday’s clothes. And then, he went to the kitchen to have a quick meal and a cup of coffee.
That day, unlike most other days, Hunter felt the need to go to Blake and kiss him farewell. He missed him a lot. They haven’t had a good talk in ages. He thought about leaving him a note to tell him he’d be home later that night, but decided he’d just send him a text.
Hunter pushed the door open and went back inside the bedroom. Blake looked so peaceful sleeping there on the bed. He hated to disturb him.
He sat on the edge of the bed as he watched him sleeping. There was a little activity happening behind Blake’s eyelids, telling Hunter he was deep in sleep and dreaming about something.
“I hope you’re having a nice dream,” he whispered, careful not to wake the other. He sat there for about ten minutes, admiring Blake’s calm, sleeping body under the blanket, listening to him breathe.
I will miss you terribly, Hunter thought as sadness glossed over his brooding gaze. I will be gone soon, he thought glumly. It had been his plan to leave Blake immediately after their trip to Taiwan. But that plan had been stuck to the past few weeks. Somehow, he still couldn’t bring himself to put things into action.
He heaved a deep sigh as he touched Blake’s cheek, his fingers light and gentle. He will forever be in love with this man even after death, but he knew quite desperately that he needed to break away from him soon, and he was trying. God knew how hard he was trying. But it’s easier said than done.
“I’ll be home later tonight, but please don’t wait up for me.” Hunter leaned in to kiss Blake’s forehead, his eyes filled with sadness as he stared down at him. “I love you so much, Chen-hong. I really do.”
He sighed again as he slowly stood up from the edge of the bed. He had to go. He shouldn’t be there when Blake woke up.
As he reached the door, he heard Blake sigh. He glanced back at him, saw that he had turned to the other side of the bed, his back facing Hunter.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Hunter muttered as he gave Blake one last lingering look before slowly closing the door.
Several minutes after Hunter had left, Blake slowly opened his eyes and lay still on the bed. He had woken up the moment he felt Hunter’s presence beside him, but he kept his eyes closed and pretended to sleep.
But he was listening. He heard every word.
I love you so much, Chen-hong. I really do.
Years ago, those words were filled with meaning and sincerity. But now, they were hollow, meaningless, and laced with something that sounded almost like self-satisfaction. They chilled Blake’s heart even more.
He closed his eyes as tears streamed down his face. “Don’t say things you don’t mean…” He wrapped his arms around himself, embracing the silence. He was alone. Truly alone.
He buried his face in the pillow so he wouldn’t hear his own sobs.
Meanwhile outside the house, Hunter stood at the front door, staring out at the empty driveway, dust floating in the air from the spinning tires of a passing car. He stepped outside on the front steps and looked up at the sky. Somewhere in the distance, dark clouds were forming, threatening rain. A strong gust of wind, a predictor of a summer storm, blew in his face.
Hunter turned right down the road and started to walk. And as he did, he sought to ignore the gnawing pain that’s eating him up inside. Clearly, “the big one” is about to happen soon, and he didn’t have much time left.
He tried to retract all the horrible things he’s ever said and done to Blake – a reflection of his own weakness. He witnessed how Blake worked so hard to try and save their relationship. In the end, he withdrew to punish and hurt him even more.
It’s only a matter of time before Blake leaves him for good. He could already see it in the other’s eyes: anger, despair, pain, and disappointment.
Once Blake leaves, Hunter could never hope to win him back. Every day he would pray for Blake to one day find his true ‘better half’, the person who would treat him well, that will let him know all the happiness he failed to give, that will make up for all those wasted years they have shared.
Hunter sat on the bust-stop bench, breathing heavily, trying not to let misery overcome him.
He laid his head back against the cold metal wall and closed his eyes. He would always find relief in allowing his mind to wander, to forget the guilt; to free himself of worry and pain even for just a fleeting moment.
“I should probably bring home some Chinese food and watch a movie with Blake tonight,” he announced, mainly to himself. He tried to remember the date that day. I’m sure it’s a Wednesday, he thought. He pulled out his phone to double-check and found that today was indeed a Wednesday.
August 10, 2011.
The same fateful day Hunter Parslowe met his demise. His life laid cold and still, his existence unexpectedly and abruptly cut short by a person he thought was a friend and confidant.
It was a rather anticlimactic end to his foreseeably short and tragic life.
Yet Blake kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting.