WHILE KYLE bustled around the house, gathering his things and getting ready to leave, Matt leaned on the doorjamb between the kitchen and the living room, cup of coffee in hand, and watched him, amusement clear on his face. “You always get so nervous before a recording session,” Matt said. “You should be used to it by now; it’s day twenty!”
“I am used to it. But we’re wrapping things up today, and I just want to make sure I get everything right. The long days take a toll, and I want to be up to par. This season has been a tough one for Ecos.”
Matt pushed off from the doorway, put down his coffee cup, and gently grasped Kyle’s shoulders. “You’ll get everything right. Even if you make a mistake, the world won’t end. You’ll do a retake. And your fans will remain as adoring as ever. Besides, it’s in English this time, not Japanese. You’ve got this.”
Although Kyle knew he was good at his job, and although he appreciated Matt’s undying support, he made a face. “It’s not easy. I know it looks like I’m just getting paid to talk, but—”
“But I just get paid to take pretty pictures. I get it, Kye.” Matt squeezed Kyle’s shoulders. “Go break a leg.”
Kyle smiled. “That’s for the stage.”
“Good point. And with a broken leg, you couldn’t come with me to Belize either. Then I just might be tempted to chase after a cabana boy or something.”
Kyle rolled his eyes. It was an old joke between them. Each of them was confident the other would never cheat, so it was something they could tease comfortably about. Sometimes, though, Kyle secretly thought it might be better if Matt did fall for some cute guy. He and Matt loved each other as friends, not passionately like lovers. That ship really sailed many years ago. Something essential was missing between them, and Kyle wondered if they weren’t holding each other back.
Well, that was definitely a conversation for another time. Kyle tiptoed so he could land a kiss on Matt’s cheek. “I’m going to be late. Remember the wrap party. It’ll probably start about eight, though you can get there sooner. You can watch as we finish up.”
Matt let go of him. “Okay. I’ll get there about seven. Hope the recording goes well today.”
“Thanks.” Kyle grabbed his jacket from the stand near the door and put it on. He checked once more to make sure the script was in his bag, then waved at Matt, who’d collected his coffee and was making his way down to the basement to complete a montage for the week in photos. “You have a good day too. See you later.”
“DON, CAN I try that again? I think my timing was a bit off on that last sequence.”
“Sure, Kyle. Rewinding.”
Kyle watched the screen, heard the familiar beep cue in his ear, and then synced his voice to the animation. “Nooo! It’s poison!”
A momentary pause came before Don Perry, the director in the Chicago voice-over studio, switched on the speaker. “Great take! That’s a wrap for you.” Kyle took off his headphones and rubbed his temples. “Kyle, are you okay? You’re looking kind of tired and pale.”
“Yeah, Don. It’s just a headache. I think it might be eyestrain, or maybe the headphones were too tight. Aspirin should take care of it.”
“You’ve been going at this for nearly ten hours. Why don’t you rest, and we’ll get you when we start the wrap party. Michelle, David, you’re on deck next. Let’s see if we can knock this out in less than an hour.”
A nap sounded like heaven at the moment.
Both the Japanese and American studios were pushing the English dub for the new episodes of Ecos, the wildly popular Japanese manga that was now an anime. For the past three weeks, the voice-over teams had been putting in twelve-hour days to get the dub up at the same time as the Japanese version. Then there would be a nine-month hiatus while the animation studios started work on the next two arcs. Kyle Green had been the Japanese and English voices of the character Ecos for the past five years, and damn, this current story arc was one of the best, but it was challenging the heck out of him.
The headache had been plaguing Kyle all day. Aspirin first, nap second. The first-aid cabinet had the two-per-packet aspirins. Maybe four tablets instead of his normal three? Kyle washed them down with a slug from his water bottle, a constant companion in the studio. He checked the studio’s rest and restore room for an available sleep pod. Kyle and some of the other VOAs occasionally napped between takes or until they were needed back in the studio. He could use a quick fifteen-minute snooze to help the aspirin take hold. He lay down in the pod, pulled the cover around, and went to sleep.
THE INCESSANT beeping! Why can’t they cue up the damn machine correctly? Where’s the script?
“Mr. Green, can you hear me?”
Kyle was groggy. Why was someone trying to wake him? Damn! Had he overslept?
“Hey, Kye, don’t try to get up. Just lie back down.”
Matt? Why is he here?
“Hey, Kye, didn’t catch that. Could you repeat it?”
I didn’t say anything, did I? I must be dreaming. God, I don’t feel well. I just need to open my eyes—
“Hey, doc! He’s throwing up!”
Kyle couldn’t seem to get out of the dream. And it felt so real. That was what he got for working too many hours. He was just so tired….
FABRIC RUSTLED next to the bed and woke Kyle. He turned toward the noise.
“Mr. Green?” A soft female voice. “I’m Sheanne, your nurse. How are you feeling? Do you have any pain?”
A big bass drum played in his head. “I ache all over. And my head is pounding.”
More rustling of fabric. “On this pain chart, which best describes your pain?”
“I can’t see the chart with the eye coverings. You need to remove those first.”
Kyle thought he heard a hitch in Sheanne’s breathing.
“Mr. Green, you don’t have anything on your eyes. They are open.”
He ignored a flare of panic. “I can’t see anything.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Green. Sight is sometimes the last thing to come back. On a scale from one to ten, one being no pain and ten unbearable, how is your pain?”
“About a seven.” A number was good. It was something tangible, something to hold on to.
“Do you want something for that?”
He heard taps on a screen, then what he assumed was the flick of a syringe being filled from a vial. A pause, and within thirty seconds, the headache seemed to abate. He was very tired again.
Where am I? he wondered as he drifted off.
“You’re at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Mr. Green.”
Huh. Evidently he was talking instead of thinking to himself.
“Is he up? Kye! Kye!” Matt called for him down a long tunnel as Kyle drifted back into the deep dark of sleep.
KYLE AWOKE from his nightmare and sat up suddenly. He waited for his eyes to adjust. Why was it so dark? He should’ve been able to see the lights from the blasted beeping hospital machines or even lights under the door. He should at least have been able to see the television where a newscaster droned at low volume.
“Kyle? Are you awake?”
Matthew Labrecque, Kyle’s partner of ten years, was trying to soothe him by rubbing circles on his back. Kyle loved the touch.
“Matt? What’s going on? Why can’t I see?”
Matt took in a big breath and let it go, as he did when the news wasn’t good. “Kyle, you had a stroke during your rest time at the studio.”
Didn’t strokes leave people unable to talk or move? Kyle frantically worked his legs, hands, feet. They all felt fine. “I had a stroke?”
“Kyle, calm down. The only thing not working seems to be your eyesight, babe.”
The words didn’t even make sense at first, as if Matt had spoken another language. Even once Kyle translated them into something that made sense, he couldn’t apply them to himself. Strokes were for other people. Old people, sick people. And Jesus—his eyes!
“What’s wrong with my eyes?” It was hard to get the words past his tight throat.
“Your eyes are fine. But the stroke…. The doctors aren’t sure yet what’s going on.”
Not sure. That meant there was hope. Some small mistake, maybe. They’d give him some pills and he’d see again. But now the darkness was so heavy. When Kyle tried to speak again, nothing came out but a distressed moan.
Metal slid over metal as Matt lowered the bed railing. The linens crinkled and the bed dipped as he sat on the mattress and hugged Kyle tightly. Kyle sobbed into his partner’s shoulder and, a while later, slipped back into sleep.
“MATT?” SOMETHING had awakened him. Footsteps, maybe.
“Nope. You got me, Kyebye.” His sister’s familiar voice sounded more hushed than usual.
“Lily? Why are you here?”
“I’m here because I sent your partner home to take a shower and get a decent night’s sleep in his own bed. He’s been camped out with you for five weeks.”
His breath caught slightly. “Five weeks? Shit!”
“Yes, baby bro, five weeks. You’ve been a resident of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for the last two of them. I’ve been here. Matt, Mom, and Dad too. Paul is still deployed, and Evan is in baby-watch mode. We’ve been keeping vigil.”
“Your travel adventure to Belize has passed. Sorry, sweetie. I know how much you and Matt wanted to go.”
Fuck! I’ve lost time. This must be a nightmare.
“You don’t understand.” If he spoke calmly, the disaster wouldn’t be real, right? “It was Matt’s assignment to do National Geographic photography. The deadline was really tight.”
Lily rubbed his arm and sighed. “I know, Kyebye. He called his editors and told them the situation. They sent out someone else.”
Before he could process that disaster, the next one hit him. “Wait—I have gigs for dubbing. What day is it?”
“Kye, I had to reassign your books and your immediate VOs. The ones that are a few months out are still on your calendar, depending on whether you get your sight back.” Her voice faltered.
Kyle didn’t know what to do. If he couldn’t see, he couldn’t read books for audio, or match his voice to the animation screen or the movie he was supposed to dub. If this was permanent, he’d lost his livelihood. It meant the one thing he loved doing was now out of reach.
“Kye, I don’t know what to say. The docs don’t know if this is temporary or permanent. You have to be awake enough for them to do an EEG. They did an MRI, but that was inconclusive. You need to be awake for the tests to see what’s what.”
Kyle’s chest was too tight, his stomach tied in knots. He was lost.
“Kye, oh Kye. Come here.”
And there he was, once again sobbing.