The sound of Christmas music reached Hal's ears and he grimaced. He should have shut his door when he came to sit in his office, but he'd forgotten. Now he didn't have the energy to get up and do it. He sighed as he looked over the list of volunteers. With the Christmas season swinging into full gear, he didn't have a large pool of people to choose from.
Even during the rest of the year, it was slim pickings to find people willing to volunteer at the hospice. Not many people wanted to hang out with the dying. Yet he'd made a promise to his brother all those years ago. A promise he intended to keep, even if it meant begging for help.
Leaning back in his chair, Hal ran his hand through his thinning hair as he thought about his brother. Rupert had been such a bright light of happiness and laughter, even during his final days. It had been Rupert who cheered Hal up when all Hal wanted to do was cry. Christ on a stick! He missed his older brother. In a few weeks, it would be fifteen years since Rupert died, but Hal could still see his smile, and sometimes, he could hear his voice.
He glanced over at the pictures hanging on the office wall. Most of them were of Rupert in various moments of his life before he contracted HIV and it evolved into full-blown AIDS. There were a few after that benchmark of Rupert's life, but his older brother never liked having his picture taken. Reminded him too much of all the paparazzi who used to chase after him when he ran around in his jet set life.
The other pictures decorating his walls were of residents of the hospice. Most of the people in the photos had breathed their last while living in the comfort of the Legacy hospice. Hal had sat by their beside, holding their hands if they had no one else to do so.
Things slowly changed over the years. He found he couldn't do it anymore. Too many young people dying too early in their lives. Now he had volunteers and nurses willing to do it for him. His inability to sit with them wasn't because he'd lost his humanity. It was because he'd go home and drink himself into a stupor after each death, and he'd decided it wasn't worth his sanity anymore.
He turned back to stare down at the check he'd received in the mail. At least he wasn't hurting for money. Tavis Komen had made his yearly donation. Did Tavis even know where his money went or did his accountant send the checks out while Tavis skied in the Alps?
Grimacing, Hal gave himself a mental slap. He was getting more cynical every year. What the hell did it matter if Tavis Komen went skiing as long as his checks kept coming?
"Mr. Sims, there's someone here to volunteer."
The odd tone in his secretary's voice made him frown.
"Who is it, Sandy?" He still had bills to pay. As much as he needed volunteers, he really didn't have time to meet the person.
"Just get your ass out here," she hissed over the intercom.
Grumbling under his breath, he stomped out into the front office and almost fell over in shock. The man he'd assumed was vacationing in Europe stood, chatting with Sandy, looking as drop-dead gorgeous as his pictures in the magazines. Tavis Komen's blond hair brushed his shoulders in a cascade of curls. His skin was a healthy tan, attesting to his hours spent on beaches or out on the water. Tavis was a few inches taller than Hal, but looked like he worked out often. His white teeth flashed in an uncertain smile.
"You want to volunteer?"
He cringed at how rude he sounded. It didn't pay to antagonize his biggest donor.
"Yes. Is that all right?" Tavis looked at Sandy first before glancing back at Hal. "You're not full, are you? I'm not sure how this volunteer thing works."
Sandy gave an unladylike snort. "There's never enough volunteers, dear. Why don't you and Hal talk for a little bit while I get the papers ready?"
"Umm...Sandy." Hal didn't know what he was going to say after that.
Tavis turned his bright blue eyes on Hal and grinned. "Where would you like to go and have our chat?"
Hal swallowed, and gestured toward his office. "We can talk in here, and then we can go on a tour of the hospice afterward."
"Sounds great." Tavis flashed a smile at Sandy. "Nice to meet you. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of each other."
Sandy nodded, but didn't say anything as they walked into Hal's inner sanctum. Hal motioned to the chair in front of his desk.
"Please have a seat. I'd like to know why you want to volunteer here." He hesitated before continuing. "I thought you'd be spending the holidays in Europe or Aspen."
Tavis tugged on his slacks before sitting. He crossed his legs and studied Hal for a moment.
"I usually do spend time in Europe during the holiday season, but this year I decided to do something different." Tavis shrugged.
"Have you ever done volunteer work before?"
Hal didn't think the tabloid's golden child volunteered anywhere. At least, there'd never been any mention of it in any newspaper or entertainment show. Not that he watched a lot of that kind of TV. He rarely read the society section of the newspaper either. Hadn't in over fifteen years since his family turned their collective backs on him and Rupert.
"Aside from traveling with my mother when she's doing some of her humanitarian trips, no I haven't. I'll be honest and say I'm not sure I'll be any good at volunteering." Tavis dropped his gaze to his hands and rubbed his palms on his slacks. "Something happened to make me think I need to start making a difference in the world, instead of spending money on stupid things."
After sitting behind the desk, Hal folded his hands and laid them on the papers covering his desk. The check he'd been looking at caught his attention, and he shoved it into a file.
"Really? You had an epiphany and decided volunteering at an AIDS hospice is the best way to start helping the little people."
He wanted to slap himself. Just because he didn't take Tavis's change of heart seriously, didn't mean he should be rude to the man. No reason to piss off one of his biggest donors.
"Sorry." Hal pinched the bridge of his nose. "I shouldn't have said that. Why did you pick Rupert's Legacy?"
"Mr. Sims, I don't expect anyone to believe my talking about volunteering as sincere. That's why I'm here. I want to put my actions where my mouth is. I want to help people. I'm not sure if I'll be any good at it, but I need to start somewhere." Tavis jumped to his feet and started to pace.
"I donate all of my yearly charity money to you. I believe in what you do and why you do it. Rupert's Legacy is a great charity, and it helps people who have no one else to support them. I have several friends who are sick, and if their families weren't caring and wonderful, they would be in need of your hospice."
Hal wasn't sure he believed Tavis. People like him were a dime a dozen. They get an idea that volunteering would be a great experience, maybe even life altering until they actually get involved with the people they'd be helping. Not everyone in the hospice came from a good place or even a blue-collar background. Some of them were ex-druggies who used dirty needles and got AIDS. Some were ex-prostitutes who got the virus from a trick.
Rupert's Legacy accepted anyone, regardless of sex, age, and position in society. It wasn't just a hospice for gays, though most of their residents were gay men who had nowhere else to go. They had a waiting list, and more being added to it every day. Hal had returned from San Francisco where he'd opened another Legacy House, and it was already full. He'd started the process of finding a suitable building in Chicago to open one there.
"You do realize what being a volunteer here would entail. You'd be helping them do things they can't do for themselves anymore. Some of them have accepted their expanding limitations, but some are still bitter about what's happened to them. They'll do everything they can to make your life as miserable as they think their lives are."
Hal grimaced and rubbed his chest where a resident hit him with a book a couple of days ago. He'd admonished her and warned her about abusing the staff. While he understood why she did it, and she hit him, he wouldn't write her up, but if she did it to any of the nurses who worked for Hal, he'd do more than warn her. He might get her frustration, but he wouldn't allow his staff to be injured.
"I get the fact they're probably angry and hurt because of their circumstances. It can't be easy to know you're in a place you probably won't walk out of alive. Hospices tend to be the final stop for most people, no matter their disease." Tavis stuffed his hands in his pockets, pulling his slacks tight over his groin.
Hal averted his gaze from the tantalizing bulge. No thinking those things about Tavis. He could have any guy or woman he wanted, he certainly wouldn't be interested in a middle-aged man who looked like Hal. Snorting silently, Hal shook his head. No negative thoughts about himself were allowed. If he started going down that road, he'd be so depressed, he'd never leave his house.
"That's right, but I demand they be treated with respect, no matter where they came from. Not all of them are trust-fund babies like we are."
Hal pursed his lips, wondering if he should have said something. Not everyone remembered who he used to be. He'd been out of the spotlight, except for the charity, for years.
"I was too young to meet your brother, Mr. Sims, but from what I've heard, everyone loved him. I'm sorry you lost him so young." Tavis met Hal's gaze. "I know you think I'll stay for a day or two before finding something more interesting to do with my time. I don't know what to say to convince you. I went to Darfur and Somalia earlier this year, and what I saw there convinced me sometimes money can't fix things, but while I can't heal them or cure them, I can hug them. I can touch them and remind them they are human beings."
Thinking about what Tavis said, Hal realized the young man might be truly interested in helping out. Not many of society's golden people grasped the concept of the sick being human still. Sometimes the worst part wasn't the disease or illness destroying their bodies, it was being cut off from any type of interaction with others. The residents of Legacy House wanted someone to talk to them and listen when they talk back. They wanted someone to hold their hand without worrying about catching something.
Hal pushed to his feet. He'd give Tavis a chance. Maybe the younger man would surprise him, and if he didn't, it wouldn't be the first time Hal was disappointed.
"Let's go on a tour of the facility, and we'll see what you have to say after that."
"Sounds good to me. Lead the way."
Hal escorted Tavis around the mansion he'd turned into a hospice. He pointed out the kitchen, the recreation room, and the library. There were several small sitting areas throughout the house, and one large dining room for the residents who were still able to get around. They stopped in the biggest living room, which happened to be empty at the moment. He gestured for Tavis to sit.
"We have twenty suites here at the hospice. Right now all the rooms are full." Hal paused and cleared his throat. He stared out the window for a moment.
"You're not expecting one of your guests to make it to the New Year," Tavis said softly.
Nodding, Hal waved a hand toward the left wing of the mansion. Before he continued, a door opened and a slender man stepped out. Hal immediately shot to his feet and went to the man's side.
"Joey, did you ring for help?"
Joey laid his hand on the arm Hal offered him. "No. I didn't want to bother anyone. I heard voices and thought I'd come out to see who's visiting."
Tavis stood as Hal and Joey approached. Hal kept a close eye on Tavis's reaction. He didn't want Joey's feelings hurt, if Tavis reacted badly to Joey.
At one time, Joey had been vibrant and healthy with gleaming blond hair and a beautiful tan. He'd been a runner with muscular legs and a washboard stomach. So young and gorgeous.
Hal had seen the pictures decorating the walls of Joey's suite. Joey with friends and family. Several were with a handsome dark-haired man. Now the only thing vibrant about Joey was his personality. Even as AIDS ravaged Joey's immune system, and allowed other illnesses to drain Joey of his vitality and strength, it did nothing to destroy Joey's love of life.
Tavis's eyes widened slightly, but aside from that, he showed nothing more than curiosity.
"I was showing a new volunteer around Legacy. I was going to stop by and see if you were awake. Thought you'd like to meet him." Hal covered Joey's hand and squeezed gently.
"Wow. You are a handsome one." Joey winked at Hal. "I'm glad you're bringing in some eye candy for us."
Tavis blushed, and it surprised Hal. He thought Tavis would be used to being complimented by people. There wasn't any way Tavis didn't know how good-looking he was. Hal was sure there were men and women more than willing to tell Tavis that.
"Thank you," Tavis murmured.
Hal chuckled, entranced in spite of himself by Tavis's shyness.
"Stop flirting with Tavis, and be good, Joey. We don't want to scare him away."
"I'm Tavis Komen." Tavis offered Joey his hand with a bright smile.
Another check in the pro column for Tavis as far as Hal was concerned. There was no hesitation as Joey shook Tavis's hand. Instead of letting go, Joey held on and moved over to Tavis's side.
"Mr. Sims, there's a phone call for you," Sandy said from where she stood in the office doorway.
"All right. I'll take it." Hal looked at Tavis and Joey. "You'll be all right while I take this call?"
He wasn't completely sure whom he was asking.
"Go ahead. If I get tired, I'll have Tavis escort me back to my suite." Joey flapped his free hand in Hal's direction.
Hal shot Tavis a questioning glance and Tavis nodded.
He went to the office, and for a moment, forgot to worry about Joey. Somehow he knew the man was in good hands with Tavis.