"Kyle, I called you to tell you I was bringing Edwin home with me, because he asked to stay here with us. His family doesn't know that he's gay, nor that he's dying from Aiiii ds." Ryan said, beginning to weep.
Kyle grabbed Ryan and hugged him strongly.
"I had no idea. He looked fine, only a bit tired." Kyle said. "How bad is he?"
"I'm not all that sure myself, but he said that the doctors are amazed that he's still alive. I don't know if I can cope with all this." Ryan said, barely able to speak.
Ryan and Kyle turned in that night without watching their intriguing DVD or with any sexual play. Ryan clung to Kyle as if taking strength from him. Kyle patted Ryan soothingly until they both fell asleep from emotional exhaustion.
* * *
The next morning, Kyle was preparing breakfast while Ryan was still in the shower and Edwin was still sleeping. Mark was in the bathroom sitting on the throne when Alex barged in.
"If you don't mind, I'ld appreciate a little privacy." Mark protested.
"You ain't got nothing I haven't already seen and everybody has to take a crap, so just chill out." Alex said, ignoring Mark's protest and proceeding to shave himself.
Mark shook his head back and forth in disgust and made a mental note to remember to always lock the door in future.
"Sleep OK?" Mark asked, trying to make a connection with the brute with whom he was forced to share his morning ablutions.
"What's it to you? How could I sleep OK in your lousy bed? The sheets reeked of your cum and I felt like there were bed bugs crawling all over me. Just finish taking your crap and get out of here." Alex said, shrugging off Mark's attempt to connect with him.
When Mark finished, Alex made no attempt to hide the fact that he was checking out Mark's equipment. "Man, I don't see why you are so ashamed of showing that thing off. Anytime you want it serviced, just let me know!" Alex said offensively.
"Thank you; it gets plenty of servicing without you having to worry about it." Mark said, leaving the bathroom in disgust.
* * *
At breakfast Alex was just as obnoxious as he had been in the bathroom. He took double portions without waiting for everyone else to be served.
"Listen everyone, we have a very special guest in the house. He's a very dear friend of mine and he's dying of AIDS, so I would like all the help you guys can give me to make him feel comfortable." Ryan asked politely.
Mark waited, anticipating a smart-alec response from Alex, but even he was subdued by Ryan's words. "Has he talked to a priest? Mark finally asked.
"I'm afraid Edwin is a confirmed atheist and has asked me not even to talk about God." Ryan explained.
"Well we just can't let him die without trying." Mark rejoined.
"Alex, please get ready, so I can take you down to Mark's school to see if they will accept you." Ryan said.
"I ain't goin' to no school." Alex stated.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that; I thought that by your not leaving last night you had decided to give us a try. But if you have decided not to go to school, I guess you will be leaving us today. Can I drop you off someplace?" Ryan said.
Kyle's insides tightened as he waited for Alex's response. But none came.
"Can I have another pancake?" Manny asked Kyle.
"Oh, I'm sorry Manny, there aren't any more and I have no more batter." Kyle replied.
"Here Manny, take one of mine, I'm not that hungry anyway." Mark said, moving one of the two he had on his plate across to Manny's plate.
"Sap." Alex said under his breath.
"Thanks Mark, ¡pana mia!"
"Pana mia? What does that mean?" Kyle asked.
"It means he's my best friend. He's my pana." Manny said, as if that explained it all.
"Pana is breadfruit. It was the staple food in Puerto Rico until the American invasion." Ryan added.
The boys finished their breakfast and Kyle began preparing some soft-boiled eggs to take up to Edwin. Alex waited with Mark by Ryan's car.
"We have to go to your school in this cheap tin can?" Alex said, trying to goad Mark.
"Alex, you're free, you don't have to come with us!" was all Mark said in response.
Ryan came out dressed in his suit and Alex was surprised to see him looking so elegant. He whistled a woof call and Ryan tried to smile, but his heart was in too much pain.
"I see you haven't brought your things, so I presume you've decided to give Mark's school a chance?" Ryan asked Alex.
"Yeah, Mark is my breadfruit!" Alex said, as Mark looked up at the sky, wondering what he'd done to deserve this; when he suddenly remembered his tryst with Wendy, and turned red as his guilt feelings intensified.
As soon as they arrived at his school, Mark jumped out and disappeared into the crowd. Alex took one look at the students milling around and knew instinctively that this was not his crowd.
"If I agree to go to school, can it be the school of my choice?" Alex asked Ryan.
"Within reason, I would agree to that." Ryan said.
"Well, I understand there is a special public school here in the city for gay kids. Can't I go there?" Alex asked pleadingly.
"I know that school and it isn't far from where I teach. Sure, if you promise to finish High School, I'll take you there." Ryan said as he turned over the engine.
Mark saw them pull away and felt a pang of guilt for running off, but also gave a sigh of relief that he wasn't going to have to let Alex meet his friends. He thought that Alex had refused to get out of the car and Ryan was taking him away.
* * *
Ryan and Alex arrived late for classes at the 'gay' school and Ryan went into the office with Alex to enrol him. The secretary gave Alex a form to fill out, but he pushed it over to Ryan. Ryan just pushed it back and told Alex to fill in as much as he knew and then he would fill in the rest. So Alex wrote his name and then pushed the document back to Ryan. Ryan looked down and noticed that Alex hadn't even filled in his date of birth.
"Alex when were you born?" Ryan questioned the boy.
"Oh, on the first of August, 1990." Alex answered.
"So why didn't you write that down? You can read, can't you?" Ryan asked.
Alex got red in the face and ran out of the office to the front of the school. He wanted to keep on running, but he had no idea where he was. Ryan apologized to the secretary and excused himself. Walking out he felt somewhat anxious, not knowing if he would be able to find Alex and if he did, what would he say? He caught up with Alex outside.
"Alex, its nothing to be ashamed of, but we can't enrol you in school if you don't know how to read. Get in the car."
Ryan drove to the university and had Alex sit in the back of the room where he had a practicum with his graduate students. Alex was fascinated by how Ryan and his students interacted. He felt jealous of the mutual respect that he observed, but also felt all that much more inferior.
On their way home, Ryan suggested that they do home schooling until Alex learned how to read.
"It ain't goin' to do no good. I was in and out of special ed. and it just doesn't stick." Alex responded. Ryan pulled over at a Barnes & Noble book store and they went in. Alex made a beeline to the magazine section, while Ryan went and picked up a couple of children's books. When he found Alex he was looking at the pictures in an electronics magazine on gaming.
"You like that mag?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah, its kewl." Alex answered.
"Well pick out one or two more that you like, and I'll buy them for you." Ryan said, thinking he could use them as rewards for lessons learnt.
They then drove home and Kyle took Alex out to buy some more clothes while Ryan visited with Edwin.
"How're you feeling today?" Ryan asked, truly concerned.
"Better. I needed a good rest after the trip. Traveling really made me tired; sorry I went right off last night." Edwin said.
"Ry how about one of your massages, like you used to give me when we first met." Edwin pleaded.
"Fine, but can you come downstairs? We have a massage table there and I won't have to bend so much." Ryan explained.
When Ryan unlocked the playroom, Edwin's eyes dilated in amazement as he looked around the makeshift dungeon.
"Wow, you guys are into some heavy stuff!" Edwin exclaimed.
"Just get naked and up on the examination table." Ryan commanded as he looked for the bottle of lubricant.
Edwin stripped down to his underwear and Ryan noticed the few spots of carposi carcinoma that were on Edwin's flanks and back. He squirted some oil into his palms and rubbed them together to warm the oil and then applied it to Edwin's prone body. Ryan's hands trembled as he touched the skin of the man that he had loved for so many years. The sensation reminded him of the first time his hands floated over Edwin's smooth body. Now there was no sexual titillation only the caresses of two men who were again drawn into the oneness that only love can create. Ryan could feel Edwin's tense muscles relaxing under his ministrations and was pleased that he could give this agonized man, a moment of relief as he neared his final days.
"Edwin, this boy we took in last night, Alex, I need your help with him." Ryan said.
"My help? I can barely stay awake during the day. What can I do?" Edwin asked surprised.
"He doesn't know how to read and I'm going to try to home school him until he learns. Even if you only work with him an hour a day that will be a great help." Ryan explained.
"I don't know, maybe two sessions of thirty minutes each?" Edwin suggested.
"That would be great." Ryan said, pleased to be able to give Edwin a purpose for which to fight to live and keep Alex studying when he and Kyle were not available.
Ryan continued the massage until he had covered every inch of Edwin's body from the crown of his head to the tip of his toes. Edwin was floating and forgot all his cares. On the way upstairs when they'd finished, Ryan grabbed something that looked like a garden tool. They had just come up from the basement when Kyle and Alex came in the front door. Alex was all excited about the new wardrobe that Kyle had helped him pick out. He was acting more like the innocent Manny than like himself as he showed off all his new clothes.
Kyle left Edwin and Alex alone in the kitchen with some cookies and milk.
"Kyle, Alex can't read. I decided we need to home school him because he'll never be able to pass the grade without knowing how to read. Edwin agreed to help for an hour each day. Can you give him two hours?" Ryan asked.
"Two is quite a bit of time, how about if I agree to one hour and on the days that I can I'll try to make it two?" Kyle suggested
"I knew I could count on you Kyle. I'd like to begin today and have you and Edwin observe me with him for the first session." Ryan shared his thoughts.
After Edwin had finished his tea and Alex his cookies and milk, Ryan called them both out to the living room and pulled out the first grade reader he had purchased.
"What's this shit? I ain't no baby; I'm not reading this!" Alex yelled.
"Kyle would you mind holding Alex down?" Ryan asked.
"Not at all Ry, what do you have in mind?" Kyle said as Ryan pulled out the electric rake that he'd brought up from the basement when he gave Edwin the massage. He turned the control down to low and touched Alex's ear the shock surprised Alex and he screamed more in surprise and fear than from pain.
"What the fuck was that? Get off me." Alex said.
"Now, Alex, I want you to start at the back of the book and read the last word!" Ryan said, holding up the rake.
Alex quickly fumbled to the last page, mumbling under his breath, "damn fucking perverts."
"Read the last word!" Ryan commanded. "And don't use that 'F' word again, if you know what's good for you!"
"Eee ver, ever" Alex said getting angry.
"Good Alex that's correct. Now I want you to put your hand to your lips and pretend to pull out the first vowel sound out of your mouth and keep pronouncing it until you are pointing straight out in front of you, like this." Ryan modeled and prolonged the sound saying 'Eeeeeeee' until his arm was straight out and then repeated the action while saying 'veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer.' Now you do it."
"That's crazy!" Alex said.
Ryan held up the rake and Alex quickly followed his instructions.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand" Alex pronounced as he moved his arm.
"Good, well done, Alex, the next word is forever. So when the vowel is either an O or U sound point down to the floor. Like this: 'Fooooooooooooooooooooooor'," he drew out the sound while opening his arm and pointing to the floor and then pronounced the next syllables pointing straight ahead, "eeeeeeeeee, veeeeeeeeeeeeer. Now you try."
Alex did as he was instructed and everyone applauded him. Alex turned red as a beet. No one had ever applauded his reading out loud and it was a strange and new feeling.
"OK, Alex, you can take one of your magazines and look at one page, only one page. Do you understand? You have only earned one page. I need to talk to Kyle and Edwin." Ryan declared.
Alex went up to Mark and Manny's room to enjoy putting away his clothes and looking over his mag.
"OK, guys, what I was doing was forcing Alex's mind to draw more neurons into the process of reading. He has blocks and believes he can't read, so we are going to come in through the back door of his mind. By reading backwards we take the pressure off him to make out the idea or thought that is written and to concentrate on each word. By making him move his arm it forces his mind to discriminate which vowel sounds are in the word so as to move his arm correctly. So by the time we do a couple of books his mind will have relearned many words, then we can start going forward and you will see the difference. So I need you guys to practice with him. If he does the work, reward him with milk and cookies or a page from his mag."
"Do we get to use the rake on him again?" Kyle asked jokingly.
"No, that was just to make him more afraid of me than he is of reading in front of others. From now on we only use it as a threat. Try not to verbalize threats because he just may force you to show you are serious. Just point to it or hold it up. All threats should be vague."
* * *
At dinner that night, Mark was surprised to see Alex still at home and noticed that he took a lot less food on his plate during his first helping. He thought what Father Niall said in class must be true: Christians preach far better when they model their truth than when they speak it.
That night, Kyle helped Edwin up the stairs to his room and offered to turn down his bed. Edwin undressed himself, but Kyle sat and kept chatting.
"Ry loves you very deeply. He sometimes calls your name while asleep during the night."
"Does that bother you?" Edwin inquired.
"No, it just makes me work harder to get him to love me as he loves you." Kyle said.
"He already loves you more than me." Edwin stated.
"What makes you say that?" Kyle wondered.
"When he thinks of my death, it scares him, because it reminds him how easily he could lose you." Edwin said with insight. "Kyle, I'm happy for you both. For a long time I worried that he wouldn't find somebody like you, that could give him the love that he deserves and that I couldn't give him." Edwin confessed.
"Why couldn't you love him? For me, Ry is my life." Kyle said.
"Before I met Ry, I was in love, but the man I loved walked out on me. It hurt so bad, I thought I would kill myself. And then when I thought I was over it, Ry walked into my life. Ry even loved me more than my first lover, but I was so afraid it would all end suddenly, that I just couldn't give myself over to anyone again. It wasn't Ry. It was me and my fear of loving again." Edwin continued his confession. "I'm sorry, Kyle, I'm so tired."
Kyle went back towards his and Ryan's room and ran into Manny in the hall.
"Do I have to sleep alone again?" Manny protested. "No, Manny, you can sleep with us tonight, and tomorrow we will buy a new bed for Alex, OK?"
"Yeah!" Manny exulted.
So Ryan and Kyle not only had to skip the DVD again but they were now separated by one of their boys who joined them in a deeper love.