Sunday we slept in a little, finally rolling out of bed to try the new shower, where we scrubbed each other with Evan's luffa. I'd never owned such a thing, but I was a convert from the first time we'd showered together at his place when he'd loaded it with suds and rubbed slow circles down my back. I eventually got out to shave at the sink, but Evan stayed in there playing with the new shower heads. As I was pulling on my jeans, his cell rang, so I flipped it open and said, "Yeah?"
There was a slight hesitation before an unfamiliar male voice asked, "Evan?"
"No. Who's this?"
"It's Ben. Is... is this Jeff?"
Ben, the boy from the parking lot, the kid who turned out to be Evan's cousin. I glanced at the bathroom door, but Evan was still in the shower, whistling the opening bars of Stairway to Heaven.
"Yeah. Evan's, uh... in the shower."
"Oh. Well... I just wanted to see if I could maybe come out today and see your place. My flights got all screwed up and I just got in last night, so..."
I heard the water shut off, then Evan stepped naked into the doorway of the bathroom with a towel over his head, saw me with his cell, and raised an eyebrow.
"Uh, just a sec, here's Evan."
I handed him the phone and turned away to get a pair of socks out of the drawer so I could eavesdrop on his call.
"Hey! There you are."
"Yeah, that'd be great."
"Nah, come on out now, you can have breakfast with us."
"Ok, see you in a few."
He snapped his phone shut and looked my way. "Ben's comin' over." When I made no reply, he walked over to where I was making a career out of choosing from eight identical pairs of white socks, and settled a hand on the back of my neck. "You're ok with that, aren't ya?" When I still didn't say anything, he turned me by the shoulder to face him and caught my eyes when I glanced up at him. "Jeff, it's... Don't be weird about him, ok? He's a nice kid, and bein' around us'll be good for him cause I know he's not gettin' much support from his folks."
He slid a hand through my hair, held the back of my head for a moment, and then hauled on jeans and a t-shirt while he talked. "We'll eat and then take a hike back to the creek. You wanna make eggs or something while I bring in some more wood?"
He was wound up about Ben coming over and didn't notice that I was still too quiet. But he was wrong; I wasn't weird about Ben - I was weird about me. I felt like a jerk for reacting the way I had that day, and I wasn't sure what Evan had told Ben about what happened. I trailed along after him as he yakked his way down the hall, all fired up about things to do while Ben was in town. While he built a fire, I took a package of sausage out of the freezer, chopped an onion, and got the big frying pan out before I realized my feet were cold.
I walked back to the bedroom and just as I tied my second sneaker, I heard a car crunching up the drive, so I went into my office and looked out the window. The VW came to a stop right in front of the steps and the boy I vividly remembered, stepped out and gazed around. Then Evan trotted down the steps and they hugged like they'd last seen each other ten years ago instead of only a few weeks. I watched them talk for a moment before going slowly back down the hall to where it opened into the living room.
They were just coming in the front door, both of them laughing, so I stopped where I was. Evan took Ben's coat and hung it on the back of a dining room chair as I looked him over. He was a few inches shorter than Evan and although he wasn't as stocky as he'd appeared the first time I'd seen him, he was solidly built with shoulders and legs that made me think `wrestler'.
Evan spotted me, and maybe he finally realized that I was having problems with this because he came to me, took my chin in his hand and kissed me on the mouth. Then he stepped behind me, put his hands on my shoulders and steered me gently but firmly over to where Ben was warming his hands by the fire. He straightened up and gave me a tentative smile as he held out his hand.
"Hi, I'm Ben, Evan's cousin. So you're Jeff." His eyes roamed over my face for a moment. "I didn't get much of a look at you.... that day." My face must have changed because he looked down at the floor for a second before meeting my eyes with a determined expression. "I'm sorry about what happened. I was just... excited, I guess. It was a relief to finally tell my family, and Evan was right there, and I..."
He looked so young and he was so earnest about the whole thing, practically scuffing his toe on the floor, and I realized he felt as awkward about that day as I did. I reached out, put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a squeeze, just like Evan was doing to me, and a big smile broke across his face.
"No problem. That wasn't one of my better days, but it wasn't your fault."
Evan showed him around the house with Chewy trotting along sniffing at Ben's heels while I got breakfast going. By the time they came back into the kitchen, sausage was piled into a bowl, toast was popping up, and a mountain of scrambled eggs was steaming in the skillet. We ate leisurely, listening to Ben's stories of life at UC Boulder. Having never been to college, it all sounded like one long party to me, but apparently he was doing well in his studies, too, telling Evan that he'd gotten into med school with no problem and that in a few years, he'd be a dentist.
I mostly kept quiet and ate, watching the comfortable interplay between the two of them and noting the family resemblance. It was most evident in the shape of their face and around their eyes, although Ben was blue-eyed and sandy haired. He must have gotten that from his dad's side of the family since Maggie had mentioned once that she and her sister used to pass for twins when they were kids. He was just average-looking sitting next to Evan, but I was probably a little prejudiced.
After breakfast we pulled on jackets and headed out the back door. Chewy had decided to bring along one of his Christmas toys, a red rubber bone, trotting along with it hanging out of one side of his mouth, and we threw it for him as we walked.
Ben said he'd been going to the GSA meetings on campus, and that talking with other kids about their experiences had helped him plan how to tell his family when he decided to come out to them.
Evan figured I probably didn't have a clue what GSA meant. "GSA is the Gay Straight Alliance. There was one at NCS when I was in school. It's an organization for queer kids and their friends, and they do all sorts of stuff, but the focus is to promote tolerance, acceptance, and equality." He turned back to Ben. "So how's things with your dad? Did he mellow out any?"
Ben shrugged and flung Chew's bone out into the weeds. "He's acting like I never said anything, business as usual. I don't know... I guess maybe that's better than some of the stories I've heard."
We were into the woods by then and the conversation turned to the Farm. "So what are you gonna do with all this land?" Ben asked, waving an arm around as he hopped across the creek on some rocks. We followed him, careful not to slip into the icy water, and Chewy clambered across in two splashy bounds.
I shrugged when Evan looked at me. "Not much, I guess. The front fields are leased out to the guy down the road, but everything behind the house is just gonna sit there unless we get inspired to buy a cow or something."
We all chuckled at the idea of Evan and me owning a cow. Neither of us knew a Guernsey from a Hereford, and, unless you could just squeeze its tit and get a bottle of milk, wouldn't know what to do with one if we had it. When we got near the dog cemetery, I angled us back to the house. I still didn't want anyone to see it yet.
By then, we were ready for coffee and my seemingly endless supply of cookies, so we built up the fire and settled into the deep cushions of the flowered sofa and chair. I didn't know most of the people they were talking about, so I got sort of lost in watching the flames leap and flare as the fire consumed the logs.
After a while, Evan's phone rang and he left the room to talk. When Ben asked me a question, I realized from his smile that he'd had to repeat himself to get my attention. "I noticed you guys are both wearing rings. Are they... I mean, I know you can't get married, but did you have some sort of ceremony or anything?"
I looked down at my hand and thought about Christmas Eve. It was less than a week ago, but the ring on my finger had gone from feeling odd and foreign to something that felt like it had always been there, warm and solid, linking me to Evan in ways I couldn't put into words. "No, not really. It was Christmas Eve. We just... put them on each others' fingers, and... well..."
I didn't really want to share the memory of that evening with anyone, and Ben let it drop when Evan came back into the room.
Ben said he had to go meet some friends, so we made plans for the following night – New Year's Eve – at Raf and Kenny's, and then he stood to go. Evan hugged him warmly, and then Ben turned to me with an uncertain smile. I sure wasn't gonna be the one to initiate a hug, but after he looked at me for a moment he said, "Oh, fuck it," and reached for me. As I put my arms around him, I patted his back. I wanted to like this kid and didn't want to jeopardize any future friendship we might get around to. When you get off on the wrong foot as dramatically as we did, it can be tough to get back to being normal with each other. I caught a glimpse of Evan's face and knew he was pleased that Ben and I were getting along all right.
I watched the VW disappear down the lane before turning to meet Evan's gaze, which had been boring a hole between my shoulder blades. "Happy?" I asked him.
"Of course I'm happy. I love that kid, and it makes me feel good to think that the two of you'll be friends some day." When I just stood there with my hands in my pockets, he came over and reached out to tweak my nipple, but I jumped back in time. "Come on, admit it – it felt good to hug him, didn't it?"
"Well, sure. Kinda hard to fuck up a hug."
He shook his head at me, but then gathered me into his arms and spent a few minutes breathing his warm breath down my neck as he rocked us back and forth. We spent the rest of the day lounging around. Evan read some more resumes, I alternated between reading and working on writing a tricky string of code, and Chewy slept in front of the fire when he wasn't gnawing on rawhide.
We ran into town for an early dinner and were back on the couch when Evan muttered, "Jesus," and then chuckled.
"What?" I asked.
He waved a resume in the air. "This woman. She's got all the qualifications I'm looking for, but she sounds like a nut case. Listen." He spoke in a prissy, feminine voice. "`At this point in my career, the morals and ethics of my employer are as important to me as my own. Consequently, before accepting a position, you should be aware that I will run a basic background check on you and your firm.' Christ, who's hiring who, anyway?"
He looked at me, all full of righteous indignation, and handed over the resume when I held out my hand. I read it over while he went on to the next one in his pile.
Kathryn Coolidge, graduate of Syracuse University, class of 1987, with a Masters in Criminal Justice. I did some thinking. 1987 - that would make her mid-forties or thereabouts. For the past fifteen years, she'd been employed by a law firm in the city whose name I didn't recognize. No reason given for leaving. She did sound a little odd, but I thought her bit about investigating a new employer was a pretty good idea. We're talking lawyers here, after all...
"I think you oughta interview her." Evan rolled his eyes and kept reading. "I'm serious."
He turned to me with a frown. "You don't investigate your employer."
"Why the hell not? She's investing her future in whoever she goes to work for. They're crooks, she's a crook by association. Makes sense to make sure it's a reputable place." I waited a beat. "Unless you got somethin' to hide."
That got him. He reached over, snatched the resume off my lap, and whipped out his cell phone. I watched him while it rang, trying not to laugh at the knot in his jaw.
"This is Evan Tanner. You responded to my ad for a legal secretary with family law experience."
"Fine, thank you. Are you available for an interview tomorrow morning?"
"Yes, I know it's New Year's Eve, but your resume was very... interesting, and I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible."
I did start laughing then, so I rolled off the couch and walked quickly into the kitchen, followed by Chewy, who was hoping for a biscuit.
When Evan joined me a couple minutes later, he gave me a smug look. "Ok, we have an interview with her at 10am tomorrow in my office."
"Yeah, smart ass, we. You're the one thinks it's so great that she wants to know everything. Well, she asked if I was married, and when I told her I had a partner, she said she wanted to meet you."
Chew and I watched him turn on his heel and leave the room, and then we looked at each other. "Well, fuck," I said, as Chewy cocked his head at me. "Next time tell me to keep my mouth shut."
So that's how I ended up at 9:30 the next morning dressed in my Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes, heading for town in the passenger seat of Evan's car with Chewy sitting next to me. When we'd gotten up this morning, Evan decided that Chewy should go, too, so he was freshly washed and blow-dried, and looked about as good as he ever got. Personally, I thought Evan was taking this a bit far just to make a point to me, but it wasn't my secretary we were trying to hire, so I kept my mouth shut, sipped my coffee, and watched the countryside roll by.
Evan's office was on the top floor of one of Patterson's older buildings, five stories of red brick with ten-foot ceilings, wainscoting, crown molding, oak floors, original ceiling fans. He didn't rate a corner office (yet), but his view to the west looked out over the edge of town, and in the distance, the tree line that marked the river's course.
At the stroke of ten we heard the tap of heels coming down the hall, and the three of us turned expectantly to the doorway. Kathryn Coolidge didn't look like a nut case; in fact, she was about the most put-together woman I'd ever seen. If `competent' could be defined with a picture, Kathryn looked the part. Slender, dark brown eyes, short dark hair, brown slacks, deep orange sweater under a tweedy jacket. She was about 5'4" and carried a brown leather briefcase that looked like it was made from the same cow as her boots. First impression - I figured she probably had a whip that matched.
I don't normally pay that much attention to what a woman is wearing, but she'd captured my attention with her unorthodox resume, so I was looking her over from head to toe. When I got to her face, she was gazing at me with a hint of amusement in her eyes.
"Do I have egg on my lapel?" she asked.
"No, no." Evan jumped up. "Come in, please. We were just, uh... um..." he gave up and stuck out his hand. "I'm Evan. Thank you for coming in on such short notice. This is my partner, Jeff Caldwell. And this is Chewy. Have a seat." He held the back of the chair until she was seated, shot me a narrow look, and glided back behind his desk.
"Chewy as in Chewbaca?" she asked, smiling at Chew, who had sidled over to get petted. Then, to our total astonishment, she opened her mouth in a very cultured but quite good Chewbaca roar. Chewy stared at her a moment before flinging his head back and joining her. I'd never been in on the interviewing process for a legal secretary, but I suspected it didn't typically start out like this. When they were finished, Kathryn and Chewy grinned at each other for a second before she turned her attention to Evan as though nothing out of the ordinary had just taken place.
"Will you be working from these offices, then? They're lovely."
"Ah... yes," Evan struggled to regain his composure. "We, ah... own the building, so we'll be taking over the entire second floor. Several offices, a conference room, a children's play area, a few interview rooms, a full kitchen." Evan spread his hands wide, warming to his subject. "I want it to be more than just a place where papers are drawn up and fees are paid. I envision a place where families can come when they really need help, when they need someone to talk to or a safe, comfortable place to spend a few hours."
He stopped and lowered his hands back to the desk top, folding and re-folding them self-consciously as Kathryn and I looked at him. He bit his lower lip, met my eye for a long moment, and then looked back at Kathryn before quietly stating, "I want it to be a place that makes a difference."
She smiled at him slowly, and as he smiled back, I knew he was a goner. She had the job whether he knew it or not. They spent the next two hours talking about what constitutes a `family,' about whether it was the spirit or the letter of the law that was most important. They weighed the pros and cons of gay marriage versus civil union and touched on Wade v Roe.
I was sitting off to the side, near the windows, and watched Evan as he talked. I knew this family law thing was important to him, but he didn't discuss it much with me, and I hadn't realized how passionate he was about it. His face was flushed with enthusiasm, his hands waved around as he made a point to Kathryn, and his eyes were intent when he glanced at me. It was a side to Evan that I wasn't familiar with, and it made me wonder if there was anything in my life that I care that much about. Evan himself was the only thing I could come up with. Writing clean, tight computer code was nice, and I was good at it, but it wasn't gonna change anyone's life or make the world a better place, and that realization made me a little uncomfortable.
Around noon I got hungry and Chewy had to pee, so we all headed downstairs. After I put Chew in the car, we walked around the corner to a deli with a gym right next door. I wanted to get back to working out, but hadn't bothered looking for a gym yet, so I stuck my head inside while they got a table. The unmistakable aroma of sweat greeted me as the door swung shut behind me, and I could hear weights clanking and men grunting out of sight behind the wall that backed the front desk.
"Help you?" The guy was short, heavily muscled, and bald as an egg.
"Just checkin' it out," I replied.
"Help yourself." He tipped his head toward the end of the desk, so I walked around to where I could see into the room. It was perfect. Not a single overweight housewife pedaling away on a Lifecycle. Just men and machines. A couple beefy guys looked my way briefly, but that was it. The bald guy was still at the desk when I walked out, returning my nod with one of his own.
Evan and Kathryn had moved onto her background, and she was explaining why she was looking for a job.
"... and when he passed away in August, I gave my notice. His grandson is nowhere near the lawyer the old man was, and I decided it was a great time to make a change. My house sold yesterday with a 45 day escrow, so..."
She paused, looking back and forth between the two of us. "I'd like to come to work for you, Evan, and I'll tell you why. Right out of college I worked as an investigator for a big firm in Dallas. I saw things that I will never forget, and I decided then not to marry and have a family of my own. I knew I could make more of a difference if I dedicated myself to my work. I've never regretted that decision, and up in your office, when you said you wanted it to be a place that 'made a difference,' I knew I had found my next employer."
As I watched her talk, I started to realize that this lady, for all her no-nonsense attitude, had a protective nature about her.
Evan blinked at her a couple times. I don't suppose he ever had an employee who hired herself. "What about the background check?"
"Did that last night after you called me."
"Clean as a whistle, all three of you." We must have looked confused, because she added, "You, Jeff, and the firm."
"You did me?" It had been fine last night when I thought she'd be checking up on Evan and the law firm. Knowing someone had run a background check on me immediately made me paranoid, even though I'd never been busted for more than a speeding ticket. The image of the matching whip popped back into my head.
"Yes, I did you. You wouldn't believe the number of people whose lives are compromised by their spouse or partner."
I mulled that over in silence and tuned out entirely when they began to talk wages, still unsettled by the thought of someone poking around in my past. I didn't have anything criminal to hide, but I wondered what she had found about my shitty family life, if my dad splitting was documented somewhere. That set me off on a whole train of thought I hadn't been on in a while, and when we got in the car after saying goodbye to Kathryn, Evan gave me a long look.
"Yeah. It's just weird knowing some total stranger knows personal shit about me now."
"Well, she said you were clean, so I guess your stint as an axe murderer didn't show up. Ok, ok, I agree - it's weird," he added when I didn't join him in chuckling at his joke. "I've been checked out six ways from Sunday by some of the clients we've taken on, so I guess it doesn't bother me anymore. But I know what you mean - it's kinda like having your credit run or somethin', huh?"
By the time we got home it was late afternoon, so we took a walk down the lane to the mailbox and back, then ate dinner before getting ready to go to Kenny and Raf's for New year's Eve. They threw a poker party each year, inviting a varied group of friends and relatives, and it sounded a lot better than paying for over-priced drinks in a crowded bar. Since we planned on getting drunk and spending the night, I threw some stuff in a gym bag and packed up Chewy's overnight essentials so we could leave him with Maggie and Don, who were staying home tonight.
Around eight, we headed into town, bought a bunch of booze at the liquor store, dropped off the dog, and then drove to Raf's. They had moved all the furniture out of the way and rented several large 8-player poker tables. The house was packed with people I didn't know and more kept arriving all evening, so the faces at the poker tables changed constantly. I met guys they'd gone to school with, assorted wives and girlfriends, various cousins of Raf and Kenny. And Ben - he arrived around ten with a couple guys his age and greeted me with a drunken enthusiasm that made me laugh.
I played steadily, winning more than I lost, and the evening passed quickly. I saw Evan now and then, talking to people I didn't know, and he always had a drink in his hand. Now and then, he'd drop by to lean into my back and peer over my shoulder, but we spend most of the time doing our own thing.
The New Year was ushered in with a raucous count-down, a deafening cheer, and more kisses than I knew what to do with. The first one was from Evan, and then Rafael grabbed me and gave me a sloppy smooch that I passed on to Kenny. Then some girl in four-inch heels wrapped both arms and one leg around me and stuck her tongue halfway down my throat. By the time I peeled her off me, Ben was at my elbow and hooked his arm around my neck when I turned to him. He giggled through the beery kiss he gave me, but even still, it was a pretty good kiss, and I eyed him with new respect as he staggered away.
By that time, people were getting back to poker, so I sat back down at my table and tried to concentrate on the cards through the haze of too many Jack and Cokes. Evan and I had each brought $50 in quarters, and around 2am, when he lost his last two bits, he came to sit behind me with a long, warm thigh on either side of my legs and his chin on my shoulder. He started out with his hands on my hips, but eventually slid them around into my lap, which made it really tough to think clearly when I had to deal or bet. When my dick responded and he realized he was having an effect on me, he stepped it up until I finally had to leave the table, taking my $87 in winnings with me. That's a lotta quarters.
Evan was an affectionate drunk, nuzzling into me as I tried to steer him down the hall to our room, and waving goodbye to the party when he saw that we were leaving it. I guided him through the door to the guest room and locked it behind me before turning to him, but he'd fallen face first onto the bed. I'd never seen him this hammered before and didn't know if I should try to get some aspirin in him before we went to bed or just let him sleep it off. As I tugged his shirt off, he woke up enough to want to help, but he ended up kneeing me in the chin when I bent over to unzip his jeans, so I made him lie still. When I had him down to his boxer briefs, I got a glass of water and six aspirin, three for each of us, and made him take them.
When I pushed him under the covers and crawled in behind him, he hummed a little `mmm' of contentment and promptly passed out. I lay there a while longer, listening to the gaiety of the party still going strong, and reflected on the year gone by. So many changes. A relationship with all its complications and commitments. A move. Significant `life events,' as the shrinks say.
And smaller happenings, as well. Purchasing the farm. The Christmas card from Barbara.
I rolled onto my back, gazing at the ceiling as Evan began to snore softly. Maybe I'm just naturally pessimistic, but I sort of felt like I had my fingers and toes crossed that everything would keep going well. That my relationship with Evan would continue to deepen and strengthen. That both of us, and the people we cared about, would stay healthy. That our jobs would remain rewarding - both financially and emotionally. A lot to ask for, I suppose. I sighed and closed my eyes, and the next thing I knew someone was shining a light in my face.
I sat up, annoyed as hell and ready to kill somebody, but then realized it was sunlight coming in around the edge of the blinds. Evan was gone from the bed, so I got up a little cautiously and was pleased to discover that I felt fine. I was pulling on my jeans when I heard the toilet flush down the hall, and a moment later Evan edged into our room with one eye closed and his hand on the door frame. He was gray-faced, with a deep V wrinkled into his forehead, and looked like the `before' shot in an ad for hangover meds.
"Dude," I said. "I fed you aspirin last night. What the hell did you drink?"
"Shhhhh," he whispered. "No talking."
We got dressed in silence, Evan wincing every time he had to bend over, and then made our way down the hall to the kitchen. Evan kept his hand on my forearm and walked along with his eyes shut, opening them a slit when we got to the kitchen. Raf and Kenny were already there and they both looked pretty grim. Kenny was slumped in his chair nursing a cup of coffee and Rafael was at the table with his head buried in his folded arms. Evan swallowed a few more aspirin while I loaded our stuff into the car.
They re-hashed the party for a while, speaking very softly to each other, and agreed that it had been equally as good as previous years, although you couldn't tell by looking at the three of them. After an hour or so, Evan felt he was capable of riding in the car, so we set out for Don and Maggie's to pick up Chewy. Maggie answered our knock with a smile and a Happy New Year's hug, and made us come in for breakfast. Chewy met us at the door with a blue bandana around his neck and a smile on his face from all the dog biscuits Maggie had been feeding him.
I wasn't sure Evan was up for food, but as he nibbled on a muffin and drank some milk, he started to look like he was gonna survive. Maggie was a good cook, so I ate enough for both of us, and we finally headed for home. The rest of the day was spent quietly. We read for a while; actually, I read while Evan slept, and then we took a stroll through the woods.
The neighbor to the left of us kept cows and occasionally pastured them in the field that adjoined our land. They were the huge black and white ones - Holsteins I learned later when I Googled `cow breeds' - and were quite friendly, coming right up to the fence to hang their big bony heads over. Chewy wanted nothing to do with them and hid behind my legs, but Evan reached out and scratched one on the nose. When it didn't bite him, I did the same to another one, running my fingers through the thick, curly hair on its forehead. Evan and I smiled at each other, thinking that cows were pretty cool, but then the one he was petting blew its nose all over Evan's shirt and we had to cut our walk short and go back home so he could change.
Evan took Wednesday off so he could spend the day with Ben. We started with breakfast at our place, then headed out to the barn to show him the bikes. He'd never ridden a Harley before, so we fired up the Pan and let him cruise up and down the drive a few times. He loved it, but said his mother would kill him if he got a motorcycle. We reminded him he was 21 now, but I guess she still helped out with his bills, so he needed to stay on her good side.
We hung around the house most of the day. He'd just gotten a new laptop, which I tuned up for him and showed him some little tricks to get more out of it. As I was working on it, Ben sat next to me, his leg alongside mine, our shoulders bumping. I glanced at him once, which put our noses about four inches apart, and he just grinned at me. He was a likeable kid, asking me lots of questions and demonstrating appropriate awe of my computer skills, and I found myself enjoying his company.
Kenny's first basketball game of the season was that night at the high school gym, so after dinner, Ben went home and we went into town, parked in the school lot and found seats in the half-full bleachers. Don and Maggie were there with Elena, and a woman I didn't recognize who turned out to be Kenny's mom. She lived a couple hours away, but often came up for the games. I hadn't been in a high school gym since I'd graduated, but this one had the same unmistakable smell.
I didn't really see how guys in wheelchairs could play basketball, but it was Kenny, so I was prepared to endure it, and it turned out to be great. Those guys played their guts out. Took me a while to figure out the rules, but some of the passing and shooting was excellent and the fights for the ball got pretty rough with several guys on the floor throughout the game. When Kenny crashed into another guy, tipping them both out of their chairs, Raf tensed up, leaning forward like he was gonna run out there to help, but both guys waved off the trainers and hoisted themselves back into their chairs with the sheer strength of their upper bodies, something I doubted I could do.
When Kenny's team won by two in the last few seconds, we roared our approval and swarmed out on to the floor to congratulate them. Although I'd gotten used to being around Kenny, the presence of twenty guys in chairs was a little weird. Always looking down at them was one thing I was still uncomfortable with. I felt like I should get down on their level somehow, but Kenny said they were used to it and not to bother unless you were gonna be talking to someone for a while.
We did the usual beer and pizza thing, and it was better sitting down with them. A couple of the guys were new to the team and got talking about what put them in a chair. One guy fell out of a tree playing with his kid. Another was hit by a car while riding his bicycle, and he was missing his left leg from the knee down.
Riding home with Evan, I started thinking about how life-changing shit can happen to you in just the blink of an eye. Not a real original thought, I know, but being around all those wheelchairs had really driven the point home to me.
I looked over at Evan, who glanced back with a smile as he asked me, "You been kinda quiet What're you thinkin' about?"
I just blurted it out. "How fuckin' awful it would be if I couldn't walk."
The smile left his face and he reached for my leg. "Bein' around all those guys got to you, huh?"
"Yeah," I said, clutching at the solid warmth of his hand. "Makes me feel..."
"Yeah," I admitted, glad that the car was dark cause it was tough to say it aloud, but that was exactly how it made me feel. Guilty that I could walk and they couldn't. Guilty that I was glad it hadn't been me in front of that car.
"Well, most of the SCI guys don't go around all day wishing they could still walk. They make their peace with what happened and move on. Talk to Kenny about it sometime. He doesn't mind talking about it, and it might make you feel better. Or at least help you understand it some." He sighed. "The first few months after the accident, Raf and I could hardly stand to look him in the eye. It was like we wished it had happened to us instead, except we didn't really wish that, which made us feel even worse." He shook his head and squeezed my hand. "I probably shoulda said something to you before the game, I guess, cause that's a pretty common reaction. It's fucked up, but they aren't sittin' there wishin' it was you instead of them, so don't beat yourself up."
The mood stayed with me though, and I sat out on the back porch in the dark while Chewy ran around chasing bugs only he could see, wondering how I'd handle it if it happened to me. You like to think you'd step up and be a man about it, but, fuck...
Later in bed, Evan sensed my mood and pulled me close. "You still thinking about it?" I nodded against his chest. "Well, don't torment yourself with shit like that. It's not gonna happen, and if it does, I promise I'll love you anyway, just like Raf loves Kenny."
That comforted me somewhat, and when Evan slid further down the bed, he made me forget about the life-in-a-chair scenario all together...
I wrote this chapter in about 300 ten minute sessions so it really needed some work. Thanks to David of Hope for the effort.