Skip - Part 30


Skip – Part 30

Skip woke up in the early dawn. Daylight was barely discernable, so he knew it was before 6:00, his usual waking time. He was hot and sweaty. I was hotter and sweatier. Skip roused Billy because he could not rouse me. Billy ran to the phone to call 911. Skip ran down the stairs to wait for the ambulance. He thought back to Jake and Jeremy's similar incident, when I had a bad reaction to chemo. He knew this was worse, and it was not from chemo.

Billy was wiping me down with a cool washcloth when the paramedics arrived. They knew me from a previous visit.

"Awww, not Aaron again. Damn!"

"His temp is 105," Skip said, pointing at the electronic thermometer on the bedside stand.

Life was gonna suck again for a while.

By mid-September, Andrew had accounted for four new tumors, three of them behind my spine, out of sight of normal scans. The fourth was on Billy's kidney. Half of the inside of the kidney was destroyed. The infection was massive, but had been masked because of my loss of feeling. I had not checked my urine output when I peed. Being sick really did require due diligence. Check your pee.


I had to wait for a kidney. People died waiting for organ transplants. A future conversation with the boys at school will be about thinking seriously about organ donation/kidney donation stickers on their driver's licenses. There is a bumper sticker about not taking one's organs to Heaven. The decision is individual; leaving that to a family member bites. Doctors will ask for organs when the need is dire. Those who say they cannot contribute to this world can contribute. One has no needs in Heaven, only those left on Earth. [Yes, my driver's license has a green `Organ Donor' designation on it.]

Skip's boss gave him as much time off as he wanted. Skip worked half days for six days, to keep money coming in and to calm the too many fears. He knew he was not the only one who could take care of me, but he also knew I wanted him with me, especially at night. I was not alone one second of any day until a kidney arrived. When it did, the team moved fast.

I was in surgery, yet again, for almost four hours. The replacement kidney came from a construction worker out in Chicago. He was a young twenty-two year old man who had fallen and died on the job. His family wanted him to live on. Chase Langley will live on, inside of me. He and I stayed in the hospital for a week, and then I took him to my apartment. I slept all day and night for days after that. My body was fucked. Truly. The only consciousness I really had was being held by Skip. Billy did too, of course, but Skip became the all time great Aaron hugger. When he did let me go, it was reluctantly.

"You know I love you, Aaron, with all my heart."

I did. Even with all the shit, I did. He did not care about the shit, only the stuff that grew beneath it. Everyone cared for Skip while he cared for me. We were needy together. Need often brought out the best in people. The needful did not stay needful in my world—whatever it took to bring them peace will be done. Skip gave and took, but far from equally. I had fallen in love with the best there is.

"I'm sorry," I said to Billy, who lay beside me in my bed, holding me one morning.

"Me too, bro," said Billy. "I wanted to be special to you forever."

"You are. You always will be. You sacrificed a great deal for me, and I wanted it to work, not to be in vain."

"It worked for a while. You lived longer with it, but still ..."

"Yeah. I know."

I dozed again, sad. The sadness of losing Billy's kidney was crushing. He moped along with me. There were no honest words to tell how he felt. It would take a couple of weeks for us to feel emotionally better, but we held on anyway and moved slowly forward. It is what one does. I would not feel good physically for months. Surgery after surgery had left my insides scarred and tender. Every movement reminded me that I am human enough. Skip loved me gently, and sometimes fearfully. I loved him as much. No Skip, no life.

I had insisted that Billy go back to school with his mates. He did not fight me too much, but he came every Friday afternoon for the weekend. I also insisted that Skip go to work each day, all day. He finally relented. Andrew cared for me, as did Claire. Email came daily from Will. I answered every one. He cheered me on and refused to worry because he knew the boys. Michael called every Wednesday night. He offered encouragement, not sadness. No coddling. Just friendship and love.

Jordan came by each lunch hour. When he could not, Jenn, his wife, came instead. They made me eat, and ate with me. Jenn was an angel in disguise, a nurse with a heart of gold. I feel that way about all nurses really. I felt that it was about an honorable profession as existed. Money was good but hours could be harsh. Jenn made a wonderful sister on top of being a wonderful young woman. She loved that Jordan would hug me close and kiss my forehead, meaning it, not out of obligation or habit. People who do things out of habit do not do things with caring.

"I have been caught by your heart, bro," Jordan said one Wednesday afternoon after lunch. He held my hands in his. "I think about you so much that Jenn thinks I have it bad for you. She finds it an admirable trait in me. She says our kids will have kind hearts."

"So do you have it bad for me?" I asked seriously.

"Yes," he said simply.

He kissed my forehead on the way out and left it at that. Gotta love an honest man. He knew it was okay to love me in his own way.

Monday was Jimmy's day with me as usual. He carried my wheelchair and me outside and took me to the Common or Public Garden. If it was raining, he made sure I was relatively dry, but being outside was necessary. When we were inside, he made lunch for us. He sat with me, holding me up in the chair at my desk, so I could do homework. He commented on my writing class assignments. He too was a reader who liked to write. He helped me keep my regional dialect out of my writing. And he kissed me warmly, without asking. His lips against mine were so nice. I needed to love my friends, and he let me love him. He did not need more than that, but he did need, and deserved, at least that.

Jillian came every Wednesday and Friday after lunch. She cooked all week, at the restaurant or at home, for us three boys, totally dedicated to leaving Skip with plenty of time to care for me. She did not want him cooking every night after work. No housework either. Jills dusted the high places while I dusted the low places. I did laundry in the morning. I could not reach the dryer, but she could. She folded and put away. Together we changed the sheets on Fridays.

"And you do this at home, too," I commented.

"Not alone. Jimmy and the boys are very good about making it a team effort. Mom works too, so we all pitch in. The only real rule is that the boys have to make their bed every day."

"My mom had us do that too. And no clothes all over the floor. Anything that could walk away under its own power had to be thrown down the laundry chute."

Chemo was back to Thursday only because of my lack of strength to put up with it. Andrew did injections into the tumors, but not the two-hour IV session. Even then, the tears of pain flowed freely. Jordan alternated weeks with Tony, my buddy from basketball on the Common. Tony had a kind heart for me as long as I kept my three-point shots under control. I made no promises. He likes me anyway. I stayed overnight each Thursday so Andrew could watch me. These were dangerous times for my kidney. He slept in my room every Thursday night.

"You don't have to stay, you know," I told him.

"I know," he said simply, and then settled down in the chair beside me.

He did have to stay. It is what made him a kind man. At least he would sleep—sometimes. When he did not sleep, usually when I was restless or too sick, he held my hand. He lay beside me in bed. We talked all night. He told me he loved me just before I dozed off, so I would come back to him later that night or in the morning. The darkness stopped pressing up against the windows and retreated as the sun drove away the oppressiveness.

Ellie was in the house, caring for me on double shifts as usual. I could tell her to stop working doubles but she'd just as soon tell me to go to hell. Therefore, I held my tongue. She was as dedicated to me as to any patient, but she loved me first and best.

Email started arriving from the boys at school instead of the boys spread all over the Northeast. I looked at the calendar and realized it was the last week of August. Orientation week. I was missed. It would be a few weeks before we could go out to see them. So they came to see us on a Friday night—all eighteen. There had been no formal invitation—and none was needed. Any boy could come to our place any time he wanted to, alone or with another, or several others. Sleeping for twenty took a bit of creativity, but we managed. The boys loved to hold each other. Every boy held on to another boy. We did not have a jack off party. The only intimacy was sharing kisses. They were here to stop missing me.

With warning, we descended upon Jillian's place on Saturday morning. Half the boys were in the kitchen with Jills, preparing omelets and English muffins. I poured juices. There was a line out the door. Locals knew what the boys were doing. Jills approved. Her Saturday a.m. breakfast business was about to pick up through the fall. After eating, the other half of the boys went to the kitchen to help make breakfast for those who waited in line. We did not finish breakfast until after 1:00 p.m. Today was Jillian's most profitable, ever.

"You guys are a trip," she said, hugging every one of them and then me. Like Ellie, Jills loves me first and best.

"You love us, Jillian?" asked Kenny, so seriously that she almost fell for it.

"Only for the rest of my life," she said, just as seriously.

The September afternoon sun was warm and pleasant, so we headed for the Charles River to hang out. Afternoon stretched into evening. We watched the sun set over Cambridge and what passed for a starry night begin to take shape. We held on until dark and then headed for home.

Our time together was so good. We ate together, talked about anything we could talk about, laughed, kissed, and felt better together. Friends don't let friends be alone and sad. The boys all made sure that Skip was backed up if he wanted help during the week, on any night. His being worn down would affect me, and he would not allow that. Therefore, he did ask for help on occasion. Whoever wanted to come could just show up at the door. We did not invite people into our home—they knew they were to come whenever they wanted to.

Weeks of resting got on my nerves. I went to the office just to be away from home, for a morning or afternoon. It was too much work to go out on my own, so there was always a young man to go with me. We read the Boston Globe each day, watching for police reports. Jordan kept careful notes on any hate crime and gave me a weekly summary. We talked to kids in neighborhoods weekly, together. We wanted to know who was being bullied at school and why. It was not about being a gay kid; it was about being made to feel less human than someone around him feels. There was no justice there, so we would stop it soon and quickly. There was enough work to keep me in the office four hours a day, four days a week.

I could rest a bit on the big challenge because Sam thrived, and Will was next in line, along with Michael. Third in line will come along in time. He will be as well tended as Sam, Will, and Michael.

Skip slid his cock into me one Friday night for the first time in almost three months.

"Oh, I've missed your wonderful cock so much."

"My wonderful cock has missed you too, but you weren't ready yet. I talked to Andrew. Hurting you would be unforgivable, even for 1% lust."

"Was it embarrassing?"

"To talk to Andrew? No. He knows I love you and he knows that we have sex. I wanted to know, medically, what your healing process is like on the inside. He cautioned about any blood, in your urine or on my cock after entering you."

"He can talk frankly."

"Andrew is Andrew. He loves you completely, plus you are worth a few million dollars to him."

"I'll write a check."

"It'll bounce. Trust that I love you enough to talk frankly to the one man I trust to know. He did not blink. He answered my questions and gave advice. He also said to trust my instincts. My instincts now say that I can be inside of you."

"You can. Am I worth the wait?"

"For as long as it would take. I'm not against jacking off. Love wins out 99 to 1, so there."

So there indeed. For now, the 1% was winning out. I was happy to be looking into his eyes while he put my legs over his shoulders. He long-dicked me for a half hour before he came hard inside of me, bucking his hips and throwing his head back. He lie on top of me and kissed me so lovingly that I cried.

"I don't mean to make you cry, I just want you to know you are everything to me."

"Nothing wrong with a good cry, love. I do know how deeply you love me. Look at my scars—how does one really survive this except for the love of a lifetime holding on?"

He kissed my scars. He was never afraid of them. He knew what lies beneath his own, as did I. He slid in and out of me in a nice rhythm, letting me feel as much as I could. I still could not feel much, but my hole was tingling and I felt pleasurable pressure against my joy buzzer. I could watch his awesome cock enter me. The physical connection was important because it was a need satisfied. His cum filling my insides was as important because it was a seed from which grew love and a happy life together. I love others, but I love Skip first and best. I kissed his pendant as a reminder that I knew it was his commitment to me. He kissed mine for the same reason. It's not just a piece of titanium, though it is a beautiful one.

"I'm gonna cum, love. Unnnnhhhh, Unnnnhhhh, ohhhhhh, so good, Aaron. Oh so good."

I squeezed my ass as much as I could to make it tighter. He threw his head back, so maybe I did it right."

"Of course you did it right, bro. You always do. My God, Aaron, it just does not get any better than you. I will love you every moment of our lives."

He kissed me. Words were not words with Skip. They were his feelings made known so I could hear them. I could not read him as he read me, but I knew anyway. I have instinct where he has ability beyond mine. He held me close.

"I can't let you go. There is no better, for right now, than you in my arms."

"There is never any better than you in my arms. Maybe that's why you love me. My needs are few."

"I love you because you hurt, you suffer, and you deserve to be a special somebody."

"Is that all?" I said, smiling, and not joking.

"Yeah. It's enough. Any one of those three is enough. Are you a burden to me?"

"Yes. And no," I quickly added.


"We don't have a normal life."

"Who wants to be normal?"

"I do. One full year of normal would be so nice."

"Why wish for what you may not have?"

"I hurt and I suffer. I'm yet again rejecting a new kidney, my second. Normal would feel good."

"You'd rather feel nothing than something? I know you better than that."

"If only for a while."

"If the only thing you feel is my love for you, and then feel that."

I kissed him deeply. His love is the only need I had.

"Yours is my only need too, Aaron."

"Then you're no longer needful, Skip. I love you now and then the next moment after that, perpetually."

"Thank you. I'm rubber and you're glue," he said, quoting the old kid's game.

"Lucky us."

"Nope. Blessed us."

"I love that you told me, once, that you made sure that I would love you, and that you would love me. We were just beginning to see each other, and you wanted me anyway."

"I knew what you needed to know, about how to survive and about how to live beyond survival. Beyond all the shit, losing Kate and your son was the worst of it. If that had happened to me, I would have shut myself off from love. But I knew about you from Jason, and he said you needed to be loved. I told Jason that I would love you. He did not think it was weird. He thought it was the right thing to do."

"I guess a fifteen year friendship will do that. He knew me better than anyone did. He saw me head over heels for Kate. He saw how thick the letters were that I sent to her."

"You wrote letters to her?"

"Yeah, she was in college in Michigan. We were too poor for phone calls, and this was the dinosaur age of computing. No email. I also bought a silly card and a serious card for her once a month."

He watched my eyes as I talked. He wiped away a tear.

I knew I was going to doze off for a while, so I tucked into his neck and kissed him. He held me, told me he loves me, and said that he is here for me when I wake.

He was. He was watching me when I woke up.

"Meds, please," is all I said.

He knew that meant that I was in pain. I curled up into a ball, trying to keep the pain away. Dumb. The pain was on the inside, escaping. Skip brought me water and eleven meds. After I took them all, and seemingly a gallon of water, he uncurled me and held me against his body, gently stroking my body.

"Easy love. You'll be okay in a few minutes. Look at me and don't think about the pain."

I did. I let the pain go. It eventually released me, too.

"Better?" he asked after a while.


"So, What's the Difference?"

Skip and I were talking about my growing desire to fulfill one of my dreams—to become an EMT or a Paramedic. I was deciding how far I really wanted to go. I already knew I was in for a fight with potential future employers, but decided to tackle the education first.

"The biggest differences between paramedics and EMTs are the training and the scope of practice—what they are allowed to do. Basic EMTs usually receive 120 - 150 hours of training, while paramedics get anywhere from 1,200 hours to 1,800 hours of training."

"Wow, so with a bit of training, anyone can be an EMT.

"Yeah. Certificate programs teach life support and advanced life support. A hospital experience is included. I'm finding that a full Paramedic programs often award two-year degrees."

"What can a Paramedic do that an EMT cannot?" he asked me.

"The scope of practice differences between EMTs and paramedics are in ability to break the skin. Most states do not allow basic emergency medical technicians to give shots or start intravenous lifelines. Basic EMTs are usually restricted to using oxygen, glucose, asthma inhalers, and epinephrine auto-injectors."

"Go on?"

"Paramedics can give shots as well as use more advanced airway management devices to support breathing. They are trained in the use of 30-40 medications, depending on the state."

"Well, love, I know you. And 150 hours of something is going to be trivial to you compared to 1,800 hours of the full deal. Plus you've been on the receiving end of Boston's finest twice in two years. Anatomy class? Psychology class? Biology courses? Probably chemistry courses?"

"Yeah, all that. That 10-minute attention span thing, ya know?"

"Give `em your full heart, or nothing at all. I don't think you'd settle for state-imposed limitations either, once you've proven your abilities. I do know it's not about control—it's about `don't limit me'."

"Training is what it comes down to. I can learn and I can feed back. Tests don't scare me. I need to know for me, first, as in can I really learn in the first place. I can do anything I put my mind to, including surviving cancer. I know pain, and I know need. I brought a dying person peace once, so I know I don't fall apart. If I needed post-traumatic counseling, I'd take it."

"So what scares you?"

"That the bosses won't think I can run and lift and carry and scramble ..."

"At the moment, you can't. Reality."

"So I need you."

"You got me. You're walking fifty steps a day, seven days a week, with little help."

"I'll eventually want to lift you and Billy. Maybe both. And carry you some reasonable distance. If I can't, I'm screwed."

"Back to the gym."

"No coddling. You're to be a tough guy on me. When I'm not thinking about you or the boys, I'm thinking about being a paramedic. I wake up in the middle of the night, deep in fantasy. "

"I don't coddle. I'm capable of being a tough guy, but I can't prove it."

"You do. Me not being a burden means you're tough enough. I need a different brand of tough, without you worrying about my feelings."

"Ah. Well, there's the rub."

"Thought so. If I can learn, so can you."

"You ask for nothing, so to ask for help to succeed at a dream is easy to embrace. Dreams are meant to become reality, dreams like this one especially."

"No longer a dream. I'm enrolling in a biology class at BC as we speak. I'm considering chemistry."

I moved the mouse around the screen for a few minutes. I looked at course descriptions and requirements. I looked at the schedule. Biology was on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Chemistry was on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I will ask Andrew for morning chemo instead of afternoon. I signed up for both.

"Considering, huh?" Skip asked from behind me.

He always held on to me in the chair when I was at our PC.

"Too easy to talk myself out of things sometimes. Chemistry scares me. It was my only middle C in high school. I didn't have the right level of math back then. So, I go boldly."

"You have a different mindset than the average college student, don't forget that. You already have two degrees, and a good fifteen years of experience. Billy has an interest in the lab, too, for obvious reasons. He hasn't had chemistry yet. You should call him."

I did. He signed up for it that afternoon.

"Lover and now classmate. Something to keep him interested in me—common ground."

"He finds you infinitely interesting. I agree about common ground, but chemistry means more than one thing. You both have it, bad, for each other."

"Speaking of which, Jordan says he has it bad for me too."

"I know. He told me too. You move people, bro, live with it."

"He loves me for my mind."

"Don't we all? And then there's me, who loves you for everything possible to love you for."

"You love me? Wow. When did that happen?"

"In the moments I was in."

"Aww, love, you make me happy. You know `moments' are the most precious. Thank you for that."

He kissed me softly, holding his hand behind my head. He looked at my eyes and I feel into his. Skip loves me. I love him, so life was good. Even the pain in my insides took very little away from that.

In October, I started my late-start classes. Billy's chemistry class was his fifth class. He signed up for four, usually, reserving one for late-start if he found something interesting. Things had changed a lot from when I was in college in the 80's, like $250 for a biology textbook and $300 for a chemistry textbook. Tuition at a private college was vastly more expensive than my home state university tuition. BC's name came with it, but even that wasn't important. I needed my boys. They loved having me on campus as a student. I will stay over on Friday with them, each week. Skip will join us each weekend, unless he wants to work on a Saturday. He did on one weekend a month—to give to a community organization, not for pay.

I also wanted to sign up for a basic EMT class, CPR for example. I researched and found EMT intro classes in town. I started with EMT Basics. This concentrated on patient assessment, initial treatment, and field communications. We would learn basic anatomy and physiology, airway management, CPR, oxygen therapy, bandaging and splinting, and lifting and transport. My classmates seemed a bit intimidated by my wheelchair. Obstacle number one—help them NOT see the disability. See me. I had sixteen weeks, two nights a week, to show them me.

I had anatomy and physiology down pat, of course. I used my body and scars to teach my classmates. There is very little about the body's physiology that cannot be learned easily. We had an incredibly good diagram of the body on the wall in class. Nobody seemed to know that the kidneys were in the lower back, or how big. I put my fist where my scar ended (it started on my side). They got it easily. I told them about how Skip functioned on one and one-half lungs. The body is amazing, and a bit redundant. Two lungs, two kidneys—we could get by on one when necessary. One heart though. We could make it pump when it stopped if we learned CPR correctly. It could be broken, as Sam's was. It could be healed again, as Sam's was.

I practiced at home with Skip, on lifting. He sat with his elbows on the ottoman. I lifted him by his legs, as if putting him on a stretcher, and then slid him back onto the chair. I lifted classmates from the floor to the stretcher in the classroom, using my back, which I could feel, not my legs, which I could not. I taught my classmates to hold the hand of the patient once placed. Comfort and peace was everything. I told my mates that people lived on humanity as well as strong medicine. I was proof, in case there was doubt.

I could not carry. That was the only thing I could not do, of everything expected of us. Being a paramedic was a team effort anyway. Heroes were made, but not in the course of a regular event. We wanted to be team members first, so they cheered me on, helped me, let me be stubborn as all hell, and let me help them. Our instructor taught us the basics of the course. We taught each other about being human and caring, needful at times and supportive at others.

It did not take me sixteen weeks to show my classmates my lack of a disability. My wheelchair disappeared into the background within the first week of class. I was Aaron, hear me roar. (Well, a soft purr most of the time, but y'all know who caused that). They wanted me for my mind and my talents as a human. I gave them confidence through repetition of facts and encouragement of my heart. They gave me friendship and a focus.

"Aaron, bro, it's like you're transparent sometimes," said Douglas, a young man still in high school. "You make me see a person as a person while being a patient. I never did that before."

"I've told my doctors that I don't want to be treated by a person who cannot feel. I know it's a fine line to walk, but there's a beating heart, we hope, in the person you're treating. Make him or her know you see it and care for it."

Nobody, instructor included, disagreed with me. Maybe robots will treat a person, in the future, better than I can, but until then, I too have a heart, and I'm going to put it out there. Holding a hand of someone who is scared *is* enough.

Jordan and I are at Tufts-New England Medical, near Chinatown in Boston. A young man lie before us, unconscious. He is approximately seventeen, according to his chart. He is bruised badly, his face swollen. His right ear has been sewn together again. The lower half had been cut off. The attack was brutal. No one knows who did it. He had been found near the Theater District at 11:30 p.m. It was now ten hours later.

"So what can't we see, Jordan. What's the internal damage?"

"Bruised kidneys from being kicked repeatedly. Spinal cord injury, extent unknown. He might not walk again. Broken ribs, broken collarbone, broken fingers, and both wrists broken. They were twisted backwards. More than one attacker, bigger than him, which isn't hard to do."

"Shit. What makes you think it's a gay bashing."

"Instinct. Gut."

I was purely sad for this young man. Instinct did not ensure that this boy was even gay-by-stupid-label. Wrong place at the wrong time is what my gut said. But then again, I'm not a cop.

"No family? Or unknown family?"

"So far. No ID on him."

"I want to go to where he was found."

I found a wallet and a school ID. Jordan searched the high places in the Theater District. I went low and deep, into a urine-tainted corner. I almost missed it.

"Jon Deluca. North End. Sixteen in a month or so. Shit. What the fuck is wrong with us, Jordan? We're 20th Century barbarians, no better."

I handed the ID to Jordan. He looked at me, waiting for me to rant a bit, and then be done with it. Trust me, I was going to rant for a long time to come, just no more today. I put up my hands in surrender. I was not the solver of the world's problems; I was one heart who cared in the aftermath.

Jordan took me back to the ICU at Tufts. He will go to check out Jon's address in the North End, maybe find a friend or family.

"Jon? I'm Aaron. You're in the hospital, but you're safe now. Okay? You, uh, are pretty beat up. I'm sorry. If we can find who did it, we will. It's not right."

I touched his cheek as I sat beside him. I did not know if that would bother him, so I only lightly brushed it. But I did take his hand and held it. I believed in touch as step one to healing most anything. No one stands alone, isolated. Everyone needs a connection. I held his hand for hours. Jordan came back to get me.

"Anything?" we asked each other at the same time.

He smiled slightly.

"Not yet," I said. "I'm holding on though. You?"

"No. He lives in a studio. Neat and well kept. He's in school. I'll pursue that later and tomorrow. You ready to go?"

I was torn about going home to Skip, and staying here. I thought about it for a few minutes.

"I'm staying here," I said. "I'll call Skip."

He turned me around in my wheelchair to face him and gave me a good strong hug. I took it and returned it.

"Do what you do best, for Jon, love. You can. Don't wait on me tonight, but if I find out anything, I'll come by. Otherwise, I'll see you tomorrow."

I nodded. I looked at the young man. My imagination can be runaway, and it ran. I could picture the first punch that rocked him, subsequent punches that took him down, kicks that hurt like bloody hell, him knowing his bones were breaking, that he could die tonight, not being able to fight back much, being punished for fighting back, being punished for not fighting back, being punished for being, being called names that might be nonsense, waiting for it to stop, trying to close in on himself, praying for anything and anyone, and maybe thinking that death is better after all.

I held his hand. A nurse came in.

"Are you family?" she asked.

"Of course," I answered, without thought. "We belong to each other, so I'm even your family."

She smiled sincerely.

"What's your name?"

"Aaron Langille."

"I'm Emma North, Aaron Langille. I always enjoy meeting my family."

I smiled at her.

"I'm glad you came in. My mind was running away."

I unconsciously ran my thumb across Jon's knuckles. She put her hand on mind.

"Thank you for being here. I know the police are trying to ID him."

"Jon Deluca. Fifteen. Sixteen coming up. If he lives."

"He will."

I looked up at her. Nurses do not lie. They are sincere—because of that angel thing. She made a note on his chart.

"Jon Deluca. Fifteen."

Emma left but returned shortly. She brought me a drink box of orange juice, half a tuna sandwich, and two cookies.

A couple hours later, once Skip was home, I called him from the hallway. I needed to start carrying my cell phone.

"Jordan is here," he said. "He explained what's going on. Take care of him, love. We'll come by later with a change of clothes for you."

"I love you, bro."

I held the phone against my chest for a minute. When I hung up, I looked down the hall. Emma was looking at me. She smiled a bit. I waved my hand and then went back to Jon's room.

Skip and Jordan came and went. Emma checked on us both every couple of hours. At the change of the nursing shift, Emma introduced me to Julia. Julia continued to take care of both of us all night. I held on to Jon's hand and talked to him. I dozed off around 2:30 a.m., waking again before 3:00 a.m. I talked some more. He heard me, somehow. I believed.

"I'm just a friend, bro. I care that you have been hurt. Now you can start to heal. It takes time."

When I did not have classes and training, I was with Jon. I stayed every night. Emma and Julia gave their attention to Jon because I did not want anything. Jon's doctor saw me at the start of each morning.

"You humble us all here, Aaron."

"Don't do that, Doc. I'm nobody."

"Yeah. A bigger nobody than I've ever met. Jon's healing will be slow, but he will heal. That's more due to you than me."

"Not if you do what I do. You do have a heart, do you not?"

"Not like yours, young man."

"Feel something, Doc. If it bothers you to feel, so be it."

He looked at me. He nodded almost imperceptibly. He did not say anything, nor did he have to. Jon needed care, not just a degreed physician. I am one man, and I cannot heal the world. Every person around me has to reach out, even a little. Have a heart—truly.

He sat down. I know he had other patients. Jon's need was higher than most, at least at this moment. I motioned toward Jon's right hand. The doctor watched me as he put Jon's hand in his. I squeezed Jon's left hand lightly. Doc did the same. I motioned toward Jon's head. Doc brushed hairs away from Jon's brow. He touched Jon's cheek lightly. I stared into his eyes. I nodded. I smiled shyly.

"Yeah," I said quietly.

He stayed for longer than he felt comfortable. It would not take away from another patient. Everyone has a heart. Everyone needs to see it. A badly beaten fifteen year old need it more than most—today anyway.

On the fifth evening, Jon stirred a bit. I held his hand more. I talked a bit more. I was in no danger of running out of things to talk about. At 4:00 a.m., I woke after feeling my hand being touched. I took my chin off my chest. Jon's eyes were open.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi yourself. I'm ..."

"Aaron. I know."

"Are you in pain?"


I rang the bell for Julia. She came immediately.

"He's hurting."

She did what she needed to do. She did it carefully, with a heart. Jon's doctor was in the house within a half hour after that. I was surprised. He came and stood with us. He checked Jon's eyes carefully. He asked a couple of questions. A half hour later, we were alone again.

Jon watched me carefully. His first words surprised me, but also pleased me.

"You are not just a friend, Aaron. You are ... more. A lot more."

He had heard me tell him I'm a friend.

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