Skip - Part 35


Skip – Part 35

Skip and I were invited to lunch with my manager. I was a bit nervous. Skip was not.

"Okay, love, I need a transfusion of your confidence."

"She'll love me. Who couldn't?"

"It's not you I'm worried about."

"She already knows you. You're brilliant."

"Yeah, but I'm sorta different than before. And besides, you're biased."

"You were in love before. You're in love now. The difference is not going to matter."

"Not to anyone reasonable."

"Not to your manager, either. She'll love me. We're an awesome pair."

"Yeah, there is that, but ..."

"Sshhhh, don't worry."

We sat down at our table. Patricia gave a look that I could not interpret. I took my eyes off hers and studied the menu as I studied for an exam. I must be fifty shades of red. Skip looked at me and smirked. Great. That did not help.



"and Skip?"


"You're a couple? Not that I really have the right to ask. Please forgive an old woman's curiosity."

She is not that old, late fifties at worst.

"Yes, we are," we answered together.

"How do you think Kate feels about that?"

"She approves."

I had said it without even thinking, and looking at Patricia in the eye. I was not embarrassed anymore. I did not want to get angry either. Even her generation understood about gay-by-stupid-label. It is not like we are an oddity. I guess my thoughts showed on my face.

"Your parents accept you both Skip?"

Patricia knew that both my parents were gone.

"Yes, they do. Uh, but you ..."

"I'm not sure. You see, I knew Kate very well. I'm sure she does approve, Aaron, though I suspect that approval is the last thing you both seek. I have to say, you really are a magnificent couple. Give me a bit of time, Aaron. It's only that I knew Kate that I have difficulty."

She was, as I knew her to be, animated and friendly. I do not think she was sitting in judgment. I understood her love for Kate. They had hit it off the first time they met at our Christmas dinner. Kate did not reveal any of my `secrets', since I had none to reveal, but Patricia saw the love that Kate had for me, at least equal to what Patricia had with Fred, her spouse of almost 30 years. In a time when the divorce rate was about 50%, it was nice to see happily married couples.

I explained to Patricia about what brought us together. Between Skip's heart, and some of my own, she lightened up a bit. At the end of dinner, she smiled mischievously.

"What's that little smile all about?" I said, giving her eyebrows.

"I will say again, but using different words this time. You and Skip are a truly beautiful couple. I'm sorry for appearing to give you a hard time. You have not remembered that Peter is also gay, excuse the label."

Peter is her son.

"I did forget. How is Pete?"

"He and Charlie are both fine. The two were close growing up, so it was not an earth-shaking moment when they told Fred and me that they loved each other. I am very happy to see the love between you and Skip is even better, though hard to imagine. Pete and Charlie are five years together."

"Same as us."

"Will you both come to dinner at our house some weekend? We grill outside a lot. We can get our boys to come as well."

"Our boys?" Skip said. "You treat Charlie as your own? My folks do the same with Aaron."

"Yes, we both do. Charlie has been a son for a long time. His folks feel the same way about Peter. They would be happy to meet you."

"Yeah, that would be nice. Okay now, on your way, before Fred worries about you. I'll see you at work on Monday."

She gave me a nice hug, something we could not do at work. She gave Skip an equal hug and a kiss on the cheek. I gave her eyebrows again. She kissed me on my forehead.

"Now you're talking. So you don't care that I've, uh ..."

"Love is not gender, Aaron."

"Please stay out of my head. It's just too dark and scary in there!"

She laughed.

"Aaron taught that to me and a large handful of my brother's dorm mates at school. I first heard that about four years ago. I'm happy you feel that way though. I do love Aaron, Patricia, very much. Almost losing him just makes us ..."

"Even more special. Blessed, too. Good night boys. Safe home."

After she left, I kissed Skip on his forehead. "She thinks we're beautiful."

"Of course she does. We are."

I do agree, of course. Skip is a very handsome young man, and Billy is most definitely Skip's brother, and quite handsome in his own right. Most of the time they are eye-candy to me, and others. I look like my dad, who was good looking. Beautiful? No, but everybody always knew that I was my dad's son. As a couple, beautiful, however, does cover it. Beautiful meant that people knew we were a couple and that we belonged together more than we belonged to anyone else.

The movers arrived on Friday morning, as planned. It had been hard to give the keys to the Boston apartment back to Andrew and Claire.

"I'm going to miss this place a lot," I said to them. "There are some amazingly beautiful memories here. There were some rough times along the way, but you don't know good if you don't know bad."

We had taken pictures of the place. A couple of them turned out so good that we put them in frames. I have always loved where I have lived. This was the best place though. I never considered myself a city boy. I was pleased that I could adapt to any living situation.

This townhouse, the end unit, was almost identical to the other townhouse we saw. It was four levels and was 2150 square feet. The landscaping in the whole development was well done. We would improve on that a bit in our own area. The basement was a walkout and fully finished. My library here even had room to grow. The back yard was huge. I was very happy to see a large lilac tree at the back corner of the house, outside of the master bedroom. It is a seriously wonderful springtime smell.

On the main level, we walked into a beautiful up-to-date modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite counters, though I liked soapstone better. The dining area beside it was an extension of the kitchen vs. a formal dining room, again to my liking, and Skip's as well. Behind the kitchen was a laundry room. We would buy a washer and dryer over the weekend.

The master bedroom was on the first floor. With Charcot-Marie-Tooth / Muscular Dystrophy inside me, a first floor master was a good decision. At first, we thought we would be limited to traditional houses. Alicia had said that the baby boomers found first floor masters very appealing.

The movers started with the kitchen and dining room, and then the living room. Skip and I put out the deck furniture.

There were three fireplaces—basement, master bedroom, and upstairs den. Windows were large and light, especially in the stairwell. There were two and a half baths, two same-size spare bedrooms, plus the den. Billy would have his choice of which bedroom he wanted, at least publicly. He would be arriving just before Memorial Day.

The townhouse was priced at $199,900. We had offered $197,000 with closing costs. The offer had been accepted. The same developer had built both this unit and the first townhouse we had looked at. It was only four years old. I was a mile from work and Skip was 25 miles to Yale. Billy also wanted to find a summer job, though Skip was ahead of him on that. Billy will find out tonight, when we call him, that he has a job at Yale as well. He will be thrilled, especially knowing that Skip always looked out for him. He knew that, but actions always speak louder than words.

We unpacked for days, taking care of the kitchen first since it had the most single items to put away. We were glad that we both had pared down our households. It did not take a lot of effort, but combining a household did require thought at least.

On the first Thursday of our residence in Connecticut, I went to New York City on the Metro North train line. Andrew and I had left out one obvious place when we were looking at venues for my chemo—New York. They were flying in to New York on the shuttle. Why make a trip to Yale on top of that when I had easy access by train into Manhattan.

I arrived at Grand Central, one of my most favorite places in all of New York. I had worked in Manhattan off and on for four years as a GE employee. I had also spent a lot of time exploring Manhattan, often by myself. Rockefeller Center was my number one favorite destination, especially in winter. Christmastime in Manhattan was so wonderful. And if it happened to snow, even a little, it was magical.

"Hey Vincent, are you with me, love? Look at the morning light bouncing off the Chrysler Building's top. Maybe you know. Maybe that's you telling me you're with me. I miss you, but ... you know."

I do not live in regret. Vincent knew, when we made love, that he was special, maybe one notch more special than the other boys, because we did share more than hugs. I have dreamt about him a few times, of being inside of him, or him inside of me, making him belong to me forever. I had promised to walk in the world for him. I was infinitely aware of my surroundings using three of my senses.

Sight—it was visually overwhelming, even though I had lived in Boston. Everything was just `more' and `taller'. More people (by millions), and more buildings, taller buildings, wider streets, more congestion, more traffic by a long shot, and more things to look at.

Sound—louder was the order of the day. Subways underground, taxis and buses and cars (yet more people driving in a city where public transit is above par, getting nowhere faster), and people-sounds.

Smells—about anything imaginable, from gas and diesel fuel emissions, street food vendors of more variety than I saw even in Boston, the whiff of urine from alleys, and coffee shops emitting their flavors.

Taste and touch—not so much, yet.

It was two miles from Grand Central Terminal to East 68th at York Avenue. In my younger, before MD diagnosis days, I could walk that in about thirty minutes. Experience told me that two miles would now be done in about an hour. That's okay; I was early. I had been admonished by fellow workmates, years ago, not to look like a tourist or country bumpkin in NYC. Muggers love those who are not street smart. Trouble is, I am a country bumpkin and not altogether street smart. Tony should be with me, since he was born in Brooklyn. I heeded the advice though and tried to blend in.

I walked east on 42nd Street until I hit Lexington Avenue, and then headed north. Once I reached 68th Street, I turned east to York Avenue. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center lay in front of me. I worked in Manhattan for a few years back in the mid 80's. Before my cancer had ravaged me, I was here twice a week to donate platelets to a friend of a friend undergoing chemotherapy. I also donated whole blood for him occasionally. He survived for a long time, but the cancer eventually took him.

I also know that I am not immortal. I may live longer than some with my cancer, but I will also suffer longer. After today, I will have the unforgettable headache. I can only hope that Andrew has the anti-emetic worked out by now. Having such a headache is enough penance for anything I have done wrong in my life—adding terrible nausea to that is just too hard. Andrew will stay with me, which I am thankful for. I wish it could be Skip or Billy. Andrew knows not to take that personally.

By the time I entered the lobby of the hospital, I realized that my legs were very tired.

"Okay, so maybe I take the subway next time," I thought to myself.

I called Andrew's cell.

"Hi. I'm in the lobby. I walked from Grand Central and I'm kinda beat. I'll be up in a few minutes, okay?"

He told me it was okay.

A few minutes later, Andrew got off the elevator and walked over to me.

"You do look beat. That's a couple of miles to walk. You should not push so hard. It adversely affects the MD. Or do you conveniently forget that you have Muscular Dystrophy?"

"I forget very little, conveniently or otherwise. I choose to ignore it."

"Don't. It's there and it will leave you weak. Exercise is just right, but if you push, you'll hurt, a lot."

I nodded. I hurt too much to argue that I needed to be active. He knew I did but, like it or not, I do have limits. Bleh.

After about ten minutes, I stood. Andrew helped me keep my balance. My legs were only half rubber. Today was my first treatment in two weeks. Andrew had allowed me time to move and settle in a little. We still had three tumors to take care of. Skip's anxiety was high when he held me. I knew he was feeling the size and shape of the tumors when he put his hand on my lower back. He knew I was still rejecting the kidney. I was so used to taking nine meds each day that I did not give it much thought.

The office that Andrew was given was larger than his office at MGH. There was also more tech, though Andrew did not rely a lot on tech. There were also a surprise waiting for me. Oh man, life is sooo good.

"Hey love, about time you got here," said Billy, walking over to me and hugging me close.

"Uh, school?"

"The beginning of an internship, for the summer, mostly in DC with Andrew. I told him I want to be a lab tech. He made me an offer I'd be insane to refuse. However, for now, the only offer I want is one I make to you—let me hold you through this shit."

"Yeah," is all I could say.

Andrew took me to the inner lab. Billy hesitated, and then came in and sat beside me. He took off my shirts.

"Right here," he said, two fingers directed at his eyes.

Andrew wiped down my back with two antiseptic solutions. He inserted the three needles, carefully, one at a time. As before, the denser tumor took some effort.

"I'm sorry, love," he said before he pushed hard.

Tears poured out of my eyes. I got dizzy and very hot. Andrew handed Billy a washcloth and towel from a cabinet.

"Care to get out friend cooled down?"

"Sure," Billy said, going through a second door to the bathroom. He rinsed the washcloth in cold water and then folded it onto my forehead. He wiped my eyes gently with the towel. The hotness and dizziness passed. The pain of the meds increased as usual, but not enough to make my eyes leak. Billy held my head on his lap.

Forty minutes later, Billy laid me on the sofa and got behind me. Andrew plugged the IV into my PICC line and gave me the blanket. I dozed a bit but did not sleep as I usually did.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," Andrew said, kissing my forehead.

Billy took Andrew by the arm and pulled him back to us. He kissed Andrew's forehead as well, so he would know what it feels like to do it to me. Billy put his hand behind Andrew's head and then put their foreheads together. Andrew kissed Billy on the cheek after a couple of minutes.

"I'll be back," Andrew said, leaving us.

"You okay, love?" I asked Billy.

"I guess."

"Good answer. Now give me a truthful one."

"I can't get used to this. I've never liked it, that you are so sick. I don't understand it."

"I'm far from the only one."

"But you're the best one."

"What about Skip?"

"Skip isn't sick anymore. YOU are."

"And Andrew is taking care of me. I do know how you feel, love, but don't worry. I'm alive and thriving. And even better, in love with you."

"I'm scared sometimes."

"Don't be."

"Aren't you?"

"No. Not even a little. I have you and Skip to hold me on this side of my life, and Andrew to do everything else."

He looked into my eyes to see if I believed what I was saying. I did believe it. I always did and I always will. That's why I'm alive. It is why I can live in my moments, and help others live in theirs.

"Yes, you do believe. So do I. I try not to be scared but ..."

"I know, Billy. Being scared doesn't do anything for you or me. Living as well as you can, daily, is what you do. I know I can tell you not to be scared, and you'll be scared anyway, but also believe that I'm not going anywhere."

He did not say anything. He did, however, hold me very tightly, as if I really would go somewhere, and leave him behind. I hugged him too. Vincent had died. Billy could die too. Or Skip or Andrew, Claire, Betsy or JD ... they all travelled more or would travel more because Skip's and my move to Connecticut.

I have said before, the boys at school all live as if not all of them would be together 24 hours from any point. It is why losing Vincent was not traumatic, merely sad. It did not diminish that he was no longer with us in the manner we preferred, only that he is in a better place. Vincent was loved. He knew that he was loved every day. He did not have to wonder. I am so very glad that I made love to him. He had been needy and I helped him feel better, that first time we were together. The second time was all the better, without the pressure of that need. I, like anyone human, wish for just one more time. I want to hold him and be inside of him. But since I cannot, I have tucked him neatly into my heart. Why wish for what one cannot have?

Andrew came back with apple juice for me, and a Sprite for Billy. His desk drawer contained a stash of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. I ate one and drank my juice, and then went to sleep for the rest of the two hours. When I woke, I was hot and dizzy again. Andrew gave me an extra boost of the anti-emetic that was also in my IV.

"You just love doing that!" I said as I rubbed my ass cheek.

"I do," he said, smiling. "But I also know it makes you feel better. Your room is down the hall. Billy knows where it is since he unpacked already for the night. Go ahead, guys. I'll see you later."

Billy walked me down to `our' room. This would be my room each time I had chemo, so Andrew could keep an eye on me overnight. Claire was looking out of the window when we arrived. This is the first time I have seen her since Skip and I moved. I hugged her and then Billy did as well. She kissed each of us on the cheek, and then ran her fingers down them gently.

"I can tell that you're already sick, Aaron. You must have a headache."

"Yeah. Mother's instinct?"

"Not really. Pain always shows in your eyes."

She went into the bathroom. I saw her take a bottle from the medicine chest. She brought me two ibuprofen and a glass of cold water.

"Andrew will be by in a while, and then I will relieve him later. I have a batch of soup for you for dinner. May I bring grilled cheese as well?"

We both said yes. I would not guarantee that I would eat it, but she could bring it.

"I heard that," she said, giving me a sly smile. "You shall eat. You need to be strong."

"Okay. Billy doesn't mind holding my head when the inevitable happens."

"I know, Aaron, but even if you puke up your dinner, some of it stays. Something is better than nothing."

"Not necessarily, but don't worry. I'll make all gone."

"Yes you will. Or else Andrew will give you a feeding tube."

She walked away, giving me eyebrows. I knew she meant it, and that Andrew would have very little difficulty in doing so. I was still barely 100 pounds, so the threat was not just a threat. I have to prove that I am eating. Keeping it down is not part of the requirement.

"Bleh," I said, looking out the window. I looked west, watching the sun drop lower in the sky, though not sunset yet. I put my face against the cool glass. Billy went back to the bathroom and brought back the washcloth. He put it on my neck. Standing behind me, he wrapped his arms around my stomach.

"I love you, Aaron. I don't want to love you just because I'm afraid ..."

"Then don't. Love me because I mean something to you."

"You know you do."

"I'm not going to assume anything. You know I'm greedy. Sometimes I'm also selfish. I need to hear that I'm one half of your world."

"Fifty-five percent."

"No. It's not right to think that way."

"Skip knows."

"Skip is the other full one-half of your world. I don't want to be better than he is in your heart."

"You are."

"Stop. I am not. If you pity me or if you treat me as if something is going to happen, you dishonor me, and worse, your brother. Skip lived because you loved him to life. Just because he's cancer-free does not mean he needs you any less."

Billy turned me around and kissed me deeply.

"Skip does not need me as much as you do. Be selfish. I do love you more, at least in this moment. Skip loves you more than he loves me, if only by a heartbeat."

"It's not fair," I protested.

"Of course it's fair. You're needful. That need is what brought Skip into your life, and then brought me too. I wanted to know, so bad, what my cock inside you would feel like. Not for sex, but to connect to you. To hold you so close that you'd never feel sadness ever again. I watched you for months. I knew that Skip was going to make you love him, or try to."

"You talked about it?"

"Nope. I just knew."

"Am I worth it?"

"And a half," he said.

"You and Skip mean the world to me. It has to be equal, how I love you I mean."

"I know. Neither of us is needful."

"You are, just a little differently than I am. You need love. I can and will give it."

"I wish I could make your cancer go away. Claire is right about your pain showing up in your eyes. I always know when you hurt, even when you pretend you're alright."

"I try not to pretend, because that's just another form of lying. But I don't want you to suffer just because I do."

"I do suffer because you do. That's just something you'll have to accept about me. About Skip too."

"Please don't."

"I do and Skip does. We love you, everything about you, and care so much. When you hurt, we'll try to make it better. But we will also hurt. You can't ask us not to."

I held my Billy in my arms instead. I did not want him to hurt for me. He is right though. I cannot change what they are. I kissed Billy. He picked me up and put me on the bed, and then lay beside me. He put his hand inside my jeans and played with my dick. We would not be alone much longer, but he did not want sex. There would be time for that tomorrow, or during the weekend.

"So you flew from Boston?"

"Nope. Took the Amtrak. It's about 4 ½ hours. I read the whole time, or dozed for a while. Skip knows I'm here by the way. How do we get home tomorrow?"

"The Metro North New Haven line, from Grand Central. It's about 90 minutes."

"I went through New Haven on the way here. I can't believe that Connecticut is as easily accessible as Boston was. I'm coming down the first week of June, if that's alright."

"Of course it is. Your room is ready. And our bed is ready too."


"You going to like working with bro again?"

"I'm going to love working with bro again. We do work very well together."

"It will be great to be three again."

"We always are three, but I know what you mean."

There was a knock on the door. Billy withdrew his hand from inside my jeans.

"Come on in," I said.

Claire came in, the bowl from her crock-pot held with two potholders. She set it down on the wide windowsill. Over her shoulder was a lunch bag. She pulled out four BLT's.

"You are to eat at least one full bowl of my labored-over soup and at least one half of a BLT, preferably a whole one. The tomatoes for the soup and for the BLT are from our community rooftop garden. There is just a touch of sour cream in the soup. Billy, please call me later, around 9:00 would be just right. I want a full report."

Billy did call, but it was after 9:30.

"I expect that our friend had a hard time with dinner?" asked Claire.

"Oh yeah. He was good for about three hours and we both thought that he would be okay. It came on so suddenly that he puked mightily on the bed, on the floor, and all the way to the bathroom."

Billy heard Claire tell Andrew that the anti-emetic still needs work.

"Andrew is coming by in a while. I'm sorry, Billy. But three hours is quite good, nutritionally speaking."

"Aaron is afraid he has insulted you."

"Not possible. I have had morning sickness with both my children, so I understand. What did he eat?"

"A bowl and a half of soup and half a BLT?"

"That's all? Did he vomit blood?"

Billy sighed. "Yes."

"Tell Andrew. He just left our hotel. What can I do for you Billy?"

"Nothing ma'am. I'm fine. Aaron is sleeping. I apologize for not calling as you requested."

"I don't watch the clock, Billy. I know you well enough to know you would call. Give our friend a kiss on his forehead for me. Will we see you next week?"

"No. I will come once a month. Skip will come next week. When school is done, one or two of the boys who live out on Long Island will come in."

"You all have such beautiful hearts. Thank you Billy. Good night."

"Good night ma'am. Sleep well."

I stirred a bit. Billy held me tightly. He kissed me on my forehead and then warmly on my lips.

"You called Claire?"

"Yeah. The first kiss is from her. Andrew is on his way."

"With a pant load of drugs I hope."

"Me too. Claire told him the anti-emetic isn't working yet."

"Well, it worked for three hours. That's better than in the past."

Andrew arrived a few minutes later.

"Oh love, you are sooo pale."

"I ate, I puked. I assume you have something to stick in my left cheek?"

He laughed, despite my misery.

"Yes, love, I do."

He jabbed me with the syringe and left a handful more.

"If you awake during the night and are in danger of vomiting more, Billy can give you another shot. Billy, you can also give Aaron one in the morning when you wake. Make sure you eat a light breakfast. That goes for you too, young man," he said to Billy.

"I eat what Aaron eats, Andrew. Neither Skip or I will eat more than he does."

"I guess I knew that, and I assume you are not the 3-meal-a-day types anyway."

"No, that makes for bad eating habits. Medium breakfast, mid-morning snack, light lunch, afternoon snack, light dinner, evening treat. Lots of fruits and veggies, something sweet once or twice a week, meat only once a week, lots of fish, a bit of chicken or pork, but no deprivation. Like Claire, we hope that food stays with our buddy long enough to nourish him. We use the USDA food pyramid -- Skip and I were raised on that. That's why we are so studly."

Billy gave a quick sly smile. Andrew smiled. "Me too," he said, twisting his torso and flexing his muscles.

"Oooh baby!" I said.

I was not exaggerating. Andrew was trim and healthy, as was Claire. I am sure neither of their kids suffer from childhood obesity. My mom was like Skip and Billy's mom. Eat right and get outdoors for exercise. It helped that I was raised on a dairy farm. In my high school and college days, I was studly too.

"Okay guys, I'm going back to our hotel. Aaron or Billy, ring for the night duty nurse in an emergency. Then call me. You have my pager number?"

"I have your card in my wallet," I said.

"So do I," said Billy.

"Good night then. I'll be in at 7:00 tomorrow morning."

Billy turned on the TV in the corner. Friday night TV was not very good. Then he discovered that cable included a movie channel, so we watched "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace". This was our second time seeing it. Last year we stood in long movie theater lines for it.

"Obi-Wan is sooo hot," I commented.

"I am waaay hotter," he said confidently.

"Yes, there is that, of course. But you already know that's how I feel about you. Obi-Wan is just lust. You're only 1% lust, but the other 99% is so much better."

"I love you because you love me, and because I don't want to lose you."

"I love you because you love me, and I'd hate more to lose you. We came too close once."

"Yeah," is all Billy said.

He hugged me close as we watched the movie. When it was over, I buried my face in Billy's neck and went to sleep. The headache was awful. Only sleep would relieve it now.

We left the hospital in the morning and took our time walking back to midtown. We stopped at a coffee shop. I had coffee and a raspberry cheese Danish. Billy had a cranberry nut muffin and OJ. I ate half of the Danish and then wrapped the other half for later, maybe on the train.

We arrived at Grand Central station a half hour before our train was due to depart. Billy planned to ride to Fairfield with me and then continue on to New Haven. He would take Amtrak back to Boston from there. He needed to be back at school to study for finals.

We kissed on the sly just before we arrived in Fairfield.

"Tell my bros I said hi. You might have to give each one a hug for me."

"It's a dirty job, but I think I can manage. See you in three weeks. I love you, Aaron."

"I love you too, Billy. Call us tonight?"

He nodded. I exited the train and stood watching him until the train pulled around the curve. I smiled as I drove home. It was not hard to believe or accept that he had come all this way for me. He would have travelled cross-country if he had to. He did love me, a lot.

I got home before Skip. I lay on the sofa until I had to throw up again. I dug into my duffle and took out the last syringe that Andrew had given me. I plunged it into my hip. The nausea backed off in a few minutes. I washed my face and brushed my teeth so Skip would not smell puke on my breath.

I baked a ham for dinner. An hour before Skip was due home, I put sweet potatoes in the oven to roast. The kitchen smelled great. Skip slid into my arms the minute he came through the door.

"I missed you so much. I bet it was nice to see our bro, huh?"

"Yes it was, and I missed you too. Let's shower before dinner is ready."

"Now there's a nice offer. You were sick from chemo again, huh?"

"Yeah. I guess I need another brand of toothpaste."

"I can tell. It's not your breath, it's your eyes."

"I'm okay now."

"I know."

We undressed and got into the shower. He stood behind me and slowly entered me, holding me tight around my chest. He kissed my neck so lovingly that I almost cried. He did not fuck me. He stayed inside of me and made the sweetest love to me as he ever had. He stroked my cock and ensured that I came when he came. He bucked his hips as he shot inside of me. He then turned me around, kissed me, and washed me thoroughly. I did the same to him. We toweled off, got into shorts, and went to eat. I put a new Yanni CD on the stereo. It was called "If I Could Tell You," one of my top three favorite CDs by Yanni.

I drove up the hill onto GE's corporate headquarters' site on Monday morning. I showed my ID badge to the security guard about midway up the hill. He waved me through and I pulled into the underground parking. A quick glance around showed that Patricia was not in yet. I was usually the office early bird, and had been so for many years whenever I worked. My CD player's clock showed 7:40. My commute was about four minutes, compared to my previous 20-25 minute commute (or longer) when I lived in Connecticut before and had to travel the Merritt Parkway.

I forgot to bring a drink box of juice from home, so I stopped at the cafeteria on the way upstairs. I made myself a note to bring snacks from home. The juice cost $1.55 for a pint. Lunch prices, however, were generally quite good, so I have been eating in the cafeteria with my team.

I arrived on the third floor, facing the woods, on the southeast side of the building. I fired up my PC and went into my database program where I continued working on the user interface. This system is to be used by the executive committee to review scientific data from research facilities worldwide. My dislike of `Corporate America' did not include GE, though we could be about as corporate as anybody else could. However, Patricia, and her boss above her, helped avoid that feeling. We did not wear shirts and ties to work (or dresses, for the females). We dressed in what was considered `business casual', neat and somewhat crisp, but no t-shirts and jeans. This was fairly new on the some of the east coast. I had been to California on business trips where it was standard dress for almost everyone, at least at my customer sites. California was a stereotypical casual culture. There were a lot of ugly ties in Corporate America, and a stuffy attitude to go along with them. Ick.

Later in the morning, I added sample data to test out the entry screens and menus. I would need to ask my internal customer for a larger sample set of data, and then I would start to write reports. Research data was one step removed from hard scientific data. Part of my job was to put a valuable face on that data.

I chatted with my project partner across the way from me.

"Still sick from chemo?" Brent asked.

"Headache kinda in the background, but fine otherwise."

"I worried about you a bit this weekend. Is it hard coming back to work again? You were off for a long time."

"Not really that hard. I was here 15 years before I left, but that was before I got sick. I found that Connecticut was not home any more after Kate was killed. I went back to New Hampshire. Against my plans, I fell in love again too."

Brent came over to my desk and lowered his voice. He thought for a moment about what he wanted to ask.

"Is he nice?"

"He?" I said, unsure of what I heard.

"Yeah. You can't give your heart to just anyone, so it has to be someone unique and special."

"Yes. He. And he is both of those things."

"I'm happy for you. Just so you know, one of my brothers is ..."

"Please don't put a label on him," I said.

"My brother is in love with another guy. Funny, but he says the same thing. I guess he's right that a label is kinda lame."

"A label just puts people into places that are too limiting. Your brother is more than gay I suspect."

"He is. It took me a while to see that. We grew up close."

"Are you that close again?"

"Yeah. It feels right. Brothers are just ..."

"Yeah, and don't forget it. You're in for it for a lifetime. Treat him different and you lose something."

"I know. I lost that for a while. I hated it."

"Someday I'll tell you how Skip and I came to be."

"Thanks. I'd like to hear it. You should meet Justin. He'd like you a lot. I'll leave you alone."

"Lunch later?"

"Yeah," he said, going back to his desk.

I sat for a few minutes just staring at my screen, wondering.

"Like I said, Aaron, it had to be someone unique and special. Losing Kate the way you did tells me that you didn't want love again. For you to be in love must have been a major experience. How long ago?"

"Over five years."

"Nice. Like the cancer, huh? Did that have anything to do with it?"

"Oh yeah. Big time."

Brent had lost a brother to leukemia. The whole team did know about my cancer, but it was not often office conversation. Eight other people who worked with me respected my privacy, at the same time letting me know I could ask for help if I got sick. It was easy for me to prove that I could put it out of my mind.

At the same time, I updated my Gantt chart to show my progress. I had not had time to do so last Thursday before I left for the day. Patricia was not one to let or ask her staff to put in more than a standard day. She believed in the sign that hung in many other offices I had been in—"The lack of planning on your part does not create an emergency on my part." Grownups should be able to plan smartly considering all the software we had at our disposal.

There is another thing I loved about Patricia—her business style. She did not have meetings for the sake of having meetings. Monday morning at 9:00 was not a time to have a meeting. It was a time for work and ramping up for the day. When we did have a meeting, we stood informally around a team member's area to talk about what was important. An end-of-week email gave the whole team a progress report.

At lunchtime, I brought up the idea of us teaming up for Special Olympics.

"It's been a while since I've done this type of volunteering. I want to get back into it, plus it'll help me fit back into this area. I kinda feel like a stranger because I've been gone for eight or nine years."

"I'm already in it," said Cara. "We're trying to organize a softball event for both boys and girls."

"I'm in," said Brent. "I got equipment I can donate or lend, whichever."

"Me too," I said, remembering bats and balls in our basement at home. "I can buy gloves if we don't have enough."

"Me too," said Fred. "I got at least two spare at home. My sister is likely to have at least one spare. I can buy one or two more."

"Count me in," said Patricia, who joined us a couple of minutes ago. "We can get equipment from our town's school team. They kids want to play baseball instead of softball now that they're growing up."

I made a list of all the donated equipment. If we came up short, which I doubted because these were not `empty-promise' types, we would find other sources.

"Does anyone have a roster of boys and girls yet?" I asked.

"The Public Relations Office takes care of that," said Patricia. "I will call after lunch to get a headcount."

I knew that both Skip and Billy would spend their summer as volunteers as well. I knew that some of Billy's mates also did volunteer work in their hometowns over the summer and/or on vacations. I was happy to know that. We had so much and many more had little or nothing. I did not have a lot when I was growing up, but I never went hungry. Skip and I still sent money to Jillian for her efforts at the women's shelter. She finally stopped complaining that it was too much for us to spend. It was not. It was generous, but it was necessary. We both also continued to fund the scholarship for Michael and Will.

Michael planned to move to Nova Scotia in August so the boys will have four weeks together before they started college in Toronto in September. His folks were all for his love of Will. Sam had set up automatic payment to the college for the boys. The boys decided that they would make the trip over two days. It is a 20-hour drive from their home in Nova Scotia, across New Brunswick, into and through Quebec province, to Toronto, not counting for traffic. It will be a mid-week trip vs. a weekend trip. I fretted about the driving. It was the downside to being a paramedic—I had seen many accidents. They both assured me that they would be careful. I told them I would worry anyway.

The boys in Boston were down to two weeks left of their junior year. Studying for and taking finals will consume much of their time. Billy will arrive on May 28th, a Sunday, and would start work with Skip the following week, on a Monday. I wanted to keep up with my studies, so I enrolled in a summer class at Fairfield University. I was about four courses short of my second Bachelor of Science degree, depending on how courses transferred.

Later in the evening, after dinner, Skip and I walked to a small park. There were many in the area, but this one, like ours at home in New Hampshire, offered secluded spots.

"Can I tell you something?" I asked, smiling slyly.

"Only if it's that you love me madly, passionately, with every beat of your heart."

"You really should stay out of my head."

"Saaaay iiiit," he said.

"I love you, madly and passionately, with every beat of your heart."

"Of your heart," he said, giggling.

"That's what I said," I said, teasing him.

"Of YOUR heart," he said more firmly.

"I love you, madly and awesomely, with my heart."

He gave me eyebrows, very serious eyebrows.

"I love you, madly and passionately, with every beat of OUR hearts."

"Prove it," he said.

I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him about as warmly and sensually as I ever had. I pulled back, looked into his eyes, kissed his forehead lightly, and then returned to his lips. He wrapped me in his arms and kissed my forehead.

"That's it?" I said.

"I can't possibly top what you did to me. I would not ever try. I do love you. I am so honored that you love me."

"Trust me, bro, you have proven many times over that you love me EXACTLY the same way I love you. The latest is that you were willing to move away from your family."

"I go where you go. We have a great home together, my job is great, we are closer now to some of the boys for the summer, New York City is a bit over an hour away, and I have this for you," he said, reaching into his shirt.

I stared, open-mouthed, at what he handed me. I had wanted this badly, but we had never managed to do it. I was thrilled.

"Phantom of the Opera, on Broadway. Oh my, this is so awesome. You're a million times more awesome, but this ..."

"I'm excited too, love. I have reservations for us after the show, too. And we're staying overnight."

"Wow, nice. Thanks Skip. Just one more dream fulfilled. You made them all come true."

"Not quite. You became a paramedic on your own. It was your biggest dream."

"Nope. I didn't know it until it happened, but you and Billy are my biggest, and ultimate, dream. Nothing else would have been half as sweet without you both."

We sat in the secluded area of the park for a while. We held hands and kissed like first-time schoolboys, except that first-time schoolboys only wished for a partner like Skip. The crescent moon came out from behind a thin cloud. After a while, we walked home, taking the long way, going through other cul-de-sacs and past homes where soft light shone in the windows. Some people sitting on front porches said hi to us as we passed. We talked briefly to neighbors in our own development. Once home, we sat on the deck overlooking the backyard. Crickets started up, followed by bullfrogs. Fireflies winked as they flew around us.

Skip kissed my hand. I felt a teardrop.

"Are you okay?" I asked him.

"Yeah. I love this life, and I love you more. I can't imagine it any better than this."

"I can."

He thought for a moment. "Billy," he said.

"Yes. Billy always makes it better, but that does not diminish you at all. It's just ..."

"I know. We are three. I really do feel like I'm missing a part of my own soul when we are not together. I know Billy will be here in a couple of weeks. I felt okay when you both were in New York, even though you were suffering."

"I was, but you know what Billy did for me."

"I do. Same thing I would do for you. Same thing you have done for both of us. He loved you."

I nodded.

"It's what we all do, for each other. That's why we're three. Our souls are connected. Do you wish that Billy was here right now?"

"No. He is where he wants to be. Why wish for what we cannot have. I'm not sad that he's not here, because I have you. I will be double happy when he is here, because then we each have two."

"Greed again?"

"Nah. Love for both my mates. How many other `we are three' lovers do you think are out there?"

"I dunno. Not many. Even couples who are two have a hard enough time. I wish people could just love, like we do. It's not a lot to ask."

Hence the reason for his tear. Skip did most things for a reason. He did not cry for us. He cried for those who wanted to love but could not.

"Let's sleep out tonight. It's nice."

I agreed. We went inside and Skip got out one sleeping bag. It was Friday night, so we did not have to worry about alarm clocks. We would wake with the sun anyway. Just to make sure, we checked The Weather Channel. No rain in the forecast, and fifty-four for an overnight temp. Good for snuggling.

We got naked and got inside the sleeping bag. I raised his leg slightly and gave him eyebrows. I was fluent in eyebrows. He had made me hard in no time. I entered him smoothly, and then wrapped my leg around his. My cock tingled magnificently. He was warm and wet. He still smelled of Ivory soap and Herbal Essence shampoo. He kissed me as I slid slowly in and nearly out of his ass.

"Five plus years, and it still feels like our very first time," he said.

"You're biased," I said.

"Maybe. But I do not lie and I am not insincere."

He had never lied to me, or anyone else for that matter, and he was definitely sincere. His eyes told many truths, the most important one being that I belonged to his heart and soul. I made love to him until I came inside of him. I did not want nor need him to make love to me at this moment. I would have my moment in the morning, at sunrise.

I made my first trip to Philadelphia on a Wednesday, for two overnights. I had taken Amtrak from New York City to Philly. Flying was nuts when I did not have to. I liked the train so much better anyway, because it was city center to city center. I got picked up and driven out to Bucks County to my customer's site.

Day one included installing the software and setting up test scenarios for demonstration. This took about two hours. We took a lunch break and then I did a two-hour informal training session for the primary and secondary users of the project. They in turn would be my contacts for any tech support and future updates.

In the evening, I ate a light dinner and went for a walk. I called Skip to see if he missed me yet. He did not miss me yet.

"Wait for it . . . 3, 2, 1. Okay, I am now missing you. When are you coming ... uh, home."

"I might come in a few minutes if you keep talking to me."

"Tell me more," he said.

"I'm well beyond `business casual' and I'm a bit, uh, stiff from my evening workout."

"I know the feeling. I too am quite stiff, though I'm just now getting into my evening workout. Can you give me a hand with my technique? I'm working on my abs."

"Make sure you press tightly on the down stroke so you stay nice and firm. Hard muscles are the goal here."

"How about my legs. They feel a bit tight."

"You should do leg lifts, alternating each one. Make sure you also work the wHOLE area to stimulate good blood flow."

He laughed at all the innuendo.

"I'm pretty close to finishing my workout," I said. "I think I started a bit earlier than you did. My reward for such a fine workout is evident on my abs. I will drink some juice to cool down."

My humor made him laugh harder. I heard him grunt.

"I think I have some of that juice. It'll take me a moment longer to get it."

I waited. I whispered things into his ear. I could almost see him smiling.

"Okay, I got the juice. It's just sweet enough. I hope you have the same kind."

"I'm sure I do. It's quite fresh too."

"Come back to me soon, love, so we can do a proper workout together. It's better than a solo workout. Good night, Aaron. I do love you so."

"I love you too, bro. See you Friday when you get home from work. My train gets in around 4:00 p.m."

I finished drinking my `juice' and went to shower. That workout had indeed been quite hot, and quite satisfying.

Day two at work included loading live data, running reports, and showing how to write ad-hoc queries. Once they had used the project for a few weeks, I would be back to add this project to a larger research project. My biology and chemistry education would finally come in handy. I just needed to get notes on my customer's research process.

I arrived at 30th Street Station a half hour before my train for New York City departed. I sat in the huge station, watching mobs of people come and go. My eye caught upon two good looking young guys sitting on the wide bench across from me. I nodded when one of them saw me looking. He nodded back and smiled.

He talked to his friend for a moment and then they came over to join me.

"Hi, I'm Matt."

"I'm Jeff. Matt saw the GE logo on your duffle. Are you an employee?"

"Yeah, out of headquarters in Fairfield. I've been here for two days with a customer."

"We're both employees as well. We're heading to Boston and points beyond to install a new financial system. We'll be gone for a month, and then back in the Philly area."

"I was with GE after college for 15 years, and then left for eight. My former manager hired me back. I'm in the Science and Tech division. By the way, Boston is my second home. I'll get up there occasionally again. We just moved to Fairfield a few weeks ago. Connecticut is also my former stomping grounds, though I've been all over the country when I was in IT."

"We're getting married in a few months. Me to my childhood sweetheart and Matt to his college gal. I like that company travel is optional once a young guy gets married."

"Me too," I said. "I was away from home six to eight months each year before I got married. After I got married, I too liked that business trips like that were optional. Let the young guys see the country. I went to places, like Dallas and Houston, which I would not have gone to otherwise. Atlanta and San Francisco and the Silicon Valley were my favorite places.

"How long have you been married?" Jeff asked.

"I'm not married now. My partner and I just celebrated our fifth year together. Long story, sorta, but I was married before. I lost her to a drunk driver. It's why I left GE. Connecticut wasn't home anymore."

"Sorry bud," said Matt. "I have seven brothers and a sister. One of my brothers is also widowed, for the same reason. Jeff lost a brother to cancer as well."

"Can I be forward and ask about your partner?" asked Jeff.

"He's a he. I, uh ..."

"Don't be ashamed of that, Aaron. We have gay friends, too. What's his name?"

"Skip. We're both from New Hampshire originally."

Jeff, Matt, and I talked until we reached Penn Station in New York. We exchanged business cards. We would talk in email for the coming weeks.

"When you're back in Philly, call us. You can stay with us at our apartment. Hotels get on your nerves after a while."

"Amen. Thanks a lot guys."

I exited the train. They stepped out with me since the train was not due to leave for another twenty minutes. I had plenty of time until my train left Grand Central, though I did have to allow time to get from one station to the other. We all put our phone numbers into our cell phones. GE employees were often family to one another, even though the company had in excess of 300,000 employees. Their train departure was called. We shook hands and hugged briefly.

"Take care of yourself, Aaron. It was nice to meet you."

"You too, Jeff. Matt. Call me mid-week if you want to. I'm home in the evening, usually doing homework."

They agreed. I wish we had longer to talk in person.

I stepped off the train in Fairfield a bit before 4:00 on Friday. I was eager to get home to see Skip and Billy. They were due home around 4:45. The message light was flashing on our phone. I hit the play button.

"Hey bud. We were in an accident ..."

My mind shut down for a moment. Shit! I had to hit the rewind button because I did not hear what Billy was saying.

"Hey bud. We were in an accident this morning. A city bus lost its brakes. Call me on my cell phone when you get home."

I dug my cell phone out of my overnight duffle, scrolled to Billy's name, and pressed `Send'. He answered as soon as his phone rang.

"Hey bro."

"Hey yourself. Are you guys okay? Can you fill me in?"

"Skip is in surgery."

"Awww shit!"

"Don't worry."

"Yeah. Right."

It came out more sarcastically than I had intended. Of course I am going to worry. I know he got hit by a bus, but nothing else.

"Come on, Aaron, you know Skip."

"Skip's truck against a city bus? I'm scared silly right now. I'm coming to you. Where are you?"

"I'm going to stay put in the ER. Skip is not nearby, but I'll wait here. Use the parking lot at the corner of Howard and Davenport. It's called `Lot 6'. It'll take about 40 minutes to get here."

"Okay. I don't mean to be such a jerk. How about you, love? You're hurt too."

"Broken ankle. And you're not a jerk. Just be careful on the roads."

"I will. See you in a while."

I fought the urge to drive very fast. I had only two routes to drive, the Merritt Parkway and then Route 1. I did not know New Haven very well, but signs for the hospital were helpful. I arrived in about 30 minutes. Billy was sitting in a wheelchair with his leg raised and his left arm in a sling.

"Broken ankle and ..." I said, sitting down beside him.

"Dislocated shoulder."


"Cracked rib. That's it."

I gave him a careful hug and then a kiss on his forehead. I gave him sad eyes.

"You guys got hit pretty hard."

It was not a question. For Billy to be injured as he is, the impact had to be terrible. Vince was dead. What chance does Skip have?

"We were brought here within minutes of the accident, love. Stop fretting."

"I can't."

"You can. You have to. You know that Skip and you are linked together by thoughts. Anything negative is going to hurt him."

He was right, of course. I nodded. I closed my eyes for a minute.

"I'm here, love. Relax and let the surgeon take care of you. Billy is okay. We love you, Skip."

I opened my eyes to see Billy watching me. I kissed him on his forehead again. He brought my head to his lips and held me.

"He got the message, bro. There's no way that he didn't."

I could not speak. The lump in my throat could suffocate me. He knew I could not talk, so he told me what happened.

"We were first in line at a light. You know Skip. He doesn't start moving until he knows the traffic in the other direction has stopped. The bus was a bit back from the intersection. He wasn't going fast, but he was coming down an incline and his brakes failed. He hit the truck more toward the front, but he hit Skip's side pretty hard."


He nodded. Vincent. I closed my eyes again. Tears ran down my cheek. I put my head in my hands. I felt a hand on my shoulder after a while. I looked up to see Patricia kneeling beside me.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey yourself. I heard from a friend what happened. Just so you know, my contacts around the county are countless and dependable. Is Skip still in surgery?"

"Yeah. Patricia, this is Billy, Skip's brother."

"Hello Billy. I'm Aaron's manager at GE. I met Skip a few weeks ago. What can I do for you boys?"

"Nothing yet. Unless you know how to make me stop wanting to scream."

"I do. Come on, let's move your car to the garage so someone else can use your spot. Would you eat something Billy, if we stopped on the way back?"

"Yeah. Thanks Patricia. Anything you want to bring is okay."

"Okay. We'll be back in a while."

I drove my car around the block and into the garage. We walked down one level and went to a deli up the street. I ordered a chicken club for Billy and a tuna melt for me. Patricia grabbed two blueberry turnovers and two containers of iced tea, which she paid for. I attempted to give her eyebrows but she could out-eyebrow me any day.

"Thank you. I don't feel like screaming anymore."

"It's going to be hard on him for a while, Aaron. You already know that, better than most ever will. Your family believed that you would be all right, so you have to believe Skip will be as well. He does not need tears, he needs only your strength. You know how to love him. Billy knows how to love you both."

"How do you know?"

"Mother's instinct I guess. And because of Pete. Billy is very strong in your heart, equal to Skip I would guess."

"You would guess correctly. We are three."

"Bless you for that. I could not. It's enough to love Fred. What I have left goes to Pete and Charlie. I can give some to you three as well. But, one day at a time my young friend. Okay?"

I smiled at her. "Yeah. More than okay. Thank you."

"I told Fred I was coming and not to expect me until morning."

"But ..."

"He understands. We'll find a quiet place for us and we'll tell an ER nurse so they know where to find us."

I nodded. She was not brash, but she knew how to make decisions. I will not argue.

The ER nurse found us a quiet area. Billy and I ate. I offered half of my sandwich to Patricia.

"I ate on the way. I have a snack for later."

Smart and sensible woman. I admired her, a lot, which is one reason I came back to GE after an eight-year absence.

After dinner, the nurse came in to say that a person was there to see Billy. She asked if she could show him in. Billy said yes. Patricia and I got up to leave.

"I'm Terry P from the bus company. No no, you folks don't have to leave. I just want to tell this young man that we are going to pay for your care and rehab. Of course we'd prefer that you not sue the company, but ..."

"There will be no lawsuit, sir. We know it was an accident. How is the driver?"

"He's okay. He's outside, kinda shaken up and worried."

"Please bring him in," Billy said.

Mr. P went out and came back a minute later with the bus driver. He was a young man, about Skip's age.

Billy reached out to shake his hand. "Hi. I'm Billy. My buddy, Aaron. Patricia, Aaron's manager at GE."

"I'm David C. I'm very sorry about the accident. The guys at the garage are looking into what happened with the brakes."

"I hope it helps, David. Please don't feel responsible. I saw that you had little choice but to hit us, without injuring someone else on the sidewalk. I would not want to make that kind of choice."

He did not speak. He lowered his head.

"Please, sit."

"Any word on your brother?"

"Not yet. I'm pretty clueless about what condition he's in, other than that he is alive."

"I ..."

"Sshhhh. Not your fault. I assume you guys will inspect all the buses?"

"Yes. There will be no service until they're all checked. Commuters won't be too happy, but ..."

"They'll adjust. Public safety is at stake, even if all the buses are fine. You don't know that just yet. Just promise me you'll take your time and fix it."

"We will. The general manager and the shop supervisor are meeting right now. They know we're here. The GM would like to verify our offer, so you now it's legit."

"Okay, but I know it's legit. Thanks for coming to see how we are. Skip will be happy about that."

The nurse came in. "Time to get you into your bed young man."

"I mean what I say. Skip isn't into lawsuits. The offer to help with our costs and rehab is very generous. It's a nice gesture, so thank you."

Billy nodded to his nurse. He was obviously tired. She wheeled Billy down to his room. We would join him in a bit. Patricia and I had not spoken much while the men talked to Billy.

"Hold on a minute guys," I said. "I'm writing down our home address and phone. Billy is here for the summer. He's staying with us. Skip and I have a condo in Fairfield. Skip and Billy both work at Yale, so maybe you can talk to their benefits administrator?"

"I'll call on Monday morning. The gm will send you the offer in writing. Do you have an attorney?"

"We do, but ..."

"No, we should send him or her a copy of the letter."

I handed over a business card for the attorney. She would go along with the boy's wishes about not suing. I will call her over the weekend.

We shook hands and the men left.

"I'll meet you in Billy's room in a bit," Patricia said.

I went down the hall and into Billy's room. His nurse was taking his vitals and recording them. She knew that we would stay until we heard about Skip. It was now after 7:00 p.m. It would be a long night of waiting. Patricia took my hand. Billy was asleep.

"I assume that Billy already told you that sadness inside of you is doing your lover no good."

"Yeah. I can't help it. I've been where he is, plus I've been a paramedic. This sucks, plain and simple."

"Of course it does. Am I wasting my time here?"

"I dunno. Are you?"

She gave me a look that said many things. I shrugged. I felt very sad and there was one thing that would change that.

"What are his injuries? Are any of them going to change his life? If so, for how long? Will he let me hold him again, ever?"

"We don't know. Probably. Maybe a lifetime. Yes, he will. And, an unasked question, will he hold you again, ever? Yes. He will. He loves you. I knew it the moment I saw you two. You're a beautiful pair."

"I've heard that once or a few hundred times."

"Then believe it. He will need you. You were needful in that same way once and someone took care of you. You and Billy are the only two who know how to take care of Skip."

"Not if he dies."

"No, I suppose not. Then someone will need to care for you and Billy. Or you'll just care for each other."

"You don't pull punches, do you?"

"No. He could die. He could live too. You really have to consider both. And if he lives, he might be more needful than he ever wants to be."

We sat quietly for a while. She would not let go of my hand. I would not let go of Billy's either. He slept.

After 11:30, the ER nurse came in.

"You should wake Billy," she said.

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