Skip - Part 41
I stayed with Skip. Everyone understood, knowing that is just the way it worked for Skip and me. There would be another celebration at home once Skip graduated. My bud knew what was going on at my place. He was thrilled to hear that our loves were all together again and celebrating. We will make it up to the boys at next year's July weekend, which will also be a college graduation celebration for most of them.
Sunday was not sad for Skip. We still had much work to do, and would not be home real soon, but soon enough. The BC boys came in first. The Boston crew was next, offering their bright wishes for Skip and me, and his recovery. They were all thrilled at his progress to date. Indeed, he had come a good distance from that accident.
Betsy, JD, and Billy stayed one more day, and then flew back to Boston. Billy had said his goodbyes and thanks to Patricia, Fred, Peter, and Charlie. He will see them again when Skip and I come home. He had pocketed $9,000 in summer earnings. He gave it all to Will and Michael for their first year at school in Toronto.
Skip and I went back to work, pleased and energized by our loves. It had been an awesome 3 1/2 days with all of us together. Skip's depression was gone. He had me each night, and I had him.
Skip having me and me having Skip is an ever-changing event, tearful at times but so cool no matter what we were doing. He probably thought the same about me; no guarantees. For one thing, we had not been apart from each other in over seven years except for the two weeks that David cared for him, after his cancer surgery. There were times when we could not be in each other's arms, as was the case when he was in ICU at Yale-New Haven. But me just being in the room was sometimes not enough. Skip needed physical contact, in whatever form could be managed. Holding his hand at Yale was the best I could do, even though he could not feel it. But he could see it. My hand on his cheek and me kissing him as sweetly as I could went a long way for both of us.
Since the night that he psychically (more or less) woke me at 2:00 a.m., I slept on my side beside him, hand over his heart. Or somewhat on my back with him up against me, my arms wrapped around him all night. It was not spooning, but it told him that I loved him.
After our bedtime shower, I lay him across the bed to dry him off. I took a moment to get up on my knees on his bed and leaned down, kissing him softly. I toweled myself off next to him, folded the large towel, and put it back over him so he would not be chilled by the a/c.
"Before y-you lay me do-down for th-the night, I want to-hold you tonight."
"I would love for you to hold me tonight. Are you okay that I'll have to help you with your arms?"
"Let mm-me do w-what I can?"
"Awww bro, don't even ask that."
"I know. But ..."
"I'm not going to baby you. I want to know, like you do, how your progress is each day."
"You better ki-kiss me."
I did kiss him. I did want to know daily how far he had come, and how far he had to go. He wiggled his eyebrows before I got off the bed, so I kissed him again. I went around to the window side of his bed, put my hands on either side of his head again, and then kissed him upside down. He smiled up at me. I carefully turned him so that he lie lengthwise on the bed. I lined up his hips with his spine and shoulders.
"Poor bud. I bet you feel like a piece of modeling clay most of the time."
I sat him up long enough to put a t-shirt on him. It was a bit tricky. I put each arm into the sleeves, raised his arms, put the body of the t-shirt over his head, and then pulled it down. Not only modeling clay, but a dress-up doll.
"MY dress-up doll. And my baby. Besides, you naked is for Billy's and my eyes only, even if Kelly, Lorial, Deb, and Mark have seen you 'bare-ing' yourself to them. I get the best parts, so there's no jealousy."
"We don't-know h-how to be je-jealous. We l-love many."
I lay him back down and then put his boxer briefs over his legs and onto his hips, tucking his dick comfortably into place.
"Love th-that," he said, smiling at me.
"Me putting your dick in place?"
"No, the way-you put my d-dick in pl-place." Blink. "Details that y-you pay att-ten-tion to."
"Because I love you and I want you to be comfortable. How do you feel about me ..."
"Love you," he said quickly. He often did that, taking every opportunity to tell me I really do mean the world to him.
"Love you as much, bro. You make me smile. How do you feel about me dressing you like I do, showering you, or bathing you?"
"Love it-all. Love is n-not words to y-you. Your han-hands. Your to-touch. Your face. Exp-press-ions. Aaron the g-gentle man."
"It's not much to do any of this."
"No. B-but every-thing to m-me. It's n-not w-work. TLC. Most-ly L."
"Always L. Just the right T and C."
"Yeah. I don't f-feel like a b-burden."
"Bless you for that, love. You are not. You do realize the consequence of you wanting to hold me more than you wanting to walk."
"As long as you know, every day, that you are not a burden to me, I can live with you being okay about a wheelchair."
"I don-don't have a ch-choice."
"Hmmm. What do you know that I don't?"
"My fate," is all he said.
He subtly shook his head.
I obviously wanted more than that, but I was not going to get it anytime soon. More than anyone, even me who loved him completely and profoundly, he knew what was best to think about, or not to think about, to do, or not to do. I will never second guess him nor question his motives.
I put two pillows behind his back so he was half on his side. I pulled the bed rails up. I put on my boxer briefs and t-shirt.
"Spoon or face-to-face?" I asked before I got into bed.
"Duh," he said.
"Not so 'duh' love. I know you like both. It's a question of which you like more?"
"Duh," he said again, smiling and giving me eyebrows.
"Okay okay. I guess spooning is better when we three are together."
I got into bed with him, facing him. I tucked his left arm under my armpit so I was not crushing it. I snuggled very close. He raised his right arm over the course of a half minute and put his hand on my side. He took more time to move his arm around me so he could hold me.
"Not ti-tight like I w-want."
"Just right, like I want."
"It's-hard. Y-you des-erve a hug. I l-love your ey-eyes."
"I'm not as handsome as you are. How can you want ...?"
"You are beau-beau-tiful. I love ... you. You are-mm-my wo-world. That's w-why."
I wiped a tear off my cheek.
"Some-day I w-will do that-for you."
"You touch my heart, love. It's not sadness."
"I know. We love pro-profound-ly."
"Touch my heart. Please."
He knew I meant for him to move his body toward me. He looked only into my eyes as he worked hard for several minutes to move. His fingertips touched my chest. He kept working hard. He put his chest against my skin, on my chest, and against my heart.
"Can you feel my heartbeat yet?"
"Yes and n-no."
"Okay. No, but you know it beats for you."
"Will you kiss me first this time?"
He, with little effort, moved his face closer to mine and kissed me very passionately. He moved back for a moment, looked deeper into my soul, and then moved closer to me again. He gave me another equally beautiful kiss.
I pulled the sheet and blanket over us, reached between us, took my dick out of the y-front of my briefs, and put it into the y-front of his briefs. He did not know what I was doing until I was done. He watched my eyes the whole time. He then felt my dick snuggle up to his. We were both quite hard. Oh boy! But no sex. Just love.
"Nice," he said, rubbing his nose to mine, kissing me one final time for the night, and then tucking his face into my neck. He kissed that as well, very gently, making me tingle. I smiled in the dark.
Indeed, Skip had me and I had him.
The first major event of September first was Skip's trach tube removal. Skip had been successfully weaned off the respirator during the final two weeks of August, having spent much of the month in that effort. His feeding tube was also removed. We could not go out for a steak dinner with the works, but we could celebrate anyway.
"What was the most frustrating thing? About not talking?"
"That I could not tell you I love you."
"You did, every day, several times."
"Not in words."
"I don't need words. I have your heart. Eyes told me everything I needed to know."
Amanda had dropped off a lunch of broccoli cheddar soup with salad. I put a tray that clamped to his wheelchair across his lap. I sat on a chair to his left, dipped the spoon into his soup, and put it up to his mouth.
"Little more on the spoon," he said, giving me a wink.
"Sorry love. Guess I'm being overcautious."
I knew what the outside of hit throat looked like, and an idea about the inside, since his tube is gone. He still has a bandage over the hole in his throat, which made me want to be careful. Even now, choking would be bad news.
I did the airplane thing that one would do for a kid who was fussy about eating until he rolled his eyes at me. I fed him at the same time I fed me, so we could enjoy the food together.
"Blue cheese or ranch dressing?" I asked.
"Ranch. Blue cheese with dinner later."
This blue cheese dressing was thick and creamy, with chunks of cheese. Not your 'out of the bottle' dressing like the ranch dressing was. It would be a bit much with broccoli cheese soup. We would have a steak salad for dinner. I dipped a small heirloom tomato wedge into the ranch dressing and put the fork up to his mouth, careful not to stab his lips or tongue. Fork feeding was trickier than a spoon. Feeding someone else was tricky unless you were a mom feeding a baby. I cut a slice of red onion in half and poked a medium piece of Romaine lettuce and medium pieces of ham and turkey. I did the same thing with my left hand, a challenge at best, for me. This let us eat together, instead of me eating after Skip.
Feeding my love was as nice as bathing him because it was caring for him. He loved being cared for, more by me than anyone, though Lorial, Kelly, Mark, and Deb's caring went a very long way to his happiness. Like Skip had said once, about Andrew, I did not want this crew to think I thought I could take care of Skip better than they could. I had to learn, and they were the teachers. It did help, though, that my instincts were strong.
"Mike made the salad from their garden and Amanda made the soup."
"Mmmm. Can we call them now?"
"Sure. I'll go get my phone."
I came back a minute later, having dialed Amanda and Mike's home number en route.
"Hi Amanda. Got a minute?...Oh good. Our bud wants to say 'hey' for a minute."
I held the phone against Skip's ear.
"Thanks so much ... for our lunch. Yeah, just right ... The dinner salad looks great ... Nah, he's just fine about ... feeding me. You know the ... size of his heart. Will you bring the twins over after dinner? No, anytime ... Sweet. See you later."
I took the phone, checked to see that Amanda had hung up, and put it in my pocket.
He was done eating when I was done eating. I cleaned up his face as I cleaned up mine. I rubbed his nose with mine because he made all gone. He laughed at my antics. I laughed at him laughing at me. The sound of his laughter was like 'the sound of I love you' was to Sam.
"I do love you so much, Skip. You made me love you, so it's your fault. And my blessing."
"I love you more. I accept the fault ... because it only shows I'm human. And I love ... that we three are blessed. I miss my bro. I thought about him ... a ton of times today."
"I know. We'll be home soon enough. We'll call him later tonight and talk dirty."
Just after 6:00 p.m., Amanda came in carrying David and Mike carrying Dylan. The boys reached out to Skip and me. The twins loved us both and they did not play favorites, which surprised me. Dylan settled onto Skip's lap. I tilted Skip's wheelchair back a notch and then helped him put his hands around Dylan. Dylan rubbed his nose against Skip's, something he did the first time he ever sat in Skip's lap. Skip kissed Dylan on his forehead.
"How is my ... little mate today?"
Dylan and David were not bothered by Skip's speech.
"Sweet! You guys ... want to go for a ride?"
"Yes yes," said David, sliding off me.
Dylan slid off Skip's lap for a moment. They knew they had to be put into Skip's seatbelt, just like in their car. I unclasped the belts holding Skip to his wheelchair. Mike set Dylan back onto Skip's lap, facing front. I did the same for David, and then put the belts around them all. Amanda and Mike had total trust in Skip, so we three sat together on the exercise table as Skip went around the room and then out the door. He would take them on a circular tour of the floor, showing them the view from the windows. When they returned about ten minutes later, both boys were giggling and clapping.
Skip's love of children was not amazing to me. He too would have made such an awesome dad. We had kept the discussion of adopting on the front burner. He knew I wanted a son so bad. Maybe someday. When I unfastened the seatbelts, David climbed back down and came to sit in my lap again, holding my arm. While they were out with Skip, I went to the fridge in the staff room and brought out a container of strawberry yogurt. I gave both the boys a spoon, sat next to Skip in a chair, and put the container in Skip's hand. David reached forward a bit more than Dylan did, but they shared without fighting. Coming to see us always meant yogurt for a treat. Amanda sat to my left, holding my arm like David did. Mike sat to Skip's right. He brushed a few strands of Skip's hair off his forehead.
We talked about Skip's progress, his removal from the respirator and the trach plus the feeding tube. Any progress was good progress, even when his muscles and nerves coming to life were tediously slow. Skip moved forward only, never losing ground again once he learned a task or an exercise. When it was time to go, a couple of hours later, the twins hugged Skip and kissed his cheek. They rubbed noses again. Dylan put his arms out for his dad as David reached out for mom. We walked them out to the elevator. Before the doors closed, the twins waved goodbye to us and blew us kisses. Now that was sweet, and the perfect end to our day.
Our first major heart-to-heart discussion happened the third night that Skip was without his trach tube. I lay beside him, holding him tightly, still a bit sad about his circumstances in general. How could I not be sad? In some cases, individually, his progress was as high as 50%. But overall, he was only one-third closer to his pre-accident self. He could not speak normally yet, both in volume and due to a small air leak from the trach site. I gently pressed my finger to his bandage when he wanted to talk to me.
"Aaron, your heart for ... me and your sadness are both ... coming through. Everything that has ... happened to me has happened to you. You've been reliving ... all of it. I knew you would ... even when I asked you ... to come here, but I'm so sorry love. I knew you were hurt ... and I knew it was bad. No wonder you...love me so much. But you having to ... do this again just sucks."
"It's not me living this, love, not the way you are."
"Yes. Just the way ... I am.
"For me it's in the past. I can't shake the guilt though. It's crushing."
"Where is the guilt ... coming from?" he asked.
"If I had not wanted to move to Connecticut, you and Billy never would have been in the accident."
"It's not right to think ... like that. I had no qualms about ... moving and have no regrets now. I'm glad we did. You were glad, too. Something ... new for us both."
"Yeah, something new. You in a fucking wheelchair."
"I can't and I won't. You're about a third of your former self, even after some very intense therapy. We've been here for four months. The homesickness has never left you, and you are so restless when you sleep. It's worse because you can't move. I try to touch you just right so you know I'm here, but I don't know if it works."
"No, not always," he said sadly, and truthfully, to his credit. "I just know you're ... here and that counts for so much. I've started to imagine ... what it was like for you to be alone. How long was it from your ... accident until you knew that Kate was dead?"
"Seven months. Because I was in a coma for five of those months. It took two more for me to know everything else."
"What condition were you in ... when you found out?"
"Same as you were when you were at Yale-New Haven, totally unable to do anything. Broken in dozens of places."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing. I told the doctors and nurses to fuck off."
"I've had dreams of seeing you ... lying in bed, nobody to hold you like you hold me. I'm the ... one who is blessed, love, way more than you ... ever have been. My struggle is less than yours. I want to make that up to you."
"Don't even think that way. You in my life, every day, is all I want. You working hard just to hold me, and feel me? Do you know how awesome that makes me feel?"
"No. But I want to."
"It's as awesome as this," I said as I slid inside of him. "No bragging either, love."
"You love me. That's ... enough to brag about."
I held him tightly in my arms, kissed him, and watched his eyes as I made love to him the way I always have. It was so critical that he know one thing would always be the same. It was slow and sweet. I kissed his forehead and then each closed eyelid. I rubbed my nose against his playfully.
I knew when he was ready to come. I pulled out of him for a minute and put his cock in my mouth. He made me swallow harder and faster than usual. I did manage to save enough to give him some in a wet kiss. I re-entered him for only a couple of minutes. It was just too much. I unloaded inside of him just as hard.
"Mmmm, that was nice. I know I deserve you ... because I worked hard to put you ... into my heart. During that week, seven plus years ago ... after the first time we made love? I practically stalked ... you at work. I couldn't get enough of you."
"I know. I saw you, maybe not every time, but enough to know that 'in love' was very close at hand. I had to think about it though. I was scared."
"Maybe so, but you must ... have decided soon after. How did ... you see me?"
"Duh, glass is reflective."
"But now, everything you do is 100% for me. I wake you in the middle of ... the night, which probably freaks you out a bit, you showed ... up here soon after, kissed me, and ... got into bed with me. Who does that, except you? You don't ... complain. No, shush. You don't get mad at me, but I know you ... rage against it sometimes. You bathe me better ... than any mom would bathe her precious ... child. And now a new duty-you feeding me. I can't do anything but feel ... grateful for that, but you don't even want ... gratitude. You just want me. You brought family ... and friends to me, and you bring absolute ... joy to me every minute. I can't pay any of it back."
"Who says you should?"
"I'm constantly taking."
"Yes, you are. And I'm giving. You have a choice?"
"I can't stand it ... because it's one way."
"It is not even close to one way."
"What are you getting ... out of this?"
"You to love. You to love me back. Billy knowing that you are okay. You to take care of. A smile on my face that nobody who sees me understands, except for a select few."
"Me unable to hold you. Me unable ... to pick you up over my shoulder and carry ... you to bed. Me unable to make the sweetest ... love to you that you deserve. Me who ... can't ski any more in Canada at Christmas. Me who can't ... sit beside you for chemo and take you ... safely away from it. Me who can't do ... anything that was. Me, totally dependent on you."
"You say those things as if it's a bad thing."
"Helloooo! Earth to Aaron. What fantasy ... world are you living in now?"
"The reality of you. I can hold you. I can pick you up over my shoulder and carry you to bed. I can make the sweetest love to you that you deserve. We can go to Canada for Christmas. I can project me to you during chemo and feel you as if you are beside me. We will bring you back to a life as far as we can take you. We are totally dependent on each other, and oh sooo perfect for each other. I deserve you. Harsh, but you deserve me. I love you sooo absolutely, Skip. I can turn anything negative you throw at me into something positive. Being with you is everything."
He opened his mouth and then closed it again. He watched my eyes so closely, looking for a lie or insincerity anywhere in my shining-bright-for-him hazel eyes. He could find no lie and no insincerity because there was none to be found.
"YOU are sooo greedy," he finally said, with a smile that could bring me to my knees. "It's not ... harsh that I deserve you."
"I take nothing for granted," I said in my defense.
I kissed my lover, who was indeed broken. But he was not so broken that he could not love me one heartbeat more than I could ever possibly love him. He loved me first-hence the one heartbeat. Simple as that. As he had said, it was one heartbeat in time, not one heartbeat stronger. I will love him, up to that one heartbeat, every minute of today and tomorrow in infinite repeating cycles. He had earned it and he deserved the best I had to give to him.
"Tired, love. Will you put my ... hand to your heart?"
"You do it."
"Dunno if I can."
"Depends on how badly you want it."
He raised his shoulder and then his upper arm. I supported his arm so it would not drop back. I took his fingertips gently in my hand. I pulled a bit while he pushed a bit, moving toward me. When he was close enough, he took his fingers off mine and touched my body. He slid his arm and himself closer to me. When his hand was on my heart, I held it in place.
I moved a little closer to him to ensure the contact would last all night. I needed that as much as he did. He moved his head a little and tucked his face into my neck. He kissed my neck so sweetly and then fell asleep. I joined him inside of his dreams.
The fun side of therapy started the next day-occupational therapy. Unlike the tasks of moving body parts, he would now be taught how to do specific tasks that would enhance his life. We loved books. I had seen pics or TV science programs that showed quadriplegics using a stick to turn the pages of a book. When Mark came in, I was surprised, as Skip was, to see that he held a simple mechanical device to turn pages in a book. For now, it worked only on hardcover or hardcover sized paperbacks, but that was just fine. Most of our personal library was hardcover. I went to his room and brought back a Robert Ludlum novel that I had been reading to him each night. Mark opened it up to the bookmark and put it into the page-turner. He put a one-button plastic box under Skip's hand, so his right index finger was on the button.
"Okay Aaron, show Skip where you left of reading last night."
I pointed to a gap between paragraphs, indicating a new scene in the book.
"Alright Skip, when you reach the end of the right-hand page, just push the button under your finger."
Skip started to read. Our reading speed was pretty evenly matched, more for comprehension and retention than speed. He got to the bottom of the right-hand page and pressed the button. The page-turner smoothly turned the page, as if Skip had raised his hand to do it himself. He looked up at us, quite pleased.
"Oh damn," I said in jest, looking at the floor.
"No, I still need you," Skip said. "Reading me to ... sleep rules!"
"Phew," I said, relieved.
He read another two pages and pressed the button. He smiled happily.
"Nice. Thank you ... Mark."
Next, Deb wheeled Skip over to a table with a small easel and a square canvas. On it, someone had drawn, in a pencil outline, the Boston Red Sox baseball cap insignia.
"My husband did the logo for you, Skip," said Deb. "What you're going to do is paint the background and then fill in the B."
"I am, huh? Art is not my ... strong suit, even when I can."
"Says you," she said. She and Mark sat together. "You can start on the outside of the B to get the hang of the paintbrush in your mouth."
Mark moved navy blue paint in front of Skip and then put the end of the brush in his mouth. Skip is one to go boldly. He dipped the brush into the paint. He brought the brush up to the canvas and, using his teeth to move the brush around, created brush strokes as he would with the brush in his hand. It was a bit clumsy, as one would expect, but he put the image of an artist into his mind and worked diligently, dipping and then painting with passion. He dropped the brush once, but Mark put it back in his mouth.
I whispered in his ear. He nodded. I took the brush out of his mouth for a moment and planted a kiss on his lips.
"You rock, bro, truly," I said as I put the brush back in his mouth.
In fifteen minutes time, he had the bottom left quarter of the canvas covered in navy blue paint. He saw a couple blobs of paint, which he smoothed out. In that region, there were no missed spots. It was as if any of the other three of us had painted it.
Mark took the paintbrush and put it in water. He put a cover over the paint container. Deb stood and kissed him on his cheek. Mark kissed him on his forehead.
"Yeah, what Aaron said," said Mark. "You do rock. Tomorrow we'll do more. Deb?" he said, looking over at her.
"We're taking you out to dinner. What types of food do you NOT like, guys?"
"Super spicy. Otherwise, anything goes."
"Okay," said Mark. "You guys go and shower and put on something casual but decent."
"Nice! Twenty ... minutes?" Skip asked.
"Yes. Meet back here."
"Oh boy," I said. "A Friday night date!"
Skip smiled happily.
I showered Skip and me. While still in the shower, I lathered us up with shaving cream, putting a dollop on his nose.
"I love you ... so much. You make me ... happy, bro."
"I know you're okay if I can make you smile once a day. You were sad too long."
"Still loved ... you though."
"Awww, even through the times I should have talked to you more?"
"Yeah. It's hard to be ... here, for ... both of us. You're trying ... to work, to be normal ... to take care of me. It sucks."
"It does not suck. I just had to find the right balance. Maybe I finally have."
"You love me?"
"Yeah. So much."
"You do it right. And more."
I shaved us both, brushed his teeth at the sink, and then brushed mine.
I took a crisp blue dress shirt out of Skip's closet. I had never dressed him in anything but t-shirts, so this might be an event. I put a white t-shirt on him first.
"This might be funky," I said.
"Nah, you can do it," he said confidently. "Lean me forward."
He was sitting on the edge of his bed. I leaned him forward. His chest was almost on his legs. I saw what he was getting at. I pulled both arms behind him, carefully of course, and slid them into the long sleeves. I got up on the bed, on my knees, behind him. I sat him upright again wrapping the shirt around his body. I buttoned the shirt while I kissed him on his neck. I could not stop. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed his neck some more.
"Nuh uh. Later," he said.
I put his boxer briefs on over his legs and then onto his hips.
"Don't forget ... "
I pulled the front of his briefs back down, licked his dick, adjusted it properly, and put his briefs back in place.
"No what I meant ... but pretty cool."
I took dress slacks off the hanger. I got off the bed, went around to the other side, put the slacks over his legs, lifted his fine ass, and pulled the pants up. I tucked his shirt into the slacks, slid his favorite belt through the belt loops, zipped him up, engaged the snap, and buckled his belt. I took dress socks out of his drawer and put them on over his hands.
He laughed aloud.
"Feet," he said.
I got down on one knee and licked the top of his left foot. I kissed his toes.
"Nice, but ... well, yeah, nice. Hmmm."
"Nah. Later," I said.
I took his socks off his hands and put them on his feet. I lifted him off his bed and put him into his wheelchair. I took dress loafers out of his closet. He was staring at me.
"You knew I would ... need dress clothes?"
"Yeah. Loving you is in the details, bro."
I put his second shoe on, stood up, adjusted his shirt collar, and then kissed him. I combed his hair. I dressed me likewise, pretended to comb and fuss with my non-existent hair, and turned to him.
"Adorable as ever," I said. "And you don't look half bad either, love."
He laughed and gave me eyebrows. I kissed him. I am highly trained if nothing else.
I wheeled him out to the nurses' station. Kelley looked up at us and did a double take.
"My, don't you boys clean up nice, huh? I'm so happy you two can go out for dinner."
"Nice treat after ... working so hard," he said.
"Yes, exactly. Where are you going?"
"Deb's and Mark's choice."
"In that case, it's going to be a treat indeed. See you later."
Deb and Mark joined us at the elevator.
"You both look very nice," said Deb.
She was dressed in dark slacks and a red blouse. Red was her color. Mark was wearing a crisp dark maroon shirt and khaki slacks.
"So do you both," said Skip. I agreed.
Deb pressed the down button and the doors immediately opened. We rode to the lobby. Instead of going out the front door, Mark turned Skip toward the side of the building, past Security. Once lined up correctly, Skip turned his head to the right and moved his wheelchair forward.
"Good for you, bro," said Mark. "Just right."
We went down a long hallway, down a ramp, and outside. A black SUV stood waiting for us, back doors open, and a ramp/lift combination for Skip's wheelchair. Skip wheeled himself onto the ramp with no prompting from Mark. Mark pressed the button to raise the lift. Skip moved forward once aligned properly.
I got in back with Skip and Deb. I locked his wheels into the clamps. Our seats faced back. Mark pulled out of the parking lot, heading south toward Atlanta.
"Wait. I just thought ... of something. We're eating out in ... public. Aaron, how to you ... feel about feeding me with other people around?"
"Just fine, love. Don't worry."
"Yeah, but ... Deb?"
"Aaron is right, love. No worries."
"How do you feel about the plan of a progressive dinner?" asked Deb.
"Love the plan," said Skip. "Multiple ... places?"
"Yes. My place first for appetizers with my husband. Mark's place next for dinner with his wife. A surprise ending for dessert."
"Nice," Skip said. "I really am ... antsy about eating ... in public."
"We're going to break you in slowly. My husband and Mark's wife are strangers still, but not for long. We don't want you embarrassed."
I smiled at Deb. It was a surprise for me as well, but a very nice plan. The intent was to get our bud out of the Center for a while. He had done his time.
Skip looked a little pale when I looked at him.
"You okay love?"
"Little motion sick," he said.
Deb reached over to her left and opened her window about half way.
"We're almost there, love," she said.
"I'll add ginger pills to our pharmacy list," I said. "They help me when I fly."
We arrived at Deb's home near the Georgia Institute of Technology. Mark pulled into the driveway. In a couple of minutes, I was wheeling Skip up the ramp to the large porch. We were roughly twenty minutes from the Center. Fresh air helped Skip feel better almost immediately.
"You can bring Skip to the head of the table, Aaron," Deb said, indicating a large padded chair. "You can sit to his right or left. I'll go help out in the kitchen. Mark, want to help with iced tea?"
"Guys, can we make it Long Island iced tea?" asked Mark.
"Yeah," we said together.
I took Skip out of his wheelchair and set him in the large chair. I put his hands on his legs, palms down. I kissed him warmly on his lips. He kissed me back, looking into my eyes.
"Okay?" I asked.
In a few minutes, Mark came out with five extra tall glasses and a bowl of half lemon slices. I took two each for Skip and me. I stirred the glasses. Mark sat to Skip's left. There was a light breeze on this warm September evening, a couple of hours until sunset. Deb and her husband came out a short while later. Deb's husband was carrying a large platter of fresh shrimp and a bowl of cocktail sauce. Deb carried a fresh fruit tray, full of exotic tropical fruits and two blocks of cheese.
"Hello guys," Deb's husband said. I rose to shake hands. "I'm Cal."
He pulled me into a nice two-armed hug after shaking my hand. I hugged him back the same way.
"Nice to meet you, Aaron."
"The pleasure is mine, Cal. Thanks for having us."
Deb must have told him a fair amount about us. I beamed at Deb. Cal walked over to Skip, knelt on one knee, which is appropriate to do to a person in a wheelchair. I was pleased yet again. He took Skip's hand carefully and held it in his while he leaned forward to kiss Skip on his forehead.
"Hello, Skip. It's so nice to meet you. I'm sorry at your circumstance, but I hope you'll feel welcome here. May I?"
Skip nodded. Cal touched Skip's bandage so Skip could speak. The impression he was leaving on me just rocked me.
"Nice to meet ... you Cal. I'm okay thanks ... to your spouse and ... Mark. May I as well?" he asked
Skip leaned forward a bit. Cal moved in and Skip returned the kiss on Cal's forehead. He tried to raise his hand, which was resting on Cal's palm. Cal raised his own hand a bit, to give Skip momentum. Skip touched Cal's cheek lightly. Again, to his credit, Cal waited patiently for Skip, and had waited for Skip to speak fully before speaking again.
"Deb is right. You and your mate make such a fine couple. It makes me a bit sadder to see you like this."
His eyes were indeed sad. He put his hand on Skip's shoulder, leaned in, and kissed him on his cheek.
"S'okay. Aaron ... is so good to me. It's ... easy to move on."
"Good. You do know sad and pity are two different things?"
"I do. Sad becomes ... happy even ... tually. Not so for ... pity."
"Deb is three for three. You are also very wise. Aaron, may I help Skip with his tea?"
"Yeah, thanks," I said, handing him Skip's glass.
He stirred it again for a moment and then put the straw in Skip's mouth. Skip took a long draw. His throat was always insanely red, as I had seen yesterday, after talking.
"Better?" Cal asked Skip. Skip nodded.
Cal handed Skip's iced tea back to me. He got behind Skip and massaged his shoulders before sitting down at the table. He handed me the shrimp platter. I took a fair share for both Skip and me. I spooned some sauce onto my plate, enough for us both. We both liked more shrimp than sauce, or did until I tasted this.
"Okay, so this isn't out of a bottle. It's too fresh."
Deb smiled at me. "Homemade. It took a long time to perfect it."
I put a bit more on Skip's piece of shrimp and then put it up to his mouth. He took a bite.
"Mmmm," he said, softly. I touched his throat. "Very nice."
Over the next half hour, Mark and I took turns feeding Skip as we also ate. Conversation was lively. Cal was obviously enjoying our New England accents. This part of the evening went a long way to making Skip feel better. Mark had not fed him before tonight. Usually Deb helped Skip with lunch when I was a work. Skip saw that it did not faze Mark to help. He knew that already. With dinner happening later, we took it easy on the appetizers, but Deb would bring leftovers to work for Monday.
Cal lifted Skip back into his wheelchair, adjusting him properly and comfortably. He put Skip's arms carefully upon his armrests, fingers relaxed on the padded arm and hand rests. Cal is a spinal care researcher, so he knew exactly how to treat Skip. He is also a man with a kind heart, my ideal in any medical professional.
"May I take us both for a bathroom run?" I asked Deb and Cal.
"Sure, follow me," said Cal.
I wheeled Skip into the house and down the hall. I took Skip off his wheelchair again and set him on the toilet. He peed quite well.
"Geez that was good timing. I really have to remember that you need a regular pee run, like you always remembered for me."
"Yeah. No Pampers ... for me," he said, seriously.
"Nope. I will try hard not to let you down, love."
"Stuff happens, but I know you mean that. It's why I try so hard."
I put him back in his wheelchair and then peed well myself. I washed my hands and then we joined the others back outside. Skip moved himself down the ramp, across the sidewalk, and into the SUV. I locked him in place.
"I'll ride to Mark's with Cal," said Deb. "It's about 20 minutes north, in Sandy Springs. Are you okay for the ride, Skip?"
I touched his throat.
Hmmm, Sandy Springs. I now had a clue about where we were having dessert. Skip was okay for the ride. Having food on his stomach helped the motion sickness. Mark pulled into the driveway of his home, ending up behind the house. The doors opened at the press of a button. I pushed Skip back onto the lift, which slid backward and then down. He rolled backward off the ramp himself. Deb and Cal pulled in beside us.
"Swing around to your left, Skip," said Mark. "We'll be out by the pool; everything is easily accessible for you."
I liked that Mark, and Deb too, let Skip navigate himself as much as he could. Skip followed Mark on a curved path and through the gate. The yard was long and wide, with the pool off to the left. A large table was set for six. The grill put off the smell of fine seafood and steaks.
"Skip, Aaron, my wife Megan."
"Hello boys. Oh my, you are a striking couple. Deb told me, but even then ... oh, Aaron, no need to blush."
She came over and gave me a fine hug and a kiss on my cheek. She knelt beside Skip and brushed his hair off his forehead. She leaned in to kiss him. Looks like Mark told Megan about our kissing habits. I loved it because Skip immediately relaxed. He was only a bit shy for the first few minutes. He will get used to that eventually, in or out of a wheelchair. She gently touched Skip's bandage.
"Thanks for that. And thank you for having us for dinner."
"You're welcome, love. What would you boys like to drink?"
I looked at Skip. He shook his head subtly.
"Nothing for now, thanks. We'll wait a bit. Will it be a bother to ask for milk for dinner, for both of us? I'm a country boy. Skip is by proxy." I smiled as I said that last part.
"No bother at all. Is 2% okay?"
"Yes. Just right."
Mark went to the grill and peeked at the steaks.
"Megan is a better grill chef than I am, but only just. I do the barbeque sauce and incidentals. I'm going inside for a bit to help with potatoes and veggies. Salad will be out in a couple of minutes. Skip, would you like to sit by the pool?"
He nodded, bright eyed. He had not been in the pool at the Center yet, but that would start soon. I had asked for instruction on how to treat Skip with regards to water. Swimming was out, but water activity was not. I lifted him out of his wheelchair and onto a thickly padded lounge chair. I straightened his back out and then his hips and legs.
"Aaron, you are just marvelous with your attention to Skip. What a blessing to know that he has you. I know you are just as blessed."
"I am twice blessed, Megan. Thanks for your hospitality. Can I help out in the kitchen?"
"Sure, come on in."
As we walked into the house, Cal and Deb sat next to Skip. Skip looked up at the house as soon as he heard music playing from the outdoor speakers. Mark was coming back from the den after putting on a CD.
"Yanni? Are you a fan or is this for us?"
"Both, actually. I'm a long-time fan of Yanni. I'm missing one CD but beloved spouse here says I'll be getting it soon."
We listened to Yanni's Tribute CD, from his 1997 tour of India and China. It was my most favorite CD, which Mark and Deb would both know since I played it for Skip at the end of an evening workout. Love is all. (And the best).
"May I show you a favorite potato recipe of mine?" I asked our hosts.
"Sure, go for it," said Megan.
I cut the bakers into two, lengthwise. I carefully scooped out the potato, leaving the skins intact. I mixed the flesh with butter, a tablespoon or two of half-and-half, some grated parmesan cheese, and a bit of dill. I stuffed the skins again with the mixture and put them under the broiler for five minutes.
"Twice backed potatoes. Usually a meal in itself with a side salad."
Mark was happy for another 'incidental' in his repertoire.
We went outside. Deb, Cal, and Skip were talking animatedly. Megan put a half-chicken breast and a piece of filet onto each plate. I served up a potato half and salad. Cal carried Skip to his seat at the table. Cal sat on Skip's left while I sat on Skip's right. Deb and Megan sat across from each other. Mark sat at the other end of the table. I cut pieces of steak for Skip while Cal cut up his chicken. Cal ate, and I ate, while we fed Skip.
"Nice way to work this," said Cal. "We all get to enjoy food together."
We had iced lemonade to wash down Skip's first full meal since his trach tube removal. Cal and I were careful not to give him too big a piece of anything, or too much at a time. I understood Skip's Eyes language. Cal was getting the hang of it.
"You three are a brilliant team," Deb said to us three.
"Caring about my love is in the details," I said, echoing what I had told Skip.
Skip gave me eyebrows. I automatically leaned in, but stopped and looked at our friends. They watched to see what I would do. I stood instead of just leaning in. I knelt beside him, as I always do, as the others had done, and took his hand off his leg. I held it in my left hand as I slid my right arm around his shoulder. He looked into my eyes, suddenly not seeing anyone else. He was not trying to embarrass himself or me with those eyebrows, nor make me prove myself to him. He wanted a kiss. I touched his cheek, and then brushed his hair off his forehead a bit. I let go of his hand for a moment and put it on his face, fingers behind his head. I drew him to me.
"I will never, ever, deny you the request that is in those eyebrows. We could be in the middle of Manhattan at lunchtime, in crowded Times Square even, and if you wiggled your eyebrows at me, I would do this, with my heart in it, just for you."
I kissed him very passionately, holding him as best I could in one arm. I pulled back after a minute. His eyes teared up. I kissed him again, just as warmly.
"We've made a commitment to each other and to Billy. This is my first real public declaration for my love to you, outside of the boys at school. I'm not afraid to make it in front of friends because we will come back in a year to see them all again. You've said to me often enough, me without you is not life. You're my every breath, my heartbeat, and my soul. I do love you, bro, so very much."
I looked at our friends. All of them were smiling, impressed by us, blessed by us. I touched his throat.
"Nothing is for ... ever except us."
We kissed again. I hugged him with both arms and kissed his neck.
"Nice," is all I said.
"Bravo, Aaron. I can't picture that you would, but don't ever deny him those eyebrows, bro," said Mark. "Seriously, he asks for so little."
"It's not just a kiss, you know," I said. "It's my heart for him. And his heart back to me. I made him promises that I intend to keep."
"Nice," said Megan, also teary eyed. "I knew that you had to be special because Mark does not talk about his patients. Nor does he cry without being moved deeply. You bring out the best in people, both of you. I'm honored that you would be with us. Do you mean it, about coming back next year?"
I touched Skip's throat again.
"Yes," he said. "If you'll have us."
"In a heartbeat, love," said Deb, smiling. Megan also nodded and smiled.
We heard Yanni's "Tribute" end and "If I Could Tell You" begin.
I can tell him. I do.
"I love this CD but it makes me a little sad. Skip and I have slow danced to some of Yanni's songs, including a couple on this CD. I just wish ... "
Skip shook his head. He gave me eyes. I touched his throat so he could speak, even though I knew what he was going to say. He did not say what I expected.
"We can, just differently."
I was not so sure.
"Pick me up?"
"Cal? Will you put Skip's arms around my shoulders?"
He did, a bit teary eyed, not unlike the others. I held Skip and we kissed while I danced him around the back yard, nearly as well as we danced if he were standing. His abilities far outweigh his inabilities. The moon was rising. We stood in silhouette of it. Mark took our picture. [Note: to this day, that picture, an 8x10, sits on our desk in the den at home, as alive as we were that night.]
We were a bit late in leaving for our dessert rendezvous, but we would be forgiven. I helped bring food and plates into the house. Leftovers would also appear at the Center on Monday, enough for a light lunch after appetizers. We loaded Skip back into the SUV. Mark drove us only about five minutes. I had been right. We arrived at Mike and Amanda's home. I would find out later that Mike and Amanda knew Mark and Megan before we even arrived in Atlanta. The world is about connections.
We were greeted at the front door and told to go around back. I wheeled Skip myself because the ground was a bit uneven. There was not much for curved hardscape paths because of the twins. Beside the pool sat the table, this time with eight place settings. A multi-layer strawberry-vanilla cake sat upon a cake stand. A pie sat off to the side a bit. It had my name on it. Oh boy-strawberry rhubarb. I was surprised to see two little men sitting in highchairs, waiting for us. It was after 9:30.
"Awon!" said Dylan, clapping his hands. "Hi Awon."
"Sip!" said David, who could not say 'Skip' yet. Skip smiled at them both.
"Awww, you waited for us. Hi guys," I said.
I kissed each twin on his cheek and got a slobbery one back. I took Dylan and then David and put them with Skip in the wheelchair. They hugged him and kissed his cheek too. So sweet. It did not take them long to fall asleep for the night. Skip worked to move his arms to hold the boys closer. It obviously made him tired, but he did it by himself. Amanda and Mike took the boys from Skip a while later. Skip and I gave them each a good night kiss.
I put Skip beside me, again at the head of the table, as Amanda sliced cake. Mike poured wine for us all and we toasted.
"To love and to long friendships," said Mike and Amanda together, glasses raised.
"Cheers," we all said together.
Amanda took it upon herself to feed Skip some cake since he so easily set the boys off to dreamland. He made eyes at her and she leaned in to let him kiss her on her cheek. She returned the kiss, but on his forehead. After a while, Mike brought out a pot of coffee. I wanted to take Skip to the bathroom first. I wheeled him into the house (Mike too had installed a ramp for us tonight).
Back outside, I sat Skip onto a padded lounge chair beside the pool. I sat behind him and held him in my arms, between my legs. The breeze carried a scent of light honeysuckle. We listened to Enya.
"Now, a little, or maybe big, surprise for you two," said Amanda. "We made up the guest room for you two. You, if you would, are welcome to stay the rest of the weekend with us. Mark will come back for you anytime on Sunday in the van."
"Nice, but we don't have a change of clothes."
"You do," said Mark. "I took the liberty to pack a duffel bag for you both."
He went out to the van and brought back two Shepherd Center duffels. He took out our things to do an inventory to see if he forgot anything. I was already wearing my ankle braces, and he had included sneakers for us. Two changes of boxer briefs each, socks, two types of shorts, swim trunks, t-shirts, and polo shirts.
"You're brilliant," I said to him, smiling.
"Well, being off the respirator gives our bud a lot more freedom. We all figured that time away would do you both a world of good."
"The evening has already done that, so this is just the dessert to end the perfect day. Thank you, all of you, for the friendship you give us. You all know we've been so homesick. I don't feel homesick at all anymore. How about you love?"
"Just a bit, but the ... edge has worn off. Thank ... you all so much."
"I know it's not as good as graduating," said Deb.
"Oh, but it is. Graduation is a future goal. Even then, we'll have work to do. Time away from the Center is just a nice treat."
Each couple sat in pairs, like Skip and I. They had moved the lounge chairs close to us in a semi-circle. We talked about anything interesting to talk about. It was after midnight by the time we parted company. Deb and Cal then Megan and Mark knelt beside us. I had to relinquish my hug on Skip in favor of him getting four more from our hosts. As Patrick had done to Skip for Michael's benefit, I helped him put his arms around them all. They kissed him on his forehead and then leaned forward to do the same to me. Skip and I both kissed them each on their cheek.
We wanted to sit alone for a few minutes while Mike and Amanda took food and plates inside. We finished off our wine, with me holding a glass to Skip's lips as I had done throughout dessert. I then held him up straight as I went from behind him to in front of him. I sat back down again, still holding him, putting his legs on mine. I hugged him very tightly and kissed him sweetly.
A half hour later, I carried Skip upstairs, leaving his wheelchair in the den. I helped Skip with our bedtime routine. I stripped both of us down to underwear. I washed our faces and brushed our teeth. I sat him on the toilet and then peed when he was done. I carried him to the double size bed and lay him down, lying on top of him. I covered his face in kisses.
"I love you ... so much. Nice speech at mm ... Mark's place."
"For us, love. You move me to more than fancy words."
"Will you hold me again, like the other night?"
"Snuggle up ... lover. I need you ... so bad."
I snuggled tight. I put his right arm under my armpit, in the no-crush zone. He worked to hold me. He did not watch his arm, only my eyes.
"How's that?" he asked.
"Perfect, bro. Now I'm safe all night."
He tucked into my neck, kissed it lightly, and fell asleep, breathing softly into my neck. As long as he held me, I really was safe. I know he felt safe in my arms too, so I hugged him tightly. I wanted him to have no doubt I am here tonight and always. His nightmares were gone. I know he still felt trapped, but he was working hard on that. I kissed his cheek before I too fell into peaceful sleep.
"Hi Awon," I heard as a soft whisper beside me.
I opened my eyes to see Dylan standing beside our bed. I picked him up and put him into bed with us. He snuggled up between Skip and me and lay quietly, going back to sleep. I heard whispering at the door. When I looked over, I saw Mike and Amanda smiling in at us. I put my index finger to my lips and kissed sleeping Dylan on his cheek. The bedside clock read 7:20 a.m. It was Saturday morning.
A little over an hour later, Dylan stirred. He climbed over me, got down off the bed, and trotted out, probably in search of David. Or breakfast. Two-year-olds are not picky about which they find first.
"Morning love. You slept very well."
"Yeah. Nice. Where's ... Dylan?"
"Probably having breakfast. Do you want to get up?"
"Shower. I'll check your tube hole and change your bandage too."
"Okay. Hug me?"
"I need one too."
"I dunno," he said a bit sadly.
"You know what I mean," I said, picking his chin up.
Skip raised his shoulders and his upper arms. In the morning, his hands felt like they weighed a ton. I held his arms at the elbows. He used the leverage to lift his lower arms and hands. He moved forward a bit and slid his arms against my sides. He could not close his arms around me, in a 'real' hug. (His definition of real, not mine.)
"My love, it's perfect that you do what you can. Someday I will feel your arms tightly around me. Until then, this IS good enough."
"Okay. I know it is, to you anyway."
"But not to you?"
"You love me."
"I love you."
"I don't need more than that."
"You deserve more."
"I have you. You take away any need I could have."
I put Skip on a shower seat. It looked new. Bless Amanda and Mike for thinking about Skip like this. Love really IS in the details. I got in with him and rinsed him down. I took liquid body soap, squirted some on Skip, and washed his neck, shoulders, back, sides, pits, chest, and stomach. More soap and then I washed his groin, legs, and feet. I held him in one arm while I washed him.
"I don't figure I'm entitled to anything. Too much entitlement thinking out there. It's fucked up."
"Yes. Like lawsuits. Do you feel that you're being treated fairly by the city and the mayor?"
"More than fair. It really was an ... accident. Unfortunate."
"I did some research. I know how much it costs each day for you here. The city footing the bill is a blessing and a half, love. Quality care costs. Plus your MedFlight roundtrip. Plus the boys' airline tickets. You could sue for three times that amount and get it."
"Not with a clear ... conscience."
"There is the heart of the man I love. I love that you show it so openly."
"Would you have ... sued? If it were you?"
"Nope. Nor would I have helped you sue either."
I washed and rinsed his hair and then his face."
"Squeaky clean," he said. "Smells nice."
I took away the bench and put him against the back of the tub, on the tub floor. There was little to hold on to if I kept him seated. Skip being able to flop forward, back, or to his right was 100% in possibility. I thought about our own bathroom at home. I figured JD had put rails in the shower and in the tub while we were here. I would send Patricia an email later asking if she would size up the tub and shower. I would see if she would pick up two seats appropriate to the scale of both.
"Yeah, I like this. More for the pharmacy list. I know you like Ivory soap the best, but maybe this for the weekends?"
I was washing myself now while I talked to him.
I washed my head, face, and neck with the same soap. Skip looked up at me. Actually, for a couple of minutes, he did not look higher than my dick.
"Nuh uh, bro. You can have a bath tonight, so you'll just have to hold off for a while."
"Patience, bro. I'm worth the wait."
He laughed. "Yeah. You are."
I lifted him out of the tub, took him to the bed, toweled him off, and kissed him deeply while doing so. I put his maroon BC t-shirt on him and then lay him down so he would not wobble. I put two pillows behind his head. He was into watching me dress him. Boxer briefs, a bit of an adjustment, khaki shorts, ankle socks, and finally sneakers.
I dressed in a t-shirt, polo shirt, shorts, ankle socks, and sneakers. Mark had done an excellent job in packing our duffels for us. Another who knows that love, and caring too, is in the details.
"Siiip? Awon? Eat!" said David, coming to get us. He came into our room, smiling.
"Okay little buddy. We're all ready."
I bent down and put Skip's arms around my shoulders, interlocking his fingers. I picked him up and walked down the hall. The twins lead the way. They went down the stairs backwards. I let them get well ahead of me and then walked carefully downstairs. Stairs were tricky when carrying your most important package. If I dropped him, his spine would shatter like fine china.
I set him in his wheelchair. Both twins stood on one side of and held it for us. Sweet. I often had to wonder what was on the mind of a two year old. How much did they understand about walking, especially since they had learned it no long ago? Dylan half answered my question.
"Boo boo?" he said, looking up at Skip, patting Skip's right leg.
"Oh," he said. He kissed Skip's boo-boo leg.
"Yes. Better. Thank you ... buddy."
David kissed Skip's left leg. It was almost enough to make Skip walk again. If only love could do that.
"Good boy David," said Skip. Show ... us where momma is."
The twins lead the way to the kitchen. Amanda was cutting up cantaloupe and strawberries. Mike flipped two pancakes. Bacon sat on a plate.
"What can I do?" I asked.
"There's OJ in the fridge and glasses above and to the right of the sink. The little guys will want more too."
I poured four glasses of OJ for us adults and added more to the boy's Sippy cups. I put the twins in their highchairs and Skip at the head of the table so he could see the back yard. The French doors were open to the back deck. The morning sun was burning off the rest of the fog.
"What else would you guys like? Eggs?"
"Sure, how about two over easy?"
Amanda sat down at the table, bringing fruit and the plate of bacon. Mike brought over the pancakes and then went back to the stove.
"You guys slept well last night? I looked in on you after 2:00 when I was up for the boys."
"Hope we didn't make you blush."
"No, you made me smile though. You don't talk about love. You live it, 24 hours a day. I hope the twins grow up feeling that."
"With you and Mike as their parents? Slam-dunk. They both kissed Skip's 'boo-boo' legs when I put him in his wheelchair. Give them a bit of a push in the right direction, and keep showing 'em daily doses of affection."
"Aaron, I so wish you could have been a dad."
"Me too. I've had a few dreams that I become a dad. I've got this picture of a young man in my head. Sometimes I wake up feeling like he's watching me sleep."
"Then keep an eye out, bro," said Mike. "Someone needs you. I often think that dreams are prophetic."
"Having Skip and Billy is as good as my life can be. Having the boys at school makes me 101% complete. I'm afraid I couldn't give my heart one more time, even for a son."
"You have to. Because a ... dream is from the h ... heart. Not from the mind. Follow your ... heart. We discussed ... this at school. Henry told you ... what you already know."
I had nothing to say. Mike put an egg on my plate and one on Skip's. He rubbed my back for a moment.
"Better listen to him, bro. I've never met a wiser man than Skip, except you. You are him and he is you, connected by heart and soul to Billy. Billy won't tell you one word different than Skip just did. Neither will your own thoughts."
I nodded, not to shut him up, but because he did not tell me anything that I did not already know. I loved 18 (and more often, 19, still) so there is no magic to loving one more. The question is ...
"What it would ... do to me," Skip said, yet again inside of my head.
"Yeah," I said.
"We'll find out," he said.
"Life is full of ... them, love."
"AND worth taking," said Amanda.
"Are you in my head, too?"
"Uh ... "
"It's easy to read you. You claim to be a very simple man, but you are enigmatic. I love enigma."
"And me, quite sincerely."
"Yes, Aaron. I do love you. Four months of knowing you has changed me forever. Our twins will want to spend some serious time with you when they're old enough. Look at Dylan."
He was looking at me. He smiled at me when I made eyes. David clapped happily, eating Cheerios off his tray.
"Your message to all of us should outlive you, so you make sure you write like there's no tomorrow and pass your love and decency on for those coming behind you. Dylan and David are only two of that wave. You're the best of all the heroes, and you have to be heard."
"I'm not a hero. Don't want to be."
"You are," said Mike.
"I hate being put above anyone else. Heroes come in all forms, and none of them look like me."
"Says you," said Skip.
"You know how I feel about this topic. Don't do that to me."
"You did it to ... yourself. Ask Sam. Ask ... Will and mm ... Michael."
"Come on guys, stop. I hate it, always hated it, and always will hate it. I'm no better than anyone, never was, never will be. Ever."
No one said anything. I made my point, firmly. I gave Skip a third of a strip of bacon, and then a forkful of pancake. I ate while he ate. David and Dylan looked around at all of us, wondering why it was so quiet. I had nothing more to say. I dipped some more pancake in maple syrup for Skip and gave it to him. More bacon, a couple of sips of OJ, wiped his face, cantaloupe, a couple of strawberries, and some egg. When he was done, I wiped his face, and then mine. I picked our dishes up, rinsed them off briefly, and put them in the dishwasher. Mike and Amanda were done eating. I took their plates too. The boys continued to watch us.
I left Skip where he was and slid the screen door open, and then closed behind me. I sat on the top step. I hated brooding as much as I hated being thought of as a hero. I brooded anyway. When I heard the screen door slide open, I went down the steps and around to the front of the house, hands in pockets, head down.
Ask Vincent if I'm a hero. Ask Billy, who got brained while I was with him, and was the reason he got brained in the first place. I kept walking down the street on the sidewalk. I glanced back to see Mike standing near the front steps. I shook my head a little and kept walking. I went to the park at the end of the street and sat on a swing.
Ten minutes later, I heard something motorized. Skip came down the block. Mike was standing back enough to make sure that Skip was okay. The sidewalk was a work of art, smooth as silk, so Skip was fine. No one else was out and about yet. When Skip got to the grass, I went over to him. I pushed him over to the swing and sat down again, in front of him. I took his hands. He had this look on his face that I could not interpret.
"You're a good man ... Aaron."
"No better than anyone else. You think as highly of Billy, the BC boys, Jills, Andrew . . . on and on."
"I do. I love ... them all so much, but I l ... love you more."
"Except for Billy."
"You and Billy are equal. Maybe a ... half-step above the others."
"A half step doesn't make me a hero."
"Makes you MY ... hero."
"Don't. Please don't."
"You came here for ... me. I did not ask ... Billy or my dad. I asked ... you. I knew back ... at Yale that I ... would not think about ... walking first. I thought ... only about holding you."
"You should walk."
"You should accept ... what you are."
"Those two things are not in the same league."
"I don't care ... about walking. I want ... to hold you in ... my arms so bad. You help me. You are ... so patient. You love me."
"Again, nothing screams 'hero' here."
"It beats like yours does."
"Duh. Way beyond ... biology. You're a romantic."
"You feed me. You fight for me ... to be normal. Therapy would ... be mind-numbing to anyone else."
"No. Billy would do the same or better. Your dad loves you so much. He would have been brilliant. Either of your parents would be here. It must have been hard for them to see you and then go back home."
"No. Seeing me gave ... them a lift. Just like ... it gave me a lift. You being here ... makes them so relieved. They would hate it here."
"And you don't? I don't?"
"I would rather be ... home but this is a good place. I will miss ... Deb and Mark. Their spouses, too. Kelly and Lorial. Mike, Amanda, the twins. I am okay ... here because you are here."
"I know all those things."
"Sometimes. But sometimes you don't. You rescued me from crying ... all night. You and I did Eyes ... so you could understand ... me. You give me ... a bath, wipe my butt, and push my hair out ... of my eyes. Kiss me. Hug me. You make the ... sweetest love to me. You talk to Vincent ... at night. You made sure I have ... the best care. Look what you are doing right ... now, love."
I was holding his hand with one hand and holding his bandage so he could talk with the other.
"Because I know how to do all those things, and most especially how to love you. But if you had never met me, you would not be in this wheelchair. That takes away any right I have to be a hero. I hurt you as surely as that bus did."
"We talked about that ... already. Stop beating yourself ... up."
"I'm the reason you cried all night. I had no choice but to understand *your* Eyes language. Anyone can give you a bath, wipe your butt, push your hair out of your eyes, made sure you had the best care, can hold your hand, and can hold your throat."
"Few do. No one ... else could so easily ... as you do. You don't ... think about any of it. I want you. You accept ... that I want to hold you more than I ... want to walk. Anyone else ... would talk me out of that."
"Still doesn't make me anyone's hero."
"Makes you MY hero."
"I love you so much, bro. You mean the whole world to me. I'm NO better than anyone else."
"Except to me."
"Come on, love. I need to say I'm sorry to the folks."
"No. There's noth ... ing to be sorry for. They understand. I told them."
"Okay. Wanna go swimming later?"
"Yeah. Hug me?"
I did, tightly, and then kissed him.
"We're going to your place overnight tomorrow."
"Uh. Do we need permission?"
"We have it."
"Hmmm. Who takes care of who around here?"
"Both of us. We ... belong together. We take care ... of each other."
"I love you, Skip. I don't know why you ... "
"I do. I love you so much. You just ... have to accept what I said. Just because ... you don't like ... something does not mean ... you are not. You will ... always be my hero. I can't ... help that."
"I just want to be the man you love."
"I just want you ... to be aware what ... you mean to people."
"Things change. You and I do not."
"Hmmm. I guess ... I understand."
I gave him a tight hug and a kiss on his forehead. I looked around and then I kissed him deeply on his lips.
"Uh ... "
"Because this is a family neighborhood."
I walked beside him while he drove himself back to Amanda and Mike's place.
I held his hand, our fingers interlocked. Maybe someone would not understand a kiss, but they might understand a loving gesture for a handicapped friend. We went around back. I put Skip in the padded lounge chair.
"I'll be back in a few minutes."
I went into the kitchen. The folks were holding the boys. Before I could open my mouth, Amanda spoke.
"Don't apologize, love. You're an admirable man for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. But especially to that young man out there. You will always be his hero, like it or not."
"But only for him."
"Granted," she said.
"Yes buddy," I said to Dylan. "Outside?"
I loved that. 'Yes yes' was pure David. I took both boys outside and put them on each of Skip's legs. I wrapped his arms around the boys. They did not wiggle and squirm all over the place. David touched Skip's cheek and then clapped his hands. Dylan giggled at David. Skip laughed at them both. He hugged them both as best he could. To them, it was good enough. Skip could have been a dad too. He chose me instead. Sometimes that just seems nuts. At other times, I was blessed by his heart. He knew what he wanted when he saw me. He wanted me, to hold me, to love me, to help me feel love again, to get through cancer, and to help him through his. He knew, back then, that he was not done yet. He allowed me to do all of those things.
I was happy about that. 'Happy'. Only because 'happy' evoked so many good things in one simple word.
We took care of the twins while Amanda and Mike went out shopping for lunch and dinner makings. I requested flounder and crabmeat for lunch. Anything else was up to them. I could make potato skins for appetizers with vanilla yogurt instead of sour cream. Amanda added chives to the shopping list. Mike brought swim trunks for the twins. He went outside to put them on them while I went upstairs for trunks for Skip and me.
The twins were floating in their dragon and duck and I was holding Skip under his back and butt in the water when the folks came home. Mike took my place in watching the boys and helping Skip while I went to help with lunch. We ate outside under the bluest sky I had seen in recent history. The weather was warm and dry.
There was nothing extraordinary about this Saturday or the weekend really. The tension from the morning was forgiven and forgotten. Lunch gave way to outdoor fun with the twins, a short afternoon nap for them in Skip's and my arms, building and wrecking stuff in the sandbox, laughing and clapping, going for a long walk, making dinner, and finally, holding my lover in my arms, under the night sky.
Sunday was little different from Saturday. The one constant every day was that Skip and I were together. People came and went throughout our days, but in their own ways were also a constant.
We arrived at my townhouse rental as the sun set on Sunday evening. I took Mark and Megan on a tour, invited them for dinner some midweek night of their choice, and hugged both good night. I then took Skip on the same tour, in his wheelchair downstairs, and in my arms upstairs. I set him on our bed (always 'our' when Skip is with me) and drew a bubble bath. I undressed him, and then me, and lay on top of him for a couple of minutes, holding him so tight, wanting to badly to be held too. Someday-not soon, but soon enough for us.
I picked him up, got into the tub, set him down, washed him from head to toes, washed me, and then sat on his very hard cock. There were no distractions of me washing him this time. It was pure cock inside of lusty ass-sexual only. Rare but sometimes necessary. He shot inside of me as I shot into the water. Then I drained a bit of the water and refilled it with hot water again, holding him so that the love replaced the sex. I loved him more than I lusted him. After a half hour or so, as the water cooled, I took him out to our bed, lay him on his back, and entered him. I made sweet love to him. I came inside of him, wrapped him in my arms, held his arms against my chest, and kissed him until we both feel asleep.
As good as that was, tough times still lay ahead. I sat with Mark one evening at dusk, outside the Center.
"He's not going to walk again. Is he?"
Mark looked at me for a long moment. He slid his hand into mine. The silence of the night spoke volumes. I watched a star come to life in the purple sky.
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