Skip - Part 44
The window in Skip's room cost me $1700. I gave the check to The Missus in person. She did not scold me.
It was a small price to pay for losing my faith and my mind.
"Thank you, Aaron. This is a nice gesture."
"No. An obligation. Even if it wasn't the real me who broke the window."
"You'll be fine soon. Andrew and Claire are waiting for you."
The challenges of our life were too heavy. Not for Skip. He could accept his fate ... and had done so long before I did.
But for me. I was broken, yet again, for a while. I had a tumor.
When I knocked on the administrator's doorframe on Friday morning, she got up from her desk to see me in. She had accepted my phone call earlier in the day to ask for an appointment.
"Aaron, you do not need an appointment to see me. My door is open."
We agreed to meet after lunch. Her office was even less pretentious than she was, and she was not pretentious at all. It was a corner office, of course, but it was not one that took twenty years to walk from one side to the other. In fact, our master bedroom in Connecticut is the same size, large but not huge.
She wore a blue women's polo shirt and khaki dress slacks with sensible shoes. I did not picture her as having forty million pairs of matchy matchy shoes in her closet. Maybe six pair at most. It is a guess, but probably a good one. She was not corporate either. She had worked her way through the ranks for over 25 years. What a wonderful soul she is. Not 'a person'. 'A soul'. Anybody could be a person. Not everyone could be a soul. Dottie was both.
She sat in a chair with a small table in front of it. She poured two hot teas. Earl Gray, my favorite. She knew this. It was not an overly special gesture, though special just right. A variety of teas were her 'secret stash' in her desk. So were Kit Kat candy bars. She broke off two sticks and gave them to me. Her figure did not show that she liked Kit Kat bars.
"My check, Missus, for the window in Skip's room."
"The window in Skip's and your room."
"Yes ma'am. But not for a while. I'm very sorry about that."
"Thank you, Aaron. This is a nice gesture."
"No ma'am. An obligation. Even if it wasn't the real me who broke the window."
"I'm sad for that, Aaron."
She touched the right side of my head gently, knowing exactly where the brain tumor is.
"Me too, Missus"
She did not correct me on the use of her 'name'. She loved the term of endearment.
"Will you send me an email while you're away?"
"Yes. Andrew or Claire will let you know how the surgery goes. They'll use my email address."
"Speaking of, Andrew and Claire are waiting for you. When you come back from your journey, please come and see me."
"I will. Thank you. I know I'll be okay. Will you look in on Skip?"
"Every day, Aaron, like I always do."
She would, too. She looked in on all her charges every day. Her heart was bigger than mine, no insult to me. Maybe that was saying something. Or not. Mine was big enough.
But it hurt today. I had to leave my Skip.
I loved that she had not been sitting behind her desk to talk to me. A desk separating two people talking was so weird. Corporate America-style crap. Patricia never sat behind her desk at work either, when she had meetings or when we just sat to shoot the shit. We would sit on a sofa, recycled from home. Working meetings were done at a round table. No 'head of the table' crap either. We finished our afternoon treat. The Missus got up from her chair beside me as I stood. She took my hand, kissed my cheek, and walked me out to Andrew and Claire.
"Be well, Aaron. I will think about you daily."
We went up to the fourth floor. Andrew and Claire, Betsy and JD walked down the hall to Skip's room with me. It won't be 'our room' for a while. I went over to Skip and got up on his bed. I kicked my Nikes off with my toes. They plopped to the commercial-grade carpet. I wrapped myself around Skip. I was sooo fucking scared. The creepy black shadow crossed the outer edge of my vision again. This time I knew what it was.
"I don't want to go, love."
"I know. Have to. I'll ... miss you so ... much."
"I'm so sorry for yelling. For ... "
"Don't. You will ... "
" ... throwing the vase."
"always be ... "
"For breaking the window. For scaring you."
"For leaving you hungry. For running away."
"No m ... matter what."
"For keeping you and six very fine people up all night. For ... everything."
We were speaking at the same time but not really overrunning the other. I heard every word that he said. His words meant everything to me. He heard what I said. I had to get it out. He knew that.
He gave me eyebrows and I kissed him.
Self-Loathing was gone. I saw him for what he was. He was a tumor wrapped around nerves, strangling them.
"You have a ... tumor, love. Your ... brain. Help me?"
I took his left hand and put it up to my head, just above my right ear.
"Yeah. But it's not an excuse. I paid for the window, love. Cost me a lot of money, but less than it should have."
"The Missus loves you anyway. The tumor. It's a ... reason. The ... Aaron who ... means the ... world to me ... is inside with it."
"How can you forgive me?"
"I'm not dense."
"Dumb ... as a tree stump." he said with a sly smile.
"No fair twisting the knife into my heart."
"Tell me you ... love me."
"Do I really have to?"
"Yes. Every ... time. I might forget."
"I love you sooo very much." I rubbed noses with him. "You are the heartbeat in my chest. You are my oxygen and my anchor to this life. I don't want to leave you."
"Kiss me here."
He could not point. He did not have to tell me to use my imagination this time.
I kissed his forehead, my left hand on his right cheek.
"Kiss me here."
I kissed the sweetest lips known to my little slice of humanity.
"Kiss me there ... and mean it."
"I'll always mean it. Please don't doubt me."
"I never do. The ... tumor."
I lifted his t-shirt and kissed his heart. I looked at him. I kissed his heart twice more. Slowly. Meaning it. I rolled off him to his right side.
"Claire? Kiss me?"
She walked over to us. She brushed his hair off his forehead. She put one hand on his bed, beside his head. She put the other hand on my shoulder. She leaned in and kissed Skip sweetly, friend to friend, on his lips and then on his forehead.
"Thank you. Help ... make my lover ... well."
She smiled, teary eyed. She nodded.
"Stay strong, love. We'll bring your Aaron back to you."
"Thank you. Andrew? Kiss me?"
Andrew walked over to us. He too put one hand on my shoulder. He leaned in and kissed Skip sweetly, brotherly and friend to friend, on his lips. After a moment, he too kissed Skip's forehead.
"Thank you. Take my ... lover and make him ... better. Please?"
"Yes love. Keep him in your heart."
JD handed me my sneakers. I sat up and put them on. He tied one while I tied the other.
"Dad. Kiss Aaron." It was not a question this time.
JD wrapped his arms around me and kissed me warmly. He put my head beside his and hugged me tightly. He and Betsy would stay at my apartment. The property manager, Karen, offered it to them. GE was paying, and Mike made sure they knew it should be home, not just an apartment. Everyone would take care of Betsy and JD the same way they took care of me.
"I love you so much, son and brother. You are a treasure. Don't worry that you lost that. You have to come back and finish the job you started."
"Mom. Kiss Aaron."
Betsy waited for Skip tell her. He had his own reasons for guiding their expressions of love. She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me warmly. She put my head beside hers and hugged me tightly. Her tear fell on my cheek.
"I love you so much, son and brother. You are indeed a treasure. And you will continue to be. Jason is right in that. You are not to accept any blame. And you do have to come back and finish the incredible job you started."
"Goodbye my Aaron. Come ... back to me ... whole again. I love you. So much."
I nodded. I climbed up on his bed again, straddling his hips. I took his hands and held them. I curled his fingers around mine. I leaned in, pulled him up gently with JD's help, and wrapped his arms around me. Andrew stepped in and wrapped Skip's arms around me, like Patrick had done for Michael. I wrapped him in my arms and kissed him deeply in case this was the very last time.
"It's ... not."
"I will be ... waiting for you ... here inside ... my heart. I'm the ... one who wants ... to love you more."
He had quoted Celine Dion's lyrics so perfectly.
I kissed his teary eyes. He kissed mine. We laid him back gently. I got off his bed. Andrew put his arm around my back, standing on my right. Claire put her arm around my shoulder, standing on my left. They walked me to the doorway of Skip's-but-not-our room. I stopped just before the doorway and looked back at Skip. He nodded. I nodded back. I stepped across the line, more or less into foreign territory. I was not with him any longer. Me without Skip, Skip without me. My sadness was profound. Andrew kissed my cheek.
"It's okay, love. Believe every word he said."
I dug under my collar and pulled out the neck chain. I showed it again to Andrew. I left it on the outside of my shirt after I kissed it.
Deb and Cal, Amanda and Mike, Megan and Mark were all standing down the corridor. Mark handed me a small sealed package when I stood in front of him.
"For you to open, but only once you're in DC."
I gave it to Claire. Deb stepped up and hugged me.
"No worries, love. You and Skip will be fine soon."
I nodded. It did not mean that I believed her, just that I had to believe in something. We kissed on the cheeks.
Megan came forward and put his head on my shoulder.
"We'll be right here," she said, imitating ET, index finger on my heart.
I smiled. We kissed each other's foreheads.
Amanda was next.
"Come back to us all better. We'll keep coming on Fridays for Skip. He's used to it."
"Nice. Thanks so much." Cheek kisses.
Cal stepped up next, full-on hugs.
"Deb and I will think about you every day. We'll have a surprise for you when you return."
"Thanks. I like surprises."
"Good. You know we care very much for you?"
"I do." Forehead kisses.
Mike stepped in and gave me another full-on hug.
"We'll miss you. Watch your email. We'll keep you up to date."
"Nice. Thanks for taking care of my bud." Forehead kisses.
And Mark. He put both hands on my cheeks, drawing us together, forehead to forehead.
"It's not right that you have to suffer yet again."
"You can't know good if you don't know bad."
"You've done your time."
"I love you Aaron. Sooo much. I'm planning a surprise for you too. But I can't keep it as a surprise. I'm going to fly up in ten days to see you."
He pulled his airline ticket out of his jacket pocket.
"Damn, love, I'm sad for you."
"Okay. For now. I'm sad for me too."
"I have no doubt Andrew knows how to treat you as you deserve."
"Um, hopefully better," I said with a sly smile.
"I'm not worried. None of us are. We're all going to rotate nights with Skip. His dad is staying tonight. We'll keep working because we know how to."
Everyone came into a tight circle around me. Mark kissed me on my lips, proving he loved me with no shame. I kissed him back, my hand behind his head like I did with Skip and Billy. I was not ashamed to love and be loved. We were all friends here. Distance was not going to matter except for the first few hours that we are apart. That would suck for only a short while.
"See you soon, love," Mark said to me.
"Godspeed, Aaron," said the others. One voice, as usual, powerful and loving.
"I'm in good hands. The best," I said, putting my head on Andrew's shoulder.
Andrew resumed holding me on the right, Claire on the left. I looked back, as I had done with Skip. Each person nodded. I nodded back. If love could make me well, their love could cure me forever.
Tim and Thomas were at their post when we arrived in the lobby. Dottie was coming through the tunnel.
"You're not gonna hug me again are you Dottie?"
"Now there's the Aaron that I love dearly. Yes. Yes I am. Get over it."
Sigh. "Okay okay."
She gave me as beautiful hug as ever. Dottie would not present a sad face to me, which is why I did not present my sad face to her. Tim and Thomas stood, came around the kiosk and hugged me as well. They were good hugs. I returned them in kind, strong and hopeful, but with longing. I was blessed that I would be coming back here.
We walked out into bright sunlight. My mood was not bright and sunny. Neither was it dark and damp. Words of my lover and our friends were tucked into my head and heart. I would recall every single word on our flight to Washington.
I went to my happy place while we took off. I would rather have needles put into my eyeballs than take off on a commercial jet. We were okay. I stayed in my happy place.
I stood at the doorway looking in. Skip looked up for a moment, looking like he was thinking. His folks were on the padded table with him in the therapy gym. He was sitting up, propped up against the back board. Deb was working his arms, trying to get him to reach out to his dad. The effort was there. His tongue was sticking out between his lips a bit. Concentration was absolute. I walked over to a chair nearby and sat down. I, 'in spirit' was there. He looked at the chair. I have to believe he feels me. Even if it is a thought only to make ME feel better. He nodded at nothing in particular that I could see, with a bit of a smile replacing the tongue. But the tongue came out again and he went back to concentration. He looked over at 'me' again. 'See love? I'm doing it. It's hard and it sucks, but I'm doing it.'
The flight was smooth and trouble free. We touched down at Dulles International just under two hours after departing Atlanta. Andrew arranged a shuttle with a surprise. He called someone to let them know we were here. The driver came to the curb within five minutes. He was none other than my neurologist, Dr. Brian Felton. He got out to put my bags in back. Andrew and Claire had travelled light with a small duffel between them.
"Hello, Aaron. How was the flight?"
"Good, minus the take-off. Hate that."
"Me too. And how is your love."
I shrugged. My mood turned south, and I did not mean toward Skip.
Brian looked at Claire and Andrew. He took me in his arms. I sobbed for a bit. He rubbed my back. Two more hands gently fell upon my back and shoulders. I pulled myself together after a couple of minutes.
"Sorry, Brian. I hate being away from him. Couldn't hold it in ... anymore."
"No apology necessary love," said Claire gently. "Let's get you settled at home. You can call him."
We arrived at Claire and Andrew's home within the hour of leaving the airport. Claire asked Brian to stay for dinner. He agreed and went to help in the kitchen. Two young faces appeared from the den.
"Aaron, this is Louisa, aged 12 and this is Andy, Jr., aged 10 but I often wonder."
"Hello Aaron. It's nice to meet you," said Andy, shaking my hand. He reminded me of Jamie Bell who played "Billy Elliot."
"The pleasure is mine, Andy. Hello Louisa."
"Hello Aaron. I love your name."
"Well that's a coincidence. I love yours very much. It fits you so perfectly, soft and pretty."
She smiled. "Thank you."
"You don't mind that I'm a Yank, do you?"
"Nah mate," said Andy. "Nobody's perfect."
Wise guy, perfectly timed delivery, followed by a wink and a smile.
Andrew smirked. "Off you go young man. Is your homework done?"
"Almost. I have a social studies question."
"May I?" I asked Andrew.
Louisa headed to the kitchen. Andy and I detoured into the den. He showed me the question that he had. I ticked through my memory of events of the Civil War. I did not give him the answer, just a clue. He asked me another question and I confirmed his thought process. He went to a place in his textbook.
"Thanks mate. That makes sense."
"No. I'm done. I'll show you to your room. May I Dad?"
Andrew had been standing in the doorway, watching his young son interact with me.
"Yes. Dinner will be ready soon."
We went upstairs. The house was large but not overly formal. This was a home with a happy family. I would be here for two overnights and then I would be admitted to the NIH. Andy helped me put my clothes into the dresser. The bulk of my clothes would stay here. I would pack a duffel for my hospital gear.
"You'll be okay, Aaron," Andy said to me, not looking at me yet. He was folding a polo shirt that had come undone. "My dad told us so."
"Dad's never lie, bro."
"Maybe some do. But not my dad. He and Mum love you a lot. He cried. The other night."
"I'm not worth those kind of tears."
"Daddy says you are."
I looked at him. He looked up at me. I knew what Andrew meant. Andy was very mature for a ten-year-old.
"Thanks Andy. Ready for dinner?"
"Yes. We can go down the back stairway."
Everyone was busy. I took over salad prep while Andrew went to the grill outside to bring in pork chops. Claire pulled potatoes au gratin out of the oven. Louisa poured iced tea into three glasses. Andy poured milk into two more and asked me what I wanted.
"Milk also, if there's enough."
"Plenty enough," said Andy.
Claire was an excellent cook. Mostly, I had just had her soups and simple meals because she and I were closely tied to my chemo sessions. I was trying to think if I have ever had, in over six years, more than soups and light fare, such as BLTs, with Andrew and Claire. Probably not, because I always remember good meals.
"It's too bad that I associate you most to chemo and nausea," I said to her. "But you're a brilliant soup maker."
"And much more," she said, honestly. "But I'd rather you think of me as the healing after chemo."
"That too," I said.
After a fashion, I was only moving my food around my plate. I looked up to see Claire looking my way.
"Sorry," I said.
"You can have leftovers for lunch tomorrow if you like. Why don't you go into the den and close the door? Talk as long as you like to your mate."
I did just that. We talked for a half hour. He tried so hard not to cry. He was one second away from it when we hung up. I know that his dad was now holding him. JD was not telling Skip that everything would be fine. He would only hold Skip until he was okay.
In the middle of the night a little pajama-clad body got into bed with me. In the morning Mum and Dad stood in the doorway, smiling. Their son was holding on to my hand, against his belly.
"To what did I owe the pleasure of your overnight comfort, Young Lad?"
"I heard you call out. When I came to look in, you were asleep still. There were tears on your cheek."
"I'm sorry I disturbed you. Thank you for staying with me."
"Happy to. Sleep in my room tonight? It's easier when you're not used to being alone."
I looked at Claire.
"There is another bed, for a friend to sleep over. You're as much a friend as any."
I thought about it for a minute. I could not say no to a wise young man. I nodded.
"Do you snore, Young Lad? My beauty rest is of utmost importance."
"We'll find earplugs for you," he parried.
"Uncle!" I said, laughing aloud.
"Ten years old?"
"Chronologically," he said.
He smiled. "Just consider who my parents are."
"Mum, yes. Dad? Well, if I stretch my imagination a bit. Or a lot."
Andrew gave me a raised eyebrow.
"I pick on only those I love, Andrew."
He settled back, satisfied.
"I don't know why I'm picking on you though," I said with a smirk.
The raised eyebrow returned. As did a small smile. Andrew had long ago accepted any amount of good humor that I could display. Considering that another voice had spoken for me for a few hours, my own was preferable.
I opened Mark's small package to me on Sunday night, before surgery the next day. It contained a note that said he loved me dearly and that he would miss me while I was in Washington. He promised to think of me daily. The box contained a Nike baseball cap "to wear until your surgical scar(s) heal(s)."
It was a nice thought, since the surgical scar on my already bald head would be quite disturbing in the presence of others.
"Loving you is in the details, as you told your lover. You are not vain, but the scar will bother you more than others, therefore, cover it. Later, wear the scar as one more badge. It means you have struggled, and this one very badly."
I wrote him an email to thank him for loving me so sincerely and thoughtfully.
His reply simply stated "It is a great honor to love you, and for you to allow me to."
At bedtime on Sunday night, Andy Jr. came into my room and sat beside me.
"Hand please, mate."
I gave him my hand. He was enough of a little gentleman to ask. I would teach him in a few days that taking a hand was better than asking permission.
"I still have a lot to learn, Aaron. But I know why you're here. I'm sorry you have a brain tumor. Daddy talked to me. Come stay with me?"
"Yeah. Thanks Andy."
I could say no more. Even in his room with two beds, he wanted to be closer so I would not be scared. I was scared anyway, but not as much.
"I care about you, mate. Daddy talks about you. You know too much pain."
"And I know love."
"Nice. Goodnight. I'm here."
Indeed he was. Not just that night or the next morning.
The creation of The Scar to End All Scars (as named by Skip) happened on Monday morning at precisely 6:50 a.m. This was Round 1. Round 2 would happen a week from today if I did not become a zombie after the surgeons attacked the first half of the tumor.
Andrew was in the operating room with me as moral support. He does not have surgical skills, but he found The Best for me. The initial incision was a long arc. Bone had to be removed, temporarily, to expose the tumor. Andrew later described it as "a terrible thing to look at". Andrew was not one for superlatives and fluff. The surgeons (there would be three through the course of the long day) burned away the tumor in delicately concentrated motions. Removing the tumor without disrupting brain function was a hard task. The surgery would take the better part of nine hours and two surgical teams.
Skip would later tell me that he knew when I was unconscious. He felt only a vast void where my consciousness usually lay within him. It did not prevent him from 'talking' to me anyway.
I love you so much, Aaron. I'm here for you today and forever.
I do not know when I received the message, only that I did. Skip did know, intensely, how to make me live. This was the reason he wanted to love me from day one. He loved me. How bad could my life be?
Like in the past, and as it had been for Skip in the past, pain management kept me unconscious for the better part of 48 hours. When I woke up in the midst of that, I begged to be put back under the blanket of medication. Andrew stayed with me the first night, Claire the next, and finally Brian. When I woke up on Thursday afternoon, Andy Jr. was holding my hand.
"See, I told you we care."
"You told me you care."
"What can I get you?"
"Be right back."
He came back a few minutes later with ice chips in a plastic bucket. His mom was right behind him. He stood beside me as Claire raised the head of my bed a bit. Andy rubbed an ice chip across my lips for a moment and then dropped it into my mouth.
He stood beside me for a few minutes, moistening my lips and feeding me.
"Want some chocolate pudding? Mum brought some."
Claire handed Andy a Tupperware cup. He took the lid off, licked it himself, gave me a cheesy grin, and then took a spoon from his mum. He stirred the pudding and then fed me until it was gone.
"Yum, Mum," I said, smiling.
"Your chocolate addiction survived surgery. How is the headache."
"Bad enough. Can I have anything yet?"
"Another hour or so. Sorry love."
Andy found a large ice chip and rubbed it across my forehead. He wiped up the water with a tissue and then did it all over again.
"You're brilliant, Young Lad. How did you know to do that?"
He shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe it's what I'd want."
I looked at his mum. "He's your son, alright."
He sat in the chair with Claire. She wrapped her arms around him and then kissed the top of his head.
A while later, my day nurse, Donna, came in to change my bandages.
"Come on, love, let's step outside," said Claire.
"I want to stay Mum, for Aaron. Show me how to clean the wound."
She looked at me and then Donna.
"Uh, it's pretty ugly Young Lad. You probably shouldn't see it yet."
"I'm okay. Don't do stuff alone when you don't have to."
I thought for a moment.
"What do you think?" I asked Donna.
"I think he needs to know how to take care of you at home."
"Okay, then I think I agree. Claire, you get the final say."
"If he acted 10, I would say no. Are you sure, Andy?"
"I am. I want to take care of Aaron."
She nodded to Donna and me. Donna took my bandages off. Andy stepped up and took the washcloth sitting on my tray table. He rinsed it and put soap on it.
"Gently love," said Claire.
Andy did as he was told. He cleaned dried and semi-dried blood off the side of my head. He held the washcloth against several places along the incision to moisten them. He then came back to clean anything gross. He rinsed the washcloth and kept going. He held my hand while he cleaned the wound, end to end. He kissed my head when he was done.
"Thanks Young Lad. That was pretty awesome. You care for me very well."
"I do Aaron. I'm sad for you."
"For now, but that'll change."
"Hope so. You need a break."
"I got one. I got you."
"And Skip. Don't forget."
"You know about Skip?" I asked, looking over at Claire. She nodded.
"I know you love him very much. He needs you, but you're here."
"So while I'm here, I have you."
"Yeah. I like that. May I give you a hug?"
So grown up. Not 'Can I', which implies ability, but 'May I', asking for something. Asking for permission, which he did not need to ask for. I looked over at a weepy-eyed Claire.
"You may Young Lad."
"I like that you call me that."
He got up on his knees on my bed and gave me as grand a hug as I can recall. He put his head on my shoulder and hugged me tight. He kissed my head. That does not mean he was better, or worse, than Skip or Billy. It means he knows how to care. Andy's heart speaks volumes beyond his chronological age.
He and Donna put clean bandages around my head.
"How long do you have to stay here? In the hospital, I mean."
"Two weeks. I have to have the second surgery yet."
"Okay. We'll see you tomorrow."
"Goodnight Andy. Thanks for taking good care of me."
He and Mum left, hand in hand. He seemed to be a little boy of 10 again. I knew he wanted to stay, but it was dinner time at home.
My surgeon came in each day by 6:00 a.m. Andrew came at 6:30 and stayed until 10:00. Claire came before Andrew left. Louisa and Andy Jr. came after school, though only Andy Jr. stayed until suppertime. Louisa had a male priority that was not me. Sigh. Andy changed my bandage each day with Donna looking on, though she had to do very little. He was so grown up coming in to my room and so like a 10-year-old upon leaving with Mum.
Andrew came back each night after supper and stayed until 9:00 or 9:30. He did not sit in the chair beside my bed. He kicked off his sneakers (trainers to him) and got up onto my bed with me. He put my head on his shoulder, his head beside mine, as we talked about anything interesting to talk about. I told him my perspective of Andy.
"Yes, brilliant that one. More brilliant than others his age. Claire seems to think I was cloned."
"I'm with Claire. You really should get more rest than you do," I said to him. "And you children should have a dad at home before bedtime."
"I rest enough. The kids do homework and watch TV. I fade off into the background until bedtime. I'm home in time to tuck them in and kiss them goodnight."
"Still," I said.
"You are a higher priority for this week. My children are not neglected any more than you are."
"I'm done with being so 'special'. Seven years is too long to put up with this crap."
"Granted. But look what your initial cancer brought you."
"I know. And I almost cost him his life, too."
"No. You did not."
"I put him in harm's way. I might as well have run my car into his truck."
"He wouldn't be a quadriplegic if he hadn't met me to begin with."
"And he'd have 10% as good a life," said Andrew.
"Not true. He could have a wife and kids."
"He didn't and doesn't want a wife and kids. He wants you."
"His judgment leaves a lot to be desired."
I did not say any more. It would be four days before I said another word. Claire spent a lot of time with me, but she could do little to help my deep funk. Andy Jr. came every day despite my mood. He knew that Skip and I are lovers, not just best mates. He had asked the question at home, not out of curiosity, but out of need to understand. Andrew and Claire gave him a straight answer. Andy would not grow up homophobic.
He helped change my bandages daily but he could not fix the hurt deeper inside. He did what any friend would do-held my hand. He did not look nor act sad, and I tried harder not to be sad. I failed. He accepted that. He climbed up on my bed at the end of each visit and gave me a tight hug, rubbing my back, hoping I would feel better the next day. I returned his hug as sincerely as he gave it because he deserved that much. Caring overrides sadness, even by a little.
"Please come back to us, mate. I miss my new friend Aaron."
"I'm trying to Young Lad, but I hurt Skip very badly. I need to work that out."
"A bus hurt Skip, not you."
"It might as well have been me."
Andy lay beside me. He took my hand and kissed it. Claire looked at him, wondering what he was going to do. He looked at her and then put one arm under my back and one across my chest. This is how I held Skip.
"I'm not letting you go until you be good."
I could not speak. I had nothing to say to a 10-year-old who was more mature than I was at the moment. Pain of my tumor was a partial reason. Another was that the tumor needed more work. Claire would do what she could, as would Andy. He did indeed hold on. We fell asleep together.
When I woke later, my evening nurse Kaitlin was putting my dinner tray on my table. I woke Andy. Andrew was dozing in the chair. I looked at Andy and then at Andrew.
"He's digging in," is all I said.
"I know," is all Andrew said.
"Am I teaching him the wrong things Andrew," I asked after a while.
"You're teaching him that life is more than getting up, going to school, doing homework, and going to bed again. We don't necessarily escape a day unscathed."
"That last part is too hard a lesson for ten."
"Not for Andy. There is a lot of Claire and me in him. I'm very proud of my son overall, and specifically this very moment."
"Me too," I said, hugging him to me, stroking his hair.
After a little while more, I woke Andy again.
"Time to go home Young Lad. Your dad and mum could use your TLC at home."
"No, mate. I'm staying."
"You should go pee then, Andy," Dad said to him.
Andrew helped him off my bed. He went to the bathroom, washed his face, and brushed his teeth using my toothpaste and his finger. He climbed back into bed. Andrew took his sneakers off and covered him with a blanket. Andy went back to sleep. I looked at Andrew. He kissed his son on his cheek and me on my forehead.
"I can't argue with his kind of love, Aaron."
Kaitlin came in to leave apple juice in a drink box in case he woke up.
"Is my tumor still causing all this anxiety bro?" I asked Andrew.
He nodded. He took my hand. "We'll make it better. I promise."
"You don't break promises, so I'm happy for that. How can we prevent tumors in the future. I'm not worried about those near my spine. We know how to take care of them in short order. But, the brain tumors?"
"We'll do an MRI every four to six months. Sooner if you get headaches. You should complain about any headache that won't go away with ibuprofen."
"Okay. It's a good plan. I owe it to my lovers and our friends. Going off on petty stuff, being anxious, or running away again isn't acceptable. Skip will need me again sometime."
"He needs you now, which means we have to finish the job. Monday morning, and then another week of healing. Then therapy and testing sessions at NIH for a few days to make sure you're okay when you go back to Atlanta."
"I love you, Aaron. Very much."
"Come here," I said, releasing Andy for a moment. I hugged Andrew very tightly and kissed his lips like I had in the past. "I love you as much, at least I hope I do."
"You love just right, Aaron. That's something you'll never lose. Goodnight love."
"Goodnight Andrew. Safe home."
Somewhere in the night, Andy drank his juice, kissed my cheek, and went back to sleep. I slept better too, for the love of a young lad who captured my heart so nicely. Better yet, he would not let it go.
Monday morning 6:00 a.m. found me being rolled back into surgery for part two of tumor disintegration. An incision that would not yet complete a 180-degree arc on the right side of my head was made. (This second cut at the second surgery was the reason for the 'scar to end all scars' label from Skip in a few weeks). Again, Andrew was there with me. Andy Jr. was in my thoughts. I had to wonder how he would do at school today after spending two nights with me.
When I woke up in the recovery area about a day later, Mark had arrived from Atlanta as promised. It was so cool to see him until I drifted off to sleep again. He told me he loved me and that he was staying with Andrew and Claire. They had called him before he left Atlanta to tell him not to book a hotel.
At my second awakening, back in my room, he was sitting beside my bed, sneakers off, curled up in a chair. It was dark except for a lamp on a table across the room.
"Pssst," I said softly, seeing if he was just dozing. He was.
"Hey bro. You okay?"
"Yeah. Come and hold me."
I said that for two reasons. To get him more comfortable and to get him to hold me.
"Before I do, what can I get for you?"
Like last week, I asked for ice chips. My throat was raw. He knew just how to take care of that.
"I love you, Mark. Thanks for coming."
"I love you too, Aaron. Your young man is at home in bed tonight where he belongs."
"Well, he belonged with me too, but I do like that he's in his own bed. What a little joy he is."
"I stayed with him in his room the first night and he talked my ear off over breakfast and dinner. He is indeed a little joy. I think he's a Little Person though and not a 10-year-old."
"I have to wonder. He wouldn't leave me over the weekend. He changed my bandage every day without being grossed out."
"Wow. That's more than I could do."
"It's why you're in therapy services, not a surgeon."
He shuddered. I held him and went back to sleep after tucking into his neck.
Donna came in shortly after we woke. She had met Mark on Tuesday morning, which I think was yesterday. I was in the usual post-surgical time warp.
"Not to be a coward, but I'm going for breakfast while you change Aaron's bandage."
"Sounds like common sense to me," said Donna, smiling. She has seen her share of 'cowards'.
"But save the bath for me. I've been sentenced to community service."
We laughed at him. I think he was joking. Hmmm. I have learned to assume nothing in life. Mark came back after twenty minutes. Donna came back in with a dishpan-sized container of hot water and soap. She took the washcloth off her shoulder and handed it to Mark. She left me in good and kind hands. He rinsed out the washcloth and soaped it up. I took off my t-shirt. He started washing the exposed portion of my bald pate and then my face. He washed my neck all around and then rinsed and re-soaped. He washed my back.
"I'm not ever getting over those scars, love," he said, again changing from 'bro'. He came around to my sides and then my chest and stomach. He toweled me dry. I took off my boxer briefs. He washed me as attentively as he would wash himself. He continued on down both legs, finishing up with my ticklish feet.
"Now I know how to get you to talk if I ever needed to. A bit ticklish, are we?"
"No 'we' probably are not but I am. And more than a bit. Don't push my insanity button."
He laughed aloud. "I'll be good."
He went to my duffel bag and brought me a clean pair of boxer briefs and a t-shirt. I did not dress right away.
"Touch me again?" I asked, looking into his eyes.
He did. He had not touched me inappropriately before, but he touched me just right for cleanliness reasons. I wanted more. He put his hand around my cock. He cupped my balls for a moment.
"Your lover is missing you a lot. He cried when I told him I'd be coming to see you. He wants me to give you whatever you ask for."
"Just a gentle hand."
He closed the door to my room. No one would care. Donna would not be back until lunch anyway. He came back and got up onto my bed with me. He kissed me on my lips, just right. I know I was blushing. I could feel the minor heat on my face.
"Okay. Close your eyes if you want. You should think about him."
I lay back comfortably but I did not close my eyes. I watched him as he stroked me to full hardness.
"It's a lot to ask of you."
"No. It's not. I'm your friend Aaron. I hope so anyway."
"You are. A friend comes to the rescue of a friend in trouble."
"A friend lends whatever hand is needed, anytime. I jack off too. There's a saying that 85% of guys jack off and the other 15% are liars. I don't subscribe to those figures, but I know guys jack off. I hate blue balls as much as anyone else. Skip asked me to help you, this way specifically."
He was lying on his left side, braced up by his arm. He leaned in to kiss me again. His hand was practiced but sensual and normal. He moved his hand all the way down my shaft and then back up, clenching tightly in the right places. He used two fingers to massage my balls every little while. He watched my eyes while I watched his eyes while he stroked my dick.
"I'm close. It's up to you what you want to do."
He slowed down, only half touching me.
"Nice," I said, still looking at him.
When I started to lose a little of my hardness, he picked up again.
"Do you know about edging?" I asked him.
"No. What's it mean?"
"Bring me up to the edge, and then back off, like you just did. Start up again. Once, twice, whatever. You do what you want."
"I'd rather do what you want."
"I want to feel good."
He understood. He brought me up four times. The fifth time he let me come. I shot all over my chest, seven good long ribbons of cum. I shivered from the best orgasm I have had without Skip. I did not tell Mark that I do not waste cum. Not everyone is into that. Mark took the washcloth and rinsed it out again. The water was still warm enough. He wiped me down thoroughly, rinsed the washcloth, and then toweled me dry again so I would not chill.
He helped me into my t-shirt and boxer briefs.
"Thanks. Was that weird?"
"Nope. Edging huh? I'll remember that."
"Me too. You can tell my lover that you done good. Way better than good."
"You can tell him yourself. You're flying back with me on Friday."
"Really? So soon?"
"Yup. We can take care of you if necessary at Piedmont. The only condition that you can't return is if you still have headaches."
"Then I'll lie if I have to."
"You can try," he said, smiling. "You forget, your eyes tell on you."
"Blindfold me or give me dark glasses. I want to go back to Skip."
"You probably will."
"Bump that up a notch."
"You most assuredly will."
"Kiss me again?"
He did. He held me.
"You really do love me."
"Don't doubt it, from the first time I told you that, until the far future. I don't love lightly, Aaron. I held Skip too. I haven't helped relieve his ache, this way, because it crosses the professional boundary. But he does not ache."
"It's good to know. It makes me feel better."
"Let's get you out of here for a while. Fresh air is in order and the weather is nice."
He went over to my duffel and took out a long-sleeved shirt with a collar, sweater, socks, and jeans for me. I got dressed. He put his sneakers on my feet and tied them while I buttoned my shirt. He then put my Nikes on his feet.
"You know, joker, that gag works only with someone with the same sneaker size."
"Not necessarily, but it's better when we're both a size 10."
I liked his humor just right. I am going to buy him a pair of the same Nikes for Christmas. I want him to remember me for good things, not for the shit three weeks ago. But the shit would haunt me for a very long time.
We put baseball caps on and then our Fall-weight jackets. Of course he took mine so I had to take his. I drew the line at the baseball cap though. Red Sox or nothing. He wore a Yankees ball cap. My new Nike cap was in my bedroom at home. We walked half way down the long hallway to the elevator. Five floors below, we walked out into bright sunshine and crisp late October air. When we got outside, we took a walking trail around the large grounds. We found a pile of leaves that had already been raked up. The ground around it was pristine.
"Uh oh," we both said at the same time.
We looked at each other and laughed aloud. We took each other's hand and ran like we were instantly eight years old again. Mere inches from the pile, we leapt into the air and came down in the middle of the pile. We ran around in the pile, dry rustling leaves beneath our feet. He dropped to the ground and I covered him in the leaves. I whispered in his ear and kissed his cheek.
"Are you two 10-year-olds done messing up my hard work?" came a gruff voice.
We looked up. There was almost a smile on the elder man's lips.
"Not yet sir," I said. "And we're more like eight. Nine at most. I don't think 10-year-olds act this childish."
Even with my baseball cap on, he could see that I had bandages around my head. I could see that the almost-smile became ever so slightly more than an almost-smile.
"What are you in for, son?" he asked, fatherly and slightly betraying his ire.
"Brain tumor, sir."
"At least surgeons these days know how to leave a patient's personality intact. God love you, son."
"Yes sir. He does."
He let out a sigh and walked away. No way in hell was he not smiling now. How many patients had he seen do this? None, would be my guess. But most patients were not like me, and did not have a buddy like Mark. We continued to wrestle in the leaves like school kids. No, indeed we were not done messing up the man's hard work.
We lay together, his arm around my shoulder, as we looked up at the sky.
"So this is what it's like to be a friend of Aaron Jamison Langille's."
"Not yet. Our elder friend left a rake propped against that tree over there."
"Yeah, I noticed."
We lay and kissed for a moment and then held each other as we got to our feet. I went to get the rake. Mark and I took turns raking the leaves back into a neat pile, maybe even a little better than we found it. The ground around it was yet again pristine. The gentleman (and sincerely gentle man) had watched us from a distance. I figured he did not watch to see that we made it right. He knew we would. This is a place of hope and life. God bless us that we showed it, even after a brain tumor.
I may be a troublemaker, but I am not disrespectful. Considering the size of the grounds at NIH, this was a hard job. Fixing our playtime activity was only right. When we were done, Mark and I looked over at the man. We raised our hands to him. He gave us a wave and then gave me a salute. I returned the salute to him and then gave him a thumb's up.
"Now THAT is what it's like to be Aaron Jamison Langille's friend," I said to Mark.
We walked for quite a while longer. When Mark knew I was getting tired, he put his arm across my back. Back in my room, he took off my/his sneakers. He did not take off his/my sneakers. I gave him a raised eyebrow. He gave me a sweet kiss and said that he would see me tomorrow. So he stole my sneakers. He also stole a piece of my sadness.
I told Andy later, when he and Mum came to see me after dinner, what Mark and I did. Andy climbed onto my bed and took my hand as I recounted the whole story.
"Cool!" said young Andy. "He wasn't mad at you for messing up the leaves?"
"Nah. We made it right again. He knew we were just letting off some steam."
"You teach me a lot, mate. I can be a good man because of you."
"You are already a good man, Young Lad. Just respect people and you'll be fine."
"Okay. I love you, Aaron. It seems like a short time to say that. But I do."
"Thanks Andy. We all need love. There's no time limit on it either."
Claire leaned in to kiss me.
"You are very wise, love" she said.
"I bet you say that to all your lovely men."
"I do. You are just one of three."
"Life is good. Time to take Lovely Man #1 home to bed."
Andy kissed my cheek, gave me a fine hug, and waved to me from the door. And one other told me that he loved me as well.
Goodnight my love. Please come back to me soon. I miss you too much.
In the quiet of the night, I wept a small tear because he missed me too much. But then smiled as I went to sleep. He loves me. Life is good, indeed.
Thursday morning. I was ready to escape, to anywhere. I still had a headache and could not lie about it. My primary surgeon was willing to let me go back to Atlanta on Friday. He faxed my records to a surgeon associated with Piedmont and the Center. My vision was fine, reflexes fine, memory tests fine, everything fine and dandy. The only thing I wanted was to climb into bed with my lover and hold him for days.
Andrew came to take me home. Claire had made a lunch to beat all recent meals, which was no large feat. The food at NIH had been good, but it was still not from a nice home kitchen. Tomato basil soup for starters. It was way better than the chicken soup used as a remedy, though she also made a killer chicken soup. Bread bowl chili and a side salad filled my tummy just right.
Andy and Louisa got home at 3:15. Andy ran, throwing himself into my arms. Andrew had stood behind me so I would not get bowled over. He went upstairs to change. We did homework together later in the evening. This should be normal life. Andy Jr. is the son I could not have. He knew what made me sad. He also knew what made me happy. Andrew and Claire knew what Andy meant to me. So did the Young Lad.
Mark and I made 9:00 our bedtime on Thursday night. Our flight was leaving at 7:30 a.m. Every time I left a place, there was sadness, but it only meant arriving at another place. I would not really be leaving Andrew and Claire behind. They would see in my Atlanta again for chemo and counseling. Louisa was sweet enough, but had friends to occupy her.
Andy Jr. cried in the morning at breakfast. He hugged me.
"Connecticut to Washington isn't far, Young Lad. I'll bring Skip when I come again."
"Okay, Aaron. I love you mate."
"I love you too, Andy. I'll call you when we get back to Connecticut. I don't know when that will be yet."
He would be off to school as our flight left. I would surprise him with a phone call in a few days, not in a few weeks. He was too young to have email, but I could send him a message via Andrew's email. A little 10-year-old just wants to be remembered. One never forgets a little lad who cries for you, holds you, and is brave above another adult. I tucked him into my heart so I would not be sad longer than necessary.
Andrew drove us to the airport.
"I'll see you in a week, love. No worries about Andy, huh?"
"Nah, no worries. Sadness fades in time. Even though I have Skip to take care of, what Andy did for me for two weeks won't fade away. He's a very fine lad, Andrew, not unlike his very fine Dad."
"Thanks. Safe trip. Mark, a pleasure meet half of the team taking such great care of Skip. I don't have any thoughts that it's an easy task."
"No, but ultimately a rewarding one, no matter how far back he comes. A pleasure to meet the man who has taken care of our Aaron all these years. An impossible task, at times, but you live in hope just as I do."
"Come to visit us again?" Andrew said to Mark.
"How about at cherry blossom time? I've only seen pictures, but it looks like a nice time of year."
"Done, mate. We'll give you the grand tour. It really is quite beautiful."
Our flight was called, so we boarded. I smiled to myself once settled into my seat.
"Inscrutable smile, love."
"Satisfied smile, my friend. Some of it's for you. Thanks for coming to bring me home."
"Home is still a bit away. We're only second best."
"Not by a long shot."
I went to my happy place as the terrifying jets came to full bore and we taxied. Mark held my arm and hand, talking into my ear while we took off, taking my mind off it. He talked about Skip, and about another dinner date with the three couples. He told me that I was inside his heart for life, and reassured me that no one thinks bad of me for having to run away. I check the seats to our right. No one was looking. I kissed him very sincerely. He kissed me as sincerely. I put my head on his shoulder and he did not mind. He knew it was more than a fear of flying, or at least of taking off. I have become very needful, not in a way that I necessarily like, but he took the need and embraced it. He took the edge off the need. He could not take it away, and I would not want anyone to except for Skip and Billy.
"Will we go directly to the Center?" Mark asked me.
"I need to get off before I go to see him. I'll meet you there."
"I ... nah, never mind."
He thought for a minute or two.
"I'd rather help you."
I did not have to think for a minute or two.
"You should tell him I helped you, in that way."
He looked into my eyes again. He did not doubt my words. He had seen Skip and me interact and he knew that we were connected, if only one way most of the time.
Within two and a half hours, we were at my apartment. I took his hand as we entered, so he would not think I had second thoughts. I wanted him to have none either. It would be an insult to Skip if I showed up with an erection or got hard in his presence. I told Mark that on the flight. I took him upstairs with me.
I took off my shirts and opened my jeans, kicking off my Nikes, which would not be mine again for long. Mark coveted my Nikes. There was no commandment against that, specifically. I was a bit surprised that I was not hard yet. Mark sat between my legs and took my cock into his hand while playing with my balls. I got hard with very little effort, but I still blushed.
"Aaron, stop blushing or you'll make me blush too. Right now I'm a friend, not Skip's therapist. You mean so much to me."
"I know. I'm not uncomfortable for me. For you."
"This is what friends do. Would you turn me down if I asked?"
He did not need to say any more. He looked at my eyes and then at my cock. He stroked me as if he were taking care of his own need.
"May I, uh ... "
He took off his shirts as well. He took my jeans and socks off, and then his. He lay beside me. He lay down on my right and I wrapped my hand around his cock. He kissed me. He proved that his was about me first because he was not hard.
"Not because you don't do it for me. You do. I'd rather this be about you."
"No. This is what friends do, love. It's only right. Have you ever done this with someone else?"
"Yeah. My best friend in college. Long-time friend, so it was as nice as this."
"For me to love you, we have no secrets. You already know that Skip and I both think you're hot."
"Nice compliment. I accept it with no humility at all."
We laughed aloud at that. "But you're more than a sexual object. A lot more. This is 1% lust. I feel this same way for our boys at BC."
I explained about our winner/loser contests that have no real losers. He kissed me again, quite warmly.
"Do you want to get off faster than what we're doing?" he asked me.
"No. I'd like to show you about edging. If that's okay."
We worked on each other's cocks with great intensity. We brought each other up to the same level, backed off, did it again, backed off, and did it one more time. The fourth time, we shot cum all the way to our faces. I cleaned up my face with my finger, eating my cum as usual.
"Hmmm. I never did that," Mark said. "Seems funky."
He cleaned up his face with his t-shirt.
"It is, a bit, but I don't like to waste it. Depends on your diet, but mine's mostly sweet. Skip and Billy use mine as a gauge to how I'm doing. If it doesn't taste right, something's up and I need to see Andrew."
"Sure. It tastes like my usual, so I know I'm okay."
He used his finger to try some.
"Not as bad as I thought. A little salty, probably from urine in your pipes."
"Yeah. Not gross?"
"No, not gross." He sampled some more.
"May I clean you up?"
"Okay, if you ... "
I leaned in and licked his cum off his chest and belly. He lay back and watched me. He smiled at my seeming lack of shyness, but he did not feel the blush that I felt on my face. And friends forgive 1% lust.
"Shower?" I asked. "I'm getting antsy, but at least I won't get hard for a while."
"He'd forgive you that, you know."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't."
When we arrived at the therapy gym, knowing it is where Skip would be, he smiled so widely at me that I actually believed, for a moment, that he was happy to see me. How could he be? I sat down beside him, taking his right arm while Deb worked his left one. I did what she did. She nodded at me and smiled. Mark sat down after giving Skip a nice kiss on his forehead.
Skip gave me eyebrows. I scowled a little. Coming back after a little over two weeks was hard, but staying away was harder.
"I need to know something."
"You did ... not hurt me."
"Not that. I did, in one way or another. In two ways actually, compounding the first time."
"I love you ... my special Aaron, from here ... "
He put his hand on his heart.
" ... to here."
He moved his arm, smoothly, and put his hand on my heart. I stared at him, mouth open. I see why Deb was working his arm-so he would be ready for me when I came to him. I moved closer to him, taking his hand in mine. He looked like he was putting his full effort into something.
He raised to arms and put them around me, closing them around me, pulling me tightly to his body, kissing my neck.
"You are to ... stop being afraid. We ... need to go home ... very soon. I'm almost ready."
He did not let me go. I hugged him as tightly, kissing his neck and then his sweet lips.
"I missed you. I'm ... working so hard on ... my arms. My legs are dead ... but who cares. I have ... you to hold. It's all I need ... ever, and our Billy."
"But ... "
"Sshhhh. Please tell ... me you love me."
"I love you."
"Don't say ... more than that."
I nodded. He drew me close again and I did the same. I could not let him go, even if someone tried to pry us apart. I looked over at Deb. She smiled, her eyes moist.
"Take him to your room," she said.
I lifted Skip off the padded table and set him in his wheelchair. He had put his arms around me as I picked him up. He legs hung limply though. As he had said, dead. My anxiety rose.
"ALL I ... want to do is hold ... you. Fuck my legs."
"Not that easy, for me anyway."
"Get over it."
After we got back to our room, Skip noticed my sneakers. He gave me eyebrows.
"Enlighten ... me."
I did. I told him everything about the two weeks away. I also told him about Mark and me.
This journal is dedicated in memory of my firefighter buddy and partner Jonathan (Jon). He died on Friday morning, July 9th, 2010, in respiratory distress, at the age of 29. He left behind a wife of nine years and three sons-7, 5, and 4.
He loved Skip dearly, often taking care of him when I worked an extra shift. He also read every word of every journal to date. The last time that I told him I love him was an hour before he died.
His death is a now a homicide, involuntary. Warehouse owners did not tell the Feds and the fire department that they were storing toxic solvents in a warehouse in addition to the electronics that we knew about. We should have fought the fire differently. Jon and I, who went in first, lost significant eyesight due to the blast of toxins that ate our air hoses and splashed our faces.
I will hold Jon as close to me as I held Vincent 10 years ago, and walk in the world for him.
Comments: ajlangille [at] gmail [dot] com