Skip - Part 46
We four loved "Nature" on PBS, so we watched it. Mike put on a Richard Marx CD to carry us through the evening. It was a do-nothing evening after a full day, so it felt nice to sit and talk. We all went upstairs together and said our goodnights as we hugged each other. I undressed Skip and myself, giving us both a quick shower.
"Our days are ... full again, love. It feels normal."
"That it does. It's been nice to give you a break from the Center. There's more work to be done, though."
"I can do it all," he said, confidently.
The only thing left to do was to get through two occupational therapy levels. First, we slept-soundly. My lover spooned me from behind. Normal felt good. We were almost home.
Monday morning found Dylan and David climbing into our bed. We knew this had a high possibility of happening, so we were dressed in t-shirts in sleep shorts. 6:30 a.m. They kissed us both on our cheeks.
"Hi little guys. Where's momma?"
"Did you eat yet?"
"No. Come downstay."
"Okay, you guys go first. I'll bring Skip."
I picked Skip up. Dylan took one of his hands, David the other. At the stairs, they turned around and went down backwards. I put Skip in his usual chair beside the twins. They had Cheerios on the trays. Dylan gave one to Skip. I went to take one of David's. He got it first, and then held it up to me. Just as I opened my mouth to take it, he put it in his mouth and crunched down.
"You are a tease!"
"Bad!" said Dylan.
"Here Awon. Chillio."
Amanda laughed without showing the boys. Teasing is not exactly encouraged, but David knew he could get me every time. I should learn.
"Duh," Skip said, very quietly. He looked over at me out of the corner of his eye and smirked.
"Yeah. Guilty as harassed," I said.
Amanda giggled. She had heard Skip. Mom's hearing, any mom's hearing, was better than sonar. Skip smiled up at her.
Mike came in, already dressed. Skip and I shared a bowl of mini wheats and then I took him back upstairs to get dressed. I had only street clothes though, so Mike would drop me at home so I could change. I took our duffel after getting clean clothes out for Skip. I would do laundry for us at home and then meet up with Skip around dinnertime.
Mark was due at 8:00 to get Skip. Skip hugged me before I left. I kissed him on his forehead. The twins waved bye bye to daddy and me. Amanda worked Monday to Thursday for six hours each day, so the boys went next door.
At work, I was working on the documentation phase of my project. The project was done. Patricia let it be known that she was so thrilled with me. Our customers were raving about my work ethic and the quality of my work. I had planned to do training all week, so it was a busier time than designing and programming the project. The customers knew about my trip to DC, because it brought a halt, or so they thought, to my work. I had lost three days, out of ten business days, due to being away. When I showed Mike what I had done while in DC, he was speechless. Later I found out that, on one hand, he wanted to scold me for putting work so much into my day. On the other, very little that I did surprised him. The worst of our time together was when I had to run. We had talked about that, privately, after the fact. The best of our time together was everything else.
Wednesday evening - concert night. I dressed Skip in new slacks and a new blue-gray button-down shirt. I put his dress shoes on his feet last. He looked so nice. I dressed likewise, putting on dark slacks and a dark green button-down shirt. He still outclassed me. On my own, I'm an average Joe. Together we are beautiful, stunning, handsome, or any other such word that people tell us. 'Special' is my word for us.
Megan drove into town to me us. She had on a simple but classic dress and linen jacket. Mark was dressed like Skip and me. We decided on seafood for dinner. Skip and I shared a large platter of mixed seafood. Megan had scallops (we New Englanders pronounce it scol-lops, instead of skal-ops . I have had long discussions about that with 'foreigners' of New England). Mark had stuffed flounder. He and Megan shared. We had to educate them about scallop's pronunciation too. We did not have time for a long discussion.
We arrived at the theater twenty minutes before show time. Skip and I were escorted inside through the handicapped entrance at the side, near the front. Handicapped. Crap.
"Sorry. Just one more word I look at differently now than before."
"It's a word."
I took Skip out of his wheelchair and sat him in his seat. Megan and Mark had already settled into their seats. Megan took my hand as I sat next to her. The opening, as usual, was lively and energetic, followed by two 'milder' songs, and then our entertainer's most requested.
At the end of her song, she sat at the edge of the stage. She motioned for me to come up to her, smiling so gorgeously. I went up. She took my hand and motioned for me to sit beside her. She sang a most beautiful short tune to me, putting the microphone between us. I did not sing as loudly as she did, prompting her to laugh and hug me closer, our heads together. I knew all the words though, so I honored her enough by giving her enough volume, though not too much. She whispered for me to look at Skip. He was beaming at us, totally touched and teary eyed. When we finished her song, through the applause, she said she wanted 'her three men' on stage after the break, indicating Mark as well. He, of course, had known about this. We had not.
I went back to Skip. I told him what was up.
"Wow. But I'm ... petrified. What if ... I fall?"
"Please trust us," I said.
I thought about which song she wanted us for. She had not sung it yet. Two of her stage staff came down to get us three. Skip's wheelchair had been taken away for fire safety reasons. I picked up my lover and we three walked backstage. While still in my arms, our honored host came over and took Skip's hand, lovingly kissing him on his forehead.
"Welcome Skip. Aaron, thank you so much for singing with me. I've heard about a special dance, and I would love to see it. I would also like to share it. May we?"
"We may," said Skip. "I'm a bit scared."
"We'll open with you in place. Just do what you have done at home."
She stepped back and watched Mark get behind Skip, holding him and me, and then watched as I took Mark and Skip. She saw that Skip's feet were on mine, but that he could not stand even a little on his own. She was sad for only a moment, and then gave us three a sincere smile.
"Ready?" she said.
"Ready," we three said together.
The curtains parted and there stood we three, our host standing close by, about as proud as could be. She has seen many things but I can guarantee this will bring her to tears. Skip looked over his shoulder at her. He nodded that he was ready. The music started up. I looked at Mark. He was calm and ready. As she began to sing, we stepped off, just as we did at home. We danced around our host as she danced around us, keeping up in the foreground. Those who think she has a large ego are not nearly correct. Her audiences love her, for good reason. She sang the song half way through again, so we could enjoy our 'fifteen minutes of fame' that everyone was supposed to experience. The applause was thunderous. We looked out at the audience. Our host was wiping her eyes but she could not capture all the tears. I felt bad that we caused her makeup to smear a bit. She came over to us and hugged us three, has Deb had hugged Cal, Skip, and I on Friday night. She kissed Skip on his cheek, and then kissed Mark and me likewise. She was proud and crying, as joyfully as we and the audience. After awhile I did not hear the applause. I felt only one thing; my Skip in my arms. He kissed my neck. With help, Mark and I held Skip so the four of us could take a bow.
I picked up my lover and brought him back to his seat. He was limp as a dishrag but totally exhilarated. We would remember this for a lifetime. Near the end of the show, our host wanted Skip to sit with her on the steps. I carried him over and went back to my seat. She held him, knowing how to treat such a man as Skip. She started off on his most favorite tune. He sang loudly and proudly, despite his trach hole. Skip has a remarkable voice. He has sung just for me many times. I have not dishonored him by singing back.
They sang in Italian together. She held his trach opening without flinching so he could sing. There were pauses of course, but he put his total effort into breathing. She just beamed at him, knowing how hard a task that was for him. They held hands through the whole number, looking only at each other. I was beside myself, not in jealousy because I do not do jealousy, but in awe. When done, she motioned for me to join them. She kissed my cheek again, kissed Skip, said 'thank you' to us both, and invited us backstage shortly.
She did her finale and an encore. As the lights came up, her staff brought back Skip's wheelchair. We were escorted backstage. As promised, there was not the typical backstage crowd. Mark and Megan sat in their seats, waiting for us. As the perfect host, she knelt beside Skip and asked permission to give him a hug. She was not the only one with surprises this evening. He whispered in her ear. She stayed in place. He raised his arms, something he had showed no signs of being able to do during her performance. He brought them together into a beautiful hug. She was so pleased to know he could do so.
"You have made ... my evening. Thank you so ... m-much for the attention."
"Thank you so much, Skip, for your courage and your incredible heart. You have touched me deeply. I've known about you for a few weeks, thanks to the Center. I will never forget you, either of you."
We were offered a glass of white wine. We spent nearly forty minutes together, which was yet another surprise. I had seriously expected a quiet and short audience. It felt more like an intimate party. Hugs given and gotten, we rejoined Megan and Mark. We sat for a few more minutes and then made for the exit.
Later that night, back in Skip's room in bed, we talked quietly about the most special evening of our lives.
"She loves me," he said.
"Agreed. But I do and always will love you more."
"As ever ... that does not take ... away from her."
"We can love so specially. I'm in awe of us, though. Most especially you. Your voice was so beautiful."
"She surprised me. I was not ... scared to sing. It felt like ... we were born to this."
"Of course we were. I don't always believe in 'everything for a reason' but I do believe a tiny bit in fate. I'm sure she won't forget you for a very long time to come."
"I hope not."
"No one could, love. Not even someone of her class. She's a woman after all, and not in the least homophobic."
"Even as special ... as that was, I love us ... together. You and me. It gets no ... better."
"Awww, love. I'm so proud to have your heart."
"You always will. You're ... my Aaron forever."
I kissed him. I did not want to pollute his expression of sincere love with my own inadequate words. I kissed him, rubbed our noses together, and tucked him into my neck. He kissed my neck and he went to sleep quickly, just pure tired. I, however, let my thoughts linger on those last words. Even in a specialized medical center, 1000 miles from home, I was warm and comfortable. I have Skip's heart. I will have it forever. I am his Aaron. Those wonderful words from him carried me away into peaceful sleep. He held me and I held him.
My first checkup at the hospital next door was at 9:30. I had an EEG first and then an MRI. The technicians were looking for even the slightest imperfection in my brain tissue. It would be a day before results came out so I went to work. I arrived in time to find Mike walking back from the cafeteria with a sandwich for us both.
"Is Skip teaching you stuff that he's not teaching me?"
"Yes. Yes he is."
I rolled my eyes. He even had my favorite sandwich from this cafeteria, a ham and Swiss wrap, with tomato and a slice of bacon. I gave him a five-dollar bill. He gave me back two. I was forced to roll my eyes yet again.
"Your face will freeze like that if you keep it up," he said.
"Then I'd finally be good looking."
"Will you cut yourself a break!"
"Friend Mark is a James Marsden doppelganger. You're a younger version of Sam Neill from "Jurassic Park." Cal reminds me of a younger Danny Ainge from the Boston Celtics basketball team. I look like me."
"That just makes you unique and special," he said, not thinking about it. "You're an 'everyman', and attractive enough to land Skip and Billy with almost no effort. We who look like celebrities have to try harder. It took me four tries to get Amanda to notice me."
"Women. Go figure."
"She thought I was immature."
"You are. That's not always a bad thing."
"You know, I really hate it when you say something with no thought. I'm not that quick."
"Only warped and strange people have quick comebacks. Mine are rare."
"As are you. Rare, I mean."
"And you're jaded because my project is 95% done and we're not close to going home yet."
"Closer than you've ever been. I gladly admit to being jaded. You've been more than amazing and I hate giving you back to Patricia."
"So find me a new project. I can travel, and Patricia will share me. Skip's not going to sit on his ass at home any longer than he has to. He already has a plan to carry on our long-held 'erase the hate' campaign. He's gathering an army."
"After you take your lover home and settle in again. I'll talk to you in the spring about projects."
I went back to work. I left at 3:30 as usual so I could be with Skip at 4:00. Being this close to home again seemed like a tease, because we could not get on a plane yet. That thought reminded me to get an updated schedule from MedFlight. Booking a flight home around the holidays might be very hard. Since the mayor's rep in New Haven had arranged our flight to Atlanta, I called her. She assured me that, given 48 hours notice, we would be brought home on the date we wanted to fly. I told Skip.
"Nice. We need to get ... my arms stronger. You need to ... learn how to work my legs ... differently now."
"I'm torn about going home. I never expected to feel this way."
"Me too. We'll come ... back."
He was sitting against the backboard, legs pulled tight to his chest, arms wrapped around them, pulling and flexing to make his shoulders and arms stronger. I put my legs on either side of him, about arm's length away. I wrapped my fingers around his, locking them together. I pulled him and he pulled back. We did this for a bit over ten minutes, until I could easily pull him to me.
"I'm tired and ... hungry. Let's go eat."
Deb and Mark were done for the day since Skip was done. Skip's comrade in arms, Chris Lowell, had gone home while I was in DC. There was only one other patient, and she had a different therapist. We liked that Deb and Mark could head home to their spouses early.
I brought Skip down to lobby level and then to the cafeteria. I clipped a tray to his wheelchair arms. He wanted minestrone soup and a salad. I put his soup in a bowl and helped him pick out what he wanted from the salad bar. I took broccoli cheddar soup and a salad.
"Pie?" I asked him.
We would share the pie, like the twins always did at school. The lady at the register knew that Skip and I shared pie. She took the piece I had chosen and put it back, and then went to the kitchen. She came out with a larger piece. The Italian mother in her made her do that.
"Mangi," she said, smiling. "No need to be skimpy with pie Mr. Skinny Butt," she said affectionately.
"Okay Momma," said Skip. "You're the best."
"Of course," she said, a sly smile crossing her face for a moment.
Skip went around the outer edge and I cut through the path of tables. We settled beside each other. I had already moved a chair out of the way at 'our' table by the window. I put his spoon in his hand. He ate by himself until his arm got tired. I took his spoon from him and continued to feed him, picking up right where he left off. He smiled at that.
"Loving me is in the ... details," he said.
"Yeah. So I guess you listen to what I say too."
"Because ... "
" ... you mean everything to me."
"Save most of that for Billy."
"I hate that."
"I don't care."
"He's your brother."
"And you're my Aaron."
He was done with his soup. Our salads were more like meals than salads, hearty with meats and cheese, rich in fresh veggies that would not be fresh in New England at this time of year. I used his fork at random, as I did with my own. We ate together. He loved that I could do that.
I put his milk carton up to his lips. I tipped it a bit too far. Some milk dribbled down his chin.
"My fault. I didn't ... swallow right."
"Having trouble with the trach?"
"A little. It gets tired too, from breathing."
I gave him a moment. He nodded when he was ready for more salad. I took it easier on the milk the next time around. When we were done eating, I asked him what he wanted to do.
"Hold me. Like you mean in."
I took him up to our room after saying good night to Tim and Thomas. I stripped us down to our boxer briefs. I closed our door. Skip did not need medical attention tonight. I wrapped us around each other and held him like I meant it. I will always mean it.
My MRI results came back the next morning. The tumor was not gone. More precisely, the tumor started to grow again. I knew that because I had a headache, totally concentrated on the right side of my head. Skip knew it too, because of my eyes. This is the only reason he told me, last night, to hold him like I meant it. Skip was afraid for me. He loved me enough to tell me that, even if a bit indirectly.
I called Andrew. Skip did not want his morning therapy treatment, not yet anyway. I did not want to go to work yet. Mike understood. I lay in front of Skip, him spooning me, holding me.
"I'm sorry, love. I was sure we got it all."
"I know. What's next?"
"Injections into the tumor. Radiation is a second choice unless you want it to be first choice."
I closed my eyes.
"Yeah. I'm here."
"What do you want to do?"
"Nothing today. See you Andrew."
I hung up. I half expected him to call me back. He did not. He would come on Friday. Seven years of treatments for this fucking disease and we could not kill it once and for all. I lay in Skip's arms. He stroked my cheek. He hated it when I got quiet. Words were not going to do me any good right now. The only thing I wanted is what I had at this moment-my lover holding me.
Mark came in an hour later to see how we were. Skip was napping. I was staring at the door. Mark stood for a moment and then left. He had no words either. He and Deb, Cal, Megan, Mike, and Amanda all knew of the new growth. Mark had asked permission to share the news. I told him to go ahead. I did not want pity. I wanted friends around me to help me make hard decisions.
An injection into my spine, or near my spine, or into my frickin' balls would be okay. An injection into my head?
I puked up my breakfast, over the edge of the bed. Three spasms emptied my stomach completely. Lorial had chosen that moment to come in and check on Skip. She caught me in mid-puke.
"Hold tight, Aaron. I'll get some cleaner. I'll ask Mark to come and help you."
I nodded. I lay back down, done with puking, but my head hurt. I turned my head. Skip gave me the saddest eyes I had ever seen. I turned back away from him. Mark came in a moment later on a run.
"Come on love. I'll help you get cleaned up."
He helped me to get out of bed and avoid the pool. Lorial came in with a drying agent and sprinkled it liberally.
"Can you leave a broom and dust pan? I'll clean it up," I said as Mark held me.
"Don't worry about it love," she said to me. "Let Mark take care of you."
She sat beside Skip. He took her hand. That made me very sad.
Mark took a washcloth off the towel bar and ran cold water through it. He wiped my mouth.
"Here," he said, cupping his hands under the water. "Rinse your mouth out."
I drank from his hands, rinsed my mouth, spit, and did it twice more. He put toothpaste on my toothbrush. I brushed my teeth and tongue. We had run out of mouthwash. It was on my pharmacy shopping list. He wiped sweat off my forehead and face.
"Nerves getting the better of you?" he asked.
"Not necessary. I'm going with you on Friday."
He picked me up and brought me back to Skip. Skip reached out for me. He wrapped me around him this time. I touched his face. He kissed my forehead.
"I'll get one of our doctors to give you something," Mark said.
I turned to him. He touched my cheek. I nodded. He left for a bit.
"You love ... me, right?" asked Skip.
"I love you right."
"And a half. Andrew will ... take care of you, love."
"I was thinking about the needle."
"I wish you could stop that."
"I don't. I like you inside my heart. And my head."
"That's a burden on you."
"Not even ... close. I love you."
"No. And Yes."
"It is not a ... burden to love you."
"Yeah. It is. For now. So much shit in our lives, bro. Too much."
"A lot of shit, yeah ... But we keep going. We're timeless."
"Not with a tumor inside my head again."
"Even with a tumor ... inside of your head again."
"It scares me."
"I'd worry if it ... didn't."
He kissed me softly. He brought me closer into his arms.
"All you have to ... know, right now, is ... I love you."
We lay quietly for a while. Mark and a physician on staff came in. The doc gave me a 2 mg Xanax. Mark handed me a glass of water.
"Rest, Aaron," said the doc. "I'll check on you later."
Mark lay behind me. He kicked his sneakers off. He put one arm under my side and his other hand across my side and onto Skip's cheek briefly, and then onto his arm. After a moment, Skip wrapped his fingers around Mark's.
"Stay with us?" Skip asked.
Mark held both of us. We took a nap. A couple hours later, I was better. The edge had been taken off my nerves. Skip wanted me to be with him for therapy. I carried him down the hall and into the gym. I lay him down on the table. Deb came over briefly and kissed him on his forehead. She took my hand.
"Yeah. Sorry I took Mark away from you."
"You didn't. Even if you did, you didn't."
"I don't know how you put up with me sometimes."
"I don't. I just love you."
Okay, so another statement that I could not top. I sat down in front of Skip. Mark directed me to some warm-up exercises. Skip put both arms up in front of him, like he was putting up his dukes. He pulled his arms back toward him while I pulled them toward me. His strength was impressive but not long lasting. He took a five minute break and then we did it all over again. He lasted half as long.
I took the back board from behind him. Mark helped me lay Skip on his back. Mark and I alternately worked Skip's legs. I stopped before Mark did. This felt useless.
"It's not," Skip said.
"Feels like it."
"They won't get ... stronger. I know. But it's good ... for my hips."
I saw the point. I had to remember back to when I could not feel my legs. There was no pain, but my hips would get stiff sometimes. I picked up his foot again, bent his leg at his knee, and then bent it at his hip. Mark and I kept the rhythm going for 15 reps. We worked through Skip's whole routine for two hours. Deb had finished with her patient. She headed for home. Mark left a short while later. When we got back to Skip's room, someone had come to fetch the broom and dustpan. I had cleaned up my mess before we went to the gym.
"Dinner in or out, love."
"In. Let's get some fresh air first."
I dressed him in his warm-up pants and sneakers. His were safe because they were a little too big for Mark. However, Megan would be smiling about now as Mark walked into the house, with my sneakers yet again. Good gag, and not that would not grow old for me. I might have to give him his new pair of Nikes before Christmas.
Nah. That would not help. He said you do not know someone well enough until you walk a mile in their shoes. Or unless you covet their Nikes. Sigh.
I walked beside Skip as he drove down the hallway. I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him for a moment. I knelt beside him and looked at him. He took my hand and pulled me to him. I asked a silent question.
"Yes, love. We're okay-you and me."
"I dunno, love. Truly. I ... don't want to lose ... you."
"What happens if I die?"
"Andrew isn't ... "
"What happens if I die?"
He squeezed my hand. He had no answer. I wanted an answer anyway."
"I can't plan on ... what would happen, love. There's no ... answer to satisfy you. Or me."
"I just want to know you'll be taken care of."
"Billy will take care of me."
"Will he. Like I do?"
"As good as you do."
"I don't hear voices, like before. Just ... I dunno. Just stuff that I gotta know. Leaving you would be so hard."
"Not my choice."
"Love me in our ... moments. Until your last breath."
I kissed him. He was not going to let me slide further than that. No one was going to 'let' me die. But I did not want to die. I want to be with my lover and best friend for longer than today or tomorrow. He put his hand on my head, on top of the scar. I know that scar, and what was beneath it again, scared him. Nothing else did. Just the scar. And the tumor.
"We're okay. You and me," he said again.
He kissed me. A kiss told me the words were sincere. He held eye contact with me, even after I stood up again. We kept going. Maybe we would for a very long time to come.
In the elevator, he pushed the L button. He looked up at me, saying 'See what I did.' I smiled and nodded.
"Good thing you can do that. I wasn't gonna push it."
"Good. I didn't want you to."
He accepted my banter. For the population in general, pushing an elevator button was done with very little thought. For Skip, it was a small but important step to show his independence.
"I might have done it out of courtesy though. If I was feeling courteous, I mean."
"Stifle the urge. I ... need the practice."
The banter was over. He was serious.
"I love you for at least 10,017 reasons, all of which I can reel off at a moment's notice by the way, but only one is important."
"That you came back to me like you said you would."
"Can you do ... the same for me?"
"I'm half way there."
"Come back to ... me, my Aaron. All ... the way."
I did not say yes or no because I did not want to lie or be insincere. It was too early to tell. But, of course, I was going to give it my full effort. I needed a second voice to talk to. I would call him later.
Skip and I let Thomas know that we were going out to the side of the building for air. We would be back in a while for dinner. I took Skip out of his wheelchair and sat him on the bench beside me. We watched the daylight fade over the city of Atlanta from our hillside. It was chilly. I wrapped Skip in my arms. I had to remember that Tim and Thomas could see us. With that in mind, I gave my best bud a loving kiss. Actually, The Missus could see us too, if she was in her office.
She came out a short while later to join us.
"May I join you lovers in love?"
"Certainly. It's chilly. Here," I said, sliding to my right. "Sit between us."
"A place of honor, my young men. Thank you."
Skip put his arm across The Missus' back. He kissed her on her cheek. She smiled.
"My second of the day, but as nice," she said.
I sat close to her, allowing Skip to embrace her. That was both an honor and hard fought for victory. She loved her patients, sincerely, and Skip maybe a little more because she loved our uniqueness, our specialness.
"It's so beautiful here," I said. "I'm still a country boy Missus. I think I could actually live inside of the city center and be happy though. I thought we would come and Skip would be made better. I never knew we would find such outstanding people here."
"I wish ... "
"Sshhhh," said Skip. "Your staff made my wish ... come true. Above and beyond. We'll be back ... each year to see you."
"That makes it easier to see you go home. November 1, gentlemen. MedFlight has been notified and confirmed."
Skip lit up. "Really?"
"How do we say ... goodbye in time? That's only ... a week away."
"Actually, I hope that the concert last week was the last great departure gift. From here, we'll just do what we do each day. There will be a celebration, of course. The bigger celebration is being planned at home, behind your back, as we speak. I was on the phone when I saw you two come out here."
"Home," said Skip, maybe not meaning to aloud. He looked up at us. "Why am I sad, Missus?"
"I don't know, truly. Going home is what everyone who comes through here wants most of all."
"Not me. Maybe because I got my wish."
"Nor me," I said. "I have been moved very deeply by this place, Missus. When I had to go to DC, I was leaving Skip but not you all. Now we're both leaving you all. I honestly expected to be practically invisible here, so Skip could have everything he needed."
"And so he did. But you did not remain invisible. You brought us wonderful love and beautiful hearts. Invisible is not what you deserve to be, nor should be. I will miss you both very much. I've never said that to another patient, not so meaningfully as this time."
"We'll write. I love to write letters and bring people beside us, even those a thousand miles away. Skip and I need to talk about our annual trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It won't be to ski, like before."
"So write to me while you're sitting beside a warm fire, snuggled up together, and bring me to your side. I've never been to Nova Scotia."
"Hmmm," I said, raising my eyebrow.
"Consider it being considered, Aaron. However, it's time for me to go home to my beloved family. It's taco night."
I smiled. I could believe that it was taco night. She kissed Skip on his cheek, and then kissed me on mine. I moved back to hold Skip, tightly.
"Home," I said. "A week from today."
"Rah!" he said.
I knew he meant it. I was not ready for 'rah' quite yet. I had eight reasons, two of whom were too young to know the difference. Of course I wanted to go home. There were way more than eight reasons to be happy about that. However, I had not expected eight reasons to feel a bit hesitant. It would pass, naturally. Leaving one place means arriving at another.
Skip and I decided that our days would be like all the previous (good) days. He would keep working out. I would finish my project.
I decided not to make the phone call I was going to. I sent an email instead. I wanted Young Lad to know I was thinking about him. He was just one more reason to be closer to home. I also sent another email, quickly so Skip would not know. We two had been talking for about two weeks, in anticipation of the departure date being announced. I had already asked MedFlight for permission to bring a third person home. I made airline arrangements. Confirmation information was exchanged. Done deal.
As 10:00 p.m. approached, I helped Skip shower.
"You do know ..." he started to say.
"Sshhhh. This doesn't bother me in the least. I truly love to dress you each morning, to help you eat, and to bathe or shower you."
"I guess I knew, but I ... want to make sure. Dumb, huh?"
"Sorry, love. No ... insult intended."
"None taken. Loving you is in the details, to quote someone wise. Me. Sometimes I'm profound. Anyway, loving you IS in the details. You loving me, and letting me take care of you, is so nice. So nice."
"You are ... my world, Aaron. Don't ever think ... you are not. I made ... you love me. You do. Sooo nice."
Thursday was my last day at work. My project was officially signed off on by Mike and my customers. My workmates took me out to lunch. There were no sad goodbyes because I would keep in touch with them through company email. I would be talking to them on occasion over the phone. They wished Skip and me the very best.
Friday. I woke at 4:30. Skip woke up a few minutes later. I wanted to watch him sleep.
"Did I wake you?"
"Sshhhh. Lemme look ... at you."
"Not much to see."
"The eyes of the ... man I love so ... much."
"What? My opinion ... doesn't matter?"
"It's not that. How important can I be if I keep growing tumors?"
"To me, Billy, David, Sam ... need I go on?"
"No. Tell me you love me."
"I love you."
"I don't see no lying eyes."
"Today is gonna suck, love."
Okay, so he was right. A certain hour was gonna suck. Not the whole day.
"Andrew is going to take ... good care of you."
"Yeah. With a scary needle."
"I want to go with you."
"No. Be here when I come back."
"I'd rather be ... with you the whole ... time."
"Mark is going with you."
"But not into the inner room."
He did, nicely. He kissed me again and did not stop for over a minute.
"Too early to get up," I said.
"Can you sleep some more?"
"You're going to be tired today."
"And you're going to be ... stressed today."
He took my hands and held them between us. He kissed me again. We lay and looked at each other.
I reached down between us. He was hard.
"Will it be our last time for a while?"
"For a day maybe, if you ... have a headache after"
"I'm worried about my head exploding, not a headache."
"Come on. Put ... me inside of you."
I turned around, reached down, wrapped my hand around his cock, and slid back against him. He put his right arm under me and his left arm around my chest. He rocked back and forth on his hip. I lay there and cried the whole time, quietly. He knew I was crying, of course. He made sweet love to me anyway. It felt nice. I cried less, but tears still ran from my eyes.
"It's okay to ... cry. I'm sorry I'm sc-scared. I should not ... have told you that."
"You should always tell me how you feel, love. I can't read you like you do me. We'll get through it. I'll take another Xanax in a bit."
"Your head hurts."
"Because of the tumor?"
'Okay' meant that he was satisfied I told him the truth. To lie to him would be to tell him I do not trust him with my feelings or my heart, or even my pain. I trusted him with all of those, and a lot more.
"I'm coming love," he said.
I felt his cock get nice and slick. No matter where I went today, his seed would grow inside of me. It was enough to make me believe I would be okay. Later in the morning, I realized that I had forgotten to take the Xanax. I did not need it, I guess, to take the edge off my nerves. He had done it for me.
I turned back around, moved down, got between his legs, held on to them, and sucked another load out of his cock. He came hard in my mouth. I moved back up to him, kissed him, gave him some of his cum, and held him tight.
"You really are my Aaron."
"Will you be my Skip? Forever?"
"Can I be inside of you now?"
"I'd like that."
It was only 5:15. Our door was closed. Kelly would be in ICU. Lorial would be in after 7:00. The door would stay closed. I got back between Skip's legs. I lifted them enough to enter him. He gave me a raised eyebrow. I lifted one leg over my shoulder and wrapped the other around my back, holding on. He relaxed his eyebrow. I gave him slow and sweet. He watched my eyes the whole time, right up until I unloaded inside of him. I stayed inside and came a second time.
"Yeah," I said. "Wow. You get me all hot and bothered."
It had taken an hour to make love to him. Wow again.
At 6:30, I took him to the bathroom. I set him on the bench and wet him down, washed his hair, shaved his sweet wonderful face, shaved myself, washed his upper body, washed my upper body, washed his groin and legs, washed mine, and then washed and massaged his feet. I sat down and washed mine after.
"Squeaky clean," he proclaimed.
After toweling us dry, I brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and kissed him. He turned my head and kissed my scar.
"Goodbye tumor," he said almost to himself. I did not acknowledge that I had heard him.
I lay him on our bed and put his t-shirt and jock on him. I tucked his cock into place.
"Still love that," he said to me, stroking my cheek.
I put his socks on, and then his warm-up pants. I put a light fleece zippered jacket on him for now. He would lose that once he began his morning workout.
We went down for breakfast. I got him a bowl of Cheerios and then some Wheaties for me. I put fresh blueberries on our cereal and joined him at the table. He fed himself until his right arm gave out. I finished feeding himself, though it was only two or three spoonfuls more.
I took him up to the gym at 8:00. Mark came in a few minutes later. We would be meeting Andrew at 10:00. In the meantime, I exercised Skip's legs. My temptation was to do half a job because it did not matter. I gave him my full attention anyway, working each leg as if it mattered, fifteen minutes each. I was getting more antsy by the minute though.
"I'm okay love. Go with Mark."
Mark said it was okay to leave early. He did not punch a time clock. On average, he and the other therapists worked a ten-hour day. It took about fifteen minutes to drive to the Atlanta Medical Center. Maybe I should have taken the Xanax after all.
"Hold my arm, love," Mark said to me.
Traffic was such that he needed to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. I put my hand on his arm, above his wrist. I lay my head back on the headrest and closed my eyes. I went to 'look in' on Skip for a few minutes. I think we were trying to see each other at the same time because I looked directly into his eyes as Deb worked his shoulder muscles. A little spooky, but then again, not unexpected. We love each other in ways I have never loved nor been loved. He smiled and returned his attention to Deb. I opened my eyes.
"You went to your happy place?" Mark asked.
"Better than I am."
"Yeah. I hope that's a short-term case. You are not to argue with me about what I'm about to say."
I knew what he was going to say. I let him.
"I'm going inside with you."
He looked at me briefly. When he turned back forward, he raised his right eyebrow so I could see it.
"I need you."
"My boys at Boston College taught me something. 'The hardest thing to do is the thing you won't do alone. Aaron's Rule. It can't be broken.' I don't remember being the first to say that. One of my boys named Henry quoted it to Sam after Billy found him in the basement of a classroom building. The boys brought Sam inside the circle."
"Sounds like a nice place to be."
"You're in the circle you know."
"I know, but I like an invitation."
"If you're in my heart, you're in the circle. You ARE in my heart."
"Definitely a nice place to be. Are you okay inside of mine?"
He smiled. We do not need multi-word answers. One word speaks for many.
We walked into the lobby of the Medical Center. Andrew arrived a minute later, coming off the elevator.
He gave me a fine hug. Andrew would know the state of my mind better than anyone except Skip. He wrapped his arms around Mark and me, across our backs, and took us upstairs. I looked around for Claire. Andrew noticed.
"Claire is at home with Andy. He's got a touch of the flu. I'm more convinced that he's upset for you."
"Awww, poor Young Lad. I want to call him later. Okay?"
"Yes. He'd like that."
He looked over at Mark.
"I want to, Andrew," Mark said.
"Okay. Come on in."
We followed Andrew. My MRI image was up on the lightbox. There were measurements. I saw a notation of 5.1cm. About two inches.
"Already so big," I said. I touched the tumor on the image. Andrew touched the same place on my head, on the right side.
I saw three syringes lying on a tray. One would be to numb the area that Andrew would inject. Why bother? Three needles instead of two. Pain is just not physical. A third needle was as bad as ten more. I could not stop staring at them. Andrew took his hand off the side of my head and turned me toward him. He hugged me tightly, stroking the back of my neck.
"You know we're going home on Wednesday?"
"This can't wait?"
I hugged him. I would stand there and hug him all day if it could stop him from putting frickin' needles in my head.
"That's not going to work, love."
"Yeah well, it was worth a try."
"What's the needle gauge on the chemo drugs?"
"Could be worse," I said, not believing it.
You'll need to keep your head steady.
"In which way?"
"Physically." He knew what I meant.
I lay down on the angled table. Mark went around to my left side. He put his right arm around my shoulder, cradling the back of my head against his own shoulder. He held my hand with his free hand. He kissed my forehead.
"Tighter, love," he said. I squeezed his hand.
Andrew injected the numbing agent. We waited for a few minutes. Mark did not let me go. I do not know if he watched the first injection. He released my hand and wrapped his left arm around my chest when Andrew was ready for the chemo meds. I did not close my eyes. That would make it worse, because I would not see the needle coming. I stared out the window, finding something to fix on. I watched the sun and shadows change on some of the taller buildings of the city. The burning sensation was intense, as I knew it would be. Same chemo drug that Andrew used on my previous tumors. Mark just held me. He kissed the top of my head when Andrew was done with the first injection. Guess that means he was watching.
"Sorry Mark," I said.
"Not necessary, Aaron."
I looked up at him. He kissed me sweetly on my lips. A friend who loves you does not need you to ask him/her to kiss you. I was okay.
"You shouldn't feel anything out of the ordinary. In fact, your headache should ease up a bit."
"Yes. I know it burns, though."
"Fire. You should try some"
He accepted my humor. He smiled. "I'll pass this time."
"No, really, you should try some. You can have the other one. I won't mind."
He kissed my head. "I know. But I will. We want you alive."
"Can we kill the root of the tumor? You know, like killing the root of a weed?"
"That's the idea. The drugs are heat sensitive, so they'll leave your brain tissue alone. They attack the tumor at a molecular level."
"Why two injections?"
"Two tumors. I'll show you another image later."
"How come the laser treatments didn't kill it all? I know we didn't waste over 18 hours, but still."
"I don't know, truthfully. It's a newer technique. Obviously it needs more research."
He looked at me, not expecting that from me at all.
"I'll talk about it in Washington. It's amazing that you would offer."
"Not so amazing. That's not a word to use with me. Desperate works better."
"Maybe for this moment," Mark said. "Amazing isn't even a good enough word."
"Stop. You know I hate that."
"Too bad. There are certain things you'll have to accept. I don't know another person who would let a doctor, even Andrew, do this to them. I don't think I would."
While we talked, Andrew did the second injection. He had taken advantage of Mark's timing. I did not see the needle coming, nor did I feel it that much.
"You would if you had a tumor on your brain. You'd do anything to make it gone."
"I'm not so sure," he said. He hugged me to him and kissed my head again. "This is a lot to experience."
"Better than dying."
He had no response for that. Someone else would say that accepting the tumor and fading away would be better. Not me, obviously. Whatever it takes to make me live. Skip's love for me was worth doing anything to hold on to.
Andrew was done with the injections.
"What's next?" I asked.
"An MRI on Tuesday, so I'll know what to do Friday next."
"Am I going to glow in the dark? Will Skip need to tug on my ear to turn my light bulb head off at night?"
"Better warn him just in case love," said Mark. "At least we know you're not a dim bulb."
"Ha ha. Can we get out of here now?"
"Not just yet," said Andrew. "You need to lie back and close your eyes for an hour."
"If my head explodes, duck."
Mark took two pillows and put them behind my head as I lay on the sofa.
"I'm going down to the cafeteria to get us something to drink. Andrew and I will walk and probably talk about you behind your back. Just so you know."
"Boy, you're full of it today. Am I venting gas and contaminating the room or what?"
"Or what. Rest. We'll be back."
They could talk about anything in the world, but would not talk much behind my back. Mark would ask Andrew about the longer term. Andrew would not make much of a prognosis because he did not being in playing God. He did plan at least one more set of injections. I would need to be watched closely. I had many talents, but growing tumors was at the head of the list. I fell asleep pondering all of that.
Andrew checked me when he and Mark came back. I had not stirred when they came in, so Andrew made sure I was not dead. Well, maybe not to that degree. Or maybe to that degree. Someone like me, doing nothing half way, would not merely go into a coma. A half life is half way. Having been there before, I would rather not be there again. Die and get it over with. Let my lovers and buddies move on with their lives.
Since Andrew would not let me die, I was just resting. Only Skip could fake sleep better than I could. Mark sat beside me and dabbed sweat off my forehead. He looked up at Andrew. Andrew told him that sweating was normal. Mark laid his hand on my chest, over my heart. Yeah bro, it is beating. For these moments, it beats for you because that was a hellish thing for you to experience a while ago. You really are a beautiful man and friend. I do not always know how I seem to draw the best of people around me. I just do. No need to spend my lifetime thinking about that. I can just be grateful for the large assortment of friends I have who love me back.
A while later, Mark woke me. I was surprised that I had fallen asleep for real.
"Looks like you're not glowing in the dark," he said to me. "Guess we can go home now."
"If you run a fever or get any sort of headache, call me," said Andrew. "I'll be at my hotel until tomorrow at 9:30 a.m."
We walked out and parted at the garage. I got into Mark's car and closed my eyes again.
"I can go find Andrew."
"Nah. Probably just the meds messing with my equilibrium. I'll call him later if I'm still dizzy. Lemme buy you lunch."
We went to a Wendy's en route back to the Center. Nothing wrong with my appetite. I ate two bacon junior cheeseburgers, split an order of fries with Mark, and had a large soda. To lighten the mood, I belched. Loudly. By mistake, but loudly at any rate. I turned a few shades of red when I saw a few people close by look over at me. I was suitably embarrassed. Mark gave me a smirk and a raised eyebrow. A young teen guy gave me a thumbs up. His female companion cuffed him upside his head.
When I told Skip what I did, he gave me a thumbs up. I considered it his exercise for the day. He hugged me and I considered it a sexual advance. So did he. I put him in the bathtub but it was a while before I washed either of us. It was a cold late October evening so we stayed inside and watched TV in our room. It was nice to lie facing each other, heads together, sweet kissing occasionally. Skip wanted my help putting his arm across my chest. I let him wrap his fingers around mine. I pulled just a bit while he pushed.
"Come on, love. Push."
"Trying," he said.
He made a face but his arm would not move. I lay him on his back and sat between his legs. I worked his arm from his wrist to elbow and then elbow to shoulder. He was finally able to move it on his own. I did the same to his left arm.
"Sometimes I don't feel ... them at all love," he said.
"I wish you'd tell me when that happens. Maybe you just need to exercise a little, off-hours."
"Maybe. Sometimes you're ... holding me when they go ... dead. I love being in your arms."
"I love you in my arms, too. I can take it if you tell me you can't feel. Are you still afraid of being a burden?"
"Not really. I know you ... love me, no matter what."
"It's not a ... big deal to feel all the time."
"But you worked so hard to hold me."
"I know, but still. I like when you ... help me. I want you to love ... me. Even when I'm not ... perfect."
"I understand. I'm afraid, sometimes, that you won't need me. I let you down pretty badly once. I could do it again, against my will."
"I know. That tumor makes ... me sooo afraid. But you're my Aaron. Don't ... leave me again."
"Never willingly, love. If I ever scare you, snap me out of it fast. I'm ... I'm afraid of the tumor too."
"I used to think we could ... be okay through every-thing. But we can't."
He looked at me. His eyes were so sad. For me to admit that we were sometimes fragile was something he did not want confirmed. But I do not want to lie to him. We have stuff to work out with Billy too.
"It's too late to call him," Skip said.
"Yeah. We should talk about this face-to-face anyway."
"What will we be doing a week from tonight?"
"I dunno. I can't think ... that far ahead. I want to ... think about you."
"What's the best thing about me?"
"That you love me."
"Anyone can love you."
"What's that mean?" I asked him.
"You're still more ... important than anybody."
"Don't say that. I'm important, yeah, but so is Billy. And could you imagine life without our boys?"
"No. But I see life without you. It makes you more important."
"You see stuff? Or do you dream stuff?"
"Tell you what. This was going to be a surprise, but I need to tell you. Billy is coming to take you home."
"Where are you ... going?"
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