Skip - Part 47
"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?"
Being that Skip can read me, he was not surprised, except that Billy was taking him home instead of me. He thought about it for a minute, still looking into my eyes.
"That's my plan. I decided a short while ago. I have to call Andrew."
I dialed Andrew's hotel and asked for his room. We talked for a long while. He agreed with me, as I knew he would. He knew I would have thought about this. He had thought about offering me the option sooner than later, but he also knew I wanted to get us home. I told him, and Skip at the same time, that Billy would arrive on Tuesday. Their flight will leave on Wednesday at 8:00 a.m.
I asked Andrew if he could stay in town, instead of flying home tomorrow. He said he did not have much for clothes, only for a couple of days. I told him that he should come and stay at my apartment. We were going to spend Saturday through Tuesday night there. The apartment was still leased to GE until December 31, though Karen could easily find a new resident sooner now that we were leaving the city. I had given her a move-out date as soon as I knew. The maintenance crew would have very little to do when turning over the apartment. I was not a wreck-it-and-leave-it kind of guy.
Andrew would fit clothes that Skip no longer fit into. I asked if he would feel okay doing that. He said he could do that. He will let Claire know we would be flying into Dulles together. We will leave on Wednesday as well. He could change his ticket and book my trip as well. While I was thinking about it, I took my checkbook out of my duffel. I wrote a check to Andrew, leaving the amount blank for now.
We wrapped our conversation and said good night.
I had made Billy promise to miss very little school. He was in his senior year. He promised with no argument. He would miss only one week, and be back to school the following Wednesday. I booked his airline ticket from Logan International in Boston. The folks were staying through for Thanksgiving, so Billy will be back in Connecticut for the holiday too.
"So it's all set," Skip said when I hung up with Andrew.
"Yeah. I feel a bit awkward planning this behind your back."
"I'd already told Andrew how you feel about the tumor. I don't want you to be so scared that you fear for me more than you love me."
"For now, I do."
"I know. We really gotta kill the tumors."
"Tumors? With an 's'?"
"Awww, my Aaron."
He kissed me softly and held me again, more tightly.
"Looks like one split down the middle to make two."
"Maybe smaller will be ... easier to kill. Or kill again."
"Andrew thinks so. Plus today's chemo injections should help until surgery."
"Dunno for sure. Late next week or early the week after. Andrew's working on getting the two surgical teams together again."
"Oh," he said quietly.
He looked sad. He knew it was not a matter of slicing me open, taking something out, and closing the wound. Well, it was, but not in a short time. I had already had 16 hours of surgery.
"Please don't worry about me."
"Can't do that."
"No. I've spent so ... much time knowing I could ... lose you. It's not over yet."
I did not say anything. Verbal assurances were not going to satisfy Skip. Neither would promises, as meaningful as they would be. I chose to hold him instead. He looked into my eyes for a long time.
"What do you see in there?"
"The man that I will ... love forever."
"Til death do us part?"
I took his hand. I kissed his palm.
"Love me?" he asked, innocently.
I lay him on his side, facing me. I lifted his leg and slid inside of him. We looked into each other's eyes the whole time I made sweet love to him. Tears spilled from his eyes. I kissed away the tears. I gave myself to him. He would have me for life, even when I was gone.
"I love you ... sooo much. I know it's just wo-words to say."
"No it's not. Never has been, my love. Never will be. You telling me you love me is like winning the Irish sweepstakes every time you tell me. 'Cept I'm richer than that by millions of times."
"My words still fall short of ... what they mean. I can't express ... it to the depth. You can't ... understand the depth."
"I have a wonderful understanding of us. Even if I understand 5% of that depth, it's so awesome. You and Billy are at the essence of my humanity. I would have died within weeks of my diagnosis if you had not loved me to life."
"I know. Some of my first ... words to you were 'I know what ... you need because I ... needed it too'. We are ... beyond that now. I can't ... give you knowledge any more. Only my love and ... my heart."
"Thank you so much for those. I do promise to keep them near and dear, and to protect them always."
"Hold me, Aaron. I don't want to lose you overnight."
I brought him further into my arms. I tucked his face into my neck. He kissed it lovingly and sweetly. I had no trouble falling asleep.
On Saturday, we said our goodbyes to the Center staff. Kelly had stayed beyond her 7:00 a.m. departure specifically for a hug from us. We had a celebration lunch in the cafeteria, Italian-themed. Our three main couples were there, with the twins as well. People came in and out as their work allowed. The Missus came in for most of the morning. As on other occasions, there were no sad goodbyes. We had email addresses and we would keep a lot of people up on the news of the day. We will be making annual visits back to Atlanta for a long time to come.
Mark brought us back to my apartment. Riding in the SUV made me think about Skip's transportation needs once home. Surely there would be a check from Skip's insurance company for his pickup truck. Patricia and Fred had been collecting our mail. I called them to find out if there was any mail from his insurance company. When Fred found it, I asked him to open it for us, with Skip's permission. Wow. Yeah, that would buy almost anything Skip needed.
By 4:00 in the afternoon, we were alone.
"I feel a little empty already," I said.
"Me too. Graduation ... isn't all it's ... cracked up to be. Not for ... me. Five months of a ... life I never thought ... I would live."
"And maybe a lifetime more," I said.
"It's okay, love. I guess ... I'm more special ... then I want to be. Will our boys ... still love me?"
"Now come on, bro, you know the answer to that better than I do. They're suddenly going to hate you because you can't walk? Bud, at worst they'll feel pity for you. All you have to do is shine through like you always do. I don't know how, but you escaped more serious brain trauma. The Skip they all know and love is there for them to see."
"I'm not. Were they awkward around you in August?"
"No. I forgot about ... that. That ... they were even here."
"You have so much on your mind. Let's go make out and relieve the stress."
"Subtle," he said, smiling.
Andrew had gone out to buy groceries and to give us time together. I carried Skip to my bedroom and made love to him, even beyond Andrew's return. We took our time. There is no circumstance where I will ever rush our intimate times together. Andrew was reading and listening to music when we came back downstairs.
"Thanks for groceries. Thanks more for staying with us an extra few days."
"You're welcome for both. I put coals in your grill. I bought a t-bone steak. What can I do in the kitchen?"
"Nothing. You hold our buddy. I'll make mac and cheese. It's been forever since we had any."
"I bought fresh snow peas too."
"Cool. I'll steam those."
Andrew carried Skip out to the back deck. He stirred the coals and put the steak on. They tended it together while I cooked. Skip was showing Andrew how to help him with his arm workout. He wanted to be able to feed himself at dinner. Andrew worked patiently and expertly with Skip. When they were done, Andrew kissed Skip's forehead. He brought Skip inside and set him back in his wheelchair at the table. The dining set did not have chairs with arms. Skip's ability to sit without flopping sideways or forward was limited.
I cut up our steak. He took up his fork and began to eat the mac and cheese. I gave him a spoon instead since he could not stab at the pasta shells easily. He used his fork on the snow peas and the steak with no difficulty.
I left his steak on the side of my plate. He reached for it and dipped it into A-1 steak sauce. I am very practical these days. Eat and work out.
"Stab. Lift. Chew ... three ... four."
If he could have easily hit me upside my head, he would have done so. His smirk told me he did not mind being teased. I kissed his cheek and then shut up.
Andrew looked at us both, highly amused.
"It's very little different having dinner with you than with Andy."
"I hope that's not an insult to Young Lad. I'll only encourage him if I have to."
"No. No insult. He's very animated at dinnertime. It's only challenging when he asks me for homework help. American Revolutionary War indeed."
"Have him call me. I'll tell him all the one-sided jaded American stuff he'll never need to know."
"Thanks a lot! You I can do without."
"Nah. You love me. I am the 'ut'."
Skip laughed aloud.
"Well. I suppose I do love you. I dunno about 'ut' though. That speaks of ego, which is contradictory. Yes, I do love you. Every graying hair on my head reminds me of you."
"The 'ut' means 'the utmost in Skip's heart'. No ego there, unless he disowns me."
"Not!" he said, right away, and sweetly.
We finished dinner. I put leftovers in the fridge and put our dinnerware in the dishwasher. Remembering to run the dishwasher would be my next feat. I put a note on the fridge. Remembering to read the note on the fridge AND following instructions would ... ah never mind. I would remember. If I forgot, I would just call Karen and beg for mercy.
After dinner, Andrew took his cell phone and went upstairs to call his family. I told him to give Andy a special over-the-phone hug from me. Skip and I settled on the sofa and watch M*A*S*H repeats. He and I could quote a lot of the dialogue. My old friend Jason, from college, while at GE had bought a M*A*S*H trivia book back in the mid-1980's. Over the course of several weeks, he asked me the 300 questions. Upon completion, he decided that I was a complete nut, but I said that it was old news. Why, you ask? I got two questions wrong. He said no one should know so much about something so trivial. I told him he was the master of bad puns.
We did the same thing to a Star Trek (the original 1966 series) concordance. He decided that I was born in the wrong century, and on the wrong planet. I knew all but one answer. He said I knew too much. I asked him not to rub me out. He said he could make no promises. Thus, the essence of Jason's and my friendship. I sent him an email a couple of days ago and said we needed a reunion. He wondered if the world could stand it. I assured him that it could.
Jason knew all there was to know about Skip, Billy and me. Our friendship went back to our college days, 22 years in the past. He, like many, was happy I could find love again, after saying I never would. He thought that I was much more than a know-it-all after my stint with the BC boys.
He turned serious when we talked on the phone, very sad about the return of my tumor. He wanted to meet me in Maryland since he and his wife plus twin daughter and son now lived in Virginia. I told him the time that I would need him most would be after surgery. I promised to let him know the date. Before we hung up, he told me he loved me very much. Those were always the best words to hear.
At bedtime, I carried my most beloved upstairs. Andrew had said he would draw a bath for us two, after which he would take a shower and call it a night. I undressed Skip and myself in the bedroom and then carried him to the bathroom. Unlike the huge tub at the Center, this was a normal sized tub. I set him into the water after making sure it was not too hot. Andrew would not have made it too hot. I just like to take care of my lover best.
"You do," he said, once again inside my head.
I washed him while kneeling on the floor. He was not hard nor in need of making out. I touched him as I washed him thoroughly. I kissed him when he gave me wiggly eyebrows. I washed his hair last and then rinsed him. While I let the water drain out of the tub, I took a quick shower. I toweled us dry, put him under the covers, got in beside him, and wrapped myself around him. He kissed me as I kissed him. We lay looking into each other's eyes. We did not need words. This was one of our last night's together for a while. Neither of us could speak anyway. Tears flowed freely.
On Tuesday night, I packed our multiple duffel bags. Andrew helped me bring everything downstairs. He had washed our dinner dishes by hand so that the dishwasher was empty. We had made all our meals at home so that there would be nothing in the freezer and fridge or cabinets. The place was as clean as the day I moved in.
Skip and I were awake at 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday.
"When will we be together again love?" I asked him.
"When it's time," he said.
We made slow sweet love for almost two hours. We came inside of each other twice. We did not speak one word until I took us to shower.
"I'm not going to ... worry about you," he said.
"Wish I could say the same about you. I want to go home with you."
"I want you to ... come home well. Once and ... for all."
"Do you love me?"
"More than I can ... ever say."
"Does Billy know about your erections?"
"Billy knows everything."
"Does he know I love him?"
"Of course I know you love me, Aaron," he said, coming into our room. He was already dressed.
He and Andrew had slept in the other bedroom. Billy knew that I wanted my last night to be with only Skip. When I had second thoughts about excluding him, he said it was only fair. He would have their first night at home together.
Billy sat beside us for a moment and kissed us. He went downstairs with Andrew and loaded up Andrew's rental car. Mine had been turned back in to GE on my last day. I dressed Skip in warm clothes and then dressed myself likewise. The weather reports said that Connecticut was 34 degrees this morning. DC was 40 degrees.
I carried Skip downstairs and put him in his wheelchair, buckling him in. Then I undid the buckles. He would be taken by MedFlight staff on a stretcher, not in his wheelchair. I had changed my mind a hundred times about where I wanted to say 'See you later' to Skip and Billy-at home or at the airport before Andrew and I left for Hartsfield. We finally decided that we would go to the airport with Skip.
Karen, the property manager, came in to collect keys. She did not look around to see what condition I had left the apartment in.
"Mike said you would be coming back for another project in the future. I hope you'll come and see me again," she said.
"Count on it. You were so nice to our family in August. I really liked it here too. I'll give you a head's up when I know I'll need an apartment again."
We hugged and she left.
When MedFlight staff arrived, they carefully put Skip on the stretcher and belted him in securely. This same staff had brought us to Atlanta in June. I had asked for them by name and they had accepted, pleased by my request. They carried Skip out to the SUV. Billy climbed in beside him and sat in the jump seat.
Andrew drove as we followed them to the airport. He reached over and took my hand.
"Call Skip when we get home, love. He'll be settled in before we are. I can guarantee Skip is feeling what you are. That's why you're so perfect together."
"Thanks Andrew. It's pretty lame when you miss someone who hasn't left you yet."
"No. It's not."
"You still think you failed him?"
"Yes and no. Can't get rid of the guilt. But I know I didn't hurt him worse. Mark and Deb proved that to me."
"I understand the guilt feeling, love. It'll pass. You love him more than you feel guilty."
"Yeah. I've been separated from Skip only about four weeks total since we met. I hate it."
"We'll get you home for Thanksgiving. You'll have a lot to celebrate."
I nodded. I had a lot to celebrate every day, of course.
The crew let me spend a few minutes with Skip in the plane.
"I wish I could tell you when I'll see you again. But I don't know."
"Like I said ... when it's time. Think about only ... you for a while. It will make ... two of us doing that."
"Okay love. I'm not worried. Much. Going to DC doesn't bother me. Missing you too much bothers me."
"Nah. I'm right here my Aaron."
He put his hand on my heart. No sign of tears from him either, so I gave him a smile like he gave me. What is a couple more billion weeks apart when we will have a lifetime together?
I kissed him and then kissed Billy.
"See you soon, love. I'll call when we settle in at Andrew's home."
"Love you, bro. No worries. We'll be waiting for your call."
We had a surprise for Skip. As we did in New Haven, there will be a picture of some very special people wishing Skip "Godspeed," including with a large banner. Under the banner were Mark, Megan, Deb, Cal, Mike, Amanda, and too little guys named David and Dylan, plus yours truly, waving bye as the plane took off. Even Annie (The Missus) was there, smiling as brightly as the day that greeted us. A friend of Mark & Megan's had come with them to take the picture. Skip will be thrilled when he sees it. He did not know everyone had come to the airport. They wanted it to be as easy on him to leave as possible, but not to be forgotten in his farewell.
The plane banked and headed north. Betsy and JD plus Patricia and Fred would be on the other end to greet Skip and Billy. Betsy had called them to ask. Billy will stay for a week and then go back to school in time for a Friday exam.
We gave and got our final hugs, not sadly. They knew we would be back in the fall. I might be back sooner if Mike can get me another project. Email and phone calls would be exchanged often. Mark's camera held the photos of us. He would get the best one blown up to 4' by 4' size, the same as the New Haven photo.
After 21 weeks in Atlanta, I watched the city from above as we flew away north. By now, Skip and Billy would be half way home. We left an hour behind them.
"Is Andy happy that I'm coming back?"
"Yes and no."
"Guess I understand that. Poor kid. So he didn't have the flu after all."
"No. I think he'll be okay once he sees you. Claire says he was quite restless last night. He wore himself out and slept all night."
"He's a sweet kid. I'll show him I'm as fine as I can be."
"You'll be with us at least through the weekend. I'll find out when we get back if you have a surgery date yet."
"I'm running out of places to be cut into."
"Freddy Kruger considers you one of his best works of art."
"I'm gonna be alright?"
He held my hand while he thought of an answer that was going to be sincere and hopeful.
"I think so, love."
He left it at that. He did not let my hand go though. There is incredible strength flowing between us. He was not automatically strong just because he was a physician. I was not automatically strong just because I had been through this crap a few hundred times. Nor was I going to fall apart. Andrew's answer was quite satisfying.
"Thanks. Good answer."
"The only one I have for you. You'd hate me if I lied."
"No, not hate. Sometimes a lie is the better of two evils."
"Not from me."
"Can you sleep for a while?"
Yeah, I could. I put my head on his shoulder. He put his arm around me. I caught a glance at the flight attendant looking at Andrew just before I dozed off. I could not read her smile properly. Was it a 'aww, that's nice' or a 'are you gay though I'll tolerate you because it's my job' smile. Andrew would not care which it was. In the long run, neither would I, but then again I was on a tolerance venture. I closed my eyes and went to sleep very quickly.
I woke when I heard the captain announce our descent into Dulles International. Andrew was still holding on to me.
"Yeah. Good nap."
We touched down. Andrew and I waited for others to try to get in front of each other and escape the cabin first. Some were claustrophobic and some were plain rude. Being in a hurry did not excuse rudeness. When calmer heads ruled, we got our stuff and deplaned. We waited for my larger duffel bag to come off the carousel. Claire came into the waiting area and gave me a fine hug. She gave Andrew a kiss on his lips, soft and sweet. She is both, but not to be underestimated.
"Hello loves. Brian is bringing the car around again in a bit. It's crowded out front."
My bag came out about ten minutes later. We took our time making it to the curb out front. I could see Brian's car around the curve, four cars in front of him. He waved out the window and I waved back. Claire and Andrew saw him then.
It took about twenty minutes to get beyond the airport connector. We headed north to Montgomery County, arriving at home in short order. Andrew and I took our stuff upstairs. I set mine on my bed. Brian stayed for lunch and then went back to work. He was doing an EMG for a patient this afternoon. Claire left for a while to see a patient at NIH.
My phone was on. I had not heard from Skip yet, which only meant that he was still en route, though they would have landed an hour before Andrew and I did.
As I was thinking about him, my cell phone rang.
"Hello love," I said.
"I miss you ... already."
"I think I feel good about that."
"Me too. Missing you ... just means I really do ... love you."
"Then we're both golden. Are you home?"
"For good. Waiting for you."
"I'll be along, love. Keep the light on for me."
"A couple of close ... personal friends want ... to say hi. You should sit, if you're ... not."
I sat at the dining table. For the next few minutes, I heard 20 hellos and I love you greetings. Billy, Betsy and JD, and 17 BC boys. They had all come to see Skip home. He was beside himself with absolute joy.
"We all miss you ... so much. This is sweet though."
We talked for a few more minutes. It was Skip's moment, so I left him to his company. They would stay through Saturday, going back to school on Sunday. That meant only three missed class days. Betsy and JD were staying until I came home, whenever that was. JD did not have to work to the end of the year in any given year. He made his income needs within 10 months, working only when he wanted to after that.
When Andy came through the front door after school, I was standing right there waiting for him. He was torn between two emotions. I purposely had my baseball cap on so he would feel more of one than the other. His first emotion won out. He launched himself at me and I grabbed him up in my arms. He kissed my forehead and smiled so sweetly.
"Hello Young Lad. I had to come back. I missed you."
For a moment afterward, I wondered if it had been the wrong thing to say. He gave me very sad eyes but he did not let me go yet.
"I'm okay, Andy. Honest."
"Okay," he said. He kissed me again. I set him down.
"Daddy? Can I have a pudding cup?"
"How about an apple sauce instead?"
"Alright. One for you too Aaron?"
We sat at the kitchen counter island. He was obviously quite restless.
"Make all gone, Young Lad. Then we can go shoot hoops for a while."
I looked over at Andrew. He winked. I should not assume that such an invite was proper. I guess it was okay though. When we were done, Andrew took our spoons and put them in the dishwasher.
"Come play too Daddy?"
"Love to," Andrew said.
Andy put our containers in the recycle bin and then went upstairs to change. We went outside and he got the basketball from the storage bin in the garage. We decided to play Horse. He could release his energy over time instead of by running around madly, keying himself up even more. I got a three-point shot out of my system. Now we could play by standard rules. Andrew had to show off too. Andy held the ball on his hip and gave us raised eyebrows.
He threw the ball back to Andrew. "You first Dad."
Andrew made the first shot, a layup. Oh geez.
"I'm better off taking the H," I said.
"Nah, you can do it Aaron," said Andy.
Layups were only cool when I had no feeling in my legs, with Billy and Will lifting and twisting me to make the shot. I smiled a smile that neither Andrew or Andy would understand. I did the layup, and then cheated by pushing the ball inward from the rim. I got eyebrows from dad and son that time.
"Oh, we're playing 'no cheaters' then. Got it."
Andy, being shorter, made a running layup. He too tipped the ball in.
"Insurance," he said, with a sly smile.
We played until we were tired. It took me less time but I pushed onward so as not to upset Young Lad. He successfully burned off his excess energy. I followed both upstairs to wash my face and to change my shirt. Claire came in and I offered to help with dinner. I cut up chicken parts and put them in the pot to cook down. She boiled spaghetti and heated up sauce. Once the chicken was nicely browned, I added warm sauce to it. Andrew made a couple of side vegetable dishes. Andy sat at the breakfast table and did some math homework. I did not offer help. My brain is not made for math.
I told Claire about Skip's homecoming. She was so happy to hear that all the boys saw to it that Skip was welcomed again. She knew that he had worried about how they would feel around him. I knew that, at this moment, he was sitting in a tight circle of an ocean of bodies, telling stories of all kinds.
I was not wishing I were there. Let Skip have the hearts of the boys. Five months ago, his life was changed so radically that anything good he can get, he deserves. I had four very kind hearts of my own to show me through. And, like Skip said once, I will be the reward at the end. He loves me enough to believe that I can be a reward.
"Earth to Aaron," said Andy.
"Sorry Young Lad. Thinking about Skip."
"Don't be sorry for that. He's home finally. You're next."
"Soon, but not so soon."
"I know," he said, hugging me. "I'll take care of you. Mum and Daddy too, but ... "
"I like that, love. I do."
He took off my baseball cap. He looked at the right side of my head. I reached for my cap. He pulled it away from me.
"Don't. It helps me to see."
"It's too much to see. For me too."
"You know what Daddy said about my life, right?"
"Yeah. It's not about getting up, going to school, doing homework, and going to bed."
"I have really good friends, Aaron. But no one is like you. Staying with you last time was something good."
"For me too, Andy. Don't feel you have to this time."
"I do feel like I have to."
I looked at Andrew and Claire. They did not try to direct Andy away from his thinking. He proved his maturity many times, and not with just me around.
"Well, we got time to have fun first. Daddy and I will clean up. Mum should go and enjoy her bath ritual. And you?"
"Yeah yeah. Kill joy."
We both laughed. "I'll help you with Social Studies if you need me."
"I have a secret to tell you first. Don't tell anyone."
I knew what he was going to do. I let him. I leaned in toward him. He did not whisper in my ear. He just kissed me on my forehead.
"Sshhhh," he said, with a giggle. He went off to the den.
"He's so sweet, Andrew."
"My boy. He is indeed sweet, Aaron. He's so unsure about how to feel about you being here."
"I think we worked it out. I'm not going to refuse him a hug when he wants it."
"Nor refuse his."
I understood. No, I would not refuse him either way. After dinner, Andy sat in my arms and watched TV. I knelt beside him while he said his prayers and waited until he went to sleep. I then showered and got into bed, leaving my door open as usual. I never liked closed bedroom doors, even when growing up. My need for privacy back then was minimal. I could find it on my dad's farm of 1000 acres.
Andy was quiet across the hall. It made me feel better as I went to sleep. I hoped to sleep well, so that I would not bother him. I dreamt of my Skip, picturing all the boys in the living room, spilling into the dining area, all cuddling in sleeping bags. Betsy and JD would get an eyeful of the love that the boys share.
I woke up in the middle of the night, a thought brewing and not releasing itself from my head until I got up. I wrote it down. I would have to call Skip to ask for it. He would not tell me no, of course, but I wanted permission anyway. The thought left my mind and I went back to sleep.
"Hey. I was just ... thinking about you."
"Nice. I like being thought about. You okay?"
"Better than you."
"Yeah. I woke up overnight. I'd, uh, like to plant two trees."
I stopped there. My throat tightened up.
"I understand. Actually ... I've been waiting for this."
"If I lost you, my Aaron, I could not ever totally let you go either."
"It's a dishonor to you."
"That you still ... love Kate and your son?"
"I let her go."
"I want you and Billy."
"You have us."
"I don't think ... you can."
"I think if we plant two trees together, it'll still be an honor. Skip, I can't live in that past. I don't want to at all."
"You can love ... Kate without hurting ... Billy and me."
"I ... don't ... want ... to," I said, slowly and deliberately.
He did not say anything. I was holding back such terror.
"I'm holding you in ... my arms love, so close. You love ... me so brilliantly. Maybe one more tree?"
"You and Billy should do that then."
"When you come home. You ... were with him last."
"But ... "
"No, love. You are a bigger ... part of Vincent than ... we are. You made ... love to him."
I said nothing. I did not feel sad about my parents being gone, nor Kate's. Except for my mom, they lived a long life. But three deaths, and these three especially, made me beyond sad. It shamed me that Vincent's death saddened me worse than even Kate's. Knowing him four or five years was just so intense. Why was that? I had no answer.
"Sorry love. Mind is running away."
"Tell me what I ... live for."
"I love you."
"Not the right answer. Tell ... me what I live ... for."
"You live for me in your arms. You live for my heart beating for you. For my depth of soul."
"You live for me loving my life, for the love of Billy, his loving us and us loving him."
"You live for me caring for you. You're my Skip, by heart."
"Well done, love. You're ... my beautiful Aaron. By my ... somewhat sad ... heart."
"I want to come home to you."
"You will then."
"But not when I want to."
"No love. It's not okay. It would kill me ... to be without you. You need your life before ... you need me."
"Can't I have both?"
"Without this to go through?"
"Billy and I are the reward love. That ... is all you have to ... know."
I broke down. Andrew slid his right arm around me and put his left hand on my chest. He held me tight. He made sure I kept hold of the phone.
"I'm glad Andrew is holding you."
"You are the strongest per-person I know, Aaron. You have proven ... it so many times. It's okay to be ... scared. I was, and you knew it. You ... stayed with me through ... everything.
"Because I love you."
"I know. Aaron?"
"You're so beautiful."
"Brilliant. Beautiful. In love with me."
"One out of three."
"So in love with you."
"Two for three then."
"It's beautiful to be in love."
"You're not going to let me get away with anything."
"No. So you're three for three."
"That you ran away, once."
"Don't do it again."
"Get well, love."
"Thank you. Good answer."
"You love me."
"In our beautiful moments."
When I hung up, Andrew finally let me go.
"You touch me so deeply."
"Good answer. But it's not luck."
"Yeah. You found me, remember?"
"Not even close. I would have died. Even with Skip to hold me on this side of life."
"Yes. But we have so much work to do. I'm often afraid I've let you down."
"Dismiss the fear. Before anything, you're a man. Next, you're a husband and dad. Maybe third you're a scientist. You do research, for the likes of me."
"Don't ... "
"For the likes of me. There is very little negative sentiment in that. I'm a man too."
"You put yourself down sometimes."
"I'm not all that."
"You are. For Skip and Billy. I've never seen such profound love."
"Yours produced two amazingly beautiful children."
"Different than yours."
"Mine is love for two men."
"No. Love is not gender, so that's a moot point. Yours is very deep, out of need and sometimes out of fear. You lost and then you won. Only you can decide if it's for the better."
I said it without thinking because I did not need to think about things that were true.
"Yes. You're right. You can't love a ghost. There is so much that Skip needs. Having Billy is totally beautiful, bloody brilliant. A connection, your workplace, brought you to him."
"My life would be awful if I had not met him. The slimmest chance brought us together."
"No. I don't believe that any more than you do."
"I almost didn't take that job. I was only a temp because ... "
"Sshhhh," he said, touching my lips. He was still on one knee beside me. "Connections brought you together. Love has kept you together."
"Yeah. You love me too."
"How could I not?"
"Easily. I'm a patient first, though I made you feel."
"It wasn't against my will."
"I suppose not. Andrew, I need arms around me."
"I know. Your eyes tell all."
He went to the kitchen cabinet and brought me two ibuprofen tablets. I took them with a full glass of water.
We went to the living room. He sat and put me between his legs, my back to him, like Skip, Billy, and the boys at BC like to hold me. He held me tightly. Andrew loves me brilliantly. I did not hold the patent on love. He did not turn on music or watch television. I noticed.
"You can ... "
"I need only to hold you, love. Rest."
I went to sleep for a while. If Andrew got antsy, he would lay me down, put a pillow under my head, go about his business, and then sit beside me. When I woke again, I looked at the grandfather clock. I had slept a little over an hour. My headache was gone. I turned my head. Andrew kissed my forehead.
"How boring for you. I'm sorry."
"To hold you is not boring. To hold you is a great honor."
"Come on, Andrew. I know ... "
"Stop. If I couldn't hold you, Claire would. Or a surprise guest, whom you haven't noticed yet."
I looked around the room. Awww, so cool. I got up from Andrew's embrace. My bud met me half way. He wrapped me inside his arms and kissed my neck.
"Sweet. As usual, you're full of surprises."
"Can't take me for granted that way," said Jason, my friend of 22 years.
"I'm so glad to see you."
"I was jealous of Andrew holding you for a while. I'm over it now. That was sweet."
"Here, take my place. I'll make sandwiches."
Jason sat down and then pulled me down, holding me just like Andrew had.
"So nice," he said, holding me around my chest and stomach. He kissed my neck again. "I'm sad for you though, love."
"Like right now, I'm in good hands bro. Andrew holds me every possible way. I'm struggling, but I'm okay."
"More of one than the other, but I believe you anyway."
"I don't lie."
"I know. It's hard to see you, knowing what those scars are about. And the ton that I can't see."
He touched my head, running his finger from one end of the arc to the other. He drew in his breath sharply.
"How can you stand it?"
"Because I know it'll be gone soon."
"Aaron, I dunno ... "
"Sshhhh," I said, turning around on my side.
It was my turn to hold him. I kissed his forehead and gave him sincere eyes. I put my arms around his shoulders.
"Look at me."
"What do you see?"
"My best friend with a hellish scar and ... "
"A fucking tumor inside."
He had no answer. He looked at me so sadly, like Skip has done.
"Nothing else, Aaron."
"Jason. Come on. There's so much more inside of me than a fucking tumor."
"Okay. You dying from that tumor."
"Ain't gonna happen."
"You're insulting Andrew."
He looked over at the doorway. Andrew stood there, arms crossed, sad eyes as well.
"Andrew knows me. There's a difference between realistic and insult."
"I don't doubt Andrew. Seven years of some hellish shit, and here I am, holding you."
"For how much longer?"
"How much time do you have?"
"Maybe more than you do."
"Maybe equal to what you do," I countered.
"I'm scared, love. I'm really scared. It's why I came."
"I know. But put a sock in it. Come and eat."
I got up and pulled him into my arms. I hugged my bud. I looked into his eyes. He would not flinch, nor look away. He looked deeply inside to see truth or to see patronizing words. His eyes became watery. When a tear fell, I brushed it aside with my thumb. I kissed his cheek where it had been. I kissed his lips softly. It was not the first time we kissed in this way. Jason is part of the reason I knew I could make sweet friendship and love to my BC boys. He put his hand beside my head and kissed me as softly.
"I love you Aaron."
"I love you at least as much. Twenty-two years, long separations at times, but you'll always be my best friend. We just have work to do, my friend over there and I. That's all."
"Okay. You don't having lying eyes."
We walked into the kitchen. He held my hand along the way. If he touched me, like he did after I came home from my first round of healing post-Kate, I would stay with him. If he had not been in Europe for the time that I was struggling to live again, he would have been at my side every minute. No one else could come near, for so much fear. Jason would have. The day after he got home, he was at my side. He was so tired from jet lag but he held me in his arms and went to sleep. For 14 hours, he did not let me go. He is the friend I had earned, somehow.
"How's Annie," I asked Jason, referring to his wife.
"She's great as ever. We're finally going to enlarge our family. I really wanted her to get her MD before we settled down. Like Kate, she's going to make a very fine pediatrician."
Kate and I had also waited until she got her license before starting our family. The days of the wife being primarily a homemaker were long gone.
Annie was the connection between Andrew and Jason. She had done laboratory work for him while in med school. I had talked a lot about Jason and Andrew finally figured out that my Jason was Annie's Jason. Like I say, our lives are all about connections.
"Nice. I'm happy for you both."
"We want to use your name if we have a son."
"You want to name your son Shithead? Geez, I dunno how I feel about that."
"No no, Fool, your OTHER name."
Andrew laughed and almost spit out part of his sandwich. Shithead. Fool. It was too much. He swallowed and then drank some water. We laughed with him.
"Okay, but make sure you spell Langille correctly. L-A-N-G, not J ... "
He looked at Andrew. "While you guys are in there?"
"Done," Andrew said, smiling. We chuckled again.
"Same old Aaron," said Jason. "Are you like this with Skip and Billy?"
"Worse. They loves me anyway. I are a stud."
"God bless the boys, studliness notwithstanding."
"No, we do it lying down. Standing is too awkward unless ... "
"Unless you're in the shower. Yeah yeah yeah."
I kept a straight face. Laughing at my own jokes was crass. I would leave that up to Andrew and Jason unless they let me down.
"You should take this stuff on the road," Andrew said, snickering. "You could be a modern day Abbott and Costello, PG-rated of course."
After lunch, I took our plates and glasses, rinsed them briefly, and put them in the dishwasher. Andrew wanted to go to his lab for a couple of hours. Jason and I decided to take the Red Line from the Medical Center stop to downtown. I left Andy Jr. a note, letting him know I would be back after dinner. I asked Claire to save me some blueberry cobbler for bedtime.
Jason and I walked around. It was cold but the fresh air felt good.
"I love you. Can you remember that through surgery?"
"Can and will, friend. You and Annie-can you come for Christmas?"
"Can and will, love. The boy's won't mind?"
"The boys want you to come. We talked about it not long ago."
"What about Canada?"
"In Spring. It's different now."
"Only because you think so."
"He can't ski."
"What's that got to do with anything? Dress him warmly. Sit him on a toboggan and run around like a kid. Sit with us all beside a nice fire."
"Yeah. Annie would love to see Nova Scotia. We'll settle down a bit after Charlie Aaron is born."
"Oh, that other name. Duh, I finally got it."
"Serious up for a minute. Charles Aaron for a boy. Maggie Kathryn for a girl."
"Don't make me cry, love."
"Cry if you want. I loved Kate too you know. She's in here," he said, putting my hand on his heart.
"How do you feel about ... "
"You really need to ask?"
"You loving anyone again is incredible. You loving Skip is just brilliant. And then Billy is just beyond words, over the top. I know what your love feels like, bro. I've had it for 22 years. Skip and Billy are the finest there is. I bet sometimes you feel strange. How can the likes of them love the likes of you?"
"How could they NOT love you?"
"I ran away."
"YOU did not run away. That piece of fuck in your head took over. There was no fighting that."
"I didn't love him enough. He was depressed. He was hard and I didn't know. He wanted to hug me more than he wanted to walk."
"WANTS to hold you more than he WANTS to walk. In this moment."
"Holding you is as good as it gets."
"Come on Jason. He could have done a lot better than me."
"Not on his best day."
"Face it. YOU are the man he took into his heart. He gave up any future mate, maybe even a wife, expressly to love you. I talked to him back then. He was confident that you were made for each other. Seven years, love. And put aside the crap about you being the reason he's quadriplegic. Wrong place, wrong time. End of story."
"Not ... "
"Listen to me," he said, stopping and sitting me down on top of a stone wall near a home. "Listen good. The only reason he's alive and thriving is because of you. The seizures? The bleeding on his brain stem? He got better. The therapy for endless hours a day? Frustrating, no?"
"And all he thought about though all that stuff was how to become strong enough to hold you in his arms."
"Lucky me," I said sincerely.
"Not luck. Your heart shining through coma and pain. He had to be so focused in order for him to hold you. When you told me on the phone, I was beside myself."
"I could tell. But ... "
"I don't want to hear 'but' anything. Skip is head over heels in love with you. I could so easily love you just the same way."
I looked at him.
"Love ain't gender bro. You told me that when you were afraid I'd hate you for 'becoming gay'. How lame."
"Losing you ... "
"It wouldn't happen. It didn't. Look around you and tell me what you see. Five Senses game."
I sat back, sitting closer beside him.
"Sunshine and shadow on the Washington Monument. Traffic coming and going all around us. A mourning dove over your shoulder about ten yards."
He cocked his head. He heard it.
"A fireplace down the street. Crisp and smoky just right. A tugboat off in the Potomac somewhere. Wind coming in from the southeast," I said, pointing at how the flags flew
"And the sound of 'I love you' because you're whispering it into my ear."
"I don't lie."
"And you're not insincere."
"Not for you. I love you too much to dishonor you so."
"Thanks for that. Now do one thing for me."
"Love me always."
"I dunno bro. If it was anything but that. How oh how will I manage."
"I know. It's such an awful thing for me to burden you with. If it weren't for the challenge, you'd be bored."
"Oh alright. I can love you always. And besides. I got it bad for you."
"Save the good stuff for Annie."
""I do. In all of those wonderful magical moments we're in. But there's no one, in my world, better than you. Annie has no problem with how I love you. You were my first real love."
I could accept that too. Our college friends thought we were secretly doing the nasty away from campus. Jerking off together was not doing the nasty, but jerking off is the only thing we did. We both swapped cum so we would be friends for a long time. It was not until I lost Kate that he ever considered kissing me as if we really were lovers. He knew I had an incredible love, and almost had a son. Coming back to life after that, he also knew, would suck. When I called him to tell him I lusted Skip, he was happy and hopeful. When I called him to tell him I was in love with Skip and Billy, he cried.
We sat together for a while, not talking. We did not have to talk. He could not read me like Skip could, but there were some things he knew that Skip did not.
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