Skip - Part 49
"Please tell me you don't work on Sunday, Eddie."
"No young man, I don't. I came to see you off."
"Once again, we're half way home Eddie."
"I'm glad for you both. Come and visit me. My crew and I will take you boys on a complete tour of the grounds."
"Better yet, on the first snowy day, we'll come and make snowmen. I find it tough to stay an adult all year."
"Done deal, son. "
Eddie shook our hands and patted Skip on his shoulder. I know he felt sad for Skip. Skip gave him a practiced thumbs up. It made our elder friend smile.
Half way home. Nice, but home would be better.
Claire and I sat in an oversized chair, similar to what we had in our Boston apartment. Andrew, Claire, and Andy had spent a half hour upstairs earlier. I suspected Skip's and my room was being rearranged. Now that they were done, Claire held on to me, one arm across my shoulders and her hand on my chest. She was feeling needful after dinner. If I know anything, it is how to take care of the needy-her taking care of me was the relief. Usually it was Andrew or Skip. It was rare to see her so antsy. Yanni in the background helped ease her mind. She now fully understood why we boys loved Yanni so much.
We watched Andy and Skip play backgammon. Skip managed to roll his own dice from the cup, but Andy moved his pieces for him with Skip's guidance. After two games, Skip lost by only two or three pieces each time.
Andrew stoked up the fire beside us. He sat against a sofa pillow. After we drained our mugs of tea, Andrew went back to the kitchen to brew more tea.
"Sorry bud, it's too close to bedtime for more hot cocoa," he said to Andy.
"It's okay Daddy. I had enough. I'm going to take my bath."
He kissed Skip goodnight, and then Claire and me. He went to the kitchen with Andrew to help him bring our tea back. Louisa was wrapping up a phone call with her friend. She came to join us until Andy was done with his bath. When Andy yelled down, she gave us all good night hugs and went upstairs.
"How about you guys?" Andrew asked. "Bath? Shower?"
"Quickie shower will do, if you can help."
"No problem. Claire bought a bench for the tub. I'll help you. Do you want a morning shower as well?"
"Nah, not necessary. Unless we're working, nighttime shower or bath is preferred. We promise not to drain your water tank."
"Can't be done. We have an on-demand water heating system. No tank."
"We've thought about that for our condo. Our tank isn't that old because the condo is about four and a half years old. Paying for a whole tank of water, the way we use it, seems dumb."
"Upfront cost is higher, but it pays for itself in only a few months."
"Sold. We'll talk to the condo association if necessary."
We finished our tea. Andrew took Skip upstairs first. I stayed with Claire. I had no problem sitting with her and talking quietly. When Andrew came for me a while later, I saw that Skip was sitting up in his bed. The twin beds had been put together for us.
Andrew helped me undress and once again took my bandage off. I was still bleeding a little. He took clean bandages from the linen closet in the bathroom. He set me on the bench in the steam shower and took his robe off again, showing wet gym shorts. I knew that Skip was as clean as if I had washed him myself. Andrew washed my head carefully. While I washed my upper body as best I could, he washed my back, legs, and feet. He put antiperspirant under one arm and then passed it to me. I did the other arm. He did all of this with very little thought. I kissed him on his cheek as he toweled me dry.
"Thank you, Andrew. This really is home, only one step removed from our own. You're just so amazing."
"Not amazing. Andy said it best the first time you were here. He took care of you like he'd want to be taken care of. He's right, and it's easy to care for you both."
He put a thin coating of antibiotic ointment over my scars. He wrapped my head again and clipped the ends into place.
He carried me to my bed, put clean boxer briefs on me, and helped me move close to Skip. He helped Skip put his arms around me, and mine around Skip. He leaned down and kissed us both good night. At the doorway, he looked back. There was a trace of sadness in his eyes.
"We're okay, Andrew," said Skip.
Andrew nodded. He turned the overhead light out, leaving the lamp on beside my side of the bed. I wanted to watch Skip fall asleep before I turned it off.
Andrew took me to NIH on Monday morning for a PT session. I met Ali, short of Allison, who understood post-surgical PT. She took me through the same type of tests that Deb and Mark had done with Skip at his assessment. She needed to know where I was strong and where I was weak. I could move my right shoulder but not my arm. She hooked me up to a sling-like device that allowed me to move my arm up and down, and somewhat sideways. The muscles and nerves needed to be made stronger.
My mind momentarily went to Skip at home. I felt a bit of distress in him. It was not as strong as when I felt him in pain, and not one-tenth as strong as he reads me. But I felt him anyway.
At home in the afternoon, Skip looked up at Claire with a look on his face that she could not interpret.
"Um. I need the bathroom."
She wheeled him to the half-bath that was beside the den.
"More than pee."
"I know, love. I'm a mom. I can handle it."
Claire sat Skip on the toilet seat and then pulled his jeans and boxer briefs down.
"I'll be back in a minute. Take your time as usual love."
When she came back to Skip a couple of minutes later, he was crying into his hands very hard.
"What's wrong, Skip. Are you in pain?"
He shook his head. He could not look up at her. She got down in front of him and rubbed his back, holding his head.
"I hate this part. It causes ... me so much ... anxiety. It's awful."
"Look at me," she said to him.
She took his hands, took a tissue, and wiped his eyes.
"You can't take care of this one thing by yourself. You do so much, Skip. So very much. There's nothing wrong with any of us helping you."
"Even Aaron or Billy, or my dad. I ... ate very little at home so ... I wouldn't have to go. Mom ... figured out what I was doing. I have ... never seen her so angry."
"You dishonored her. It's insulting, truthfully, not to trust her or Aaron, Billy, your dad. It's something so natural."
"It is, love. It is. Hold my shoulder."
He shook his head.
"Help me with ... my arm."
"No. I can't do that."
He looked so sad. He shook as if it was 30 below zero.
"Don't struggle, Skip. You have so much to deal with. Hold my shoulder."
He finally let Claire put his hand on her shoulder. He leaned to the side. She took care of him. He cried hard again. The indignity of this one simple little daily act was so traumatic for him. Even when I helped him the very first time, he was so embarrassed. It got easier. Except now. His mind was struggling. Claire was gentle and made no big deal of it. She flushed the toilet. She stood him enough to pull up his boxer briefs and jeans.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I don't think I'd feel any different than you do, Skip. It's only a big deal to you though."
He nodded. She held him for a moment longer.
"I should have gone while Aaron was still home."
"I love you, my friend. You're such a blessing to us. You really do it right, so think about the important stuff. The unimportant stuff takes away from who you are. Aaron is right when he says loving you is in the details."
He was still sad, but the anxiety passed in time. Claire helped Skip back into his wheelchair.
"How about some fresh air. It's warmed up a little more."
Claire put his jacket on him and zipped it up. She took her own from the closet and put it on. She gave one of Andrew's scarves to Skip.
"No thanks. I'll put my ... hands in my pockets."
Claire took Skip through the front door. From there he could handle it. Andrew, late in the summer, had put a front deck and ramp to handle Skip for future visits. Skip was amazed the first time he saw it. So was I.
The pair went down the sidewalk out to the front of the gated community. The security guard waved to them.
"So where did you go?" I asked Skip later that evening when we went to bed.
He had told me about the anxiety of the afternoon. I told him to pay attention to what Claire told him. It was so trivial a deal to us, and a hundred times for him. I understood but we worked it out. He told me about his mom being angry, too. I told him that twice in a lifetime for her was her limit, once at me and once at him. She was rightly angry both times, but twice in one year was so unfair to such a woman.
"Went to the park first. We sat by the ... pond and fed the ducks. We talked ... a lot. I told her what ... makes me afraid. She was friend ... not Dr. Claire, like Andrew ... is friend and more. It felt nice ... to talk. I told her to be Dr. Claire ... when necessary. She said she ... would rather be friend. Nice, huh?"
"Nice. Sweet lady. She loves you for a lot of reasons, but I know she doesn't feel pity. It's a useless emotion anyway. What does pity do for you especially?"
"Nothing. People will do it ... anyway."
"Yeah. I'd rather have arms to hold me."
"What else did you do today?"
"We waited for Louisa ... and Andy to come. Andy climbed into my lap. He ... wanted to drive."
"Sure, it's just a ... pressure sensitive pad ... on either side of my head. He put his head beside ... mine and leaned back on the pad."
"I can picture him. I bet he smiled all the way home."
"Giggled too. So sweet your Young Lad."
"Our Young Lad."
"More yours. He's very sad inside."
I thought about that.
"I ... apologized ... for being so anxious. To Claire."
"I know what she said too," I said.
"Yeah. Caring for someone ... you love is an honor."
"Will you be okay the next time?"
"Well, honest if nothing else. She and Andrew totally understood what was in store for us all when they asked us to stay. Even our bath time the other day is something amazing. Andrew just ran with it. Would anyone else?"
"My dad would."
"Jason would," I said.
"Love Jason. I wonder if ... we can spend a day with him."
"Of course. He already told me to pick a day. He'll take us around DC."
"I'm still afraid of being out ... in public, in the open air."
"Don't be. No need."
"I know. Still ... "
"Sshhhh. Jason won't do anything that makes you uncomfortable."
"Okay," he said.
"Do you know how I feel about you?"
"Yeah. Lucky me."
We had to pull on each other to get closer, but it was effort well spent.
"I love you my Aaron."
I kissed his neck and went to sleep. I wouldn't say anything to spoil those last words of the day.
Snow began falling heavily on Tuesday.
"Eddie will expect us tomorrow," I said to Andrew.
"The forecast is calling for a foot. If the kids don't have school, we'll make a morning of it."
And so we did. When Andrew helped me dress in the morning, I added a dry layer by putting my workout pants on. I wondered how Skip would do today. He heard my thought, of course.
"I'll watch and direct," he said with a smile.
Eddie is the boss so what he did with his time that day was his own business. He brought along four of his crew. We brought along Louisa and Andy. Andrew and Claire cancelled work and appointments for the day. We left my wheelchair in the SUV. Eddie and company had already cleared the sidewalks for Skip as much as for anyone else. We were in the same open field that Mark and I sorta made out in back in October. It was on a slope. Andy and Louisa went right into snowman building. Andrew, with me over his shoulder, threw me into a snowbank and challenged my creativity. Oh man, was I ever gonna show him about creativity. I told him to put Skip on the ground at a certain place. Skip too had the dry layer on that I did. He knew what I was up to.
On my knees, I used my good arm and good leg to push snow up against him. Within a half hour, I had a one foot by one foot square base.
"Snowmen have a round base my New Englander friend," Andrew said smugly.
He and Claire were making a snow fort out of snow bricks. He thought I was copying him. I was not copying him.
"Yes. Yes they do. Thank you for that observation Mr. Never Saw a Snowflake Until 35."
Claire had seen more snow than Andrew because she grew up in Scotland. Andrew grew up outside of wet London.
I dragged Skip with me to another fresh patch of snow. Eddie and one of his guys came to offer help.
"Big-ass snowman bottom," I said, grinning widely. "Biggest you can manage. We'll set it on my base over there."
"Let's go Pop," said his sidekick.
"My son, Ken. Ken, Aaron the juvenile. Maybe Peter Pan. Nah, juvenile."
Ken laughed heartily. Now I saw the family resemblance.
"I struggle with the adult thing too, Aaron. What about your mate here. What's his role?"
"Hi Ken," said Skip, working to raise his arm. "I'm Skip. My role is ... to be a snowball template. You'll see later."
Ken got down on his knee and took Skip's hand.
"Nice to meet you. Pop says you're quadriplegic. I think you're good at not showing it. I can picture what you're up to."
As we progressed, Ken lent us a quick hand to shape our ball, using Skip as the mold. It would be our second tier. Another of Eddie's crew was helping Andrew and Claire with the snow fort. Andy and Louisa were making an animal shape that I think was going to be Rudolph. They were offered a hand by crewmate #4 and accepted. The adult population on the campus seriously morphed into a child population as the morning wore on. The snow fort became a force to be reckoned with. Someone would have to think twice about getting out their hunting rifle for the ever-growing Rudolph at the top of the hill. Dad and son were none too shy on work ethic. They must have used one quarter of the snow in the area to make the base of our snow giant. It took them plus Andrew, Claire and crewmate #3 to lift that beast on to the base Skip and I had created.
"Okay, anything snide that I was gonna say is now retracted," said Andrew. "You are, once again, impressive."
"Pop, you got your tape measure?" asked Ken.
"Sure, grab hold."
Eddie walked around the base. He met up with Ken's end.
"Twelve feet around?!" I screamed.
"Hey, you said 'big ass' we gave you 'big ass'."
The kids and crewmate came down from the hill to look at it.
"Wow!" Louisa and Andy said together. They ran around it a few times.
"How's Rudolph?" asked Skip.
"Needs an apple nose," said Louisa.
"We'll get you one. I got one in my lunch box," said Eddie.
He went to his truck, took the apple to the kids, and made Rudolph a real shiny-nosed reindeer. Up close and from a distance, he was a serious but comical sight. We hoped that all our work would last for a few days.
Snowman mid-section was next up, so we went back to work. Skip and I worked on the head, not a small feat considering we had a 12-foot diameter base and probably an eight to ten foot mid-section in the works. I told Skip to look over at the snow fort. It was easily 25 feet long, in a sweeping curve, with a battlement being made on one end, and possibly another coming up. Claire was making miniature snowmen guards. She found dry leaves under the snow to use for hats. Wow, were we a stunningly creative lot today. This whole thing just blew my mind, and I am rarely short on creativity.
Our second layer arrived in time to be hoisted again with all hands on deck. 124 inches, just over 10 feet in diameter. Skip was tightly wrapped around the head, using his very tired arms as best he could to shape it and turn it to ice so it would last longer. We did the same to the mid-section and base. Our snow giant turned out to be about nine feet tall. The crew said they would bring appropriate winter wear for them tomorrow.
Ken went to his dad's truck and brought out his camera. "I keep it on hand for sunrises and sunsets etc," he said.
He took photos of all the builders and all the creations. He did his own photo developing at home, so he promised that we would see the photos in a couple of days.
By mid-afternoon, we were wet and hungry. Eddie invited us back to his home for a late lunch or early dinner.
"Leave the boys' wheelchairs in your car," Eddie told Andrew. "We'll take care of the young men."
He picked Skip up in his strong arms and carried him into the house. Ken picked me up. They set us down on the loveseat near the fireplace. Ken and his wife lived in a house down the block. He called her and asked her to bring anything she wanted to add to a buffet dinner. Eddie's remaining crew called their wives and girlfriends to come over.
Eddie's wife came in to meet us.
"Oh my," she said, in the same wonderful pleasing tone that Margie in Nova Scotia had said when she met us. "I know a fair amount about you, Aaron, but not how stunning you and your mate are. What can I get for you boys?"
"One mug of hot tea would be nice. One sugar and a splash of milk," I said. "And a bathroom break for both of us." Skip agreed.
Andrew came back to help each of us. Abby brought our tea and put in on the table to my left, upon my request. I told her my right arm was healing but useless. She sat with us for a few minutes while I filled her in on our disabilities. She watched me make sure the tea was not too hot before I shared with Skip.
The activity in the kitchen picked up as food and people arrived. A different kind of all hands on deck, impromptu to boot. The smells told me we were finally getting our Thanksgiving dinner. I smelled turkey when we first came in. I could imagine that Eddie gave Abby a clue that we would be here today. I sensed Claire's hand in this as well. She always walked softly but carried a big canvas bag. No telling what lay in its depths.
The dining room table was extended and set for dinner. A huge beautifully dressed turkey came out to the center of the table. Abby beamed at us.
"We know you missed Thanksgiving boys. Your hosts did as well, by the way."
"I guess I knew that," I said. "I'm sorry for that."
"No need, love. Thanksgiving need not be a date. Andrew, you should seat the boys together. Two of the chairs have arms."
That was so Skip wouldn't flop sideways. Balance was his biggest challenge when not seated in his wheelchair. Andrew seated Skip at the head of the table, putting his hands in his lap comfortably. He set me to Skip's right so I could use my left hand to help feed him. Skip's anxiety was kicking up a bit.
"Don't fret love. No one is going to be uncomfortable for more than a few moments."
I leaned in to kiss him. "Don't be sorry. Trust our hosts, always." He nodded.
I understood him. Being out in public really did take getting used to.
The table filled with an amazingly abundant feast. There were sixteen of us, shoulder to shoulder, in the best celebration of thanks I had ever witnessed. We toasted with wine and then tucked in. Claire asked what I would like on our plate. "Everything!" I said happily. Abby sat beside Skip across from me. When my arm gave way, she took over without missing a beat. Moms have stronger instincts than another other group on the planet. Claire helped me finish as well. Those who did not know our history were filled in.
There were no judgments and no pity. I discovered finally that crewmate #4 also had a male partner. They were in their early 20's, happy to see us 'older guys' so in love. It gave them hope. Skip and I had nothing in the looks department compared to them. Eddie, true to his word, did not care about how one loved, as long as it was sincere. His young crew was his family at work. I was sure that made for an incredibly strong team to take care of that large campus. Eddie and his crew was one of four teams across the wide expanse.
We waited a couple of hours before dessert was served. I, for one, was appropriately fatted up, dumb, and happy, in that order. Skip felt no anxiety. We left later than usual because tomorrow was also a snow day for the school kids. This was yet one more time when it was sad to be leaving a happy group. But we had into December and early January to be together again.
We were surprised to see pictures of all our winter creations in a NIH newsletter a week later. They were all dressed in hats and scarves, sticks holding mittens or gloves, carrot nose for our giant snowman, coal eyes, mouth and buttons, and a fine old top hat. Brian's staff and Andrew's staff praised Skip and me. I let them know it was a large group effort.
Skip and I made sweet love that feast night. I filled him with my seed, one again renewing us as a couple so in love despite past sadness. Sadness is just a point to move on from. He gave me his seed in a creamy load, leaving his dick inside off me as long as he could. We fell asleep content and carefree.
At 7:30, Andy and Louisa came in with a large breakfast-in-bed tray. Scrambled eggs, a large slice of ham cut into bite-sized pieces, orange segments, milk, and a mug of steaming coffee. Claire and Andrew stood in the doorway, looking on. The kids set the tray on the floor for a moment. They helped us sit up properly, putting one extra pillow behind each of us.
"You really ... are so sweet," Skip said, to Claire and Andrew too. "Thank you. Come back for us later?"
Andrew said he would. The kids kissed us both and then left. I fed Skip and me in equal shares. We were smooching and finishing our coffee when Andrew came in. He got onto our beds with us, holding Skip around his shoulders. He leaned across him to kiss me first, and then kissed Skip.
"What do you want to do today guys?"
"A regular bath for two, and then you can play dress-up dolls with us as usual. We want to find Billy something special if a mall is open and if you're willing to take us out."
"At your service," he said.
He took away the breakfast tray and took us to the bathroom. Skip did his duty first while Andrew started the flow in the tub and added a bit of bubble bath. He set Skip in first. He asked Skip if he wanted me or him to wash him. Skip said Andrew was welcome. He washed Skip's hair first and that added conditioner. His hair dried out during the winter and was the only thing about him that might be vain. I thought that only because of his discipline for haircuts. Skip's vanity was .00025" thick. Mine was twice that because I was stone cold bald.
Andrew made no secret of having a need to take care of us, Skip as much as me, for his failures. We talked about this often. Andrew did not fail me even once and I have never said otherwise. He knows I won't take any such talk seriously. We wanted Andrew to care for us because we loved being cared for very much. Andrew did it as good as, and often better, than anyone else. A medical professional with a heart. One more dream that came true. I was just one dream short to make my life just right. Andrew and I talked about that too. He saw my dream coming true because it is something I wanted so badly.
I watched as Andrew washed Skip's back, shoulders, and arms. He gently took Skip's hands and washed them without the washcloth.
"How much feeling do you have?" he asked.
"Fingertips are sensitive. Some feeling in my ... palms but not around the edges."
Andrew kissed Skip's right palm. He put it against his cheek for a moment, looking at Skip.
"You do know I'm sorry for your paralysis." It was not a question.
"Yes. You love me ... more than that."
Andrew went back to washing Skip. He washed his belly, groin, down his legs, and finally his feet, again by hand. I held my tongue about being ticklish. It was not a good reminder. Skip looked over at me.
"Yeah, but not anymore."
Andrew was a bit startled when Skip spoke. He looked at Skip looking at me, and then he looked at me. I raised my eyebrow.
"Ah, the half silent communication. A little disconcerting for we mere mortals."
I said nothing. Skip giggled. Andrew smiled to himself.
Andrew took Skip out, set him on a chair from Andy's room, and toweled him dry. He wrapped the large towel around him while adding more hot water to the tub. He put me in the tub and gave me the same treatment as he gave Skip. While I soaked for a bit, he took Skip back to our room and dressed him. He came for me next. Skip was sitting against the pillows. He dressed me in short order.
"You can skip the makeup. I prefer that natural look."
"Thanks for that."
He then went to finish dressing, carried me downstairs, came back for Skip, and set him in his wheelchair. Skip dutifully headed out the door and down the ramp. Andrew hit the remote for the ramp and lift from the front deck. Skip got inside. Andrew came back inside for his jacket while Claire took me out to the van. She locked Skip's and my wheels in place. We forgot once, causing Skip and me to play bumper cars. Andrew sometimes found our humor a bit weird. He is a Brit, so what does he know.
Andy climbed in the back with us and buckled himself into the jump seat. Louisa sat in the backseat. Claire came with us as far as the farmer's market. She asked Andrew to pick up milk on the way home. Milk consumption had increased radically since our arrival.
Andy helped me into my wheelchair, which was a low-rider now, like mine at home. It was more compact than the other one-less Oldsmobile-like. I wanted to lean back and pop a wheelie but I needed two hands to do it right, plus the laws of physics being on my side more than they currently are. As soon as Skip settled into his, he took off like a shot. Andrew laughed and took off to catch up to him. I did not try because it could not be done. I knew that Skip was mostly okay with his lot in life now because he was making the best of it.
We told Andrew we wanted to go to a jewelry store. We decided to buy Billy two things, another neck pendant and a ring. Both needed to be simple because Billy is not a flashy person. We had written up a phrase to inscribe on the inside of his ring. We found a small pewter pendant with his birthstone in the center. Billy's is a ruby, brilliantly red like his personality. We had it put on a shorter neck chain so it would sit above his birth sign on his chest. On the spur of the moment, Skip and I also bought one for each other. Our birthstone is aquamarine, a pale blue, like fine blue eyes one would see on a blond boy.
We showed our purchases to Andrew and Andy when we met up with them an hour later. They had gone off together to buy something for mum and Louisa. Andy put ours on for us.
"Daddy, can we get something like that for Louie? Mum has hers on her ring. Louie doesn't have much jewelry. Something simple, too."
Claire had a beautiful ring with two birthstones mounted in a slight curve.
"Sure bud. Are you two okay? Bathroom break?"
"Yeah, just in case," said Skip.
I told Andrew I was fine. Andy stayed with me. He ran a couple of ideas past me. I had a slight taste of what Sweet Lass likes, so he and I agreed quickly on what she might like.
After a good two hours at the mall, we headed back to the farmer's market to pick up Claire. She had bought fresh produce, bread, two pies (one for me and I was not going to share-maybe) and a large ham. I thought back to the millions of times we had shopped at Haymarket in Boston. It was half the size of this farmer's market, but it was such an awesome place.
On a whim, Andrew stopped next door at the Christmas tree place. He, Andy, and Louisa picked out a large tree and six wreaths. The wreaths inside with us made for an instant holiday feel. He tied the tree to the roof of the van.
The family did a bit of furniture rearranging to accommodate the 11-foot beast. While the front door was opened wide to accept the tree, Andrew took it down to put up the 'Christmas door', which replaced their maple door with a seasonal red one. Over the course of the next few hours wreaths appeared outside, white candles welcomed the dusk in all windows, and the tree was decorated. Skip and I sat back and watched the transformation, out of the way of too many feet and arms. Claire brought us hot cocoa.
He whispered in her ear a while later. She took him to the bathroom. Facing fears is something he did well. I always learned from him. He snuggled again with me when Claire brought him back. Andrew lit the fireplace and Andy tended to it until it filled the whole room with warmth and fragrance.
The kids went back to school on Wednesday. Claire had two patients in the morning. Andrew had lab work to do. We went with him because we did not want to hang out alone all day. If I could take care of Skip, we could stay home and find plenty to do, like help make dinner. We brought books with us and found various quiet corners around Andrew's building to read. Our hard work from Monday stood solid in all its glory. We sat at a window together for a long while just marveling at our creations and the absolute joy of creating them. To this day, it is still a standout day in our lives.
We met Andrew's team for lunch. Amanda helped Skip get a bowl of soup and half a sandwich. She took the other half and a cup of soup. Seb, Andrew's research assistant, helped me get my BLT wrap under control at the table. Kathleen, Andrew's lab tech, helped Skip with his drink. Skip fed himself until his arm tired out. He looked over at Kathleen.
"May I feed you, if it won't ... ", she asked Skip.
"Yeah. Thanks," said Skip.
She fed him with her right hand and ate with her left hand, like I do. We should eat together. It made helping him much less awkward, and encouraged the behavior as shown by Kathleen. We ate and talked. This was another family within our family.
Eddie and his crew came in to eat. There was room for them at our long table, so Andrew asked them to sit with us. Eddie knew all of Andrew's team. In fact, Eddie knew almost everyone within the medical center by name and history. Nobody watched the clock because there were often times when these folks got a late lunch or no lunch. This is not a 9-to-5 outfit.
Skip and I went to Neurology with Brian, who had also come in for lunch with a couple of his therapists. Skip knew the way so he went ahead. We met Nicole, chief of therapy services. She knew all about us thanks to Brian's notes so all we needed was an introduction and then to get to work. She introduced us to Ray, who would work with us alongside Nicole. I was impressed, though not surprised, that a ranked employee got her hands dirty, as it were.
"May we work with Aaron first Skip? It'll help us make a plan," Nicole asked.
"Yeah ... no problem."
It was a long afternoon as Nicole and Ray took me through what I could do and helped me work on what I could not do. They showed me how to use a jump rope to exercise my right leg with my left hand and arm. Using my right arm again was going to be harder. I could hold things okay but my range of motion was limited to a couple of inches, same as Skip.
"I gotta cry Uncle, folks. I'm wasted."
I had been working for over two hours. Brian had come in to help and to take notes for a therapist that he was going to refer me to at Yale-New Haven.
Ray worked on Skip, using notes for after-care from the Center in Atlanta. He had already started his after-care at Yale. His was concentrated on upper body only. No one doubted that his legs were past recovery. He was not sad about that. I was learning to live with the idea.
"When can I get started at Yale?" I asked Brian.
"When are you getting back to Fairfield?"
"Saturday the 6th," I said.
He had his calendar with him. He flipped to January.
"Good guess. I have your first session set up for the 10th. It's up to you how often you want to go, but I'd recommend at least twice a week."
I thought about it for a minute. I had to consider whether I could go back to work in my department. I wanted to talk to Patricia. How would I get to work and back home? I was sure I would have help once there, but what about when I had to take a leak? How much work could I actually do once I got there? What about help at home, for me and Skip? I had already told Betsy and JD not to come. They both had businesses to run. What about Skip while I was at work? Man, so much to think about. How in heck? ...
"Aaron?" said Skip, bringing me out of my reverie.
"Sorry love," I said. "Just thinking about how we'll manage."
"We just will."
"Okay." I looked over at Brian. "Whatever your recommend, I'll do. I got to work out a lot of stuff once we get home."
"Understood. Don't worry about things though."
Easy to say. Not so easy to do.
During the remainder of the week, Skip and I continued to get out and about as Andrew and Claire had time to take us. They were so good to us. Claire always kept my 10-minute idle time trauma at the forefront of her mind. She made it easy for me to help with lunch by putting a chair at the stove. I would put my right leg on it while I stood on my left, stirring the pot or keeping watch on something roasting in the oven. I could wash pots and pans easily enough, something she did by hand instead of in the dishwasher. Helping to make a salad was easy enough. I wanted to fully spoil her by having a meal ready when she and Andrew got home from work, but it wouldn't happen. I was not expected to do so, of course. I apologized anyway. My loss of independence made me feel worse for Skip's own losses. But Skip wouldn't hear of that. I do not know why he was stronger than me, vs. as strong as me. He just was. I had already come back from harsh injuries once and was determined to do so again. I knew my MD would bring me down eventually, but I also knew that wouldn't be tomorrow or the day after.
On Christmas morning, Skip and I sat on the floor with the kids as they unwrapped their gifts. Louisa was very pleased with the pendant and matching ring that Andy had bought her. His money was his own, earned from mowing lawns three seasons each year.
His own starter collection of Hardy Boys books was added to, to the tune of eight new titles, from Skip and me. I had also found the whole series on the Internet, so we told Andy and his family not to buy any. We had secretly bought the whole series a week ago online, so we wouldn't run into out-of-print and out-of-stock issues in years ahead. He would get a new one or two for his birthday and as many as we could each Christmas. Over time, we would help him collect the whole series of sixty-six books. The first forty were from before even old man me was born, up to 1959.
December turned to early January. Billy was due in a couple more days. Skip saw that I was becoming increasing anxious. He had tried throughout the day to settle me down. Finally at bedtime, he gave it one more try.
"You got to talk to me," he said.
"I, um, have a confession to make."
"You don't have to. I ... sorta got some of ... it figured out."
I said nothing. As best he could, Skip hugged me to him and kissed my cheek.
"I was in love with someone before you. And ... "
"Aaron. Stop. I know. You ... talk in your ... sleep, remember?"
I did not hear him, or chose not to hear him.
"His name was Andrew, but not our Andrew."
"I love you, Aaron. Don't ... bring this up. It's too painful for you."
"I have to. Let me talk, okay? I gotta get this out in the open or you'll leave me forever."
I spent the next three hours explaining to Skip about the only secret I kept, and ever will keep from him, in my life. We cried together for a lost love. One again, I bared my soul to him. I felt renewed grief but I also felt extreme shame. Skip being Skip did not care about my past in the way I assumed he would. He only cared that I loved. Mostly he cared that I loved him best.
"I'm so sorry. I had plenty of opportunities to tell you this."
"I don't need sorry. Young Andrew ... had a better life, and ... and easier death, because of you. Why would you think ... I would leave you? Ever."
"More than this?"
"Then I'm not ... going anywhere. We live in ... our moments. Not in the past."
"I'm so sorry."
"I'm very sad for you. That you love ... me is a miracle."
"You made me."
"Young Andrew did too."
"But I should have told you."
"No. I'm glad to know of Andrew ... so that you can move on. You have ... not hurt me in any way."
"How can you believe me? Or in me again? If I lied once ... "
"You did NOT lie."
"Not telling you a secret is as good as a lie."
"Please be pissed at me! You never get pissed at me and I really deserve it."
"I'm a dumb-ass fuck."
"Besides that," he said very seriously, looking into my eyes.
He made me shut up. He held me and kissed me until I stopped struggling. It was not easy to do because I struggled so hard. He held my hands against his chest. I felt an urge to get up and run away again. It was not Self-Loathing this time. It was an unforgivable secret that he should have known long ago.
"Young Andrew was ... not in my life. But YOU are. Do you regret ... loving him?"
"No." I answered right away, no thought necessary.
"Is he here in the room ... with us?"
"No. Just in here," I said, moving my hand.
"Do you regret loving ... me?"
"Then stop beating ... yourself up."
I went silent again. I did not speak, yet again, to anyone, for a few days. I went into a funk, not for Andrew but for Skip. I wouldn't stop beating myself up for a while. I was not who Skip thought I was. What would Billy think of me?
Andy once again held me close. He did not know the reason for my silence nor did he really care. Andrew left me alone because he knew why I shut down again. Young Andrew was the elder Andrew's patient. His first and only loss to date.
Claire being Claire tried half-heartedly to get me to talk about it. Claire also knew, of course. She too cared for my young Andrew.
"Okay, love. Soon though," she said.
I finally sat and talked with her the next evening while Andrew gave Skip his bedtime bath. We were alone downstairs. I got it off my chest, letting the sadness pass again, putting young Andrew back into my heart the way I had when he had died. It would be a long time before I talked of this again, except to tell Billy as well, but not soon. I truly needed only Skip to know and to understand. That did not make Billy unimportant, just not in urgent need to know.
We packed up all our clothes and Christmas presents. Billy arrived on January 5th, Friday, before noon. Quietly, in the kitchen, I told him that I had to talk to him sometime soon. I was better today, but he knew I was edgy. He gave me a long hug and told me that he knew more than he ever let on. I looked at him, but he walked away with a smirk. Hated that.
He said the drive was about six hours, including a rest stop and food break. The weather called for snow on Sunday, but Saturday, our travel day, looked clear. I have always hated driving after dark. Billy did not mind it much, but we decided to leave early enough to be home before dark.
Billy bunked in Andy's room overnight. I could hear talking and giggling. Andy loved Billy as much as Skip and me. Did he understand we were three? Hard to say.
Skip and I withheld favors from each other. There would be time for nookie when we got home. However, if I lasted five minutes, I would be surprised. We had made out only once last week. I checked with Skip each day just to see if he was in need. He was not.
"I love you more ... this moment than ever."
"How can you?"
"You make me. You're my ... world, Aaron. If you want forgiveness, I'm not ... the one to give it ... to you. You have to."
"Not tonight, love."
"Hold me," he said. I did.
We packed everything into Skip's new SUV, a custom job paid for by his insurance company and modified for him by the guys in the city bus garage in New Haven. One of the guys in the garage had built, from scratch, such a van for his dad. Skip had taken delivery of it the day after he got home in November. Billy and then JD had taken him on a long tour to try it out. When they went to thank the guys in New Haven, they bought lunch and made an afternoon of it. They had been so sorry for what one of their busses had done to Skip. Skip had assured them that he suffered very little, telling of our exploits in Atlanta, telling them that he placed no blame and regretted nothing. These guys would prove to be invaluable friends to us over the years.
Even Andy was not terribly sad to see us go. No tears because we promised to come back in the spring. Mark and Megan would come to DC so we made our plans according to theirs. We all got and gave nice hugs and sweet kisses to hold us all over. It was not hard to leave for us either. The five weeks here made us thankful to be loved so much. Eddie and Abby had joined us for breakfast to wish us well. Brian came by after breakfast and stayed until we departed as well.
When we got home that night, the first thing we did was call the family in Maryland to tell them we arrived safely. Billy and Skip took me on a tour of our 'new and improved' condo, courtesy of JD and a small crew of craftsmen. There is now an elevator just the right size for Skip's wheelchair, to take him to the first floor. The stairways leading to the second and third levels had also been fitted so Skip was not trapped on the main floor only. Our back deck had a ramp leading to the back yard. Skip said it was the perfect angle to come and go as he pleased. The kitchen cabinets now all had pull-down custom shelves, and the pantry had been adapted as well.
Patricia, as requested and with Fred's help, had put custom seating in the showers to make Skip's bathing easy to accomplish. The benches were teak and cedar, stained to be moisture-proof.
This all must have cost as much as the original condo. JD did exceptional work. The only mystery was who had come before we got home to light the fireplace in the master bedroom. I knew it was Patricia. She knew we would be home today, and around what time.
"Hey, we're alone," I said to the boys. "Like, alone alone."
"Whoo hoo. Are we gonna?" asked Billy, rubbing his obvious erection in his jeans.
"Oh I dunno," I said. "I might have to be in the mood."
Billy took me off the sofa and, carrying me over his shoulder, took me to the bedroom, and threw me onto the bed. He went back for Skip and brought him in, laying him beside me. He stripped off his clothes, smacked both hips with his hefty dick, almost came on the spot, and then undressed Skip. He went down on Skip like he had not had cock in a year. As he sucked his brother, he undressed me, eager for a taste of my sweetness. I was gonna say no?
After a bit of frenzied sex, he settled down and made the sweetest love to his brother that he could. The two were lost to me for a while, but in a good way. We did not need to give each other equal attention right now. Billy was with us until the 16th, ten days from now. When Skip came in Billy's mouth, Billy gave it back to him in a wet kiss. Man was that hot. He wriggled his eyebrows at me after giving Skip a good long kiss.
"Be inside me?" he asked me.
"Move me down first," said Skip.
Billy moved Skip toward the end of the bed, and then backed up against my hard cock, his own level with Skip's mouth. I made slow sweet love to him, though with a bit of difficulty. I tried to make that transparent to Billy. He turned his head to kiss me deeply. He smiled at me sweetly.
"Nice, bro. Sooo nice."
I was surprised I had not come yet. I silently hoped I was not running on empty. The sensations in my cock and balls told me I was fine. My mind argued with my body. Sigh. However, I kept going. It took me almost forty minutes before I suddenly knew I was about to shoot my load inside of Billy. He reached around to hold me close to him as I unloaded. I gasped for air, holding him tightly. When I finally slipped out of him, I lay on my back, totally exhausted. Skip poked his head over Billy's hip, licking his lips with a cummy tongue. I laughed aloud when I saw him.
Billy got off the bed, moved me into the center, went around to Skip, pulled him up even with me, and then got behind me. He entered me in one motion, making me feel like this was our first time. He felt a little momentary sadness but I pushed it quickly out of my mind. I wanted Billy to give me his best, while I held Skip and we kissed softly.
Later, we three kissed. Billy brought Skip and me to the shower. I finally noticed that it was bigger. A shower for three. JD had not missed a single detail. Billy put Skip in the corner, and set me to Skip's left. He took the flexible showerhead and rinsed Skip and me thoroughly, making sure to wash away the sweat and cum. He washed Skip's hair and then my chrome dome. It took him a half hour to get all three of us showered and toweled dry.
Sitting us back on our bed, he put boxer briefs on us, and then sweatpants and t-shirts.
"I'm sorry love," I said to Billy.
"What that I'm taking care of you. Love that. Let me enjoy it love. It makes me feel good."
"Just don't get used to it."
He hugged me and told me to stuff it.
"Later. What about dinner?"
"I'm cooking. Patricia and Fred went grocery shopping for us this morning. How about some grilled cheese and tomato soup?"
"Yum! I'll help."
I told Billy about putting a chair at the stove. I could lean and stand while stirring the soup. Billy made three sandwiches with cheese, sliced tomato, and bacon. He kissed me. He put them on the griddle and kissed me again. When he flipped them over, he kissed me again. Skip sat nearby laughing. Billy winked at him and then he kissed me again.
"Any chance that you missed me?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Call it a hunch."
When he leaned in to kiss me again, I held him close to me.
"I love you Billy. I loved someone in the past, before you two. You should know."
I looked at Skip. I wanted his approval. He thought for a moment, giving me eyes that said it was not necessary. I wanted to anyway. He finally nodded.
As we ate, I told him everything I had told Skip. It was easier this time, but still hard. It took as long to tell him everything, about three hours. We had moved from the dining area to the sofa. He held me tight as I talked to him. Neither of the boys interrupted me. When I was done, Billy kissed me deeply.
"Not all those who wander are lost," said Billy, quoting Aragorn's line from The Lord of the Rings. "It's so impossible for you to love just one, and even just us two. You lost three. You gained two, we hope, and a few."
It was past 10:30. He picked me up and carried me to bed. He went to get Skip and put him in the middle. He undressed both of us, leaving our boxer briefs on. He stripped down as well and got in bed. He kissed both of us.
"I love you my bro, so much. And you, Aaron, all you did is put yourself more firmly in my heart."
He snuggled up to Skip from behind while I snuggled Skip from in front of him. I tucked his face into my neck, which he kissed lightly.
"My Aaron," is all he said.
He was asleep in mere moments. I looked over him at Billy. He gave me very sad eyes for a moment and then gave me the famous wiggly eyebrows of his brother. He leaned in to kiss me once more.
"Mine too," he said, "forever."
We both lay quietly, joining Skip in sweet surrender for a few hours. I did not dream of young Andrew, nor had I for a long while. I no longer lived in fear of being unfaithful to my lovers. I had not been, of course, but the unfaithful also keep secrets. I had no more to keep. If I die tonight, my life would be resolved. The darkness swallowed me whole, bringing peace.
When I woke up at 6:00, I was so glad to see that I was not in a dream. Well, I was, but I could touch the objects of my desire.
Skip kissed me deeply.
"No love, you're not dreaming. We're home."
Home. I loved home. Yale-New Haven and Atlanta now seem like a world away. This is where we ultimately want to be, no matter how good any other place is.
"How do I care for you, Skip? God, we have so much to talk about. Work for me, independence for you. How do we manage?"
"In the moments ... we're in."
"But ... "
"Sshhhh. First, call Patricia ... today. You want to go to work ... tomorrow. Let her help."
"Billy and I will ... work stuff out for now."
"And don't say 'but'," said Billy, wrapping his arms around his brother, kissing him, and then kissing me.
"No 'buts'. I trust you."
"But we have work to do," said Billy. "For now, food."
"Coffee maker just turned on," I said.
"Omelet," said Skip. "Cheese. Onions. Peppers."
"Ham?" I asked.
We set him against the headboard with pillows. Billy could make the omelet. I could manage toast and OJ. I sat on the edge of our bed. Billy sat in front of me, took my arms over his shoulders, and wrapped my legs around his waist. He trotted us off to the kitchen, sat me on the stool beside the counter, and plugged in the toaster. I took glasses out of the cupboard above me. He gave me the OJ. He went back to take Skip to the bathroom and then back to bed. When Billy came back out, he took ham from the fridge. It was thinly sliced from the deli, so I made it into smaller pieces. Billy took eggs from the fridge and let them warm up a bit to room temperature. With his help, I grated the cheese. He chopped the onions and peppers.
"Good teamwork," he said. He gave me a kiss on my forehead as a reward.
I had taught the boys how to make a nice fluffy omelet. The secret is to separate yolks from whites, beat the yolks just a bit with a little milk, beat the whites until there was air in them, add salt, and then carefully fold the yolk mixture into the whites. First, it goes into a non-stick pan over low heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and then put it under the broiler. It will rise and swallow the cheese, onions, peppers, and ham. Fold and devour.
We devoured ours in bed with Skip. Breakfast in bed the hard way. The butler had the day off. Then we devoured (well, you know) Skip. He liked it.
"Hey! My turn!" he yelled when Billy carried me out to the living room.
"You came already," I yelled back from the hallway.
"But you ... "
"I don't need to come. I love you."
"Okay. Fine! Be ... that way."
Billy went back for Skip. He set him beside me.
"Oh boy. Lemme have ... your dick."
"Nope. We got stuff to do. We need a proper snowman out back. We need a toboggan. We need a sled. We need to act like kids because it's been waaay too long."
"A couple of weeks ago."
"An eternity," said Billy. "Plus I missed out on that."
Billy had gone to the coat closet to get warm up pants to put over our sweats. He put heavy sweaters on both of us and then dressed the same. He took Skip out back first and then set him in the middle of the yard. He came back, took me out, and set me beside Skip. Skip and I made the starter snowball as best we could. Billy packed it tighter and a bit rounder. He started at the outside edge of our yard. Within a half-hour, he had an impressive base, probably about six feet in diameter. We had a second starter snowball ready as he rolled the snowman base beside us.
"Smooth this one out loves. I'll be back with tier two."
An hour later, he was putting the head on top of a very large snowman. He took a Red Sox baseball cap out of his pocket and secured it with a small stick. He took a large carrot out of an inside pocket. He started to put it down under.
"Uh uh, this is a family neighborhood," I reminded him as he chuckled.
I handed him my scarf. He put it around his neck.
"Duh," Skip said.
"I know, I know. Just testing your funny bone."
"Mine works. How about eyes?"
He gave me eyes.
Skip laughed aloud. I couldn't help it, even though I really tried not to encourage Billy's weirdness.
"I are not weird. I are funny boy."
Billy scouted for small stones at the side of our driveway.
He managed to find two fine eyes and enough to intimate a mouth. He packed some snow around tier two to make an arm resting on the snowman's belly and another to make an outstretched arm. He took a spare broom from the garage and put it into the 'hand', packing more snow around it to hold it in place.
"Wow, you're ... artistic bro," said Skip.
"You bring out the best in me. Both of you. Ready to go shopping?"
Billy was loading Skip into the SUV when Patricia and Fred pulled into our driveway.
"Whoo hoo!" Billy said. I turned around in my seat to see what was up.
They both gave him a nice hug. Patricia came to the passenger side where I sat, half way in my seat.
"I called but got no answer. I figured I know you well enough to know you'd be outside."
"Good timing. We were going to the toy store to get a toboggan and a sled. Come along?"
"Sure. We'd like to have you over for dinner too."
"Nice. Can we make ... dessert?" asked Skip. "Torte?"
"The famous raspberry almond torte?" asked Patricia.
"Yeah. We can stop at the grocery store on the way."
Fred was climbing out of the back of the SUV after giving Skip a hug. He came around to hug me too.
"How about we ride with you to the toy store, come back for a bit, and then you follow us home?"
"Good plan. With a toboggan, we can make Skip a champion luger."
Fred laughed aloud, apparently picturing Skip on a luge track, probably screaming at the top of his lungs.
"Hey! NOT!" said Skip.
At the store, we found the perfect quality toboggan, a sled for two, and two plastic saucers. Patricia held up one of them at the end of the aisle. I gave her a thumbs up and then two fingers. She gave me the peace sign in return. When she came to me, I told her she'd been around Billy too long. She said "No such thing," and kissed him on his forehead.
"Love you too, Mom," he said to her. She beamed.
Billy had raved about how much he loved Patricia and Fred in the time he spent with them over the summer. They cared for him without pity, and with great love. He easily felt at home. I understood it. My own mom was gone, and Patricia was a very fine mom to me.
Back at home, we broke in the new toys. By mid-afternoon, all five of us were soaked to the bone and all laughed out. The folks headed home to change while we took a shower. Billy dressed us warmly, put Skip back in the SUV, belted me in, and headed out. I had the ingredients for our dessert in my backpack. Billy was one of my hands in the kitchen while I did what I could with the other. Fred was tending a roast. Patricia held Skip on the sofa, talking about God knows what. I know how she felt about him. Pity was one of those feelings, though she would never outwardly show it. I had to wonder how often she thought about what she would do if she were in his place.
"Are you coming back to work?" she asked over dinner.
"Yes. When and how ... I dunno. Needs work. And how do I make sure Skip is okay?"
"When-tomorrow if you want to. I'll pick you up and bring you home. Your mates want so badly to see you and they'll help get you through the day."
"Don't worry about that. You'll have any help you need."
"Okay then, tomorrow, usual time. Well, except for Skip, when Billy goes back to school."
"No worries bud," said Fred. "If you boys will have me, I'll take care of our fine friend. I'm semi-retired and work from home most of the time. Working from yours would be just as easy, with no worries."
"Thank you ... Fred. Nice."
"I dunno, Fred. He's so demanding. Such a diva, wanting all kinds of attention and ... "
Fred and Patricia gave me raised eyebrows. Fred added a smirk. Skip looked properly 'offended'. Uh oh, no more nookie for me. Billy held in a laugh until he couldn't any more.
"Gotta love me."
I laughed aloud. They joined in. It felt good not to have to worry so much, and stupid that I would worry in the first place. If Fred could not help, he wouldn't offer. I had thought about working half days for a while. Now it would not be necessary. I had to wonder about Skip's anxiety though, thinking back to Claire. Well, not my worry for now. I trusted Skip and Fred to work it out. I imagine Fred knows, or has thought a great deal about, how to take care of Skip.
We settled into a fine meal together, catching up on what we did in DC, my surgery, post-surgery, Skip's plateau-of-the-moment, and how nice to be home and back into a routine that's comfortable around the clock. We sat by the fireplace in the den while we had hot tea and dessert. Fred held on to Skip this time. They talked quietly for a few minutes. Fred kissed the back of Skip's head and told him not to fret over anything.
I woke at 5:30 on Monday morning, ready to get back into work. Even though I worked in Atlanta, my crew and I needed a re-introduction. I was antsy, but only a little. Please Patricia, tell them not to worry about me. Just help me though the day. It'll be good enough, and then some.
Skip looked into my eyes.
"You were watching me sleep again," I said softly, looking over his shoulder at Billy, still sleeping soundly.
"I love you," he said, simply.
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