Skip - Part 52
"Fat is 120 pounds away for your scrawny ass," she said, smiling. "I'm going swimming each morning for the next two weeks though. Canadian food is rich, no?"
"Oh yeah. Has to be. Today there is a 30 degree temp difference between us and our hosts. They need that for warmth."
After dinner, the folks brought Skip and me home, helping us settle in. I would need to go shopping for groceries after work tomorrow. We had put fresh bagels in the freezer before we left. Fred stopped at the neighborhood mom and pop store for us so we could get OJ and milk. Other than that, we were set.
"How do we help Patrick?" Skip said to me in our kitchen.
"He's going to talk to Andrew this week. I already got them in touch. Andrew will go back to Boston until Patrick graduates in May and then will bring him to NIH soon after."
"Oh man," he said, sighing. "What stage?"
"Three," I said quietly.
"I know, love. But I really trust that Andrew or a colleague is going to help Patrick. It's called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Acute because it's a rapid onset. Lymphocytes are part of your immune system, in your bone marrow. ALL is typically a childhood leukemia."
"Like you, Patrick ... doesn't do anything ... half way."
"I know. I'm ... sad for our friend."
"Andrew was looking for someone like me, found me, and worked very hard to keep me in your arms. We should support our friend instead of worrying about him. You know how I feel about worry."
"I know, Aaron. I agree ... of course. Is he going to ... tell his mates?"
"Soon. He needs to trust them, too. He wants to come down one weekend. I've asked him to come with Billy, so he's not driving alone. Or to come by Amtrak so we can pick him up in New Haven."
"Okay, so now that ... Patrick is safer, you can ... feel free to hug me."
I exercised my liberties and carried him to the sofa, wrapped myself around him, and kissed him until he smiled. I checked the condition of his dick. Same as mine.
"Guess we're more into hugging than nookie tonight."
"We give lust ... only a 1% chance. Maybe the ... odds are stacked."
"Maybe. But I always love you waaay more than I lust you. Doesn't mean ... "
"Sshhhh, I know. I ... feel the same way about you. Our eighth year ... bro, and you love me as ... much now as eight ... years ago. You said it ... first, before ... Billy and I did. In love. Do you ... know how good that ... felt the first time?"
"I think so. But tell me."
"Billy would ... have always been with me. Even if I was not ... quadriplegic. We knew we didn't ... want wives. Not because we're ... intimate. We wanted heart. And then there's ... you. I did get the ... best when I fell in love ... with you."
"I dunno how ... "
"Don't argue ... and always believe that."
"Okay, I won't argue. I know you love me. Like I told Billy, I'll love you more tomorrow than I do today."
"Bet he loved ... that."
"Oh yeah. And you?"
"I care only about these ... moments."
We held on as if either of us would be gone tomorrow. If something took us away from each other, we didn't want to live with regrets or sadness. Vincent lives with us as a nice memory. Sadness too, but only sometimes.
Prolonged sadness leads to depression. Shared sadness leads to comfort.
I will admit to depression-the time when I wanted to finally rest, and begged Skip to let me do so. It lasted for a few weeks, until Skip proved to me that he wouldn't let me go for any reason, by my will or by my illness. Depression became comfort, something that every human being on Earth wants. Comfort is a constant in both our lives, and we give it purposefully every day. It's in how we hold each other, awake or asleep. It's a simple kiss. Skip watches my eyes all the time because that's where my pain shows most. It gives him comfort when he sees no pain, and gives me comfort in knowing he cares.
Our birthdays were on Friday and Saturday in 2001. We had celebrated while on vacation, so the need to do anything was minimal. Skip, at 32, was little different than at 24. Me at 41 was at least mature, versus me at 33. Nah, no one believes that. We were still nine years apart in age, like all the previous years, so it made no difference. For Friday dinner, we shared a slice of chocolate cake, handmade by me using my mom's recipe. It tasted like my childhood birthdays. Okay okay, so we had a regular dinner first. I may be immature still, but I wouldn't do that to Skip. I had made us stuffed flounder and twice-baked potatoes. For Saturday, Skip's birthday, we went to a movie. Billy called us, and each boy in turn said hello and told us they loved us. It took about 45 minutes because no one could just say "Hi, happy birthday." Skip and I smiled, our speakerphone filling our den with the voices of the boys whom we loved best. Their voices echoed in my head as I settled into bed that night. Comfort. Nice.
When the ground thawed enough, Skip and I went to the nursery and bought a white dogwood tree. He wanted to dig too, so I put him on his knees on the ground. I got behind him, putting his hands on the short shovel with mine. We dug outside in, defining the size of the hole we'd need to dig. We were digging when Pete and Charlie pulled into the driveway. Once the hole was the right width and depth, it took us four to get the tree planted properly. I cut the burlap surrounding the root ball. I went around to the back of the condo and turned on the water spigot. Charlie helped Skip water the tree.
They then helped us plant two more bushes at the back corner of the yard. One was a purple lilac for Kate, one a white lilac for our unborn child. It was sobering for the boys. They understood that I was married before, for only a year. They knew that Kate and I had loved deeply, and that the loss was stunning. Loving Skip and Billy was different, not less, than loving Kate. I will always love Kate. She would be very pleased that I have Skip and Billy. She knew of my capacity to love, and that I HAD to love. I don't know how she'd feel about me having only one year with Young Andrew. Cursed, probably.
"I can't imagine, Aaron," said Pete. "I know you have Skip and Billy, and us of course, but that's a bigger loss than I could take. Anything happened to Charlie, I'd be lost."
Charlie was already hugging Pete, but he hugged him closer. Pete put his head against Charlie's.
"For me too, for awhile, guys. I also had physical rehab, sometimes wanting no part of it. The next time I fell in love was supposed to be never. But I fell hard for a young man."
Pete patted Skip's shoulder.
"His name was Andrew."
The boys looked at me, surprised. "Not Skip?"
"No. I'll share someday, but not today. Andrew died."
The boys didn't push. Charlie came to my side.
"You're more brother than dad," Charlie said to me, "but I consider you a dad anyway. I know we're both close to the age of your son. Until you do find your son, allow me and Pete to be?"
"Please?" asked Pete, sounding younger than he is.
"Yeah," I said, a bit choked up. "Thanks. Both of you."
They both hugged me tightly and kissed my cheek. Skip smiled at them and nodded.
"Nice," he said.
"Come on, Dad," Charlie said. "Let's go out to lunch."
"Lemme go stir my sauce first. We'll take Skip's truck. You fight over who wants to drive."
"Nah, we don't fight," said Pete. "Charlie can drive on the way. I'll drive us back. You and I can make out in the back," he said with a wiggly eyebrow. I laughed aloud.
We didn't make out, but he did hold on to me. "I love you Aaron, a lot. You're a good man."
"I love you for the same reason, and a little more because often the world doesn't like you or Charlie or us. Their loss as far as I'm concerned. Never apologize for what's in your heart. Make sure Charlie is there first and best though."
Neither could speak, so they nodded. They didn't need to say anything anyway.
This is why they loved hanging out with us. They loved their own dads so therefore, they loved me. They too were sad for Skip. Skip worked to keep that sadness to a minimum. More often than not, he succeeded.
When we got back later that afternoon, with rain falling and thunder echoing around the mountains, we four sat in the den by a large warm fire. I held Pete from behind. Charlie held Skip. I had put Yanni's 2000 release "If I Could Tell You" on our CD player. We let it take us away for a while, Charlie's head on one shoulder, Pete's on the other. We were all connected by holding hands. When the music ended, we dozed for a bit. When we woke, Charlie kissed me softly.
"I love you. My dad is great and Pete's dad just as great. But ... "
"Careful, love. Don't take anything away from them. I love you too. That's all that you need to know."
"Come on down to the kitchen. I got a lasagna to put together. One more recipe for your cook book."
I carried Skip downstairs over my shoulder.
"Nice way to treat the man you love!" said Pete.
"Fireman's carry. I did it only once in Boston. Crude but effective."
Skip made faces with his tongue hanging out.
"Is he trying to kiss my ass?"
"Kiss mine!" said Skip.
I did, of course. The boys laughed harder.
When I sat him on a bar stool, Pete sat beside him to hold him up. I got stuff out of the fridge and then put the hot saucepot on a trivet. I gave the recipe to the boys. I know they had a 3-ring binder for the recipes we cooked together, so I had put it in a plastic sleeve for their binder. They followed along in the recipe as I put the lasagna together. I left it to sit on the counter for a while, since it was piping hot.
"What, no taste?" teased Pete.
"Nope. Gotta wait until tomorrow. It needs to cure overnight and then bake."
"Ohhhh maaan!" they said together, and then they gave me dual pouty faces. I gave them eyes.
They covered their eyes, and then covered Skip's eyes with his hands. He giggled.
"Okay okay! Not that! U N F A I R!"
"You should register those as a lethal weapon," Pete joked.
My eyes outdid pouty faces every time.
We had invited both sets of parents to join us for a large meal the next day, promising my world-class lasagna. They had offered to bring salad, bread, and dessert. I hinted very strongly that we love cannolis. We'd met Charlie's folks a few times in town. His dad was on the local fire company.
We settled into the living room. We watched a movie on Showtime, missing the first half hour, but no one cared.
When it was time for dinner, I put bowls of hot tomato bisque soup on a tray. Pete flipped the grilled cheese on the griddle, and then put them on a plate when they were done. I brought along a box of oyster crackers for our soup. Charlie poured four glasses of milk. Pete took Skip back to the living room, setting him on the floor behind the coffee table, his back against the sofa. He helped Skip eat and Charlie helped him drink his milk.
"You guys are so good to our bud," I said.
"We love Skip," said Pete. "We love you too. Nice that we can help, since we know you help Skip all week. I'm glad my dad comes each day. He loves it."
"Is it weird?" Skip asked.
"Nope," said Pete right away. "Feels good. How about for you?"
"It was weird at first, with Aaron feeding me in Atlanta. But I got over it."
On Sunday afternoon, the two sets of parents arrived. Charlie's folks were a very stunning couple. His dad was a fire captain, his mom a bakery shop owner.
"Hmmm," light dawning over marble head (or Marblehead ... depending on the source of 'light dawning'), "I bet you're the lovely lady behind the scenes at our favorite bakery."
"I are," Charlotte said with a smile. "You two are keeping me in business."
"Yeah but don't tell anyone. They'd think we're buying and not eating."
"We'll work on that," she said. Charlotte got down on one knee in front of Skip.
"Hello love. It's nice to see you again."
"Nice to have you in ... our home Charlotte."
I had forgotten that Skip would have met Charlie's parents already. Duh.
"Hello Officer Jim," said Skip. Jim got down to Skip's eye level as well.
"Hello friend Skip. You're looking well."
"Better since my Aaron ... came home."
"I can see that. Hello Aaron. You're right. You need to visit the bakery more often."
"I'll be interested to see if my thought waves reached your spouse," I said, eyeing the large bakery bag.
Jim pulled out two boxes of cannolis and two boxes of Italian pastries.
Everyone laughed. Okay, so that was an easy guess.
"Head to the kitchen. I'm about to unveil MY contribution to dinner."
Everyone gathered around the counter island as I made great fanfare at opening the oven, taking out my foil-covered main course, and setting it on a trivet. I took the foil off. Nice reaction from my friends-oohs and ahhs.
"THAT," I said, "is a wonderful set of faces. Not to tease, but it tastes better than it looks and smells."
"Be still my heart," said Patricia. "Sigh. Back to the pool."
"How about some wine while it cools down. It should rest about 15 minutes."
I pulled chilled Sonoma Valley white wine out of the fridge. Fred opened the French red wine that was already on the counter. He looked at the label, impressed.
"Courtesy of a family member of one of our Canadian friends," I said to him.
Once we had selected our favorite, we raised our glasses in a toast.
"To these two very fine young men," I said. "Friends and loves, finest kind."
"Here here," said all. The boys blushed.
"Come, let's sit in the den upstairs for a bit."
Officer Jim picked Skip up out of his wheelchair. I loved when our friends thought about Skip first time every time. It spoke volumes for their comfort around him. Skip never objected to being carried by anyone. Jim kissed Skip's forehead as he sat him down beside the fire. Enya sang to us in the background. She was perfect for a group of our size.
"Fred says you're back in the classroom, Aaron. There's a spot open for you in the fire company you know."
"I heard, but I gotta earn that first. I'm more paramedic than firefighter, though I want to be both."
"We need both. I'm not filling the spot anytime soon. Come see me over lunch one day soon and we'll take over paying for your training. Fire school starts in April."
"Sweet. Consider it done."
I knew that Jim was going to save the spot for me. As soon as I committed to the classroom, he held the position. He had my resume and personnel records from Boston. We would talk about my suspension together, but he already knew what it was about.
A half hour later, we gathered in the dining area. I cut the first row of lasagna and put a piece for Skip and me on a plate. I handed the spatula to Patricia as I made a suggested serving size for her. She rolled her eyes at me. Together we plunged into the five layers of very rich pasta, meats, cheeses, and sauce.
"Go boldly," I said.
Charlotte went boldly too. Bakery owners were not always plump Italian women, so I did my best to help her image along. She cuffed me upside the head. Fickle woman then kissed me. I gave her a kiss back, happy for our banter.
We sat at the table, dug into salad and crusty bread. I eagerly awaited the reaction to the main course. I didn't have to wait long.
"Mmmm, oh this is wonderful!" said Patricia. Charlotte quickly agreed, enjoying the richness.
"Okay Pat, I'll join you at the pool."
I fed Skip as the boys dug into theirs. "So what's in our recipe notebook will turn out to be this?" asked Charlie. "You didn't hold back a secret ingredient did you?"
"It should be very close to this. The secret ingredient is a little love. Make the sauce like you mean it, no less than eight hours. I baby it for 12 hours, but no longer because it will turn bitter."
"Okay," he said. "We can mean it for at least eight hours."
Everyone took another half slice. Looks like Skip and I would be eating salad and bread this week. And Italian pastries.
I knew for sure the boys would take some home with them, and I encouraged the parents to do so as well. I used the 'Italian is always better the next day' truth to convince them. I almost had to resort to 'the deadly eyes'. After dinner, they helped me put theirs in Tupperware containers. They also made sure Skip and I had two more pieces each. That would be just right for us.
When it was time to head out, Skip got a round of hugs and kisses. Everyone started to put on their jackets and coats. I stood there, arms crossed at my chest, waiting for the same thing. Fred was trying to stifle a smirk. After a couple of minutes, the little chatter between the four adults broke out into quiet laughing.
"Awww Aaron, you know we're only teasing."
I turned my back when Patricia came to give me my hugs, not able to hide my own smirk. Fred and Jim wouldn't have that, so they tackled me onto the floor and then tickled me until I cried Uncle! They picked me up and presented me to the girls. I caved in and let them hug me. When I didn't hug back, the men intervened again. I hugged and held on.
"All kidding aside, thank you so much for dinner and your love of our boys," said Charlotte. "You both really are a treasure. If you need anything, please call."
"We will. Thanks folks. Come and see us again."
I took Skip out of his wheelchair and set him on the floor between my legs. I held him, arms tightly wrapped around him, my cheek beside his. We listened to the quiet. No voices, no noise outside, no music inside. I listened to his heart beat for me. Mine beat for him too, and he knew it every day.
"Want a shower?" I asked.
I took him down our long hallway and set him on the bed, gently laying him down.
"You're hard," I said, feeling his crotch because of his obvious bulge.
"Are you?" he asked me.
"Gimme a minute. Let's get nice and wet."
I undressed him and then me. I went to turn on the shower, letting it warm up. I carried him in, setting him on the bench, just partially washing him. I sat on his dick after soaping up a bit. He smiled as I slid down easily.
"If I was more into fetishes, I'd put cowboy boots on you and ride you into the sunset."
"I'm not ready for ... sunset yet. Into a starry night is ... good enough."
I looked up through the skylight. It was clear and I could see a few stars. I got off him for a moment, turned the lights out, and slid onto him again.
"Better," he said, watching me and the stars.
"Love you," he said with his soft voice and his eyes.
When he came inside of me, I did not waste a moment. I slid inside of my mate and tried to be as good to him as he was to me.
"You are," he said.
"I'm glad. It's about the only physical way of showing you."
"Your heart is better."
"It's not exactly physical, this way I mean."
"Sure it is. If you ... didn't love me, you ... wouldn't lust me. I feel your ... heartbeat when you sleep."
"Sweet. Are you having trouble sleeping?"
"Only sometimes. You keep ... me safe."
"You should wake me up when you can't sleep."
"Nah. I just ... move a bit ... so you hold me tighter. Or I ... hold you tighter ... if you move."
"I feel you holding me tighter too. I like when you slide inside of me when I'm sleeping."
"I'm close, love."
"Ready," he said.
I came inside of him as I leaned in to kiss his sweet lips. He put effort into raising his arms. I helped him wrap them around me. I loved him touching me, holding me, kissing me, loving me. He could do it all so sincerely that I cried sometimes just thinking about him, and sometimes in public places.
"You're thinking about your buddy, aren't you Aaron," Brent asked me.
"Yeah," I said, choked up.
"You worried about him?"
I shook my head. "I just love," I said, unable to say it for the tightness in my throat.
He rubbed my back. "I know you do. I've never cried like you do. I'm a little ashamed."
I shook my head again. "Don't be. I'm just being stupid."
"Not even close, bud. You couldn't be dumb if you tried."
"Sorry. About crying and interrupting your work."
"S'okay Aaron. What can I do for you?"
"Let's go home for lunch."
I picked up my phone and called home. Fred answered. I asked if it was okay to make it lunch for four.
"Of course. Skip is a little antsy. You having a moment?"
"Yeah. Can I talk to him?"
I heard Skip's wheelchair in the background. "Hi love."
"Hi. I miss you."
"Nice. So come home ... for lunch."
"Brent and I are coming in a while."
"Good. You okay ... now?"
"I am. See you love."
"Love you Aaron. So much."
I smiled as I hung up. "Okay bud?" asked Brent.
"Yeah. He loves me."
We went back to work. I was working on an engineering prototype, working in clay. All that mattered, for now, was size-to-scale, and form. I keyed a set of figures into my 3-D model and then rotated it to look at one side. I returned to my clay model, shaping and trimming. I went back and forth between the 3-D model on my PC and my clay model. My Computer-Aided Design (CAD) skills had been sharpened significantly while I was in Atlanta. Mike had turned me loose and let me grow at my own pace. Finishing early was just the icing on a very cool project.
At home, Fred made us all a BLT wrap. He knew me well. He ladled homemade minestrone soup into bowls. March was still chilly. I fed Skip. Brent watched me, though I was mostly oblivious to our caregivers.
"I'd cry too," he said softly. I almost didn't hear him. Skip nodded.
"I do too ... sometimes," Skip said. "Aaron is ... my world."
"I see that, easily. I wouldn't cry from pity," Brent said. "Just the love shining through. I could learn a few things from you two."
I had heard that from Lorial in Atlanta. Love didn't care about the nit picky things. Love was heart and soul.
Skip hugged me and kissed my forehead before we went back to work. Brent got down on one knee, sliding his right hand toward Skip. This was their ritual. Skip met Brent half way as usual. He worked hard to do it. Brent had wanted to make it easier on Skip, but Skip had trained him not to. A handshake was a big deal to Skip. A firm handshake pleased them both.
"I really would cry too," said Brent, looking up at me. He stood up and hugged me.
Skip wanted to be on the sofa, reading. I put pillows behind his back and put the page turner on his lap. Looks like he would be finished with the Dean Koontz novel by the time I got home. He kissed me.
The afternoon was better than the morning. I didn't feel embarrassed because Brent understood. By the end of the day, my 3-D model was one-third done, better than my goal of 25% for the day. I didn't have to go back to recheck my model against my CAD software model because I worked step-by-step using both. An independent eye, probably Alfie, would do his own measurements in the lab. He, or whoever, would not cut me slack in his or her job. GE's reputation was on the line, not mine personally. My final product would be at least 95% there by test time because I too would not cut myself slack. Do it well and do it right.
I was once again in the classroom, finally continuing my paramedic training. I brought all my notes from Boston up-to-date with current trends and technologies. I shared my experiences as a major city EMS member, compared to Fairfield County, Connecticut. Our service area in Connecticut was larger, but the population was less than Boston and metro. My training and experiences were already half again as much as my peers, though only because of Boston.
April took away the last remaining snow. I trained rigorously at the fire academy on weekends, and then joined the local fire company after meeting a competency level. I was one of only three firefighter/paramedics. The older crewmates were firefighters only. They thought that it was enough to do one thing or the other, not both. Despite that, there was no infighting. I proved my worth soon enough. Charlie's dad took me under his wing.
When I was finally allowed to go out on my first fire call as a fireman, I was in an assistant role as far as fighting the fire. I would not be at the front of the hose. My primary job was to do search and rescue since I checked out with my air tanks. I was more a paramedic, no matter if we were going to a fire or an accident.
"You smell like a roast turkey," said Skip one Tuesday night in early April when I got home from my shift.
"I've showered twice already," I said. "Love me anyway?"
"I guess," he said with a sly smile.
"Wanna watch me shower?"
"Mmmm," wiggly eyebrows.
We did just that-he watched me shower. Our lovemaking was daily. Our sex was a couple times a week, on his needs. He cared about my needs too, but knew I cared more for his. He deserved something special, whether he wanted it or not.
Patrick called us on Wednesday night.
"Would love to come see you. Wanna pick me up in New Haven on Friday?"
"Yeah love. What time are you due in?"
"Around 3:30. Is that too early?"
"Nope. I'm done work by 4:00. You'd wait only about an hour."
"You coming alone?"
"Yeah, this time. Just need to see you. Billy understood."
"He always will, love. No worries, okay."
"Only one. Will you, um ... "
"Anything you ... want, love," Skip said.
"Make love to me?"
"Yes," Skip said. No need to complicate it.
"Okay. I love you guys."
"I love you too ... Patrick. Every day," said Skip.
"What he said," I said.
I clicked off the speaker as I hung up.
"He's scared," said Skip.
"Yeah. We can make him okay?"
"We can," he said, meaning it.
Billy called a while later to tell us he loves us. We didn't talk long. This was usual. It was like my famous "I thought about you today," call. Nice to have those. He was holding on to Patrick. That meant one thing-Patrick was in the best hands possible.
Patrick had told the guys that he had leukemia. They did very little that was more special than any other day because every day for them was special. No one hovered or crowded him. He went to classes every day, ate his meals (with difficulty) with the boys, went to MGH twice a week with one of the boys with him, and did everything that Andrew told him to.
Skip and I met Patrick in New Haven at 4:00. I had left work a half hour early. He broke into tears as soon as he hugged me, so I held tight. Skip slid beside Patrick and worked to put his hand in Patrick's hand. I kissed his forehead when the tears slowed. They ran down his cheeks, so I brushed them away with my thumbs.
"I'm okay. Just a little overwhelmed," he said.
"We both understand, love. We've been there. It's harder for you because it's not a tumor. It can't be taken away easily."
"Andrew says I'm a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant. My brother can donate for me."
"Sweet," said Skip. "What can we do ... for you?"
"I need you," he said simply, looking down, embarrassed.
"Let's go home," Skip said.
Patrick sat with Skip in the back, holding his hand again, holding Skip. Skip kissed him on his lips softly. At home, he took Skip out of his truck and set him in his wheelchair. Skip headed to the garage and to his elevator up to the main floor. This impressed Patrick. I went in the front door.
"My Dad did this, and more," said Skip.
Inside, Skip rolled off the lift and into the kitchen.
"Come on love, I want to show you upstairs. Where you sleep while you're here is up to you."
"I won't be a pest," he said.
"I don't know what a pest is, bro. You're one of our boys. Okay?"
"Okay. Thanks for having me."
I took Patrick up one level and exited left to show him the den. There was a half bath there, ala JD. It made for a slightly smaller den, but it was easier on Skip. The whole condo was easier on Skip, which is the only thing that we cared about. Upper floors were not off limits to him. Up another level, we exited to the loft and bedroom above the living room. The bedroom had a skylight. Today was a sunny day.
"Nice. Not much different than my room at home. Bigger bed, skylight, full bath-I love this little window on the outer wall. I'd be okay here, Aaron."
I set his duffel bag on the bed.
"First trick to feeling at home is to unpack. The dresser is yours. We went out last night and bought your favorite soap and shampoo.
"Oh my," he said, checking the bathroom. "That's first class. You really do love me."
"Every day, like Skip said. You're a bit more special because you're sick."
"I don't want to be special," he said, taking my hand and sitting on the bed.
"House rules. No amendments allowed."
"Okay. I'll clean up and meet you downstairs?"
"Sure. Take your time. Do you want to help with dinner? Or do you want some quality time with Skip instead."
"With you both," he said softly.
I hugged him. "It's what you need, love. Don't be shy."
He shrugged. "If you both are inside of me by the time I go back to school ... "
He left it at that. I understood. Any of us leaving a bit of ourselves in our boys was a good thing. We would always be together. I nodded and kissed him. I went downstairs.
"You okay to be inside of our friend?"
"Yeah. It's his call."
"He's a little shy about it."
"Then we take ... our time."
Patrick came downstairs after 20 minutes. He had showered and was wearing just his gym shorts. He had bruises on his chest. Lesions actually.
"This is why I'm shy I guess," he said, touching one of them.
"S'okay love. You know how we are when we're intimate. Are you afraid we'd hurt you?"
He nodded a little, looking at the floor. I took his chin in my thumb and finger and gently raised it.
"Not ever, bud. Not once. Come on," I said, walking behind Skip as we went to our room.
Patrick helped Skip slide out of his wheelchair onto the bed. I pushed the wheelchair to the other side of the room. I helped Skip lay down, and gently got Patrick to lay with him. I got behind Patrick but did not crowd him. He was shaking a little. He sat up a moment, taking Skip's shirt off. He gently touched Skip's skin and kissed him sweetly on his lips.
"May I take your jeans off?" Patrick asked Skip. Skip nodded with a smile. Patrick went easy with the zipper, figuring correctly that Skip was commando. He didn't want to snag skin in the zipper. (Ever done that? Ouch!) Skip was fully hard.
"It still surprises me that you can. Not what I expected from an injury like yours"
"It's a blessing now. It ... used to be a curse. Aaron ... didn't know either."
Patrick looked at me. "He's hard for you love. Whatever feels right for you, do it. Do you want to be alone with Skip?"
He answered my question by kissing me, taking off my shirt too. He touched my skin with the tips of his fingers. Patrick got on his knees and undid my belt, taking it off my jeans. He opened my jeans as he leaned down to kiss my chest. He came up and kissed my lips again.
Over the course of two hours, he took Skip and me to a beautiful place that we all could share together. He cried when Skip entered him gently and so lovingly. Skip held him just right, taking any shame away from him. I started to back off again so they could have their time together.
"No. I came for you both. I'm okay Aaron. It's overwhelming that you can be so gentle. I knew you would be but I guess I had to see it."
I lay so he could enter me while Skip was inside him. Something new for Patrick to experience. He accepted what I offered. I moaned, enjoying his size. He was not as big as David, but he was bigger than most of the other boys.
At dusk, we lay in each other's arms. Skip had left his seed to grow inside of Patrick. Patrick had given me his to carry forever.
"No matter where we go ... " I said
" ... we'll be part of each other forever," said Patrick.
He kissed us both. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," said Skip, as Patrick took his hand.
"How about tacos for dinner?"
"Yum. Haven't had those in a long while."
"Do you want to bring Skip?"
"Yeah, I do."
He put Skip's jeans back on him, and then his gym shorts on himself. I put my jeans on. Patrick sat Skip on a counter stool, sitting closely beside him to hold him up. I took all the ingredients out of the fridge and the cupboards. I used a mix of ground beef and ground turkey. Patrick chopped the onion into a fine dice, arms around Skip, while I browned the meat. I added a couple of my own spices and then got the cheeses out of the fridge.
"Hard or soft?" I said, referring (mostly) to the taco shell choice.
"I'm soft," said Skip very seriously.
"Me too," said Patrick, laughing.
I peeked inside of my jeans, looking down. "Make that three. For now."
"Soft taco first," said Skip.
"Me too. I'd rather go from soft to hard," said Patrick.
"Don't start something you can't finish," I warned him.
"I are a stud boy. I can finish just fine."
Leave it to these guys to turn food into a sexual discussion. Yeah okay, I started it, but innocently. NOT!
"If you can't you'll have to do it over and over again," I said.
I assembled tacos for us, one soft and one hard shell. Patrick poured milk after setting Skip in his chair at the dining table. He helped Skip eat his with only a little mess. He put the stray bits on a spoon and did the airplane thing with Skip. Skip, as usual, rolled his eyes at Patrick.
"Sorry. I get weird sometimes."
"Sometimes?" Skip and I said at the same time, causing the three of us to laugh.
We finished out late dinner and cleaned up.
"Where to?" asked Patrick.
"How about up to the ... den? Hold me?"
Patrick picked Skip up and carried him upstairs. He sat him on the loveseat and gave him a kiss.
"Be right back. I need to get a sweatshirt."
When he came back, he sat behind Skip, his back against the armrest. He maneuvered Skip between his legs, wrapping his arms tightly around Skip. He kissed Skip's neck. Patrick was one very loving young man.
"Love me?" asked Patrick.
"I do," said Skip. He turned his head to kiss Patrick. They looked into each other's eyes. Patrick kissed Skip again, tenderly and lightly.
"May I be inside you? You can say no ... "
"Yes bro. I'd like that."
I helped Skip out of his jeans. The den was warm enough. I would hold his legs if he got cold. Patrick shucked his gym shorts. He had a bit of difficulty, so I helped him find his mark. He slid easily into Skip. They moaned together. Patrick kissed me too.
"Okay by you Aaron?"
"You don't need my permission, ever. One thing though."
"I know," said Patrick. "No pity. I don't feel that for Skip. The Skip that I know is 100%."
"Yeah," said Skip. "Are you comfortable?"
"A bit awkward but it's okay."
"Lay me on my back," Skip said. You can raise my legs ... without hurting me."
Patrick believed him. He slid out of Skip, lay him flat, raised his legs, and re-entered him smoothly. He kissed Skip deeply this time as he made slow sweet love to him. I was hard but I did not need to participate. There have been many times when our intimacy was all about only one boy. Patrick could easily forget his illness while loving Skip. He did not need my approval or intervention. I stayed only to watch this beautiful scene at the outer edge of their awareness. I was sure that all Patrick felt was Skip at the center of his universe. A few minutes more and I slipped quietly from the room. I went down to the kitchen and puttered around, making a raspberry almond torte for tomorrow.
It was forty-five minutes longer before Patrick brought Skip downstairs. He set Skip on the living room sofa, fully dressed and warm. He looked embarrassed again as he came into the kitchen. I wrapped my arms around him, kissing him softly on his forehead.
"Okay?" I said, as if that kiss was understandable.
"Yeah. Thank you. I'm not as good about loving two as you are."
"Love the one you're with, says the old song," I said. "It's a gift to love at all."
"Yeah. But ... "
"Sshhhh," I said. "Go and hold your buddy. I'm just fine."
"I'd rather hold you both."
He pulled me by my waist into the living room. He sat between us and did indeed hold us both. I finally wrapped him around Skip and then wrapped myself around Patrick. We had nowhere important to be and nothing important to do except hold our Patrick in our arms.
"I don't know if ... you'll be okay, but ... "
"I'll be okay no matter what happens. Aaron said this and I'm glad I remembered-'I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of not living.'"
I was stunned. I had said those words only once, to my recollection.
"Don't be surprised. You're as profound as anyone on Earth. Sshhhh, you are. The moments we're in are all that will EVER matter to me bro. I don't see how you can be so intimate with me except you know I'm scared and that I've earned it. I stopped being scared the moment Skip came inside me because he gave me a thousand things more than just his semen. You know as well as I do that things grow from the seed."
I could only nod. I looked at Skip. He winked at me. Inscrutable Skip.
"Tell us about your treatments with Andrew."
"The first time, Andrew met me at Park Street station. We transferred to the Red Line to Charles/MGH. I had done it only once when we came to visit you guys at your apartment. He's a very caring man, but you already know that."
Skip and I nodded.
"He took my vitals, talked to me about my family history, and then focused on me. There's no cancer in my family. I had asked my folks to tell me everything they knew as far back as they could. Roll of the dice."
"I heard that recently about my CMT. My mom had it. My brother doesn't. His sons are fine too."
"I had 'why me?' thoughts, but only for a moment. I had to dismiss them."
"How come?" asked Skip.
"'Why me' has no answer."
"It's still okay to ask it," I said. "You're right, of course."
"I know. Guess who taught me that."
"Dunno love. I imagine Skip would have said it at some point."
"Only because someone else said it first."
I shrugged. He leaned in to kiss me.
"You said it, Aaron. To Sam."
I remembered now. I was in their dorm with them one night before heading back to Billy's dorm. It was a few days after Billy found Sam in the basement of one of the classroom buildings.
"You kept Sam from falling deeper when his father threw him out of his house."
"And you kept hanging on love," I said. "Staying his roommate despite the knife took some balls."
"It took more for Billy to do what he did, and then for Sam to believe him."
"Can you remember those ... words when you're in ... trouble?"
"I think so."
I grabbed my laptop. In Microsoft Word, I type out my three phrases: 1) There is no answer to 'Why me?' 2) I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of not living. 3) The future isn't where my life is; it's in the moments I'm in.
I did a little bit of formatting and then sent it to the printer in the upstairs den, on manual feed so that I could put special paper in the paper tray. Once printed, I put it in an 8x10 aluminum-edged frame and brought it back to Patrick.
"You left off the attribution," he said.
"They're only my thoughts, not my creation."
He chose not to argue. I don't say things I don't believe. I didn't create those words-I only put them in an understandable order.
"I'll live because of a lot of people. At the head of the list is you."
I shook my head. He took my hand and looked deeply into my eyes. I don't know what he saw, except perhaps the soul of a survivor, tested too many times.
"If you can, I can. I don't care about how easy or how difficult. And you, love," he said turning to Skip. "Your strength will go with me every day. The guys will go with me to chemo. Andrew works too many hours, but he's not going to let me die."
"You're his first genetics case because of the lack of family history. You won't say 'Why me?' but Andrew will. You're not pre-disposed to cancer, so why you? What he finds out will help so many others."
"Are you okay about spending some of your summer in DC?"
"Yeah. My brother will live with me in an apartment near NIH. I don't want to be alone. I also don't want to be at the hospital for days on end. Nick is working on finding us a part-time contract that we can work together."
"Sweet. He's older, right?"
"Yeah, about 18 months. He's working on getting his head on straight, but he'll do it. We're close. He'll worry, but I will put this up on the wall where we both see it every day. If I do get scared, Nick will hold me, and I'll let him."
He looked at the clock on the VCR. "It's late. We should go to bed. Can I help you shower Skip?"
"Yes. I'd like that."
Patrick carried Skip to our bedroom. I went with them. I'd wait until they were done before I showered. On the way, I put the unbaked torte into the fridge.
Sitting Skip on the bed, he took Skip's jeans and sweatshirt off. I went to turn on the shower, getting the temp up to speed. Patrick came in, carrying Skip, both nude. He set Skip down. I sat on the edge of the bathtub to watch him. I wasn't concerned that he did anything wrong. Watching our friends care for Skip was 1000 times better than watching the best movie on television.
He put Skip's head under the shower spray and wet it thoroughly. He put shampoo in his hand and then washed Skip's hair. He looked around for shaving cream and found it in a niche in the wall. He lathered up Skip's face. The steam is a softening agent, making it easier to shave without cutting up our faces and leaving no razor burn. Patrick washed Skip's face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, torso, groin, butt, legs, and finally his feet. He took his time.
He looked into Skip's eyes for a moment. "Can you feel any of that? Me washing you?"
Skip shook his head. "Only my arms and ... hands. I don't need to feel ... anything else."
"I'm still sorry for that," Patrick said sadly.
"I'm not. It's done. Move on."
Patrick turned off the water and moved Skip to the dry side of the bench. He took the oversized towel that I handed him and dried off our bud. When he was done, he wrapped it around Skip and took him back to our bed. I took my time in the shower. Patrick came back in to join me.
"Hey, there's something sprouting on top of your head. Hair?"
"I dunno yet. I still think I'm being teased. It's not growing very fast at all."
"Patience bro. If it's meant to be."
"Don't forget those wise words, bud. Fate or otherwise. But I kinda like the words. Que sera sera."
"What will be, will be," he said. "Spanish. Thanks for the reminder."
When we were done showering, I handed him a towel and took one for myself. Skip was resting up against the headboard and pillows, t-shirt and boxer briefs on as usual, covered legs. Patrick kissed us both.
"See you in the morning, loves. Thanks for having me for the weekend."
"If you don't want to sleep alone, you're welcome to stay."
"Nah, I'm alright. Hold your bud, Aaron."
He went up to his room.
"He loves you, you know," said Skip. "Even ... when we were alone in the den ... he felt like he was ... betraying you."
"I assume you set him straight."
"I did. Go upstairs with him ... bro. He shouldn't ... sleep alone."
"I'm more alright then ... Patrick is."
I tucked Skip in. He really was alright, in many ways. Often better than even me. I climbed the two flights. Patrick had his light still on, reading the first Harry Potter. He smiled up at me. He slid to his right and opened the covers for me.
"Remind me to thank him in the morning. I'm okay though."
"I know. Tomorrow night, Skip will sleep with you."
"You worry too much."
"I love you. My only reason or excuse. Pick one."
"Love is never an excuse. It's a reason to do a lot of wonderful things for each other."
I nodded. The young man is indeed wise. "Go ahead and read that fine book. I'm sleepy."
He read for a while as I held him. When he was tired, he set his book on the side table, turned off the light, slid further into the bed, and held me tight. I tucked his face into my neck, which he kissed. We fell into the depth together.
A light kiss on my lips woke me. I looked into a pair of wide-awake blue eyes. I pushed his blond hair off his forehead.
"You've been awake for awhile," I said.
"Half hour maybe. I always wake early to make sure Sam is okay. It's cool watching you or my mates sleep."
"Let's go wake up our bud," I said, knowing he would already be awake and probably needing to pee.
I was right on both counts. When he was done, I carried him to the dining table.
"How about we wake up our two other buds," said Patrick.
I dialed Pete and Charlie's cell phone. Charlie answered.
"Morning Aaron. We're ten minutes away. We've got breakfast."
"Okay bud. The door is unlocked, so let yourself in."
I poured OJ for us three and put the coffee on. Breakfast could be McDonald's or pastry from Charlotte's bakery. I was pleasantly surprised. Pete started taking casserole dishes out of a large brown bag. Before he finished, he and Charlie gave Patrick long hugs and smooches.
"What'd you bring us?" Patrick asked, "Besides what you just gave me."
"Egg and potato casserole with sausage and onions. Hash browns. Bacon on the side. Bagels from MomTwo's (Mom Two is Pete's second Mom, Charlotte) bakery, warm and fresh. And/or Danish."
"Yum! The heart ... attack special."
"Nah, it's pick-and-choose buffet style. One of each for Aaron's scrawny ass. Something more sensible for the rest of us."
I brought two more glasses of OJ for the boys. Coffee was about done and the kitchen was alive with savory and sweet smells. Skip and I got our hugs and kisses too. I poured coffee and more juice. I gave the large coffee mug to Patrick since he wanted to assist Skip. We all took small portions of everything. I added fresh fruit to fend off the heart attack potential.
"Aw crud," said Pete. "I coulda brought fruit."
"No worries, bud. What's ours is yours."
When breakfast was done, Patrick went upstairs to dress. When the boys had come in, we were all wearing our standard sleepwear-t-shirts and boxer briefs. They stripped down so we'd all be equal. Skip just shook his head. Very little surprised me. They got dressed again when I took Skip back to our bedroom to dress. We'd sit around a while, waiting for breakfast to digest properly. It was a warm April morning. We asked the boys to have dinner with us tonight but they begged off.
"You should spend time with Patrick. We'll see him again."
"I thought about playing basketball today, but I don't want to leave Skip out," said Charlie.
"You can play ball ... guys. I'm fine to coach and ... keep score."
"Doesn't seem right, bro," said Pete.
"Feh. Come on. Let's rock."
The best place to play was at one of the local schools or colleges. Skip was indeed happy just to be outside with us. We ended up on at a small university a bit north of GE headquarters. A small group of guys was just finishing, all hot and sweaty. I recognized Brent right away.
"Hey mate. You look beat."
"We've been playing almost since the sun came up," he said.
We made introductions all around. They headed for the showers as we took to the court. I started out strong with a three-point shot. Patrick had forgotten to tell Pete and Charlie that it's my usual. He told them I'd be good for one more, but not for a while. When I got the ball back, I made my second three-point shot just because I had stored energy. That was probably it for the morning though. We played hard. The two mates and Patrick were about half my age. I gave them hope though that when they were forty, they too could be running around like guys half their age. Since I loved basketball best, I played well.
We took a break to get the running score from Skip.
"What score," he said, teasingly. "I was supposed to ... keep score too?"
I gave him eyes.
"Geez A, stop! Patrick and ... Pete 20 ... Charlie 21 (also a three-pointer), A 24."
"Whoo hoo!" we all said, high fives all around.
We played until we couldn't play anymore. Once home, Patrick and I showered upstairs while Pete and Charlie showered downstairs. Patrick's chest and arms were riddled with bruises. Pete and Charlie did not know Patrick has leukemia, and he wanted it kept that way. He was a guy like any other. I understood.
We kissed for a long while under the shower spray. "Love you, Aaron. You're so good to us."
"Love you too, bud. I care about all of you. My boys. I'm not happy when I know any of you are hurting."
Patrick put on a long-sleeved shirt before we went downstairs.
"You're blood counts are down bud," Pete said to Patrick. "What type of cancer do you have?"
Patrick stared open mouthed at Pete.
"Sorry Patrick. I don't mean to pry. I had a friend with cancer when we were younger. You're pale and you got bruising around your neck. You don't have to tell us anything."
"Leukemia, bud. I'm not into broadcasting it."
"I understand. No worries. Your mates at school and these guys on your side? You'll be okay."
Patrick nodded. A tear rolled down his cheek and he brushed it off quickly. He smiled at Pete and nodded again. Pete couldn't feel what Patrick could. Neither could Skip or I, except for the terror of it sometimes. Charlie leaned over and kissed Patrick on his cheek where the tear had been.
"We'll both cheer you on, bud. Two more voices in your chorus. "
We weren't hungry yet so we went out to walk around downtown. The day was warm and a bit overcast. We had brought a soccer ball just to kick around, so we went to the park. This is also something that Skip could get into. I threw the ball at his footrests and he took it from there. We chased him down the open area, kicking it into and out of his path as we went. He made a quick lunge and put the ball into the bushes. Score. We played for a long while, but at a much reduced pace from basketball.
When we'd had enough, I took orders for Subway. The guys sat with Skip and Patrick on benches at the edge of the park. I had put our initials on the wrappers as the subs were made. Patrick helped Skip with his soda, being careful not to poke the straw too deep into Skip's mouth.
We headed south to Stamford. The city had one of the better malls in the area. Each one of us bought one favorite thing from each favorite store. I bought a new Dean Koontz novel for Skip and a new Mitch Rapp novel by Vince Flynn for me. Patrick bought a polo shirt that fit him better than his others since he was doing the weight loss routine. He and I had counted exposed ribs on each other when we were in the shower. I had three. He had four. I bought a second polo shirt for him. He argued and I ignored the protestation. I gave him a small hug instead. He thanked me.
We packed bodies and packages into Skip's truck. Charlie drove us home. There were no movies in the theaters that interested us. Patricia and Fred had asked us to dinner so we went over to their place a bit early. Fred came out and picked Skip up, throwing him over his shoulder.
"Hey, you're putting on some weight," Fred said to Skip.
"Your boy's breakfast ... special. I might need to ... exercise some more."
Fred laughed heartily. Skip loved making Fred laugh because sometimes Fred felt bad for Skip. He lightened the mood whenever he could. The sky had cleared off and we could see the brighter planets and stars expose themselves. The crickets were at the back end of the property. We went to sit at the edge of the pond after Fred begged off help with the grill. I took Skip's boots and socks off, rolling up his jeans. I set him down beside me and then joined him, or feet in the cool water. Pete, Charlie, and Patrick came out of the house in their swim trunks. Pete's didn't fit Patrick very well. I made a note of that. The boys all loved the pool at school, so he'd have a new pair of trunks that fit right within the week.
The boys dove in and swam around. I jumped when something touched my feet under water. It felt like a small fish. Charlie surfaced and grinned at me. I kicked water at him. Patrick came out of the water a while later with a nosebleed. Unfortunately, these were a common occurrence for him, and the thing that made him come clean with the BC boys. One or two could be explained away. Daily nosebleeds could not.
Stage III cancer said that Patrick should be in the hospital. Patrick had made it clear to Andrew that he was not going to live half a life or less. Andrew had a bit of a problem with that. Any oncologist or hematologist would, but he also knew Patrick was correct. Babying a patient was never the right thing to do.
I ran across the lawn and into the house. I got a wet washcloth from the bathroom. Patricia asked if the boys were okay. I told her Patrick has a nosebleed but we knew how to take care of it. I leaned Patrick's forehead down a bit, letting the blood flow. Pete ran inside for a second washcloth. Patricia had it ready just in case.
"Thanks Mom. You're wonderful," he said.
Twenty minutes later, our bud was okay again. Patrick would make a log in his notebook when we got home later. Andrew wanted to know about any incidence at all. The folks set the outdoor table while I dried Skip's and my feet and redressed us. The three boys went inside to change out of their trunks. I knew that Pete and Charlie were holding Patrick for a few minutes, just to make sure. He would have hugged them back, in friendship, not in worry.
Charlie sat to Skip's left so he could have his turn at helping our bud eat. I sat between Fred and Patricia. Skip was the only person, as usual, at the head of the table. Most people I knew did not use the dining room table to establish any pecking order. It was a space for Skip only because it made it easy for his wheelchair or for a chair with arms on it to hold him in.
We had grilled pork chops, sweet potatoes, early Spring vegetables from the farmer's market, and the torte that I had made but not baked yet. Iced tea flowed freely. We had a raspberry liqueur with our dessert. Patrick had not had Chambord before. Alcohol was a no-no a day before and a day after his chemo. The boys were now all old enough to enjoy an occasional beer. I remembered this for our summer long weekend picnic. I would buy only a case. If we finished it, I would be surprised. Iced tea and lemonade were the top hits for our weekend.
While I was thinking about the long weekend, I brought it up to the boys. I had told Pete and Charlie about it a few months ago, inviting them to come this year. They said yes readily. They both fit in easily with the BC boys even though they were a couple years older. I had already proved age meant nothing in our circle.
We all walked back to the pond, sitting down and enjoying the just-right air. Ducks swam around and paid little attention to us. Fred held on to Patricia like we boys always hold on. I held Skip while Skip held Patrick. He kissed Patrick lightly on his neck. I loved Skip for the love he passed on to our boys. Charlie held his Pete, sitting next to Pete's folks. Patricia reached out and took Charlie's hand for a moment. Charlie was her son by all except as birth mother. That her son loved another boy was something to celebrate. She was not ashamed, only very pleased. She and Fred took shit for that attitude. Good. At least people were paying attention. She preached No Hate in her own quiet way and she did it as beautifully as any woman on Earth.
When the air turned colder, we all picked up the dinner dishes and brought them inside. Fred rinsed everything and put it in the dishwasher. We went to the den in the basement and surfed the four major cable movie channels. We all agreed upon "The Legend of Bagger Vance" a Will Smith/Matt Damon pic.
Later that evening, at home, we three showered together, needing only a light wash. As promised, I carried Skip up to Patrick's room for tonight. I tucked Patrick into his side of the bed, and then kissed them both. He took my hand for a moment and then looked up into my eyes.
Before he let me leave he said "Tell me about Vincent? Please?"
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