Skip - Part 57
"You can. If it's meant to be."
Four days after Christmas --
Jake sat at my PC, tears in his eyes.
"She's okay. She's left my father and went to my aunt's house up north."
I left him alone while he wrote her back. I was lying on the sofa when he came downstairs a little while later. He curled up in front of me. I touched Jake's cheek.
"We will talk to the judge again," I told him.
In the meantime, we got ready to go home to Connecticut.
Skip thought it was a good idea for the guys to talk to Jake a couple times a week until we left, so he wouldn't feel out of place when he came home with me. Jake liked the idea. He and Skip talked each Monday, and then he and Billy talked on Thursdays. We also talked to Betsy and JD together so he'd know a bit about them. They had loved me many times over for rescuing Jake.
"Ready love?" I asked Jake as we put our stuff in Matt's car. It was Saturday December 22. We would be back on Wednesday. I'd miss a chemo session-whoo hoo! But we would both make our Friday sessions. It's still sad to think I met Jake only because of our cancers.
Matt and Ginny were going to drive us to 30th Street Station. I considered bringing my car back now that I knew the landscape a bit. Fred was running it a couple times a week for me. He had my oil changed and tires rotated.
"Ready Aaron. Can't wait to see Skip and Billy. I'll miss Daniel though. Wish he could come."
"We'll make another trip home when he can go. Did you trade gifts yet?"
"No. After we get back so we can have Christmas again at his house."
"We can delay our trip. Have your first real Christmas with your heart mate. It'd be more special."
"I'd rather have my first real Christmas with you. Daniel and his family are going to wait for me. He and I had Thanksgiving. Now it's your turn."
Sigh. "Okay. I have an idea for another gift for Daniel, but I want it to be from you."
"I already bought him something."
"I know. Mine, uh OURS will go with it nicely. You'll see what I mean on Christmas morning."
"Ready guys?" asked Matt as he and Ginny came out of the house.
"Yeah. Let's roll," said Jake. He really was eager to see Connecticut.
We arrived at 30th Street Station a half hour before our Amtrak train was to depart for New York. Matt and Ginny hugged us both.
"We'll be here for you on Wednesday. Merry Christmas bros."
"Merry Christmas," we both said together.
We arrived in New York's Penn Station under an hour and a half later. We decided to take a cab between here and Grand Central since we had a large suitcase for his and my clothes and another smaller one for gifts plus two backpacks. We had about 45 minutes before our commuter rail train left for Fairfield. I bought us lunch after refusing his offer to do so.
"Daniel gave me money for lunch."
"Save it for this week. You can treat Skip."
"Okay. I like that."
We arrived at Fairfield train station less than two hours later. Billy was there to pick us up. The weather was bitter cold so he hadn't brought Skip out in it. I was quite surprised by the temperature difference even between here and New York. The wind chill must be below zero.
Billy was on the platform waiting for us. He reached out to shake Jake's hand but pulled him to him in a tight hug instead. He kissed Jake on his forehead. Jake was an inch shorter than Billy but he seem smaller. They were four years apart in age. Billy picked him up and spun him around, laughing happily to meet this young man.
"Welcome home Jake. I'm so thrilled to see you."
"Me too Billy. Let's get out of this wind. It's brutal."
Billy and I saved our hug for home. Yeah, the wind was brutal. We arrived at home twenty minutes later. Billy nudged Jake through the door first. Skip was in his wheelchair right at the door. Jake got on his knee and slid his arms around Skip with barely a thought. Billy helped Skip move his arms around Jake. They hugged for a long couple of minutes. Tears were running down Jake's eyes when he backed off, but he held Skip's hands.
The smell of the Christmas tree was my first sensation. Jake's intro to Skip rocked me hundreds of times more.
"You and Aaron ... you're absolutely beautiful together."
"We get that a lot," said Skip, smiling and then looking up at me.
"I trust you're sick of hearing that."
"No. Never ... will be."
Jake put his forehead against Skip's. They looked into each other for another couple of minutes.
"Not if it's true. But oh my, you do ... look like young Andrew," said Skip. "Aaron had to ... love you didn't ... he?"
I had given Jake a head's up about Skip's speaking ability, or lack thereof. He had gotten used to it, as much as anyone can, over the phone. Jake would have handled it well enough if I hadn't told him, but I wanted these few days to be easy for him.
"He did more than just love me. Will this be home for me too?"
"It is as of this minute," said Billy. "Come on, I'll bro, I'll show you The Penthouse."
The Penthouse was the bedroom on the fourth level, at the top of the condo. They took their time. I know that Billy would have helped Jake put his clothes away in the dresser. I picked Skip up out of his chair and took him up to the den. The fireplace was warm and cozy so we settled onto the loveseat. Billy brought Jake down, showed him this level, took him downstairs for a tour and then to the basement to wrap it up. They came back a while later hand in hand. Billy sat in the chair, pulled Jake down between his legs, and then put their feet up on the ottoman. Jake settled comfortably in Billy's arms, holding them like he holds mine when we sit like this.
"Like it?" I asked.
"The attention or the condo?" he said, smiling.
"Yes," I said.
"Yeah. Both. Awesome place. When can we come, to stay I mean."
"When either of us is in a good remission. We can then go to Yale-New Haven for follow-up support. It could be a while love."
"Yeah. I know." He was sad for that.
"Soon enough though, bro," said Billy. "You'll be okay. Skip and I are cheering you on every day, like we told you. You'll bring Daniel?"
"Yeah. He's psyched. He's almost finished with school, and he's working. That's why he didn't come this time."
"What's his course of study?" Skip asked.
"Sports medicine. He wants to work for a university one day."
"Then he will," said Skip.
Jake liked that. He also knew about our "I don't lie; I'm not insincere' philosophy, amongst others. He would know them all and live by them. Or die by them if it came to that. I shuddered a bit. Skip looked at me.
"Stop thinking that way," he said.
Jake raised an eyebrow. He saw what just happened between Skip and me.
"Skip's more special than you know, love. He's kinda linked to me. He doesn't do well with my scary thoughts."
"What? About me dying? Stuff that idea, Dad. I've got reasons to live. Won't be easy, but I'll be okay."
"Dad. Wow, how sweet is that?" said Billy.
"Now don't be that way. We've already talked about your place in this family. Your Dad is a very special man. You've more than earned the right to have a loving Dad."
"I know. I can't call him Aaron anymore. He worked so hard to make that happen."
We sat and enjoyed the warmth and silence for a while.
"Come on bro," said Billy. "Let's get some dinner going. Help me out in the kitchen?"
Skip and I stayed put.
"I've missed you so ... much. Sometimes I wish we weren't so connected. It hurts to know you hurt."
"I'm okay too. Like Jake is. We're both making progress. I want to see if we can get a bone marrow donation for him. I'm looking around for possible donors. Chemo is too harsh on him."
"Do you know his blood type?"
"Mine too," he said right away.
"I know. But ... "
"Sshhhh. It's worth a look."
I thought about it. I was sure Skip would be ineligible to give. But what did I know?
In a couple of minutes, we heard Christmas music on our speakers downstairs and here in the den. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, either "The Christmas Attic" or "Christmas Eve and Other Stories." I remembered that I had left my Mannheim Steamroller CDs at Matt's place. I can't remember if I had any Jim Brickman Christmas CDs. I did have other Christmas music though, including all the classics on a Time-Life collection. The holidays were as much about music to me as anything else. I loved Windham Hill artists, especially George Winston. Kitaro was new to me. Even a bit of Beethoven, like "Ode to Joy" especially with a full chorus. Bach's Jesu: Joy of Man's Desiring moved me too. My knowledge of true Classical music was limited, but I did know what I liked even if I didn't know who composed it. Andreas Vollenweider-nice. I'd have to look to see if I had associated holiday music. My CD collection was approaching 400 discs. My database for keeping track of them was out of date. Someday when I had more than 10 minutes of down time.
Billy and Jake made tortillas for dinner. Billy came to carry Skip downstairs when dinner was ready. I sat beside Skip and helped him eat. He had taco sauce on his lip. I kissed it away. Jake smiled to himself but I caught him.
"You really do love Skip. Don't you?"
"With all my heart, love. Just like I love you."
"Don't love me more than equally. Please?"
"Depends. Sometimes I love you more. But it does all balance out. How do you love Daniel and how do you love me?"
"Differently. I suffered for loving Daniel. You suffered for loving me. We both loved anyway."
"My brilliant young man," I said kissing his forehead. "No more suffering though, for any of us. We've done our time, and you way more than any of us."
Skip raised his arms as best he could. Jake slid into them and held on tightly. He whispered into Skip's ear. Skip shook his head no. Jake looked into Skip's eyes and lay his hand aside his face. He kissed Skip sweetly. A tear ran down Jake's face. Skip slowly raised his hand to Jake's face and swept the tear away. I was afraid of this happening-that Jake would feel so deeply about Skip's lot in life now. That will change over time. Billy and I had felt the same way. One does not pity Skip when Skip shows his heart.
After dinner, we bundled Skip up and went outside. We drove up the top of GE corporate to star gaze. Jake pointed out Orion in a very fast heartbeat.
"My favorite constellation," I told him.
"I can see why. It's easy to spot. He's a warrior, like you."
I held Jake from behind. When we walked, he took my hand and put it in his pocket. He interlocked our fingers. He smiled up at me, eyes and mouth shining bright. He kissed my cheek.
"I love you, Aaron."
I couldn't spoil his words. I just squeezed his hand. My mind was in overdrive. Jake must have been thinking about his future, same as me. He had a home right here and at Matt's for as long as he wanted it. What was beyond home? I had ideas to share, but not yet. The decisions wouldn't be mine.
After dinner, we settled in to watch some of our favorite specials on TV. We timed it right and got to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas," my annual favorite. Billy held on to me while Skip asked Jake's permission to hold on to him.
"Don't have to ask permission mate."
At bedtime, I went up to Jake's room with him. I wrapped his cast in plastic again. It would come off soon-probably another month. One break was bad enough. Two healing at the same time was slow. I sat on his bed while he showered. He came out, toweling off. I sat him down beside me, looking at his bruises. They were now healing but it was obvious he had taken one hell of a beating. I hugged him, feeling too sad.
"Don't worry, Aaron. I'm okay. Really. Daniel rubs body lotion on me after my shower. Will you?"
I took it off his dresser.
"Do you want to put your boxers on first?"
"No. Lotion all over. I'm okay."
I warmed the lotion up in my palms before I rubbed it into his neck and shoulders. I did that each time I rubbed it into his chest, belly, legs, and even his feet.
"I knew you'd be gentle. I had to see it first though. Is there anything you don't know how to do right?"
"Yeah, more than I know how to do. I'm human after all."
"More than anyone else I know."
He rolled onto his stomach. I rubbed his shoulders again and then down his back. Like his upper legs, I was shy when it came to his butt. There was a different kind of bruising above his waist.
"He beat you here too." It was not a question.
"Yeah." He said no more.
"Ummm. Lotion on your ... "
"Don't be shy Aaron. If you're gonna be shy, you gotta get naked too. I don't have anything you don't. 'Cept my bruises aren't like yours."
I rubbed lotion into his butt and then down his legs again on the back side. He saw me blushing when he looked at me.
He sat up and took my shirt off. He pushed me onto his bed and undid my belt, unzipped my jeans, and took them off. He took off my boxer briefs. Then he lay down.
"Lay beside me. Please? No we don't have any secrets."
"You amaze me."
"Good. I'm one tenth there, compared to how you amaze me." He cupped my balls. "Like I said, big honkin' balls of steel."
He looked sadly at me.
"My father raped me. This is to prove he was all wrong. You can touch me without me going nuts. Daniel was so scared at first but I did this same thing to him. It took until our second time until he would enter me. My father was definitely wrong. Daniel would rather die than hurt me even for a second. He was gentle. It allowed me to be gentle with him too."
He said all that so I could not react to "my father raped me." I let it go. He worked hard to make sure I would let it go. But I wouldn't ever forget. His father had been extra hard on Jake, which is why the bruises on his back were different. I wanted to buy a gun and go hunting. It would take only one bullet, I could promise that much.
"Stop. Hold me tonight. Just you and me. The guys will understand."
I put Jake under the covers and then lay beside him. I did hold him, just as he held me. I did not insult him by getting hard. Jake was not going to be a sexual object to me. Jake was going to be so much more. For everything bad his father gave him, I would give him a thousand things good. All I could give him physically was my heart. I had already done so. He tucked into my neck, kissed it, and went to sleep. It took a while for me to do the same. Billy came upstairs to tuck us in. He kissed Jake's cheek and then mine. He left quietly.
Charlie & Pete came over the next evening for dinner. I had asked Jake's permission first. He is not overly shy, but too much going on would bother him. He wanted to meet the people in our lives. They would be part of his too. Jake asked Billy to sleep with him that night. I don't know what they talked about, but it was not for me to know. I held on to my Skip and slept soundly, no more worries to think about.
On Christmas Eve, Patricia invited us all over to their place for dinner. She put extra servings on Jake's and my plate because we were both the same size-meaning too scrawny. She and Fred took great joy in Jake. He was a little shy at first, but warmed up to them. I was surprised, truthfully. Jake having a great time was my only mission until he was healed 100%. We then got a large group together and went caroling in the snow, and then on a hayride. Then Jake asked if Skip would sleep with him. I knew what he was doing. He wanted to love us equally and allow us to do the same for him. Jake is bright and a half. I would find out in time that balance was the most critical thing to Jake.
Christmas morning. I went to fetch Skip since Jake would not be strong enough to carry Skip downstairs. It was snowing again. Holiday music continued to set the mood in the house. We ate breakfast before we sat around together in the living room. I plugged in the lights, just as we had done when I was a kid at home. I called my brother to wish him, his wife, and the boys a Merry Christmas. We didn't talk long, on purpose.
Billy gave the first gift to Jake. Jake raised an eyebrow.
"Joker. Forget the raised eyebrow. You know what to do."
Jake smirked and then opened the small jewelry box. Jake took the neck chain. It was his birth sign, Cancer, like Billy's. It was the same neck chain as Skip had bought for Billy and me. We showed Jake. I gave Jake the next gift. It was his birthstone, Ruby. He and Billy now had a connection that they both liked a lot. Skip held up his gift for Jake, asking Jake to come over and sit in his arms while he unwrapped it. It was a ring, like we three wore. The connection between us four was now defined. We belonged to each other. Skip worked the last bit of strength to put it on Jake's finger.
Billy then handed me a medium sized box. I took the paper off and opened the box. I was speechless. Inside, in a frame, was a picture of Jake and Daniel, in pencil and ink. Obviously, Will had been brought into the act for this. I turned it around and showed it to Jake.
"Oh my. Ho-how " he asked.
"I suspect these two," I said pointing at Skip and Billy. "Must have had Matt's help."
He studied it. "Me," he said, a little choked up. "With Daniel. But we never posed together. Who did this?"
"A friend in Canada. Name of Will. He's magic, in more ways than one. Do you like it?"
"Yeah. Yeah I do. How?"
"Very carefully I suspect," I said, a bit inscrutable. "Daniel must have posed for Matt to take his pic. Will then did what he does best."
"Do we leave it here, on a wall, or do you want to share it with Daniel?" Billy asked the question.
"Both. I'll show Daniel and then send it to you guys. Where would you put it?"
"You'll see when you ... come home again. Where everyone ... can see it."
Jake nodded. He handed it back to me. I looked it over and smiled. Will was genius and then some. We'd call him later. He and Michael would be with Joan and Walt at their inn for their holiday from school. One more place to take Jake. And Daniel too. I would have to think about them both each time I thought about Jake. Jake and Daniel-Daniel and Jake.
Those were all the gifts under the tree. This was mostly Jake's day, except the surprise for both of us. My gift for Skip hadn't arrived yet. I had to cancel it at the last minute and change the number. Billy and Skip had shared an early Christmas at BC with the boys. As if on cue, the front doorbell chimed, and then the door opened. In came Betsy and JD.
Jake would have known who they were immediately. Billy looked like his handsome Dad. Skip had his mom's eyes. She wanted them back someday she joked. JD took Betsy's coat and she made a tentative step toward Jake. He stood and went over to her. They embraced and Betsy shed a tear.
"I have to tell you young Jake, I see your pain first. But ... "
"S'okay. I hoped you'd be here. I forgot to ask the guys but they didn't' volunteer it either. Jason? Nice to meet you too."
"It's JD son. Jason is for when Betsy gets upset at me."
They hugged as well. JD does not do handshakes. The folks hugged us in turn. We were all in our ski pajamas still. Billy took Skip to the bedroom while Betsy and JD headed to the kitchen to help with dinner. Jake and I helped a bit before we too went to get dressed.
We were in the kitchen, back in PA, getting dinner ready. Christmas came and went that quick. Jake and I had to come back on time for our treatments. Matt was out and about, due shortly.
I had to smile at Jake. He always looked me right in the eye when he wanted to ask something that was hard or important. I would give him my full attention, no matter what I was doing. He would start off that way to give himself a little courage. But then he looked at the floor and started to turn away.
"Come on you, you can say anything to me."
I hated seeing him unhappy. He had enough of that. I was working so hard at being THE person he would talk to about anything, any time of day or night. I stopped what I was doing and turned him away from me. I put my arms around his chest, my cheek beside his. Sometimes it was easier to talk to someone this way. Touch is my lifeline. I like to be held and I like to hold. Jake loved it. Daniel loved it. Matty thrived on it. Jeff held on for dear life. Joe lived for it, and the guys say it is why Joe lived, because he felt connected even in a coma.
I waited. He put his hands on my arms and leaned back against me, head tilted back on my shoulder. He stood there for a few minutes, thinking about what he wanted to ask.
"You know I love you, Jake. Don't be afraid of me."
"Yeah, I know. I love you too, Aaron. But, I'm scared. If you told me 'no', I wouldn't know what to do."
"So ask. I can't imagine I would deny you much."
He didn't say anything yet. He was thinking. He rubbed my arms. He finally turned around and looked me straight in the eye.
"Could you adopt me?"
He took me by surprise. Jake was good at asking me things, having thought about them for days. He would have thought about this one for a long while.
I'll hit the 'pause' button for a moment on that conversation and step back to Christmas. Four days after Christmas, Jake heard from his mom. A restraining order barring her from seeing her son had been more than enough to wake her up. Jake's father beat him. I think that tortured him is a better word. I've woken more than once with a start, seeing the image of Jake's father breaking his arm like kindling wood. I would get out of bed and walk to his room, to make sure he was all right. I would sit beside him on the bed and push his hair out of his eyes. I stayed a few minutes, holding his hand, and then I would kiss him lightly on his forehead.
Some nights Daniel stayed over and slept with him. It was very rare that Jake's bedroom door was closed, even with Daniel there. Mine was always open, as was Matt's. If Jake was with Daniel, I left them alone, even if the door was open. If he or they wanted privacy, the door was closed. If he was alone, I'd knock and wait for him to say it was okay to come in, again door open or not. He told me I didn't have to knock.
"It's your home you know," he'd tell me.
"And this is your home too. I'm not the landlord or your parent. I'm your friend."
There was one rule of our home-no brooding alone. That went for everyone equally. If he wanted me to hold him, I would hold him. If he were sick, he had all of us to count on for relief. He would hold me in return later in the week. If he wanted to be alone to listen to music, he could take any CD he wanted from my collection. I had bought him a dozen of his favorite CDs for Christmas and a dozen more for Daniel. Daniel gave Jake a bookshelf stereo system for Christmas. Jake also gave Daniel two gifts that I helped him choose-the birth sign pendant and his birthstone on a neck chain. On his own, he gave Daniel an engraved ring to promise his love. I made sure Jake's checking account had enough in it to cover Christmas.
Daniel didn't want to abuse the privilege of being a guest in our home. He finally understood that he was not a guest after the first time. Home is a place to come to, even if you have one. I loved to cook. Jake wanted to learn. Daniel was already handy. Daniel worked, brought groceries (hardly necessary), and shared meals with Jeff and Kelly, Matt and Ginny, and Joe. Joe benefited from having a senior sports medicine student in the house.
So, back to Jake's mom. She had left Jake's father before Christmas. It would have been hard, and the timing would have sucked so bad for her. Jake said they had been married for a couple years before he was born, so about 23 years. I cannot imagine that is easy to walk away from, with almost no place to go. She went to stay with her sister. Jake assured me his aunt was very nice, so his mom was better off there than with his father.
Jake told me his mom had no part of the beatings, except that she turned a deaf ear to them. She did very little to stop them. He thinks she could have, even a little. He would resent that for a long time to come, but he also thinks his father would have hurt her had she interfered. I would think that she would have confided in family, or a friend, or a neighbor. Jake was her flesh and blood son after all.
She wrote back to Jake, via E-mail, after Christmas in answer to his message. It had taken us several attempts to get her correct work E-mail address. He couldn't call home. He could not see her at work. She was specifically forbidden, by the district court, to be near him. But he wanted to be with her, to see her.
We had called my police sergeant friend and he in turn had called the district court judge, who called us back and laid down the law. His only contact with his mom could be by written note or E-mail.
But Jake wanted to know if she was all right. Jake had never seen his father lay a hand on his mother, but that doesn't mean she didn't suffer. Jake was happy that I had taken him away from his abusive father, but he worried over his mom. When she answered his E-mail, it made him want to see her even more.
I had to call the district court judge again. He would listen to me, not altogether impartially, because I was also a friend to him and his wife. I was their support for the home PC and occasionally he'd call me at work and ask me for advice about his office PC.
Anyway, I explained that Jake had followed his restrictions and had successfully contacted his mom. Now he wanted to see her. There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. The Judge was not one to jump to any conclusions, for or against. He had been a police officer before being appointed to judge. He had seen people at their worst.
"He can see his mom in a public place, and only if you accompany him. He can't go off alone with her. You can stand in the background, but he must always be in your sight, and you have to be able to get to him quickly if he needs help."
Jake wanted to take it slow, so he told his mom where he wanted to meet and that it could be for only a few minutes the first time. Where, when and how long they were together was to be his decision. He told his mom about me and said I would be there too. Jake knew I would be okay with her over time, but it would take a while for her to earn my trust, and even longer to earn my respect.
Jake drove us to the mall. They met in the food court. I sat on a bench within sight, but out of hearing range. I watched. His mother watched me watching her. She tried to smile but it was not easy. I did not smile back. What she did to Jake was as unforgivable as what I did to her. The last time she had seen me, I took her son away. I imagined that I was hated. I hoped she saw that I knew what was best for Jake.
After 30 minutes, Jake came and sat down beside me. He had not hugged his mom hello or goodbye. Love would be earned back, but not in one meeting. Jake knew that she had driven over an hour to meet, and would drive over an hour home again, all for a half hour visit.
"Aaron, that was so hard."
"Are you okay, love?"
"No. I want to hate her. I have to, for what she did, or didn't do."
"You can't hate her. You don't have to. Maybe she was afraid."
"I was afraid too, dammit! I'm the one who couldn't sleep in my room at night for fear of being hurt again. She didn't tell anyone. I still don't know what she thinks about me being a fag."
"You're not a fag."
"Yes. I am."
"No," I spoke softly. "You are not. You are Jake. Like you said, that's enough to be."
He didn't say anything. He sat up against me as he watched his mother put on her coat. She watched us together for a moment and then walked in the other direction.
"Goodbye Mom," he said in a low whisper. His voice cracked. He tucked his face into my shoulder and cried. I held him as she turned back to look. I glared at her. I wondered what she felt for Jake. I didn't really care what she felt for me. One day she will realize that Jake needed to stop being the object of his father's rage, or prejudice, or whatever, and that only one person was really going to rescue him. It could have been her, not me. But it was me.
"Aaron?" he said, looking up at my eyes.
"I'm glad you told Daniel to bring you to me."
"I had no place to go."
"You could have told him to take you to the hospital, or to the police, or to a neighbor's house, or to his parent's house. I was at least fifth in line."
"They would have fixed me up and then taken me home again."
"You would have done just what you did - took me to the hospital, gotten someone to see me, taken care of Daniel at the same time, brought us both home, and helped keep me safe all night. No one else would have gotten me away from my father. I can't afford to be out on my own yet."
"Someone would have helped you."
"No one did. I've been beaten for almost a year. You're the only one who cared."
"No one else knew. I wouldn't have unless I noticed your bruises. Even then you told me to get away."
"I was stupid."
"No, you were scared. You didn't know you could trust me. What if . . ."
"'What if' doesn't matter, Aaron. You saved my life."
"Daniel saved your life."
"Daniel brought me to you. You took me away from my parents."
"Stop." He put his hand over my mouth. "You brought me home. I'm safe now. Don't argue."
Jeez, and I thought I was stubborn.
We got up and walked once around the first level of the mall, took the stairs to the second level, walked around one complete loop, and then went out to the car. It took a few minutes to warm it up sufficiently. I shivered from the cold. I watched Jake. His future seemed so uncertain. He would see his Mom again though. It was only for a half hour or so at a time. Always at the mall, always within my sight. This was her punishment for abusing Jake as much as his father did. He's supposed to have a family.
Which brings me back to the beginning, to Jake wanting to ask me his question.
"Aaron, could you adopt me?"
I thought about it for a moment. My head had one answer, my mouth quite another.
"Legally? I don't think so. You're past adoption age and I doubt your parents would allow it."
He was disappointed. He turned away and looked down at the floor.
"Don't give up on me, Jake. You got something else you want to ask. I know you would have expected 'I can't' as an answer."
He turned to face me again. I was right, he thought about it. I knew what he wanted to say, but he was afraid I'd say no again. It came out more of a whisper, but he held eye contact.
"Would you be my dad?"
I nodded, and I smiled. Incredible warmth swept through my body.
"Yes, love. I'd love to be your dad."
He smiled ear to ear, and his beautiful eyes lit up.
"Really? But I'm ..."
It was my turn to shush him. I put my hand over his mouth.
"I brought you home. You're safe now. Don't argue," I said, not really mocking him, just echoing back what he had told me, affirming that he was right.
"But I'm gay, Aaron. Do you really want a ..."
"If you say faggot I'll slap you."
"Stop. If you really love Daniel, there is nothing wrong with you being in love with a guy. Especially Daniel. Be happy that you have the capacity to love at all."
"I do love Daniel. I am in love with him. He's in love with me."
"Did you tell him today?"
"Did you mean it, in here?" I said, touching his chest, over his heart.
"And what do you think about me? Aren't I a fag too?"
"For loving Andrew back then, and Skip AND Billy now?"
"Then why are you?"
He didn't have an answer.
"Am I a fag because I love you too?"
"No. But that's different."
"You're my Aaron. I want you to take care of me."
"I want to take care of you too, Jake. Forever."
"I don't know how long that is. I still got leukemia you know. Maybe I won't make it."
"Maybe you will."
"Aaron's perfect world. Jake lives, happily ever after. But you don't know."
"I'm not letting you go."
"You might have to. You had to let Andrew go."
He did not say it cruelly. He spoke the truth. I pulled him into my arms. That thought frightened me time and time again. I had done everything I could for Andrew. And yes, I had to let him go because I had no choice. It was so unfair. But I let only his body go. I have his heart within me. Is Jake another incarnation of Andrew?
To lose Jake. I couldn't. It would be too cruel. He wanted to be my son. Couldn't I finally have something just for me? Would the higher power, or powers, be so against me that I couldn't have something for longer than a year? I was married only a year, almost to the day. I had Andrew for almost a year. I had Vincent for many months that counted, but he too was gone. I closed my eyes as I held Jake. I was going to love him, even if my history of loving someone said that they died. I deserved this too, didn't I?
"I am not letting you go, Jake. I love you very much. I'm going to take care of you. I've already told you what I think about here and now."
"Yeah - live in the moment. You already know how to do that. I don't. I'm scared I'll die. I don't know how to handle being sick, not like you seem to know."
"I'll teach you."
"You can't teach someone not to be scared of dying."
Jake was very bright. But Jake also had some things to learn about me.
"I'd be more afraid that you won't live."
He had to think about that. The difference was like night and day. Personally I'm not afraid of dying. I could have peace for once. But I'm terrified I won't live. I told him that and he understood.
"Are you going to make me climb a tree?"
I smiled at him. I put my left arm across his shoulders, my right hand on the back of his head, and tucked him into my neck.
"Make you? No. You'll do it on your own, some day. It's part of living. It's about being curious. I'm going to buy you a book. "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior." And another. "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" which I read in high school and haven't let it go since.
"Why do you love me? My own parents don't."
"Love is supposed to be unconditional. No one should care if you're gay. They should care only that you are a good man, and that you need love. Because you need to know what it feels like to be loved."
"I don't, yet, except a hint of it. I hope I will. Why else?"
"Because you're sick, and you've been hurt."
"And? Why else?"
"Because you remind me of my Andrew."
"Don't be sorry. Sorry is what you say to someone when you can't say anything else. You can't control how you look, except for hair cut or facial hair. Your face is young and sweet. You have the eyes of the first man I loved so deeply. When I look at you, I'm missing Andrew a little less. It doesn't hurt so much."
"I hope I know what love like that feels like some day."
"You will. Daniel loves you very much you know."
"Yeah I know. He's not afraid to tell me either. They aren't just words. He looks me in the eyes and he doesn't flinch. He holds me like I'm the most important person in his life."
"But he's not the most important person in mine."
I was surprised to hear that.
"He knows that, too. I told him. He didn't take it as a flaw in his character. He understands how I feel about you. I already told Daniel I would ask you to be my dad."
"What would it take for you to really be my son?"
He said it immediately. He had obviously been waiting for me to ask the question.
"Nah. Jake is a far better name than Aaron."
"You silly." He touched my cheek, looked at my eyes. "I want your last name. It's a good name. I am proud of your name. You've given honor to who you are. I don't want mine anymore. Mine means nothing to me, except a cruel joke.
"But I think that goes back to me being able to adopt you."
"I don't care about legally. Screw the law - I'm talking about who I am now. I want to be your son, with your name, so that people know who I am, with pride."
He stopped and took a deep breath.
"My father is dead as far as I'm concerned. My mom would take her birth name back if she divorced my father. The family tree dies then. I couldn't care less. I don't care if the law will let me be your legal son. You are my dad. You already have been a better dad to me than I've known in over a year. Please? I want to be James Langille."
I don't know what it would take. We couldn't just say he was now someone else. His social security number was tied to his old name. His school records, his driver's license, parent's insurance ... Argh, it was so daunting. One more time I called the judge.
"It could take a few weeks. It won't be an adoption, formally, you understand."
"Yeah, I know. But it's important to Jake."
I told him why. He gave me the name of an attorney he trusted. She specialized in family law and would do what she could, with no promises. We waited. She called me with progress updates or questions. Jake and I met with her in her office. It was still harder than I had expected. Jake had only wanted my name. What stood in the way was paper. Jake's father resisted. Pfffft, it was so stupid. Jake's mom added fuel to the fire, for our side thankfully, by filing divorce papers. It put the end to the paternal arguments that were anything but sincere. The judge was prepared to show the evidence he had on file if necessary. It was a plausible threat, legal or not.
The lady attorney called me in the afternoon. She wanted to see Jake and me, soon if she could. I told her we would be there within the hour. I called him at home. I went to see Matt or Jeff to get a ride early. I wasn't driving on my own yet because of my still healing leg.
Jake and I stood before the attorney. She handed me a document to read. I looked at Jake. I read some more and looked back at him. He didn't say anything. He was shaking a little. I read the document to the end. I signed it. I gave it to Jake. He read it, looked at me, still shaking. He finished reading it. He signed it. Matt was asked to come in and witness our signatures.
We waited. We checked the mail every day, and waited some more. It was agonizing. He was scared. I was afraid for him. I held on to him for a few nights because he could not sleep. The only thing he ever wanted, really wanted, in his young life, hung on a piece of paper.
"I know, love. I know."
Two weeks, two and a half weeks.
We went through chemo together. I worked. We waited. We held each other, hoping for a simple name change agreement.
Three weeks. 22 days. 23 days. 24 days . . .
Four weeks. A full month.
And then the mail came.
Jake cried. And I cried with him.
"What do you want to do the most now? Have you thought about school?"
"School for sure. I'm better at biology than other stuff. I love all the sciences. But where would I go? I can't afford it."
"One thing at a time, love."
I got Jeff involved again, knowing that my plan was a good one, with a little help.
We were all in the kitchen making a special meal. Ginny and Matt, Kelly and Jeff, Jake and Daniel, Joe on the sidelines. They just didn't know how special. They wanted hints of what the news was. I wasn't telling. Joe knew because I wanted to explain it to him. He understood fully. I wasn't sure he would because I still, wrongfully, underestimated his capacity to understand. He knew and retained info that Jake was abused at home and he would not go home any more. He told me I done good. I told him it was a surprise. No one else knew yet. He kept it to himself.
Daniel didn't know yet, to my surprise. I was sure Jake would have at least given a hint, other than telling him of his intention weeks ago. Jake said he would have to wait. This was a surprise for all our friends and should be told to all at once. I had not told anyone else because I was so afraid I'd jinx it. Jake had thought we were doing a simple name change. I had filed the amendment without telling him because I didn't want to be a source of disappointment. Enough was enough for him.
After the meal was made and eaten, and after we cleaned up, we gathered in the living room. Jake sat in front of the patio door with Joe and Daniel. The gang of four sat on the sofa. Snoopy lay beside me. Why he chose me was anyone's guess. Dramatic Yanni music was playing on the CD, appropriate for the mood. I sat with my legs crossed in front of the entertainment center.
"First of all, what I have to say has been a secret for 5 weeks. I don't like keeping secrets, but I didn't have a choice. I had to wait for something and I was half-convinced it wouldn't work. But it has worked.
"A few weeks ago, Jake asked me something very important. It rocked me, both fearfully and deep into my heart. My first response to his question was no, because I knew it wouldn't happen, not in the way he intended. Then he asked me the question in a different way, something a little easier to manage."
I was looking at a room full of curious people, teasing them I guess.
"So we pursued it together. And then I took it one step further, without his knowledge. If it hadn't worked, the first step at least would have. That part Matt knows about, but I swore him to secrecy even then. I didn't want any trouble or any jinxes, bad vibes, or voodoo omens. I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up and then dash them. It was enough that I would have to live with a terrible disappointment. I was too scared. But it did work ... five weeks after the fact. Today the mail brought us great news."
I held up an oversized envelope and pulled out a legal document.
"Ginny, Jeff, Kelly, Daniel. Joe already knows, but he has been sworn to hold my secret a little while longer. Thank you, Matty, for doing your share, even though you don't know about this part."
Jake scooted over to me, in front of me. I put my hand on his shoulder.
"Our young friend is now, on this day and forever more, officially ... "
I stopped. I waited, looking at six people, one by one. Jake looked up at me, smiling. I hugged him from behind with both my arms.
" ... James Langille. My son. I've legally adopted him."
"HURRAY!!!!! Wooo hooo!!!
The living room went nuts. Jake was pulled to his feet and hugged by a mob of five people. Then it was my turn to be pulled up. Not a dry eye in the house. Daniel looked over at me with so much pride. He gave me a long hug and said "Good on you, Old Man. This is sooo sweet."
Joe looked up, patiently. When things settled down a little, Jake went over and picked Joe up. Joe put his arms around Jake's neck so he could stand. Jake held on to him tightly so Joe could hug him back. He thanked him for being quiet about our surprise.
"Jake. Aaron's fine son now. I'm very glad, Jake. You deserve to be loved too."
Jake put him down gently in his wheelchair and then kissed him on his forehead.
"Thank you Jake," Joe said. "I'm happy for you. When Aaron loves you, all is right. Know what I mean?"
"I do, Joe. I promise I won't take anything away from you. Aaron loves you very much. You know that, right?"
"He can love me and he can love you too. Your dad's heart is so big."
I heard that. 'Your dad'. It echoed through my head.
"I have to go home for a few minutes. I'll be back, okay?" said Jeff to us all.
He was up to something, obviously. Home was about four miles each way. Kelly, of course, knew what he was going to do. She just smiled. Inscrutable woman.
We talked and listened to music. My friends knew all about Jake. No one cared about the things they had no business to care about. Andrew and Joe had been accepted as friends as special as all of us. Jake was treated the same way. Well, that's not right. Jake was treated a bit more special because he was young and because he was abused. He deserved to be loved a little more. Daniel was given equal attention. He was not a distant part of this circle of friends. He fit in, he was well liked, and he loved being part of us.
A while later, Jeff returned. He carried a bottle of champagne under his arm as he came through the door.
"We were saving this for when the baby arrived, but we can buy more. The liquor store isn't open this late, so I had to go home. Matty, will you help me pour?"
We returned to the dining room table. Eight glasses were poured. Eight glasses were raised.
"To a warm-hearted Dad (capital D there) and his fine beloved son," said Jeff.
"To the beloved Dad and his most excellent son," said Kelly.
"To the beautiful son, and his very blessed Dad," said Matty.
"To the beautiful loving son, and his supremely kind-hearted Dad," said Ginny, all smiles.
"To my Aaron, for having no fear. To our Jake, for wanting love, and getting what he deserves," said Joe. I was impressed.
"To a young man who knows all about love; giving and taking. To the kindest most beautiful man on the planet. You rock, Aaron-Dad," said Daniel. He brought tears to my eyes.
We drank to our happiness and love. Jake stepped forward.
"My turn, if it's okay. To you all for the love of friends and family. I am constantly amazed and pleased by you all. Thank you for caring so much. And to the man I will always love, always respect, and always treasure, with all my heart. Thank you for rescuing me, for loving me so ... ".
He couldn't continue. He just held on to me and toasted my glass.
"Wow. I can't top that." I looked at Ginny and Matty, Kelly and Jeff. "To you each for long friendship, through thick and thin. Through the lowest lows and today's highest high of my life. Thank you each one, for the love. Thank you for accepting Jake."
I touched each glass as I spoke to them. Then I went over to hug Daniel.
"Thank you, dear Daniel, unofficial but ever beloved son #2, for bringing our boy to me. You saved a wonderful life. And you saved mine too, because you have given me something that no one else could do-a son, for real. Bless you, love."
I touched his glass and gave him another hug.
Joe looked up at me. "You touch things that turn to gold."
He made me smile. I looked around at who was here. How blessed could I be. Five months ago I met Jake. The blessing went off the scale. A few weeks later I met Daniel, because of the worst night in Jake's young life. Jake rose out of the fire like a Phoenix.
"To James Langille!" came a rousing cheer from the gang of four.
"And to his Dad," cheered them all.
The highest of highs, for all my life. Today was the best that it had been in a long lifetime.
We got Jake registered for the spring semester at college. Jeff drove us two hours to campus. Jake would live with Jeff's folks nearby. He didn't want to live on campus. He didn't want the expense, or for me to take it on either. He thought I was already doing enough for him financially. He would help by working on campus or nearby. He figures it would make him do better in classes. I paid for his tuition. He would take care of books. He didn't think that was fair enough, but he had no money and I did.
I stood beside him while a lady helped us fill out the paperwork. I gave her my Visa check card to pay his tuition.
"Is this your fine young son?" she asked, looking at the beautiful eyed boy.
"Yes ma'am. He is," I said.
I put my arm across his back. We looked at each other and smiled.
"Where are you Jake?"
"What time is it?"
"What are you?"
"This moment. And ... "
Long pause. The lady looked at us. She had wondered if Jake spaced out on me.
"Your son. Here. Now. In this moment. In all our moments."
I don't make empty promises, even if the full extent of the promise is not known.
I wrote those two lines above as notes, reminders to take Jake there. Daniel had to work so he didn't make it this time, but I would show him my two favorite spots too.
Jake and I hiked for 40 minutes. It was early March. The pond is not an easy access point. That's one reason I like it. As we walked there, I told Jake that this is where I come when I want to be alone. To think about me only and to make decisions that I have to be okay with. I have to have a discussion with God about the miracle of timing in meeting Jake. I had come to the pond one day to consider what I wanted, and what I wanted was not to take a new kidney if it became available. I even wanted to chuck chemo again because it was too much sickness for so little gain.
Jake has changed that decision, forever. I still may not make it, but at least I have a reason to keep going. On top of several dozen more that I would have unfairly left behind.
I had a backpack with the standard supplies-day old bread for the ducks and a bag of apples for a doe. Jake had read about my exploits with them. Matt and Jeff had both witnessed it, unbelievably. Jake and I were coming here to spend time alone, finally, but I also wanted to share my 'talent', if it could be called that.
We sat at the edge of the pond, bundled up tightly against the cold. I sat behind him and he sat between my legs. I put bread pieces all around us. Before long, the ducks were out of the water, eating the bread. Instead of returning to the water, they all settled down around us, close to us.
Jake turned his head around to stare at me. He was amazed. I put a finger up to my lips.
"They'll stay here as long as we don't move suddenly and scare them. They've known me a long time. I feed them and then they keep me company. It's just how it has always been, after a little effort of course. They trust me. They also trust who I bring."
"I understand the trust. But this is still amazing."
We sat for an hour, talking softly only occasionally. I held Jake and we enjoyed the fresh air and view from across the pond.
"Stand up carefully, but don't move away yet," I told him.
He stood first, slowly. I then stood and held him again from behind. I pointed out things to him across the pond. I knew every detail by heart. The ducks stirred a little, but settled back down again immediately. I directed him around them. None of them moved. They just tucked their heads back into their wings. Jake stood in amazement. I walked him to the far edge of the clearing. I walked to the middle, dumped out half the bag of apples, and then joined him. We sat against a tree, quietly. He didn't see the doe, so I pointed her out.
"Oh my. I've never seen a deer up close."
"Very quietly. She'll come to the clearing, so don't move. She would be easy to spook."
We watched patiently. It was about 10 minutes before she came out from her hiding spot. She looked right at me. She ate quietly and slowly. Jake was even more amazed. He started to shift his weight but I held him in place. I told him to move ever so slowly if he had to. He listened to me. He turned his head to me again. His eyes and smile were child-like and bright.
"Wow. I had to see this to believe it. Jeff and Matty said it was a sight to behold. How do you do this?"
"Trust. I leave her alone and respect the distance. Same as you, when I respect your privacy. It's common sense. It took me a few months to get her to come out without running away quickly. I've spent up to an hour in her company before."
"And the baby? What do you call it?"
"Fawn. I haven't seen it for a while. It's either left her or is in hiding nearby. I don't know how long they stay together. Remind me that we have some research when we get home."
"I'm loving this. We're what, forty feet away?"
"Something like that. A little more maybe. Cool huh?"
"Oh yeah. Will she eat them all?"
"Yeah, if her fawn isn't around. If it is, she'll go back and bring it out."
We watched. I moved quietly and carefully behind him again and held on. I put my arms around his chest, over his shoulders, and he held on to my arms. He leaned his head back on my shoulder.
"Yeah. Can I sleep a little while?"
"Sure. I love you, kid."
"I love you, Dad. Thanks for bringing me here. I didn't mean to get sleepy on you."
"No worries. I'll be right here when you wake up. Can I hold you?"
I smiled to myself. Jake loved to be held. I held him the way I liked being held; left arm around his stomach, right hand on his heart, holding tightly. He was safe. I would probably doze a little too. It had been a long hike. Chemo was two days past and the aftershocks still happened. I was glad he felt he could rest with me.
I think I dozed only a few minutes. I couldn't tell because I didn't have my watch. I heard a sound in the clearing. The baby deer had come out from its hiding spot. Momma had saved a few apples. She knew I would leave the other half before we left. She stood watching over her baby as I sat watching over mine. He was still as needful as the fawn, and about as innocent.
I woke Jake so he could see.
"You can go back to sleep, but take a look over there."
His sleepy eyes saw the fawn instantly. His instinct was to sit up but I held him in place.
"Careful, love. You don't want to spook her."
"Wow," he whispered softly. He turned his head back to look at me. His eyes shown bright and happy again. Jake had only one facial expression these days. I kissed him on his forehead.
We watched as the fawn ate a few of the apples then went to stand beside its mom. They watched us. I wondered if they knew that Jake was my baby. Probably not, but that wouldn't make it different. Momma sniffed the air. She knew my scent, and my scent mixed with Jake's scent, so she would be okay with us there, keeping our distance. I wouldn't try to get closer. She would run and never come back. They gave us one last look and then wandered slowly back to the woods. I waited about 15 minutes before getting up.
"Sit tight, love. I have more apples to leave her. I'll be right back."
I put the rest of the apples in the clearing and picked up the ones that were eaten. I would show them to the crew. They would know it was a good journey today. When I returned, I was putting the last of the apple cores in the plastic bag, back into my backpack.
"Are you ready to start heading back? I want you to see my tree."
"Yeah. Where is it from here?"
"About 20 minutes south. We'll be about 15 or 20 minutes from home by then."
Jake stood and slipped his arms around my waist. He didn't say anything, just looked at me. Then he kissed me on the forehead. We stood and held each other for a few minutes. He didn't need to say anything to me, nor me to him. We knew. We walked hand in hand, letting go only long enough to climb over large rocks or tree stumps. Reminds me of my dad when I was a little boy, walking all over the place with him holding my hand.
In a while we stood at the base of a magnificent 60 foot tree. The leaves were gone, so it stood naked against the cold March sky.
"Oh my!! You and Jeff climbed that?! I'd be scared out of my mind Aar, uh, Dad."
"You can call me Aaron, Jake. I won't be offended."
"It feels so odd. I'm your boy now. You should be Dad."
"I am your dad, from here ... to here, my heart to your heart, your heart to mine."
"I'm scared. What if . . ."
"We already decided 'what if' doesn't matter, love. Enjoy the moment we're in. This is very special to me. I have you in my life, and you're forever mine. It doesn't get any better."
"For me too. I love you so much. I don't want you to lose me. I don't want to lose you. I've barely just found you."
"I already told you, baby, I'm not letting you go."
He believed me. But believing didn't take away the fear. I would teach him to be thankful for the moment. Tomorrow was forever. It didn't count. We had right now, and it would be enough.
I looked up at the tree. It seemed more challenging now that it was bare. Leaves at least hid some of the height. Even half way up was pretty daunting.
"I want to climb," I said looking at him.
"It's too tall."
"Not to the top, love. No more than half way. You don't have to. I'll never make you do anything you don't want. I've already done it, so I have no fear."
"Yeah, like how you conduct your life. I'm convinced you're not afraid of anything."
"If I started listing what I was afraid of, I'd be scared. But I'm not afraid of the tree."
"Broken collarbone? Your leg broken in two places? Barely healed?"
He looked up at the tree. Oh God it was sooo tall. He was looking to the top, scared. I moved behind him. I pointed with my left arm, holding him with my right, lowering his sights.
"You see where I'm pointing?"
"Yeah, big fat branch at the bottom, about eight feet up."
"Eight foot isn't so high."
He looked at me, then back at the tree, and back at me.
"I'll help you. First branch, that's all."
He had to think about it. He looked at me, eye to eye, and he didn't flinch.
"Then we can't do it. You'll get hurt. No fear, or it's not fun. You do only what you want to, never any more."
He didn't want to let me down. He couldn't. He could let me down only if he was stupid. Being afraid means you're being smart. It'll protect you.
"Let me show you, for next time maybe."
"Come touch the tree."
To his credit he didn't make me feel that I said something stupid. He knew what I meant.
"It's big. The roots must be as deep as it is tall. It's so strong. How old do you think it is?"
"Eighty, ninety years maybe. Not much more. But not too much less either. You see the dark spots? It's where I get a handhold so I can pull up. You okay with watching me?"
He stepped back. I had to be careful because even now I didn't have all my strength back in my shoulder. I found two indentations not too far apart and used them to pull myself up, using my feet to hold me steady.
"You look like Spiderman, Aaron. I didn't know my dad was a tree hugger!"
"Don't make me laugh, love," I said giggling. I couldn't look back to him. I could picture what he meant. "I never looked at it that way. "
I found two more places to hold on. I was about two feet from the branch. I climbed a little higher, slowly, putting my feet into the lower indentations. No it wasn't easy. It took all my concentration and my strength. This had been easier without healing bones to worry about.
I grabbed for the fat branch and pulled myself into it. I was sweating like crazy. I sat for a moment, and then stood up, holding on to the trunk of the tree.
"You sure you're not a teenager in an old guy's body?"
"What do you mean 'old guy'. I didn't know you were an old man in a kid's body."
He flipped me the bird. I laughed out loud. No respect for an old guy.
The rest of the branches were easy from here. I could have gone higher. I wanted to see if he'd come this far with me.
"Wanna try it?"
"Will you say something nice at my funeral?"
He looked up at me and laughed.
"Jake? Only if you're ready. It's got to be no fear, love."
"I think I can do it. I saw what you did. It's okay."
"Slow and easy. If you get scared, you have to back off, okay?"
"Okay. I'm coming up."
He looked for the handholds and used them. He used his strong legs. Better yet, he used his brain. He got a little more courage as he got the next set of handholds. He held where he was for a moment. He reached higher, then moved his right foot up, left hand, left foot.
"Do you want my hand?"
"Every time, Dad."
I reached down to him.
"Slowly, love. There's one more handhold to your right. See the one for your foot?"
"Yeah. Don't let me go."
"You're there, love. Little more."
I scooted over on the branch and made room for him. He worked his way onto the branch, chest first, then hips, then got seated, his back to the trunk.
"Welcome to my world, love. You did it."
"We did it. You showed me. You knew I could."
"Faith. Courage. Trust, again"
He smiled. He put his left arm around my waist. Our legs dangled. He caught his breath and I held him. He looked at me.
"You're awesome. I would never do this before. My father wouldn't ..."
He stopped then looked away.
"I'm sorry. You don't compare to my father. You're so different. So much more special."
"What 'used to be' doesn't matter, Jake. Your future is not behind you."
"Keep reminding me. Please? You're what matters to me. Don't let me compare you to anyone else. You're not like anyone else that I've ever met."
"I love you, Jake."
He kissed me on my cheek. "I love you too. I know now that I always will. This is awesome. Thanks for letting me do this, for teaching me how."
I looked up, teasingly, and then smiled back at him.
"If you can, I can. Not today, but some day."
We sat together for another hour, looking around, being close, holding on to each other. He held on to the trunk and stood up. He looked around. Including his height, his eye level was 14 feet off the ground.
The breeze whipped up a little. We could smell the tree and the surrounding area. The pines brought a fresh scent to our noses. The coldness smelled clean. But it was also getting a little raw.
"Okay, silly question, but how do we get down?"
"Hang from the branch and drop."
"Seriously. Stop fooling around."
"No. A little math. The branch is eight feet up. How tall are you, including arms over your head."
"Ummm, over seven feet I guess. Awwww geez, you telling me it's that easy?"
I got onto my belly, hung on to the tree with both arms, swung down, and dropped easily to the ground.
"Easy as that."
He repeated what his old man had just done.
"Why did you make me do it the hard way, going up I mean?"
"Because next time you won't be afraid."
"This is why you're my Dad."
"Yeah. Ready to go home?"
He nodded. I took his hand again and we hiked for about 10 minutes, and then walked on rolling slope for about 10 more.
When we came through the door, Matty sniffed the air.
"You been in the tree. Both of you?"
"Piece a cake," said Jake, grinning ear to ear.
I looked at Matty and laughed. Jake went to his room to get clean clothes and headed into the bathroom to shower.
"He loves you, you know," said Matty.
"He trusts me, too. We got 'no fear' today."
"Yeah. Been there/done that. I know the lesson. You must have climbed up the hard way."
"Of course. It'll be easier next time. Then he can see his thoughts forever, just like we do."
"I love my boy. Easy as that."
It was a mere four days later that I had lost the feeling in my legs while at work. My legs just dropped out from existence under me. My co-worker called Matt. Matt called Doc. Doc called Andrew. Andrew had me brought to the hospital in DC right away. My neurology doc would have the first look.
When Andrew saw me at the hospital the next morning, he called home. He had Claire hold the phone up to the answering machine and play back a message.
This was a message on Doc's home answering machine that first night.
"Hi Dad. I know you're not home yet. I hope Dr. Andrew can save this message though. Thank you, Doc, for taking care of Aaron ... for taking care of my dad. Hmmm, I think I'm still getting used to that. My dad. Wow. That's so nice."
He sucked in his breath. He cried for a moment, but got himself back in order. Matty would have been there with him. He would take good care of Jake.
"Ummm, I won't worry. He hates that. I trust you, Dr Andrew. And Mrs. Doc. (Jake didn't feel right in calling her Claire). I won't worry. Honest. You mean the world to me, Aaron. You proved again that you know what you're doing and that you're not afraid of anything. I'll call when I know you're home again. (Long pause) I love you Daddy."
He sounded so young, so innocent. 'Daddy' was a long time in coming. I've heard 'daddy' in my tortured dreams from out of my past. I never expected to hear it for real, never mind "I love you daddy."
I looked at Andrew as I listened. My eyes watered up quickly. Andrew asked me if I heard it clearly. Claire came back on the line.
"Did you hear it?"
"Yeah. Ummm, I'm all choked up. Can you save it?"
"Yes. The answering machine is digital, so it's saved. I know you'll want to hear it 'in person'."
"Thank you, Claire. Maybe I can come home soon."
"You can. We're waiting for you. Andy wants to visit."
She was so sweet. Andy Jr., they knew, held a special place for me. Claire was jealous of me for only one reason; that I met Andrew before she did. I tell her that she was worth the difference in time. They had two very beautiful children together, Louisa and Andy Jr.
We've known each other from the first few months of me being diagnosed with cancer. I went on a search for someone who would give me more than frickin' "6 to 8 months" to live. How I resented doctors who played God because they had NO damn clue of what I was made of. Maybe I've survived just to thumb my nose at them. But then again, that's taking credit away from a man so loving and so caring and so hard working as Andrew. He had found me.
So anyway, I lay in the hospital, not feeling my legs, but happy. My Jake loved me. All would be right with the world soon enough.
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