Skip -- Part 63

When it was time to leave the weekend behind us, we all hugged Jake and Daniel. I slipped a $20 bill into Jake's back pocket. He'd have lunch money for school. I had taught him to check his pockets before he did laundry. It wasn't hard to leave my son behind. He's earned his place back at school. He'd come a very long way in four months.

That night, at home, I got my usual call from Jake, just before bedtime.

"I love you Daddy," he said to me, very sweetly. His love for me carried me to sleep.

I was doing my chemo routine when a familiar face arrived. It took me a moment to realize she was Jake's mother.


She looked over at me, quite uncomfortable. I beckoned her over. There was no chair beside me this time, so I crossed my legs at the ankle.

"You can sit if you want," I said.

She sat in the space that I had made for her.

"Thanks. How are your treatments going?"

"Okay I guess. I assume you're here to talk about Jake."

She nodded. "We talked often, but I haven't heard from him all summer. Is he okay?"

I really wanted to pick a fight. I didn't see that she could care about Jake. She must have seen it in my posture.

"I care more about him than you think, Aaron."

"You should have proved that to your son. You don't impress me."

"I deserve that. Jake's dad ... "

"I'M Jake's dad. Jake's father is a piece of crap!"

She was startled at the tone and volume of my voice. Others in the room looked over at me. I didn't care.

"Aaron ... "

"And you don't impress me much either. You hurt your son as much as your filthy husband did. Jake loves me unconditionally. I've done more for him in a year than either of you did in his lifetime."

She nodded meekly. "I know. I couldn't prevent what happened."

"The beatings? The bruises and cuts? Breaking Jake's arm? The rape!?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Your husband raped your son. He wanted to prove to Jake that being fucked hurt. He brutalized Jake's anus. He wasn't man enough to use his dick. He practically ripped Jake apart with fingers and a freaking dildo. Jake bled for a couple of days after."

"I didn't ... "

"How about the holes in the drywall that he'd have to repair after driving Jake's head through it. He made Jake believe that he had cancer because he was evil. Because he was a fag. Jake said you stayed in the kitchen, sitting beside a window. You never went near his bedroom to see how he was.

She only nodded.

"You could have told someone. Anyone. You didn't."

"He would have hurt me."

"So you let your son take the brunt of it. It would have been a sacrifice to make for your son. I would have stood in the way of any punch, any verbal abuse, a knife, and even a bullet. I would have died for Jake."

She didn't say anything for a minute. "To what end?" she said.

Something about this discussion wasn't right. My Spidey-senses were tingling. I looked at her before I spoke.

"To make Jake know I loved him enough to give my life for him. Even if his last thought was that he would die anyway, he'd know someone who loved him tried to stand up for him."

She was quiet for another minute. I sensed that she was getting to the reason she came here. Tingle, tingle.

"I've had you investigated."

Ta da! We have a winner. I kept my face neutral. Very little in this world surprised me. I had taken her only child away. I had stayed within her line of sight when Jake met her at the mall. She had seen him put his head on my shoulder and cry. Obviously, she now knew a lot more.

"Go on," I said.

"It was easy to find you here, in case you're wondering. I know where you live outside the city, and that you have a condo in Connecticut. You live with two other guys."

"We live in a home, not just a condo. More than could be said for Jake when I met him."

"Scott was hurt in an accident in Connecticut two years ago. You spent time in Atlanta with him. He's a quadriplegic despite the treatment. You also spend a lot of time in DC, Bethesda Maryland to be specific. William and Scott are at Boston College. The younger brother was attacked several years ago--hate crime."

"He goes by Skip, not Scott. Billy, only sometimes William."

"I know. Their parents are in New Hampshire, your home state."

"So far so good," I said, again not surprised at the depth of her knowledge. She probably knew a lot more. I'd probably do the same if my son were taken from me.

The `lot more' was yet to be seen, but I knew it was there.

"I know Jake is with Daniel, not far from where I live now. It surprised me that Jake kept his goings on with Daniel a secret."

"Going's on? Kind of old fashioned for a woman of your age. There was nothing going on until after your beloved spouse broke Jake's arm. Daniel brought Jake to me, at Jake's insistence. Daniel wanted to take him to the ER instead. We took him anyway, of course."

She said nothing.

"A year ago all Jake was was a beaten young man, hurt one time too many by his prick of a father and by a mother who could care less."

I saw that that cut her. Good. She didn't tell me I was wrong. Maybe she'd thought enough about that to consider it true.

"You were married, but your wife was killed a year later. Shall I go on?"

"Looks like you got what you paid for. And probably violated every Constitutional right that I have. I have no secrets, so yes, go on."

"The man who investigated your background has been at it for many years. Your current net worth is three-quarters of a million dollars. You're late father-in-law's estate gave you half of that. Two GE patents to your name."

"Three, actually. One pending."

"Impressive. Congratulations. Jake has money in his checking account, around $2500, deposited by you. You've begun weekly transfers of $100. He spends little. You paid for his tuition in cash."

"Which is one thing that your ex wasn't willing to do."

She shrugged, as if it were unimportant. It was my turn.

"Your house was worth $980,000. You got more than half in the divorce settlement. Not a penny went to Jake. You live down the street from your sister, who took you in when you left your ex."


"I didn't have you investigated. Jake figured that stuff out. He's smarter than you probably ever gave him credit for."

"We want Jake back," she said.


"The investigator will be my husband soon. We don't think you're good for Jake."

"Then you need your money back because he didn't tell you nearly enough. Do you know why Jake hasn't called you all summer?"

"He had a bone marrow transplant. Skip donated it. I went to visit Jake several times."

"Probably on the sly. No one told me any stranger was nearby Jake. You know he almost died. His support team kept him alive, again something you wouldn't have done or even been able to do. Jake misses you, but that's the extent of his feelings for you. He and Daniel are moving on next year."

"To where?"

"Looks like your investigator needs to do some more research. You'll figure it out in time. Whether you get Jake to come back to you is up to him, not me, and not you."

"I can convince him. We've set up a trust fund for him, which he can have when he's 25."

"I imagine there are conditions on that little bribe. You think you can buy him?"

"You did."

"It's time for you to leave."

She stood. Opening her purse, she took out her checkbook. She tore off a check and handed it to me. I glanced at it. It was for $150,000. I tore it in half and then in half again. I let it drop to the floor.

"Like I said, it's not my choice. I can't be bought either. Jake loves Daniel and then he loves me. You're maybe 10th or less on the list of what he cares about."

"We'll see. I can convince a judge."

"Get out."

She smirked at me and left. If I had something heavy enough within reach, I would have thrown it at the back of her head. I knew Jake way better than she did. I finished my chemo and then walked to the nearest SEPTA station. A half-hour on the train felt double that. I had to pull over on the way back to Matt's place. I puked mightily, from chemo; maybe from the encounter. My rage was contained, or so I thought.

Snoopy was waiting for me when I got home. He stood on his hind legs and put his front paws on my leg. I squatted down and rubbed noses with him. He licked my cheek. I went into the kitchen with him and got him a biscuit from the pantry.

I called Jake. I told him simply that I saw his mother today. My lack of offering anything more told him that he'd be hearing from her. I kept it short. Jake could handle himself. Then I told Matty and Ginny everything.

"Well, she gets an award for having some brass balls," said Matt.

"But that's all she'll get," said Ginny.

"Jake can do whatever he wants," I said. "In time I'll tell him his mother tried to pay me off. He didn't need to know that now. I've already been a good influence on him, despite her evidence. I'm sure he'll tell her one thing."

Sunday evening my cell phone rang. It was earlier than usual, by a couple of hours.

"Hi love. You okay?"

"Yeah Dad. Don't worry about anything. I'm yours. Have been for a short time now, and I will be for life. I showed my mother my adoption papers. I also told her to shove her money. I'm sorry she pulled shit on you."

"A bit too much, Jake. You might need her some day."


"You're sure? I don't like her, but you already know that. Can I ask how much?"

"A trust fund. A million dollars. $10,000 in cash for now."

"She offered me some of that. Her boyfriend must be worth a couple of bucks."

"I can't be bought. I'm not her little plaything. I told her to stay away from me for a while. She can see me only when I give her permission to."

"I don't know what to say about that, love."

"I love you Daddy. I owe you my life and all the happiness I have."

"I love you too, my Jake. Forever."

"Don't worry Dad. I'm not going anywhere with her. I told her off for the crap she gave you."

"I'm not worried. Well, I was, but not anymore."

"I made her cry. I told her she's no better than my father for what she did. That's crazy, investigating you."

"Let it go, love. You and Daniel take care of each other. I'll see you next week. Wanna go to Boston?"

"Yeah. To see the guys?"

"Yup. Daniel too, of course."

"Thanks Dad," said Daniel. "Love it. I've been there, but a long time ago."

"Sweet. I love you both."

Daniel and Jake were always on the phone together when I called.

"Love you Dad," said Daniel. "I'm off Jake."

"I love you Daddy."

I hung up after that. `I love you Daddy' had to be the last and best words of the day.

We took a long weekend and went to Boston to see Skip and Billy. While we were on the train, I thought back to all we had been through. There was Skip's cancer first, with Billy holding on to his brother for dear life. Skip making sure that I was part of his world because of my own cancer, compounded from three terrible losses. Billy's blood on my hands, my heart in my throat, and him losing me for a while. Skip's accident was by far the worst in my mind. Skip refused to think that way. It's done and done, so he chose to move on. And Jake. Wonderful Jake, living and thriving despite his own tortures. He too lived above them. Done and done.

Daniel and Jake were sitting side by side, holding hands. I was across the aisle. Daniel reached over for my hand. I gave it to him. He kissed the palm of my hand, and then put it against his cheek. He gave it back only when someone walked up the aisle. One young woman winked at me. Like Skip and I stood out beautifully together, my sons and I stood out as well.

At Penn Station we had time to get out and walk for a bit. I had thought briefly about getting off at Penn Station, walking over to Grand Central, and taking a train to Connecticut. Jake had already been there. Daniel had not. We could do that another time.

The boys met us at South Station. I got down on my knees and hugged Skip tightly. He kissed my lips and smiled so wide. Maybe it was gas. Ha! Nah, he loves me. This country farm boy, loved by the suburban heartthrob of my life. Billy will forgive me that too, because I rarely talked about Skip without talking about Billy too. Brothers in love with each other, and in love with me, me in love with them. Forever. I'm glad that forever is a very long time.

Together Jake and Daniel raised Skip up for a moment, both of them hugging him, planting kisses on his cheeks. Sweet. They set him down gently and fixed his arms and legs. They took Billy away from me and hugged him too.

We went outside and discussed taking the Red Line to Park Street, or walking and then taking the Green Line out to BC. The boy's apartment was off campus, but walking distance from BC. The other BC crew lived all up and down the T, close by. David and Sam lived next to Billy and Skip. We picked a weekend to visit when all the boys would be in town. Tonight we were going to keep it within the house, with just the five of us. Tomorrow we'd meet up with the rest of the guys and introduce Jake and Daniel. All the guys would graduate in the spring, finally getting all their credits in order. From there, it was anybody's guess where they would end up. The med school guys (Billy, David, Patrick, and Matt) were working on where they wanted to continue their studies. John's Hopkins was the first choice, followed closely by George Washington University.

It didn't take long for us to decide we were hungry. Billy had bought a mess of ribs and had them marinating in the fridge. Skip sat at the edge of the kitchen while Jake and Daniel put together their veggie wishes, which turned out to be corn on the cob out of the back garden. Daniel put together his family favorite sauce for grilling the corn beside the ribs. I nuked some bakers and then wrapped them before taking them out to the grill too.

We settled down at the table. Jake sat beside Skip after asking him if he could help him eat. It amazed me that we all fed Skip the same way--eating with our left hand while we fed him with our right. Maybe Jake had seen me do that before. It made Skip's life easier when we didn't treat him as different. Being different was one thing but being constantly reminded gets on one's nerves.

Jake broke out laughing when he missed his own mouth twice in a row. Daniel teased him by feeding him the two lost mouthfuls. The tricky part was the corn. It would have been easier to cut it off the cob for Skip. He wouldn't have that, as long as we didn't mind. Daniel, sweet young man that he is, took a cob off the pile, added a bit more butter and salt to it, and then stood behind Skip, leaning in and kissing him on his neck while Skip ate. Skip looked up, corn on his lips, and kissed Daniel squarely on his. Daniel licked the stray kernels off his lips and continued feeding Skip.

When food was good, we didn't say much. We did laugh a lot though because Jake and Daniel were creative about how they helped Skip. Nothing to be taken too seriously. Jake wiped Skip's face with a napkin. Billy and I picked up the plates from the table while Jake and Daniel set Skip down on a lawn chair. The evening was warm with a light breeze. We could smell beautiful scents from neighborhood trees and gardens.

Jake took one of Skip's hands and laid it in his. He felt Skip's fingers with his own, getting the feel of what Skip felt with them. He looked sadly at Skip when he knew Skip's hands were mostly useless. He kissed Skip's hand, looking sadly at him.

"I can feel ... you just right ... Jake. Don't be sad. I'm still ... Skip, no matter what."

Jake nodded. Daniel smiled over at his mate, pleased that Jake understood other's discomforts and challenges, but didn't take it too seriously. Empathy was okay. Pity was not. They had both seen Skip in action, taking beautiful care of Jake when he needed it most. Jake knew his place in Skip's world, and loved deeply being a part of it.

Billy took the guys inside to show them around. The house the boys shared was a duplex unit, with David and Sam living in the other half. Rent was high, of course, because of the proximity to Boston and being an upscale neighborhood. David and Sam's folks, and Mom and Dad, helped when necessary. We would see David and Sam tomorrow. They didn't want to overwhelm the young mates on their first visit to Boston.

"How long has it ... been since we ... made love?" Skip asked me as we settled into bed.

"One moment too long. And also as long as it took to make Jake safe and alive."

"But now, you need us," said Billy, arm around my shoulder, and then delivering a beautiful kiss to my lips.

"Always needed you love, just not physically. But now, yeah, I do need you both."

"How long we're apart only shows the truth. Love is stronger than the lust."

"But lust ... is okay," said Skip.

Billy entered me as I entered Skip, all three of us holding on and taking our time. Once again we left our seed to grow within each other, to hold us together no matter where we were. Life was sweet enough, but better now that we really could hold on, make love, and then sleep soundly, all of us safe and sound. Well, not me yet, but safe enough for the moment.

I got up at 5:30 a.m. I looked in on Daniel and Jake. They were sleeping in each other's arms, Jake tucked into Daniel's neck. I stood for a moment, arms crossed and leaning against the doorway. I had half believed that Jake would die, that seeing a scene like this was only a dream. But I believed in my dreams. The strength and love that everyone showed, and the strength within Jake himself, was unfathomable. It was brilliant.

I walked over to them and lightly kissed my boys on their cheeks.

"Love you too Dad," said Jake.

I didn't speak. He went back to sleep. Daniel smiled in the semi-darkness, so I kissed him again and whispered in his ear. He nodded and then went back to sleep.

Billy came to bring me back to bed, knowing where I was when he woke to find me missing. He knelt down and hugged me, and then picked me up.

"He's safe for good, love. Let's go for a walk."

We put on shorts and sneakers, leaving Skip to continue his dreams. We wouldn't be gone long. Skip ritually peed before bedtime so that he would not always have to walk early.

We walked through a peaceful neighborhood as the sun rose. We found a secluded spot just so we could hug each other. Memories of public displays of affection for my young man kept me from ever putting either of us in danger. The world could be lovely ... and very cruel. I wouldn't ever lose Billy again.

Back at home, Billy took cereal out of the pantry and set out the many choices. He got a pot of coffee brewing. I went upstairs to find Skip awake. I leaned in and kissed him.

I picked him up and took him to the bathroom. I filled the bathtub. I then set him in the bathtub and washed him. He watched me take care of him, smiling at me, knowing I loved him so purely. He loved me the same way, and never let me assume. I kissed him deeply after I rinsed shampoo out of his hair. I carried him back to our bed and toweled him dry. I dressed him in a t-shirt and boxer briefs, a polo shirt, shorts, ankle socks, and then his sneakers. I carried him downstairs and set him at the table. Billy took over from there as I went back upstairs to shower. I checked on the boys again, figuring to let them sleep in.

The boy's bedroom was empty. They had made their bed. I heard voices from the kitchen downstairs, so I knew they were up and probably dressed. I joined them all and poured a bowl of Cheerios, added fresh blueberries, and some milk. I chuckled to myself, raising the eyebrows of my fellow diners, as I pictured little David and Dylan in Atlanta, eating `Chilly-ohs', sharing with me or teasing me, and giggling.

"Um, you had to be there," I said, explaining my little memory.

We'd be making a future return to Atlanta but it'd wait until after my next surgery and healing. We talked in email often, and on the phone occasionally, so we weren't really missing each other too badly. Hard to believe it was two years ago that we were with Deb and Mark, and families.

Daniel blew lightly on Skip's coffee before holding the mug up to Skip's lips. Feeding Skip was a no-brainer. Helping him drink was a bit of a challenge. We would not demean Skip by giving him liquids through a straw, except for soda in a tall glass or from a can, and only when the rest of us were doing the same.

There were light knocks on the back porch door, which was open, and our other two mates came in. David and Sam walked in with their own breakfast cereal bowls and took their places at our table.

"Geez guys," I said to the pair, "you're awake early for a weekend morning. Jake and Daniel, oh-so-tall David and his brother Sam. Oh-so-tall David and Sam, Jake and Daniel."

"Morning guys. Welcome to Boston," said David. He and Sam shook the guy's hands.

We spent a while getting the four acquainted and then made plans for the day. The day began with us picking up the Green Line. Each set of our BC crew got on the train at various stops. We were tightly packed together by the time we hit Park Street. We decided to start at Boston Common so proper introductions could be made.

Each guy introduced himself in turn. Telling Jake and Jeremy, the twin brothers, apart would be the challenge of the day. I knew how, but they liked pranking others, even their mates. While introductions were taking place, I gave Patrick a tight hug.

"Hello bud. Man it's so great to see you all, but you especially. You okay?"

"Better than in a long while. Aaron, your son is gorgeous."

I waved Jake over for a moment. He hadn't made it to Patrick yet.

"Jake, this is Patrick."

The boys immediately embraced. After the boys hugged, they held on to each other. Jake looked up at tall Patrick.

"Hi bro. Thanks a ton for the email."

I hadn't known they were communicating. I looked over at Billy. He gave me a quick wink. Ah, he must have connected the two boys. Nice. The best cheerleaders in the battle were those who are in the battle themselves. Jake and Patrick were survivors. And then some.

The day was going to be full. We had all agreed to have a light breakfast so that we could eat together, maybe even outside if the weather was good. The guys had decided to make it fair in deciding where to go and what to do. Collectively they had put small slips of paper showing places to go and things to do in a small box. David had it in his backpack. We had all agreed to this, including Jake and Daniel. It would be cool, we all thought, to be random today.

The only place we could not go to was the observatory at the top of the John Hancock tower. I was sad about this because it was my favorite place in the city. Closing it down was because of September 11.

"Okay Daniel, you get first pick. Remember that if anything we do except lunch or dinner needs money, it's our treat for you and Jake. We've already worked out dinner, if you like Chinese."

The two mates nodded. "Love Chinese," Daniel said.

I would find out later that the parents of all the boys had chipped in so their son's visitors would have a good time without worrying about price.

"Harbor Islands cruise," read Daniel from the slip.

"That was ours," said Jeremy, referring to Jake too. "It could be an all-day venture or we could pick an island or two. Up to you guys. Actually, we should consider Skip's preference. I forgot ... "

"No worries ... loves. I vote for all day. I ... think we can see ... downtown or Cambridge tomorrow."

"Guys?" said Jeremy.

"All day," seemed to be what everyone said, almost as one. No mumbling/grumbling about other ideas.

"We're wearing swim trunks," I said. "I'd guess you guys are all prepared too?"

"Yeah," they said, again as one.

Summer in Boston without a bathing suit? Hardly. The five of us already decided we would be up for water fun if anyone raised the idea. Just in case, we all had our trunks on under our outer shorts. We made our way to the waterfront. I bought tickets for us five after the other guys bought theirs. This tour would give us a good value for our bucks. We could go anywhere through the day, on the cheap.

Georges Island was the first stop. From there we could catch shuttles to the other islands. We did a tour of Fort Warren, a Civil War era fort. No ghost today. She was probably haunting elsewhere this morning. The landscape was a bit rough for our wheelchair-bound love, but he took it all in stride. When the pavement got rough, someone was always around to either push him or to make sure he wouldn't tip over. I saw a park ranger making a note as he watched Skip motor along.

We timed it so that the next shuttle on the dock would take us to Peddocks Island. It was relatively large. We could hike around in groups, swim (no lifeguard, so the guys knew to avoid drowning today), and get a snack. Each time I looked throughout the morning, Jake and Daniel were in the middle of a crowd of boys, all talking their ears off. For a young man who had spent a lot of time alone, Jake seemed right at home in a crowd of boys. I was glad that the guys felt okay about fooling around with him and Daniel, from carrying the guys around on their backs to racing from point A to point B.

Skip got as much attention of course. David bent down with his back to Skip. I put Skip's arms around David's shoulders and then locked his legs around David's waist. No worries after that. David wouldn't let Skip slip away from him, no matter the terrain. Sam walked beside them. Skip bent down to kiss Sam. He was one special boy, if only just, because he too had known pain, and had risen above it.

Kenny rode on top of my shoulders for a while; putting his hands over my eyes so I couldn't see. He'd turn my head one way or another when I had to avoid an obstacle. He bent down to kiss my forehead when I was a good little horsy. This got a laugh out of the twins. The taller boys decided that Kenny was having too much fun, so they too carried the shorter guys on their shoulders or like backpacks. I had missed all the antics of these guys, and I had already warned Jake and Daniel to expect anything.

Billy, Patrick, Ste, Henry (looking as GQ-like as ever; also pre-med but I had forgotten, making it five for medical school), and Jerry headed to the shore. I walked with my arm across Paul's shoulder. He hugged me around my waist.

"Okay love?" I asked. I had an idea he wasn't 100%.

"Mostly. Aaron I miss V. Why ... why him and not me, or me too?"

"No answer for that question bud. I've asked it, never to my satisfaction too. Billy does too, for Skip. But I know the guilt. Seventeen years for me, and it's there, always in the background, waiting to hit me when I'm not appreciative of my life. Billy and you both ... over two years. I can't tell you not to think about it. Just don't let it rule you."

"It does."

"Then don't suffer alone," I said. "Tell one of the guys. Go for a walk alone, and talk to him. I do that a lot. Live in the world for him. You're already a good man, so be a little better, in his honor."

"I planted a tree at home for him. Stupid but ... "

"Not stupid. We did the same for Kate and my baby. And another lost boy. Take care of it to show V it's him you feel when you're near it. Cry if you have to. I do. But let the guilt go. It wasn't your fault. No one thinks so."

"I called V's mom a couple weeks ago. Just had to say I was sorry."

"What did she say?"

"To come for dinner some weekend. I did. We went for a walk. She says what you're saying."

"Might be true then."

"Still ... it's not right."

"No. And it won't be either. Your friendship with V was a very tight one. Forgive yourself. He has."

Paul nodded and then hugged me. I pulled him to me and hugged him tight. I kissed his forehead. I pulled away a bit and looked into his sad eyes.

"It's always worse when we're all together, like this," he said.

"For me, it's worse when I'm alone. I try not to be alone very often, only out of necessity. Tell the guys when it's bad for you. They'll understand."

He shrugged. I know it was hard on him, but it would get better as time passed. I used to panic. I don't any more. It's still too new for Paul. We walked along to join the boys. We peeled off our shorts and ran into the water. In a few minutes, Paul was jumping off Jerry's shoulders into the water. He started to come out of the water. Jerry's hands, joined together, flipped him up and backward. Later he sat beside me in the sand and kissed my cheek.

"To Vincent," he said, thumbs up.

"To you as well," I said, two thumbs up.

"Thanks Aaron. I'm okay."

Greg, Brian, Jess, Alex, and Kirk were racing each other to the dock a few meters away. The stood at the end of the dock, counted to three and yelled "GO!". They did three spectacular cannonballs into the water nearly simultaneously.

We all formed disorganized teams and played water volleyball for a while. Skip had a whistle in his lips, calling fouls when the guys pushed their luck too much in cheating. Once it fell out of his lips, he had to resort to yelling, which was comical because he couldn't really yell and he couldn't make hand signals. Daniel got out of the water, put the whistle back in Skip's lips, and then rejoined us.

God I love these guys, every last one of them, deeply and proudly. They were the 16 best friends Skip, Billy, and I had. Every one of them lived brilliant lives. None was more important, in that group, then any other. Dorm mates, though way beyond that, for the rest of their lives.

We got out of the water so we could dry off a bit and then decided that we wanted to head back to the city. We had been out here for about six hours, and had built up a large hunger.

We invaded Chinatown, a bunch of Caucasian, Black, and Asian guys in our own advancing army, not unlike the Chinese warriors of the past. We came with appetites instead of weapons. A bunch of college guys and their mostly-respected "dad" was enough of a terror threat.

We ordered, snacked on crisp wonton, shared plates around, made a lot of noise, and laughed at jokes, almost-jokes, and each other. At day's end, on the T, they departed at their stations along the way. We'd meet up again tomorrow in the same way, with a new adventure to find.

Next day, we walked all over the city, went to Cambridge for dinner at a hole in the wall for Italian light fare, and got on the T at the late end of a very full day. Tomorrow we would regroup and do something fun again. I wanted, more than anything, to make sure Jake's days were full and memorable.

"So you like the BC crew?"

Jake and I sat on the living room floor, him in front of me, his back against my chest. His legs were in Billy's lap. Billy massaged Jakes bare feet.

"Yeah, every one of them. No wonder you love them all so much. Each one sticks out as much as the other. The twins are a kick. I feel sad for Paul. I'm glad you told me about Vincent, and that we thought about him today. I love your `walk in the world for me' idea."

"It's gonna seem weird when the guys finally go their own way. The guys bound for medical school got several more years together, but the party ends sometime."

"Nah," said Daniel, who was on the floor holding Skip in his arms. "They're mates for life. Can't imagine them wanting to be out of sight and out of mind."

"What?" Skip said to me as we sat in the living room. Tomorrow Jake, Daniel, and I were going back to PA.

"What what?"

"You got something ... on your mind."

Sometimes I forgot about Skip's labored breathing. It didn't help that he had half of one lung removed. His speech was slower and more deliberate when he was tired.

"Something silly, really."

I just looked at him for a long moment, tilting my head to look at him. I must have scowled a bit. He always knew something was going on inside my head when I scowled.

"Nope. I'm as amazed by you ... as you are by me. My sweet ... Aaron. I wonder too ... how you can love me ... so much."

"I'm the one who should be wondering. I brought you a lot of pain by ... "

"A bus did this ... to me. Not you. It ... was unfortunate, but ... nothing more. How do you love me A?"

"That's easy. You are so beautiful, you physically and you emotionally. You always put your all into everything, even loving me. My son is alive because of you. For all that, so am I."

"It started with Billy," he said, trying to reach over for my hand. Billy and the boys were out getting dessert for later.

I went over and picked Skip up from his wheelchair. We were going for a walk in a while, but we'd delay for a while. He wanted to say some things to me. I lay him on the inside of the sofa and then lay beside him. I put his hand on top of my heart.

He kissed me sweetly and looked into my eyes.

"So tell me. About Billy and you."

"I was so sick. I was ... scared too. He was des ... perate to help me live. Not just survive. We spent ... all day together. Every day. He said ... he wanted to have me. I knew what ... he meant, of course. He had already ... talked to Dad."

"He wanted permission to have sex with you?"

He nodded.

"How did Dad take that?"

"He talked for a while with Billy. Dad ... knew Billy's fears. Dad was ... sure I would die. Mom too. Billy told ... Dad that he wanted ... to send a part of himself away with me."

A tear formed at the inner corner of Skip's eye. I brushed it aside with my thumb before it fell. Skip loved Billy completely, for everything he did in the past and for what he was to us now. If anyone thinks that the two brothers should not also be so in love, then they will never understand. They were beyond lovers, by light-years.

"Billy took me to his room. We ... were still living ... at home then. He lay beside me ... and kissed me. He had kissed my ... cheek lots of times but ... we were going to leave ... a past life behind. I knew that. His lips were ... so soft. I didn't think it was ... wrong for a moment. We weren't ... just going to have ... sex. He was going ... to make me live. He said that I ... would have to return it in kind ... someday."

"How long before you could?"

"Almost a year. So much happened to prevent ... me from loving Billy back. My heart stopped one day ... when Mom was home with me. She lifted me up and ... carried me to the car."

Mom was not a large woman by any stretch. She was Billy's height, 5'7" tall, and slim. It's often known that moms can show extreme strength when necessary.

"It happened ... again at the ... hospital. Inside I was ready to die. Billy left ... work and came right away. He told me if I died on him ... he would never forgive me. He said ... he would hate me forever."

"He would have too, you know."

"I know. Billy isn't into ... drama. When I was okay again, he took me ... back to his room. He had stayed hard inside of ... me for an hour the first time, before my heart stopped. He stayed in me ... all night that first ... night home again."

"It wasn't the end of the heart trouble," I said, not a question.

He shook his head slowly. "Twice more. Once at night ... sleeping beside Billy. I didn't know ... it. I woke up in the hospital again. Mom, Dad ... and Billy were around my bed. After that, I was okay ... for a long while. Seven months it happened ... again, outdoors. Mom drove fast and Dad cried all the ... way to the hospital. Billy met us there. He was so angry. He said ... I wasn't trying hard enough."

Billy angry was not something anyone wanted to see. It was extremely rare. I imagine that Skip carried the full brunt of that anger.

"Were you?"


"You wanted to die?" I said, surprised.

"Maybe. You know how it ... feels. I know ... you understand."

"Part of me does. The selfish part of me."

Skip looked into my eyes. I guess that stung him a little. He thought about it for a minute. I kissed him to show him that I was not being hateful. I put my hand on his cheek and rubbed my nose against his.

"The selfish part ... of you is long gone."

"And yours?"

"Gone. Forgotten."

"What was it like when you finally could make love to Billy?"

"Worth waiting for. I did work ... very hard to thank him ... for his love. Billy was ... selfish only in that ... he wanted me to love him ... all the way."

"I still do," said Billy from the doorway.

He came in and kissed Skip softly on his lips. He kissed me and smiled. He put one arm around both of us. "Telling Aaron about my lusty heart bro?"

"Lust is still ... only 1% bro. I'm not ... ashamed."

"Me either. For either of you, or for having to ask Dad to have sex with you."

"What if he or Mom hadn't approved of you, that way?" I asked, looking at Billy.

"I wouldn't ask again. I would just love Skip anyway. We would have moved out. I don't like secrets. Approved or not, I wasn't going to let Skip die, or die alone if he passed away."

We were quiet for a few minutes. Skip looked into Billy's eyes. For a moment, I wasn't there. They often shared things between them that were for only the other. Fine by me, of course. Like I said, `lovers' does not cover what they are, or what I am to them. Mates of the heart. Our paths would have crossed one way or another. We might simply be friends, but we would have been in each other's lives. Not meeting them would make my life too empty.

I looked up to see Daniel holding his Jake, and Jake holding his Daniel. They came over and each one kissed all three of us. They went outside for a while and left us alone there. I kissed my two guys again and then joined the boys outside.

They moved apart, leaving a place for me between them. They both liked to hold me when we were together. Daniel was an exceptionally fine young man. He had protected Jake as well as he could, but even he knew it hadn't been good enough. Not telling someone you love him or her is rarely the right thing to do. Jake had learned, once rescued, the depth of Daniel's love and lust for him.

Jake told me, after the fact, what it was like to have Daniel inside of him, and eventually Daniel making himself a part of Jake forever with his seed. Jake knew that his shitty father was wrong about being fucked. Jake said Daniel touched him a thousand different ways. They had shed many tears together. There was no more perfect a pair and a love than Daniel and Jake together. Not even Skip and I together was as impressive.

"I'm gonna miss you Dad, when we're apart again."

"Not apart for very long Daniel. You do know I think about both of you every day."

He nodded. He looked into my eyes. He put his forehead against mine and smiled. He kissed my lips again. "I'm sorry I let Jake ... "

"Sshhhh. It's not important now. Leave the past behind."

He nodded. I turned my attention to Jake. Both boys were holding my hands. Either one said volumes without ever opening his mouth. When either one did speak, what he said was from his heart.

"I love you, so much," Jake said quietly.

We didn't need to say anything more. We three held on. Billy brought Skip out a while later. I think they might have made sweet love to each other. Billy's eyes were peaceful. He knelt beside Skip, in his wheelchair once again, and put his hand on Skip's chest. Billy worried sometimes, just like I did. Skip wouldn't hear of it. Nothing, he says, taking the cue from me, is any more important than these moments. Not those in the past, certainly, and not those to come.

Daniel and I were alone for a moment, while Jake went to the bathroom.

"Tell me about Jake, in journal form, so I can share?"

"Yeah, love to. Everything?"

"Your choice. As much as you want to tell."

"Okay. I'll send you a document. A week?"

"As long as it takes. No rush."

Here's Daniel's heart for Jake, written in the Fall of 2002:


I used to watch Jake at school, when we were at a small college. The first time I ever saw him, I did a for-real double take. I thought those were only done in cartoons. "He's beautiful!" I thought to myself. I knew I was gay and that I liked other boys. Only a very select few of my friends knew I was gay. They were okay with it. My parents knew too. I was not ashamed, but we still lived in a world that said I was not `normal'. Who cares?

Jake was not just another boy. I didn't know if Jake was gay and I didn't care. I didn't want to take him to bed. He made me sad because he was always alone. He was a grade behind me, so maybe a year younger in age. Something drew me to him when it didn't draw me to others. He was small for his age, so maybe I just wanted to know he was okay. I heard a rumor that he had some sort of cancer.

He always sat alone. It wasn't always that way, in his recent past. He had a good crowd of friends at one time. If it's true he had cancer, maybe they pulled away from him. That's something I wouldn't do. I wanted a reason (or an excuse) to get closer to him. He tugged at my heart. I wish I knew why.

Since I had no excuse to talk to him, I waited until I had one. One morning, after the weekend, he showed up at school with a black eye. I went over to his locker and just started talking. I told him that was an impressive shiner. I joked that I hoped the other guy looked at least as bad. Lame. He didn't smile, but he did acknowledge me. His eyes sucked me in. I had to talk to him every day, just because. People should surround a cute young guy. He should have a lot of friends. Jake was alone. I sat with him later in the day, at lunchtime. He was painfully shy. I wasn't shy. We talked a little each day and then more and more. He never said much, but he didn't push me away either.

A week later, I gave him my phone number. I asked if he'd play basketball with me sometime. He said yeah, but that he wasn't very good at it. No problem, I could give him some tips. He seemed to welcome the attention I gave him. One night when I was doing homework in my bedroom, I kept thinking about him. I wanted to see him smile. I wanted him to have me as a friend. I shared a snack cake with him at lunch one day. The next day we had time to walk around before our next classes. The day after that we talked before he got on his bus to go home. I drove, so I thought about offering him a ride home. He politely refused. I didn't know where he lived, but his bus number would give me an idea. I eventually figured out he was from a new neighborhood across town from me. A bit out of my league. He obviously had money to live in that neighborhood.

One Friday, I asked if he would play ball with me on Saturday morning. He started to say no, but he changed his mind. We would meet at school and just hang out as long as he wanted to. I waited for him but he didn't show up on Saturday. I didn't have his phone number. Later in the day he called and said something came up. That he was sorry. I told him we could hang out anytime he wanted. I asked for his phone number. He said I shouldn't call after 8:00 during the week. His father wanted the house quiet. I had to wonder if he lived in a dungeon. My folks asked for no calls after 9:30, unless it was important. I did not live in a dungeon.

Even months later, after hanging out a fair amount, I still didn't know much about him. He wouldn't talk about his illness. He said he'd rather not have to think about it every day. I told him that he should call me anytime he wanted to. He nodded, but he didn't call. I saw him only at school. I worried a lot about Jake. He became the center of my thoughts. One night I was in bed and I found that I was a bit hot and bothered by him and my fantasy took over for a few minutes. After I cleaned up, I made a note to ask Jake again about basketball some Saturday. I also woke up a lot in the middle of the night, thinking that I heard his voice. He was crying. I sat up in bed and listened, but I didn't hear anything for real. When I saw him at school the next day, he had a new bruise on his arm. He was a little awkward but he wasn't a klutz. Actually he could be quite smooth on his feet. When I mentioned it, he said he stumbled on his sidewalk at home. Up close I could see signs of other bruises, but I noticed only when he wore a short-sleeved shirt. Even when it was warm, he wore long-sleeved shirts.

One morning at school, when he was at his locker, he smiled at me as I came up to him. It had been many months since I had met him. Smiles were few and far between, but this one was nice. I said hi to him. He asked if we could go for a walk at lunch. I ate lunch with him and then we walked. He said he liked that I was good to him. He apologized for being distant. He had stuff on his mind. I told him I thought he was a cool guy. I made sure he knew he could call me anytime. It was a long while before he did, but we kept seeing each other every day at school. Jake called one Saturday night.

"Daniel. Can you meet me at the 7-Eleven? Right away?"

"Yeah Jake. It'll take me ten minutes ... " then I heard him hang up the phone.

Something was wrong. He had been breathing heavy, maybe crying. I told my mom I had to go out. I took off as quickly as I could. Jake was sitting near the pay phone. I pulled up in front of him, my headlights shining on him. I left them on. He had clearly been crying. I got on my knees in front of him.

"What's up?"

"I need you to take me somewhere."

"Okay. You're hurt. To the hospital?"

He shook his head hard. "To a guy's place. Right away."

When I helped him up, I touched his arm. He screamed like he had been stabbed. He fell onto his knees and threw up on the sidewalk.

"No Jake. To the hospital. You can't wait."

"Do it. Or I call someone else!"

"But ... "

"Now!" he screamed at me.

We drove for a half hour. Oh this just wasn't right. I looked at him. His eyes were closed tight, against whatever was wrong with his arm. I couldn't see. He had his jacket on. "Jake?"

He shook his head. I kept driving. We had to stop to get directions to the street he wanted. The lights were on in the condo when we pulled up. He opened his car door and got out, moving fast.

The guy who answered the door looked past the need for a hospital. No idea why Jake wanted me to bring him here. Well, one thought, drugs. The guy let us in. I tried to explain why Jake wanted me to bring him here, but I couldn't. I didn't know.

The guy took one look at Jake and then told me where to get a washcloth. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. When I got ice from the freezer, as instructed, I came back to the living room. I saw Jake's arm. Oh crap, this is bad.

[Note from Aaron: Skip Part 56 referred to here].

The guy's name is Aaron. He carefully looked Jake over. He said he thought Jake's arm was broken. We had to go to the hospital. I explained that's what I wanted in the first place.

Aaron and I sat forever waiting for Jake to be cared for. Aaron assured me Jake was going to be okay. He told me about his suspicions about Jake, especially that Jake's father beat him. I told him I knew something was wrong, but I could never nail it. Jake was hard to get close to. Aaron said he knew, but Jake's life was about to change. My mind started running away. I should have insisted Jake talk to me.

We finally got back to Aaron's place. I feel bad that I suspected him and Jake about doing drugs. I found out later that they both were, but chemo drugs, not street drugs. I told Aaron that I had to go home, now that I knew Jake was staying here overnight. He gave me his phone number on a business card.

I did not have to be home at a given time. I just had to give my parents an update. So I did not leave Jake with Aaron because I had to be home. I left Jake because I had to cry. I didn't want Jake to see tears from me. I wanted him to see only strength and maybe, someday, my heart for him only.

I did cry, on the way home, and again when I got home. My dad sat beside me as I talked more about Jake. He and my mom knew I met Jake at school and was developing a friendship. There was a lot I didn't know. For now I wondered about why Jake's arm was broken. My mom knew of Jake's mom, but at a distance. She thought we should call her. I told her no, that Jake asked for Aaron for a reason.

In bed that night, all I could do was lay awake in the dark and fret over Jake. He would no longer be at school. Jake called me during the week and asked if I could send him the paperwork for school. I did that. I wanted to see him anyway. I asked if I could bring the papers to him in person. He said I could, that he wanted to talk to me. On the phone, he told me he was sorry for being rude to me over the weekend. I told him not to worry about it. I asked if I could see him on Friday afternoon.

When I got to his new home, I found out that Aaron didn't own the condo. A friend named Matt did, and he had opened his home to Jake. Jake was not going back to his parents. Jake took me up to his bedroom. We sat on the bed together. Jake put the papers on his dresser and then took my hand.

"I'm so sorry for being a prick. You did good, Daniel. Thanks for bringing me here. Will you come and visit again, in the future?"

"Of course. I have to confess something Jake."

"No. I kind of guessed. Me too, by the way."

He kept holding my hand. Then he kissed my cheek. He hugged me and I hugged him in return. He kissed my neck. I didn't know where this was going, but I was going to let it. He pulled back and looked at me.

"I think I've been in love with you. For a while. It's one reason why my father beats me."

"Because of me specifically?"

"No. I told my parents I'm gay. It's been hell since then. You're the only one who's even tried to get close to me. I'm a putz for not letting it happen."

"I can't argue. I've felt something for you for a long while too. I wish I'd tried harder to warm up to you. You did make it tough, but not enough to scare me away."

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

I looked at Jake. He looked at me and then inside me. He leaned in and kissed me on my lips. I let him, and kissed him back. Then he held me and we talked stuff out. All of it. It made me want to shoot Jake's father in the head. It wouldn't be murder, it would be a mercy killing, for Jake's benefit. I'd go to jail but I didn't care. I didn't keep this a secret from Jake.

"Don't worry. Aaron has a plan. He's taking me back to my house so I can get some of my stuff. Will you stay here until we get back?"


"I don't want to lose you, Daniel. I'm pretty sure I've fallen in love with you."

I must have had an amazing look on my face. My heart beat really hard. The first person who ever told me he was in love with me was the person I wanted to love. This was day one of our forever.

Jake and Aaron left for a while, with another friend. Matt kept me company. We talked the whole time Jake was gone. He told me a little about Aaron's background. It all made me sad for him. Aaron's heart was right out there for us all to see. He said Jake and I could be together whenever we wanted. For now I wanted only one thing--to prove to Jake that his father was wrong about a lot of things. I wanted to love Jake physically so he could let go of the lies. I took Jake in my arms and kissed him for a long time. When he was ready, I entered him and made the sweetest love to him that I knew how. It was my first time, and worth waiting for. He cried. I was scared, so I pulled out of him.

"No Daniel. It's better than I ever thought. Please love me, this way, and then forever."

Today, a year and then some into our future, my love for Jake is strong and lifelong. I will never let him hurt again. Watching him fight for his life after the bone marrow transplant ripped me up. But I wouldn't show that to Jake. He should see only my strength. He's my first Love. And my only Love. Dad Aaron is right up there, too. Skip, of course, has my gratitude forever. We are special together because his life force and my life force are inside of Jake. Skip is the genesis of this very special, if very complex, love affair among us five.

Daniel has kept every promise he ever gave to Jake, and more. There is not a more perfect couple in the universe. Most people think they are brothers. Jake says that he cared about Daniel enough to take beatings for his thoughts and feelings. `Caring about' eventually became profound love. Daniel took away all the bad and replaced it with truth, love, and a life together.

Jake back at school, living with Daniel at Mom and Pop's place, loved, and thriving was worth going through the worst summer of his life. The only way out is through, as Abby in Maryland had told me long ago.

My own chemo routine was cut back drastically as I improved. But there was still work to do. I sat on the floor at home, still with Ginny and Matt, with Snoopy's head resting on my lap. I tickled his nose and he sneezed, then he looked up at me. I leaned in and kissed his nose. He licked my cheek. Ginny was out with Kellie. Jeff was studying for his landscape architecture licensing exam. Lately I saw him only at work. He'd be here in a heartbeat if I needed him though.

A while later I must have been in a far off place. Matt sat beside me and put his arm across my shoulder. He kissed my forehead. Then he kissed me softly on my lips.

"You're getting antsy again Aaron. I wish you could sit still for more than a couple weeks at a time."

"Restless heart, bud. You're right that I should want peace for more than a short while. There's so much work to do."

"I know you don't mean work stuff. What's on the horizon for you?"


"I forgot. I think being with Jake all summer let me forget about your own struggles. You're still peeing blood."

I nodded. Yeah, and it was painful to do so. My back ached a lot more than I let on. When I was at work, I could disappear from my issues of the day. I was blessed that the only real thing I had to think about lately was my dying kidney. If I had a backup, it wouldn't bother me so badly. If not for Jason, there probably wouldn't be another one for me. I knew others would be able to give, but there was very little inside of me that would ask.

Matt hugged me closer. "You're going to have to go away again. Aren't you?"

"Yeah. Then gone for good in the spring, once the guys finish up in Boston. We're going to move to wherever Billy gets accepted at medical school."

"I'm going to miss you. Not a little either. It'll be good to see your health become normal for once."

"Amen," I said, mostly under my breath.

I put my head on his shoulder and we watched some more TV for a while. Home is where I was loved. This place was amongst the best. I really would miss it. Jake first came to me here, on the worst day of his life. Here is where we lived when I adopted him. Here is where he and Daniel made love that first time. Here was the love and happiness of four very loving and giving people.

I packed my duffle with everything I would need for the next few weeks. I stood looking out the window, down at the backyard and off to the lake in the distance. Jeff came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me.

"I'll be back in a couple months," I told him without turning around.

"I know," he said. "I love you so much, bud. I wish ... "

"It'll be okay."

I turned to face him, putting my arms around him. I looked into him. I didn't see worry there. Only that he loved our friendship more than he'd loved most others, except for Matty's. Our friendship would be a long one. There was no competing for whom we loved first and best.

He picked up my duffle. We joined the others downstairs. The girls smiled that smile that came before tears. Matt locked the door as we went out into bright sunshine.

Onward to DC and to my next, and last, kidney transplant. Friend Jason awaited me.

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