Skip - Part 64


Skip - Part 64

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.

Snoopy sat in my lap up front. Jeff drove. Matt, Ginny, and Kellie sat in the back, talking animatedly. Snoopy looked at me as if to say "Aaron, I'm about to fart" or else "Geez Aaron, I'm gonna miss you." Hard to say which one. I waited. There was no stink bomb, so I guess that meant he'd miss me. I scratched him behind his ear. He settled down again, closing his eyes as I played with his ear.

Jeff stood with me at the edge of 30th Street Station in Philly. He put his forehead against mine. Snoopy sat at our feet. No leash. Even though he was over a year old, his puppy instincts were well controlled. Jeff had been thinking. He didn't seem to like his thoughts, or at least keeping them to himself any longer.

"Aaron, you've been through so much to have to do this again. When you feel like you're slipping into that dark place, call me?"

He paused a moment. "Stupid me. Sorry. I know you have ... "

"Not stupid. Perfectly caring. Thank you."

His fears are not unfounded. Jeff had seen my strength but he also knew of the bits of hell I've lived across the years. I sometimes look for the rewind button, but Mom and Dad didn't give me one. December 24, 1984, age 24. Too young to die. Too sad not to be born. And too young to be widowed.

"I love you buddy," he said to me, as I wiped a tear off his cheek. He hugged me tightly. "I'm so sad for you sometimes I don't know how to get beyond it."

"I love you very much, bud. What you've done for Jake is impossible to repay. I know I've already taught you the answer to 'how'. Think about it."

He shook his head.

"Together," I said. "In our so precious moments."

"Okay," he said into my ear. "No one ever taught me how to live right. You've accomplished what no one ever tried, except my parents. Their lessons and yours are lightyears apart. No insult to my parents, of course."

"I've just lived a different life than you."

"Yeah, and you're a master of the understatement."

I shrugged. My train departure was announced, so we all moved to the queue. The four, uh five, stood nearby. Security wouldn't let them down on the platform. Only ticket holders could go. Each one kissed me on my cheek and wished me well. Snoopy danced from one foot to the other. I knelt down. He put one paw on my knee and licked my nose. I kissed his nose back.

"You've been my hero, Snoops. See you soon little guy."

I walked down the stairs to the platform and then onto the train. I found a quiet corner, out of habit, and cracked open the newest Daniel Silva novel. Gabriel Allon had also lost his family, violently. I like that Daniel made Gabriel a man who hurt instead of a too-tough man.

Philly to Washington was not an overly long journey, but I had time to nap a bit. My mind drifted as I slid into the state between totally conscious and feeling no pain.

Kate loved when I took a song that she liked and sang the words quietly in her ear. It's the closest I'd ever get to poetry. I didn't have it in me to write original works. I can write 12,000 to 15,000 word journals, but poetry was out of my reach, including understanding most of it. However, Mr. Robert Frost was a personal hero to me. I quoted him in my mind often. Miles to go before I sleep. And I too had taken the road less traveled many times. I had met young Andrew, and fallen in love with him, by doing just that. Skip and Billy, on the other hand, joined my path, took my hand, my pain, and my heart.

Anyway, she shouldn't suffer my lack of poetic talent. We loved music, most any kind, but pop music primarily. She hadn't lived to know of or to see Celine Dion become the amazing songstress that she is. So I kept Celine for Skip, when we were alone and I needed to tell him things. Billy and I loved Richard Marx music best. Kate got Carpenters, Chicago, and a lot of Dan Fogelberg. Our wedding music had been "Longer". We had picked it separately, asking our moms what they thought of it. Mom and Mom2 had a great laugh together about that. "Meant to be" came to mind, they said.

I must have had tears on my cheek. The train's conductor touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes.

"You okay, son?"

"Yeah. Thanks. Sometimes I allow myself a view of what was."

"That's healthy I guess. Just don't take up residence there."

I nodded. He smiled at me, tipped his hat, and went through to door to the next car. This is the shortest contact I had with someone who cared about people in general. I would remember his words a long time.

I arrived at Washington's Union Station a bit under two hours. I could have been here a half-hour sooner on the Amtrak Acela Express, but a half hour was less important than spending an extra $75, give or take. I value the use of time more than how much to spend, or how much not to.

Andy Jr. and Jason met me. It was easy to spot them. Andy was on top of Jason's shoulders, for an eagle eye view.

"Ditching school are we Young Lad?"

"Yeah. Louie took my homework to my teachers. I've missed you Mate."

Jason took my duffle. Andy leaned down and kissed my forehead. He gave me eyes like Jake gives me eyes. There was way more angel than there was devil in this young man. He had the best qualities of both. Jason hugged me with one arm and kissed my forehead. I kissed him on his cheek. I was about to change his life very drastically. He might think so, but he couldn't know all. The physical and psych evaluations are only half the story.

Beauty that steals the heart is often imperfect, suggests grace and kindness, and inspires tenderness more than it incites lust. I found this on a web site. It applies to Jason. Yeah, there is a bit of lust for him. He knows and is okay with it. Twenty-four years of friendship accounted for that. I have now known him as long as I had known my Kate.

We headed northwest after exiting Union Station and walked about three quarters of a mile. I set my backpack on the floor beside my chair as we sat down in our favorite Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. I had intentionally had a light breakfast so I could enjoy several of my favorites on the lunch buffet. I got Andy to try a couple things that he had made faces at. Crab legs were too good to make faces at. He enjoyed the one I gave him enough to make a return trip for a couple more.

As usual, Andy swung his legs under the table. He probably didn't realize he did that. The kid was always in motion. He winked at me when I smiled at him. I raised my teacup to him. He clinked his against mine, and we drank to our friendship. He could be a grown-up and a kid at the same time. Staying with me in the hospital after my rounds of surgeries showed that he has a kind heart.

"Surgery is soon," he said, looking at me. He didn't say more.

"Yeah. You're not going to worry about us, are you?"

"Maybe a little." He looked at me for a moment, and then to Jason. "Jason, it's very brave of you."

"Less brave than critical for our best mate here."

Andy looked back at me. I knew that Jason had talked to our young friend, likely minimizing the focus on him and putting it on me. Andy crooked his finger and I leaned toward him. He whispered, "I love you Mate" in my ear. He hugged me around my neck. His capacity for love and friendship is immeasurable.

We walked to Metro Center station and took the Red Line out to the Medical Center stop at NIH. Andrew would still be in his lab at this time of day. Claire met us near the main entrance. She was dressed casually today.

"I was going to make a comment about the Three Stooges," she said, "but Andy is too cute. Maybe Two Stooges."

Jason and I gave her a couple minutes of the Three Stooges antics, with appropriate sounds.

"Well, I guess I started that. I should have known better."

One last nyuk nyuk and we were done. Too much of a good thing is still too much. Except for chocolate, though it did produce a telltale pimple in the crook of my nose.

"Did you three save room for dessert? I'm buying."

"Yum!" said the three of us at the same time.

Ice cream for Andy and Jason, two spoons. Cherry pie for me. Jason stole a bite. Claire got soft-serve with sprinkles. Andrew joined us with a cup of tea. His manly figure did not betray his sweet tooth. He ran twice a day, six days a week. His body is probably little changed from his teen years, though he was only a little older than me. As for me, I was still a runt.

The two doctors went back to work. Andy, Jason, and I headed for home. Once there, Jason called Annie to tell her I had arrived in one piece. He said he would be home before dinner. Andy went back outside, bringing in what looked like his overnight duffle. I gathered that he had spent the night at Jason's place. He went upstairs.

Jason and I went out back. He grabbed the soccer ball from the back deck and threw it to me. I bounced it off my head and we were off, running around the backyard as if we were on the soccer pitch. Andy came out and sat of the railing of the deck. Jason and I ran around for over a half hour. We were World Cup champs today. The crowd went wild. (He applauded my last wonderful goal). My legs were giving out. Andy hopped down and slid easily into my place.

An hour later, Jason gave Andy and I both a hug and went on his way. "See you Wednesday morning bud," he said to me. Wednesday was surgery day. I had been unsuccessful at trying to talk him out of giving up one kidney. He said I should be optimistic. I wasn't feeling optimistic at needing a third kidney. Andy took my hand and held it for a moment.

"It'll be okay Mate."

"Hope so," I said. "Come on Young Lad, let's go get some dinner started."

Claire and Andrew arrived in the kitchen to the smell of a pork loin roasting in the oven. I was adding parmesan cheese to a steamy pot full of polenta. Andy was watching grilled veggies on skewers outside. I handed him some garlic butter and a small paintbrush to baste the veggies. I poured large glasses of iced tea while the folks went upstairs to change.

We sat down at the picnic table outside and enjoyed our meal. No dessert since we had indulged after lunch. I would have a cookie at bedtime with my pain meds. Claire had made a batch of tollhouse last night. With nuts. Drool!

"Are you going to the wedding?" I asked Jake, referring to his mother's upcoming event. We were on the phone.

"No. I'm busy that day."

"Do you even know when it is?"

"Nope. But I'll be busy that day."

Smart ass kid. He really could be my own. It's love, not biology, which holds us together.

"Jake, you shouldn't hate your mother."

"Only for the crap she pulled on you. I love you more. A lot more."


"You earned that. It's her fault, and your blessing."

"You are my blessing. Don't ever doubt that."

"Sometimes I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll lose you. Two years isn't long enough Daddy."

He broke my heart every time he called me Daddy. There was no sweeter word, and no more bittersweet a word. When he called me Daddy, his eyes lit up. I loved to hold on to him, touch his face, kiss his forehead. I loved looking into his eyes while he looked into my soul. I do know what he finds in there because he tells me.

"I miss you already love. Can't wait to get home again."

"Soon enough Dad. You and Jason will both be okay."

"Hope so. I love you bud. Love you too Daniel."

"Take care Aaron-Dad. Love you a lot."

"I love you Daddy."

Andrew sat beside me on my bed. I will sleep in Andy's room later. Andrew and I talked in the spare bedroom because he knew I had stuff on my mind. We didn't talk about anything too mind-boggling. He just reassured me that everything would be fine. Jason was willing and able to give up a kidney. I thought about Billy, two surgeries ago. He too thought all would be well. I'm not convinced that survival is enough. Andrew gave me a long hug and then tucked me into bed. He kissed young Andy on his cheek and then turned the light out. He stood there a moment in the doorway.

Jason and I spent some of Sunday together. We were sitting in Dunbarton Oaks Park, north of Georgetown. We could see part of the Naval Observatory, which was also the vice president's residence. I sat with my back against his chest. He wrapped me up in his arms.

"Some people would say it's a large leap, going from a lifetime with Kate, to a terrible loss, to the heart and arms of a man like Skip."

I didn't say anything.

"I'm not one of them, by the way. Skip loving you is purely brilliant. You told me there would be no one after Kate, forever."

Still silent.

"That would have been terrible for Skip, worse than for you even."

"Skip wouldn't be ... "

"How do you know?"

"I just do. It kills me to look at what I did to him. I will always believe I hurt him."

"And he'll never believe you hurt him, not for a single moment. No one will."

"He's wrong then. Everybody else, too."

"Look at me, Aaron. Do you love Skip because you need to? Or out of pity? Or because you want to."

"You know the answer to that."

"Humor me."

"With my heart and soul, forever, no matter what."

"He loves you a hundred million times that much. Your love for him falls short of his love for you, for one reason."

I waited.

"Yours includes guilt. His doesn't."

"How can he love me?"

"How can he not?"

"That's not an answer."

"It's the best one you'll get from me. Put away the guilt, Aaron. It's not yours to own."

"I can't. Not out of disrespect to you, bud."

He didn't say more. I knew Skip loved me. I loved him back. Jason wasn't right about the guilt. I owned it and held it as close as he held me.

I knew Aaron was thinking about me. I also knew he was sad. I hated that part of being able to feel him. I wanted to feel only the good. I can feel him for one reason-he is part of my heart. I began to feel Billy's feelings and thoughts after the first time he cried for me, before he made love to me.

His sadness was self-inflicted and something that I couldn't take away. I tried. He sees me as a broken man first. I'm not broken, and not especially due to anything Aaron has done. There isn't much to do about a stubborn man.

I know he has a heart for me. I worked to make that happen. It made me too sad that he looked at me and felt guilt along with the love. He needed to be fully healthy before we could work the rest of this out. My Aaron is a beautiful man. I loved him even before I told Billy that I did. When I told Billy, he told me to at least make a friend out of Aaron. Billy also saw pain in him. We both knew that he was alone. "Meant to be" is only one reason Aaron easily fell into love and lust for Billy and me.

On Tuesday night, Jason and I checked into the med center. Close to bedtime, after Nova on PBS had finished, I turned off TV. Jason was on my bed beside me. He slid his hand into my shorts and found me hard.

"I thought so," he said. "You're missing your buds pretty badly."

I nodded. I didn't say more. He massaged my hardness, wrapping his hand tightly around me. He stroked me as he would take care of himself, except that he didn't need to. I'm sure he and Annie had made love last night. He wouldn't be able to do so for a couple of weeks or so after tomorrow. I closed my eyes and thought about my two loves at home. He put his right arm around me and let me feel good. He kissed my cheek softly.

"I love you too, Aaron."

I returned Jason's kiss, softly. I loved that he knew me well and didn't have to ask to help me out. Most of all, that he didn't feel awkward about doing so. We had helped each other out often when we were in college. He had Annie even then, but they did not have sex until after college, and not until he knew that she loved him deeply.

He took his time with me, knowing I hated getting off just to get off. He and I had never had sex, more than this anyway, but love between us was deep and lifelong. He winked at me when I opened my eyes to look at him.

"You're supposed to be thinking about Skip and Billy, not looking at me."

"I love you too bud. Differently, but deeply no matter what."

He kept up his slow strokes. I looked into his eyes as he looked into mine. "Feels good. You're a good man, Jason. Not a lot of friends would share like this."

"One percent lust. Twenty-four years of friendship. You're losses. Your gains. The guys. Jake and Daniel. Maybe it's a weird way to celebrate us, but it'll do."

"It's a great way to celebrate us," I assured him.

He kissed my lips softly when I closed my eyes and put my thoughts back to Skip. I smiled at Jason without opening them again. "Thanks bud. You're perfect."

He continued to stroke me. I was getting close but he kept it steady. After a couple minutes more, I came all over my belly. He stroked me through it and slowed down once I began to go soft again.

"I want it," I told him.

He knew what I meant. He put his hand up to my lips and I licked my cum off his fingers. He scooped up cum from my belly and fed it to me. He, like he has done before, kept some for himself. He said our jacking off time together was friendship, not obligation. Even now, that was true.

He went to the bathroom to get a warm washcloth. He gave me a quick wipe down and then pulled my shorts back up. He leaned in to kiss my forehead and then got into his bed. It was getting late.

I was awake at 5:00 a.m. I looked over at Jason in the semi-darkness. He was still sleeping. I left him alone, letting him enjoy his last couple of hours of freedom from pain. I know he had talked to Billy so that he would know what to expect. Despite that, he wanted to donate his kidney for me anyway.

I knew when the surgeon cut into my bud. I gasped involuntarily. Billy, still beside me, held me. He said he was glad he couldn't feel me. It's enough to imagine, and unfair to feel. I was used to it. I had been prepared but he was in surgery a little earlier this morning. Aaron's incision meant that Jason had one equally as long and as deep. I tried to use Aaron's thoughts to shift to Jason. I couldn't. I guess Aaron was under deeply enough to have peace for a change. I felt nothing beyond that first incision. I know Andrew was there as well, looking for tumors. Undoubtedly, there would be some. I later heard from Andrew. He (and Aaron) knew of five. Aaron had not told us this. Andrew found four more, hidden away. Or one became two upon closer examination. Aaron-the tumor factory.

Billy took me downstairs and helped me with breakfast. He shared his cantaloupe with me, along with strawberries and honey yogurt. We split an English muffin. When we finished, Billy took me back to bed and made slow sweet love to me. I knew why, of course. But he did not do it half-assed or rushed. Brother and much more than lover, like Aaron says. Sharing like this is as natural to us as it is unnatural to others. Morality isn't a big hang-up because Billy had saved me from a painful death. Incest yeah yeah blah blah blah. Too bad. Love overruled stupid people's criticism, so we didn't care.

"Thanks bro. I'm okay now."

"I know. Me too. I love you bro. So much. Even then, we're incomplete. Missing Aaron is like missing an arm or a leg."

"Or ... "

"Yeah. But you feel more than anyone else does. Everyone else takes it for granted. Not A though, of course. He's losing his legs too. It'll still take a while, but it's still a loss. I'll help you feel again ... someday."

"I can wait. Help me be inside you?"


I made love to Billy the way he had made love to me. I started to cry while I was inside him. Just because this is natural for us, doesn't mean it's not special. Billy was a better man for understanding my tears. They were for him and the depth of my love for him. I always felt how deeply he loved me. He often held my hand, touched my cheek, kissed me for no reason than because it was nice. My tears were also because Aaron wasn't part of us this time.

"S'okay bro. He'll be with us soon enough."

He dried my tears and helped me concentrate on just us. "Just us" was pretty amazing too. When I was finished, he held me until we had to get up again. We had classes. He needed time to take me to mine before going across campus to his. Lots of schoolmates knew me so they often delivered me to the library or to lunch after a class. They made sure the burden of my care did not rest solely on my brother's shoulders. This included friends even beyond the BC core of friends. No one let me see their pity, only their good natures. I knew, of course, that some did pity me. I tried to show them it was not necessary. I know I succeeded when a classmate wanted to compare my notes to his or hers. I always had help to open up my note-taking program and to put my fingers on the keyboard. No one complained that I typed all in lower-case. My prof called me ee, for e. e. cummings.

The phantom pain in my back subsided a bit around 4:30 in the afternoon. Jason's wife promised to call us later. The air was chilly, even by October standards in Boston, when David carried me to my van. We were meeting the guys in the North End. This was our Wednesday routine.

Andrew was sitting in a chair with his unshod feet up on another chair. He was sleeping. It was anyone's guess what day and time it was. Darkness beyond our window gave me only a bit of a clue. Jason was holding my hand. Someone had put our two beds close together. Knowing Jason, he asked that be done when we came back t our room. He knew I would arrive later than he did. I wrapped my fingers around his carefully, trying not to wake him. I went back to sleep after a few minutes.

As before, Andy Jr. lay beside me when I woke next time. He had been laying there quietly, waiting for me to wake up.

"Hi Mate," he said. He leaned in to kiss my cheek. "Need ice?"


He disappeared for a couple of minutes, returning with a plastic bucket. He climbed back onto my bed, carefully, and started feeding me ice chips. Jason was under the care of Annie. She was helping him drink juice through a straw. She laughed at Andy as he teased me with ice. I had to reach up and snap it away from him, like a dog begging for a treat. I was never like that with Snoopy. All he had to do is give me eyes and I was at his every whim.

After a dozen or so chips, the dry pain in my throat subsided. Andy kissed me on my nose.

"Saturday morning, Mate. Ready for some juice?"

"Yeah, thanks"

Intake was going to be very light for a while. Jason and I both had IV tubes for fluids and nourishment. When I looked over at him, he gave me a thumbs up sign.

"Thanks bud. I'm sorry ... "

"No, Aaron. Be happy. I'm okay. You too, alright?"


Andy put our hands together again. There wasn't enough strength between us to squash a bug. But we belonged to each other. My friend, like others, gave me life. I hope I didn't fuck it up again.

Jason scowled. "Sorry," I said. "Just a little scared."

"In our precious moments, love."

I nodded. Annie asked Andy to put his sneakers back on. She'd take him to lunch. They'd come back tomorrow. Andy ran around to Jason's side of the bed and kissed him on his cheek. He gave him a fine yet gentle hug. Jason kissed Andy and hugged him as well, one-armed. Andy came around to me. He kissed my forehead (he knows I like kisses there best) and gave me a hug. I kissed him on his nose and hugged him, one-armed.

"Love you guys. See you tomorrow."

Andrew had sat quietly on his side of the room, just observing.

"Makes me love my son more and more. What can I do for you two?"

"Read us a bedtime story Pop," Jason said, smiling.

"Well, I could make something up, but it would give you nightmares. I'll save it for another time. Either of you fancy a bathroom stop?"

"Can I still pee?" asked Jason, tongue in cheek.

"Probably like a stallion," said Andrew, laughing. He helped Jason out of bed and to the bathroom. From what I heard, Andrew wasn't kidding by much. I heard a long 'ahhhhhhhhhhh' when Jason was done. It would hurt to laugh so we let Andrew chortle for us. Claire had walked in at the end of the peeing and the beginning of the 'ahhh ... '. She made a funny face. She rolled her eyes when she saw it was Jason *not* taking anything seriously, as usual.

Jason turned forty shades of red when he and Andrew emerged from the loo. Then he chuckled in spite of himself. Claire gave him a kiss on his cheek. She obviously loved his healthy attitude. Jason and his family spent a fair amount of time with Andrew and his family. Their connection was Annie's work. The surprise connection was me. I've often said the world is all about connections.

Claire sat beside me, kissed my forehead, and took my hand. Andrew helped Jason settle back into bed.

"So sleepy love. Give in to it. Rest is the surest way to recovery."

She was right. I was fighting sleeping so much. Kinda lame though, since she was right and I knew better. She gave my hand to Jason. He interlocked our fingers again. He felt better lying on his right side. Andrew wedged a pillow behind Jason so he'd stay put. He watched me go back to sleep. I tried to tell him I was sorry that he hurt.

"Easy bud. No worries. I'm fine. Sleep. And feel better."

I felt a tear slide down my cheek and then I let sleep take me under.

"I was just thinking," said Jason, knowing I was awake early. "How have your legs been. MS? No, that's not right. Muscular Dystrophy."

"MD, correct. If you're asking if it'll improve, no. Specifically I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Medically it's somewhat under the MD umbrella."

"Is it CMT that makes your toes curl like that?" he asked. Then he laughed out loud and I quickly followed.

"Well, yes, but not the only reason my toes curl. Whoo hoo!"

Actually my smaller toes look like Jason took his hand and pressed them downward and toward my foot. It's called 'contracture', looking almost as if they're broken. I also can't wiggle my toes. I can get a small amount of movement out of my big toe.

"So what the difference between MS and MD?"

"MS affects the central nervous system, brain to spinal cord. MD and CMT affect peripheral nerves, in my arms and legs. They're both degenerative, and no cure for either. Not much for treatment either, except PT. Either way, MS and MD patients end up disabled and in wheelchairs. Not that that's gonna bother me much."

"What's the onset?"

"For MS, it's random, mostly. For MD, it's hereditary. I got mine from my mom. She was thought to have MS. Andrew is sure she too had CMT. The proof is in my genes."

He looked at me, a bit sad. He kissed my nose.

"One more piece of crap for you to deal with."

I shrugged. "Only thing about 'life' and 'fair' is that they're four-letter words. My brother has been checked out. He's fine. I was first-born, so I got mom's DNA first."

He still looked sad. He took my hand.

"No worries, love. I got you inside of me. I hope I never lose you."

"I'm not worried, bro. You won't ever lose me, even if you lose my kidney. Billy is still in there, and so is they young guy from Chicago. They were inside of you long enough that you'll walk in the world for them. I love you Aaron. Love you with my whole being."

"I know you do. I feel you, sometimes only on the edges, but there nonetheless. Other than my brother and a couple of high school friends, you're my longest friend. And the best."

He kissed my lips softly. Jason wasn't afraid, ever, to show affection. He's was a grand hugger too, not into half-assed hugs. Otherwise, he says, you're better off just shaking hands. He looked inside of me to see what else was there. He moved closer to me and wrapped himself around me. I guess he saw something he didn't exactly love seeing. In his own way, he'd at least try to draw it out of me, like an empath. He'd push it away from himself too, so that it'd do him no harm. THAT is my definition of friend.

We dozed off together until Donna came in with breakfast. Jason's tray had orange juice, milk, a small box of Wheaties, and a banana. Mine had apple juice and half a blueberry muffin. I gave her a raised eyebrow.

"Later," she said, smiling. "If you're a good boy."

"Well you can kiss that goodbye," said my smartass buddy. "Come on Donna, you know better."


"We live in hope, Jason."

She kissed my forehead and left. Jason peeled the banana and offered me a small piece. He pulled it away just as I was about to grab it. He leaned in and puckered up. I put my hand behind his head, pulled him to me, and gave him a Skip-and-Billy style of kiss on his lips. With tongue. He cracked up and then fed me the banana piece.

"No wonder your men love you so much. We're officially engaged, by the way. That's how it is with 'my people'."

His 'people' are European, Austrian/German I think.

"Whoo hoo!"

He laughed. There was no way he could NOT make my day. Jason was genuine, sincere, and made up of five parts humor. Maybe six. Probably more. Okay okay, definitely more. I don't know why I had the best people in my life, and now gone from it. The list was long and every heart on that list was so beautiful.

We ate happily.

"Good boy, you made all gone," he said, quite pleased.

"Yeah like that's hard to do. I want more."

He pushed his table away, moved close to me again, and wrapped me back up.

"Of course this is what you meant," he said.

"My bud. You know me so well."

He did. He knew I didn't mean more food. My body would have enough trouble with what little I gave it. My soul, however, was in perfect condition. And in good hands. When Donna came back in, she found me sleeping, and Jason gently rubbing my tummy. My caregivers made her job easy. I always insisted that she give her talents to the people who needed them more than me.


Jason went home a week after surgery. I'd stay put for another week at least. I asked Andrew to minimize the talk about what my body was doing. As much as I loved my friend Jason, as true a friend he was to me through this life and beyond, my body wanted no part of his kidney. It didn't want Billy's either, or the young man from Chicago. It was nothing personal. But still I didn't want Jason worrying about it. He too needed to heal and to take care of his family. Annie came every day. Little Luke made an appearance over the weekend, taking his nap beside me, holding my hand. The other kids stayed with grandma and grandpa for a few days.

Back at home, there was a disturbance in 'The Force'. Billy filled me in later on what went on:

Skip suddenly broke down in tears. He hated this most of all because he couldn't wipe away his own tears. I did it for him. I knelt in front of him. I brushed his hair off his forehead. I had picked up on his anxiety earlier. I had let it pass. His anxiety was always short-lived.

"Are you in pain, bro?"

"No, but yeah."

It was Friday night, a little past 9:00. I knew immediately what was getting to Skip.

"I understand, love. I'll be back in a few minutes."

I went upstairs and packed our duffle bags. Skip was easy to figure out. His needs were few and his wants almost non-existent. Any quadriplegic (and paraplegic for that matter) would wish not to be. Skip was not one to wish for something he couldn't have. Science would help some day, but not today.

I took bro to the bathroom. While he was peeing, I packed some snacks for the road. I made sure I had money in my wallet and my credit card. I carried Skip out to my car. After putting the seatbelts around him, I leaned in and kissed him.

"Sorry bro. I should have been ... "

"Nah. I'm being stupid."

"I love you bro. I really should have talked to you and made this a plan. We'll be in DC soon enough."

"I'm still stupid. We can wait."

"Nope. You don't cry for nothing. You need to be with Aaron."

He nodded. He and I kissed again, a little longer. He knew I thought the world of him and our bud. I touched his cheek. He nodded.

Later, I would send email to our professors to get homework. I would explain we had to be away for a week or so.

We were entering Danbury, Connecticut, roughly the halfway point of our trip. I topped off the gas tank, bought milk and snack cakes, and took Skip to the men's room. I never wanted to embarrass him by forgetting he needed to pee. It was about 1:00 a.m. I found a trusted rest stop off the highway. A short nap would suffice. I held my brother's hand. He slept on my shoulder. Roughly 90 minutes later, he kissed my cheek as I woke.

"Okay love?" I asked.

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah. Do you feel Aaron?"

"Calm. He's okay."

The majority of traffic through New Jersey and past Philly was from trucks hauling freight. When we arrived in Bethesda, we pulled into a diner for breakfast. I fed Skip blueberry pancakes. We knew the waitress since we'd been here before. She sat with us for a few minutes. We brought her up on the news. She wished Aaron the best. She took care of an elderly couple who had just arrived.

At the med center, I put Skip in his wheelchair. He took off like a shot. Oh yeah, he was missing our Aaron something fierce. I ran to catch up to him. He was smiling, finally.

We peeked into Aaron's room. He was sleeping. It was a little past 6:00 a.m. I wasn't surprised that Aaron was still asleep. He and I had slept a lot of hours after our surgeries together last time. Andrew was in his usual spot in the corner, covered up and sleeping. I took Skip out of his wheelchair. I laid him beside Aaron. He leaned in and kissed Aaron's cheek. I bent down and kissed Aaron's forehead. After laying Skip's right hand on Aaron's chest, I went to Andrew.

"I'm buying breakfast if you're hungry," I said as he woke.

He looked over to find Skip falling back to sleep beside Aaron. Skip had been restless the whole trip.

I explained on the way to the cafeteria that Skip had cried. I was embarrassed enough to apologize to Andrew.

"I should have at least made a plan to come. Skip would have been okay. It took him breaking down to wake me up. That's no way to treat my brother."

"Don't take all the blame, Billy. I agree a plan would have been a good start, but being here is all that would relieve Skip's anxiety. I could have made an offer for you both to come, even for a weekend. Getting into medical school is very important for you."

"Not important enough to be out of touch with Skip's feelings. My career has no timeline. Skip and Aaron have to be together, and have to come first."

Andrew put his hand on my shoulder. "I know, bud. You're right, of course. Skip is happy again, so you did the right thing."

When I woke up, my Skip was looking at me, hand on my chest, over my heart. So sweet. I looked around. Where there is Skip, there is Billy. No Andrew in his usual spot. They may have gone for a walk or to grab a bite.

"Hi bud," Skip said. "I love ... you."

"I'm sorry you missed me so much. I hope you didn't Billy a rough time."

"I did. I'm ... sorry."

"Is he okay?"

"Yeah. He ... went with ... Andrew."

It took a bit of doing, but I rolled onto my side. I wrapped Skip up in my arms. He cried again, just too sad at these circumstances. We had been apart for too long. Mates in love should see each other daily. Our lives had been anything but normal for so long we'd have to redefine normal. Or fit into everyone else's ideal of normal.

"I'm coming home after this."

He looked up at my eyes. "For real?"

"For real, in Connecticut. We'd be without Billy for a while."

"I don't know ... how I feel ... about that. We need to ... be together."

"I agree, but sometimes ... "

"I know. I just ... don't have to ... like it."

"Am I enough, for when he's away?"

"Yes love. But we're three."

"We'll be three forever. Are you afraid of being alone?"

He nodded. He was like a little kid who had been caught at the cookie jaw, and repentant.

"Not for a moment, love. Not ever. Think about it."

"I have. It's why I ... cried at home."

"I'm sorry for that, Skip. Really. It's too much sometimes, huh?"

He nodded again. I brought him to me, hugged him close, and sang a sweet song into his ear. I kissed him between verses and sang some more. When my voice broke, he kissed me.

"Forgive me?" he asked.

"Nothing to forgive. You're entitled to moods and downtimes. Just talk about it. You're my Skip. I know I'm your Aaron. Is it good enough, this moment?"

"It's good ... enough all the ... moments."

"I wish I ... could ... "

He stopped. I know what he wanted. Both of us knew it couldn't happen yet.

"The other 99% is way good enough, love."

"I need to love you."

I moved his right hand and placed it on his hip. I motioned to it with my head. He understood what I wanted. It took a couple of minutes, but he worked his hand toward me. When he reached my chest, he worked some more to lay it flat over my heart. Then he kissed me deeply.

"Was it good for you, love?" I smiled, so he knew how to take me.

"Yeah." He smiled. "It was al ... most the best I've ... ever had."

"Good thing your standards are low."

He scowled at me.

"My standards are ... extre ... mely high. I wanted only you ... when I was thinking ... about my life. Back then. I knew it would ... be hard. After your ... losses. I made you love ... me."

"Skip loves Aaron. It doesn't get better than that, well, mostly."

"Aaron loves Skip and ... Billy boy. Billy boy ... loves us. Together. He's stronger ... than me though. He ... didn't cry."

"That's what you think, bro. You cried for Aaron. I cried for you. Why do you think I went upstairs so quickly? If you see me weak, you'll feel like you can't trust me."

Billy leaned in and kissed his brother warmly, sweetly. He rubbed his forehead against Skip's. He smiled and took Skip's hand, putting it over his own heart. He held it there and rubbed Skip's hand softly and silently. For a few moments, Skip was all Billy could see. It was easy to do that and not be insulting to anyone else nearby, me especially. I knew my place in their world. Three. We have been three. We are three. We will be three. For now, and then for eternity. There is no Billy without Skip and me. There is no Skip without Billy and me. There is no happy Aaron without his Skip and his Billy, by heart, soul, and infinite love.

As hard as Skip had worked to make me love him, he also knew that he was Billy's first love. That little umpf that made them special together was beautiful to see. That they both could love me too was exceptional. The BC crew loved their quality time with Skip as well. Every one of them had carried him from place to place, or helped him eat at school or out in public. David said people stared at them, though not unkindly. There was always a smile or a nod of the head, a coffee cup raised. They were curious, of course, but only their own imaginations would come up with the answer as to why this beautiful young man had been paralyzed. Schoolmates knew, of course. Skip was on the receiving end of kind hearts all over campus.

Billy placed Skip's hand on my cheek, and then leaned over to kiss me too.

"What can I do for you love?"

"I'd like a bath. Would you be up to it?"

"No problem. You wanna join him Skip?"

"Yeah. No nookie ... though. He can't handle ... me."

"Dream on, bro. Can't handle you yet. Our Aaron is man enough for anything."

Billy went to fill the bathtub. He came back for me first. I had already taken my t-shirt and gym shorts off. Billy had to take Skip's clothes off because he and I were too busy making out. He shook his head at us. Billy put Skip in the tub facing me. I immediately wrapped my hand around Skip's dick and got him hard.

"Don't tease me ... love."

"Just because I can't get off yet, doesn't mean you don't have a need."

He signed, but he didn't tell me to stop. I'd pass out cold on the floor if he ever told me not to touch him. I don't think I had anything to worry about.

Billy washed Skip's hair. He was a bit scruffy but it was a good look for him. He might even look good with a beard. I had grown a beard once, in college, for a drama club presentation. It took me all of three seconds to shave it off afterward. Aaron is not cool in a beard.

I suddenly laughed out loud. Billy had sculpted the shampoo and Skip's hair into a Santa Claus cap. So much for our rule about not making a fool out of one another. I guess it was okay to do it in private. Skip just rolled his eyes. Give Billy and inch (or the usual seven) and he'll run with it. He left Skip's cap in place while he washed his back, chest, arms, and then legs. Then he put his left arm across Skip's shoulders, leaned him back a bit, rinsed out his hair, and washed his face. He held Skip in that position while I continued to stroke Skip's dick. Skip watched me, an unknown fantasy playing behind the scenes no doubt.

"Nope. You ... turn me on without ... fantasy love."

"Love Billy more."

"Why," both said at the same time. It made me laugh a bit.

"You're flesh and blond, and bound together by some real pain. Skip and Billy, Billy and Skip."

"We're still three, love," Billy said. "I do love Skip very deeply, and he knows it. He loves me just as deeply, and I know it. You, our friend, love, and mate, just make us complete. Don't sell yourself short. Loving you is as easy as loving Skip, and very fulfilling."

"I have a hard time," I said.

"For no good ... reason."


"Aaron, look at me." I looked up into Billy's beautiful eyes. "Let go of this guilt shit. It's not yours to hold and never will be. Skip doesn't blame you. I don't blame you. Wrong place, wrong time. Simple of that. It's why they're called accidents. No one intentionally hurt Skip. Let it go."

"I'm not convinced."

Skip sighed. "Not everyone you ... love gets hurt. Or dies."

Billy saw something cross my face.

"That's it, isn't it? You think you're some sort of bad luck charm."

I didn't say anything. I put my concentration back on Skip because I felt him go a little soft. I got him nice and hard again, and then I made him come. He shot high up on his chest, and then all over his belly. His breathing was hard and it took a moment for him to come back down.

"A bad luck ... charm can't do ... that to me. You know every ... thing about me. Some ... times more than bro. I love you A. Love ... at first sight is ... not a myth. You and bro are ... my life. Let it go."

I moved closer to Skip, putting his legs over my legs, chest to chest. I hugged him and I cried very hard into his neck. There was no letting it go. What I did to my best friend and best mate was just too much for me to conceive. My nightmares were totally about Skip. Yeah accidents happen. Kate and my baby, and the guilt from that had been intense, but Skip took it away. No one around me can take it away from Skip. He would not walk again, so I stole something from him, if even indirectly. Skip's happiness may revolve around me, but so does his whole life. Even Billy got hurt because of me, long before Skip got hurt. I had wrestled, for weeks, with walking away from them after Billy was hurt. The bad luck omen haunted my nights when he didn't know me yet.

"Let it go Aaron. We love you so much. Nothing is ever going to change that. Skip doesn't want your pity. Or you punishing yourself."

I nodded. I looked into my Skip's eyes. They shone for me, as he promised they would. Billy helped him sit upright again. He put Skip's arms around me. As much as he could, Skip hugged me close. He put his forehead against mine and smiled. "I love you so much Aaron. Love me back. No pity."

"I love you mate. Nine years that have almost been the best of my life. Except for the bus. It's too hard some days to see you broken."

"The part that's ... broken isn't the ... important part."

"I can't forgive myself for putting you in the line of fire."

"I can."

"Me too," said Billy, "because you didn't."

"I wanted to move. Neither of you would have been hurt if we stayed in Boston."

"You can't know that, love. Any circumstance could have made any of the three of us 'broken'. Any tumor in the wrong place could have taken you away from us. My attacker in Cambridge could have taken me away from you two. But we're strong. We survive because we have two other reasons each to do so."

I nodded again. "I'm sorry."

"Be kinder to your ... self my Aaron. You are my life."

"Mine too. It sucks to see you take blame for something you couldn't help."

"Okay. Sorry."

Billy kissed me sweetly. He too rubbed his forehead against mine. He took Skip out of the tub first. He wrapped a towel around him, putting him on my bed. He came back for me. After toweling Skip dry, he helped him dress. I lay on my stomach so Billy could dress my wound. Future Dr. Billy. He had a heart for all, and he'd be a very fine doctor. He planned on doing more research than holding a practice, but he would practice too.

"Should I ask Andrew for an anxiety med?"

"Nah. I'm okay. Like I said, sometimes it too hard. I love you guys. You know I'd never hurt you."

"We know, love. And you haven't, ever."


And then it was done. I felt better. I just needed to work it out with them, instead of alone like I'd been doing for over two years. Bad omen? I dunno. The odds showed I was. Kate. Our baby. Billy hurt. Vincent gone. Skip hurt beyond all reason. One kidney removal and three new organ transplants? Tumor factory like none I've ever known. Balance all that against our BC boys, Jills in Boston, Andrew and family, Jason for 24 years, Skip and Billy holding on for nine and a half. Bad luck, not bad omen.

"I asked Donna if you can get fresh air, Aaron," said Billy. "Wanna go outside for a bit?"


Billy went to my dresser and got a sweater out for me. I put it on while he put Skip's over his head and then over each arm. Billy didn't think a single moment in the care that he gave Skip. Or me, for that matter. Sweaters, since it was cool outside. He'd add jackets if necessary, but today it wasn't. He made sure Skip's hair was dry so it wouldn't get brittle outside. Skip hated winter caps, but he loved a baseball cap. Billy kissed Skip as he put Skip's BC cap on him. Skip reached up for another kiss, and Billy gave it without thought, though with much affection.

He put Skip in his wheelchair. Skip took off like the devil was chasing him. This only reinforced his attitude to me, telling me that he didn't make a big deal out of his mobility. "So you have to care for me. That's a bad thing?" he'd say when I felt the guilt getting to me.

No, it wasn't a bad thing. Helping him eat, bathing him, carrying him over my shoulder ... it was all okay by us. Sometimes I'd carry him in my arms. Mostly I carried him like a sack of potatoes. My own little Raggedy Andy.

We caught up to Skip at the lobby. He drove up onto the automatic door opener and led the way outside, heading toward the stream. When the terrain got a bit rough, Billy pushed Skip along. I was walking slowly, but not too far behind. I sat down and then Billy put Skip between my legs, back against my chest. He sat down behind me, up against a tree. We didn't talk much. Silence was always comfortable with us, in the right moments. No brooding though. That was the rule.

I put my lips on Skip's neck. Instead of kissing him, I made a farting sound. He laughed aloud, never doubting I'd do something unpredictable. He turned his head and looked up at me. My God, how I loved his eyes. No, I had not hurt Skip, unintentionally or otherwise. He loved me like little Luke loved his daddy, and then a million times more. I felt blessed to have these two young men as my heart mates. Sometimes I feel like I need to apologize for taking them away from others. But in my greedy moments, mine mine mine!

"I can't wait to ... make love to ... you my Aaron."

"Well, lucky you have a backup," I said, motioning to Billy.

"Backup yes, but replacement, no. Still giving yourself no credit Aaron. Skip making love to me is not Skip making love to you."

"And you give me too much credit, love. Skip can easily fulfill his need with you."

"Who are you and what did you do to my Aaron? Or did the surgeons take away your common sense too? Look bro, we love you for you. Give yourself some credit. Life without you would suck. Bad. You saw how Skip looked at you just now. That was for YOU. Not me. We have our own looks and feelings, and ours for you is as different."

"I know, I guess. But it's nice to hear it too. Please don't ever let me take either of you for granted."

"After nine plus years, you couldn't. You've forgotten any 'bad' habits you might have had. When you look at me, I feel more than that look can ever tell. God, Aaron, I love you so much. The best gift Skip ever gave me is living. You're not even a close second. You are also the best gift Skip ever gave me, because you let us both into your heart. You thought you'd never love again. After Kate and young Andrew, I doubt I'd ever look at anyone ever again. But you did. And then you let me in."

"You two ganged up on me. I had no choice," I said with a sly smile. "Seriously, I love you both, equally. You loving me seems like a dream sometimes. I'm still nobody, compared to you."

Skip gave Billy a disgusted look. "We've been ... apart too long bro."

"Agreed," said Billy. "We want you two to move with us, when we get into medical school. Wherever that is, we can't live apart again. It's too cruel and too hard."

"I never had second thoughts about that. You're right though, love, I really am feeling second-class to you guys. Maybe it's because we're had to endure such a long separation. I also want to give Matt and Ginny back their home. We'll need to get the condo packed up and sold."

"We have a buyer already, on stand-by," said Billy. "Thanks to your wonderful leader at GE. Patricia and John want to buy it for Pete and Charlie. The boys want it too."

"Sweet! The guys always have loved our place. One thing though, guys, seriously."

"We don't want to ... sell for profit ... either love. Patricia argued ... but we stood firm. They ... can assume our mortgage."

"Good. Do they want to bring their own furniture, or could we leave it as is?"

"Less expense for the guys if we leave most of it for them. We'll take our bed and bookshelves," Billy said. "Mom and Dad like the idea too. Mom has some pieces she'd give us, depending on what we find for a condo or whatever."

"I love Mom's style, so that's a no-brainer."

"My school buds and I have made Georgetown University in DC our first choice. John's Hopkins is second. We'd like a place big enough so we can all live together, at least for awhile."

"I was hoping it'd be that way. I'd love to have our mates around us. It would help Skip too."

"I just love ... our boys. Dad has ... a contact in Maryland ... who knows DC ... property. They have a place in mind. It needs a ... lot of work."

"And Dad wants to renovate for us."

"Dad wouldn't be Dad if he didn't. He says it's a four-story townhome, including basement. The guys would double up in some rooms, but no one cares about that."

"When do we get our first look at it?"

"When you knuckle down and heal."

"If that's not incentive, I don't know what is."

"How about me ... making love to you."

"Even better. But you two settle in at Andrew's. Make sweet love together."

"It's better ... when we're three."

"It's sweet enough as you two."

"No argument," said Skip. "I do love my ... brother."

The two kissed softly. I received equally soft kisses. Three sure is a great number.

"Oh my. What a fine pair you make," she said to Skip and me. I couldn't agree more, of course.

"Are you a couple?"

"What kind of answer will make you not mad at us?"

"An honest one dear, of course. Always be honest."

"For nine and a half years, so far," I said. Skip moved his hand as best he could. I picked it up and held it to my heart.

"Could you come in for a cup of tea?"

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