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I remember clearly the day the Svensons moved next door to us. It was the end of summer and I was bored. My dad is a professor of theoretical physics at the university, he's off lecturing at some meeting, and my mom has her realtor's office, so I'm left at home with Mamie, our cook.
I looked over the picket fence surrounding our yard to see two burly moving men wrestling furniture inside the house next door. It's been vacant for a long time now, but I'm glad the crabby old folks that lived there are gone. I'm hoping whoever is moving in has a son or two I can hang around with, but I'd never be that lucky and even if I were, it wouldn't last. Why? I don't much like people my age; they're childish and immature. About an hour later a big car drives up and three people get out and look at the house. One of them is a guy who looks about my age.
He spots me and comes over to the fence. "Hi, I'm Hawk," he says in a funny accent.
"I'm Ric. How old are you?"
"Me, too. Is Hawk your real name?"
He shakes his head. "It's Haakon. We're from Sweden. My father's the new Classics professor at the university."
"My dad teaches physics there."
His mother walks over to us. "You must be Professor Wood's son."
"Yes, ma'am. I'm Ric."
"Not Aleric?" Then she smiles. "I see, Ric is short for Aleric which your mother told me when she showed us this house. I'm Mrs. Svenson, Haakon's mother. I'm glad Haakon will have someone his age to play with. I hope you will be friends, he's apprehensive about attending a public school in this country."
"Yes. I must go tell the movers where to place the furniture. Haakon, you may go over to the Wood's if you're invited, but nowhere else."
A week later the die is cast; Hawk and I are close as brothers. He shows me the fun I've been missing because he's a natural dare-devil, constantly into the usual kid's mischief, loving every moment of it. He fits in at school, but the two of us don’t need anyone else.
Looking back, it's fortunate Hawk's mom caught us on the roof of their garage just before I was about to jump off holding Hawk's dad's big golf umbrella. In my mind it was the perfect parachute and I envisioned myself floating gently to the ground. Instead I had to climb back down the tree that overhung the garage and got a sharp swat on the behind for my trouble.
A few weeks later we accidentally set the vacant overgrown lot behind our houses on fire. That it had been a dry summer and the grass would burn fast never entered our minds, but it was fun watching the firemen put it out. It's a hot day and, when the fire's out, one of the young firemen turns his hose on Hawk and me drenching us both while the other firemen laugh.
When we come in, Mom, Hawk's mother, we've called each other's mothers Mom for some time now, looks at us in exasperation. "You! I've never seen two boys who get into so much mischief. You're filthy! Go get a bath and some clean clothes on, then come back. We're going to have a talk."
She reads us both the riot act for the fire and we get to watch no TV for a week. That was awful punishment, because a movie Hawk and I both had been looking forward to was scheduled. No need to go to my house, because Mom will tell my mom and she'll agree with whatever punishment Hawk's mother set down. It took only a few weeks before both of us were equally at home in each other's house. Hawk's mother is an emergency room nurse at the hospital often working odd hours, so we spend more time at my house in order not to interrupt her sleep. Hawk sleeps over with me a lot cause I have a big bed, while his is a small one.
We were ten before any curiosity about our bodies becomes overt. One night after we're in bed, he reaches over and touches my thing. "Can I see it up close, Ric?"
"Sure." I turn on the light over my bed. Our things haven't been of much interest before, but I love the feel of his hand on it.
"It doesn't look like mine."
"I know." I'm fascinated, for he has skin that covers his completely and about an inch more. I pull on it to see what happens. It slides back easily, stretching to accommodate the size of his thing. When it's pulled back all the way he looks more like me.
"That feels good," Hawk says.
I'm suddenly envious. "I wish I had one like yours."
"My father told me American boys are cir … circumsized, so I would look different."
"Yours looked like mine when you were born, but the doctor cut the skin off."
"Father said it had something to do with keeping clean. You can just wash yours, but I have to pull the skin back."
"What does it feel like?"
He shrugs. "I don't know."
We both have sense enough not to mention it to anyone else, but sleeping together becomes an even greater pleasure because by this time our parents have given up trying to get us into separate beds. I've figured out that Hawk's parents are liberal and don't care, while my parents are so single-minded they don't give it a thought as long as I don't intrude too much into their lives and I don't, knowing when I'm better off.
By the time our classmates are beginning to discover sexual feelings and girls, we've figured out it's not cool being gay so we play it straight unless we're home, not difficult because we're on the university's middle school soccer team and horse around with them some, nothing openly sexual, just the usual grab-ass.
My parents take us to visit my grandmother about once every six weeks. Mam, as we both call her, lives about sixty miles away and dotes on us both, always having plenty of cookies for us to enjoy.
At sixteen, Hawk is about three inches shorter than I with a muscular build, his beautiful square face always split by a smile. His once white hair has darkened to a deep gold with brighter highlights. I'm still slender and quicker moving. My hair is darker and, with my sharp face, I'm not so good-looking as he, though he calls me a liar when I mention it. There's no question in my mind that I'll not pass a single day without Hawk by my side. We're deeply in love, disdain the groupies that want to hang around us, and like to sleep 'docked' which, we learned from a book Hawk found, is what the use of his long foreskin to join us together is called. I read the book avidly almost getting traumatized by the way circumcision is done in many places.
I'm not prepared for the afternoon I come in from my piano lesson and Hawk isn't there. I run next door, but there's no one home though the back door is open and the power-mower is still sitting in the middle of their backyard, some of the grass uncut. Odd 'cause we always know where the other is. I go back home and start my homework, sure he'll come running in any moment. But it's my mom who comes home and into my room, her make-up streaked like she's been crying.
"What's wrong, mom?"
She hugs me, a surprise because she hardly ever hugs me, much less cries. "It's … it's Hawk."
"What?" I'm scared now.
"He's … he had an accident with the lawnmower. He's in the hospital."
Things start to go black. When I open my eyes I'm on the floor, my mother shaking me saying, "Wake up, Ric. Wake up."
"What?" I ask groggily.
She helps me up and hugs me again. "I didn't realize you'd be so shocked. I'm so sorry, Ric."
I remember now. "I gotta go see him, mom. Please."
"Not until tomorrow; he's still in surgery. Only his mother and father will be able to see him while he's in recovery."
"Please, Mom. What are they doing to him?"
"They're trying to save his arm."
"Oh, no!" I cry until she gives me a tranquilizer and tells me to lie down until dinner's ready.
I can't stop thinking about Hawk. I look up at my poster of a famed one-armed soccer player from South America with a feeling of relief; Hawk can still play on the team. I have that poster not because I'm into pro soccer, but because he's got one arm. I like to look at amps and have for several years now. It's the one secret I've kept from him, but Hawk has never been in those dreams. At my desk I bring up a site on my computer that I passworded to keep him from finding it. I read the rules for amputee soccer again and remembered correctly that the goalkeepers have one arm instead of one leg, but since using hands is illegal, there's also no reason he can't play regular soccer like always. Looking at the pics of young guys with one arm convinces me there's no way it'll change my feelings for him.
I'd love to cut classes the next day to see Hawk, but I don't dare upset my dad and he'd be plenty pissed if I cut. Soon as school's out I ride my bike to the hospital. Mrs. Svenson hugs me when I enter Hawk's room. "Oh, Ric, I'm so glad you're here."
"Go home, Ric!" Hawk yells before she can say anything else.
I look at him, but the sheet is pulled up under his chin.
"Don't you want to see your love?" She asks Hawk.
"No!" He screams. "Get out."
I see tears streaming down his beautiful face. Mrs. Svenson takes my arm and leads me out of the room. "I'm sorry, Ric. He's so distraught he's incapable of thinking straight. I'll let you know when he's better."
"Did … did they save his arm?"
She shakes her head slowly and I see tears. "They took his hand an inch or so above the wrist. He won't let anyone see him except me and the doctor. I'm afraid for him." She looks at me steadily. "Help me, Ric. Maybe you can get through to him when no one else can."
I'm crying now. "I love him, Mom. I'll be back when you say it's okay."
For the next few days every time I go to see him he screams at me to get out. Mom says it's bad for him to get upset so I leave. Saturday morning Mom stops me in the hall. "Ric, you've got to help Haakon. I don't know how, but I know you're strong enough." She looks terrible.
"He broke a glass last night and tried to cut an artery in his arm. I caught him just in time."
Her hand is poised to slap me again when my eyes open. She helps me up from the floor and hugs me. After all these years she's used to my blacking out when I'm stressed. "Can you do it, Ric?"
My stubborn streak kicks in. "Yeah. You best stay out here cause I'm going to kick some ass if that's what it takes."
She smiles a little. "When you go in, close the door. I'm in uniform, so no one will bother you. But don't hurt him physically."
"No way. You know I love him, Mom."
I slip in and close the door before he's aware, but my Nikes squeak on the tile floor. He looks at me and yells, "Get out. I don't want you here."
I stomp over to his bed. "Ya gonna get out of that bed and make me?"
He tries to struggle up then falls back and pulls the sheet higher. "I … I can't." He turns his head away.
I grab the sheet and snatch it down. "Let's see it."
"No! God, don't!" He reaches for the sheet with his left hand but I hold it firmly so he can't pull it up. A moment later he holds up his bandaged stump and yells, "Go ahead and look! They cut the son of a bitch off! You satisfied now?" He drops his stump and starts to sob.
This is what I've been waiting for. I sit down on his bed, pull him into my arms, being careful of his stump, and hug him tightly while he continues to cry. I must have held him for fifteen minutes, stroking his hair and back until he stops crying. Then I put my hand under his chin and lift his head so I can kiss him.
"God, I've missed you so much, Hawk. I can't sleep at night without you. I love you so much it's killing me."
"I … I've missed you, too, but you don't want a cripple."
I pull back enough to look into his eyes. "I'll always want you, love. I'm sorry about your hand, but it's the rest of you I miss." I run my hand under his pyjamas and squeeze him gently. "I'm glad it wasn't this they cut off. Li'l Ric has sure missed snuggling up to Li'l Hawk at night. So has big Ric."
Hawk finally gives me a faint smile. "Li'l Hawk sure misses some loving."
I grin at him. "No time like the present."
He looks alarmed. "No way. Mom's likely to come in."
"She's outside and ain't coming in 'til I tell her it's okay."
I make up for lost time until Hawk's moaning, but I prolong it until he's so wild he hits his stump and cries out. The pain is forgotten a moment later as he gives me his all. When I feel Hawk's fingers run through my hair, I move up to hold him in my arms again. He puts his arm around me and starts to lift his stump, but lets it fall back to the bed and starts to cry again.
"Don't cry, love."
"But I've always held you with both arms. Now I can't."
"Maybe not yet, but you will."
"You want me to touch you with an ugly stump?"
"It won't be ugly when it's healed up, I want to feel it around me. You're so beautiful, Hawk. You promised you'd be with me forever and I'm not letting you get away. Nothing's gonna change my mind, least of all that."
He puts his arm around me and starts to cry again. "I don't want to be a cripple, Ric."
"Who the hell says you're a cripple? Look, you've still got all your arm 'cept the hand. When it's better you can use it like always. We need ya back playing with the team, too. We ain't done shit at practice since you've been gone."
His eyes tear again. "I can't play with one arm."
"Who says? You forget that poster in my room? If he could do it, you can."
He thinks for a moment then gives me another little smile. "Didn't think about that."
"Look, guy, I want your ass outta that bed and back home in mine. Li'l Ric's been lonesome like I said. Me, too."
"Mom's been after me to get out of bed and walk around, so I guess I'll have to."
"Why haven't you?"
"Because I don't want people to see me like this."
"You can't hide forever." I kiss him. "Besides, I love you just like you are."
He returns my kiss. "Damn! I gotta pee bad."
"Come on then. I'll help you."
I help him to his feet and keep my arm around him while we walk into the bathroom. He looks at me and grins. "Hey, can't a guy get no privacy around here?"
I punch him lightly on the shoulder. "Since when did you get so modest? Told ya nothing's changed."
He starts to reach down with his stump then fumbles with his left hand. I'd forgotten he was right-handed. I reach down and brush his hand aside. "Let me."
He pushes my hand aside with a grin. "You perv. Touch it and I won't be able to pee."
"But it's been so long since I've held it."
"Yeah, like all of five minutes."
He finishes and I help him back to bed. Just as he gets in, I hear his mother call, "For goodness sake, Ric, what's taking you boys so long?"
I open the door. "Sorry. Forgot."
"Don't do it again." She drops down in the chair. "My feet hurt."
"When can I go home, mom?" Hawk asks.
"You could have gone yesterday if you hadn't been such a thick headed Swede."
"Yeah, right. I'm serious. I've missed Ric so much."
"I'm serious, too. Ric, his bag is in the closet. Will you help him dress and get his things together while I check him out?"
"Will I have to come back?"
"Just a visit to the doctor to have your dressing changed regularly until you heal. I'm sure Ric will go with you, because I have to get back to my job in emergency."
I grin. "Sure thing. Now I got him back I'm not letting this stud outta my sight no more."
For the next few weeks I go with Hawk to the doctor's office. Hawk wants me to hold his hand while the doctor changes the dressing on his stump. Hawk never once looks at it.
It's almost time for practice to begin before school opens for the fall when we go for the last time. The doctor cuts off the dressing, examines Hawk's stump and smiles at him. "You've healed perfectly, Hawk, and your stump looks really good. It's still a little red but that'll go away in a few days. You can start using it any way you want. I'll write a prescription for a prosthesis and give it to your mother." He looks at Hawk. "You've never once looked at it when I had the dressings off. Don't you want to see it?"
Hawk shakes his head, tears in his eyes.
"Look at me, son. You're not the only one to lose a hand, but you have and you've got to accept it and move on with your life."
"I'm a freak! Everybody's gonna be looking at it."
"You're not a freak!" The doctor snaps. "You're a fine young man who's had an unfortunate accident and your friends already know it. They'll be curious at first, but then they'll forget all about it."
"They won't want me around."
He pats Hawk on the shoulder and smiles. "Doesn't look like Ric deserted you, he's been with you every visit. This won't change the way real friends like Ric feel."
Hawk slides off the table and puts the end of his arm in his pocket before we walk out.
"Hey, no more doctor visits and just in time for you to start practice with us. Let's go home."
We walk home in silence, my arm around his shoulders. Soon as we're in my room, I tell him, "I want a hug with both arms like before."
He hugs me, but with his left arm. I reach down and tug at his stump. "I said both arms. I love you so much, Hawk."
He reluctantly puts his stump around me while I'm kissing him furiously. "I've missed this so much." I say when I come up for air.
He giggles. "Perv. You got it last night."
"But not with your arms around me like this."
When we break, he tries to hide his stump once more, but I grab it and get my first good look. The end is tapered and rounded off, once the scar isn't so red it'll look great. I rub my finger lightly across the end. Hawk catches his breath.
"Did I hurt you?"
He shakes his head. "What's it look like, Ric?"
"The scar is red, but it looks beautiful like the rest of you. Take a look."
He shakes his head again. "I … I can't."
I hug him. "You're gonna have to sometime cause it's there." I grin at him. "You'd better get used to it cause I'm gonna be playing with it a lot."
He looks me in the eyes. "You don't think it's ugly and makes me a freak?"
"No way." I reach down and rub Li'l Hawk through his snug jeans. "I'm sure glad it was your hand and not Li'l Hawk. Now him I'd really miss and Li'l Ric wouldn't ever have any fun."
He giggles like I knew he would. I pull him over to my bed and we sit on the edge, my arm around him. I use my other hand to lift his stump and kiss it on the end then nuzzle it.
"It's so beautiful, Hawk, I love you even more."
He finally looks at it and starts to cry. I hug him. "See? It doesn't look bad. It makes you special."
I hand him a tissue and he wipes his tears.
"We've never had any secrets between us, love, but I've kept one cause I figured you'd never want to see me again if you knew. I guess now it's time for show and tell."
"Come on over to my computer."
When he's sitting beside me, I put my arm around his shoulder again and bring up the amputee soccer site.
"They got a soccer team for guys like me?" He asks in wonder.
"Naa. Guys like you are just the goalies. Look."
His mouth drops open. "Those guys are playing with one leg."
"Yeah." I open another pic of a good-looking one-armed goalie. "Now there's a real stud."
Hawk snickers and punches me. "Man, you gotta be a real perv to like him."
"Naa, but you're a hell of a lot better looking and you got more stump for me to play with." I pull his head around and kiss him again.
"Why'd you think I'd hate you for looking at pics of soccer players?" He asks when we break our clinch.
"Cause they ain't all." I open another site, this time pics of young one-armed guys.
Hawk looks at the thumbnail pics until I click on one I particularly like. "This guy is hot."
"Wow! Look at that smile."
"Naa. Look at his stump. It's almost like yours."
Li'l Ric is really pushing against my shorts now. Hawk is suddenly tracing its length with his finger. "Damn, he does turn you on?"
I grab his stump and kiss it again. "He did, but now that I’ve got the real thing on a guy I love, he's toast."
"You do like my arm don't you?"
"What the hell you think I've been trying to tell you all along. Your mom's right, you are a thick headed Swede. Now we going to bed or do I rape you here?"
Hawk still fumbles when he's dressing, so it takes only a moment for me to strip and pull his clothes off too. We flop down on the bed in a clinch.
"Oh, man," Hawk moans at my kissing his beautiful bod, his stump last.
"Do something for me?" I ask.
"Touch me with your stump."
"Cause I know it's gonna feel so special." Takes only a few moments before I'm in total bliss.
"My arm affects you like that?" Hawk asks amazed.
I grab it and kiss it on the end. "Yeah. Told you it was gonna be magic." I squeeze it. "This is reserved for me. Ain't nobody else ever gonna know how wonderful it feels." I return his loving then hold his stump in my hand and rub it.
"That feels good," he says and snuggles against me. "I love you, Ric, specially for sticking with me. I … I guess I'm not gonna be hidin' this from you," he moves his stump a little, "but I don't want nobody else touching it. Wish they didn't have to see it either."
"You'd better not hide this beautiful thing from me or I'll bust your ass." I roll over so I can see his face. "We're gonna be like always. Anybody gives you any grief about it let me know. But, hell, babe, it's so beautiful I want everybody to see it."
We snuggle for a few more minutes then I say, "We'd better get cleaned up. Gonna be time for dinner soon."
We've showered together ever since we were kids. As soon as we're in, I soap up the washcloth and hand it to him. "Me first." He's kind of clumsy with his left hand, so I grab the cloth and drape it over the end of his stump. "Now do it."
His touch is tentative at first but then he gets the rhythm back. You can guess what happens with me feeling his stump all over my bod. When I reach over to take the cloth to wash him, he looks down.
"Damn! Not this quick!"
I grin. "Yeah. Told ya your stump is sexy."
He just shakes his head while I go to work. I leave the most important part 'til last. I take Hawk's stump and washing it gently then finish by nuzzling along the end again.
"Gawd, Ric, whatcha doing to me?" A moment later he's rubbing my back with his stump like he used to with his hand.
"Oh, that's hot," I moan.
"Yeah," he breathes as we share another moment of ecstasy.
We wash off again, and dry each other with the thick towels my mom likes to get.
Hawk holds up his stump and looks at it, then at me. "When you run your lips along it the feeling's out of this world. I can't believe it feels so good."
"Told you you're a hot stud, specially with that stump. I wish I knew how it feels."
"Unbelievable, but I'm glad you've still got everything."
"No, I ain't. You're two up on me now."
"You got that sexy stump and you still got your skin." I kiss him. "Least ways you can share your skin, but I'd sure love to know what it's like getting hot cause you're rubbing my stump."
He hits me on the head with it. "Asshole. I love ya, though."
My folks just ignore us at dinner, so Hawk uses his stump a little and looks relieved.
"'Kay, guy, let's go run down that dinner. Gotta get you back in shape for practice."
We change into shorts and our running shoes. I tie his for him and we take off for the track, our school is only three blocks away. He keeps his stump out of sight until we're running then he pumps both arms like usual.
After we've run a little more than half our usual distance he drops down on the park bench. "Whew!" Unconsciously he wipes his forehead with his stump.
"Told ya you were outta shape," I taunt. "Wanna finish or go home?"
He gets up. "Two more laps then I'm done, man."
I deliberately walk on his right, putting my arm around his shoulders. It's not long before I feel his arm around mine like old times. Makes me happy.
I have to drag him along to first practice. We walk up to the coach and Hawk asks, "This gonna get me thrown off the team, coach?"
Coach looks down then back up at him. "Sorry about your hand, Hawk," I see Hawk's face fall, "but it don't affect your running does it?"
Coach pops him on the butt. "Then get your ass on the field."
The other guys slap him on the back a lot, look at his stump, then it's on with practice.
"Way to go, Hawk," coach says when it's over. "Got only one question."
Coach scratches his head. "You know the penalty for using hands, but how the hell is a ref gonna make a call if you use your stump?"
The other guys bust out laughing and in a moment Hawk is laughing, too. "Maybe I can get away with something."
Coach grins and slaps him on the butt again. "Hit the shower."
As we're walking home, Hawk says, "I'm glad it doesn't make any difference to the guys."
"Told ya, ya thick headed Swede. But it sure makes a difference to me."
He punches me with it. "Perv."
The day school opens he's reluctant again, but we hit the campus and find the other soccer players we hang around with at school. A few of the groupies start to come up to claim their men. Only one looks at Hawk's handless arm and leaves.
Nobody pays any attention to us during classes, but on the break we hear one girl saying, "I'm sure glad I'm not dating Hawk. I'd just die if he touched me with what's left of his arm."
I stop and start to laugh. Hawk punches me hard; he's pissed. "What's so funny, asshole?"
"What's she think you'd be fucking her with, your stump?"
He grins. "It's the only thing I'd use on her. From what I've heard hers is big enough to take it." Then he looks at his stump and grimaces. "Gawd! I'd never get it clean again."
I punch him back. "It'd save a lot of money on rubbers and no worries about making a baby either."
"Makes me wonder. You ain't pregnant yet."
"You need to take sex ed again. I got the wrong equipment in case you haven’t noticed."
"Just in front."
"It's gonna stay that way, too."
"That's why you're a perv!" He says in mock amazement.
"Gross," one of the younger students passing us says.
We both laugh.
"Wasn't so bad, now was it?" I ask on our way home.
"When you getting' your hook?"
I can tell from his expression I've said the wrong thing.
"Don't want one, but mom's draggin' me there after school Friday."
"Want me to go with you?"
"Damn straight. Think I oughta get it?"
I grab his stump and rub the end, grinning at him. "Hell, no."
"Why? Mom says it'll be useful."
"Cause it'll cover up the second most beautiful part of your awesome bod."
"What's the first? My face?"
"Damn, you've got an ego. If we weren't on the street I'd show you. I might anyway." I fake a grab for his crotch and he feints away smoothly like he does on the field.
We're both laughing. I'm happy seeing him so relaxed and smiling like before.
But Friday afternoon he's not smiling. When we get in Mom's car, she looks at him. "Haakon, your father and I are not trying to force you into anything, but I do want you to see the prosthetics available. A lot of people think they're ugly, but they find them so useful they forget about it."
"Haven't I been through enough? It's bad enough letting people see my arm, now it'll be even worse with a hook. There's not a lot I can't do using my arm."
‘Cept tie your shoes,’ I think, but keep it to myself.
"Please just look at what they have, Haakon. You don't have to make a decision today."
I'm glad I came along because the display is something else. It goes from several simple hooks of different styles to one looks like a real hand. That interests Hawk the most. The guy that runs the place isn't happy about me being in the examining room, but Mom says that's the way it's gonna be in her nurse's voice, so he doesn't give her any argument.
After he examines Hawk's stump he says, "Surgeon did a fine job on this. I can fit you easy."
"Later," Mom says, "I want Haakon to see the options."
"Split hook's the best for an active boy his age."
"What about this?" I point to the one looks pretty much like a hand 'cept it doesn't have fingernails and all. There's one beside it without the pretty covering, all the mechanical joints showing.
He frowns at me. "That's what we call a Robin hand. The coverin's soft so it's easily damaged."
"If you're thinking about something looks real," he says to Hawk, "there's a myoelectric hand that's custom made. It’s hard to learn to use and needs repairs fairly often. I don't recommend it cause it's so expensive. This don't look bad." He holds up a split hook that has the prongs covered in light colored plastic. "The covers are cheap and easy to replace." He puts it on a flange on the bench and pulls a lever so the prongs spread apart.
"What makes it work on an arm?" Hawk asks.
He reaches in a drawer and takes out a plastic piece made to fit over a stump. There's a cable attached to a harness and a piece made to fit the upper arm, too. He holds it next to Hawk's stump and shows him how it fits. "When you want to open the hook, you just shrug your left shoulder forward a little." He points to a wide rubber band at the base of the prongs. "This rubber band closes 'em and holds what's between 'em in place."
He takes out another hook and shows it to Hawk. "Some people prefer this type because the action is more like a hand." It looks like a large lobster claw. "The difference is you use the cable to close and hold this type, and relax to open it."
I see Hawk give a little shudder; I know how he must feel. "Let's go, Mom," he says.
"Very well. We'll think about what you've shown us," she says to the man.
"Shit!" Hawk says when we're in the car.
"Language, Haakon," she says softly. "I know you're disappointed, but a hand is much more complicated than a foot or leg. Most people I've seen like the split hook best."
"It's ugly as hell, but better than that claw thing. If I gotta have one, the one Ric asked about is the best. It isn't so much the hook, Mom, it's that damned harness. I'd have to wear long sleeve shirts even in hot weather like this."
"You'll need to wear a T-shirt to prevent the harness from chafing, but not a long sleeve shirt."
"Yeah I will or everybody'll be looking at it."
"It's unavoidable, son, but do think about it. I wish we could afford the myoelectric for you, but it still has a lot of flaws like he said, and it won't hold up to the use you'd give it."
I can feel his depression. He mumbles something, but I hear only "freak" clearly.
Soon as we're home we run up to my room where I hug him. "I love you no matter what. That soft hand looked pretty good. You could use it when you go out with your folks and most people won't even spot it as a fake."
"It's all that other shit goes with it."
I kiss him. "Hand won't be much use without it."
"Yeah. Let's get our run."
We change into our shorts. He pulls on his running shoes and holds them out for me to tie.
"Poor baby hasn't learned to tie his shoes yet. Ya get a hook and you'll tie 'em yourself," I say.
He hits me on top of my head playfully with his stump. "If it was somethin' else I couldn't do with one hand, you wouldn't be bitchin'."
"And you love it when I do."
He hits me again. "Perv."
A week later he comes in not long after I've gotten in from my piano lesson. He doesn't look happy, but not sad either. "Well?" He asks holding up his hand.
I jump up and grab it. "You got it!"
"Yeah, to please mom. Feels funny."
"Looks good, though. With that long-sleeve shirt on I didn't even notice it. Let's see you use it."
"Can't do anything yet but open it. I'm gonna have to go to rehab to learn how." He shrugs and the thumb and fingers separate some.
"That's all it moves?"
"Yeah. I can move 'em a little more with my hand so I can like hold a pencil, but the cable only moves them like you saw. The hook has a switch on it so it opens either a little or a lot."
I take off his shirt and look at the harness. "Damn! It looked like a lot when that guy held it up, but not so much now. How's it feel?"
He gives me a little smile. "Like I'm in a straightjacket."
"I guess with those straps and all. You gonna wear it?"
He grimaces. "The hook. Got to 'til I learn how to use it, got to get used to the way it feels. I told mom I'd wear it to school and all but that's it."
His hook gets him a lot of questions at school, but the team are the only ones he shows how it works because they see the harness and all when he takes if off in the locker room before practice. The guys soon forget about it.
I go with him to each therapy session and watch him learn to do most everything with it. It's almost as fascinating as the prosthetics shop. I'm careful to make positive comments about what he learns, but I like his bare stump better, especially what it's added to our lovemaking.
He really sweats when the therapist shows him how to hold a pencil in the hand and makes him try to write. His first letters are big and clumsy like a kid in the first grade would make, but she says he'll learn to write well if he practices. I'm glad cause nobody can read what he writes with his left hand. The one thing he likes about it is that he can hold a pencil eraser side down in the hook and use it on his computer keyboard. He's taking typing class with me because the teacher got him a special book for one-armed people. He also gets me to practice shaking the hand so he won't have to shake hands with his left hand. It feels soft and cool to touch, so it's obviously a fake, but that's all.
Hawk continues to use the hook in school and his writing improves greatly, but the minute we're home he takes it off, that is he lets me take it off for him. He's supposed to, but after I've done it I massage his stump, which I like cause it's a real excuse to touch him, not that I need one, and this always leads to something more.
We enter school as juniors both of us taking all required courses so our senior year will be mostly electives. I'm continuing with piano because I like it, though English is my planned major for college. Hawk hasn't made up his mind about a probable major, but is leaning toward science.
Without all that much interaction between me and my parents, it's almost mid-October before I realize things aren't going too well with them. It starts when Mam dies. Dad wouldn't have let Hawk go with us to the funeral if he hadn't seen he's as broken up about it as I, and mom tells dad Mam loved him too. Friday after school we make the trip in silence and Hawk and I sleep in the same bed as always. The shock sets in when we go down for breakfast and Mam's not there cooking and greeting us with her big smile. I dissolve into tears and Hawk holds me, crying, too.
"Pull yourselves together!" My dad snaps when he comes in.
"But, Dad, …" I mumble.
"I know you loved your grandmother, Aleric, but act your age. You're both too old for such an unseemly display of emotion."
When he takes this tone of voice I know it's useless to argue. We go wash our faces and come back to the table while mom passes around the coffee and some sweet buns she tells us one of the neighbors brought in.
About time we finish eating a man that looks like he could be my dad’s twin, but a lot younger, walks in. "Don, Elizabeth," he says to my parents.
"What do you want, Rob?" My dad snaps.
I see his face darken. "Not a damned thing from you, Don. I'm here because of mother. I spent Thursday with her lawyer making all the arrangements." He slaps several sheets of paper down in front of dad. "Here they are, and they follow her wishes exactly."
"You might have consulted me first."
"And gotten the same warm welcome? Forget it!"
"All right, you've had your say, so I hope you have something to occupy your time until the funeral."
Rob smiles slightly. "You don't have to worry, I won't be around unless it's necessary. I had hoped you might have learned something after all this time, but you're as bullheaded as ever." He looks at me. "You're quite a handsome young man now, Aleric. I'm glad I got to see you." Then he walks out of the house.
"Who was that?" I ask.
"No one you need to know, Aleric. Forget you saw him," dad snarls. "If you've finished eating, you and Haakon go get dressed. The service is at ten."
"Boy, whoever he is, he sure pissed the old man off." I say to Hawk when we're back in our room.
"He said Mam was his mother, so doesn't that make him your uncle?"
"I don't see how. Dad told me I didn't have any relatives."
Hawk shakes his head. "Something's wrong then."
When we get to the church, there's no sign of Rob. The usher leads us down front where we sit together, though dad's not pleased when I pull Hawk in beside me after he nodded to the pew behind us. From where I'm sitting I can see a little of the organ console and it's a surprise to see Rob playing. The service is not very long, but the music is so wonderful I wish there had been more of it.
The rector announces that the family will receive in the parlor immediately, and it's over. Mom finds a chair and sits with dad standing beside her. Rob stands a little distance away from them, while Hawk and I get plates of food and a Coke and find seats off to one side away from people.
After about twenty minutes I see a man say something to dad and they walk out. I follow close enough to see them turn into an office. I start back to the parish hall when I see Rob walking towards the outside door, taking a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. I follow him outside and wait until he's lighted up.
"Are you really my uncle?" I ask.
He turns quickly and smiles when he sees me. "I certainly am. Come give your uncle a hug, Aleric. The last time I saw you, you were a baby."
I do and get squeezed hard. I can tell Rob's super strong.
"How come I never heard of you, Uncle Rob?"
He looks at me straight on. "Because your father is a stubborn unyielding old fool. He doesn't approve of my profession or lifestyle."
"Do you live here?"
He nods. "Lived with mother."
"But Hawk and I spent weekends with her some and we never saw you."
He smiles. "I always took weekend trips when you were here, because momma was afraid you might say something to your dad about me. If you had, he wouldn't have let you come back to see momma and that would have hurt her a lot more than your dad's hatred of me, though God knows that's bad enough. If I hate your dad for anything, it's for the way he's hurt momma and kept me from knowing you."
"Why does he hate you, Uncle Rob?"
"Because I majored in music and he has no use for the arts."
"That's all?" I ask, surprised.
"No. He hates me most because I'm gay."
"Just because you're gay? Oh, shit!"
I look at Rob with tears in my eyes. "What's he gonna do when he finds out about Hawk and me?"
"He doesn't know? It's obvious to me you guys love each other more than anything."
"He's not around enough to notice I guess. 'Sides Hawk and me been sleeping together since we were little guys. So I guess he don't think about it."
"Be very careful, Aleric, especially now, because he'll start remembering how it was with me and he's not stupid."
"Call me Ric, Uncle Rob. I'm glad you told me. We'll stay at Hawk's house more."
"Ric, I'm going to give you my card with my phone numbers, e-mail and postal addresses on it. If you ever need me for anything, I want you to let me know soonest. I know you don't know me, but I love you, Ric. I have a picture of you at home I got from momma. You've turned into a handsome young man I wish I knew. Now, you'd better get back inside before you're missed."
"Thanks, Uncle Rob. The music was great. I hope I can learn to play like that."
"Piano. Have been for ten years now."
"Good Lord! Your father let you take music?"
I grin. "You must not know mom very well."
Ron shakes his head. "Unfortunately not, but I’ve come to admire her greatly from the few times I've been around her. I wish I could have you for an organ student, Ric, but it's impossible. You'd better get back inside before your dad comes looking."
"Thanks, Uncle Rob." I hug him and go back inside.
Hawk and I get another soda and sit down. "You were right, Rob is my uncle. He's a real nice guy."
"Why does your dad hate him then?"
I grin. "Cause he's gay."
"No shit!" Hawk says it loud enough I'm afraid somebody might have heard it, but nobody's looking our way.
"Yeah. He told me we gotta be careful cause the old man might get suspicious. Guess we're gonna be spending a lot more time at your house."
"I'm sure glad mom got me that king sized bed when she got that new furniture for my room."
My dad comes in a few seconds later looking totally pissed off. He pulls mom out of her chair and jerks his head toward the door at Hawk and me. Though mom asks, he says nothing until we're at Mam's house, then he tells Hawk and me to get packed we're going home.
Hawk and I come down the stairs just as Rob walks in the front door. I smile at him and start to speak but dad comes out of the bedroom with his suitcase. He sees Rob and his face gets even angrier.
"I hope you're happy," dad snarls at him.
"I would be if you'd ever lighten up, Don. Your attitude made mother miserable all these years, but she still loved you and I …, damn it, Don, I still want to love you like before."
"Ha!" Dad snorts derisively. "What makes you think I'd love a pathetic queer like you. We're leaving. Come on, Elizabeth."
Mom gives Rob a tiny sad shake of her head when she passes him, but Rob puts his hand on my shoulder. "You and Hawk be careful around your dad, Ric. You've got a lot going for you. Write me when you can."
Dad's yelling for me and Hawk, so we run.
With dad so pissed off our ride home is made in silence. Dad tells Hawk to go home as soon as we're there. Mamie has dinner fixed and after we eat, dad sends me to my room.
It's not long before I hear him cussing and mom trying to calm him down. I'm lonely without Hawk and think of Rob. I sure wish I knew him cause he seemed so cool for an older guy, and the way he played the organ was awesome. They've always fascinated me with all the keyboards and stops and things. Think I'll ask mom if I can take lessons without dad knowing, cause he flung a hissy when she insisted I take piano.
I do my homework for Monday cause I've nothing better to do, then go to bed. Dad's still in a foul mood when I go down the next morning, so I run over to Hawk's for breakfast. I give him a kiss soon as I'm in the door. Mom smiles and tells me to sit down.
"What's up, bud?" Hawk asks.
"Damned if I know. The old man's still pissed."
"Then you had better not go home. Have you done your homework, Haakon?" Mom asks. He shakes his head. "Then go do it. You bring your books, Ric?"
"I did mine last night, Mom. I'll help Hawk."
"Help, not do it for him," she says with a smile.
I stay with them to avoid my dad until he cools down. Tuesday when we come in from school Mom tells me my mother wants to see me in her office alone. I put on my blades again and take off. It's only a mile downtown.
Mom tells her secretary she doesn't want to be disturbed and shuts the door when I enter her office. She holds out a big envelope, a registered letter she had to sign for. "This came for you, Ric. I brought it here because if it's what I think it is, it's best your father not know about it."
I rip it open and read the short letter then the copy of my grandmother's will, before passing it to mom. She reads it, too, then puts it on her desk and looks at me.
"Ric, you and Hawk have grown up together like brothers. No, even closer than brothers, always sleeping together even at your ages. Are you lovers?"
Oh, shit! And Hawk's not with me. "I … don't hate me, Mom."
"I don't hate you, son." She unlocks and opens a desk drawer and pulls out a folder. "This is information from the parents of a gay children group. I've known for quite a while, that's why I've never said anything about all the time you've spent at the Svensons. But this," she holds up the will, "will surely set your father to thinking."
She gets up and hugs me. "I want you to be extra careful when you're around your father, Ric. I talked to Ingrid this morning and she knows my plans, so you'll be spending a lot of time there instead of at home."
"What plans, Mom?"
"In a minute. We've got a lot to talk about." She goes back to her desk and puts the folder away, then picks up the will. "Your grandmother left you quite a bit of money, Ric. It's in a trust you can't touch until you're twenty-one, however you can use the interest now for your education."
"Is that what has dad so pissed off?"
She shakes her head. "Only partly. Mam left her house and more money to your Uncle Rob. I think you saw and heard enough to know how your father feels about him."
"Yeah, but he seemed like a real cool guy to me. I wish I knew him better."
"Rob is a very nice man and quite talented. I wish you could have studied music under him."
"I loved the way he played at Mam's funeral. Can I use some of the money to take organ lessons?"
"I don't see why not if you want to. You'll have to write the lawyer about it because he's the trustee of your account. But don't let your father know."
"I won't. Why's dad like he is? You know, about Rob and all."
"When your father was in college he joined some kind of weird Jesus cult. If I had known then what I know now, I'd never have married him. It took me several years to get him back into the Episcopal church and then only on rare occasions. That's why none of us have ever gone much. Your father hates anything ritualistic or artistic, he thinks it's all part of being queer. That's why he hates Rob. He knows he got only a token from your grandmother and thinks Rob got the rest, that's what he's so mad about."
She stops talking and looks at me for a few moments. "Ric, I've stayed with your father to keep a home for you, but all of this has been the last straw. As soon as you're eighteen and with the interest income from your grandmother's trust so I won't have to worry about you and have a custody fight, I'm divorcing your father. I'll ask for the house so you'll always have a home."
When I see the tears in her eyes I go hug her. "I'm sorry, Mom."
"Don't be, sweetheart, this is nothing you've caused." She kisses me. "And Hawk is welcome in our home like always as soon as we don't have your father to worry about. I know I don't say it often, mostly because of your father's attitude about showing affection, but I do love you, Ric. Very much."
"I love you too, Mom. Thanks for understanding about Hawk and me."
I blade slowly back to Hawk's trying to remember all mom has told me. In a way, I hate my dad now, not that he's ever had any time for me, so maybe their busting up won't be such a bad thing. It's mom's feelings towards Hawk and me that makes me happy.
Mom meets me at the door with a hug. "I'm sorry about your parents, Ric, and I've had a talk with Haakon so he won't drive you crazy with his questions, but this is your home as much as it is Haakon's."
"Guess what?" I say the minute I'm in our room. "I'm going to start organ lessons soon as mom can find a teacher."
"No way. I wanna learn to play like Rob did."
Hawk hugs me. "Go for it, if it's gonna make you happy. Guess it's lucky I never had any talent."
I grin. "You got plenty of talent and use it just like I like, specially now."
Hawk punches me with his stump. "Perv."
"Hey, I want to e-mail Rob on your computer so the old man won't know. Can Rob use your address for everything?"
"You have to ask? Go for it."
I dash off a note to Rob telling him how things are and that mom's going to be looking for a teacher for me. It's not a half hour later that Hawk's computer chirps and he tells me it's mail for me.
I'm so glad to have your note and to know that you want to learn the organ. A former student of mine is beginning his graduate work in music at the university. He needs some supplemental income and I think you'll like him, so I'm sending him an e-mail asking him to contact your mother at her office. She'll let you know so you can meet him.
I'm glad you have an address I can write to safely. Please tell me about yourself when you have time to write more, and if you have a picture of yourself and Hawk, I'd really like to have it.
Love ya guy. Rob
"Rob doesn't waste any time, does he?" Hawk says, reading over my shoulder.
"I'm glad he took me seriously. Wonder what this guy's gonna be like?"
"Young for sure. Maybe he won't be so stuffy like some teachers."
"I hope. Wanna go for our run?" We still do our laps on the days we don't have practice.
Thursday mom wants to see me again after school, so Hawk and I blade down to her office. We almost drop dead when we go in for seated by her desk is the good looking young stud who refereed the soccer game we played Friday before Mam died.
"Ric, Hawk, this is Mr. Makin. Rob told him you are interested in organ lessons and recommended him as a teacher."
He smiles. "You guys played an excellent game." He looks at me. "I assume you're Ric."
He holds out his hand. "Call me Tim, Ric." He looks at Hawk. "And you're Hawk, of course." He looks down when Hawk holds out his left hand; he's not wearing his arm. "I'd welcome you as a student too, but I think you might present more of a challenge than I'm ready to take on."
Hawk grins. "Yeah. I don't have any talent for music."
"I don't know about that, but are you aware there are several piano compositions for the left hand alone?"
"They were composed for professional pianists who had losses like yours." He shrugs. "But if you aren't interested I'll have to concentrate on Ric."
"But you referee soccer," I say.
"I can't be a serious musician and like to play soccer, too?"
I feel foolish. "I didn't think jocks and music mixed much."
He laughs at me. "If you can play soccer and piano, why can't I? Playing a musical instrument makes it more important that we exercise. I was varsity at Elmdale until I graduated."
"Wow!" Hawk says.
We all sit down. "Okay, seriously now. Your mother tells me your father is at the U and not to know about your organ study. I don't see any real problem because as a beginner you won't need their facilities. I can teach you at the church where I play and arrange for you to practice there. Don't worry about soccer practice and games because I referee a lot of them and have the schedules, so we'll work around that."
"That's great!" Hawk says. "If you're teaching Ric, then you'll give our team a break."
Tim grins. "Like hell! Ric's gonna work on his music or I'll dump 'im. The same goes for your team, make clean goals and you'll get credit, otherwise nothing. And I watch for illegal tricks, too."
He hands me a short list of books to get. "You can get the first book at the bookstore on campus, it's all you'll need right now. I'll give you a lesson each week for the next four weeks. If we work together well, then we'll make it permanent. Okay with you?"
"Sounds great. You care if Hawk comes with me? I mean we usually do most things together."
"If he doesn't interrupt your lesson I have no objection."
"I'll do my homework or read," Hawk says.
"You're welcome to watch and learn something about the instrument if you want. It's only when I'm teaching Ric actual music that I don't want to be interrupted." He looks back at me. "Get the book as soon as possible and read the first chapter before Saturday morning. I'll expect you at St. Andrews Presbyterian at ten sharp. I'll leave the side door to the chancel open for you. I'll be practicing."
"Surprised you, didn't he?" Mom says after Tim's gone.
"Did he ever! I think I'm gonna like him."
"Rob says he's the best student he's ever taught and thought you'd get along well." She hands me a twenty out of her purse. "Now go get that book he wants you to have."
"Thanks, Mom." I kiss her and Hawk, and take off.
Saturday morning I have to try a couple of doors before I find the right one. Hawk and I slip in quietly and sit in one of the choir pews until Tim's finished playing the piece he's working on. He looks up and sees us.
"Come over here, Ric, and let's see what you've learned. You can come, too, Hawk."
He makes me sit down on the organ bench and name each thing he points to, telling him in detail what it does. He corrects me on a couple of things then says, "Very good, Ric. Find a hymn you know and play it for me."
He selects two stops for me to use. It sure takes a different touch from piano, but he looks pleased when I finish. "Very good. You'll learn the touch quickly, but pedals are harder. Slip over." I do and he presses a button that makes a lot of stops come on. "Watch." He plays the hymn like it's written then breaks loose on an improvisation, his feet flying over the pedals.
"That's the way I want to play," I tell him.
"It's all in practice, guy. Now, let's get to it." He opens my book to the first little piece. It's simple, but he occasionally corrects my fingering. Then he tells me to play it again with the pedal. "No. Tilt your foot a little," he says when I get two bass notes at once. He shows me how then makes me try again.
It's frustrating trying to remember everything, but I'm having so much fun I'm surprised when he stops and says it's time for me to go. He hands me a key to the door, shows me where the light switches are, and gives me a schedule of practice hours.
"That's something else," Hawk says on our way home.
"It was fun. I'm glad Rob recommended Tim, I like him. Gotta send Rob an e, too. Just don't tell nobody I'm taking organ, 'kay?"
"Sure. Man, you've got a lot to learn. I never saw so many buttons and things. I'd never learn 'em all."
"Yeah, you would. Next time there's a recital at the U I'll take you to see that organ. It's five times bigger."
When we get to our room, Hawk checks his mail. There's a message for me.
I just had a note from Tim Makin that makes me jealous as hell. He was surprised at how well you did at your lesson today. Next Saturday he's going to start you working on learning to play the pedals. They're tough to play smoothly if you've got big feet and we both do, but if you keep your enthusiasm up, you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll learn.
Just want you to know I'm proud of you, guy. Love ya, Rob
Hawk laughs. "Now you gotta learn good cause Tim's gonna be telling Rob about ya."
"Yeah. I gotta wear those special lace-up organ shoes, too. I hate 'em."
Thanksgiving my mother has everyone to our house for dinner. Dad and Dr. Svenson talk a little school stuff at the table, then Hawk's dad goes home. I know he knows dad thinks the classics are a bunch of stuff that's useless and best forgotten, so they are no more than polite to each other. My mom and Mom are best friends and encourage Hawk and me so we stay relaxed around them.
Christmas is quiet at our house. We open our gifts then I go to Hawk's where it's a real party. We give each other identical silver ID bracelets and by some trick of fate we've each had the same thing engraved on the back: 'Love you forever' and our initial. Dr. Svenson smiles when we put them on each other's wrists and kiss.
"I like to see love between two people." Then he grins at me and taps his temple with his finger. "Not to worry, Ric, I am not stupid no matter what your father thinks. I'll not tell him anything. I am happy Haakon has a love like you."
I smile back cause he's just made my day. I like him a lot and wish my dad was like him. Mom comes over for tea in the afternoon and we have a great time together like always.
My birthday comes on January fifteenth. Mom has a party for me at her house, my mother comes but dad doesn't. After I've opened my gifts, mom hands me a card. When I open it a set of keys falls out. "No way!" I yell and hug her.
"Go look in the garage, Ric. Thor let me put it there."
I run to the garage. There's a black Jeep Wrangler sitting there. "Do you like it, honey?" Mom says.
I hug her again. "Cool, Mom! I love it. Thanks a lot."
"I know you want to take it out, so get your coat and go. Don't stay too long and park it in the space beside the garage when you get back so Thor can put his car back in the garage. Not a word to your father, mind you."
"'Kay, mom." I hug her again. "Love you."
Hawk and I have a blast riding all over downtown. An idea hits me. "Hey, Hawk, now I've got wheels we can go see Rob some weekend."
"Cool." He grins. "Maybe he's got some gay videos." Most of the ones we want to see are too expensive to buy, and the kid at the video store knows Hawk and me so we're afraid to try to rent them.
"Yeah, but I want to hear him play again."
When we get back to Hawk's, mom tells me to get my school and music books from home and stay with Hawk until she tells me to come home. She knows half my clothes are in Hawk's room already.
"Why?" I ask without thinking.
"I'm having your father served with divorce papers tomorrow. He'll be furious and I don't want you subjected to it."
"Will you be okay?" I'm worried cause I know the old man's temper.
"Absolutely. He wouldn't dare touch me."
"God, I hope not."
The next evening we're all just sitting down to dinner when mom comes in with a dazed expression. "What is it, Beth?" Dr. Svenson asks, jumping up and pulling out a chair for her.
Mom looks at us. "I can't believe it! My attorney served Don the writ of divorce and he just called me at the office and said he was glad to be rid of me and my faggot son because he's going to marry one of the assistant professors in his department. He's handing over the house with no argument because I'm not asking for a settlement."
"That's all?" Ingrid asks.
Mom nods. "Oh, he added a few nasty comments about Ric and me, but that's it. I had no idea he was having an affair. I suppose that's where he was when he said he was attending all those seminars out of town." Mom looks at me. "I know you are planning on going to the U, but you're to have no contact with him and ignore him if you see him on campus. Thank God you're not planning on majoring in anything that requires a class under him."
"One more thing. Can you and Hawk find somewhere to spend Saturday? He's coming to get his things out of the house. With all his books and what not, it'll take most of the day."
"Sure, Mom. Now I've got wheels, can we go see Rob? He told me we could come for a weekend any time."
"That's a lovely idea. Go call him and ask if it's convenient. You'll have plenty of time to get there after school Friday."
I know it's okay with them, but I e-mail Rob instead of running up the Svenson's phone bill, neither Hawk nor I have cell phones yet.
The answer comes quickly.
I'll be delighted to see you and Hawk about 5 Friday afternoon. I've been hoping for a weekend with you and your friend. You'll have the same room as always. You might want to bring one pair of good slacks, dress shirt, tie, and jacket. I want to take you somewhere special Saturday night.
We get to Mam's house just a few minutes after five. I know it's Rob's house now, but it'll always be Mam's house to me and Hawk. Rob comes running out to meet us.
"Ric! Hawk! It's so good to see you guys." He hugs us and grabs our overnight cases and carries them in.
"Sit, guys. Beer? That's what I'm having. Pizza okay with you guys? I didn't get time to fix dinner. We're eating out tomorrow night."
Hawk asks Rob about gay videos after dinner. "Sure. You guys seen A Beautiful Thing?"
"No, but I sure want to," I reply.
"It's one of my favorites and I think you guys can relate well to it."
Hawk and I are entranced by the story cause parts of it could have been taken from our lives. It must have been the beer though, because we're yawning by the time it's over.
"Off to bed, guys," Rob says. "Get up when you feel like it cause I sleep in on Saturday."
Rob's just gotten the coffee made when Hawk and I come down. "Sleep well, guys? Have a seat, breakfast will be ready shortly."
It's waffles and the little link sausages Mam always had when Hawk and I came, because I love them so much.
"I'm going to practice a little this morning, Ric. I'd like to have you come with me and show me how you're doing."
"Great! I was gonna ask you. Can Hawk come, too."
"Sure. If you're finished let's go."
It's a short drive. Hawk's eyes get big when he sees the size of the organ console. We sit in the choir stall while Rob rips through his music, then he calls us over.
"Have you gotten to this yet, Ric?" He rips into a piece from memory that I'm supposed to start working on next, the Toccato from Widor's Fifth Organ Symphony. It's not that hard but sounds impressive. Even Hawk shivers when Rob opens the organ up and lets go.
"I start that next, but I'll never make it sound like that. It was fantastic, Rob."
"Pick something you're comfortable with."
I find a piece in one of his books I know from the piano version, pull a few stops and start to play. Rob's watching me carefully. When I finish, he nods. "How many lessons have you had?"
"Damn! Now I'm really jealous of Makin. You still play like a pianist, but you didn't make many mistakes in the pedal line. You must be putting in a lot of practice because you're way ahead of any beginning student I've ever had. I noticed a couple of things Makin should have you working on and I'll let him know, but I'm really proud of you."
"Thanks, Rob. It's fun and time flies when I'm playing."
He hugs me. "If you continue to feel that way you'll be an excellent organist. Wish you could have started a lot earlier." When his stomach growls he pats it. "Baby wants to be fed, let's go."
While we're eating a light lunch, Hawk asks, "Is there someplace Ric and I can run?"
Rob grins. "I usually do a little working out at the gym on Saturdays. They have a track. I can sign you in as my guests."
We get our run in then go down to watch Rob doing lifts. He has a great looking bod. When he stops, he grins at me. "About time for us to be getting back. I shower at home."
We're all sweaty so the inside of Rob's car gets pretty rank on our way home. "Damn! Smells like a herd of goats in here," he says.
"An old goat and two kids?" I say before thinking.
Rob starts laughing so hard he has to pull over and stop. "You've got a wicked tongue, kid," he says to me.
Hawk is rolling. He punches me. "Where'd you come up with that one? You aren't usually that quick."
I shrug. "Dunno, it just came out."
Rob chuckles the rest of the way home, then swats me on the butt. "Shower and dress, we're going out for dinner."
I gotta admit that when we're dressed we make a good looking group of guys. My old man would approve of where Rob takes us, cause as he used to say that in a decent place to eat, the dishes are thin and the linen is thick, not the other way around. The lights are low and the classical music soft. I'm not sure what we ate because Rob ordered for us but whatever, it was all fantastic. Hawk's used his hand so naturally I never once thought of it and his plate's as clean as mine when we've finished. To finish is cherries jubilee. I've had it once before and I love the dark sweet cherries over ice cream.
Rob looks at his watch. "We've got to go, guys."
He doesn't go home as I expected, but drives up to the civic auditorium. "Hope you like this, Hawk, I know Ric will," Rob says as we get out.
I take a look at the stage set up for an orchestra and see an organ console. The program lists only two pieces, the Poulenc Concerto and the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony, both for organ and orchestra.
Rob leans over and whispers, "A friend and former teacher of mine is playing tonight. Watch his form while he's playing because it's excellent."
Even when he's playing hard, the organist barely seems to move. I didn't know time could move so fast because we're on our feet applauding at the end, when to me it feels like we've just arrived. When the organist takes a solo bow, I scream 'Encore' along with the others.
He announces the Middelshulte Perpetuum Mobilé for Pedals and slips back on the bench. Rob whispers quickly, "Don't take your eyes off his feet."
I stare pole-axed because at times this guy's doing four notes with his feet alone and they move so fast they're almost a blur. At the end, even Hawk is shaking his head. When we stand, I hug Rob. "I'll never forget this evening, Rob. I can't believe that encore."
He grins. "I thought you'd enjoy it, but I wanted you to see and hear Alex play. He's phenomenal; the best pedal technique I've ever seen."
"Wish I could do that. Hell, I wish I could play well as you."
"Stick with it and practice and you will. Want to meet Alex?"
He's talking to a few people when we get to the dressing room. He's down to his shirt which is so wet with perspiration it's translucent. After a moment or two he spots Rob and yells, "Rob, you fraud! Still pretending to be an organist?"
"Just like you, you old fake!" Rob says and hugs him. He puts his arm around me. "This is Ric, my nephew. He's just beginning organ."
"Nice to meet you, Ric."
"Your encore was super, sir." I say.
He grins. "Total flash and little substance, but it's fun."
"Wish you'd done the Bull Rhondo," Rob says.
"Hell! You still like that?"
"Damn straight. You play it better than anyone I've ever heard, and it isn't often I get to hear it since you've gone big time."
"I owe you one. Come on." He leads us back into the auditorium, which is dark, only one bare light on the stage, and sits down, switching the organ back on. "Remember enough to pull stops?" He asks Rob.
"Enough to match your memory," Rob retorts.
"We'll see. Here goes!" He pushes a piston and begins to play as fast as he played his encore. Rob is reaching back and forth jerking stop knobs out until almost the end when he pulls the rest. The sound is deafening! Alex ends with a flourish and grins at Rob.
"That flourish isn't in the piece," Rob tells him.
"Shut up and enjoy, Rob, it was fun. Right, Ric?"
"Yes, sir. I'll never be able to play like you."
"If you'd started at four like I did, you would. Maybe you won't ever be the best but what the hell, enjoy playing and have fun. That's what I do. If I can inspire a kid like you to want to play better that's my greatest reward."
"Thanks a lot, sir. I'll sure try."
"Drop by the house and have a drink?" Rob asks him.
"Wish I could, buddy, but I've got to grab some sleep and catch a plane at 8 tomorrow morning. Got a recital in Toronto tomorrow night."
"Never going to settle down, are you?"
He shakes his head. "Not as long as it's fun and pays."
"See if you can't do better next time and spend a couple of days with us."
Alex slaps Rob on the back. "I'd like nothing better. Maybe we can get together for a week at the beach come summer. Take care, guys."
"I died and went to heaven," I tell Rob when we're in the car.
He chuckles. "I guess ya got pretty close. Alex is seriously underrated as an artist."
"Why?" Hawk asks. "He sounded terrific to me."
"Unless he's playing with an orchestra like tonight, he won't commit to a set program. Since he's got most everything he likes memorized, he plays whatever he happens to feel like playing." He shakes his head. "He could be great, but he says it's too much fun to rip off stuff like he played for us tonight."
He stops in the driveway and looks at me. "The Middelschulte and Bull aren't great music, Ric, but not many have the technical skill to play them as well as Alex. I'm glad you got to hear him play them correctly and up to speed."
"They really go that fast?" I can't believe it.
Rob nods. "That's why hacks like me never try."
"Wow!" Hawk says.
"Sack time, guys. I've got to be up early and so have you if you want to go to church with me and hear me try to play after hearing the best."
"I'll settle for second best," I say.
Rob grins. "Not even that. Get to bed."
Rob parks Hawk on a seat next to the organ console and lets me sit with him on the bench to turn pages for him. His music isn't as flashy as that last night, but it sounds good to me. When the Eucharist starts, he opens the book to a hymn, pulls some stops and tells me to play it while he's taking communion. Though it's the one I played for him yesterday and the stops are so soft you can hardly hear them, I'm scared out of my wits. Concentrate, I tell myself and start. I only get to play it through once before Rob's back and takes over.
"Good," he whispers.
"Damn it, Rob, you almost made me shit my pants," I tell him soon as we're outside.
"You did okay. Nobody listens anyway." He grins. 'Can't wait to tell Tim you've made your debut."
"And he'll give me hell, too."
"No way. He knows better than to question his teacher's decisions."
"I was wishing I would take from you, but you're too tough a teacher."
Rob laughs. "You think I wasn't scared shitless the first time I played a service? It goes with the territory. The second time is easier. I don't want to swell your big head, but you did better than most, especially the way I dropped it on you unexpected. You're a great guy, Ric, and don't let anybody tell you any different."
"Thanks, Rob. I'm just sorry it took all this time for us to get to know each other."
"Me, too. But I've always loved you and I want to see a lot more of you and Hawk."
"Hey! Now the old man's out of the way, you can come see us."
"I'd like that." He gives me an evil grin. "We'll go to church and I'll criticize everything Tim plays. It'll make him crazy."
"Go for it."
After we have dinner, Hawk and I leave for home. Rob tells us to come back any time.
Mom and Dr. Svenson are at our house having a drink and talking to mom when we get home. It takes us near an hour to tell them about our weekend, then Hawk drops it on them. "Ric played for Rob at his church this morning."
Mom jumps up. "You didn't!" She screams then hugs me.
"Aw, it was just one piddly little hymn during communion. Rob just pulled me down and made me do it. Wasn't nothing."
"I'm so proud of you, especially no longer than you've been taking. If Rob made you play, then I know you were wonderful."
"Wonderful? I was scared shi… out of my tiny mind."
Mom gives me a wicked smile. "Wish I knew some way to let your father know. He'd pop his cork!"
I have to grin. "Guess he would. Did he get all his stuff?"
"Yes, thank God. His study is empty, so I have no idea what to do with it." She looks thoughtful. "Would you like your piano moved in there? It'll give you a place for your music and you can do what you wish."
I hug her. "That'll be great, Mom. Thanks." I mean it, too, cause dad had the room pretty well soundproofed when the house was built, saying he need it quiet to concentrate, and mom's always after me if I leave my music lying around.
Hawk goes with me to my next lesson. Tim looks at me with a sour expression. "What's this I hear about your playing in public before your teacher says you're good enough?"
"Sorry, but Rob made me do it."
Tim laughs. "He said you did well to have him drop it on you like that. I'm proud that you didn't lose your cool, Ric. But being Rob, he had to drop a little crap on me about the way I'm teaching you. I really envy your hearing that program Alex played. You couldn't have seen a better man technically."
"That's what Rob said. He was awesome and real nice to us, too."
"Let's get to work on your pedal technique."
Things settle down to routine for the next couple of months. Tim's a great teacher and according to him I'm developing a proper technique. I just wish I had somewhere to practice at night because I can't use the church after dark and I like to do my homework soon as Hawk and I finish running after school.
Hawk and I come in from soccer practice Friday afternoon to have mom tell us to stick around she needs us. We grab a shower then go back down just as a big U-Haul truck backs up to the front door. Three men, one a small guy and two who look like moving men get out. Mom shows the small guy my music room and he goes back to the door. "Unload it," he calls.
The two men slide a heavy ramp from the back of the truck to the entry and soon roll a big canvas covered object out of the truck and into my music room. They go back and bring in a huge cardboard box and two smaller ones. The small man says, "I think against that wall." He points to the one wall where there's no window or bookshelves.
The men moved it to the center of the wall space and lift off the canvas. My mouth opens wide, but I can't say a thing. It's a two-manual electronic organ! The men set a speaker in each corner and the small guy connects them and plugs the organ in.
"Give it a try, son," he tells me.
Oh, wow! It's like out of this world! It sounds like an English cathedral organ and has plenty of bass in the pedal. The 32 foot pedal stop shakes the room. I love it!
He takes over and tries everything to be sure it's working properly, then says, "It’s far too loud for this room, of course. I'll come back next week to make some adjustments. Hope you enjoy it."
Soon as they're gone, I grab mom and kiss her. "How? I mean that must have cost a bundle."
She smiles. "The divorce was finalized Tuesday, but the judge made your father pay a lump sum for child support until you graduate from high school. You have Mam's money for your education and my real estate business is doing very well, so since you've shown me how much you enjoy playing and said you don't have enough practice time at the church, I decided to spend it for this. Rob made the choice of make for me, so I know he approves."
I kiss her again and look at the maker's nameplate. "Look, Hawk, it's a Makin! Wonder if it was made by Tim's family?"
"I doubt it, son. Rob says it was an English firm that has been bought by a Dutch company," mom says. "And, Ric? I know you like to play loud, but the volume isn't adjusted yet, so try not to bring the roof down."
"I won't. Gee, this is wonderful! No more practice in a cold church."
I try it again and after a few minutes someone yells, "How you like it?" It's Rob.
I jump off the bench to hug him. "It's fantastic, Rob! Give it a try. Thanks for picking it out for me."
He plays several pieces that sound great. "Mr. Harmon will get it adjusted and it'll be perfect for you. You're a lucky guy, I'd love to have this at home." He grins at me. "Tim's coming here to give you your lesson tomorrow so I can observe. Just wanted to let you know so it's not a surprise like the one I pulled on you."
"Beth, what on earth was that huge van doing here? You're not moving are you?" Hawk's brought Mom over.
My mom smiles. "Got some money out of Don after all, so I spent it on this. Now Ric doesn't have to go out to practice when it's bad. I hope he doesn't drive you and Thor crazy."
Mom looks at my new organ. "It's beautiful, Ric. I'm so happy for you."
"Thanks, Mom. This is my Uncle Rob, he's a real organist."
Rob sits down and plays the Toccato for us, then Mom leaves. "Gee, now I'm never gonna see you, cause you'll always be practicing," Hawk says.
I kiss him. "Not when you're around. Always got time for you and this." I grab his stump and kiss it.
He punches me with it. "Perv. Glad I got something competes with that organ."
My mom's gone so I say, "Yeah. Now I got two organs to play."
Rob looks startled then laughs. "Damn, you're fast with double entendres. That mouth of yours is gonna get you in trouble yet."
"Naa. You staying the weekend?"
"Beth invited me so I could show you how to use that thing." He blushes. "The Makin organ, I mean."
Hawk and I grin. "Yeah. Don't need no lesson on the other one, we know how and I don't need two hands to play it," Hawk says.
"Not again!" Rob says. "I give up."
I almost don't get a lesson the next day cause Tim's having so much fun playing it and yacking at Rob.
"Your family?" I ask him, pointing to the maker's plate.
"Probably very distant. I wouldn't know because our family's been is this country for over a hundred years. One of these days I'm going to Europe and find out. This is a fine instrument for an electronic, I'm betting Rob had a lot to do with it."
Rob looks smug. "Too right. You know what I think about most electronics."
"Yeah. We've wasted too much time, Ric. Sit down and let's get started on your lesson."
Soon as it's over, Rob kicks me out of my own music room and closes the door. Guess he and Tim are gonna talk about me, so I go find Hawk.
Over dinner, Rob looks at Hawk. "You still play soccer?"
Hawk shakes his head. "Not much, I almost didn't make varsity cause of my arm. Coach doesn't play me a lot."
Rob shakes his head. "No damned excuse. I'm taking you guys to a game next Saturday week. I think you'll be surprised, Hawk."
I didn't know Rob liked soccer, so we're both curious, but he won't tell us anything else.
Sure enough, we all get up and go to church to hear Tim play. During the coffee hour after, Rob starts telling Tim all the things he did wrong like he said he would. Tim grins and looks at me. "You better be damn glad I'm your teacher, Ric. I've never played anything Rob didn't find something to bitch about."
Rob draws his shoulders up and smirks. "Well, there are only a few perfect musicians."
"And you're one of 'em, I suppose."
"If I weren't, I'd have studied with you instead of the other way around."
Rob leaves after we've eaten dinner. "See you guys in a couple of weeks."
"I didn't know how charming and funny Rob was until now," mom tells Hawk and me. "I'm so glad he came."
"Me, too," Hawk and I say together.
After we've eaten dinner at Hawk's Thursday night before we're going to Rob's, Dr. Svenson hands Hawk a box. "Ric got an organ, so here's something for you, Haakon."
"What?" He rips open the box and takes out a digital camera. "Super! Now I can take it to the game Saturday and get lots of pics! Thanks, Dad." He hugs his father and Mom, then shows it to me. "Let's go up and learn how to use it, Ric."
He reads the instructions and tries it out. The pics look great on his computer. "This is gonna be fun," he says. "Dad got me the big memory card so I can get lots of pics."
"Get one of Rob for me," I ask.
Rob meets us at the door. "Same room as before, Ric. You guys want pizza again?"
"Sure," Hawk says, "if ya got some beer."
"One's the limit."
"That's better than none."
The next day we grab lunch at a small restaurant Rob says makes the best burgers around. He's right! Put together, they're so big Hawk has to use both his real hand and the fake one to hold it, something he doesn't do much, though he wears it most of the time when we aren't at home.
Rob parks in a faculty spot outside the gym and we walk a short distance to a small field to one side of the stadium and find seats in the bleacher. I'm wondering why the crowd isn't bigger when the teams come on field. I almost fall off my seat and Hawk grabs my arm, his mouth is wide open. Every one of the players is a leg amp except the goalkeepers and they have one arm.
Rob leans over. "No reason your coach shouldn't play you often, Hawk." He points to one of the goalkeepers. "He's a student here. He plays forward on the regular team."
Hawk is totally mesmerized by the game. I'm glad because I have my music, but he's had nothing.
"Think I've got a chance when I go to college?" He asks Rob.
"Just depends on how well you play. If you were coming here I'd say there's a good possibility. I know you could play with these guys, but I meant the regular team. Football gets most of the players, so they're always looking for men."
After Christmas, mom asks me if I've applied to the university for admittance. I admit that I've been putting it off and so has Hawk.
"I hate to say this, Ric, but I think your father is still mad over having to pay that child support for you. If he finds out you're at the university, and he will, he might make trouble for you with your teachers. What would you say to taking your first two years at the college where Rob teaches, then transferring? I've talked to Rob and he thinks it'll be no problem."
"I'd like that, but what about Hawk?"
"Ingrid and I have talked about that, too. Thor says Elmdale is an excellent school and he's willing for Hawk to go there, too. In fact, he encourages it because Hawk's grades aren't as good as yours."
I hug mom. "That means I can study with Rob."
She nods. "He's counting on it. He was good enough to say you and Hawk could live with him at nominal rent to cover utilities. That will save a lot of your trust fund for later."
"Living with Rob will be almost as good as being home," I say.
"You and Hawk have to remember it's his home, not yours, and it won't be like it was when you were visiting Mam. You're to take care of yourselves just as you would if you were living in the dorm and respect his privacy. I'll also expect you and Hawk to do a lot of little things for him, like cutting the lawn if it needs it; Rob's busy during the school year. What do you say?"
"Cool, Mom." I grin. "Hawk and I need our privacy, too."
"I hope you remember that. You can be a little more quiet, too, you and Hawk sound like a herd of elephants at times." She hands me a bunch of forms. "Ingrid and Thor have talked to Hawk, so he knows what's expected. Take these over there. Thor's going to help you fill them out."
I hug her. "Thanks, Mom. I really wanted to study with Rob, but I thought you'd want me at the U."
"I would if the circumstances were different. Now go, Thor's waiting."
Hawk's happy when I tell him I'm going to Elmdale to study with Rob.
"I'm glad you've decided to go to Elmdale College, Ric. Haakon is not ready to attend the university, but I know it be futile to try to separate you. Your uncle is most generous and I expect you and Haakon to study, not party." Dr. Svenson says after we've filled out the application forms.
"I expect Rob will make us. He's fun to be with, but my organ teacher says he's tough on students."
Dr. Svenson smiles. "I like that. Dr. Wood has a good reputation. I will tell him to make you and Haakon work hard."
We pour it on for the rest of the school year. My last report is all A's and Hawk manages three A's and two B's.
His dad is delighted. "I told you, you could make A's if you didn't play around so much. College is much harder, so more work less play. It's good you have Ric. You make Haakon study, yes?" He says to me.
"Yes, sir." I just don't tell him what we'll both be studying, and it isn't going to be college text books all the time.
I'm surprised when Rob shows up Friday evening for our graduation. After, we all go over to the Svenson's for dinner. Dr. Svenson talks a lot to Rob.
Over coffee, Rob looks at Hawk and me. "Okay, guys, listen up. Have you ever been in the attic at home, Ric?" I shake my head. "Mother turned it into an apartment for me when I was in school. It has a separate entrance and it's completely self-contained. That's where you guys will be living. I will be happy to have you visit with me on weekends and I'll give you a key to the back door so you can use the washer and drier, but I don't expect you to be running in and out like you did when you were visiting mother. I'm sorry there's no way for you to bring the Makin, Ric, but you will get plenty of practice time at the organs on campus. When it's just us at home it's still Rob, but on campus it's to be Dr. Wood. Understood?"
Hawk and I both nod while Dr. Svenson smiles. "I am happy you insist on proper respect, Dr. Wood." He shakes his head. "Some kids today have none."
"Very true." Rob grins at us. "Hope I haven't rained on your parade too hard, guys. We just need to get everything clear ahead of time."
Hawk's father shakes his finger at Hawk. "Dr. Wood is correct, Haakon. Mind you remember what he told you."
"You, too, Ric," my mom says.
"We will," I say. "Guess fun time's over. Right, Rob?"
"Not until you start in the fall. I'm not that hard to get along with and I want you to be happy staying with me."
I get up and hug him. "Hey, it's gonna be a lot better than staying in a dorm."
Rob wasn't completely serious though, because we have a ball together for the rest of the weekend.
I look at Hawk as Rob drives off Sunday afternoon. "Looks like things have worked out pretty good for us."
The next week we find out our summer isn't going to be all fun and games. Hawk's dad has gotten a list of our fall semester classes from Rob, gotten the texts from the book rep that calls on him and puts us to work.
"Aaaw, Dad!" Hawk complains.
"You study now and be prepared for classes, that way you will not have to work so hard. First semester students have enough problems making adjustment, you need to prepare ahead of time." After all this time, his English is still a little uncertain at times and he still has his accent, though Hawk's disappeared soon after they moved here.
Hawk's dad makes our study almost fun and, without written homework to worry about, I double up my lessons with Tim. It's easy now that he comes to the house instead of my going to the church, and Hawk finds summer students on campus to play soccer with while I'm at my lessons or practice.
Almost before we know it, Rob calls on a Sunday night to tell us we'd best move in next Saturday because orientation begins on Monday. Hawk and I begin to layout the stuff we want to carry to our apartment.
Mom takes one look and says, "Ric, you don't have to carry everything you own, you know. It's only an hour's drive."
"I guess." I don't want to admit that I'm getting butterflies in my stomach over leaving home. It's been so great since dad left.
Even with what Hawk and I are leaving home, Friday morning my Wrangler is loaded to the hilt. I hadn't realized how small it was before. Mom and my mom watch us pack and shake their heads. After lunch, the usual hugs and kisses, and reminders to study hard, Hawk and I hit the road.
There's an envelope with my name on it on the back door when we get to Rob's. I rip it open to find a set of keys and a note telling us to use the door next to the back door and move our stuff in, he'll be home after his last lesson. I unlock the door and Hawk and I each grab as much as we can carry and start up the stairs. We're both in pretty good condition, but hauling stuff up two flights of stairs gets to us quickly.
At the top, we stop and look around. Hawk says, Wow!" Like him, I hadn't expected anything quite so nice. Then I remember Rob said this was his apartment. I drop what I was carrying and flop down in one of the big chairs.
"Oh, man, this is comfort I can get used to fast."
"Me, too," says Hawk.
The bedroom has a king-size bed which makes Hawk and me look at each other and grin, Rob's remembered we sleep together. The bath has only a shower stall, but it's big enough to hold both of us. The kitchen is a small room with one of those unit kitchens and a small round table with two chairs by the window overlooking the back yard.
We make a couple of more trips to bring up the last of our stuff. I connect the TV while Hawk sets up his stereo.
"Wish I had something to drink," I say when we're done.
"Me, too. Let's find a market and get a few things before it gets too late."
I'd love to get some beer, but you have to be twenty-one in this state, so I grab a couple of six-packs of Pepsi. We pick up some frozen dinners and breakfast stuff and check out. The surprise comes at home, there's no freezer in our little fridge, just a little compartment holding a couple of ice trays.
"What we gonna do now?" Hawk asks.
I cram the dinners in the fridge. "I know Mam had a big freezer so maybe Rob'll let us use it."
A few minutes later Rob comes running up the stairs and hugs us. "Sorry I wasn't here when you got here." He looks around. "Looks like you've gotten settled in. Come on down and have a drink."
"We got some frozen stuff. Can we put it in the big freezer?"
"Sure. I forgot to tell you there isn't one up here." He reaches in his pocket and hands me a key. "This is for the back door. You know where the freezer is, Ric. Keep the key and remember our agreement."
After we've gotten our beers, Rob says, "There is a phone on a separate line in the apartment. I had it connected this week in your name, Ric, so the bill comes to you. I hope you have wireless cards for your computers. You can connect through my router."
"Thanks, Rob. I was wondering," Hawk says.
Sunday morning Hawk and I sleep-in. I vaguely remember hearing a car start down below then go back to sleep. I'm awake but still in bed when the phone rings at twenty past ten. It's Rob telling me he'll take us to lunch and to be dressed by the time he gets home from church about noon. I wake Hawk and we get ready.
After we've eaten, Rob takes us by the church where he plays and gets me on the organ bench then opens the organist's edition of a Lutheran service book.
"Let's see how you handle this," he says.
I'm surprised when Hawk leans over my shoulder and begins to sing the chant. I had no idea his voice was so nice. The music is relatively simple so I have no trouble reading it, though Rob corrects my tempos a few times.
When we've finished, Hawk grins. "Different from home, but nice."
I didn't know you were Lutheran, Hawk," Rob says.
"Ya, Swede, you know," he says with a heavy accent.
"What's this all about?" I ask Rob.
"You want a part time job as an organist for some spending money?"
"Well, sure, but I don't want to be tied down every weekend. I'm not ready anyway."
"Ready enough. It's just the chants and hymns and a prelude and postlude if you feel up to it, it's a small parish a couple of years old. They just got a small pipe organ and need someone to play it. They want someone to trade off Sundays with the woman who plays piano because she won't touch the organ. It's an easy fifty for each Sunday you play, and no choir to worry about."
"I don't know."
"Ric, I encourage my students to start playing services early on. A small organ will teach you to make the best use of limited resources. This also counts as extra points on your grade in my classes."
Show me any student that can’t use a few extra points in a class, so after a trial Sunday – I had gone through the service with the pastor on Saturday before and he seemed pleased – I took the job. I alternate Sundays with the pianist.
Hawk always goes with me, and his strong voice really pushes the congregation along in the chants. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the pastor approaches Hawk after our second Sunday with a request that Hawk take a position as Cantor. I’m all for it since pastor’s tone deaf and finally resorted to just saying the chants rather than trying to sing them. It seems some of the people have gotten together and raised funds so that the cantor will receive a stipend of twenty-five dollars a service. He accepts for those Sundays that I play.
On our way home, he grins. "Hell, I’ve been going with you and I like to sing, so why not pick up a few extra bucks." We must have made a good pair, because the attendance begins to pick up to the point that I have to use everything that little organ has, yet still need more. But it comes as a surprise when the pastor calls and asks me to meet him at the church after I get out of classes on Friday.
Wondering if I’m getting fired, I walk into pastor’s office to see him chatting with an older man in Dockers and a pull-over. Pastor stands. "Ric, I want you to meet Mr. Walker. I know you struggle with our little organ, so he’s here to give us some advice on some electronic additions. He’s tried the organ and,” he hands me a sheet of paper, ”here are his recommendations. How do you feel about these?"
I look over the additional stops he feels we need. I’m pleased with them all, but I would like another pedal stop – a sixteen foot reed to offset the trumpet on the swell; dare I hope for a thirty-two. Pressing my, luck, I ask. To my shock, Walker agrees if I’ll give up the Vox which I’d seldom if ever use. Pastor nods, then tells me the council has already agreed and I’ll have off the next two Sundays that I’m scheduled to play, as the console will be taken out for the new stop knobs to be put in.
Ron is ecstatic when he hears my news. "That just got you another point or two on your grade, kid. I never thought that little parish would do anything like this, though I recommended it to them over a year ago. Let’s celebrate. You and Hawk and Paul and I are going out to dinner tonight."
I really wish Rob could have been with Hawk and me the first service I play on the enlarged organ. For the first time, I can completely drown the congregation out on the hymns. I get brave and modulate up a key between a couple of the verses. On the recessional, I go to an improvisation I found in one of Rob’s books. I can see Hawk grinning broadly at the looks of shock on many of the faces.
After the dismissal, pastor comes flying up the isle to the console. “Wonderful, Ric! I loved every second of your playing. It reminds me so much of the big church where I was Vicar. The organ was huge and the organist played loud enough to shake the rafters. If anybody complains, tell them to see me. You just keep it up.”
We’re having dinner with Rob and Paul one Friday evening when Rob tells Paul that he has a Guild luncheon and meeting the next day.
“You know you’re being completely selfish, don’t you?” Paul snaps.
“What do you mean?”
Paul nods towards me. “You’ve got a church organist sitting right here at the table and you’ve never invited him to attend a Guild meeting, yet you gripe that there’s no young blood in the group.”
Rob slaps his forehead. “My God! I didn’t even think. Of course Ric must go with me, Hawk, too.” He looks at us. “I’m so sorry Ric. It’s that I think of you as my student, not as a regular church organist. Hawk is certainly welcome, too, since he’s the cantor. Tomorrow’s meeting should be fun. Anyone who wants to play can play any kind of music he wishes. It’s not formal at all.”
To our great surprise, both Hawk and I are warmly welcomed into the group and enjoy it so much that we take student memberships to Rob’s delight. Since the group meets on Saturdays, it fits into our schedules neatly.
Rob calls us down one evening and tells us it’s time to declare our majors. He’s a bit disappointed when I tell him I plan to major in education and minor in music; he’d rather I major in music, but accepts my reasoning. Hawk really shocks us when he tells us he’s going to major in psychology, with a view towards specializing in counseling handicapped – he says physically challenged – young people. Rob immediately tells him he’s happy that he’s overcome his sensitivity over his missing hand and wants to help others.
After further discussion of our plans, we ask Rob if we can continue to live in the apartment, because we’re both so happy at the university that we plan to continue on here instead of returning home and possibly running into my father on that campus. Rob tells us he’s been praying we’d make such a decision, me in particular, as he tells me that I’m ready to move up to graduate level work.
At our graduation, my mom and Hawk’s parents, after all the celebration, tell us to continue on for our graduate degrees. Doctor Svenson, with Rob’s support, tells us to skip the MA degree and go directly for a PhD. We know it will be difficult, and I’m disappointed that I’ll have someone besides Rob as my organ professor, but, bless him, Rob consults with Doctor Svenson and picks our advisors – Rob will remain mine – and the professors Hawk and I will be taking our classes under.
Back in our apartment and relaxing, Hawk and I both feel confident about our futures.
I should backtrack a little and say that every night after Hawk and I moved into the apartment we occasionally heard a voice other than Rob’s. I found out one night when I went down to get some ground beef out of the freezer. I got the meat and turned around to see a tall slender man I didn’t know staring at me.
"Just what are you doing?" He asks.
"Getting something out of the freezer. Who are you?"
He smiles, then. "You must be Rob’s nephew." He holds out his hand. "I’m Paul Adams, Rob’s partner."
"Oh, yeah. He didn’t tell me about you yet. I’m Ric Woods. My partner is Hawk Svenson. He’s up in the apartment. Guess you’ll meet him later on. I gotta go now."
For the next couple of years, both Hawk’s and my lives are spent primarily in study and practice, with only an occasional Saturday break in the regimen. Sundays we have our church duties, having moved into full time positions, for as the church had grown, so had the demand for us to become full-time. Why Hawk as cantor? Mainly because Pastor sounds like a bullfrog croaking and to be proper the mass should be chanted. Hawk has the voice for it. Sunday dinners are usually taken with Rob and Paul, though Hawk and I occasionally prepare a special dinner for them in return. We had been living in the apartment for nearly two weeks before we discovered that Paul and Rob live together as a couple. It was Paul who feared our finding out, because of the sensitivity of his job, not as an adjunct professor of social work, but as a licensed supervisor of CPS, the local childrens protective services.
Now with my class work virtually complete, Rob and I discuss my choice of possible areas for my dissertation. I’m leaning toward a study of the effect of music appreciation classes in public schools. The main drawback being the few schools still offering the course. Hawk finds Paul an excellent source of information and help in his proposed study of teenagers with physical challenges, primarily amputees. He faces the same problem as I with the paucity of subjects to study. We’ll both be doing a reasonable amount of travel to gather enough information for our papers. Our love life is put on a virtual ‘hold’ as we begin our research.
And travel we do for almost a year, but we finally have the needed data in hand and start the laborious process of coordinating and sequencing it, then writing, revising, and seemingly endless discussions with our advisors. Finally comes the awaited day when we turn our completed dissertations in and begin preparing ourselves mentally to defend our work before the respective committees.
The night after our inquisitions, Hawk and I collapse on the sofa in our apartment and proceed to drink just enough of the pitcher of vodka collins I made to make us sleep well. We are both so drained emotionally that it’s near three in the afternoon before we are awakened by Rob pounding on the door.
“You guys planning to sleep all day? Get your lazy butts up. Paul and I are taking you to dinner to celebrate.”
I open the door and stare at him still bleary eyed. “Celebrate? We don’t even know if we passed.”
Rob grins. “A little birdie
told me you both made it with no dissent in either committee. Now downstairs in
casual but nice clothes by six.” He punches me on the shoulder, “Doctor Wood,”
and heads down the stairs.
The Almighty must be looking out for Hawk and me, for with the conferral of our doctorial degrees, we are both offered immediate tenure track positions at the university, I as a teaching assistant in the organ department and Hawk as a teaching assistant in the school of adolescent psychology. This wasn’t his goal, but he’s promised a promotion to assistant professor within two years because of the uniqueness of his dissertation and the power of his oral presentation. At Paul’s request, he is also appointed special consultant to the department of CPS, which delights him, though he knows the need for his knowledge will be rare.
As much as we have both enjoyed living in the apartment in Mam’s old house, Hawk and I decide that now being settled in jobs with steady income, we would like a place of our own. One nice Saturday morning we break our habit of sleeping in, grab a cup of coffee and spread the real estate section of the paper on the table.
The listings in the Saturday ads offer homes we know we won’t like or are in undesirable neighbourhoods.
“Maybe in tomorrow’s paper,” Hawk says.
“Yeah, Sunday paper’s likely to have more. I guess we should tell Rob what we’re planning, too. It wouldn’t be fair to just up and leave, especially after he and Paul have been so good to us. I’ll bet our rent barely covers the utilities.”
Our little parish has mass at 10, while Rob’s church has services at 11, so Hawk and I are back home sitting at the table looking at the paper while Paul is fixing dinner. Rob drives in a little after noon as usual. “What’s up, guys?” He asks as he walks in the kitchen door.
“We need to talk to you for a minute,” I tell him.
Rob pours himself a cup of coffee and sits down across from us, waiting.
“I guess you can see we’re looking at real estate ads, Rob. We’ve really been happy here and you and Paul have been super good to us, but we are getting so many books and all that we need more room. Now that we’ve good jobs here, our folks are going to want to visit us some, so Hawk and I have decided we need a place of our own, if we can find a house that’s reasonable. It’ll give you guys more privacy, too.”
“Having you and Hawk here has been our pleasure, Ric, and we’ll miss you. But I can understand why you want your own place. It might be hard to find something decent that you guys can afford, this being a college town.”
“There’s no hurry that I can see,” Paul says. “Hang loose for a few days and let me see what I can find. I have a friend who works in the real estate division of one of the banks. He’s sure to know what properties are in foreclosure. Not all of them are in perfect condition, but there are some which are ready to move into, given a little routine maintenance, a good cleaning, and maybe some new appliances.”
Rob gets up and hugs Paul. “Thanks, love. Now let’s eat. Guys, you pick that paper up and set the table.”
Hawk and I turn to.
Nothing else is said about us leaving until a Friday evening a week or so later. Paul calls us into the kitchen where he’s fixing dinner. “Got enough here if you guys want to eat with us, but the reason I called you in is that I got a call from my friend in real estate. There’s a house just a block down the street that might be what you guys are looking for. If you want to take a look, I’ll call Ted right now and we can see it tomorrow morning,” he gives us an evil grin, “if you can get your lazy backsides out of bed before noon.”
“Absolutely. Thanks, Paul.”
“Absolutely what, dinner or the house?” He teases.
“Both, damn it. We won’t ever turn down anything you cook,” Hawk says.
“Why thank you, kind sir. Now set the damn table.”
Hawk and Paul love to swear mildly at each other, now that we are all academic equals, at least in terms of degrees.
Hawk and I have talked about the size house we would like to have, one with enough bedrooms for our parents when they visit, but we’ve never thought about style. I figured it would more than likely be a ranch style, much like the house I grew up in. The house the realtor meets us in front of is a Tudor – brick and half-timber. I love the look because of the English connection, and there’s a two-car garage. Though it’s older than most of the neighboring houses and the yard is overgrown, it looks well maintained despite being empty. As he’s unlocking the door, the realtor, a guy about Rob’s age who has been chatting with Rob and Paul, says, “If you like the house, you should move fast because it’s just gone into foreclosure. The remainder of the mortgage is well below the assessed value, so it should move quickly despite the condition of the economy.”
The living room is a bit smaller than I expected, the dining room somewhat larger, and the kitchen, while not large, is well arranged with good workspace and almost new appliances. But it’s the huge family room that surprises us. A nice brick fireplace with gas logs, surrounded by generous bookshelves. On the far wall is more than ample room to accommodate my organ and electric piano. The sizable nook, easily concealed by a folding screen, next to the kitchen has a desk big enough for both our computers, we use laptops, and the printer which we share. Hawk loves this.
Upstairs, Ted shows us four nice bedrooms, the master en-suite, a smaller en-suite, and the other two bedrooms sharing a bath. I like the idea that the washer and dryer are stacked units in a closet opening into the hall. I mean most of the things needing washing are in the bedroom area so this will save a lot of lugging wash up and down the stairs. He has shown us the small half bath under the stairs on the first floor. When he shows us the disappearing stairway to the attic, Hawk and I go up the steps far enough to see it will give us reasonable storage space.
Lastly, he shows us the cellar. There’s little to see beyond the gas water heater and an old laundry tub. The house recently had heat pumps installed and the old furnace was removed. There is also a gas heater and pumps for the swimming pool in the backyard. I hadn’t expected this and wonder if we can afford such a nice place.
The realtor says something to Rob, then turns to Hawk and me. “Well, boys, how do you like it?”
I may look young, but I resent being called boy, so does Hawk. Rob immediately notices and whispers something to Ted. His face turns red and he says, “I’m so sorry, gentlemen. I wasn’t aware …”
I nod at Paul and he tells Ted, “The guys will naturally want to discuss this and we need to know what the bank is asking. We may wish to have the house inspected as well.” Ted’s face drops. “But I think I can assure you that they are interested.”
“Like I said, you should move fast if you want it.”
“The way things are, I hardly think it’ll sell even by next week. Get the price for us by Monday afternoon, then we’ll talk more.” Paul shakes Ted’s hand, as does Rob and us.
“Thank you for showing us the house,” Hawk adds.
“Okay, guys, as soon as we have a price, plan on going down for a conference with your mom, Ric, and maybe your parents as well, Hawk. I know an expert residential inspector who can look the place over for us Monday morning, so we should have plenty of information to go on.” Rob tells us. “Though it’s a lot of house for just two guys, I’m envious, it’s a really nice place and in a great neighborhood. I hope you can swing the deal.”
At noon on Monday, Hawk and I meet Rob for lunch at the cafeteria on campus. Once we’ve gotten our lunches and settled at a table in the far corner, Rob begins. “I’m glad you guys could get free, because your mom can give us most of the afternoon, Ric. I have the inspector’s report and the figures from the bank. We may be able to make this work for you. Now eat up and let’s hit the road.”
Mom awaits us at her office, greeting us all with tight hugs. “Come into my office and we’ll get down to business.” Once we’re all seated with cups of coffee or Dr. Peppers in hand, mom starts. “It may come as a surprise, but I know all about the house. Of course I’ve seen it the times we’ve been to visit you, Paul, and the boys, Rob, because its style is so distinctive for the neighbourhood.”
“Paul, I’m delighted that you thought of having an independent inspection done. The few things he found can be easily taken care of at minimal cost.”
Her expression grows serious. “Ric, I normally would tell you and Hawk to forget this one, simply because the price would be far beyond what you can afford, however, I know what the bank is really owed. They are adding in a sizable profit margin in the figure they gave Rob.” Mom smiles evilly. “They also expect the property to go for even more at auction. I suggest that you offer them the amount they’re owed plus five percent, of course this is based on deducting the foreclosure costs from their figure. I know you boys have accounts at the State Employees Credit Union; you won’t find a better interest rate and they will likely grant you a mortgage with no problem.” She names a figure that is lower than we had worked with in our calculations.
Then mom dashes our happy expressions. “Should your offer be accepted, I hope you have done some calculations on the cost of furnishing the place. At least you have good appliances, but decent furniture isn’t going to be cheap. I can give you some help there because I’m known at a reputable showroom and can buy at ten percent above cost.”
Hawk looks at me and says, “We didn’t even think about that.”
“Then I suggest that you do,” mom says, “unless you plan to sleep on the floor and eat at McDonalds.”
I hand mom our financial statements and look at Hawk who’s shaking his head with a worried look.
Mom appears pleased with the amount of money we’ve saved together in hopes of this day and the careful way we budget. “I’m very surprised, boys. You are in much better shape financially than a lot of people who want to buy homes. I believe we can swing this deal if the bank will accept our offer, which I doubt, but even with closing costs you will be able to afford some furniture. I don’t mean you can furnish the entire house, but the needed rooms first and the rest as you’re able.”
“There’s some of mom’s stuff in the cellar at home you can have to get started,” Rob tells us.
“Thanks, Rob,” mom says, “now do we go ahead with the offer?”
Hawk and I look at each other then tell mom to go for it. “Good. Now get out of here; I have another appointment in a few minutes. I’ll get started on this immediately and let you know as soon as I know something.”
Our offer is refused by the bank, just as mom predicted. I am close to panic because I’ve fallen in love the place, but mom calms me down and says she will attend the auction with us and do the bidding since she knows the procedure. She feels we still have a good chance.
The day of the auction is miserable, a mix of sleet and cold rain pouring down. The referee moves the auction into the hall of the courthouse, but there are only two or three besides mom, Hawk, and me.
The first bid is even lower than what we offered the bank, followed by a pregnant silence. The referee looks unhappy and looks at mom, who nods, and he raises the bid by a few thousand. He looks back at the first bidder, who nods. He raises the bid again and mom nods. Another rise in price and the other guy nods. By now, the price is close to our original offer, but when the bid is raised again by the referee the other guy walks out. The referee comes over to mom, greets her, and they discuss the sale. Hawk and I look at each other unbelievingly, we have a house for several thousand less than we thought it might cost us. On the way home Mom keeps having to reassure us that the house is really ours. Rob and Paul take over mom’s kitchen to fix a celebratory dinner when they find out that we, or rather mom, was successful in the bidding.
It takes a couple of weeks for all the paperwork to be processed and our mortgage to be approved by the credit union, but finally the keys are in our hands. It’s then that the work begins. Mom surprises us by sending over the cleaning service she uses on rentals. It takes them a full day of hard work, but the old place sparkles. Hawk’s dad talked with the dean of the agriculture department to the end that five students in landscaping needing practicum are sent to our new home accompanied by a teaching assistant. After two days of intensive labour, the grounds appear manicured, other than the shrubs needing time to recover from their heavy pruning.
Hawk and I have spent nearly every free moment in painting four of the rooms needing refurbishing before we can move furniture in. We naturally complete the master bedroom and bath first of all, for with mom’s connections we found a kingsize bedroom suite we both liked. I’m still staggered by what a top of the line mattress set costs. Our first night is one of joy and blissful sleep, both of us arising the next morning fully refreshed and ready for work.
Slowly we completely furnish the entire house. With mom’s advice, Hawk and I are happy with the look, for it still reflects the English character of the place. Come Thanksgiving, we throw our first party. Well, a Thanksgiving dinner for family to be exact, for they’ve all contributed to our success.
Hawk and I now settle into a comfortable routine. We seldom accept any engagements that will keep us away from each other, even overnight. Nearby and local events are fine.
If it wasn't for the weather I suppose people would have nothing to talk about. No matter where one lives, there's the saying, 'If you don’t like the weather just wait an hour or so and it'll change.' That's for darn sure here in North Carolina, but despite capricious weather and ‘good old boy’ politics, it's a beautiful state and one I'm proud to be a native of.
The week after our Thanksgiving celebration, Hawk is at a called meeting of the CPS. I had eaten my dinner at a small café we both like and afterwards I went into an owner operated bookshop to browse, for he has an amazing collection of books on music, composers, etc. It was chilly when I left the house, now, two hours later, it has begun to sleet. I pull my jacket tighter and start walking briskly toward my car, which is parked a hundred feet or so away. This area of town isn't the best and no place for one to be walking at night, so with practically no night business and after three robberies within two months, the owner of the bookshop has bowed to the inevitable and is moving to an outlying strip-mall. To reduce the costs of moving so much weight, he is having an honest ‘at cost’ sale to reduce the inventory. There's no way I could resist having a look and purchasing quite a few volumes which I'll pick up tomorrow.
The lone streetlight glows fitfully rather than shining, as though it is as weary as the neighborhood has become. I'm about to pass a deeply recessed doorway when a moan attracts my attention. Curiosity overcomes caution. Closing my hand around my small cannister of pepper spray I stop to peer closer, trying to see in the gloom. It looks to be a ragged overcoat. Likely some drunk passed out, I think to myself, then the street light brightens enough for me to see a shivering figure struggle to lift his head and look at me for a moment before dropping back under the folds of the old coat. Even so, I could see it was a child, not an adult. He continues to shiver violently.
I'm no bleeding heart, but as I start to turn away my conscience takes control. I lean down. "Don't you want to go to the shelter down the street?"
There's no answer as he tries to squeeze into as small a ball as possible and pull the ragged coat closer about him.
I straighten up and start to walk away, but my feet fail to move. I shiver, too, as the sleet intensifies. To leave the kid here means he'll likely not see the morning. I bend back down and tuck my hands under his arms lifting. He weighs far less than I expected and I start to remove my hands when I feel him sliding back down. I can only wonder how long he’s been lying there. With no coherent response from the boy, I ease him back down and wrap the coat about him once more. He doesn’t weigh that much, so I can easily carry him the short remaining distance to my car.
I take an old blanket from the boot of my car and spread it across the front passenger seat, place the child, who now appears to be unconscious, on the seat and fasten the seat belt, more to hold him partially upright than for any protection.
Thankfully Hawk is home when I get there. “I need your help, bud.”
He follows me out to my car and stares when I open the door. “What the hell?”
“He was huddled up in a doorway next to the bookshop. I just couldn’t leave him there, he’d have frozen as cold as it is. Help me get him in.”
Hawk is a few inches shorter than I, but quite muscular. He lifts the child with ease. I close the car door and walk ahead to open the front door of our home. As I close it behind Hawk, he says, “Bathroom,” and continues up the stairs.
Laying the semiconscious child on a towel he has me spread on the bed in the smaller bedroom, he strips the filthy clothing from him. The child is pitifully thin and unbelievably filthy. “Run lukewarm water in the tub,” he tells me. “He’s so cold we’ll have to raise his bodily temperature slowly. I … oh, shit!”
“What?” I ask.
“Look.” Hawk points to the child’s left arm, which ends just below the elbow. “It’s a congenital abnormality. I ran into only one of these when I was doing my research. Let’s get him in the tub.”
Hawk lowers the child into the tepid water, then turns the hot tap back on to a small trickle. “What about a glass of wine?” He asks me. “We’ll have to stay with him until he’s fully conscious. You can help me bathe him.”
As he slowly regained consciousness in the warm water, his expression became one of intense fear. Hawk and I talk softly and reassuringly to him. The tension is broken when he sees Hawk’s handless arm. “You’re like me!” He exclaims.
I take his clothes to the washing machine and put in plenty of detergent, while Hawk wraps the child in a large beach towel and brings him down to the kitchen. Within a couple of hours after I found him, we have a clean cute little boy sitting at our kitchen table scoffing down a bowl of chicken soup with rice, two pieces of toast with butter and strawberry jam, and a mug of hot chocolate. “Thanks, mister. That was real good.”
“I’m glad. You can have more to eat tomorrow. I know you’d like more, but I don’t want to make you sick.” I glance at my watch. “I think it’s bedtime anyway.”
I get him tucked in bed, pull the covers up, and kiss him on the forehead. “Nighty night. Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” I recite from my memory of mother’s bedtime ritual. Colin, for that is what he told us his name is, is asleep before I finish whispering to him.
Hawk hands me another glass of wine when I join him in our study. “Well?”
“Well?” I reply.
“Is this someday?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know we’ve talked some about trying to adopt a child someday. So, is this someday?”
“Yeah, I think it is. If any kid needed your guidance, this one does because he relates to your missing hand so strongly. Anyway, he’s a cute little guy and a good age. I can get him in the education department’s training school with no trouble.”
“That would be great; I lectured to them on children with physical challenges not long ago. Colin would give them a full-time example on how to cope. Good thinking, bud.”
“Assuming we can get custody.”
Hawk grins. “Forget that we have inside influence? I’ll talk to Paul tomorrow. He seems to have quite a bit of influence at CPS.”
With Paul’s help and because there’s nowhere for childrens services to place Colln without someone taking him over a hundred miles to a childrens’ home, Hawk and I have temporary custody of Colin by the next evening. As I’m discussing the school he will be attending with him, the full story slowly comes out.
Colin Andrew Whitworth, eight years of age, ran away to escape his father’s drunken rages and threats to kill him. His mother had left with another man and his father had recently lost his job because of his constant intake of alcohol, even while on the job. Colin had been on the street for about three weeks when I found him.
By the time the rest of the week and weekend have passed, Colin appears to have made himself completely at home, bonding with Hawk more so than me. However, he’s begun to refer to us as dad if only one of us is with him, or dads if we’re together.
Even though he’s only eight, his room is always neat, things put away promptly when he’s through with them. When Hawk asks, he says merely that he’s never had nice things before and wants to keep them that way. It makes us even more proud of him.
Much as both of us hate to shop, it was fun having an excited little boy in tow when we took him shopping for basic clothing. Hawk and I both know darn well that his mom and mine will spoil Colin to death. But all the while we’re picking out things for him, he never begs or whines, but chooses carefully when we let him make a decision, then gives us hugs and kisses when we’re back home. Hawk recognized immediately that he’s starved for affection.
I‘d had a bad day at school. The moment I opened the front door Colin wrapped his arms around my legs, almost tripping me. My temper pops. “For heaven’s sake, Colin, can’t I even get in and have a moment’s peace!” I snap. Instantly I’m released and Colin runs to his room in tears. I can hear him sobbing through the closed door. Instantly filled with self-recrimination and on the verge of tears myself, I tapped at his door. “May I come in?”
I finally hear through sniffles, “I guess.”
Colin is lying on his bed curled into the foetal position, his body shaking with each sob. Now my tears are flowing as well, my heart breaking, knowing my thoughtlessness is the cause of his misery. I sit on the edge of his bed and gather him up in my arms. He raises his head and looks into my eyes. “I was just happy you were home, Dad, and I wanted to show you my good grades. I didn’t mean to make you mad. Please don’t send me away. I try to be a good boy.”
“I’m so sorry, Colin, honey. I didn’t mean to yell at you. You didn’t do anything wrong, I was just mad because one of my students wasn’t prepared and wasted time I could have spent with a serious student.”
I hug him closer. “You are a very good boy, Colin, and Hawk and I love you very much. This is your home and we want you to be happy here. Besides, you haven’t met your grandmothers and grandad yet. They’re going to love you to death.”
I have his interest now. “I have a grandma and a grandad?”
“That you do. Two grandmothers and one grandad.”
“How come I only got one granddad?”
“Because my dad didn’t like my mother and me, so he left home. Your grandad is Granpa Svenson.”
He gives me a tiny smile. “I never had a grandma and a grandpa before, I hope they like me.”
I hug him again. “They will. Go wash your face and let’s go fix dinner. I’m getting hungry.”
“Me, too.” He hugs me; I kiss his forehead before getting up from the bed.
Friday evening I call mom and invite the three of us to dinner on Sunday, telling her to ask the Svensons also. Impossible I know, but I can hear her smile through the phone.
Colin gets a bit antsy during the drive over to mom’s. “What’s your problem?” Hawk asks.
“I’m scared my grandmas won’t like me,” he replies with a quavering voice.
“They’ll love our sweet boy,” Hawk replies. “You wait and see.”
“Oh, you adorable little man!” Mom screams when I introduce Colin as her grandson. She hugs him tightly, kissing him over and over. “I’ve always wanted a grandson just like you.”
Colin has just relaxed when the Svensons come in. Mom is as bad as mom. Dr. Svenson beams as he shakes Colin’s hand, then wraps his arm around Colin’s shoulders. “By damn, boy, when it’s warmer I’m going to take you out in my boat and teach you to water ski, if you’d like that. Maybe get in some fishing, too. Haakon always liked that.”
Starting from my first organ lessons as a student of Tim’s, I became a student member of the American Guild of Organists. I progressed to full membership under Rob, then passed the exam and became a Fellow as part of my doctorial work. I hated going to meetings alone, so because he loves music, I talked Hawk into joining our group as an associate member. Despite several of the members being academics, myself included, our chapter is very laid back and enjoy the music and fellowship, not to mention many of the luncheons that precede our meetings. Of necessity, we often take Colin with us to meetings where, because of his engaging personality, he quickly becomes a ‘pet’.
Our meetings generally rotate among the members’ churches, the campus, and other public venues, but if a member has an organ in his home and is willing we meet there as well.
With the advances in electronics, I had become increasingly dissatisfied with my aging Makin, longing for more ‘realistic’ pipe sound. A visit to the dealer who originally sold mom the Makin, and after considerable discussion with Hawk, because while Hawk and I have a joint bank account for domestic purposes, we also maintain separate ‘slush-funds’ for ‘play money’, I decide to blow a goodly portion of my rebuilt savings on a new 3-manual Johannus American Classic with selective voicing. This will allow me to play a wider range of literature with more authentic quality of sound. The speaker system array is installed in a utility closet with openings cut into the wall behind the bookcases. That diffuses the sound and eliminates whatever ‘electronic’ sound it may have giving it full pipe organ quality.
It’s such a thrill for me to play this new instrument that for a few days I begrudge the time I have to spend at school. Word spreads among our colleagues, so I’m not surprised when I’m asked by the chapter dean to host the next meeting at our home. Seeing Hawk’s nod of approval, I agree. Love him, for in his own way he is as proud as I. Not to worry about Colin, for he will be happy to help prepare, and actually does a decent job, as well as oversee the refreshment table. Oversee meaning his fingers will sneak a finger sandwich from time to time.
In the privacy of our home I enjoy playing flashy, some would say trashy, music. I know it’s not always in the best of taste, but some of it requires good skills and is pure fun to rip off at top speed. I also like some of the wild new improvisations on hymn tunes. With some of the recent Guild programs having been so academically slanted that even I was bored, I try to teach my students several pieces that I know will have great audience appeal, feeling the academic approach is what has led to the deep decline in attendance at organ programs. Unless it’s for church or when I’m teaching, I play strictly for fun and relaxation.
Despite one or two wrinkled noses when I begin my performance, our members soon relax and begin to enjoy themselves. Frequent visits to the wine on the sideboard certainly helps. When I invite others to play, I’m surprised at what, now that they’re relaxed, they choose to treat us to. From the looks of the table after a very cheerful group of organists depart, they not only enjoyed the hors d‘oeuvres, but especially the wine. Fourteen people, two others having chosen ginger ale instead, have consumed over eight bottles of white zinfandel. Colin is dancing lightly around - why do I have a feeling he’s sampled the wine when neither Hawk nor I were looking - and pigging out on the few leftover goodies. Oh, well, I won’t have to fix much supper for him.
I’m washing up the few things I didn’t put in the dishwasher when I hear a faint scratching and mewling sounds at the backdoor. “Colin? What’s Fat Cat doing outside?” I yell.
“He’s in the den,” Collin replies coming up beside me. Fat Cat is a twenty-five pound Maine Coon cat we took in as a favor to one of my colleagues. They are quiet, very low maintenance if given an occasional brushing, and great with kids. I know Colin initially wanted a dog, but he was soon enamoured of the animal, naming him Fat Cat because of his size. Hawk and I get a good deal of pleasure watching them play together. Fat Cat loves to catch Colin bending over, for when he does he pounces on Colin’s back knocking him to the floor. They roll over several times in play before getting back on their feet.
We hear the sound again, fainter this time. I stop Colin from opening the door, switch on the lights, and open the door to look through the glass storm door. At first I don’t see anything, then look down. There’s a child lying on the icy stoop.
I bend and scoop him up, kicking the door shut. He has on a hoodie pulled tightly around his face. Hawk hears the door slam and comes running, stopping abruptly. “Not another one,” he says.
“I’m afraid so. Help me get him in the tub, he’s out of it.” Colin follows us upstairs. I strip the thin clothing the boy is wearing from him and take him in the bath. Hawk has enough luke-warm water to cover him. I’m filled with a sense of déjà vu. Watching to keep the boy from slipping, then, with Hawk’s help, I gently wash him good and clean.
“What were you doing on our deck,” I ask once the child is completely coherent.
“One of the boys told me Colin lived somewhere around here. I wanted to see him, ‘cause he was so good to me. I heard the beautiful music so I sat on your porch to hear more, but I got cold and sleepy.”
On hearing his name, Colin looks closely. “Oh, my God! It’s Kenny. Help him daddy. Please. Please.”
“You know we will, son. Why
don’t you and Hawk go fix some soup for him, maybe a sandwich, too.”
Colin brightens up. “Yeah. I know he likes chicken. We got any?”
“There’s some sliced chicken breasts from the deli in the fridge. We’ll use that,” Hawk replies.
“Where’s your home, Kenny?” I ask as I dry him off and hand him one of Colin’s sweat suits.
I see tears begin to trickle. “I don’t got one. When my momma and poppa got killed, I got sent to a home. It was awful. I got hit, beat, and cussed at all the time. That’s how come I ran away. Please don’t send me back. I want to stay with Colin. He’s real nice. He helped me.”
“Why’d you hide from me, Kenny? I was trying to help.” Colin asks.
“Cause one of them older guys was from the home. I knew he’d tell where we was so he could get some money. Them people paid when someone told ‘em where us that run away was hiding.”
I hug him close. “We’ll try our best to keep you here with Colin.” I take his hand. “Let’s go get you something to eat.”
Once Kenny has scoffed down his sandwich and begun slurping his soup, I look at Hawk. “Someday?”
For a moment he looks puzzled, then it dawns. “You think Colin will let it be otherwise?”
I look at the boys, Colin seated as close to Kenny as possible, his arm around Kenny’s shoulders. All I can do is shake my head in resignation. “I hope this isn’t going to turn into ‘Cheaper by the Dozen,’ we can’t afford it.”
Hawk grins and sings sarcastically, “One for you and one for me …” I slug him on the arm.
It’s back to the law school for me on Monday morning. The Dean looks up when I enter his office, drops his head into his hands and moans, “Not again!”
I smile. “But of course, sir. I’m sure you have a new class of wannabes that need some practical experience. However, this one does involve childrens’ services.”
He groans again, teasing, then raising his head, grins at me, picks up the phone, and a few moments later the same grad student that helped us before trots into his office. “You wanted me, sir?” The Dean nods and jerks his head in my direction.
The guy’s eyes widen. “Say it ain’t so.”
“Yep, and a better experience for you, because this one involves CPS and I know how you love them.”
“Oh, shit,” he mumbles, then looks at the Dean and apologizes for his language. That done, he has me follow him to his cubbyhole, then digs out a thick folder.
Again I fill out a number of forms from what little I know. “It’s gonna cost you, you know,” he says, “because we’ve gotta hire someone who has or can get access to the information we need, particularly that from childrens’ services.”
“First of all, there’s no need. Remember my partner Paul? He can get access to that information. So try not to bankrupt me,” I fire back.
“I ain’t a real shyster yet. Wait’ll I finish this last semester, then pass the bar exam.”
“Which bar? The Keg and Still? I’m sure most students can pass a drinking exam.”
He laughs and says, “Yeah,” then his expression turns serious. “You know I’ll do my best. I may even want to do what you’re doing someday. I think it’s great, giving a poor kid a chance at a decent life. If we’re lucky, one of them may turn out to be somebody really significant.”
We trade a few more friendly barbs before I return to my office.
It takes a week or so to accumulate the necessary documentation needed for the court. During that time, Kenny has bonded with me and settled as comfortably as Colin. While their physical challenges created the bond between Colin and Hawk, music builds the bond between Kenny and me. I’m amazed that a seven year-old will sit quietly for hours just watching me practice. Seeing his interest is real,
I pull him up on the bench beside me. To my amazement, he hits each note of the scale with a finger and correctly names it, then plays a simple child’s piano piece. I’m in heaven! I just might have a near prodigy on my hands.
Our day in court arrives. Fortunately Kenny doesn’t realize fully the possible effects the events of this day will have on his future life. Rob and Paul are with us, of course. By greatest good luck the judge is one Paul knows very well, having appeared in his court many times representing childrens’ services, also as a private consultant.
The judge enters after the bailiff’s customary call to order. When he’s seated and our case is called, he looks over at Paul. “It’s a pleasure as always to have you in my court, Doctor Adams, but aren’t you at the wrong table? CPS is the defendant, not the plaintiffs.”
Paul stands. “No, Your Honour. I happen to be one of the plaintiffs in this petition.”
“I see.” The judge smiles, then turns to the other table where a sour faced woman is seated. Kenny looks and whispers to me, “She’s the one who beats me.”
While she’s introducing herself to the judge, I whisper to Paul. I see him grimace with anger. “She’s fairly new to our office, but I’ll see that bitch fired,” he whispers back.
“Very well,” the judge says, “let’s proceed. Doctor Adams?”
Paul explains how Kenny was brought into our household, his adoration of Colin, rapid bonding with me through music, and lays out our hopes for adoption and Kenny’s future. When it’s the woman’s turn to speak, she becomes abusive, questioning our character, our home life, even going to far as to ask what idiot judge gave us custody of Colin. That brings her a stern warning from the judge. I’m surprised he didn’t hold her in contempt, but she finishes by screaming, “Those queers ain’t fit to raise any child!”
For the moment, we all sit stunned, even His Honour. Before any of us can react, Kenny picks up a small wooden puzzle he’s been amusing himself with and throws it at the woman as hard as he can. He misses, but I see the judge glaring at me, for Kenny has been sitting beside me, my arm around him.
I’m on my feet quickly. “My abject apologies, Your Honour. If you will forgive me a further moment of disruption …” I snatch Kenny up in my arms and whisper fiercely in his ear. When he screams, “No!” I sit down, turn him across my knees and give his little behind three good swats to gain his attention. Then I pull him back up on my lap and caress him as he cries briefly. I look at the judge and apologize once again.
The woman from CPS is on her feet again, screaming, “See, Your Honour, see? I told you them queers only wanted children to abuse them.”
The judge has had enough. He bangs his gavel hard enough to break it and says, “Sit down and shut up. I’ve had quite enough of your homophobic ranting. I’m holding you in contempt. Fifty dollars and fifty more for calling me an idiot. Pay the clerk once this court is dismissed.” He turns to me. “Your apology is accepted, Doctor Wood, and it has confirmed my thoughts. What you did was not abuse, but just enough to gain the attention of an out of control child. Then you immediately gave him the love he apparently needs so desperately. Doctor Adams, I may assume that there will be some immediate changes in your department?”
“Quite expeditiously, Your Honour.”
“Very well. The adoption of Kenny Brandon, now Kenneth Brandon Wood, by Doctor Aleric Wood is final.” He bangs his gavel.
As the bailiff is asking us to stand, Kenny asks, “Can I go back home with Colin?”
I nod. “Yes, darling, the judge made me your daddy.”
Kenny lets out a yell and launches himself towards the judge, grabbing his robe. When the judge looks down, Kenny hugs his neck and kisses him, saying, “Thank you, thank you.”
Looking pleased, the judge kisses Kenny on the cheek and tells him to go enjoy his new home and family.
As time passes, it appears that we have, indeed, taken in a prodigy. It is a battle to get him to stop practicing piano and enjoy the out of doors during this beautiful weather. Occasionally he will run the soccer ball with Colin against Hawk if we’re cooking out, so Hawk and I try to do more things with both boys. During the school year, Kenny and I always attend Colin’s soccer games, and Colin and Hawk accompany Kenny and me to organ programs, where Kenny loses himself in the music.
Kenney’s progress is so rapid that after six months of piano. I let him try the organ, his feet barely reaching the pedal board, even with the bench cranked all the way down. Though he almost slides off the bench when reaching for the lower pedal keys, he rapidly develops a pedal technique even I envy. His memory for scores is also astounding, as I find at one of our guild meetings. An older member asks if anyone happens to have the music for David German’s Festival Trumpet Tune. Some discussion follows with several saying they have played it, but don’t have the score. Before I can stop him, Kenny slips up to the console of the Austin organ in the church where we’re meeting and tears into the piece from memory. I wasn’t even aware that he had learned it.
The applause is genuine. The member who asked the original question almost smothers Kenny in her ample bosom as she hugs him. “Yes,” she cries, “that’s what I was looking for.” She hugs Kenny again and asks if he has the music. He nods and promises her a copy by the next meeting. Oh, yes, Kenny is promptly made a full member of our chapter despite his young age.
Five years slip by almost unnoticed, save for the boys’ growth and the easing of our jobs. Hawk dropped his position at CPS, having been promoted to a full professorship. With both of us having tenure, we teach fewer classes and do more research. Hawk’s book on the psychology of dealing with young people with physical challenges is a good seller much to our amusement, for the entire 350 pages of content can be summed up in one brief sentence; ‘Treat them as you would treat any fully abled child.’
My own publishing effort is concentrated on virtually unknown French composer Joseph Bonnet. His music is not in vogue, but I enjoy playing it, as does Kenny, and feel it should get a wider hearing. Great music? Hardly, but it is always a crowd pleaser.
The boys have their own accomplishments. Colin makes the district all-star team and maintains a straight A grade average. Kenny doesn’t do quite so well, a few B’s here and there, but at age twelve he gives his first public program at the university’s music hall to wide acclaim.
We’re a close, loving family and, should you ask, yes, it has all been worth it, even through the few lean years we had at first.