Requited Love
By: Jess Mercer
(© 2010 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

 

Unintentionally I lead a tightly scheduled three-part life: one part businessman; one part student, I'm a rising senior at the local university; and now one part teacher. The latter comes thanks to my professor in Small Business Management deciding I should teach a few classes in the subject because I'm the Deputy CEO and, more or less, manager of the family firm. Given dad's off-beat sense of humor, like calling our products widgets, I got tagged with Tyke for a name. Only after I was in high school did I get people to start calling me Ty.

If you've never worked in a family firm with a detail freak boss, you don't what you've missed, or should I say be thankful for what you've missed. From the time I entered my junior year in high school my dad made me spend every free minute at the business learning it from the ground up, hanging over my shoulder most of the time and asking me what I'd learned. What with all the time I've spent working I have no real friends my age other than a few of the younger people at the firm.

I've not been particularly adverse to this since I've been playing with computers since I was four. Naturally I'm majoring in computer science with a minor in business. My dad was one of the pioneers in computer hardware accessories which he laughingly calls widgets. The latest of his creations is a small modem unit which dramatically speeds up transmission of data for those who have only a standard telephone line for connection. In addition, it allows two sets of data to be sent simultaneously to different recipients. It's begun to take off in the market and we're the only source.

When dad put me in charge of advertising and sales for Speedy as he calls the modem, I ignored the standard advertising, except for a couple of smaller computer magazines, and built a super web page which allows interested people to try it out in a side by side comparison by connecting with the computer I set up. On connecting, they receive several illustrated interactive pages of advertising of Speedy and other widgets we manufacture. I caught hell from him a couple of times for my unorthodox method, but when orders began to roll in, he grudgingly conceded I was right after all. Dad never admits he's wrong, but when I'm proved right about something, he promotes me with a corresponding increase in salary, so thanks to the success of Speedy I've been promoted to Deputy CEO of Widgets, Inc. because dad wants more time to tinker around in his lab.

To declare my independence I've found a house of my own not too far from campus or the office. Finally having my new home in order, I invite four people from the firm I know and like to drop by for a beer. I'm working at my desk when the phone rings. It's Ryan, one of our computer engineers, saying his younger brother has suddenly arrived to live with him and asking if he can bring him along this evening, for if not, he won't be able to come. Ryan is the only one I'd consider a real friend, so I tell him okay.

Curious, I think as I hang up. Surely his parents haven't dumped a kid too young to stay home alone on him. I know all is not sweetness and light between Ryan and his parents, because he seldom says anything other than he's happy to be away from home. I know too that it's probably hard on Ryan because living expenses are high in this area and he hasn't been with the firm long enough to make more than others in similar beginning positions. I turn back to my work so I can leave an hour early to get ready for the party.

I check to see everything is ready: beer, chips, nuts, crackers and cheeses, and start to sit down for a moment when the bell rings. I glance at my watch to see it's time. Rich, Bill, and Tony make a beeline for the beer and munchies, nothing formal about this bunch which is why I like them. They immediately turn to talking shop since they know it's all in the family, so to speak. It's also profitable at times, sparking new ideas to be explored. I've urged the old man to have sessions like this fairly often so the guys can exchange ideas, but he's resisted, so without his knowledge I throw these get-togethers occasionally.

The second tins of beer are being opened when the bell rings again. Ryan grins and nods toward the man beside him. "Sorry we're late but numb nuts here was slow. This is Rob, my brother." He's even better looking than Ryan who knows I'm gay.

Ryan and I were drinking one night and I had one too many, loosening my inhibitions enough that I made a pass at him. He let me know in a kind way that he's straight. My gaffe never seemed to bother him because we've remained good friends none the less, and Ryan has remained my dream man until now. Rob is slender, tall, and incredibly good looking with his dark hair and turquoise eyes. Instinctively I hold out my hand, surprised to feel cold metal in my grasp. I look down to see I'm holding a hook. I smile and shake it.

"Welcome, Rob. Come on in and meet the others. Nothing formal about this bunch."

He doesn't smile, nor speak, only nods. Ryan winks at me and pushes Rob into the room. After exchanging greetings with the others, Ryan loads a plastic party plate with munchies and hands it to Rob. When he pops the tab on a beer and hands it to Rob, I'm really shocked to see Rob extend another hook. Once he has a firm grasp on the tin, he finds a chair on the far side of the room and sits down while Ryan joins the others.

Trying to be courteous, I sit down near Rob and try to initiate a conversation only to be answered in monosyllables. I give up and join the others, but I can't keep my eyes off Rob. After an hour or so, the guys begin to talk about going out together for pizza. This group never drinks to excess, which is another reason I like them. There's a general agreement except for Ryan who shakes his head.

"Sorry, guys, I gotta get Rob home. We'll eat there."

I see Rob start to stand, but Ryan motions for him to remain seated. Once the others are gone, Ryan starts to help me clear the table.

"No need for that," I tell him, but he's already at the kitchen door. I pick up as much as I can carry and join him.

"Ty, I need to talk to you tomorrow sometime."

"No problem. I'll give you a buzz as soon as I've gotten the mail out of the way. If you want, we can have lunch together."

He shakes his head. "Can't make it. I have to go home to fix lunch for Rob."

"Whatever."

For one of the few times in our friendship, he touches me, squeezing my shoulder. "Thanks, buddy."

It's nine-thirty before I have all the mail and early morning details completed, then I ring Ryan's extension telling him I'm free. Fortunately, the old man is in his lab tinkering with one of his brainstorms so we'll not be interrupted by one of his sudden unannounced visits to my office.

Instead of staying behind my desk, I motion Ryan to one of the comfortable chairs on the other side of my office and sit down next to him. "What's the trouble?" I ask. He looks distressed.

"Everything. You know I don't have the best of relations with my folks, so what I make here is it. With Rob on my hands, I'm not sure I can make it."

"You're good, Ryan. If it's a matter of money I'll see if I can squeeze a little extra for you, but you know the old man rides pretty close herd on the finances."

He shakes his head. "It's going to take more than a little."

""Kay, tell me. I can maybe swing a personal loan."

"Ty, you're a good friend and I don't have anyone else to turn to." He looks me straight in the eyes. "I'm glad you're gay, because it'll help you unders tand."

He's got all my attention now.

"Rob's finished his second year of school, and I'm trying to get him to enroll at the U. The reason he's here is the folks found out he's gay and kicked him out. He had nowhere else to go. He's sensitive as hell about his hooks, and ... Ah, shit, I'm making a mess of this."

"Take your time, buddy. There's no hurry." I get up and pour cups of coffee for us both, then sit down again.

"Rob lost his hands last summer in a construction accident. He's been depressed ever since and makes little use of his hooks. He feels he's useless and hasn't made much attempt at trying to take care of himself. I mean I have to cut his food for him, bathe him; hell, I even have to hold him when he takes a leak, and wipe his butt. He cries each time and it tears me up. I love him, Ty, and I don't mind doing what I can for him, but I can't leave him home alone when there's so little he can or will do to help himself. He refuses to go out in public. It was a pitched battle to get him to come with me last night. He told me he'd kill himself if I got someone to stay with him while I'm working, and he refuses to consider going back to school. It's getting too much for me." He drops his face in his hands and begins to sob.

I hitch my chair next to his and put my arm around his shoulders. After a few moments, he raises his tear stained face to mine. "What am I going to do, Ty?"

"Just a minute." I get my lap-top and sit back down next to him, switching it on. It has another of our widgets, a wireless connection to my dedicated ISDN line. I connect and bring up my bookmarks. "Ryan, I understand now why you were so calm when I made that pass at you, and I've been glad you never held it against me, but here's something you don't know about me." The site of amputee pictures comes up almost instantly and I hand him the lap-top.

He looks at pictures of double arm amps I've called up, then at me. "Why do you have pictures like this?"

"You know I'm gay, Ryan, but I'm also a devotee. I've never understood why, but seeing an amputee brings a sexual response. It has from the time I was a kid."

"That's why you couldn't keep your eyes off Rob last night."

"He's such a beautiful guy it was all I could do to keep from telling him so, but I didn't dare."

Ryan finally tries to smile. "You scored with Rob last night when you took his hook in your hand and shook it. He said on the way home he thought you might be someone he wouldn't mind seeing him use his hooks. That's the first time since his accident he's said anything like that."

"What have you got going tonight?"

Ryan shrugs. "Nothing. Why?"

"I need an totally honest answer from you, buddy. I'd love to see a lot more of Rob. That gonna bother you?"

"No. Rob's gay, too. All I ask is that you don't come on to him too strong at first. Let him get to know you."

I have to smile. "'Kay, buddy. I'll try to be as subtle as I was with you, only this time I hope I'm not rejected."

Ryan shakes his head. "Rob's not going to believe this, but if there's a mutual attraction don't be playing around; his emotions are fragile. A false step might send him over the edge, and I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to him."

"Is he shy about being gay when you're around?"

"Not really. He fully realized his attraction for other guys when he was in high school and came to me because he knew he couldn't talk to the folks. I didn't put him down for it, so he's talked fairly freely with me ever since."

"Good. You guys come to my place for dinner. I'll make a salad and order pizza after you get there. I'll try to get Rob talking and see where it goes."

I'm surprised when Ryan suddenly stands and pulls me into a hug. "Thanks, buddy. Just talking to you has helped a lot."

"I hope it leads to even more."

It's a relief to me to get home and change into a pair of old cargo shorts and T-shirt I like to lounge around in, so I'm glad that Ryan and Rob are similarly dressed when they arrive. This time Rob has a tiny smile for me when I shake his hook. We discuss what toppings we want on our pizza and I order a large, then go in the kitchen to make up the salads.

Ryan and Rob stand in the doorway watching, then Ryan chats with me while he sets the table. We sit down after the pizza arrives and I cut it. Ryan puts a piece on Rob's plate, then takes one for himself.

"Did you wash your hooks?" He asks Rob.

Rob shakes his head.

"Get up and do it; I'm not going to feed you."

In a rush of pity, I get up and turn on the water in the sink. When Rob looks at me, I matter of factly lift his hooks and put a drop or two of detergent on them, washing them with my hands, then dry them off with a dish towel.

"Thanks," he mumbles.

Ryan and I have always eaten pizza with our fingers. Rob finally picks his slice up holding it in one hook. When it begins to sag, Ryan says, "Use the other one." Rob does and looks surprised that he can do it. He eats hungrily. He holds his fork awkwardly in the hook as he eats the salad, eyeing me from time to time. I'm happy to see him begin to relax a little.

After we've eaten, Rob and I sit on the sofa, Ryan in another chair to watch a new gay video I bought the other day. While Ryan and I chuckle at some of the antics, I notice Rob is watching the lovers in the movie with an intent look of longing. When it's over they get ready to leave.

"Thanks, Ty," Rob says.

I put my arm around his shoulders. "I'm glad you and Ryan came. Not often I get an evening with the two best looking guys in town."

Rob says nothing else, but looks at me with a raised eyebrow. Ryan winks at me. "Great evening, boss."

"Was for me. Let's do this soon again."

I've barely begun to look at the mail the next morning when there's a tap at my office door and Ryan comes in with a broad smile, shutting the door behind him.

"Sorry to bother you, Ty, but I have to tell you Rob was happier last night than I've seen him since the accident."

"I'm happy for you both. Sit down a minute. Did Rob say anything about me?"

"He thinks you're beautiful, but he's scared to death you might not like him if you saw his stumps."

"You didn't tell him that's part of the attraction?"

"No. He wouldn't believe me, so I'd rather you tell him if you get a chance."

I smile. "You'd better believe I'll make a chance. You guys come over Friday for dinner. The woman that cleans for me cooks heavily so I'll have something for the weekend."

"Wish we could, but I've got a little shopping to do."

"Does Rob go with you?"

"Not often."

"You can shop after we eat and Rob can stay with me. That'll give me a chance to get to know him better."

"You sure?"

"Absolutely." I wink at him. "Call it the first stage of my seduction of Rob."

"You make it sound like I'm pimping for my brother."

I grin. "And a damn good looking pimp you make, too."

Ryan blushes heavily as he gets up. "Friday then."

Friday morning I tell Cara to cook a large roast and make creamed potatoes when she asks what I want. I'll make up a celery casserole I particularly like when I get home.

Rob is smiling when they arrive and doesn't lose the smile when we're eating, even when Ryan cuts his roast for him. Neither does he seem to mind my watching him eat, though he's awkward with his hooks.

He starts to leave with Ryan, but I insist he stay and talk with me. As soon as Ryan is gone, I sit down next to him on the sofa and put my arm around his shoulders.

"Rob, I'm glad you stayed. You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen."

I'm a little surprised when I see tears in his eyes. "How ? how can you say that?" He holds up his hooks. "These are so damned ugly and useless."

I reach over and take them in both hands. "They're not ugly, Rob, any more than any other tool would be. If you learned to use them naturally hardly anyone would notice. Damn it, Rob, I'm falling in love with you."

"You don't care?"

"I'm sorry, of course, but your hooks don't detract from the real you. It's the guy using them I'm in love with."

He throws his arms around me and begins to cry. "I love you too, Ty, but how can you love me? My arms are so ugly."

Instinct tells me this is the time. "Let me show you something, Rob." I grab my lap-top and pull up the pics I showed Ryan. One guy who looks a lot like Ryan has long been my favorite.

Rob stares at it without saying anything. Finally he looks at me. "You like guys like me?"

I put my arm around his shoulders again and squeeze. "When you guys were here the other night for pizza, all I could do when I went to bed was dream of having you in my arms."

His response is a lingering kiss. "I thought nobody would want me."

I stroke his hair. "You don't know how much, babe."

"Ah, Ty?"

"What?"

"I gotta take a leak."

"The bath is the second door on the right."

"I ? I can't."

"Need help?"

His face is crimson. "Yeah."

"No problem."

When he's finished, we go back into the living room where he hugs me in tears. "Do you realize how humiliating it is to have to ask for help doing something that personal?"

I pat him on the back and pull away from his embrace. "You need to go to rehab and learn to do these things for yourself."

"I couldn't at home; all the rehab people were female."

"That isn't the case here. Let Ryan get you started with them."

He shudders. "A stranger touching me? I'd rather die."

I smile. "I'm not a stranger?"

"Not any longer. You seem to understand, besides you're gay and it felt good when you were holding me."

"My pleasure, but go to rehab and get your independence and confidence back. It'll turn your life around."

"I'm afraid, Ty."

"Don't be. You'll have a hard time at first, but I know you're the type of guy who'll succeed and make me proud, Ryan, too."

He looks into my eyes. "Will you be here for me when I need it?"

"You know I will." I kiss him and get one in return. "Rob, will you do something for me?"

"Anything."

"Take your hooks off and let me see your beautiful stumps."

From his expression, I'm suddenly afraid I've rushed things, but he slowly says, "You'll have to help me."

I slip his sweatshirt off and watch him struggle out of the harness. Then he holds out his handless arms to me. I roll down his stump socks. Each hand has been removed just above his wrists. The ends of his stumps are neatly rounded and lovely to look at. I take them in my hands and kiss each of them on the end before rubbing each gently.

"That feels so good, Ty," he murmurs.

"Stumps as lovely as these should always feel good, babe. You're so beautiful."

"Oh, Ty." He wraps his stumps around me and we settle in for some heavy cuddling until Ryan comes back.

I let him in with a smile. "Do you always interrupt guys in the middle of a kiss?"

He looks surprised to see Rob without his hooks then smiles. "Time for us to be getting home, Rob. I think you'd better put on your hooks and shirt."

"Naa, I'm leaving them off. Carry 'em for me."

Ryan smiles at the hug and long kiss Rob and I exchange at the door.

I'm awakened far earlier than I like on a Saturday morning by the phone. "Ty," a voice whispers, "Ryan is still asleep, but I had to call you to tell you I love you. I thought about what you said and I want to learn to take care of myself. I'm going to ask Ryan to make an appointment at rehab for me."

"I'm glad. There's a good place in town one of the men at the firm used; he recommends it highly. Want me to make an appointment for you?"

"Yes."

"I'll call you later with the time. I love you, babe."

The rehab center asks me about insurance coverage. I tell them I'll get back to them before Rob sees them, and make a note to check on employees' benefits first thing Monday.

After ascertaining that Rob can be classified as totally dependent on Ryan, I add him to Ryan's insurance plan. The cost is minimal, but knowing Ryan is already having a tough time I slip the additional premium into my office expenses with the help of our bookkeeper who approves of what I'm doing. I've just finished the paperwork when Ryan comes to my office.

"What's going on, Ty?"

"What do you mean?"

"Rob's suddenly decided to enter rehab and says you set it up."

"So?"

"I can't spring for that, and you know it."

"It's covered by your insurance, so it won't cost you anything. Don't you want Rob to succeed?"

"Damn, Ty, I don't believe it."

"Believe it, buddy. It's a done deal. He's entered as your dependent. If you need time to take Rob to the center and pick him up, I'll arrange it."

He grabs me in a hug. "They don't come any better than you, Ty. This is an answer to my prayers."

"I've fallen in love with Rob and I want him to become self-sufficient and go back to finish his education. If he chooses a field we can use, he's got a job here."

He looks at me with a smile. "Damn, man, you almost make me sorry I couldn't go along when you made that pass at me."

I have to laugh. "Me converting a straight guy into a gay? Now that would be a first."

Ryan smiles. "Won't happen, but I'll never have a better friend than you. Rob's damn lucky; he loves you, but he still can't believe you're so attracted to an amp."

"Then I'll just have to work harder at convincing him. You guys open to dinner some night this week?"

"Let me know."

"Will do. Now back to work, man."

He tosses me salute. "Yes, sir, boss."

The old man decides he wants an internal audit, so I'm bogged down to the point I don't have time to socialize, though Rob and I chat on the phone most every evening. The one time I see Ryan and mention that I haven't seen him taking time off to pick up Rob at the center he tells me Rob enrolled in the intensive course which lasts all day every day. He doesn't get to tell me how Rob's doing, because my dad starts yelling for me just then.

The following Monday dad barges into my office and tosses the audit summary on my desk with a "Glad to see you haven't screwed up yet." He starts to leave, then turns back. "Those four kids in engineering have come up with a couple of interesting ideas they said they thought up at your place. What's going on?"

"I invited them over for a beer and talk like I've tried to get you to do."

"Hummph!" He snorts. "If this pays off like I think it will, do it again."

"I will."

"And don't bother me in my lab, I'll be working on them."

A few minutes later my phone rings. It's Ryan asking me to dinner at his place Friday night. I agree instantly, having missed Rob terribly.

I finally find their flat in a less than desirable part of town. Rob, wearing only shorts and T-shirt with his hardware totally visible, greets me with open arms and a long kiss. "I've missed you, but I've been awfully busy," he says with a smile.

"I've missed you, too. How are things going?"

He winks. "You'll see. Sit down, Ryan'll bring you a glass of wine if you like."

"Thanks."

Rob goes back into the kitchen and Ryan comes out with a couple of glasses of rosť wine, handing me one before sitting down. "Sorry to ask you here, but Rob couldn't wait. We're moving next weekend."

"Oh?"

Ryan smiles broadly. "The insurance settlement from his accident finally came through. We've found a decent apartment over on Park Place."

"I'm really glad to hear that. I'll be happy to help you move if you want."

"Thanks, but we don't have much beyond personal stuff. We rented this furnished." He grins. "Wouldn't want you to think my taste is this bad."

He's right. Though everything is clean, I've never seen such a mismatched tattered assortment of furniture. The only good things are the TV and stereo equipment, and his computer.

"Come and get it," Rob calls.

It's a simple meal of spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread, but delicious. The sauce was clearly made from scratch. "This is the best spaghetti I've had in years," I tell Ryan.

"I didn't have a damn thing to do with it; it's all Rob's."

"What!" I exclaim and look at Rob seeing his big grin.

"Yeah. I'm still awful slow at chopping the veggies, but I've learned a lot."

"How?"

"By sweat. Those people at rehab don't let up a minute. I mean they take ten minutes to show you how to do something, then they make you practice doing it for an hour. Every morning when I go in, they make me show them I can do what they taught me the day before, then they start on new stuff."

Ryan smiles at me. "He does nearly everything for himself now. I'm really proud of him. I may be late coming in a day or two next week."

"No problem, but why?"

"I've got to deliver Rob and my car to the center. They'll be teaching him to drive again."

"That's fantastic, Rob. I'm proud of you."

He blushes and starts to eat again. As he said, he's still slow and a little awkward at times, but the improvement is unbelievable.

"Classes start in three weeks, Rob. Have you decided to go back and finish?" I ask.

"I've been thinking about it, but I'm not sure."

"What was your major?"

He shrugs. "I really hadn't declared one, but Ryan's got me interested in what he does."

"That's great. If you're as good as he at coming up with ideas, we could use you at Widgets when you finish."

He looks a little surprised. "There's a chance?"

"Depends on a lot of things like your grades and the kind of ideas you come up with, but, yeah, I think there's a good chance."

"I'd love having you as a boss, Ty, and more."

I wink at him. "I'm not so sure about your liking me as a boss, but I'd sure enjoy the 'more.'"

He reaches out and I take his hook in my hand. "Love you, babe."

"Love you, Ty."

Ryan clears his throat. "You love birds are letting your dinner get cold."

Rob and I smile at each other and go back to our eating.

After dinner, I help Rob with the washing up and talk to him about school, getting a promise he'll enroll if he's accepted. Fortunately he has a copy of his transcript. I know the department chairman fairly well, so I make a mental note to talk with him on Monday.

I have a little trouble with the registrar's office, so I nip over to see the department chairman. After I plead extenuating circumstances and invoke the university's commitment to educating the handicapped, he calls the registrar and gets Rob accepted, not too difficult with Rob's previous 4.0 grade average.

Wednesday afternoon I take Rob to arrange his schedule and give him a short orientation tour. While he doesn't look excited at being a student again, he's not unhappy either, just hesitant. "What's wrong?" I ask.

"I can't write much yet. How'm I gonna take notes?"

"Get a really good micro-cassette recorder and sit near the front of the room."

"But what about exams?"

"Talk to your professors the first time they hold office hours and explain. I've had most of the ones you'll be having and they're great. They'll work out something for you."

He shakes his head. "Do you always have an answer?"

I grin. "Seldom. It's just that I'm used to this place."

Saturday morning I borrow dad's van and go over to help the guys move. There isn't a lot beyond the electronics, and I'm surprised at what Rob can lift with his hooks. I keep expecting them to slip off his stumps at any time, but they don't. It's when we're moving their stuff into their flat on Park Place that I realize it's basically a studio flat and they're about three miles further from campus than before. When we take a break for a beer, I mention it.

"Ryan, I thought you had gotten a place bigger than this. Where's Rob going to sleep?"

"We're getting a hide-a-bed for him."

"What about getting him to the campus?"

"He'll have to go early because I'll be dropping him off on my way to work. After he gets his license renewed, we'll see about getting him a car."

Rob looks disconsolate. "I wish I wasn't such a burden on you, Ryan."

"You're not, Rob, especially now that you can pretty much take care of yourself. I wish we could afford something bigger, but this is it for a while."

"You can have my money."

Ryan shakes his head. "That's for your education and to hold you until you get a job. We'll get by."

Things begin to pick up heavily at the firm and I'm working on lectures for the management class, so I seldom have time to see Rob though we still chat on the phone.

The first day of classes I'm prepared. The class is unusually large so there's no chance I'll get to know any particular student. Professor Wolfgang calls off the roster, then says, "Some of these classes will be taught by my assistant Ty Schroeder, the Deputy-CEO of Widgets, Inc. You'll not find an opportunity to receive practical instruction like this often, so take advantage of it. And, yes, you will be tested on the material he presents." He grins at the groans that arise, then turns to me, "Ty."

I launch into my lecture at full speed to the accompanying sound of notebook pages being flipped. I've never been aware of speaking swiftly until a hand is raised and Wolfgang stops me. "Yes?" He asks.

"Could you speak a little slower, Mr. Schroeder?"

"I'll try, but it's not my habit." I resume teaching until the bell rings.

Wolfgang gets me to one side of the room. "Damn good job, Ty. Just what I was hoping you'd do."

"Sorry if I talk too fast."

He grins. "They might as well get used to it. Business moves fast these days and they have to learn to keep up. Be prepared to continue on Wednesday, then throw 'em a pop quiz on Friday."

I'm not surprised, because I know his methods. "What about me? I can't very well take a quiz I've made up."

He laughs. "Not a chance. You're being graded on the material you present and the way you teach."

"Uh, oh."

When I reach my office the next morning, Ryan gives me a call. "I knew you were sharp, Ty, or do I call you Professor Ty," he says with a chuckle.

"How the hell did you find out?"

"Rob's in your class. He's complaining you go like a bat out of hell."

"He does use a recorder?"

"Yeah, but he's trying to type out his notes on the computer. I offered, but he wants to do it himself."

"He'll learn the material better that way, but give him a hand if he needs it. I've got a lot to cover."

"Right. He's interested in what you're giving them."

Wednesday I look, but the class is so large I can't spot Rob before class begins, and frankly I'm just as glad, he'd permanently distract me while I'm teaching. After class, Wolfgang and I go over the pop quiz I've made up.

He grins as he approves it. "It's a bitch, and I love it. That one essay question will take them a while, but it's enough. You've covered the rest with short answers, which saves a hell of a lot of grading time. I know you've got a tough schedule, so I'll get them run off. I'll grade everything but the essays."

Friday there's a chorus of groans as he hands out the quiz. He and I talk quietly about future lectures at the front of the room until the bell rings. He goes to the rear door to take papers there while I stay at the front. I glimpse Rob as he leaves the room by the rear door.

All weekend I expect a call from Rob, but the phone doesn't ring except once, a damned telemarketing call. Sunday night I call him. Ryan answers and tells me in an agitated tone that Rob is unavailable, then hangs up. I'm wondering what's happened,but decide I must have interrupted something.

I'm barely back in my office from classes Monday, when Ryan comes in and shuts the door. "What the hell are you doing to Rob in class?"

"Nothing. I'm just teaching some for Wolfgang. Why?"

He gives me a disgusted look. "I thought you were a friend to Rob and me, but he's home instead of at school. He was nearly hysterical when he came in Friday."

"What's happened, Ryan? You know I love Rob."

"That damned quiz, that's what. You know he writes slowly. It was okay until he saw the essay, then he fell apart."

"The class has over a hundred, so I didn't even think about Rob's writing since the quiz was short-answer. I told him to talk to his profs about making arrangements for taking essay quizzes. He should have reminded me when it was passed out."

"And make himself conspicuous in class? Like hell!"

I'm crushed at his anger, more so at the thought of Rob's distress. "I'm sure he remembers the question. I've got a micro-cassette machine so tell him to dictate his answer and give it to me when he comes to class Wednesday. I'm really sorry, Ryan. You should know I wouldn't do anything to hurt Rob."

He's calmed down a little. "I hope he'll do it, but he's never been a forgiving sort. He might eventually say he forgives you but he'll hurt for a long time, especially since he was in love with you."

Hearing Ryan say 'since he was in love with you' hurts more than anything. "Can I come by after work and talk to him?"

Ryan shakes his head. "No. He'll just get upset again."

"But, damn it, I've got to do something!"

"Best thing is to leave him alone for a while. He was like this when he lost his hands and when the folks kicked him out."

"Oh, hell, Ryan, how can I, when the guy I love is hurting?"

"Stay away from him, Ty, I mean it." He snaps. "Now go ahead and fire me for insubordination."

"No way! I'm sorry for what's happened, but it's personal and has nothing to do with business. Ryan, if you have any respect for me, try to remember I told Rob about speaking to his professors about alternative methods of being tested. I know he doesn't want any special treatment, but there are times he has to realize he has limitations and accept it."

"I'm sorry, too, Ty. I flew off the handle, mostly because I haven't had much sleep since Friday. I'll keep you posted on Rob, but don't be surprised if he drops the class, or out of school."

"Damn! School's only been in session a week. Convince him to give himself a chance, and tell him to talk to his professors."

He shrugs. "I'll try to get through to him, but it's going to be tough."

My phone rings. "Excuse me, Ryan, but I've got to take this call. Tell Rob I love him."

It's after the call ends that it crashes in on me. I'm so distracted I make several stupid errors, earning me an ass chewing from the old man that hardly registers.

Rob's in class on Wednesday, but studiously ignores me. I see him talking to Wolfgang after. I have the next period open and Wolfgang tells me to drop by his office.

"How do you plan to accommodate Robert North on essay tests and exams?" He asks.

"The easy way will be for him to record his answers and turn in the cassette, unless you have a better idea."

"I prefer an oral in my office but knowing your schedule, the recorded answers will be satisfactory for your tests. I gave him until Friday to turn in his essay on your last one."

"Fine. I expect he'll give it to you, so you can pass it on. He's pissed at me at the moment."

"For what?"

"Forgetting to arrange for him to take his quiz separately."

"You know him?"

"Slightly. His brother works for us."

"Forget it. It's the student's responsibility to make needed arrangements with the teacher."

"Yes, but this is the first time he's been back in school since his accident."

"That doesn't make you responsible. Whether he likes it or not, he has to learn to work out solutions for his problems. Stop taking these things personally."

"Yes, sir."

I manage to get through the next three weeks in a sort of daze, with more ass chewings from dad for my inattention to details. I seldom see Ryan, who has little to say when I do. My only joy, if pain can be joy, comes from hearing Rob's emotionless voice when I play the cassettes containing his answers to quiz questions. He's a top student and, thank God, hasn't let his pique at me affect his learning.

When I can stand it no longer, I slip a cassette in my machine and record a message to him. "Rob, you're a superb student and deserve the top grades you've been getting. Know that I've missed you more than I can say. Please give me another chance. I love you, babe."

I do see him begin to look at me occasionally when I lecture, but with no other response over the next few weeks, I regretfully write him off in my mind as just another student.

Mable, dad's secretary since the beginning of the firm, interrupts me one afternoon. "Ty, there's a young man waiting to see you."

"Can't it wait? I'm up to my ears in this quarterly report."

"I tried to tell him you're too busy to see him, but he appears very agitated over something." Mable may look stern, but underneath she's a pushover for troubled people.

"Oh, well, I guess I could use a break. Send him in."

Rob comes in, tears in his eyes as he shuts the door. "I ? I'm so sorry, Ty. Ryan finally made me see what happened was all my fault for not talking with you and Professor Wolfgang." He looks at me cautiously. "I wish there was someway we could pick up what we had, but I guess I've blown it. I love you, Ty." His tears are flowing now.

I jump up and hug him. "I never stopped loving you, Rob." I stroke his hair, then kiss him. "Dinner tonight, love?"

"Yeah. Just the two of us. Ryan has a date."

"Great! I'll pick you up about six-thirty."

"I'll pick you up," he says proudly. "I'm driving now."

"I'm proud of you." I kiss him again. "Now get out of here and let me get some work done, or I'll be all night."

With the weight off me, I have the report done in record time and complete a few other things awaiting my attention before leaving the office. Mable comments when I hand her the papers. "I don't know what's been bothering you, Ty, but I'm glad it's apparently over."

"Me, too, Mable. You just don't know how much." I lean over and kiss her cheek. "Thanks for insisting I see that young man this afternoon."

Her face flushes and she pats my cheek. "That's my Tyke."

Rob is driving a three-year old sporty car. He's wearing slacks and a sweater as I am, so I direct him to a nice restaurant I like and marvel at how smoothly he drives. I'm even more delighted at the lack of self-consciousness he displays at dinner. Only once do I have to help him, and he's smiles the whole time.

When we're back at his apartment, he hugs me. "Thanks, Ty. That was great."

"Because we were together, Rob. I'm so proud of you and what you've learned to do with these." I reach down and hold his hooks as I give him a kiss.

Ryan walks in. "Damn it, Ryan, you're always interrupting us," Rob says. "When are you going to give us some privacy."

He grins and puts his arms around our shoulders. "It's good to see you guys back together, but I'm not staying out half the night just so you can have some fun. I have to work, you know."

If there was ever an opportune moment this is it. "Rob, do you love me as much as I love you?"

"You know I do. Why?"

"Move in with me; I've got the room. I'm making no promises, but let's see how it works. That way Ryan can have a life of his own, and we can have ours."

His smile and hug are answer enough, so I'm surprised when Ryan objects. "Naa, boss. You've done too much already."

"Hey, we've just gotten back together. You trying to break us up?"

"No, but I feel cheated."

"Why?"

He grins. "All the work I put in getting this guy to the point he's useful around the house and then you talk him into leaving."

Rob punches him on the chest with a hook. Ryan doubles up in mock agony and gasps, "See the thanks I get?"

After we stop laughing, Ryan looks at Rob. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Rob's all smiles. "You're the one made me go to Ty's that night, and you didn't seem unhappy I fell in love with him, so what's your beef?" He plants a kiss on me.

Ryan pulls Rob out of my arms and hugs him. "I love you, Rob. I ? I just don't want you to feel like I'm doing what dad did."

"I'd never feel that, Ryan." He returns Ryan's hug. "You've been the dad to me he never was. You're more than a brother to me, but you need a life, too."

"You sure, babe?"

"Yeah. I love you, bro, cause you gave me hope and a new start, and never complained about how tough it's been on you. I'm sorry I was so bullheaded about things, but thanks for setting me straight."

"You couldn't have found a better man, Rob. Be good to him."

"You know I will. Come see us."

"You'd damn well better. We'll try not to embarrass you too much, but you know how it is when you're in love." I add.

"Wait 'til I find the right woman, then we'll see who embarrasses who," he replies with a grin.

The End

Posted: 12/31/10