By: Jess Mercer
(Copyright 2007 by the author)
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
consent. Comments are appreciated at...
I look down at my nephew in amazement when he asks if I will take him to the football game this Friday evening. I had no idea he enjoyed any sports other than in-line skating and ice skating, along with water skiing and sailing whenever he gets a chance.
"Why? I didn't know you were a fan of football."
"I'm not, but I have a new friend who plays and he wants me to see him in a game."
I hate football and most other team sports with the possible exception of an occasional hockey game on TV, but I try to spend as much time with Eddie as possible. I inherited the kid two weeks ago for nine months or more while his parents are abroad. Ed has an excellent job with a European based computer firm and since he will be traveling and Eddie refused to attend boarding school, I've taken him in.
None of our family is tall, but I wonder if Eddie will ever start growing. He's sixteen and just a couple of inches over five feet tall. Tiny boned, he's best described as petite, so to find clothing he has to go to the kid's departments which he hates, but he's so cute it's unbelievable. He's never been a talker, but those gray eyes are in constant motion, never missing a thing. In my mind I call him Squirrel Nutkin, from a book I loved as a child. Somehow it seems to fit Eddie. He seldom smiles unless someone says something amusing to him, and says even less. He's so quiet and content to read or play computer games that there are times I even forget he's around.
"Is it a home game?"
"Okay, if you want to. We'll have to eat early, so don't be late for dinner."
His tiny face lights up, which is his way of saying thanks.
When we reach the ball field of the high school he attends and I once attended, I find the game is with our old arch-rival. We're early enough to find excellent seats on the fifty-yard line. Eddie sits in expressionless anticipation until the home team runs out on the field, then he's up and screaming, "Go, Big Mike!"
"Which one is your friend?" I ask.
He points to the team. "Thirteen. Mike says it's his lucky number."
I know the padding and so forth make even small guys look far larger, but when I pick out thirteen I can't believe what I'm seeing - the guy's a giant! I shake my head; this can't possibly be Eddie's hero.
Not knowing the first thing about football, I can't say more than it's a game, but watching thirteen is like watching a bulldozer plowing down the field scattering the opposition like so many toys. At half time, the team comes to the bench not far below us, I can see Mike is double the size of any of the others.
"Way to go, Mike!" Eddie yells at him.
He turns and gives Eddie a thumbs-up. With his helmet off, I can see his face clearly. Definitely not handsome or even attractive with the three pointed set of coal black chin whiskers he's cultivated. Only the smile saves him from being almost sinister looking, not a man I'd want to meet on the street on a dark night.
"That's your friend?"
"Yeah. Mike's cool; he says I'm his good luck guy," he adds proudly.
The band is off the field and the second half about to begin when Mike points to Eddie and yells, "Wait for me," before he runs on field.
"Can we, Tim?" He asks.
"If you want. How old is Mike anyway?"
"Seventeen. He's a senior."
"How did you come to know him?" I'm really curious over the incongruity of a friendship between a huge guy like Mike and one so tiny as Eddie.
"I'll tell you later," Eddie says, his attention riveted on Mike and the play in progress.
To cut to the chase, it wasn't really a game with Mike playing. We send our rivals off the field at the end with a 27/0 score. Not surprising considering Mike's size and skill.
Eddie drags me down to the locker room entrance to wait for Mike. The team is in high spirits and several players push through the door at once. One of them pushes Eddie into me roughly. "Out of the way, runt."
Suddenly he's stiff-armed against the wall, Mike glowering down at him. "What did I tell you about that shit?" He demands.
The boy gulps. "I I didn't mean nothing by it, Mike."
"Do that again and you're dead meat," Mike snarls, then drops his arm, spinning around and pulling Eddie in a hug. "Glad you came li'l buddy. How was it?"
"You're awesome, Mike. This is my Uncle Tim. I'm living with him while my dad's in Europe."
Mike extends an arm bulging with muscles and almost crushes my hand. "Good to meet you, sir."
That's when I notice Mike has no left arm. From the way his short sleeve hangs I'd guess he has perhaps a two-inch nub. "Nice to meet you, Mike. You're quite a team all by yourself."
He grins. "Naa. Just big."
"You are that. Mind saying?"
"Six, eight and two-eighty."
"Can we take Mike for a pizza?" Eddie asks.
"Sure. Okay with you, Mike?"
"Thanks. Eddie said he'd buy me one if we won the game."
I reach over and smack Eddie lightly on the back of the head. "Set me up, didn't you?"
He grins. "Yeah. Let's go."
When Mike drapes that big arm around Eddie's shoulders, I'm almost afraid Eddie will stumble under the weight of it, but he puts his left arm as far around Mike's waist as it will reach, and they walk along happily. Eddie obviously worshiping him.
Mike gets in the front passenger seat of my Jeep after pushing the seat back as far as it will go. I see Eddie start to climb in and sit on his lap. "No way, Eddie. Back seat."
"Aw, Tim "
"No argument, and put on your seat belt." As an emergency room nurse I've seen the results of too many accidents.
When Mike turns and looks at him without saying anything, Eddie complies immediately, saying, "But I wanted to."
"Your uncle is right, buddy. If we was to hit anything I'd flatten you against the dash like a June bug."
"Gino's okay with you, Mike?" I ask.
"Super. I don't get one of theirs often, the other guys like Pizza Hut."
It's late enough that we get a table immediately. I order one for Eddie and me to split, and tell Mike to order what he wants. He orders an extra large with everything and asks for a beer.
"What's your coach going to say?" I ask.
"Nothing, no practice until Monday. The other guys are having a beer bust tonight."
Big as he is, the waitress doesn't question his age. Mike grins at me after the waitress has gone. "You're a good guy, sir, just like Eddie said."
Like the guy in the old seltzer commercial, I can't believe Mike eats the whole thing. His pizza looked big enough to serve three hungry people, while Eddie and I barely finished a medium.
"Oh, man, I needed that," Mike says. "It was great."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it."
When I stop in front of a small house Mike directs me to, Eddie gets out when Mike does to take the front seat. Mike's arm goes around Eddie and lifts him so they look into each other's eyes.
"Tomorrow?" Mike asks.
Eddie smiles. "Yeah." Then he looks over Mike's shoulder at me. "Mike's coming over tomorrow so I can help him with his computer homework. That okay, Tim?"
"Sure. I'll be working the early shift. I'll leave you some money if you want to go out for lunch."
"Cool!" Eddie says.
There is so little light I can't tell for sure, but I'd swear Mike kisses Eddie before he sets him back down and walks toward his house.
Eddie is beaming when he gets in beside me. "Isn't Mike awesome?"
"He certainly is. How did you meet him? I mean it's a little unusual considering he'd more likely be hanging out with his friends from the team."
"He's in my computer class. My old computer has a programmable keyboard I don't like so when I saw he was having trouble with some of the key combinations, I gave it to him and showed him how to set it up so he only has to use one key instead."
"That was nice of you, but why do you really like him so much?"
Eddie looks down at the floor and doesn't answer.
"Eddie, I don't mind you being friends with Mike if he's really your friend, but I would like to know why you like him."
"I I wasn't gonna tell you, but some of the bigger guys started picking on me at school. Mike picked me up like he did just now and told 'em they'd have to go through him first. They've left me alone ever since." He looks at me. "Mike's a really nice guy, Tim; he just looks mean because he's so big. Some of 'em call him names behind his back." He looks back down at the floor again. "You know that time I came home and told you I fell down?"
"One of the guys called Mike King Kong so I hit him and he hit me back."
I put my arm around Eddie. "Why didn't you tell me the truth?"
"I was scared cause I know you don't like fightin'."
"I told you not to start fights, especially with guys bigger than you, but I'm glad you stood up for your friend. I'm surprised you didn't get more than a black eye and some scraped knuckles."
"A teacher broke it up. He blamed the other guy for picking on a little one."
I chuckle. "That's one time being small was an advantage, wasn't it?"
He gives me a little smile. "Yeah. Wish I was big as Mike, though."
"Please, not that big. I'll bet he has a harder time finding clothes to fit than you do."
"He told me he did."
When we're home, Eddie goes to do his homework while I read the paper. On my way to bed I open the door to Eddie's room. "I'll be gone before you get up. I'll leave some money on the kitchen table so you and Mike can get some lunch. Just don't destroy the place, okay?"
"And don't stay up too late."
After the emergency room doctor and I set a simple arm fracture for a kid who fell off his bike, we're washing up when the doctor says, "Was that you I saw at the game last night?"
"My nephew is staying with me for a while. He wanted to go."
"Wasn't much of a game. Thirteen wiped the place up."
"He did that."
"Was that him with you and the kid at Gino's after?"
I grin. "Eddie roped me into that. He told Mike he'd buy him a pizza if we won."
The doctor looks at me, surprise written all over his face. "That little kid is your nephew? How'd he get to know Mike?"
"They have a computer class together. He showed Mike how to program a keyboard so he wouldn't have trouble with the multiple keystroke commands."
The doctor's mouth drops open. "Eddie's in high school?"
"He's sixteen, though he doesn't look it."
"Damn, I'd have never believed it. Cute little kid; nice of him to help Mike out. Shame about his arm."
"You know him?"
The doctor shakes his head. "His mother works for my lawyer and he has nothing but praise for her. He told me Mike was just ten when they took his arm, and his father walked out on them soon after. They had a hard time for a while because his mother went back to school part-time to become a para-legal. I don't know her, but if that kid is as smart and determined to succeed as her, he'll be okay."
"Thanks for telling me. Mike and Eddie are doing their homework together this morning. Eddie seems to like him a lot."
"Don't let his size put you off. I've seen a few big as him and they were some of the most gentle men I've ever seen."
"Eddie was getting picked on because he's so small and Mike apparently ended it."
"That's what I mean. I hope the rest of the day is this quiet. Let's go grab some lunch."
My shift ends at three and I'm glad to get home to relax with a drink before I start fixing dinner. There's an old Chevy in my driveway. Wondering, I pull in behind it and enter quietly to see Eddie sitting on Mike's lap, Mike's arm around him. Mike breaks their kiss and looks up, his face turning red. "Uh, oh."
Eddie looks at me with a tiny smile.
Mike starts to push Eddie off his lap, but I shake my head and sit down to recover from my surprise. "Sorry I surprised you," I say.
"We ah ," Mike stammers.
"Did you get your homework done?"
Mike's blush fades. "Ah yes, sir. Eddie's sharper than our teacher; he's sure helped me a lot. I wouldn't be able to do half of it without that programmable keyboard he gave me."
"I'm glad he could help you." I look him straight in the eyes. "I want the truth, Mike. Do you really like Eddie or are you just playing around with him because he can help you? I'm not about to let him be hurt."
Mike looks at Eddie who nods, then back to me. "I guess it does look funny, the two of us together, but I really like Eddie. I wasn't very nice to him at first, but he started to help me in class without asking any questions and all, and it finally got through to me he's a great little guy. I don't have many friends cause most are scared of me, but he wasn't." He puts his arm around Eddie again and Eddie snuggles against him. Mike looks almost tearful. "I guess you'll throw me out now, but I've liked boys ever since I can remember."
Mike flinches at the word and drops his head. "Yeah. Don't tell nobody. I'm not out."
"Eddie?" I ask.
He looks at me almost defiantly. "Me, too. Mike's wonderful."
Mike starts to get up again, but Eddie hangs on so tightly he can't.
"Stay put, Mike. I guess Eddie has told you I'm a nurse in the emergency room. Your being gay doesn't bother me, but I want you guys to be damned careful. You're big enough to hold your own, Mike, but Eddie isn't, and I won't have him subjected to what will happen at school if the word gets out."
"It won't! Nobody'd better mess with my baby."
"I can see you want to protect him, Mike, but how do you get away with Eddie hanging around with you at school?"
He grins. "They know Eddie helps me in class, so I told 'em he's my good luck guy. They know I can take them even with one arm, so they don't give me any shit, and they ain't gonna give my Eddie any either." He looks at Eddie. "You better tell me if it happens, love."
"As long as you feel that way, Mike, you're welcome. What you guys do on your own is your business, but do it here where it's private. I know sex comes natural to guys your age and while I'd rather you wouldn't, I know you will. I just ask you to be safe. I'll get whatever you need, if you'll tell me."
This time Mike does get up, Eddie clinging to him. He comes over and grabs my hand. "Eddie said you were cool, but I ain't believing you. You're the best."
"So are you, Mike. I'm glad Eddie has found a friend like you. Will you stay for dinner?"
"Wish I could, but mom's expecting me home." He leans down and kisses Eddie. "Gotta go, love. See you in school."
"Don't forget your books." Eddie runs to his room and returns carrying a worn backpack.
I move my car so Mike can get out. He smiles at me before driving away. The minute I'm back in the house, Eddie hugs me. "Thanks, Tim."
"No problem. You really like Mike, don't you?"
"Yeah." Eddie blushes. "He lets me rub his stump. It's beautiful."
"He don't let anybody else touch it, but he says it feels good when I do. I wish I had an awesome bod like his."
"Is there an exercise room at school?"
"Then ask Mike if he'll help you work out. If he has to bring you home after, I'll buy him some gas."
The boys become inseparable. I find Mike at the house nearly every day, and I get dragged to every home game and those in nearby towns. Mike always saves us seats just behind the bench and has gotten in the habit of running his fingers through Eddie's short hair before he goes on field. The first few times, the other players laugh, but Mike tells them it's for luck. Maybe so, maybe not, but thus far the team is unbeaten, even by larger schools. The teasing stops and the others adopt Eddie as their mascot, getting him pants and a team jersey that fit, and having him sit on the end of the bench with them at every game. On those occasions I work an evening shift Mike picks him up and takes him, so I happily quit going. After Mike asks and the coach encourages it, I give my permission for Eddie to ride the bus with the team for out of town games. Mike also starts Eddie weight lifting and he begins to develop some muscle.
I get a letter from my brother saying he's pleased with the rise in Eddie's grades, and that he's made some friends. I can't help wonder what he'd say if he saw Mike cuddling Eddie, for they all but ignore me when they're together. I sometimes see Eddie slip his hand up Mike's empty sleeve and rub his stump. Mike always purrs contentedly and responds with a kiss.
With exams coming up, the boys spend a lot of time after Thanksgiving studying. I'm amazed to see Eddie helping Mike with his other course work. When I get home the last day of school before Christmas break, both are waiting for me with big smiles.
"Look, Tim, I got straight A's! So did Mike."
"I'm proud of you guys. All that study paid off."
"Sure did. My mom's gonna be over the moon when I tell her. It's my first time." Mike hugs Eddie. "It's all because of this guy, too. Damn, I love him."
"You haven't told her yet?" I ask.
"She's out of town until Sunday."
"Do you know how to reach her?"
He nods. "But she don't want me to run up our phone bill."
I point to my phone. "Then give her a call, it'll make her day. She's going to be proud of you, Mike."
"Can I really?"
After pulling a slip of paper from his billfold, he grabs the phone and punches in the numbers. He all but yells the news at her in his excitement. Watching him, I realize that because of his size I constantly forget he's still a kid like Eddie.
"Oh, thanks, man," he says after he hangs up. "She couldn't believe it. She wants to meet you sometime."
"I'd be pleased, Mike. Your mother works hard and deserves to see you happy."
"Yeah, Mom's great." He grabs Eddie. "So's this guy."
"Since you're going to be alone, why don't you stay over with Eddie? I'll take you guys out to dinner to celebrate."
Knowing how Mike can eat, I take them to a restaurant noted for large portions and reasonable prices. We all order steaks. Eddie doesn't hesitate to pull Mike's plate over and cut his steak for him.
For some reason the lights in the parking lot are out when we leave. We're making our way to my car in the dark when a punk jumps in front of us waving a pistol and demanding money. It strikes me he's high because of his lack of coordination. Mike suddenly pivots and kicks the gun out of his hand, then grabs his arm so fast I hear the bone snap before the kid screams. I push Mike aside to help, but the kid's running.
"Li'l bastard," Mike snarls and starts to pick up the pistol.
"Don't touch it, Mike. Eddie, go back inside and call the cops."
Mike's still shaking with anger, so I put my arm around him. "That was extremely brave of you, Mike. That kid was high; he could have done most anything."
Mike's arm goes around me and squeezes until I think my ribs might crack. "Nobody's gonna fuck my friends over."
A cop car squeals to a halt beside us. "You people all right?" The cop asks.
"Fine now." I point to the ground. "There's the pistol he had. We haven't touched it."
"Good." He puts a ballpoint pen in the barrel and drops it into a plastic bag. He puts it in the car and comes back with a clipboard, just as the lights come back on and Eddie joins us.
I recognize the cop as having brought people into emergency from time to time.
"Damn, I didn't know it was you, doc. Can you tell me exactly what happened?"
I do as best I can remember, for it happened so fast. "Oh, and you'll be looking for a kid with a broken arm. Mike broke it."
The cop looks at Mike, his jaw drops. "Damn, guy, you did all that with one arm?"
"Yeah. He was fucking with friends of mine."
"Let me put a call in, then you can go home. Wish you had a better description of him, but I expect he'll be looking for a doctor before long."
As soon as the cop turns his back, Eddie jumps on Mike and kisses him. "You're wonderful, Mike."
Mike grins. "You're pretty wonderful yourself."
The cop gives me an 'all clear' so I say, "Let's go home and relax guys."
"Yeah, man, I'm ready," Mike growls. "I could sure use a beer."
"Weren't you scared, Mike?" Eddie asks after we're home and Mike has a beer in his hand.
"I am now, but it was all so fast I didn't think."
"That was brave of you, Mike. I see freaked out guys like that in the emergency room and they're unpredictable."
"Hell, I didn't even think. I just knew he weren't gonna hurt my li'l buddy here. How come you ain't a real doctor, Tim?"
"I couldn't afford medical school, but I could study nursing at the college here."
"You could have made a lot more money."
"Yes, but male nurses are so few we're paid better than most."
"Oh. I bet you're good. Wish you'd been there when they cut my arm off."
"You wouldn't have known me then, but I know you got good care, and I'd have been completely professional. Now that I know you, I might cut you some slack if you ever go back. But I hope you don't have to."
He grins. "Ain't planning to."
"Good. I'm on tomorrow, so you guys sleep in and do what you want. I'll see you after I get off." I hand Eddie some money. "I'm sorry we didn't have a quiet evening, so you guys go out for lunch tomorrow and enjoy it."
When I get home the next afternoon, a grinning Eddie is sitting on Mike's lap; Mike's scowling. "What's up?" I ask.
"Mike's picture is going to be in the paper tomorrow," Eddie says.
It dawns on me that it has to be about the attempted robbery. "They send a reporter around?"
"Yeah," Mike growls. "No big deal. Don't know why they want to put it in the paper."
I can't resist teasing him a little. "It's about time they found a hero to print something good about."
"Shit. Now my mom's gonna find out."
"She should know what a fine son she has."
"Naa. She'll get all worried and it's over."
"I expect she will, but she'll be proud of you for all the surprises, your grades and your bravery."
"Just can it, huh?"
I give him a hug. "Okay, but I'm proud of you too." Secretly, I'm delighted I was at work and escaped the reporter.
I'm up before the boys, fix a pot of coffee, and grab the Sunday paper. It's a front-page story and the photographer has gotten a great picture of Mike with his fingers in Eddie's hair. The article is laudatory almost to the point of sensationalism, mentioning Mike's extraordinary football playing as well as his act of bravery. I'm amused to see him quoted: 'He couldn't of hurt me cause I had my lucky guy along.' He goes on to say Eddie is his good luck charm and makes his life the best it's ever been. I hope nobody realizes how close Mike's come to outing himself with the statement, but I plan to buy several copies of the paper and send one to Eddie's dad. I'll also try to get a copy of the picture from the photographer.
When I hear them in the bathroom, I start breakfast, laying the paper by Mike's chair. I can already imagine his reaction.
I'm not disappointed when he sits down and looks at the picture. "Aw, shit!" He yells.
"What?" I ask.
"Why'd they have to put it on the front page? Mom'll be sure to see it now. They said it would be inside somewhere."
"Bear with it, Mike. Fame is fleeting, so you won't be news much longer."
"I hope the hell not." He reaches up and pulls Eddie around from where he's been reading over Mike's shoulder. "I got what I want right here."
I slide his plate in front of him. "Eat first, fun later."
He finally grins. "Yeah."
The boys amuse themselves playing computer games until time for Mike to go home. "Aaah, Tim?"
"Would you and Eddie come home with me? I mean my mom's gonna be all upset and you know what to do about that."
"Okay. I'll have to follow you."
Eddie rides with Mike and I follow. When we pull up at his house, his mother rushes out and grabs Mike in a hug. "Don't you ever do anything that stupid again, Mike. He could have killed you! Oh, I'm so proud of you."
He hugs her then pulls away. "You mad or glad, mom?"
"Both, you big idiot. Hi, Eddie."
"Hi, Ms. Johnson."
She hugs him, too. "I'm so glad you weren't hurt, Eddie."
"Me, too. Mike's wonderful."
"Mom, this is Eddie's uncle Tim Bryan."
She smiles at me. "It's nice to meet you. You've been so kind to Mike, and he thinks the world of you and Eddie."
"I have to think the world of a brave young man like Mike. He has an extraordinary mother as well." She's very attractive, too.
"Do come in and tell me about it or I'll have to drag it out of Mike word by word."
"Thank you. Okay, guys, you're dismissed. Go find something to do."
Mike grins and grabs Eddie's hand, dragging him into the house. Ms Johnson has the coffeemaker going, so I suggest we sit at the kitchen table to talk. After I've given her as much of the story as I can remember, she looks at me and drops a bombshell of her own.
"You've been a wonderful influence on Mike, especially since he never really had much of a relationship with his father and hasn't had a man to relate to. Does it bother you that he's gay?"
"I have for several years now, but I've been waiting for him to tell me. No one would ever know from the way he acts, especially as big as he is. I'm glad he hasn't come out at school. He'd be tormented and fight back, and probably get expelled."
"True. Though he came very close in what he said to the reporter. So far the other guys on the team think Eddie is his lucky charm and accept it. He told me they love each other the night I came home early and found them kissing."
"You're not upset, then?"
"Not at all. I told them to be careful in public and to come to the house for any displays of affection which, as far as I know, they have. I'm a nurse in the emergency room so I told them how to be safe and to let me know if they needed anything for protection. Mike and I have had a few talks as well. You must be proud of him."
"I am. Thank you for being so open with him and providing a place where he feels comfortable."
"How can I do otherwise, especially now. Eddie adores Mike."
"No more than Mike obviously loves him."
"I know. The only thing I dread is what will happen when Eddie's parents return and take him home with them."
Her face creases with alarm. "I had just assumed Eddie lived with you permanently. Mike's heart will break if he leaves."
"It's not that soon. They won't be back until after school is out next summer."
"I'm so glad. I wish Mike had college to look forward to, that would help."
"He doesn't plan to go?"
"He'd like to, but unless he can find a good summer job to help, we can't afford it. I think you're the first person to understand he's still just a boy."
"I do find it hard at times. He's so big I mostly think of him as a grown man."
"Everyone does and it's been hard on him."
"I'm sure. It's when I see them together I remember how young they are. Poor Eddie is so tiny he's always treated like a child. That's as bad as what Mike's been through."
She smiles. "I had better get busy. I have a growing boy to feed."
"I know you've just gotten home, so let me take you and the boys out to dinner."
"How thoughtful of you. I know Mike hasn't left a thing to eat in the house nor done any shopping."
I smile back. "How could he? He's been at the house every minute with Eddie."
"I had no idea. I didn't mean for you to feed him, I know how he eats."
"Like a growing boy who's in love."
One of the few restaurants open on Sunday night is the one where we were accosted. I ask Mike if the idea bothers him.
"Naa. The food is great."
When we arrive, Mike immediately says he's having the twenty-four ounce steak.
"Dear Lord, Mike, have you no manners? That's far too expensive," his mother protests.
He grins. "That's what Tim told me to get last time."
"Go for it," I tell him.
We're about ready to order when a man wearing a well-cut dark suit comes over to our table. "Aren't you the gentlemen who were almost robbed in our parking lot Thursday night?"
"Yes," I answer.
He smiles at Mike. "I thought I recognized this young man. I'm so glad you returned to dine with us. Please order anything you wish, it's on the house."
"That's very nice of you, but "
"No, no," he says quickly. "The outside lights should have been on. I'm sorry to say the boy they caught was a busboy here until I fired him for using drugs, so the incident was partly our fault. Please enjoy your meal and come back again."
After we've given our orders to the waitress, he brings over a bottle of wine I can tell he's carefully selected to go with our meal. "I think you will enjoy this." He pours for me and Mike's mother, then leaves the bottle. Mike's mother looks at me when I pour a glass for him and another for Eddie. Mike smiles, "It's okay, mom, he won't let me have but one."
"Well I suppose you're old enough. But you know my rule about drinking."
"I'm sorry. I wasn't aware ," I begin.
"It's perfectly all right. Mike knows that if he has a drink I want it to be at home instead of sneaking around. You must feel the same with Eddie."
"Fortunately Eddie doesn't like anything other than an occasional glass of wine with a meal, but boys their age need to learn responsible use of alcohol. I know they're going to try it, so let them learn at home. I see too many tragic results from drunk kids every day."
"I'm certain you do, and I'll thank you again for teaching Mike things a mother doesn't seem to get across very well. It was a drunk driver that caused him to lose his arm."
"I'm sorry about that, but he does well."
She smiles at Mike. "He's a fine son. I'm very proud of him."
"As well you should be."
The waiter sets our dinners in front of us. Mike's mother looks surprised when Eddie immediately pulls Mike's platter over and cuts his steak for him. Mike looks back at her and winks. "How's that for service, mom?"
"It's very nice of Eddie. I hope you thank him."
Eddie looks up with a grin. "He does."
Mike slaps him on the head and laughs.
"Did I miss something?" She asks me.
"Not a thing. Just boys at play."
Tuesday afternoon Mike hands me a letter when I get home from work. I read it to find his presence, his mother's, and any friends he wants along to be at the city council chambers at seven p.m. at the request of the mayor and council.
"You know what this is for?" Mike asks.
"I haven't the foggiest."
"Will you and Eddie come with mom and me?"
"If you want. We'll pick you up at six-thirty."
"Thanks." He seems relieved.
Fortunately, Eddie brought along a suit and white shirt that he hasn't put on since he's been with me. He grumbles, but I make him put it on, and dress similarly. When we stop for Mike and his mother, Mike comes running down the walk, his empty coat sleeve flapping.
"You can't go like that," Eddie tells him. "Go get a couple of pins."
Ms Johnson gets in front with me. "I'm glad Eddie can make him take more care of his appearance. I never thought anyone would make him get rid of dreadful goatee."
"He did look a little like Blackbeard. He was sleeping one afternoon and Eddie tied little red ribbons to each point then woke him up." I chuckle remembering the sight. "When Mike saw the picture then what Eddie had done, I thought Mike might kill him, but he shaved immediately."
"I wish I could have seen that."
Mike comes running back. The minute he's in the car, Eddie pins the sleeve up neatly. "Now you look good."
When we reach city hall and ride the lift up to the third floor, we see the cop that helped us. His name-tag reads: Smithson.
"Hi, doc. The mayor told me to have you wait out here until he calls us in."
"Do you know what's going on?"
"No idea," but his grin tells me he's having us on. "How you doing, Mike?"
"Okay. This is my mom."
"Ms Johnson. You've got a fine boy here."
A few minutes later the door opens, and the cop escorts all of us up to the dais before the mayor and council. The mayor asks Mike to introduce us all, then stands and reads a proclamation naming Michael Johnson the city's young man of the year, citing his outstanding achievements and bravery. Mike is crimson with embarrassment as he stammers out his thanks.
Then the principal of the high school stands and asks to be recognized. He announces that Mike has been voted student of the year by popular acclamation of the student body. I hear several voices yell, "Yea, Mike," and turn to see several members of the football team sitting in the audience.
A very dignified gray haired man stands and I hear Mike's mother gasp, "That's my boss." He thanks the mayor and council and tells Mike that a man of his caliber should further his education. Because they are so impressed with his bravery and his mother's dedication to her job and fine work, that in behalf of his legal firm he's presenting Mike with a four-year scholarship to the local college. I look at Mike's mother to see tears flowing down her cheeks.
After shaking hands with all of us, the mayor and council dismiss us, but not before a reporter takes a picture of Mike shaking the mayor's hand. When we start out Mike's teammates, the principal, and her employer join us. The boys are slapping Mike on the back and hoisting Eddie in the air.
"Your lucky guy really came through for you, Mike," I hear one of them say. "Can I borrow him?"
"Hell, no! He belongs to me. Go find your own good luck."
Mike's mother is thanking her boss, who repeats that she's a valuable asset to the firm and Mike has made them proud.
We finally get away. The moment we're in the car Eddie kisses Mike. "You're wonderful, Mike. I'm glad others think so, too, cause I love you so much."
I see Mike throw a worried look at his mother.
She smiles back at him. "It's okay, darling. I've known for a long time."
"You you have? Why didn't you tell me?"
"It was up to you to tell me. Tim has told me about you and Eddie and I couldn't have wished anyone better for you."
I'm surprised to see tears in Mike's eyes. "Thanks, mom. I love you."
"I love you, too, son. I want only happiness for you."
"I've got that now. A great mom, a guy I love, and a real friend in Tim."
When we get to their house, I see a wrecker hooking up Mike's old Chevy. He jumps out even before I've stopped.
"That's my car," he yells. "What you think you're doing?"
A nicely dressed man gets out of a Mercedes and walks over to Mike. "Are you Michael Johnson?"
"Yeah. What about it?" Mike snarls.
"Simmer down, son, this isn't what it looks to be. I'm Paul Ayres, president of the local automobile dealers association. Because you've made the entire city proud by your actions, we are pleased to give you this." He holds out a ring of keys.
Mike stares at him. "What?"
"They fit that car, Mike. We hope you will enjoy it." He points to a sharp looking sporty convertible parked in front of the wrecker. I can tell it's last year's model, probably a demonstrator.
Mike just stares at it in incomprehension, while Ayres turns to Mike's mother and asks her to have Mike bring the title to his old car by his office tomorrow so the paperwork can be completed. He seems embarrassed by her effusive thanks and tears.
"Wow, Mike! Look at that!" Eddie yells. "Take me for a ride."
Mike stands there hugging Eddie until he can compose himself. "Yeah. Let's go."
I put my arm around Mike's mother's shoulders as we watch them drive off. If there are two happier kids anywhere I have yet to see them. She turns and buries her face in my shoulder. "Oh, Tim, I can hardly believe people can be so wonderful."
"I'm happy they realize what a special guy Mike is. I just wish I was rich enough to reward him for what he did for me and Eddie."
"You've already given him so much, your love and guidance, your nephew, and your home. What he's been given is wonderful, but he'll realize your gift is best of all."
"I hope so. He'll always be welcome in my home and I'll do anything I can to help him."
"That means more to me than anything else, especially as he and Eddie seem so much in love." She titters. "I never dreamed when I had Mike that one day I'd lose him to another man."
"I hope Eddie's dad accepts it as well as you have."
"They don't know?"
"I'm afraid not. Ed knows I'm gay, but he isn't happy about it."
"What about your sister-in-law?"
"She couldn't care less. She's not much of a mother that's why Eddie is so fond of you. Ed had to raise Eddie practically single handed."
"But even though he doesn't like gays he left Eddie with you?"
"He knows kids hold no attraction for me, and Eddie will always be a kid in my mind. I'm glad for that."
"Thank you for being honest. Now I understand why you've been such a help to Mike. Let's have a cup of coffee. I doubt the boys will be back for a while."
We talk for quite a while, deciding that Eddie and I will celebrate Christmas at their house since I've never put up a tree and don't have the decorations. Living alone since college I usually work a double shift at the hospital so the other emergency room nurse can be off with her family. Despite the difference in age between Mike's mother and me, I'm attracted to her in a way that almost makes me sorry I'm gay.
The boys come in, Mike carrying Eddie. I don't know why, but both of them seem to enjoy it. Seeing them, I'm struck by how much Eddie has begun to fill out since he's been weight lifting with Mike.
"Mike, pretty soon Eddie's going to be too heavy for you to lug around."
He grins. "Yeah. If I wasn't working out, I wouldn't be able to hold him." He kisses Eddie and sets him down. Eddie takes off for the bathroom.
"How's the new car?"
"Fantastic! I never thought I'd have one that nice. We saw a few of the guys and they were jealous as hell, but you know what the greatest thing was? Eddie. He's not jealous at all, just happy for me to have it. God, I love him."
"He's a very special young man if he can feel that way, Mike. You're very lucky to have him," his mother says.
Mike bends over and kisses her. "You know it."
A few days later at work, the emergency room doctor and I are having a cup of coffee together when he says, "After I saw Eddie the other day I've been thinking. His size may be genetic, but I suspect there's a hormonal problem behind it. You did say he's sixteen, didn't you?"
"Has he ever expressed a wish to be taller?"
"Nearly every day."
"I'm not an endocrinologist, but I don't think he's too old to help to some degree. Anders was talking about trying to find someone to work with for a paper he's writing."
"He's the endocrinologist?"
"Yes. I don't think there would be any charge if he accepted Eddie. Interested?"
"Of course, but it will have to be Eddie's decision. I expect I should get his dad's permission as well."
"You talk to Eddie and I'll talk to Anders. You know it will involve a few tests that are non-invasive, and then a series of shots on a regular basis. Anders will want to see him once a week for measurements."
"I'll talk with Eddie. His friend will bring him here from school if Anders accepts him and Eddie wants to."
"Fine. I'll get back to you on this."
"Thanks for thinking of Eddie, Doctor."
"Hey, what are friends for?"
I'm stunned. He and I have always gotten along well and work together smoothly, but for a nurse to be called a friend by a doctor is something else. I get home a few minutes before Eddie, so I look up what information I can find on endocrinology to refresh my memory.
"Eddie, I need to talk to you," I say when they come in.
"Sure. What's up?"
Mike has read my serious expression. "Want me to leave?"
"Stay, Mike, I guess you'll be concerned, too. Eddie, would you like to be taller?"
"You know I want that more than anything, but it ain't gonna happen."
"It might." I tell him what I know.
"Aw, geez. If you get any bigger you won't be my baby any more," Mike says mournfully.
"Yeah. Maybe I'll get tall enough so I wear something besides kid's clothes." He leans over and kisses Mike. "But I'll love you just as much."
"I was teasing. Go for it if you want to."
"What's it going to be like?" Eddie asks.
"Some blood tests and maybe a shot once a week. I won't really know until I talk with Doctor Anders. But don't get your hopes too high, he may not take you."
"Do we have to tell dad and mom?"
"I don't know. It will depend on what Anders says. Why?"
"I'd sure like to surprise them when they come home."
"You had better ask Mike is he's willing to take you to the hospital on those days I'm working."
"I will unless I have football practice or something. If it's only one day a week, I might be able to get off, cause the coach won't let me scrimmage against the guys." He grins. "He's afraid I'll kill off my own teammates."
"Great. I won't be scared if you're there."
After Mike has gone home, I tell Eddie, "I have tomorrow off, want to do your Christmas shopping? It's coming up next week."
"Yeah. I want you to help me find something special for Mike and I gotta get something for mom and dad."
"Okay. What do you want?"
He shrugs. "I don't know. I've got most everything right here."
"You're a lot of help. If you don't tell me something you might not get anything."
"I suppose I could order you a football uniform in case you get big enough to play next year."
He finds the idea as hilarious as I meant it to be. He's still snickering when he goes to bed. At least he now laughs at his size. Mike's lack of sensitivity about his arm and his love of Eddie for being small has brought the kid out more than I thought possible.
We head for the mall as soon as it opens. The first order of business is to find something for his parents. It'll have to be small enough to ship by air express as we've waited too long. In a jewelry store Eddie spots a lovely jade pin. Elaine loves jade and this one is unusual, so I approve the choice. Ed is going to be tough to buy for, but Eddie sees a gold Dunhill cigarette lighter, he thinks perfect, since Ed still smokes. The store obligingly wraps the gifts beautifully and promises to get them out that afternoon by UPS air. Eddie is disappointed at the required customs declaration which requires a description of the gift. On our way out he stops suddenly and points to a pendant in the showcase. It appears to be a coin about the size of a half-dollar cut irregularly in half, each half with it's own chain. It's inscribed with characters I recognize as Hebrew. The clerk who has been helping us rushes over.
"What's that?" Eddie asks.
"That's a mispah. It's for one person to share with another. The inscription reads: The Lord watch between thee and me when we are apart. This is a very fine example in heavy sterling silver." He takes it from the case for Eddie and me to see.
Eddie smiles and looks at me. "For Mike?"
"It's very nice, but his half will need a longer chain."
"I have this chain in several different lengths. How long do you need?"
"A twenty-four inch will be none too long." I tell the clerk.
"But that will put the medallion practically down to his navel."
I smile. "You haven't seen Mike. He's tall and large."
"Of course. Do you wish this engraved?"
"Why not have your initials and the date put on the back, Eddie."
"Yeah! His on mine and mine on his."
We're assured we can pick it up in two hours, so we go back into the mall. "What next?" I ask Eddie.
"I want to go by myself a while. Lets meet here in an hour then get some lunch."
"Fine." I know Eddie wants a personal CD player of the kind joggers use, because I asked Mike. He tells me which one Eddie had mentioned, saying wistfully he wishes he could get one. He has also written down for me the names of a few CD's Eddie wants, pointing out which ones he's getting for him. I head out of the mall and across the highway to a large discount electronics store whose ads I've been following; they've just put the players on special sale. The clerk is surprisingly helpful so I find one I think Eddie will like, then I happen to think of what Mike said. I don't have my brother's money, but what the hell, it's Christmas and I owe the boy more than I can repay.
I get my purchases in the boot of my car and myself back into the mall to see Eddie waiting for me.
"Where you been?"
I tap my head. "That's for me to know and you to find out, nosy. Ready to eat?"
"Yeah. My feet hurt."
"Oh, poor baby. Just don't expect me to carry you like Mike does."
He grins and punches me on the arm. This time it hurts; Eddie's really getting strong.
"Did you get Mike's mother anything?" I ask over lunch.
He grins and pulls a small statuette of a robed and bewigged Barrister out of his shopping bag. On the base is inscribed: Sue the bastards. I laugh and hand it back to him, hoping Mike's mother has learned Eddie's quirky sense of humor. It is cute, though.
"Did you get her anything?" He asks.
"Not yet, but there was a lovely little crystal vase in the jewelry store. I thought she might like it."
"Yeah. She likes flowers."
Eddie mentions wrapping paper, so we stop at Hallmark. I give few gifts and have the store wrap them when I do, so I'm glad he reminded me.
We spend the evening apart and together depending on whose gift we happen to be wrapping. I've deliberately left the CD's and players in my car until Eddie's out with Mike. He may not say much, but those eyes miss nothing.
"I wish we had a tree," he says at bedtime.
"Well, maybe a small one, but you'll have to get lights, balls, and all that stuff."
"You don't have any?"
"I usually work Christmas so the other nurse can be at home with her family, so I've never put one up. That can be your job and Mike's."
He hugs me. "I hope you don't have to work this year."
"I hope so, too. I put in for the day off and they owe me. I know I'll have to work the night shift New Years. That's when all the drunks get into accidents."
I leave Eddie some money and head off to work wondering what type of tree and decorations he and Mike will be likely to get. Eddie knows it's strictly up to them. I had quickly learned to keep enough in the fridge for them to make sandwiches if I'm working. They both like grilled cheese and BLT's.
The doctor is changing when I enter the staff room to put on my greens. "I talked to Anders. He's interested, but he doesn't want to see Eddie until he's run a complete blood series. He wants you to draw blood today and send it to his lab immediately."
"I'll call Eddie a little later and have him come by."
"Great. I hope things work out, but Anders said Eddie's too old unless he's in delayed puberty."
I grin and shake my head. "Nothing delayed about that boy."
"Well it looks as if it's genetic."
"I'm no giant either, Doctor." I'm only five foot six and tip the scales at 145.
He smiles back. "Maybe not a giant in size, but I'll take you over any nurse I've ever worked with."
"Thank, you, sir."
He puts his hand on my shoulder. "You're strictly professional, Tim, but when we're alone please call me Steve. I'd like to get to know you as a person."
"Thank you. I'm always happy when you're on duty. I wish I had your ability to sum up a patient's condition as swiftly as you."
He grins. "If you'd gotten your ass chewed as many times as I did during my residency, you'd be fast, too. We'd better finish changing so we can go to work."
We both work for over two hours stabilizing an elderly man in a cardiac arrest. After he's taken up to cardiology, Steve looks at me. "Good work, Tim. I thought for sure we'd lost him, but you were ready with everything without my asking."
"Just part of the service, Doctor. I sure need a cup of coffee."
"Double that prescription. Let's go while it's quiet."
"I need to call Eddie first."
"Fine. You can make it from the doctor's lounge. Coffee's better there."
Steve and I are talking by the emergency room desk when Eddie arrives, followed by Mike.
"Am I going to see the doctor?" Eddie asks me.
"Not today. I'm going to draw some blood for tests he wants to run before he sees you. Come on in."
"Go easy, Tim," he says as I swab his arm.
Steve laughs. "That why you brought a reinforcement?" He nods toward Mike. "So he can beat Tim up if he hurts you?"
Eddie giggles and never notices I'm drawing his blood. "Mike and I are going to get a Christmas tree if Tim ever gets around to doing his job."
I swat him on the back of his head. "Then get going or we won't have a tree."
I point to the three vials in the rack. "Done. See how good I am at stabbing people?"
He looks at me in shock. "I didn't feel a thing."
"Didn't want you to. Now get going, the doctor and I are too busy to yack at you guys."
"Thanks for distracting Eddie. He hates a needle," I tell Steve after the boys are gone.
"Hell, the next time I have to have blood drawn I'm coming to you. You're fast and dead on. I never could stick a patient without hurting him."
"That's because you doctors leave all the dirty work up to us poor nurses."
He laughs. "I think I hear an ambulance, so it's back to work."
We get rushed because of a multi-car pileup on the freeway, so I'm quite ready to be relieved when my shift ends. As soon as I'm home I flop down in my recliner and ask Eddie to make me a BLT and some coffee.
"What you think, Tim?" Mike asks.
They've found a nice fir about five feet tall and have just about finished decorating it. "You guys have done a beautiful job. It's looks terrific."
He grins. "Soon as we finish this one, we're going to do ours."
"Good, I'll be able to grab forty winks. Things got hectic right after you guys left."
"Eddie can eat with us tonight. You can, too, if you want."
"Thanks, but I'll stay here and enjoy the peace and quiet. I have a few things I need to get done anyway."
I do eat my sandwich, but drop back my recliner and have no idea when the boys finish the tree and leave. When I wake about five-thirty, I happen to think and run out to my car for Eddie's and Mike's gifts and wrap them, then put them under the tree. I'm just finishing up my late supper of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee when the phone rings. When I answer, I hold my breath afraid I'm being called in.
"Tim, Steve. I checked the roster and see you're working Christmas Eve, but you're off tomorrow, right?"
"Good. If you have no plans I'm having a few friends over for drinks about seven-thirty and I'd like to have you join us." He chuckles. "Only one doctor in the group. I'm not about to talk shop after a day like we had like today."
"That's very kind of you. I'd enjoy it, but I'll have to see what Eddie's plans are."
"Tim, I well, if I read the signals right the boys are gay and so are you."
My mouth hits the floor. How could he have guessed? "Aaah "
"Don't worry, I am, too, and it wouldn't help either of us if it got out. My friends are closeted as well, so you have nothing to worry about. Bring the boys. There'll be one other their age present and if they don't come Don won't be able to bring Tory with him."
"I'll call you tomorrow morning."
"Good. Here's my private number. Leave a message if I'm not in."
When Mike brings Eddie home, I wave at him to come in. As soon as they are seated, I ask, "The doctor I work with in emergency has invited me to a small party at his home tomorrow night and he wants you guys to come. There's going to be another guy about your age there. Interested?"
Eddie looks at Mike, then back to me. "I don't know. Doesn't sound very interesting, a bunch of doctors and all."
"Steve doesn't like doctors socially, these are just friends of his. Besides, they're all gay. He knows we are."
"Oh, shit," Mike moans.
"Steve and his friends are not out and don't want to be. I wouldn't even think of going if they were."
"Well what you think, Eddie?"
He smiles at Mike. "If there's another guy there we can find out who it is. I bet he's lonely like we were."
Mike grins. "I'd better not see you checking him out."
Eddie jumps in his lap and kisses him. "I got my man right here. You'd better not be looking him over either."
"I can take that as a yes, then? I told Steve I'd call him. Just dress casual, Mike. We'll leave here about quarter to seven. You can drive so I'll get to ride in your new car."
"Cool. See ya then if not before."
Eddie looks nice in his black slacks and gray sweater. Mike's dark blue slacks and navy turtleneck look fine, but emphasize his muscular bulk. The left sleeve is folded smoothly over his shoulder and pinned. "Wow, you look cute," he says to Eddie.
Steve's house is a large brick ranch in a nice subdivision a couple of miles out of town. The lots are large and wooded, offering privacy. I can't help but be envious.
Steve opens the door, immediately putting his hand on my shoulder and squeezing it lightly.
"Glad you came, come on in. Mike, you look great. Eddie, I swear you get cuter every time I see you."
Eddie blushes as I knew he would. After Steve shuts the door, Mike quickly surveys the room. "Oh, shit," I hear him mumble.
"What?" I ask.
"I know that kid over there. He's on the soccer team," he whispers.
"Relax. Steve told me everyone here is gay."
"No, shit! I'll bet he's gonna be as surprised to see me as I am him."
"He's not out, so just be friendly, okay?"
"I'm cool. Come on, Eddie. Let's get something to drink."
"If you have more than one beer, I'm driving."
Given my lack of experience, the party is far from what I expected. The guests are nicely dressed and talking quietly; the background music is soft. I've been to any number of hospital staff parties far louder than this. I get a drink from the bar and see Steve walking toward me with another man who looks a few years older. Steve can't be more than thirty and, seeing him dressed informally, it strikes me for the first time that he's a handsome man. I've never paid any attention at work, but I feel a sudden attraction for him.
"Tim, this is Henk von Rhyn. Henk, Tim Bryan."
After the pleasantries, Steve says, "Come in my study for a minute. Henk and I want to talk with you."
I smile. "So, my presence here has an ulterior motive."
Steve grins. "Not at all, but Henk thought this was a perfect opportunity for us to talk without arousing any suspicion."
His study is so beautiful and comfortable I could stay forever, but Steve gets right to the point. "Henk is the new surgeon on staff." He smiles. "And like I told you, the only other doctor here tonight. What we want to say to you must be kept in the utmost confidence. Do I have your assurance?"
I'm really curious now. "Of course."
Henk begins with his lightly accented voice. "Tim, Steve is telling me you are finest nurse he work with. If he say that, you must be so, because he's a bitch to work with," he smiles at Steve, "I know from experience. The reason we wish talk with you is the hospital board plan to end emergency room service and contract it to private group."
"Henk's right, I found out this morning," Steve adds. "Here's the plan. Henk and I, with one other doctor I won't name yet, will set up a private practice and bid for the contract. I happen to know we're the only local doctors interested, and the board doesn't want outsiders. We want you to join us as our senior nurse. You will work only with me, as Henk and the other doctor will be hiring their own nurses, but they will junior to you. After we're established I hope you'll have better hours and we'll at least double the pay you're getting now. Interested?"
I'm so stunned by the news I can simply stare at them. Finally I stammer, "It sounds too good to be true. Are you certain about all this?"
Henk nods. "Absolutely, or we not talk."
"How much do I have to put up to join you, Steve? I haven't much in savings."
Steve looks at Henk. "I never though about that. I mean we had discussed what we need, but we hadn't thought of including you."
"That's fine. I'll be happy working for you guys."
"No," Steve says, "I didn't think you'd be that interested."
"Steve," Henk says, "it is to be stock partnership, is it not? Then we set aside shares for Tim to buy as he is able. I am happy a man like him wish to join us."
"I didn't mean to intrude, Doctor von Rhyn."
"I am Henk, yes? You do not intrude, Tim. I am pleased you have such interest." He winks at me. "If you are partner with Steve and I, you will not be quick to leave us."
"Any chance you can come up with ten thousand, Tim?" Steve asks.
I've got a little more than that in savings and I'd hate to lose it, but I've never heard of a doctor losing money. Besides, to be asked to join a practice is beyond my dreams. Doctors just don't include nurses in their business plans.
"I can, but I'd like to think it over. This is a big step for me."
Henk reaches over and pats my arm. "Do not think long, my friend. On first day of new year, you will have notice from hospital that you become floor nurse or your employment is at end. That is why we move fast."
Steve gets up from his desk, comes over and pulls me up, then hugs me. "I want you with us, Tim. I can't work with anyone else like I can you, so our patients will benefit and I hope I will too. I make you this promise, if we fail, Henk and I will replace whatever investment you lose."
I fall back into my chair, unbelieving. I can only stare at them again with my mouth open.
Henk grins at me. "We have saying at home that man with open mouth catch many bugs."
"I I'm blown away, gentlemen, but how can I refuse such generosity. Yes! I'm in."
"Excellent!" Steve hugs me, while Henk opens the door and yells for Daryl. Steve says, "Daryl is our attorney. I have the paperwork here, so he can make the changes immediately. Tim, I can't tell you how happy I am. Now we can really get to know one another."
"We've always had a pleasant professional relationship, Steve, so it was not until tonight I realized how attractive you are to me."
He hugs me until a slender young man comes in. "Tim, this is Daryl Andrews our lawyer. Daryl, Tim Bryan, our new head nurse."
He shakes my hand effusively. "If Henk and Steve are this happy, I know you're the right man for the job." He sits behind Steve's desk. "What changes you want? I knew damn well I was going to have to work tonight, you wouldn't have invited me otherwise," he says with a grin.
Henk waggles a finger in his face. "Best you make joke, Daryl, or we find other lawyer."
"You doctors always take things so serious. Lighten up, Henk."
"We fight for life, not chase ambulance," Henk snaps back with a grin, then his face grows serious. "We wish what Steve write on pad. See to it."
Daryl scans Steve's notes and nods. "No problem." He looks at me. "Can you have a check for ten-thousand in my hands by the 28th?"
"As soon as I get off work."
"Excellent. I just hope you know what you're getting into. These two are reputedly the terror of the hospital. That's why they're closing emergency."
"I find that impossible to believe. I work with Steve constantly and there's none better or easier to work with. I'm thrilled he would even consider asking me to join the practice."
Daryl looks surprised. "Damn, guy, you must be everything I've heard you are."
Steve puts his hand on my shoulder. "Let's join the party. I'm prescribing a drink for a man who looks a bit stunned."
"I am that, and you're on. Thanks, Steve."
"I thank you for your trust in Henk and me. You'll love him as much as I do after you get to know him. He's brilliant."
Henk stops us at the door and after looking across the room at Mike, says, "We perhaps make mistake with Tim, Steve?"
"I see huge bodyguard come with Tim. Is he dangerous?" Then he laughs.
"Mike's my nephew's protector and lover. He's a fine young man."
"Ah, yes. Young people not much enlightened in this country, so if he is gay is in danger from other students."
"I'm sorry to say it's not just the young, Henk. That's why Steve and I must stay in the closet."
"I also. At home I walk down street and hold hand of my love, not like here."
"After we get the practice going good, I'll go with you and Al for a visit. That's a promise, Henk."
"I hold you to it," he says. "Maybe you bring Tim."
Steve smiles at me. "I can always hope."
I make a fast run for the food. I'm not drunk from alcohol, but from joy and apprehension. I've just taken the biggest step of my life without thinking carefully about the possibilities and outcome. I calm myself by raiding the bowl of shrimp, which I love.
Steve grins when he hands me a drink. "You can't sober up from an emotional drunk by eating."
I shake my head. "No, but these sure help. I love shrimp."
"So do I. Help yourself, there are plenty. Those crab puffs are good, too."
I try one. "They sure are."
"Then eat up, Tim. The rest of this crowd drink more than they eat, and I don't want to be eating party leftovers for Christmas. Hell, why don't you come back Christmas and help me?"
"I'd like to, but I'm spending it with the boys and Mike's mother."
"Uh oh, don't tell me I screwed up."
I smile. "Not at all, but she's a damned attractive woman. If I were a few years older and not gay "
He grins. "I know what you mean. I've got to mingle, so enjoy yourself."
I hug him. "How? I've just been given the best present I'll ever get."
"Just keep it under your hat until the first, buddy."
"I will, but it's going to be damned hard."
"Not a word, especially at the hospital. You promised."
"I won't let you down, partner."
He smiles. "I'm waiting for the day you'll say that without meaning business." He slaps me on the back and moves off.
I'm still floating, but about nine-thirty I go over and tell the boys it's time to leave. They both look at me a little reproachfully, then tell the kid they've been talking to they'll e-mail him about getting together.
At his car, Mike hands me the keys. "I had three beers, Tim."
"Damn! I'm not sure I should be driving either. Eddie?"
He smiles. "I only had a small glass of wine, and I ate a lot, too. That was sure good food for a party."
Mike hugs him. "Yeah. You drive."
Poor Eddie views the road through the steering wheel instead of over it, but he drives smoothly. When he pulls up in my drive, he says, "How's Mike going to get home if you won't let him drive?"
"Mike, you want Eddie overnight?"
He grins. "Yeah!"
"Okay, Eddie, take Mike home and stay. He can bring you home sometime tomorrow. I'm working."
When I reach the hospital, Steve is in his greens ready to enter the treatment room. "Hurry. Got several injuries coming in."
The next couple of hours are so busy Steve and I run on our usual doctor/nurse basis. When it's over, he winks at me. "Coffee in the doctor's lounge."
I change into fresh greens and join him, getting a sour look from another doctor. Nurses enter this sanctum only by rare invitation. Steve hands me a cup and says, "Excellent work, Bryan."
"Thank you, sir."
The other doctor leaves to answer a page then Steve grins. "Damn glad you came last night. Henk is most impressed."
"I like him, too."
"I thought you would. And the boys certainly impressed Tory. He embarrassed Don when he told me it was the first old people party he'd been to that was fun."
"Eddie and Mike are planning to get together with him before school starts again."
"Good. Don has been worried
that Tory has so few friends."
Steve is paged. "Damn, I thought New Years would be the worst, but today is catching up fast."
We stay busy until my shift is over. Poor Steve has another four hours to go. "Merry Christmas," he says as I'm relieved. "I hope you don't get called in tomorrow."
There are others present, so I say, "Thank you, sir. A Merry Christmas to you."
Eddie's not home, so I grab a shower and a nap before I go to Mike's for dinner. Because of the possibility I'll get called in, we've decided to open a few gifts after dinner and save the rest until Christmas Day. Of course I'll leave Eddie's here so we can enjoy tomorrow morning together. There are a few gifts from his parents as well. When they arrived I hid them before he came in from school.
The Johnson home is beautifully decorated with a tree that touches the ceiling. Many of the ornaments look quite old. When I comment, Elaine smiles, "Many of those ornaments I inherited from my parents. It's not only nice to have a son who loves Christmas, but who's tall enough to decorate the tree without a ladder. Sit down and let me get you a cup of eggnog. It's spiked very lightly."
"I would ask for heavier after today, but I may get called in. I never know on holidays, and I'm on call until mid-night."
"That's a shame, but it's reassuring to know good care is always available."
"Where are the boys?"
She laughs. "Dressing. They were in and out all day doing Lord know what, but they both needed a bath. I told them not at my table unless they were clean and neatly dressed."
"I'm always amazed at how Eddie seems to attract dirt. I seem to spend most of my free time doing wash."
"At least his clothes are small." She shakes her head. "I'm glad Mike takes care of the wash for me. I would have to kill him if everything wasn't perma-press. I don't have time to iron and the laundry charges a fortune now."
We talk on for a while then she goes to check on dinner. "May I help?"
"Please. Then I'll call the boys."
She's cooked a traditional Christmas dinner, which smells so good my appetite almost overcomes me. I finish setting everything on the table while she calls Mike and Eddie. They come to the table with mischievous smiles. After she says grace, we fall to. Everything is as good as it looks. I do accept one small glass of wine and nod at Eddie when he looks at me.
Elaine suggests we have coffee and open some of the gifts. I'm pleased to see Eddie help Mike clear and put the dishes in the washer, while Elaine takes care of putting away the leftovers.
Their tradition is to open one gift at a time, so Mike and Eddie sit on the floor. Mike picks up one and hands it to his mother. We all watch as she unwraps the figurine Eddie had chosen. She looks at it for a moment then begins to laugh.
"Oh, Eddie, this is hilarious and unfortunately true. Thank you so much. I can't wait to put this on my desk at the office. Not many people think lawyers and assistants have a sense of humor, but we do. It's just that we can't show it around clients." She reaches over and kisses him on the cheek. Eddie, being Eddie, blushes.
Mike hands Eddie one. When he opens it and sees two CD's he wanted, his face lights up. "I really wanted these, Mike." He grabs Mike's hand and kisses it.
Mike hands me one. The tag reads: Mike and Elaine. I unwrap a beautiful leather billfold. Mike grins. "Now you can throw away that worn out wallet of yours."
"You'd better believe it. I appreciate this very much. I never think of getting a new one when I'm in the stores." I nod at Eddie who hands Mike my gift to him.
When he opens it and sees the CD player he just sits staring at it. "I hope that's the type you want, Mike. If not, you can exchange it," I tell him.
"Never in this world," he says and hugs me. "Look, mom, this is better than the one I wanted."
She looks at it, then at me. I see her eyes are moist. "You're so thoughtful, Tim. I wanted to get Mike one, but it was beyond me just now."
I smile back. "He deserves it and a lot more for all he's done for Eddie and me." I see Eddie looking at it enviously.
Mike starts the round of gifts once more. Elaine seems delighted by the vase. The last gift is a small jeweler's case. When Mike opens it, Eddie takes out half the mizpah, puts the chain around his neck then gives him in a kiss.
Mike puts the other half around Eddie's neck and kisses him back. "What does it say?"
"The Lord watch between thee and me while we are apart." He shows Mike his initials on the back of Mike's half, then shows him his with Mike's initials on it. "I love you, Mike."
"I love you, too," Mike says hugging Eddie again. Then he grins. "I'll wear this all the time. Even if some of the guys see it, they won't figure out whose initials they are."
Eddie grins. "That's what I had in mind."
"Leave the rest for tomorrow, Mike," his mother says. "Come help me with the coffee."
Mike gets up then says, "What's that beeping?"
I pull out my pager and read the display. "I'm sorry to leave, but I'm needed. Mike would you take Eddie home later? I have no idea how long I'll be."
"Can't I just stay here?" Eddie asks me.
"I would like to have you home for our Christmas together, just as Mike and Elaine will have theirs. Then you and Mike may do what you wish."
I dash into the emergency room and grab my greens. One of the attendants points toward the door to the small operating room. I expect to see Steve, but it's Henk.
"Move!" He barks. "This not wait for upstairs."
I move next to him and take over, instantly alert. Thoracic surgery can be tricky. I admire the skill with which he's closing a torn lung. When I see he'll need more instruments than are out, I tell the OR supervisor to get them. She knows I'm a nurse, but we've never worked together before. She looks at Henk questioningly.
"Do it," he barks without looking up.
It's midnight before we're finally finished and the patient is taken to IC. "Coffee," Henk tells me. We shed our gowns and I follow him to the empty lounge. He drops down in a chair and simply says, "Straight."
I pour us each a cup and hand one to him before sitting down next to him. "A beautiful piece of work, Doctor."
"Thanks. Is bad to have such case on a holiday." He looks at me. "It go much better when you come. Steve is correct when he tell me you are only choice to work with. I have not to ask you for anything, is there when I want. You are best, Tim."
"I appreciate the way you and Steve treat me more as an equal than as a nurse. I wish I had had the opportunity to study medicine instead of nursing."
"No, my friend. You have special skills you use better than nurse. You think ahead, anticipate my need. The seconds that save may be difference between patient live or die." He smiles. "I am most happy to see you demonstrate such skill just now. You are making a worthy partner to Steve and me. Stand up."
I do, only to be grabbed in a fierce hug. "You are special man, Tim. I am sorry you must be called in, but I thank you. Go to home and rest, my friend. A peaceful Christmas I wish you."
"I hope your Christmas will be joyous and undisturbed, Henk."
He smiles. "I wish also. My man wait for me."
I realize on my way home that I've already had the best Christmas in years. I stumble into bed and sleep immediately.
I'm awakened by Eddie. "You going to sleep all day? It's Christmas."
"What time is it?"
"After nine. I'll go fix breakfast for you. I ate at Mike's."
After a shower, I feel much better. Bless Eddie, he set a cup of coffee on the bathroom counter while I was showering. A luxury to have coffee while I'm shaving, but I get more special treatment when I go to the kitchen. Eddie has fixed my grapefruit, two perfectly poached eggs on toast with crisp bacon on the side, and more coffee.
When I finish eating I get up and hug Eddie. "That was wonderful, Eddie. Thank you, especially for bringing me coffee while I showered. I needed it."
"I love you, Tim. I'm glad I'm here instead of some old boarding school."
"I'm glad you're here, too. Let's go open our gifts."
Eddie hands me a large box. "That's from mom and dad and me." It's a gorgeous soft white sweater with a pale gray and beige design, definitely Scandinavian and frightfully expensive. Ed knows I love sweaters.
"It's beautiful. I love it, Eddie."
I point to a small square box, "That's yours."
His eyes dance when he sees the half dozen CD's. "Wow! I really wanted all these, Tim. You going to let me play them on your stereo?"
"When I'm at work, buddy; not my kind of music." Absolutely not. I like quiet classical pieces, especially string quartets, while Eddie's tastes are strictly in line with those of his peers.
"'Kay. But I sure want to hear 'em." He opens his presents from his parents, then hands me a small oblong box. I'm shocked when I open it to find a desk plaque of polished walnut with Timothy A. Bryan, RN engraved on it in gold. The line below reads: Director of Patient Care.
"This is beautiful, Eddie, but I'm just an emergency room nurse."
He grins from ear to ear. "That's not what I'm told."
"What do you mean?"
"I saw Doctor Steve in the mall and he told me this would be a special surprise for you. He helped me pick it out, but said it's a big secret I couldn't tell anybody, so I didn't."
I have to hug him tightly. "It's still a secret until I tell you different. Is that what Steve told you to put on it?"
"Unh, unh. He wrote it all out and gave it to the clerk." He grins. "You're really moving up."
"That I am, Eddie. I never dreamed of anything like this." I swat him on the behind. "You've still got a present to open."
"Wow!" He yells when he sees the CD player. He jumps up and hugs me. "I was sure hoping after I saw the one you gave Mike. This is my best present ever!" He immediately puts the batteries in it, then drops the headset over his ears and starts a CD. He's still totally engrossed when Mike comes by with an invitation from his mother to have dinner with them again.
As dusk falls, the four of us take a leisurely ride through town to look at the lights and decorations at Elaine's suggestion. I'm driving quite slowly along one street lined with extravagant light displays when I see a young woman run out of her house, holding an infant and screaming, "Someone help me!"
I slam on the brakes and jump out. When I reach them, the child's face is blue. "She swallowed something," the mother cries.
I snatch the child out of her arms, and do a Heimlich. On the second press, a button flies from the child's mouth and she gasps for breath, beginning to scream. I check her pulse and breathing as best I can, then hand her back to her mother. "I think she'll be fine now. Give her a bottle, the formula will soothe her throat. If you see any signs of distress call 911 immediately."
"Oh, thank you, thank you. Are you a doctor?"
"Just a nurse."
She plants a kiss on my cheek. "I'll never forget you! God bless you, sir."
"Take her inside where it's warm. I have to go now." I certainly do, I'm embarrassed at her effusive thanks.
"Wow, Tim, that was awesome," Eddie says when I get back in the car. "How'd you know what to do?"
"In case you've forgotten, I'm a nurse, Eddie. We're trained to do these things."
"Could you do it to Mike?"
"Yes, but it might not be so fast; he's a big guy." I know Eddie's teasing, so I add, "I'm not sure I could get my arms around him, so I'd probably just punch him a good one in the gut."
Mike looks startled for a moment then begins to laugh. "Got me, Tim."
"Be darn sure I don't ever have to work on you, then. I can be the meanest nurse you've ever seen."
"Hey, you told me you'd cut me some slack, remember?"
I reach back and playfully slap him on top of his head. "Maybe I've had second thoughts."
At their house, Elaine says, "I'm proud of the way you didn't hesitate to stop and help that poor woman. I think it was meant to be that we'd be riding by when she needed help. She'll always remember this Christmas. You're a fine man, Tim."
I can feel my face turning red. "Just did what I'm trained for, but thank you."
"Coffee first, then I'll fix some sandwiches."
A couple of days later I'm about to finish up my shift when I see a young man speaking to the clerk at the desk. She points to me and he runs up, grabbing me in a hug. I've never laid eyes on him before. He finally turns me loose and wipes his eyes.
"God bless you, doctor. That was my little girl you saved Christmas Day."
"How is she?"
"Happy as she can be, thanks to you. What do we owe you? It'll never be enough to pay you what you're worth."
"Not a thing. I'm happy to have been there when she needed someone, but I'm a nurse, not a doctor. How did you find me?"
"My neighbor happened to remember your license plate, thank God. I got your name from motor vehicles. Are you sure I can't give you something?"
He pulls a business card from his pocket and hands it to me. "I've just started a law practice. If you ever need a lawyer come to me. I'll be very hurt if you go to anyone else."
"Thank you. I will."
Who's your boss?"
"Dr. Steve Adams. He's head of emergency services."
"Is he in?"
"He's very busy at the moment. Do you need to see him?"
"If he's busy, I won't interrupt him, but I'm sending him a letter informing him of how my wife and I feel about what you did."
"Please don't. Your thanks are quite enough."
"Indeed I am. He should know how wonderful you are. I won't keep you any longer, but keep my card and if you should ever need anything let me know." He suddenly hugs me again. "God bless you, Timothy Bryan."
Even though my day has been tiring, I feel wonderful. It's not often a nurse receives such an expression of gratitude.
While I'm changing into my greens the next morning, the pager system announces: Tim Bryan, report to Dr. von Rhyn's office immediately. I finish changing and walk to his office. I knock and hear him bark, "Enter." When I do, he and Steve stand, giving me such censorious looks I immediately conclude they're pissed at me for something.
"Bryan," Henk snaps, "Steve has brought me letter about your conduct outside hospital. What have you to say?"
"I I can't think of anything I might have done to displease you, sir."
When they both start aggressively toward me, I take a step back, but they both grab me in a hug and start laughing.
"You're a real credit to us, Tim," Steve says.
"Absolutely," Henk adds.
"What's this all about?"
"A letter I received from a lawyer this morning. Apparently you saved the life of his little girl on Christmas Day. Now sit down and tell," Steve demands.
"It was nothing. The boys and I were riding around enjoying the decorations when I saw this woman come out with an infant in her arms calling for help. The child had a button lodged in her throat, so I did a Heimlich. That's all there is to it."
Henk's long finger taps me on the temple. "Ah, but as always you think and act instantly, not panic. That is why you are such fine nurse."
"We've signed you out for a few minutes; come with us, we're just going next door," Steve says. "By the way, how did you like your Christmas present from Eddie?"
"I was going to thank you when we were alone. I'm surprised at my title. I hope I don't have too much paperwork. I like what I'm doing."
"Is right," Henk tells me. He winks at Steve. "You see."
I am surprised when they walk me to toward the set of buildings known as Doctor's Village and enter one separated from the hospital by a driveway. The place is undergoing some renovation.
"This is our new base of operations," Steve says. "The board awarded us the contract for emergency services at their meeting last night."
We pass office suites Henk points out are his and Steve's, then he takes me through a small office into a larger one. Steve says, "This is your office, Tim. The small one is for your secretary. Tell me tomorrow what colors you want on the walls and carpet."
"I don't really need an office, much less a secretary, do I?"
"Of course," Steve says.
"You must have clerk," Henk insists. "You will not much time in office get.
You be with Steve in emergency most time and with me until I find nurse so good as you. Clerk do all paperwork."
"Good. Now back to work, slave," Steve says with a grin, slapping me on the butt. "You'll get your pink slip from the hospital at the end of the day, then your ass belongs to Henk and me."
"Ja. Welcome to our practice, Tim." He grins. "Be sure you earn pay."
"We're having an open house here New Years Day from four to six. You will be with us of course." Steve winks at me. "A suit and tie, if you have one."
"I hate ties, Steve."
"You've moved up in the world, partner. Got to look professional at social events to impress the doctors."
"As long as you guys like my work that's all I care about."
Henk shakes his finger at me. "Professional man must look so." Then he grins. "Not many chances you get to dress so. Your boss say you dress. He also say bring boys."
"Yes, Doctor." I have a feeling life is going to be interesting with these two as my bosses, more pleasant as well.
The open house draws far more people and interest than I had thought. Eddie and Mike are as impressed with my office as I. With it's pale blue walls, dark blue carpet, and striped window drapes in both shades, it's restful and impressive, particularly the furnishings. I almost resent the fact that I won't be spending that much time in it.
The chief of nurses at the hospital looks around then says, "I'm envious, Tim. I told the board they were making a mistake in contracting out emergency services, but I'm delighted you'll still be with us. With all I have to do I forget to compliment people when they do well. I'm terribly sorry that I haven't told you before that you're outstanding in your work and professionalism. No wonder Dr. von Rhyn demanded that you work with him and Doctor Adams."
"Thank you, Mrs. Daniels. I deeply appreciate your kindness."
As the last of the visitors are leaving, Henk comes over to me. "Your Eddie is still here?"
"Somewhere around. I'd better go find him."
"Bring to my office. Steve and I wish to talk to him and you for a minute."
I find the boys in our staff lounge. They've raided the small fridge for Cokes, and have nearly finished off a plate of finger food from the reception.
"Okay, guys, Henk wants to talk to you a minute."
When we're seated, Steve takes over. "I talked with Anders earlier on today, and he feels you are too old for hormonal treatment, Eddie." He raises his hand when Eddie opens his mouth to protest. "However, he does think the hormonal trigger that controls growth has not functioned fully. Tim, he wants to give Eddie one shot of an experimental hormone that might, just might, start the growth process once more."
"What are the side effects?" I ask.
"According to Anders, if it works Eddie might experience some mild pain until his body adjusts if he begins to grow swiftly. He believes prescription strength Tylenol will take care of it."
"I don't want it to impair Eddie in school. He's a straight A student."
"I'll give you a few samples. You can try them for one day and monitor his progress before he goes back to school. That should help you and Eddie make a decision."
I look at Eddie. "It's up to you. Think about it and talk to me tonight. There are only two more days left before school starts again."
"I will. Thanks, Doctor Steve, Doctor Henk."
"You are good boy, Eddie. I think you make right decision," Henk says. Then he grins. "You only patient I know to have live-in nurse and two doctors if you have need. Think careful."
"I will. Oh, can Tim give me the shot if I do this?"
"No reason why not."
Just before I'm ready to go to bed, Eddie comes over and sits on my lap. "I'm scared, Tim."
"I know. You don't have to do this."
"But I want to be taller."
I smile. "You know your dad will kill me if you suddenly shoot up and he has to buy you all new clothes."
Eddie snickers for a moment. "Let's try the Tylenol tomorrow. I know you're going to work, but Mike and I will be together all day."
"Okay. I know that won't hurt you. Tell Mike to write down anything he sees different about you, and you try to remember, too."
The next day we three new partners descend on the hospital emergency room. I notice immediately a few of the older nurses are gone, new faces taking their place. Henk leaves me to fill them in while he and Steve reorganize the facility. I have one nurse object to the changes, so I tell her to see Mrs. Daniels for reassignment, then inform the others I expect complete professionalism and they are to develop an anticipation of the doctor's needs as soon as a patient is brought in. After a week or two to adjust I hope we'll have a cordial relationship.
"Productive morning. Everything go well in your area, Tim?" Steve asks when we're back in the office.
"Had to dump one, but the rest are going to be okay."
"Thank God we weren't interrupted. Let's grab some lunch while we can. You and I have the shift, Henk is taking the next one."
"Who's covering eleven to seven?"
"Martin. You haven't met him and probably won't for a while. He'll be at the hospital the entire time. That's why he didn't want an office."
There are no emergencies, so Steve and I sit in the lounge talking and drinking coffee. He looks at his watch and says, "Time for Henk to take over. We sure didn't earn anything today."
"Maybe not, but the quiet was nice for a change."
Mike tells me Eddie had no problems all day and was as sharp as ever, then Eddie tells me he wants to go through with it. I have a few doubts, but Steve and Henk have both assured me there's practically no risk involved. New Year's Eve afternoon I give Eddie the tiny amount of hormone Anders sent over, then send him to Mike's for the night after telling Mike and his mother both to call me immediately if he shows any reaction to it.
The rest of the evening is a nightmare, beginning about six. It's nearly four in the morning when Steve, Henk, and I are finished with the last patient. As we're changing, Steve slaps me on the butt. "Bed for you, guy. You look like you've been put through the wringer."
"I feel it, too. How you guys hold up I'll never know."
Steve grins. "You didn't go through forty-eight on and twenty-four off like Henk and I did during our residency. Now get out of here."
"Yes, sir, boss man."
I awake about one to find Mike and Eddie playing a computer game. "About time you got up," Eddie says. "Mike and I are hungry."
"Why didn't you fix something?"
"We waited for you so we could go out to eat."
"Thanks, guys. How do you feel, Eddie?"
"Fine. I don't guess that stuff's gonna work."
"It's not a miracle that's going to change you overnight, it's going to take a long time. You'll grow at almost a normal rate according to Henk."
"Heck. I wanted to be big when I go back to school tomorrow."
Mike lifts him up and hugs him. "Let me keep my baby a little longer."
A few days later I get an e-mail from Ed. I know Eddie e-mails him frequently, but Ed and I don't often correspond. I'm surprised at his note: 'Hey, Fag, good to hear you found enough backbone to take a chance for a change. Hope it works out. Eddie tells us he's very happy and you're taking good care of him. You must be, because his grades are what I knew they should be. Good to hear he has friends as well, but damn! The entire football team?'
I'm not upset at the greeting Ed used. He doesn't like gays, but he's called me fag for so long it's become a habit. He doesn't mean any harm now that he's used to the idea I'm gay. He's also teased me for years for being so cautious about things; he's the family daredevil.
Things begin to settle down, my staff of nurses work well together, and Henk has found a male nurse who's just passed his RN exams. After a few times assisting Henk, Henk is satisfied. "Not so good as you, Tim, but okay. He will learn," he tells me one afternoon. "Has he complaint made?"
"Not a word. He did tell me he felt fortunate to work for us."
Henk smiles. "You take Jake in hand, train for me?"
"A pleasure." It will be, because Jake is eager to please. I'll assign him to me the next time Henk and I work a case together.
Now that things are underway smoothly, Steve invites me to his home for dinner several times. We begin to relate to each other so well on a personal basis that I regret we've gone no further than a few hugs. But when I leave he kisses me and suggests we see more of each other. I'm more than willing, and not long after we become quite close.
It's nearly Easter when Eddie comes in from school complaining his legs hurt a little. I look at him then say, "Where's the high water?"
He looks puzzled until I point to the bottom of his pants. They're well above his ankle joints.
"I'm growing!" He yells and throws himself on me.
"Looks that way. Guess we'll have to take you shopping."
"Mike makes me shave every day, too."
I shake my head sadly.
"What's wrong?" Eddie asks.
I hug him. "Mike's lost his baby; you're turning into a man. I'll get you a Tylenol for the pain."
After I've given it to him, he sits in my lap. "I love you, Tim."
"I love you too, Eddie. This is a good year for us both."
The rest of the spring goes smoothly. Everything at the office is running nicely, especially after my staff learned the preferences of Henk and Steve in the surgery. Jake was an apt student and Henk is delighted with the way they work together now, telling me I'm as good a teacher as I am a nurse.
The week before school is out I have to take Eddie clothes shopping again. He's now as tall as I and, after examining him, Henk and Steve say he's about reached the limit of growth. Eddie is proud of his newly gained height and the muscular build working out with Mike has given him. Mike has lost his baby, but takes pride in the fact that Eddie can defend himself well.
I had seen Mike around the office a few times talking with Henk and Steve but paid little attention until Steve comes into my office with a cup of coffee and sits down on the day the kids are to finish their exams. "Remember the day the guys spent with us in the emergency room observing as part of their school work?"
"Mike told me he was fascinated, so Henk and I have been teaching him advanced first aid on the side. We've got him lined up for a summer job with the paramedics."
"His arm's not a hindrance?"
"Not enough to make any real difference. There's a one-armed ambulance attendant working where Henk did his training, and Mike is much bigger and stronger. He's been out with the crew a couple of times and they tell me he does well, especially with heavy patients."
"I'm glad for Mike. That should pay a little better than anything else he can find."
Steve smiles. "We made sure of that. Henk and I like both kids and think they need a week to relax before Mike starts work, so why don't you and I take them up to Crystal Lake for a week? You need a break from all the work you've put in, and I know damned well I do. Memorial Day weekend was a bitch. My parents have a cottage we can use."
"Sounds good to me, but how will Henk and Martin cope with us out?"
"Henk's getting a resident from his old school; he's friends with the dean. He feels confident that with the way you've gotten the staff whipped into shape it'll be no problem. He hasn't found anything to gripe about for several weeks now and Ann Daniels concedes the change has been good. She's had no complaints from her people."
"When do we leave?"
"Monday morning to avoid weekend traffic. For that reason we'll work Saturday and Sunday. Henk's resident will be with us learning the ropes. We'll leave the lake the next Monday."
"I'll get Tammy to talk to Henk and revise the work schedule while we're gone."
Steve grins. "Is there any detail you don't miss?"
"I hope not."
"As if you ever do. See how useful a good secretary like Tammy can be?" He gets up and hugs me. "I have a proposition to put to you while we're at the lake."
"Yeah. I hope you'll like it enough to act on it immediately." He swats me playfully on the butt. "Back to work with you."
"As nice as the company is, I guess I'll have to. I don't want to get fired at this point."
When I get home the boys are there. Mike has gotten a beer from the fridge; he holds it up when I enter. "Hope you don't mind, Tim, but I sure need this after that calc exam."
"It's okay, but don't make a habit of it."
"I won't. This is the only one."
"Good. What do you have planned for next week?"
"Nothing much. It's two weeks before I start with the rescue squad."
"So I've heard. So what do you guys think of a week at Crystal Lake?"
"No kidding?" Mike shouts.
"No kidding. Steve and I are taking part of our vacation and you guys are going with us, if you want."
"Yeah!" Eddie yells and hugs me. "Is Steve taking Stupid?"
Stupid is Steve's golden retriever and very aptly named. He has to be the dumbest dog I've ever seen, but Eddie adores him. When we go there for dinner, which is often, I have to drag Eddie away.
"You can ask him. You guys will have to pack for yourselves because I'm working Saturday and Sunday. We're leaving Monday morning."
"I've gotta tell mom," Mike says.
"If she has any questions tell her to give me a call."
Friday night, Steve, Eddie, Mike's mother, and I are in the audience for Mike's graduation. He looks almost handsome as he crosses the stage to receive his diploma and, while he doesn't receive honors, the principal tells us he's made the most improvement of any other student in the graduating class.
The moment we're outside Eddie grabs him in a hug. In turn he gets hugged not only by Mike, but by several graduating members of the football team, each telling him they're going to miss him. They invite Eddie to a party, but he wisely refuses. I know it's because Mike isn't going either, but I'm glad Eddie won't be with them when they're drinking, as I know they will. I just hope Steve and I don't see any of them in the emergency room when we go on duty.
Monday morning the boys and I pick up Steve. He asked me to drive my Jeep because it has 4-wheel drive and room enough in the back for Stupid. It's only an hour and a half trip, which seems shorter because of the antics of the boys.
Steve directs me off the paved road and down a rough ungraded set of wagon tracks along side some farmer's cornfield. I can see why he didn't want to put his Mercedes on such path. After we pass through a woods, the vista clears and I can see Steve's two-storey shingled cottage on the edge of the lake.
The boys and Stupid are out almost before I stop; Stupid making a beeline for the lake, the boys right behind him. "Well, there goes our help," I remark as Steve and I get out.
"They'll be back and there's nothing that can't wait. Have a look around, I'll join you as soon as I turn on the electricity."
"This is fab," Eddie says when he sees me. "Look how clear the water is." He points to the shallows. "You can even see the minnows. I can't wait to get in."
"It is beautiful up here, but you guys will have plenty of time after we unload the Jeep. I doubt you can go skinny-dipping and we need to get the fresh stuff in the fridge."
"Okay, Tim," Mike says.
The boys move faster than I've ever seen them. When all the food is in the kitchen, they take their bags to the upstairs bedroom to change. It is quite warm.
"The boys going swimming?" Steve asks as he puts the food away.
"Try and stop them. I'm surprised they did as much as they did."
"Let's grab a beer and sit on the porch while the house airs out. It's cooler out there."
With the slight breeze, sitting on the screened-in porch is delightful. The boys are in the shallows playing a game with Stupid, picking him up and tossing him into deeper water. Crazy dog seems to love it, because he swims back for more each time.
"Won't they hurt him?" I ask Steve.
Steve shakes his head. "Naa. Retrievers love the water. Besides, why you think he's named Stupid, he has no sense at all up here." He chuckles. "He did learn to leave porcupines alone after he got a nose full of quills." He points at the boys. "They look grown up now, but they're still kids. Remember how wonderful it was to be that age and not have any cares?"
"I'd have to be a few years younger to say that."
"Ed and I used to be as inseparable as those guys until he found out I was gay, then we drifted apart. I've always regretted it."
"I suppose you would. I'm an only, so I didn't have that experience. I was lucky enough to have a few close friends didn't give a damn when they found out."
"I envy you, but having Eddie
with me this year is something I wouldn't have missed for the world."
"Mike may say Eddie is his good luck charm, but I think he's yours. You've lightened up a lot since he's been here. Remember I told you I had a proposition for you?"
"This is good a time as any to spring it on you." He looks me straight in the eyes. "I love you, Tim Bryan. I want you to move in with me."
"I love you too, Steve. I'd like to, but I've got a home and Eddie."
"Rent your house if you want, you can get enough to meet the mortgage payments. My place is big enough for Eddie to have his own room, and I'll encourage him to have Mike over as often as he does now. You know I like both boys a lot." He grins. "They'll keep Stupid exhausted, too."
"You're one for surprises. I don't know what to say."
"Nothing now. Think about it, love."
I reach over and grab his hand, squeezing it. "I will, and hard."
He squeezes my hand back. "Bad pun, guy, but that's all I ask for now. You do know I get impatient rather quickly."
I have to laugh. "I know. That's why Daryl said you and Henk are the terrors of the hospital."
"Only at work, love." He stands up. "Let's go take a look at the boat. I hope the boys water ski. If not I can teach them."
"Eddie does a little, I think, but is your boat powerful enough to get a guy big as Mike out of the water?"
"If a two-hundred horse motor won't do it, nothing will. Dad was going to buy a small one to use for fishing, but I talked him into one I could use for skiing. I love it, though I'll get aching muscles now. Been too long between times."
He unlocks the door to the boathouse and shows me the sleek fiberglass run-about. The outboard motor is damn near as big as the boat. "Nice," I say.
"It gets a lot of use. It's actually quicker to take this to the store on the other side of the lake than it is to go by road. Kick off your loafers and we'll get this out and tie it up to the dock. You get the lines."
Steve opens the overhead door to the water and we push the boat out, wading in waist deep water to the dock, pulling the boat behind us. The boys come running up to look it over.
"Gee! Can we ski, Steve?" Eddie asks.
"That's what it's here for. Tomorrow, though. I need to check the engine out first."
"You ski, Mike? I ask.
He shakes his head. "Always wanted to try. It looks like fun."
"It is!" Eddie says. "I can teach you. I know Steve can."
"No way that little boat's gonna get a guy big as me out of the water."
"You'll be surprised, Mike. It'll snatch you out of your trunks," Steve says.
Mike grins. "That I gotta see."
The next morning Steve checks out the boat. Eddie watches with envy when he opens it up, the craft skimming the water as it flies along. Making a big circle, Steve brings it along side the dock easily and stops.
"You like to start from the dock or from the water?" He asks Eddie.
"Okay." He hands Eddie the grip and tosses the line out behind the boat. "Watch what Eddie does, Mike. Tim, get in, you're the watcher."
I see Stupid crouched at the edge of the lake, ready to chase us. Eddie gets in the water and in position as Steve idles the boat ahead until the line is taut, then pushes the throttle forward. I'm surprised when Eddie comes up smoothly without falling. He signals for Steve to go and the boat surges ahead. After a few minutes, Steve circles, Eddie swinging far out, then relinquishing the line and riding the skis neatly to shore.
"Beautiful!" Steve says when he brings the boat alongside the dock. "Let's see if you can teach Mike."
I hold the boat against the dock while Steve and Eddie get in the water with Mike and show him how to prepare to get up. Steve's last admonition to him is to hold the bar as close to his chest as possible, keeping his hand centered.
"Why?" Eddie asks.
"Because he's using only one arm. He might get pulled to the side if he holds it straight out. Help him stay in position until the line is taut."
Mike gets half way up before he lets his arm straighten. The skis turn as Steve predicted and Mike falls, turning loose of the bar. He swims easily to shallow water. We circle and pick up the skis, then go back to the dock.
"Not bad, Mike. See why you have to hold the bar closer than Eddie did?"
"Yeah," Mike says with a chagrinned look.
"And don't lean forward; lean back against the pull and always keep the ski tips up. Help him, Eddie."
It takes another half dozen tries, but finally Mike gets the hang of it and stays up for a decent ride. When I signal that we're circling and point to the beach, Mike lets go too quickly and has to swim in. I coil the line and Steve brings us in after retrieving the skis.
"Time for lunch, guys."
"How was it, Mike?" I ask.
"Something else! That's fun. Wish I was good as Eddie."
"You did very well for the first time, Mike. A few more tries and you'll be fine."
While we're eating lunch a powerful roar attracts our attention. A boat much larger than Steve's flies past at top speed, the driver paying more attention to the beer he's drinking than to where he's going.
"Asshole," Steve snorts.
"You know him?" I ask.
"Yeah. Lives up the lake. Lots of money and no damn sense; thinks he owns the whole damn lake and that thing's a hydroplane. Stays half drunk. Wonder he hasn't killed somebody."
Wednesday Steve says we need to make a run to the general store for a few things. Eddie says he wants to ski over.
"It's two miles, buddy," Steve tells him.
I sit beside Steve, while Mike watches Eddie. Stupid hangs over the transom barking at Eddie until Steve tells Mike to pop him on the head and say 'No'.
"Stupid dog," Steve mutters.
There's no place for Eddie to land, so Steve signals him to drop off in the water. We pick him and the skis up. The moment Mike pulls Eddie in the boat, Stupid is licking Eddie's face. Eddie pushes him away.
"Tired?" Steve asks when he cuts the motor and glides to the dock.
Eddie flexes his arms a couple of times. "Yeah, but it was sure fun."
We make our purchases, the last being ice cream cones for all of us. We sit on the dock to finish them before starting home.
"Tim, you think you can handle the boat?" Steve asks.
He grins. "Cause I'm skiing home." He swats Eddie playfully. "Can't let this guy beat me."
He gives Stupid the tiny bit of ice cream left in his cone and strips off his shorts and thongs.
"Water start, or dock," I ask.
Steve points to the end of the weathered dock. "Water. You think I want a bunch of splinters in my ass?"
Once Steve is up, I give it full throttle. About half way across the lake I feel the boat begun to surge. When I hear Mike and Eddie yell "Wow!" I look back to see Steve doing acrobatic tricks I've seen only in a few movies. I give Steve a thumbs-up and turn back to driving. At the house I circle to let Steve glide perfectly up to the shore, then I bring the boat to the dock.
"Awesome, man," Eddie tells Steve. 'Where'd you learn to do that?"
"I was a member of a ski club when I was your age. Just wanted to see if I still had it."
"I couldn't ever do that stuff," Mike says. "I can't believe I even got up on those things. Mom won't believe it either."
Despite Steve's insistence we use sunscreen liberally with all the time we've spent in the water we're nicely tanned. Friday afternoon the boys want more skiing.
"Can't you guys give us old men a break?" I ask Eddie and Mike.
"Old men? Speak for yourself," Steve says to me. "Let's go, guys."
It's late afternoon, Steve pulling Eddie for a last round, when I hear a roaring engine. That large boat is coming toward us at top speed. I stand and try to wave him off, but he lifts his can of beer in a friendly gesture. Steve almost throws me over the side he turns the boat so suddenly. I look back to see Eddie swinging as far out as the line allows. I motion for him to swing back in, but the big boat flies between us and Eddie.
Mike screams; I watch in horror as the snagged line pulls Eddie into the back of the bigger boat. Steve cuts to an immediate idle as I jump over the side and swim toward the spot I last saw Eddie. His head bobs up out of the water and I grab him. He screams, wrapping his arms around my neck. Steve's alongside us; Mike pulls Eddie in the boat while l pull myself in.
Mike's holding a moaning Eddie tightly. "Oh, shit!" Mike yells. I look down to see Eddie's right foot is a mangled bloody mess, spewing blood. Instinctively I grab a short piece of line and place a tourniquet above his ankle. Steve opens the boat up.
At the house, he makes a quick examination of Eddie while Mike and I slip into our shorts, T-shirts, and loafers. Eddie is only semi-conscious now. Steve wraps him in a blanket and I take him to my car, laying him on the back seat. Mike holds his head in his lap.
"I'll drive; you sit in back and watch Eddie," Steve snaps, handing me his medical bag and a stack of towels to wrap Eddie's foot when needed.
When he turns onto the paved road, he slows enough to yell at a young man on the farmhouse lawn. "Emergency. Close my house." The guy gives him a 'thumbs-up' to show he understood and Steve floors it.
We're a few miles further on when I hear a siren, and Steve pulls to a stop. He doesn't wait for the state cop to saunter up, but yells, "Doctor. Badly injured boy in here. Clear us to the hospital!"
We follow the cop all the way in as fast as my car can run. Steve narrowly avoids another car as he slides to a stop at the emergency entrance. I run into the small operating room with Eddie in my arms and place him on the table. The staff snaps to, and Henk comes running in with Steve. I back away while they unwrap the bloody towels.
"Get ready to help," Henk barks at me.
I take Mike with me to the staff room. "Get some coffee or a drink and stay here," I tell him, and dash back to the operating room.
"No chance to save it," I hear Henk tell Steve.
"Ready?" Henk barks at me again.
I move into position, strangely as detached and collected as I always am during an operation. Henk starts, and I'm vaguely aware of Jake coming in. I slap instruments into Henk's hand, but it's only when I hand Henk the saw that I become conscious of the fact he's amputating and it's Eddie's foot. My head starts to spin. Steve looks up and slaps me hard, but all goes black.
When I come to, I'm propped up against the far wall of the operating room, a scrub nurse waving an ammonia ampoule under my nose. I feebly wave her off and try to stand.
"Out," Henk snaps.
I somehow stumble into the staff room. Mike jumps up and leads me to a seat on the worn sofa then sits down beside me. "What happened?"
"I passed out."
"Why's it taking so long?
I feel tears streaming down my cheeks when I look at him. "Henk's taking Eddie's foot."
The pain of Mike's bear hug brings me sharply into focus. I try to pull away, but I feel Mike begin to shake then sob. I rub his back trying to comfort him. "Don't cry, Mike. Eddie's going to be okay. Henk's first rate."
He pulls back and looks at me, tears streaming. "I love him, Tim. I I don't want him to be like me."
I pull him back against me. "I know, Mike, I know. But you've got to be strong for Eddie now. He's going to need all your strength and love to get through this. You're going to help him a lot since you've been through it yourself."
"It's hell, Tim."
"I wish I could kill that asshole did this. I'd burn his boat, so he couldn't do it to nobody else."
"Forget it, Mike; concentrate on helping Eddie. I'm going to have to depend on you a lot for the next few weeks."
He pulls away and looks me in the eyes. "I ain't going to work; I ain't leavin' Eddie."
"Are you sure?"
"Damn right, Tim."
I hug him. "Thank God, Eddie's got a friend like you."
Henk and Steve come in. Steve gives me a hug then a wan smile. "Sorry about the slap, Tim."
"I'm embarrassed, Doctors. I've never done such a thing before."
Henk hugs me. "You see why doctor not allowed to treat family, yes? Do not feel shame. It is natural reaction."
"Where's Eddie?" Mike demands.
"He's in recovery, Mike," Steve tells him. "You did a great job."
"I wanna see 'em!"
Henk walks over and puts his hand on Mike's shoulder. "Soon as he in regular room. You will help him?"
"I'll do anything for him. Why'd you cut off his foot?"
Henk sits down beside him. "Was so bad I could not save. Steve know. I fix stump so Eddie walk easy with new leg. You see. He has already."
Steve looks at me. "That's why we were so long. Henk was able to give Eddie a temporary pylon. It'll be a big help psychologically."
"Thank God for small favors," I whisper.
"Let's get the paperwork out of the way so you can be with Eddie," Steve says.
"Ja, I forget permission," Henk adds.
Steve brings me the clipboard and a cup of coffee, then hands me his pen. I do it swiftly, but hesitate before signing my name to the permission form for surgery. "You know it was necessary, Tim. Sign it," Steve says quietly.
I do and hand him the board. "I've got to let Ed know. He'll slit my throat when he gets here."
"Ja, and you have two good doctors to sew back up," Henk jokes to lighten the moment.
"Let it wait until Eddie's out of recovery. He needs you and Mike worse, and your brother is going to want to know how he's doing. I'll be with you when you call, if you want." Steve tells me.
"Also me," Henk offers.
"No, I want to do it now. His number's in my office."
Steve pulls me up. "Let's do it, then. We'll use Henk's speakerphone."
Mike puts his arm around me as we walk across to our offices. I get the number, then we sit around Henk's desk. When I fumble with the phone, Henk takes the Roldex card from me and punches in the number quickly.
It rings so long I'm beginning to wonder, but Ed finally yells, "What?" He's always been a grouch if he's awakened.
I manage to tell him most of what's happened before he starts. "I should have known better than leave Eddie with a God damned queer!" He screams.
"Shut the fuck up," Steve yells.
"Who're you telling to shut up?" Ed yells back.
"You! I'm Eddie's doctor, now calm down and listen." Steve tells Ed of the accident in detail.
Finally, Ed asks more calmly, "There was no other way?"
"I know Eddie and love him also," Henk says in a deadly calm voice. "Is fine boy to make you proud. I do not like to amputate young boy, but is no other way."
"Who are you?"
"That was Eddie's surgeon," Steve says. "He's the finest in the state. Eddie got the best care possible."
We hear someone mumble something at the other end, but Ed tells her to shut up. I surmise it's Martine, Eddie's mother.
"When will you be back?" I ask.
"God damn it, I can't leave now."
"So, business more important than son? Best you stay Netherlands, then," Henk says. "Steve, Tim, Mike, I give Eddie best loving care."
"Who're you to tell me what to do? Who's Mike?" Ed snaps.
Henk's face turns red. "I am Doctor Henk von Rhyn, Fellow American Academy of Surgeons and employer of Tim. Mike is partner of Eddie."
"What the hell you mean partner?"
I wave for Henk not to answer, but he's furious. "Is love of Eddie. He care more than you."
"Jesus!" Ed screams. "Did Tim make Eddie a fag? Oh, shit! I knew this would happen. Screw it, I'm coming home."
"You will not!" Henk barks. "Eddie not need emotional upset like you make."
"Ed, please, don't start anything now. Wait until Eddie's better. He's getting the best care possible. I wouldn't have had this happen for the world. You know I love him." I say.
"Yeah. Sure you do, fag!"
"What I am has nothing to do with this. I'd never hurt Eddie."
"I wish it had been my other arm instead of Eddie's foot," Mike says desperately.
"Stay away from Eddie, you fag!" Ed yells.
"Fuck you! I love 'em, man. Ain't you ner nobody else gonna keep me away from him," Mike says before I can shut him up.
"Oh, for heaven's sake stop yelling and go back to sleep, Ed," I hear Martine say clearly.
"Shut up, bitch," Ed yells.
"Enough! You come home if like, but you no see Eddie until I say," Henk screams and breaks the connection.
"Whew!" Steve says.
Henk opens his desk and takes out a bottle of brandy, unscrews the cap and hands it to me. "Drink!"
I take a healthy slug and cough as it burns its way down. "Thanks, Henk. Thank you guys for being here."
Mike grabs the bottle and takes a drink also. Steve takes it from him and he and Henk take a slug, too.
Steve wipes his mouth. "Damn! Is he always like that?"
"I'm afraid so, especially if he's awakened in the middle of the night."
Henk glances at his watch. "Yes, is four hundred hours in Netherlands." He stands. "Let's back to Eddie get. Should be recovered by now."
We find Eddie in a private room. He's alert but sleepy. "Stay, Mike."
"I will, baby." Mike kisses him and Eddie drops back off. "I'm staying," he says defiantly to us.
"I am, too. I'll get a couple of cots for us," I tell him.
"I can't sleep with him, hold him?"
"No," Henk says. "You too big, hurt Eddie." He pats Mike on the shoulder. "This hospital not love nest."
Mike grins. "If you say so."
"I do. Now obey Tim or I throw you out."
I wake and wash up the next morning, then wake Mike and send him down to get some breakfast while I sit with Eddie. I'm thinking about our future when Eddie says," My leg hurts, Tim."
I give him a kiss on the forehead. "Tell me if it gets bad and I'll give you something for pain."
"Am I hurt bad? I don't remember anything but hitting that boat."
"Be a strong boy for Mike and me. Your foot got torn up by the prop on that boat." I squeeze his hand. "Henk took it off."
He looks down and sees the pylon foot pushing the sheet up. "Quit kidding, Tim. I can see my foot." He tries to move it and cries out, "It hurts!"
"Don't move it, yet. Henk gave you a prosthetic foot."
"No! I want to see."
Mike comes in just as I flip the sheet back. He grabs Eddie's hand. Eddie looks at his temporary leg without saying anything, but tears start to trickle down his cheeks.
Mike kisses him. "I love you, Eddie."
Eddie throws his arms around Mike's neck. "Don't leave me, Mike."
"I'll never leave you, love."
"But my leg's gone."
Mike kisses him again, then strokes his hair. "My arm's gone but that didn't stop you from loving me, did it?"
"Your leg's not gonna bother me neither. You're mine, an' ain't nothing changing that. I promised Tim I'd go home with you and stay long as you need me."
"I love you, Mike. I always need you."
Henk and Steve come in. "You look good, Eddie. Have you any pain?"
"When I tried to move my leg."
"Yes. Tomorrow we get you out of bed so you try to walk."
Henk grabs his hand. "It will hurt, yes, but soon pain go away, and you walk with Mike. You like?" Eddie nods. "I think so. Now I look at you."
After his exam of Eddie, Henk motions me into the hall. "l seldom have time to do such good job. I come tomorrow and Eddie take few steps. Will do him good to circulate blood better. If all go well, he go home by end of week. You have Mike to help?"
"Yes, thank God. Mike's giving up his job to stay with Eddie. I'll pay him since he needs the money. You and Steve may have to help me get him to take pay, but he needs it."
"We'll see that he takes it," Steve says. "We'll pay him from the office account. You can take a few days with him, but I'll certainly miss you."
"Soon as I teach Mike what Eddie needs, I'll be back in the office. I'll need the money to pay you back. Find out what he'd make with the paras and let me know. I don't want him to be short."
"Will do." Steve backs off. "You look like shit. Go home and get a bath and change. I'm driving up to get our stuff from the cottage this afternoon. I know you want to stay with Eddie, so I won't ask you along. Try to get some sleep, too."
"Thanks, Steve. I love you."
Seeing Mike and Eddie absorbed in each other, I tell Mike I'm going home for a while, and ask Eddie if he wants anything.
"Okay. But I don't think it'll connect because the phone line goes through an electronic switchboard."
"That's okay. Mike and I can play games."
A few hours sleep, a shower and shave, and lunch in the hospital cafeteria do wonders for me. I go up to Eddie's room. "Here's your lap-top, Eddie. How you doing?"
"We got a problem," Mike tells me.
"Eddie's gotta go and he won't use a bedpan."
His face turns beet red. "It's like embarrassing. I'll stink things up and Mike "
"I understand. But why didn't you call the nurse?"
Eddie looks at me as if I'm crazy. "She's a woman."
"Look, we nurses do that all the time, we're used to it. How about if I help you?"
"No. I wanta go in there." He points to the bath.
I shrug. "No reason why you can't, but I expect you'll hurt like hell."
"I don't care." His stubborn expression is almost a duplicate of Ed's.
"Okay." I flip the sheet back and pick him up, telling Mike to lower the pylon slowly.
I can tell from his face it hurts, but Eddie never whimpers. I set him down on the commode and close the door behind me.
Mike looks at me with an anguished expression. "How'm I going to do that with one arm?"
"You won't have to. Henk will have Eddie take his first steps tomorrow. By the time he goes home he'll be able to walk. You'll just need to steady him."
"Oh. I forgot nurses have to do so much for people."
I slap him playfully on top of his head. "I've wiped more butts than you'll ever see. Did Eddie need to urinate while I was gone?"
Mike grins. "Yeah. He gave me hard time about that too, but I told him it wasn't like I hadn't held it before. He laughed and went."
Eddie calls, so I go get him and put him back in bed with Mike's help.
"You're good for him, Mike. Have you called your mother and told her you're here?"
"No. I mean she isn't expecting me until tomorrow."
"I gave her the number at Steve's. You'd better call her and let her know where you are."
"'Kay." The phone rings before Mike picks it up. He hands the receiver to Eddie.
"Yeah?" "I'm okay, dad, I already got a new leg and Mike and Tim are taking " "Don't call Mike and Tim fags," he yells. He listens a moment then says flatly, "I don't care. I'm not going home, I'm staying with Tim. I like school and my friends."
He hands to receiver to me. "What, Ed?" "Don't expect a lot of sympathy from me. I told you what she was when you married her." "Do what you please, you always do. And for your information, I'll be damned happy to have Eddie."
I hand the phone back. Eddie listens for a minute, then says, "I love you, dad, but I want to stay here. You can come see me any time you want. Bye." He hands the receiver to Mike and starts to sob his little heart out. I try to comfort him but he reaches out to Mike. Mike hugs him.
"What?" Mike asks me. I've touched him on the left shoulder, striking his stump - it twitches from a nerve reaction.
"Stay with him, Mike. I'll tell you later, but he's having a rough time."
I walk out to keep them from seeing my anger. Ed told me he's leaving Martine and since I turned Eddie into a fag I can keep him; he wants nothing to do with either of us. I know Eddie feels deserted because what little love he's gotten over the years has come from Ed.
I grab a cup of coffee from the nurses' station and sit in an unoccupied room next to Eddie's to collect my thoughts. The only good thing is that Eddie is away from the dissention and inattention he's had at home, and he'll have Mike. But I hate that Ed doesn't want to see him.
I look up when I hear footsteps. "Steve," I call.
He looks at my face and asks, "What's happened?" I tell him. "Let me think about what you should do, and I'll talk with you tomorrow." He hugs me. "I know you've got a lot on you, but so has Eddie and he's our first concern. I'm on my way to check on him. Come on with me."
The door to Eddie's room is closed. Steve pushes it open and we see Mike in the bed, holding Eddie. He looks up and nods down to Eddie, who's sleeping, so Steve jerks his head toward the door. Mike slowly and carefully slips out of the bed without waking him.
"Tim told me. How's Eddie taking it?" Steve asks softly.
"Kind of hard at first, but he's glad he's getting to stay with Tim. So'm I."
"You're a prince, Mike. If ever Eddie needed you it's now. Youre a smart guy, so just go with the flow where he's concerned."
"I just want him happy again, like he was at the lake."
"That's what we want, too. I'll let him sleep now and come back after dinner."
"Thanks for your help, Steve." I tell him.
The next morning with Henk's and Steve's help, Eddie takes his first steps. He winces each time he puts his weight on his stump but never makes a sound. Instead he frowns when Henk makes him get back in bed.
"You do very good, Eddie. I am proud. Give him Tylenol, Tim; I know he has some pain."
"I walked," he says to me proudly.
"Sure did. You're the greatest."
"I didn't think I could, but I did."
Henk smiles. "You do so good I send you home Friday, if nothing happen and you walk alone."
"I will, Henk. You'll see. Mike's coming with me."
"Then I know you have good help. Tomorrow you walk more."
I walk out in the hall with Henk. "Very good he has no more pain than he show. He heals fast. I take off pylon sometime next week to check. You know how to wrap stump. Also get forearm crutches."
"He'll be unhappy with them."
"Perhaps, but if temporary prosthesis do what I want, he can be fitted for new leg a week after."
"Ja. This keep stump in good shape, diminish swelling. The sooner he has leg so stump can shape to socket the better. I call prosthetics man I like."
"I don't know what we'd have done without you and Steve, Henk."
He pats my shoulder. "You important to us, partner. We want to help all we can."
I look up at the sound of fast footsteps. It's Mike's mother.
"Oh, Tim, I can't believe it. Is it true?"
"I'm afraid so, Elaine. I'm sorry I forgot to have Mike call you earlier."
"I wasn't worried until I heard. Mike hasn't been in the way, has he?"
"Anything but. He's been wonderful for Eddie. Go in and see them."
It doesn't take her long to have them both laughing over some incident at her office concerning that crazy statuette Eddie gave her for Christmas. Their laughter is balm to my heart.
With Eddie happy having Mike stay with him, I go home and get a good night's sleep. I don't see Eddie when I check his room the next morning. I look at Mike.
He grins. "Walked to the bathroom all by himself."
"I hope you were by him in case he fell?"
"Damn straight." He smiles admiringly. "He's a hell of a guy. I was a lot worse about my arm."
"I doubt you had the kind of emotional support you've given Eddie. Steve's right, you're a prince, Mike."
"Naa. I just love my Eddie."
I hug him. "We all love you, too, Mike. Thanks. I've got to run over to the office, Steve wants to see me. I'll be back before long."
Steve is waiting when I get there. "Come on in, Henk's covering me for an hour. Grab some coffee if you want."
I do and sit down. "What's up?"
"I thought about things last night and here's what I propose you do. Find a lawyer and sue your brother for permanent custody of Eddie. I've already had a talk with Daryl about suing that drunk bastard on Eddie's behalf. He's gotten by with too much too long and every property owner on the lake wants him gone, but this is the first time we've had something tangible to use in court. He owes Eddie big time and I'm going to make damn sure Eddie benefits."
When Steve says 'sue' twice, Elaine's little story flashes through my mind and I chuckle.
"What's so damn funny?"
I tell him about the statuette and he chuckles, too.
"Thanks, Steve. Even if I hadn't fallen in love with you before, I would now. You always seem to know the answers."
"If you'd grown up with a corporate lawyer for a father, you'd be analytical, too." He grins. "Hell, I couldn't get by with excuses when I was a kid, I had to state my case like I was in court. I hated it at the time, but it certainly has paid off since. Dad hugged me when I finally told him I understood now what he was trying to teach me. So, you have a lawyer?"
I nod. "The young guy from the situation last Christmas."
"Give him a call soonest and let's get this done. I need you working."
I go to my office and find his card, then call Atherton for an appointment. He insists on coming to my office to talk. A half-hour later he shows up. I pour coffee for us and tell him the entire story. He knows Daryl slightly and wants to work with him on the suit. The custody matter he assures me is a snap. He does ask to speak with Eddie, so we walk over to the hospital.
The only dissent comes when he asks Mike to leave. Eddie tells him in no uncertain terms it's not going to happen. After a few tears on Eddie's part, Eddie tells Atherton he wants to keep living with me. Outside the room, Atherton takes Ed's phone number, fax number, and tells me it'll be done within a week if Ed cooperates. He looks positively insulted when I ask if he wants a retainer, but says he'll take five dollars to keep things legit.
A week later he calls to ask if Eddie can appear in domestic court so the judge can see him. He wants Eddie on crutches. Since Eddie's already home and using them, it's no problem. To my surprise, he seems to enjoy Mike's admiration.
When I ask him, he grins and says, "Mike says it's payback for my touching his stump."
"It doesn't hurt you?"
"Not much. He's careful."
"Do you feel any pain from the part they took off?"
"You mean phantom limb? Henk told me about it. I can still feel my foot, but it doesn't hurt, feels like it's still on the ski."
I breathe a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad. Many times after traumatic injury leading to amputation the amputee feels a lot of pain."
"I'm lucky, aren't I? Mike makes it feel good."
"That reminds me, does his stump twitch when you rub it?"
He grins. "Yeah, it's funny to see, but he says he's used to it. He said that's why he doesn't use a prosthesis, it bothers him. I'm glad, cause I like him without it."
I hug him. "I didn't know you were a devotee."
"Whatever. He's a real stud."
The domestic court judge is a gray-haired woman. She doesn't suppress her loud gasp when we enter and she sees Mike and Eddie are both amputees. She turns her back on us quickly, and when she turns back to open the hearing her makeup is slightly smeared as if she's wiped a few tears.
A few questions to Atherton, Eddie, and me, and within fifteen minutes I'm given full custody of Eddie and the right to enter Ed's house in the presence of a court appointed cop to remove everything belonging to Eddie. The minute she announces her decision, Eddie hugs me. I see her smile.
That afternoon, Henk takes Eddie and Mike to have Eddie's stump cast for his new leg. He's one happy kid when he and Mike get home, though his smile falters when I remind them school starts on Monday.
Mike, showing excellent judgement, has elected to enroll in the newly added one-year college prep course at the high school. Elaine is delighted as Mike's grades have not been that good in the past and this will not set him too far behind, because most of his classes will carry college credit. The conference has not changed the rules, so Mike is still eligible to play football.
Mike reminds me Monday morning that they'll be late getting in from school because he has football practice. Eddie tells me he'll stay and watch when I offer to pick him up.
I have the early shift with Steve, so I'm home when they come in much earlier than I expected. Eddie's smiling broadly.
"Okay, what's happened?"
"I hadn't told any of the guys about Eddie's leg, so when they saw him on crutches, they fell apart. Coach was damn near as bad. He cancelled practice and everybody sat around while Eddie told them what happened." Mike grins. "If you need a lynch mob for that sorry fucker, I can get you one real fast."
"Yeah, the guys were great and I'm still their mascot. Mike was late to a few classes because he kept others away from me so I wouldn't get tripped or anything on the stairs. Tomorrow there'll be one of the team with me every minute. Most of 'em are seniors like me, so we'll have the same classes."
"That's really fine of them. Be sure to thank them."
Steve informs me the next day that Daryl and Tom Atherton are working together on the suit, and going great guns. On Thursday the judge calls me and asks if it's convenient for us to get Eddie's things this weekend, saying that one of the cops has volunteered to go with us with the court order in hand, and he has this weekend off duty. I agree with her that it's best to have it done as quickly as possible, so I tell Eddie and Mike that evening and send the principal a note requesting they be released at noon. It's a four-hour drive so we'll have to spend the night.
I'm delighted to find the cop is the one calls me Doc. I pick him up at home, surprised to see he's in uniform, but carrying his cap and a small overnight bag.
"Official court business," he says with a grin when I comment on it. "I'll need to check in with the station there so they can have an officer with us because it's their jurisdiction."
"This is awfully kind of you."
"Not at all. Hell, I figure you'll need another hand if the kid's got much stuff."
I shake my head. "From cop to moving man. You're a versatile guy."
Eddie is subdued when I pick him and Mike up at home and we start out. They sit in the backseat, Mike's arm around him. Their affection for each other doesn't seem to bother Tom, the cop.
After a couple of hours I'm tired, having worked a couple of cases with Steve this morning. Tom senses it and tells me he'll drive; I'm more than happy to let him take the wheel. When we reach the police station with Eddie's directions, Tom puts on his cap and gets out, telling us to stay put, but we get out to stretch. Eddie has some trouble standing after sitting for so long, having only just gotten his new leg two days ago, so Mike puts his arm around him. I look up in time to see a couple of cops coming out of the station.
They look at Mike and Eddie and walk over. "He bothering you, kid," one of them says to Eddie.
"Naa, we're friends. My leg hurts so he's holding me up."
"Oh." He looks at Mike. "You play ball?"
Mike nods. "For Easton High."
"Damn! You're that one armed guy I've heard so much about. Nobody beat your team last year."
Eddie grins. "Not a chance. Mike's awesome."
"I believe it." The cop holds out his hand. " Put 'er there. It's good to meet you."
Tom comes back and we get in. "They'll have a man meet us at the house at eight-thirty tomorrow morning. Where to?"
"I made reservations at the Comfort Inn, two double rooms. Hope you don't mind sharing with me. The boys will be in the other room."
"Long as you don't snore or make a grab for my bod," he says with a grin.
"You're safe on all counts, Officer Smithson. Let's check in then find someplace to eat and make it an early night."
"I'm with you there."
Tom's so apparently unconcerned about stripping in front of me when he goes to shower I think he's a bit of a tease. He may be buff and attractive, but my heart belongs to Steve. After breakfast, Eddie directs us to his house. I can tell it's hurting him already. The city cop who's waiting for us is as big as Mike, but very soft-spoken. Eddie finds the spare key and opens the door, then takes us up to his room.
He dismantles his desk top computer system and the stereo; Tom and I take it down to my car. The cop tells me he'll stay outside and watch it while we finish packing. With a couple of suitcases and several boxes, we have everything and the back of my Jeep is filled to capacity. Mike and Tom go down to get Eddie's bike from the garage while I stay with Eddie for a last look. He finally picks up the one remaining item on his desk, a picture of Ed and Martine. Tears are streaming when he looks at me and nods that he's ready to go.
He puts the key back in place, but almost falls. Mike runs over and grabs him before I can, picking him up and carrying him to the car. Tom and I thank the cop, and sign the form he puts in front of us.
When I start to turn towards Tom's apartment, he tells me he's going with us to help us unload and stops my protests. "Hey, it's gotten me out of town and I needed that. Besides, you're good company. It's bad to say because of what we were doing, but I've enjoyed the trip."
I leave Mike and Eddie to put away his things and after Tom and I have a beer, I drive him home. I try to get him to take a couple of hundred for his help, but he refuses flatly. "Since you won't, I'll give you a call to have dinner with us when the boys are in a better mood. That is if you don't mind eating with gays."
He laughs. "I figured that out long ago, Doc. Don't bother me, especially after being with you last night. Take care of Eddie."
"Damn right I will. You take care, too, and don't be a stranger."
The rest of the weekend is subdued. Saturday night I sleep better than I thought I would. I'm glad because I work Sunday. I'm not worried about Eddie because Elaine told Mike to bring him home with him.
While we're having a cup of coffee together, Steve asks me if I've given any more thought to moving in with him. "Damn, I'm not up to another move right now. My Jeep is still full of Eddie's stuff. If Tom hadn't been with us, we'd probably still be there."
"Glad he helped. From the few times I've seen him, he appears to be a nice guy."
"He is. After Eddie settles down I want to get us all together, Henk and you, too, for dinner."
"I'd like that. But seriously, ask Eddie if he's willing to move in with us. It'll be better psychologically for him to get this over once and for all." He looks me straight in the eye. "If you don't, I will. I love you, Tim Bryan."
"I love you, too, Doctor Steve Adams." I pull him up and kiss him fervently.
We hear a siren. "Shit," Steve says, "back to work."
At the end of our shift, Steve invites himself over for drinks and dinner that evening, telling me he'll bring it. I remind him that the boys will likely be there. "Good. With Mike there I won't have to eat leftovers," he says with a grin.
I clean the place up a little, grab a shower, and get a few minutes rest before Eddie comes in. "Where's Mike?"
"His mom wants him home tonight."
"Okay, run get a bath, Steve's coming over for dinner."
Eddie sniffs. "We getting pizza? I don't smell anything cooking."
"Steve's bringing it."
"Great." I notice he's limping heavily when he goes to bathe. He comes back a little later on his crutches.
"What's wrong with the leg?"
"Got to hurting."
"Tell Steve when he gets here."
I set up the drinks in the kitchen. Steve comes in carrying a big slow cooker, sets it on the cabinet and plugs it in. He pulls a couple of packages of instant mashed potatoes from his pocket. "Not as good as real, but they're not bad. I forgot to put any potatoes on."
I hand him a drink, fix one for myself, and take a can of soda in to Eddie. "Hate to ask you to work, Doctor, but Eddie's stump is bothering him."
Steve sets his drink down and kneels in front of Eddie, rolling his jeans leg up. He examines his stump carefully. "Don't see anything." He probes the end gently with his finger. Eddie lets out a little yelp when Steve presses one spot. Steve gets up. "Have Mike bring him to the office after school. I want Henk to examine him."
"Anything serious?" I ask.
"Not that I can tell. May be a result of sitting so long on the trip, but I want to be sure."
Eddie grins. "Good to have one doctor makes house calls."
Steve slaps him gently on the back of the head. "You rate special, guy. What would you think of living with the doctor?"
Eddie looks at him. "You moving in?"
"Other way round, buddy. My place is a lot bigger, so I want you and Tim to move in with me. You can have the big bedroom that opens onto the patio out back, and Mike can stay with you just like he does here."
"Wow! I mean you've got that awesome swimming pool and Stupid. It would be cool, but why?"
Steve shakes his head. "You and Mike haven't paid much attention to anything but each other, have you? Tim and I are lovers."
Eddie's eyes get huge. "Damn!" He gets up, hops across, and hugs me. "That's great, Tim. Steve's fantastic."
"Steve? Or his house and pool, and Stupid?" I see Steve grinning.
"Steve, dummy. Hey, Steve's got a maid, I won't even have to clean up my room."
"Down, boy! Millie has a lot of house to clean, and she does most of the cooking. Tim and I expect you to take care of cleaning up your own messes," Steve tells him.
"Aaaaw, heck." He grins and hugs Steve. "I was teasing."
"You sure you don't mind moving?"
"No way! Man, I'm glad Mike and me didn't unpack all my stuff yet."
"It's not going to be that fast." I tell him.
"The hell it's not, Tim. I've waited too damn long as it is. I'll give you two weeks to get packed and ready, then I'm having the movers in here."
"Where the hell am I supposed to put all this stuff?"
"We'll find room for your favorite things, especially the antique pieces. Leave the rest and rent it furnished. I know a couple of nurses will jump at this place. Well?"
"Since Eddie's sold on it, I guess I don't have any recourse."
Steve grins, then kisses me. "You never did. I usually get what I want, and you're the grand prize, especially with Eddie along. Hey, kid, like the idea of another dad?"
His smile falters when he sees Eddie's expression. He rushes over and hugs him. "I'm sorry, buddy, that was insensitive of me. I'm just so happy you want to live with us."
"'S okay, Steve. I guess you and Tim are my dads now."
"We want to be. I love you, guy."
Eddie hugs him. "Love ya, too, Steve."
Dinner is excellent, the big pot roast done perfectly. Eddie eats everything except the fresh green beans I cooked. After dinner he goes to do his homework, while Steve and I discuss the move.
The next afternoon Henk examines Eddie's stump. He looks puzzled and tells me he wants an X-ray. I look over his shoulder as he reads it. He points to a small dark spot. "Hematoma. Probably a small vein opened during the trip."
"What's that?" Eddie asks, a little frightened.
Henk pats him on the back. "Nothing serious. I can drain, or you stay with crutches for short while and it go away."
"Will it hurt to drain it?"
"Yes. Stump is still sensitive. Even Tim would hurt you."
"I'll use crutches," Eddie says quickly.
Henk smiles. "Good. Take care."
"Gee, now I can't do much," Eddie says on the way home.
"You wanna bet?"
"Steve's sending over a load of boxes. You want to move to Steve's, so you'll plant tail on floor and pack boxes while I hand you stuff."
With Eddie's eager help and Mike's, we've made a lot of progress by Friday. I insist Eddie go with Mike and the team to the out of town game. After they're gone I fix a drink and relax. Steve calls and we chat for a while. I'm in bed when I hear the boys come in.
It takes the rest of the week with Eddie, Mike, and me working whenever the boys are not in school and I'm off duty to get things ready for the mover. Steve's found four nurses who are waiting to move in as soon as I'm out and the cleaning service has been through the house thoroughly. Saturday afternoon, we're in my Jeep headed for Steve's.
I have the movers put Eddie's things in his room first and leave him and Mike to settle him in. Naturally, Eddie has let Stupid in to help. Some Help! My clothes go in the second large closet in the master suite and Steve's already made room for the few pieces of furniture I brought, so by nightfall it's as if we've been there forever.
When I close the last suitcase, Steve kisses me. "I've waited a damn long time for this, Tim, and now you and Eddie are here. It's a dream come true."
I kiss him back. "Steve, you're the best. It's not every guy would take a kid in to get a lover in his bed."
"I got more than that. I got my man and a couple of great kids who are lovers, too." He grins. "How the hell are we going to set a proper example for them?"
"Why, Doctor, I thought you knew everything. We'll let 'em see what real love is like."
He kisses me again. "Told you I could only love a nurse that thinks ahead, and you do. Now let's get showered and go out for dinner."
I yell for the boys to get showers and I find out what fun it is to shower with a lover. It takes all our self-control not to delay getting to dinner for quite a while.
Elaine has to accompany her boss on an out of town trip, so Mike moves in with us for a few days. Eddie's delighted, and Steve smiles. "Don't sweat it, Tim. They both have keys to the house, so they can come and go like they want. With Mike along, Eddie's not going to have any problems." Eddie's still on crutches.
Henk calls a stockholder's meeting after work. Steve happily reports that all the beginning expenses have been paid and our partnership has begun to show a profit. "By year's end we may even be able to declare a dividend. Small, but a dividend none the less. It's going better than I expected."
Henk's all smiles as he passes around small glasses of champagne. 'To success' is his toast.
Now that Steve works the same hours as I, we often drive to work together. "Now that you're making money, what are you going to spend it on?" He asks me.
"I've been meaning to ask you. Tom was so much help with Eddie and the team have been so supportive and kind to him, could I throw a cookout for them? It's still hot enough they'll love a chance to get in your pool and enjoy each other outside school."
Steve smiles. "Not a chance."
"My man's not sweating for a bunch of kids; I want him enjoying it with me. I'll call a caterer I know. He'll love doing a simple job like hamburgers."
"I can't spring for that yet."
"We, love, not I. We agreed everything's fifty/fifty."
"For us, yes, but that doesn't include Eddie. He's my responsibility and Ed's sending him some money monthly."
"Look, guy, he's like a son to me, too. Don't deny me the pleasure I get from giving him things."
I reach over and squeeze his hand. "Any wonder I love you? Thanks from the bottom of my heart."
"Naa. We've both lived alone so long we gotta get used to sharing real love and responsibility."
Tom happily has Friday night free and accepts when I call him. Mike has already assured me there's no game on Friday night and says he'll tell the rest of the team members. When he asks, I tell him they cannot bring dates, which gets me a broad smile. "I know damn well there's one player who'll have a date."
"He'd better not make it obvious either."
"So how many do you think we can count on?"
"I know a few got steadys and they'll have dates." He stops to think. "Maybe eighteen, twenty at most. You gonna get us a keg?"
"Absolutely not. You know how I feel about drinking and driving. What would the guys' parents say if they came home plastered?"
He grins. "Half of 'em don't care."
"So what do you guys do if and when?"
"Don's folks are out of town, so we usually crash in their playroom. They've got plenty of cushions and air mattresses, so it's no big deal." He looks at me pleadingly. "Be a sport, Tim. Nobody's gonna rat on ya."
"On two conditions. One, the top limit is two beers per guy while eating, none before or after. No sneaking bottles in either or they leave. Second, if they drink, they don't drive. Steve's said he'll get a van and driver to take the guys home, and the party's over by eleven. Think the guys will go for that?"
"They will if I tell 'em that's how it is. If they can't live with it, they can't come." He hugs me. "Thanks, Tim."
"If they want to swim, they're to bring their own towels. It doesn't get dark until seven and the pool's lighted, so five-thirty is early enough." I happen to think about Tom and grin. "Tell 'em there's an undercover cop present to be damn sure they stick to the rules."
Mike laughs. "Gonna make Tom work?"
"Naa, but I'm betting the guys don't know him."
Mike gives me a 'thumbs-up.'
Steve has gone me one better. The afternoon of the party, two young rent-a-cops big enough to hold their own show up. Steve tells them to enjoy the party, intruding on the fun only if anyone breaks the rules I've laid down or things show signs of getting out of hand. Both have driven large vans to pick up the guys at the school parking lot and take them back later. That way there'll be some control over driving and Steve's lawn won't be damaged by cars.
I simply shake my head at the amount of food the caterer and his helper put on three long folding tables after they've set up two large gas grills. The caterer laughs when I mention it. "Got three teenagers of my own to feed, so I know how they eat. If it wasn't for leftovers from jobs, I couldn't afford to feed them."
Tom arrives just before the kids to have a leisurely drink with Steve, Henk, and me before we go out to eat with the kids. Eddie and Mike are already in the pool; Stupid lies in his pen watching them with a mournful look. By six, the pool and surround are filled with guys enjoying themselves. Tom looks out the patio door and says, "To hell with this, where can I change?"
I show him to Eddie's room and a few minutes later he dives in to join the fun. There's lots of horseplay until the caterer yells that the food's ready. There's a cheer when Mike sets up the keg. "Remember what I told you guys," he yells.
We old folks fall in line last. To my surprise the kids are not near so rowdy as I expected, most telling me, since they recognize me, how great everything is. When there's a lull, I stand up and say, "This is to thank you guys for being so great to Eddie, so enjoy." There's a cheer and the party resumes.
They've about finished eating when I see Mike get up and walk over to one of the guys, pull him up, and push him toward the garage. One of the rent-a-cops starts toward him, but Mike shakes his head. I see Mike take a pint bottle, slip it under a towel and, after saying, "You'll get it back when you leave," walk into the kitchen with it. He's done it all so smoothly I doubt anyone else noticed. He winks at me on the way back to his seat.
After they've eaten, about half the guys ask to be taken back to town, with general mutterings of regret over the dates they'd made earlier. One guy jumps out of the van and comes back.
"I thought you were gone, man," one of his friends says.
"Hell, she stood me up last week, let 'er find out what it's like. This is too much fun to miss."
By nine-thirty only a few guys remain when one of the rent-a-cops comes over to me. "No women around?"
"I can't stand it no longer." He strips to his briefs and dives in the pool where the boys gang up on him in good-natured play. The other cop looks at me then joins them.
By ten-thirty the last of them are gone, leaving me with the feeling Eddie's back is going to bruised from the number of times he's gotten slapped there by the guys, and he's a little unsteady on his crutches when he comes in and hugs Steve. "Thanks a lot, Steve. It was a great party."
"I'm glad everyone had a good time, but it's Tim you should be thanking, it was his idea."
I get hugged, too. "Thanks, Tim. I love you."
"Hey, the guys have been good to you. I was glad to do it."
When Eddie and Mike come in from school Monday, Mike's laughing. "Hey, Tim, there was sure a bunch of pissed off girls at school today."
"Because they weren't invited to the party. They didn't think the guys should have one without them. Makes me glad I'm gay," he kisses Eddie, "cause I had a date."
Eddie punches him on the arm. "Some date! Didn't even get a kiss."
"What? And blow our cover? I made up for it after."
Eddie blushes. "Yeah."
A couple of weeks after the party, Eddie is back on his leg and things settle down to a comfortable routine.
Steve and I are having a before dinner drink one Friday evening in October when the door chime sounds.
"Expecting anyone?" Steve asks me as he gets up to answer.
"Is this where Tim Bryan and Eddie live now?" I hear a familiar voice say.
"Yes," Steve snaps. "Why?"
"Could I come in and see them?" The tone is plaintive.
I get up and go to the door. "Can you be civil, Ed?"
"Please, Tim. I need to talk to you."
"Okay." Steve steps aside, and Ed enters.
I introduce Steve to him as my business partner and lover, surprised when Ed doesn't blink an eye and shakes Steve's hand.
After Steve has fixed him a drink, weak at Ed's request, Ed says, "Tim, I've made a real mess of things."
"So what else is new?"
"Please don't, Tim." He looks ready to cry.
"All right, go ahead."
"I'm lucky I still have my job, but when I came home to that empty house it was more than I could take. I've sold it and moved into a townhouse."
He shrugs. "I have no idea, nor do I much care. She was part of the trouble, and I should have seen that pretty quickly, but, damn, she was so beautiful "
"You've learned that beauty is only skin deep."
He nods. "Yeah. Tim, I'm really sorry for what I've said to you in the past. Is there any way you can forgive me enough to let me try to make it up to you?"
"Ed, you hurt the hell out of me and I'm still not completely over it, especially what you said when Eddie was hurt. You didn't give a damn about him or me then, why now?" Then it strikes me. "If you're hoping to get Eddie back, forget it. He's settled and happy, and has a lot of friends. I know he e-mails you from time to time, so even you should be able to see that. His grades are high and he and his lover plan to enter college here when he graduates. I'm not letting you disrupt his life now that he has a stable one, nor will Steve. Steve loves him as much as I."
Ed's face is anguished. "I know. I'm not going to do anything to hurt him ever again." He looks straight at me. "Nor you, Tim. It's taken all this time for me to realize how much I love you and what I've missed."
"I love you, too, Ed, but it's been hard a few times."
"Would you consider letting Eddie visit me for a weekend or on a short holiday?"
"That's strictly up to Eddie. He makes his own decisions now, unless Steve or I know absolutely he's making a wrong one. You might as well know that he won't go anywhere without Mike. Are you prepared to deal calmly and reasonably with lovers?"
He gives me a faltering smile. "I'll try to do better by Eddie than I did you."
"You were my idol when I was a kid, Ed. That's what made it so hard when you began to reject me."
He stands with tears in his eyes and holds out his arms. I get up and receive the brotherly hug I've missed so badly. "Where's Eddie?" He asks as he turns me loose.
"He and Mike are working out, they'll be here in a few minutes. Would you like to have dinner with us?"
Ed's smile is genuine. "There's nothing I'd like better."
"I'll tell Millie to set another place," Steve says.
The front door opens and Eddie stops so suddenly Mike almost knocks him down. Eddie looks again, then smiles. He walks over and hugs Ed. "When did you get home?" He asks calmly.
Ed hugs him tightly. "Five weeks ago. I wanted to come see you then, Eddie, but I didn't know how Tim would feel. I've thought a lot and gotten my head mostly straightened out, I think. That's why I'm here now. I love you, Eddie, even if I haven't been much of a dad." He holds Eddie at arm's length and looks him over. "Damn, you've grown! You're a man. You've gotten strong, too."
"Yeah. Mike and I have been working out for a year now." He nods toward Mike. "This is Mike, father. He's my one and only."
Ed looks at Mike for the first time and gasps, "God, you're big."
"You should see him playing ball. He's awesome."
"But he's only got one arm."
"So what? Doesn't make any difference, and my leg doesn't bother him."
"I'm so sorry for what I said when you got hurt, Eddie. I didn't even think of it seeing you walk in."
"Henk and Steve made sure I got the best foot the guy could make."
Ed frowns for a moment. "You shouldn't be calling older people by their given names, especially doctors."
"Why not? They told me to, and Steve's my dad along with Tim. He's great."
I see Ed wince when Eddie says that, but he turns to Steve and says, "Thank you for being good to Eddie."
Steve smiles. "He's like Tim's and my own son. These two guys are the best."
Ed nods. He turns to Mike and holds out his hand. "Mike, Eddie has told me many times how much he loves you. Be good to him."
Mike's mouth drops open in surprise; Eddie looks at his father. "You aren't still pissed at me because I'm gay?"
"Not pissed, as you put it. I don't like it and I never will, but you're my son, Eddie. If you're happy, that's enough for me. I got in touch with a parents of gay kids group not long ago." He tries to smile. "l'm learning a lot."
Given a last minute guest for dinner, Millie works her kitchen magic and comes up with a meal to be remembered. We're all relaxed and enjoy it. While Millie is clearing before serving dessert and coffee, Ed looks at Eddie and says, "Tim and Steve have given you the kind of home I wish I could have. I'm glad you're happy here."
Eddie gets up and walks around the table to hug Ed. "I know you tried, father. I wish things had worked better for you, too."
Ed wipes his eyes as Eddie goes back to his chair, then Eddie asks, "Where's mother?"
Ed looks at me and I nod. "I don't really know, Eddie. I'm divorcing her, so I've only talked with my lawyer who talks with hers."
Eddie drops his eyes, and I see Mike reach for his hand and hold it. Eddie looks up at Ed after a few moments. "She never did like me," he says flatly.
Ed winces. "I'm sure she did, she just didn't know how to show it."
"No need to lie for her, father. I thought a lot about things when I first came here, and I remember how you used to yell at her for not paying me any attention. I guess I've felt like I never had a real mother, because I used to go to bed at night and pretend she was a wicked step-mother like those in some stories you used to read me."
"Oh, Eddie, I'm so sorry. I wish I had known earlier, but "
"It's okay, father. You made up for it until "
Ed reaches across the table and takes Eddie's hand. "I'm sorry about that, too. Will you give me a chance to try to make it up to you?"
"How? I'm happy here with Tim and Steve, and I've got Mike. I don't want to go back home."
"I've sold the house and moved to an apartment, Eddie; it reminded me of too many things. But I've talked with Tim and Steve and it would make me really happy if you and Mike would come for a long weekend or spend a holiday with me."
"You'll let me bring Mike?" Eddie looks surprised.
"If he wants to come. I don't want to separate you from your ah lover. He seems to love you as much as you tell me you love him."
Eddie smiles, then looks at me. Steve and I both nod. "That's cool, father. Maybe you can spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with us. Mike's mom and us all get together."
"I'd like that very much, if Tim and Steve are willing to put up with a foolish man."
"You're far from foolish," Steve says quietly. "We've all made mistakes, but I admire you for doing the best you can to make amends. There's room for you here at any time. Why don't you get your things from whatever motel you're in and stay the weekend with us?"
Ed pauses to wipe his eyes again. "Thank you, Steve. I can see now why Tim and Eddie are so happy here, you're as fine as Eddie says you are." He smiles. "Got my things in my car. Haven't checked in anywhere yet."
"Excellent. Eddie, put your father's things in the guest room."
After dinner, Eddie and Mike listen intently as Ed starts to reminisce about our boyhood, laughing at some of the mischief we got away with. When we go up to bed, Ed stops at the door to Steve's and my room and hugs me. "I love you, li'l brother. I don't deserve it, but thanks for everything."
"And I love you, big brother. Forget the past and enjoy the boys and your stay."
Things go so well, both Eddie and I feel a tiny pang of regret when Ed leaves Sunday after dinner. He told us he's having to work hard to rebuild his position in the firm he works for, but that he'll definitely spend the long Thanksgiving weekend with us. Steve comments to me that Ed wasn't at all what he expected, and that he's welcome so long as he maintains his present attitude. That's quite a concession for Steve.
Ed arrives late Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving with a big smile and a hug for me, though I can tell he's tired. Apologetically, he asks for a drink then hits the bed. The next morning Eddie hugs Ed the moment he sees him at the breakfast table.
"I'm glad you came, father. This will be the best Thanksgiving ever."
"I'm glad to see you, too, Eddie. Where's Mike?"
"At home. He and his mom will be over before long."
Ed smiles. "After we eat, I have something for you."
"A surprise, but it'll wait until we've eaten."
After breakfast I follow them out to Ed's car. He opens the boot and takes out a box, handing it to Eddie. "I hope you're still into skating."
Eddie rips into the box and brings out a pair of in-line skates even I can tell were very expensive. He looks at Ed with moist eyes. "Gee, thanks, father, but I don't think I can skate with just one foot."
Ed hugs him. "I saw a few seconds on the news of a young man who's a professional. He only has one leg, too, and I know you're good as he is."
Eddie's eyes get big. "Wow!" He sits down and takes off his shoes, handing them to me, then puts on the skates. He's a little awkward like a beginner would be, but it isn't long before he's doing quite well. His face is one big smile when he skates back to us.
"I can do it! I just gotta remember to use my good leg for turns and jumps." He hugs Ed. "Thanks, father. I gotta practice. Mike isn't gonna believe it."
"I'm glad to see Eddie so happy, Tim. He's a changed kid."
"I'm glad you're finally taking an active interest in him. You can be damn proud of Eddie."
"Thanks to you."
Mike's car slows and turns into the drive. Mike gets out, then goes to open the door for his mother. I see Ed's look of interest when Elaine gets out. She's gotten some rest and looks as lovely as I've ever seen her.
Eddie skates up just in time to introduce Elaine to Ed. Ed holds her hand a second or two longer than necessary with a smile. She glances at me, and when I nod she responds to his greeting graciously. I let them walk into the house together, because Mike is watching Eddie show off on his skates, and I need to help Steve with dinner since he's given Millie the day off to be with her family.
Dinner is not only a delight, but the easy conversation at the table fills my dream of how a Thanksgiving should be. We've just finished our coffee when Steve and I are paged. He tells Ed and the boys to fix supper for themselves and Elaine in case we're not back.
The next few hours are hectic. There's been a multi-car accident on the freeway, and some of the victims have been seriously injured. Jake and Martin take the less seriously injured, even so, it's after eight when Steve and I get back home. The boys are there alone.
"Where's your father, Eddie?" Steve asks.
Mike grins. "He took mom home after we ate." He sounds pleased.
"Oooh?" I say.
"Yeah." He winks at me. "I think he's interested."
Steve looks at me with raised eyebrows and says, "I'm hungry, Tim. Let's go fix a sandwich."
"Well," he says when we're in the kitchen, "I certainly didn't expect this."
"If you're talking about Ed, he's not slow when he decides to act. He's not one to live alone for very long either."
"But Elaine has always seemed so cautious and deliberate."
"She is, but from Mike's grin, I'm wondering if he isn't partly behind it."
"With all he knows about Ed's past behavior?"
"I think Eddie's happiness at seeing Ed is changing his mind."
Steve suddenly grins. "Say something were to happen, will two stepsons in love be committing incest?"
I have to grin at the thought. "Elaine's the law expert, but I doubt either boy will give a damn."
"Has Ed's divorce come through?"
"He told me it had, and Martine got only the Mercedes she had. Her lawyer was really pissed when Ed's lawyer presented plenty of evidence of her infidelity."
"Oh, ho. So she didn't take him to the cleaners."
"Hell, she didn't even deserve the Mercedes."
Friday morning, nothing will do but Eddie buying Mike a pair of skates like his, then teaching him how to stay up on them. I feel sorry seeing his one arm flailing about trying to keep his balance, but Eddie is a patient teacher. Poor Mike is so big he reminds me of a charging elephant when he finally begins to skate a little.
Mike is limping when they come in. "Oh, man, my ankles are killing me," he moans.
I have to smile. "Wait until Eddie gets you on a pair of ice skates," I say.
"Never happen." He rubs his rear. "Damn, that pavement's hard."
"Youre suppose to stay on your feet, not your butt, ' Eddie taunts.
"Easy for you to say."
"Don't let him get your goat, Mike. I expect he fell quite a lot when he was learning. Go get a hot bath and soak your feet a little. They'll feel better."
Before he leaves Sunday, Ed takes me aside. "Elaine is a wonderful woman, Tim. I'm coming back to see her often."
"I'll tell you now, Ed, she knows Mike's gay and in love with Eddie, and it doesn't upset her in the least. If you're thinking about getting involved with her, you'll have to show Mike the same kindness and attention you've been giving Eddie. Mike's very protective of her and Eddie thinks the world of her because she mothers him."
"I know, we talked quite a bit the past couple of nights."
"Before you get too serious, I have to say that I doubt she'd be willing to move to Statesburg and leave Mike here, especially as he has a scholarship at the college."
He smiles. "Got that covered, li'l bro. I'm doing most of my work by computer from home now. I fly into Boston to the office about once a month for a week, but that's all. Really doesn't make a lot of difference where I live as long as I'm in reasonable distance of an airport."
"If you live here, think you can manage with a couple of guys running in and out? Eddie and Mike are there as much as they are here."
"You and Steve seem to manage quite well. Both boys are old enough to understand that I'll need no interruptions when I'm working. If things work out, I'll be looking for a larger place than Elaine's so I can have a home office."
"I hope things work out for you, Ed, Elaine is a fine person. Just don't push. She's not the kind to take it."
He smiles ruefully. "I know."
"Good. The room upstairs is yours any time you come."
"No. I appreciate it, but you guys are too generous. I'll stay in a motel so I won't intrude, but I might be persuaded to have dinner with you occasionally so I can be with Eddie."
"You will stay with us Christmas so you can enjoy the boys. Mike may look grown, but he's still a kid at heart, just like Eddie."
"I want to. God, I've missed so much." He hugs me then goes to get his things. After good-bye hugs for us, he drives away.
He returns a couple of times before Christmas, never failing to be with Eddie and Mike as much as possible, and on one Friday night dragging me to a football game with Eddie to cheer Mike on.
Christmas dinner at our place is as wonderful as Thanksgiving was. Ed and Elaine can hardly keep their eyes off each other. Eddie tells me the evening after that while Steve and I were at work, Ed called him and Mike into Steve's study for a long talk. Both boys look very pleased at dinner the next evening. Ed has taken Elaine out.
As we're going up to bed, Ed asks me what day Steve and I will be off work after New Years, knowing what our work entails. I tell him the third of January and ask why. He grins and says he gave Elaine a diamond, she accepted, and they are getting married. They want us present with the boys.
"The hell you say!" I yell.
Steve comes running up the stairs. "What?"
"Ed and Elaine are getting married!"
"Damn! This needs celebrating! Come on, I've got a bottle of champagne in the fridge."
It's an hour later that we finally get to bed.
The ceremony is simple and low-key. To my surprise the judge is none other than the judge of domestic court that gave custody of Eddie to me. She's all smiles as she reads the vows, then pronounces Ed and Elaine husband and wife, in the presence of the boys, Steve, and me.
After it's over, she looks at me. "You're still custodian of Eddie and I approve of the way he's blossomed under your care, but I hope you will let him spend some time with his father"
I smile at Ed and Elaine, then at the judge. "Your honor, I doubt if things will change a bit. The boys will be with Ed and Elaine as much as they are with Steve and me. In a way, they have two sets of parents who love them dearly."
With both boys looking at her and nodding happily, she says, "I can believe that. I wish every case I handled had such a happy conclusion, or should I say beginning? In any event, I wish you all the very best."
Steve, the boys, and I are in my car headed home for a family wedding party when Mike says, "Now that Eddie and I are brothers I mean we're lovers, too, so what does it mean?"
Steve looks back at them with a grin. "I'd say it means you love each other in two ways now, as brothers and as lovers."
Eddie grins. "Yeah!" He grabs Mike and kisses him in anything but a brotherly way.
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