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Bryn switched off the lights in the small room that housed his unique collection, then pressed the button that slid the section of filled bookshelves back into place, hiding the entrance. As he mixed a drink, he tried to imagine spending the rest of his life dependent on any one of the items for mobility, at the same time marveling at the ingenuity it took to create each.
GIANT ANTIQUE SHOW the quarter page ad in the Saturday morning paper screamed. His interest stirred at a small boxed item near the bottom of the page: An unusual assortment of unique medical items will be displayed at this show for the first time. At ten o'clock he joined the short queue outside the entrance to the coliseum, bought his ticket, and made a beeline to the stall, his practiced eye sweeping over the display. Unusual to find three in one place, he thought. Not seeing the dealer, he asked of a man standing at the front of the next stall.
"I'm watching his booth while Tom gets a cup of coffee. He'll be back in just a minute."
"Thanks." Bryn turned back to look again at the items he wanted, noting a teen-age boy with long blond hair and a surfer's good looks had come up and was looking at the one item of the three he was not interested in for his collection.
"H… how much is this?" The young man asks, stammering nervously.
"I don't know, but I expect it won't be cheap. I'm waiting for the dealer myself."
Interested now, Bryn asks, "Why would you be interested in a peg leg?"
A look of sudden panic crosses the boy's face. He turns and starts to move away, but Bryn's hand on his shoulder stops him. "It's all right, I won't tell anyone. I collect them."
"You do?" His look had changed from panic to one of amazement.
Bryn smiles. "I have about thirty in my collection now."
"Have you ever tried walking on them?" The boy asks softly.
"Not the really old ones. I have one that's fairly new a man made for me, and I made another I like."
The boy gazes at him with an expression of admiration and awe. "Gee, I wish I could see them," he said impulsively as the dealer returned, coffee in hand.
"Sorry to keep you waiting. Find something interesting?"
"Yes. I collect old prosthetic devices, and these two pegs look interesting. What's their provenance?"
The dealer shakes his head. "I picked these up at an estate sale." He sets his cup down and picks one up. "The lady said her husband's father made this one for his own use after he lost his leg in the First World War. I guess someone else made the other one."
"Interesting. What are you asking?"
"One hundred for these two."
Bryn knew from his own experience at sales the dealer had probably paid no more than ten or fifteen dollars for each. "I'll give you thirty each."
"Not many people interested in peg legs and these have been around a while." The dealer paused to think. "Tell you what, take all three and you can have 'em for a hundred."
"I'm not really interested in that one," Bryn points to the one the boy had been looking at.
Seeing the deal slipping away, the dealer says, "I've got one more, but I didn't bring it because it's in poor condition. I thought it was unusual enough to create some interest, but it hasn't. Let me show you a picture of it." He rummaged in his briefcase and held out the photograph.
Bryn felt his heart jump; this could be the outstanding example in his collection. Careful to hide his excitement, he hands the photograph back to the dealer.
"Give me one-ten and you'll own all four. I can ship the one in the shop, or you can pick it up and save shipping. My place is over in Yorkville." The dealer hands Bryn his card.
"Done. I'll drive over next Saturday and pick it up."
"I open at ten. I'll be expecting you."
The deal concluded Bryn looks at the boy still standing next to him. "Will you help me get these to my car?"
"Sure. Not much else I want to see anyway."
Once the purchase is stowed in the back of his Range Rover, Bryn hands the boy a five.
"What's this for?" The boy asks.
"For your help, I appreciate it. Would you like a Coke? I'm thirsty."
They walk back inside to the concession stand, Bryn buying two Cokes, then sitting at one of the tables with the boy. "I'm Bryn Johanson, and you are?"
"Glad to meet you, Chris. Are you here with anyone?"
Chris shakes his head. "Just something to do."
"I'm surprised you aren't out with friends on a day as nice as this."
"Don't have any."
"Not even at school?"
"Unh unh." He looks at Bryn shyly. "Don't know anybody interested in the same stuff as me."
Bryn smiles. "Like peg legs?"
Chris drops his head. "Yeah," he says in a barely audible voice.
With his own teen years having been as lonely as Chris's seemed to be, Bryn feels sympathy for him. "What about your parents, Chris?"
"My dad goes out a lot." He shrugs. "I can take care of myself; I'll be eighteen in a couple of months. Does get kind of lonely on weekends though."
"I know how it is. My weekends get lonely, too."
"Are you in college?"
"I graduated two years ago. Now I manage property."
"Seeing that people build homes meeting the restrictive covenants that go with the property in Lakeview and that the construction is done properly. I also see that the unsold property is maintained and there is constant security."
"Lakeview's where all the rich folks live."
Bryn nods. "Lakeview was my grandfather's farm years ago. When the city started to grow out that way, he and my dad gave up farming and developed the land. The big lake attracted people who wanted large lots near the water."
"You live there?"
"In the house my grandfather built to attract buyers. Have you anything to do this weekend, Chris?"
"No. Dad's out of town so I'm alone."
"I need to take the legs home. Would you like to come with me and see my collection?"
"Good. I'll show you my collection, then we'll have lunch together."
"Cool. I've got my bike."
"We can put it in the back of my wagon."
At the entrance to Lakeview, the guard waves at Bryn and opens the electric gate for him to drive through.
"How come you got a guard and a gate?"
"This is a secure community, Chris. That fence goes all the way around and is equipped with electronic sensors to alert the guards to anyone trying to climb over. This way we can limit entry to residents, their visitors, and those with legitimate business."
"You mean if I was to come see you I couldn't get in."
"The guard would ask who you wanted to see and then call me on the phone if I hadn't given him your name earlier."
"Where do you live?"
"You'll see it when we get to the lake."
A minute or two later, Bryn turns onto the street running along the lakeshore and points to the large house at the far end of the lake. "That's it."
Chris's mouth drops open. "You … you live there! Man, that's the biggest house I've seen."
"There are several larger than mine, but you won't see them."
"You live alone?"
"Yes. My parents were killed in an accident during my last year in college."
"I'm sorry," Chris says, shaking his head. "My mom was killed in a car wreck a couple of years ago."
"I'm sorry about your mom, Chris. It's tough losing people you love." Bryn brightens. "I'm glad you've come with me, I hate eating a lone."
"Wow! It's even bigger up close," Chris exclaims when Bryn stops in front of the house.
"Too damn big, but it's home. Pick up a couple of those pegs and bring them in for me."
"Just set them on the floor by my desk," Bryn directs when they enter his study, "I'll catalog them before I put them with the others."
Bryn picks up the phone on his desk, then looks at Chris. "Steak okay with you? I've got to let Cara know."
"Sure. Ah … who's Cara? I thought you said you lived alone."
"My cook and housekeeper. She and José live in the garage apartment. José does all the maintenance. The cleaning and yard are done by services."
"Man, I must be dreaming. I'm not believing this."
"You gotta be super rich."
Bryn smiles. "I get by, but if this hadn't been the family farm I couldn't afford to live here. Now for the collection." Bryn presses a button on his desk and the section of bookshelves glides open.
"Gee, a secret room!"
Bryn smiles. "My grandfather had it built. I never understood why because he didn't use it for anything, but I'm glad since it gives me a place to keep my collection."
"Why would you want to hide 'em?"
"To keep anyone from seeing them. Most people wouldn't understand why I collect 'em. You're the first person I've ever showed them to."
"You trust me that much?"
"You were honest with me when I asked. I'm glad to find someone who shares my interest. Come on in."
"Oh, wow! I thought a peg leg was like the one I was looking at. I saw an old man using one when I was a kid, but I didn't know there were so many kinds."
"Most of these are real antiques. Years ago most people missing a leg had to make what they needed because there were few prosthetic makers. Even manufactured legs weren't much better and they were very expensive." Bryn holds up a crudely made short wooden peg attached to what appears to be the top part of an engineer's boot. "This one was made for a man with his foot missing just above the ankle. His stump rested on top of the peg and he laced the leather part on just like a boot."
"I bet that hurt a lot to walk on."
"I wouldn't be surprised."
"How would you use this one?" Chris asks, pointing to a straight single shaft crutch with a small platform extending from the lower half.
Bryn picks up a carved wooden figure with a replica of the crutch-peg leg. "He would rest his-above-the- knee stump on the platform and hold it in place with a couple of leather belts like this. I'm guessing, but I think he used it more as a crutch than a peg leg."
Chris shakes his head. "That wouldn't be too swift."
"I suppose not. Maybe he didn't have the time or imagination to come up with anything better." Bryn picked up another. "This is the most complicated one I've ever seen."
Chris looks at it, seeing the split shaft and a mass of wide leather straps. "I can't even see how he put on something like that."
Bryn shows him how the leather strips passed under and around the stump supporting it between the shafts. "I've often wondered how well this worked. Leather does stretch a little, so I would think it would have needed constant adjustment."
Chris shakes his head then points to one apparently made from the lower half of a standard wooden crutch. "Hey, I really like this one."
Bryn grins. "Whoever used that one probably got the idea from resting his stump on the hand grip of his crutch. I know that one is about a hundred and thirty years old."
"You know the history of all these?"
"Wish I did. The dealer I got that one from happened to know the descendants of the man who made it, so he could give me an accurate provenance. The rest I can only approximate the time in which they were made by comparison with old books and historical records."
"There's a whole history of these things, isn't there?"
"From before the time of Christ. I'll show you a tape I made of a program on the history of prosthetics that ran on the History Channel."
"I'd like to see that." Chris points to one made in the most usual form. "That's like the one I saw the man using."
"It's the type I've seen most often in pictures, especially from the Civil War and after."
"Wish it was long enough for me to try."
"You want to pretend your leg is gone?"
"Don't have to pretend."
Chris pulls up the left leg of his jeans. Bryn is astounded to see a prosthetic leg below the boy's knee. "I … If I weren't seeing it I wouldn't believe it, Chris. What happened?"
"Car accident when my mom died. My leg was jammed up, so they had to cut it off to get me out."
The blood drained from Bryn's face. He couldn't believe he'd blundered so badly! "I'm sorry, Chris. If I'd known I'd never have shown you this stuff."
"I'm cool. I mean they're really interesting and all. My leg hurts sometimes, so that's why I was trying to find a peg leg I could wear, cause I don't like crutches. The guy made my leg told me he wouldn't make me one because he didn't know how to make one like these. Anyway, he said it would screw up my walking or something. He showed me one had a stump socket with a peg on the end. That wasn't what I wanted cause it's the end of my stump that hurts. Course I wouldn't wear it where anybody could see it. Just around home when I'm alone."
"You'd be very handsome on a peg leg, Chris. I …," Bryn answers the phone. "Time to eat. You can see the rest after we eat if you want."
They sat down at the table in the bay window of the breakfast room, the cook placing their plates before them.
"This is really good. It's been a long time since I had a steak."
"I'm glad you're enjoying it. Cara likes to see people enjoy their food. Do you cook for yourself when you're home alone?"
Chris shrugs. "Too much trouble. I get frozen stuff and nuke it, or grab a burger somewhere. This tastes like it's been grilled."
"It was. I like grilled meats, so I had a gas grill installed. Cara likes to use it."
"Wonder you aren't fat eating like this all the time."
"Cara makes me eat right."
"That was great," Chris says, pushing his now empty plate aside.
"Let's see what Cara has for dessert." Bryn's toe finds the bell-push under the table.
"That was really good," Chris tells Cara as she's clearing.
"I'm glad. Bryn told me to fix something you would like. I hope you like peach pie."
"It's my favorite!"
"It's Bryn's favorite too. You like it with ice cream?"
"Do I ever!"
Oh, man, look at this," he says happily as Cara sets a large slice of pie covered with ice cream before him, and then serves Bryn an equally large piece.
At the first fork full, Chris rolls his eyes. "This is so good."
"Enjoy, Chris," Bryn says
"I've got a term paper to do for history. With all you know about peg legs, would you help me do it?"
"You're going to do it on peg legs?"
"Yeah. I mean it's interesting stuff to me, and I'll bet nobody's ever done one on it before. The teacher told us to come up with something different if we could."
"It'll be different all right, but do you think your teacher will accept it on such an unusual topic?"
"It's history, isn't it?"
"Yes, but quite out of the ordinary."
"Good. Will you help me?"
"If that's what you want. I probably have as much information as you'll find anywhere."
"Cool. I need an A on it, cause it counts as a third of our final grade."
"It's going to take you quite a while to go through everything I have. I trust you, Chris, but I never lend my research material out and I don't have a copying machine. Would you be willing to come out here to work?"
"You bet! You sure you don't mind?"
"I'll enjoy having you, Chris, you're good company. Always call first to see if I'm home or busy."
"I will. You're cool, Bryn." Chris finishes his pie, then his glass of milk while Bryn drinks his coffee. "Can I see some more of those peg legs?"
"Sure. We're about the same height, Chris, so I think I have one will fit you. Want to try it?"
Chris sits down in Bryn's desk chair and pulls up his jeans leg. He reaches behind the leg. There's a soft 'click' and the leg is free.
"What's that?" Bryn asks, pointing to the plastic covering Chris's stump to above the knee with a pin extending at the end.
"Silicone liner. Holds my leg on." Chris rolls it down and drops it beside his leg. "Feels good to get it off, makes my stump sweat in weather like this."
Bryn is almost unaware of the question, his eyes feasting on the short tapered nub below Chris's knee. The scar is a thin pink line. When he pulls his eyes away to look at Chris's face, Chris asks, "What?"
"I'm sorry, Chris, but your stump is so beautiful I couldn't help admiring it."
"Beautiful? Sure as hell ain't beautiful to me."
"I suppose not." Embarrassed now, Bryn turns. "Let me get the peg." He opens the hidden door and returns with a polished peg leg. "Stand up and put your hands on my shoulders and let's see if it fits."
When he has the peg leg securely strapped to Chris's stump, Bryn straightens and holds Chris's arm. "Swing it out a little then try taking a step on it."
Chris's first couple of steps are tentative, then he pulls away from Bryn's grasp and walks easily across the room and back with a big smile. "This feels good."
"It's not too long?"
"A little, but not enough to bother me much. Can I keep it on?"
"Of course. You look very nice on it. Hold still a moment."
"Rolling up your jeans leg. Now you look perfect." Bryn can't resist rubbing his hand over the end of the boy's stump.
"That felt good. Nobody's ever rubbed it like that before."
"I hope you didn't mind, but you do have a lovely stump."
After watching Chris stumping along with a smile, Bryn says, "Chris?"
"Do you really like the peg?"
"A lot. It's nice to get that leg off and this doesn't bother me at all."
"Fine. Come on out to my workshop in the garage and I'll cut it off so it will be right for you."
"But it's yours."
"I want you to have it. You need it and I don't."
"Absolutely. I know this one will hold up because it's not that old. The one you were looking at this morning is too short for you and likely to break any time."
After making a few cautious cuts, Bryn has the leg the right length for Chris. "Try it now, buddy."
Chris has a broad smile after a few steps. "Perfect! Thanks a lot."
"You're more than welcome. Want to get a start on your paper now?"
"Guess I'd better."
"Okay, come on in the library." Bryn hands Chris a legal pad and pen, then pushes a video into the player. "This is that video I told you about. Take notes while we're watching. If you want to review something, we can go back. You'll probably need to watch the tape again to get everything, but see what you can pick up now."
Bryn is surprised that Chris writes steadily as the tape progresses, thought he flinches a few times at the crude way amputations were performed. When the tape is finished, Chris looks up. "Got lots of good stuff. If I need to, can I see it again?"
Chris glances at his watch. "Guess I'd better get going."
"You want to stay for dinner?"
"Aw, gee. I wish I could, but Dad will be coming in about six."
"I'm sorry, I would enjoy having you." Bryn consults his watch. "It's nearly five, so we'd better get going."
Bryn waits until Chris has his leg on. "I'll take you home; it's a long ride on a bike."
When Bryn stops in front of the house Chris has directed him to, he asks, "Would you like to go to Yorkville with me next Saturday to pick u p the other leg?"
"I sure would! What time?"
"I'll pick you up here about nine-thirty."
"Great." He put his hand on Bryn's arm. "I really had a great time today. Thanks a lot, Bryn."
"It was all my pleasure, Chris. I'll pull together some of the stuff you'll need for your paper this week so you can start on it next weekend."
"Thanks a lot!"
Saturday morning, he stops for Chris.
"Hi, Bryn. Did you bring my peg?" Chris asks as he gets in the Range Rover.
"I did, but I wasn't sure you'd want it."
"My stump's hurting a little. This sure feels a lot better," Chris says as he slips off his leg and straps on the peg.
"Have you worked on your paper any?"
"Some, but I had a lot of homework to get done this week." He points to the backpack he'd tossed on the back seat. "I brought my notes and I thought if you had time after we get back, I could look at the material you've got."
"Good. I've saved today and tomorrow to help you and I pulled a lot of stuff together this week. I don't think you'll need much else."
"Gee, thanks, Bryn."
"I have to thank you. It gave me an excuse to put all the information I've collected on my computer and burn a CD for backup. I've been intending to, but just hadn't gotten around to doing it.
They located the small antique shop on a side street. The owner looked up from his desk and they entered. "Can I help you?"
"I've come to pick up that leg you sold me at the show last Saturday," Bryn says.
"Of course. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you, but I saw so many people by Sunday night I'm lucky I remember my own name." He glances at Chris. "No wonder you're interested in peg legs with your brother using one, but I'll swear I would have remembered that."
"He was using his prosthesis when we were at the show."
"Oh. Then why the peg?" He asks Chris, who's trying not to laugh.
"The leg hurts my stump sometimes. Bryn got this for me so I can give it a rest. I don't like crutches much."
"That looks new. I didn't know anybody was still making them like that." He looks at Bryn. "I have the leg in the back, ready to pack." He shakes his head with a rueful look. "You got a bargain. After I cleaned it up I found it's not in as bad a condition as I thought."
The dealer switches on the lights and walks over to a table. "Here it is."
Other than being entirely from wood, the leg is shaped to replicate a normal leg. Bryn's excitement increases as he looks it over. The socket for the short stump is open at the back to accommodate the leather pad and two belts needed to hold it in place. The only movable joint is the knee, the toe end of the wooden foot bending up to allow a near normal gait when walking.
"This will make a nice piece for my collection. I have nothing similar."
The dealer smiles as he wraps it carefully. "I'm glad it's going to someone who appreciates the work that went into it. I doubt you'll ever see another like it."
"I've never seen a reference to one like this in all the material I have."
"Nor have I. Of course, I haven't really looked much, but information is hard to find. If you've got a lot, maybe you ought to think of writing a book."
"Interesting idea, but I'll need a lot more material. As long as we're in town, do you know of any other dealer who might have some similar items?"
"Afraid not. It's rare to find one now, but if you want to leave your name with me, I'll let you know anytime I hear about one."
"Good. I appreciate it."
"This is going to be the finest piece in my collection," he says to Chris when they're back in the car, "I can hardly believe my luck."
"Somebody sure put a lot of work in it. I mean it looks almost like a real leg."
"It was obviously made for someone with money and sensitive about his appearance. That's what makes it unique. I'm glad I didn't have to use it, it weighs a ton. What were you laughing about when he asked about your peg?"
"He thought I was your brother."
"No, it was the way he was sizing us up. I kind of wish you were."
"I'd be proud to have you as a brother, Chris."
"Thanks. We gonna get something to eat?"
"We can. Cara knows we won't be back for lunch. What do you want?"
"A burger is okay."
"Why? I'd prefer something a little more substantial."
"Cause I've got on the peg. I don't want to go in a restaurant on it."
"Oh. Then would you like for me to get take-away? There's a rest stop on the way home with picnic tables. We can eat there."
"There'll be people there, won't there?"
"Probably, but they won't know you or care."
"Kay, I guess."
"Fine. I want a BLT. You can get a burger if you want. We can get cold drinks at the stop."
A few minutes later, Bryn pulls into the rest stop and parks near a picnic table. "Kay, guy, what you want to drink?"
"I'll get 'em. You grab the table."
"Get me a ginger ale if they have any, a Coke if they don't. Need some money?"
"Got plenty of change."
While Chris is waiting for the machine to drop the tins, a boy about his age comes up staring at the peg leg. "Cool, man."
"Your wooden leg. I always wanted to see one up close. What's it feel like?"
"You like it?" Chris asks in surprise.
"It's way cool." He looks at it enviously. "Wish I could try it."
"Too many people around. Bryn got it for me because my leg hurts sometimes. I like it."
"Yeah, the guy I'm with. He knows most all there is to know about peg legs. We just went to pick up one he bought in Yorkville."
"Will?" A voice calls.
"Shit! That's the old man. Guess he's ready to go. You got e-mail?"
"Gimmie your address so we can talk."
"Kay." Chris takes a slip of paper from his billfold and writes, then tears it in half and hands it to Will. "Gimmie me yours, man."
"Will, come on or I'm leaving you."
"Be there in a second, dad." He hands the slip to Chris. "I'll send you one tonight soon as we get home. See ya."
"There you are. The machine give you trouble?" Bryn says when Chris walks up.
"Naa. Talking to a guy. He thinks my peg's cool."
"Oh? Was he older than you?"
"'Bout my age. He said he'd like to try my peg. I'd of let him if there hadn't been so many people around. We're gonna e-mail tonight."
"Since you're going to be e-mailing each other, see what kind of guy he is first. If you become friends, then it'll probably be okay."
"Kay. He seems like a cool dude. It's getting hot, I'd sure like to go swimming."
"Then let's get home."
"Do you want to start work on your paper now?" Bryn asks once the new leg has been put away.
"Swim. Is the lake okay?"
"The lake's been awfully muddy lately, but I have a pool out back. I wouldn't mind a dip myself."
"Awesome. Aw …"
"I don't have my trunks with me."
"I think I have a pair will fit you. They've gotten too small for me."
Bryn let Chris change in the privacy of a bedroom, but his mouth drops open when Chris joins him in the hall. The boy has a nice swimmers build, slender but muscular, and the polished wood of the peg strapped to his stump finishes the vision to perfection in Bryn's mind.
"Damn, you're handsome. Do you work out?"
"Not into that stuff, but I like to swim as much as I can. I'd do it more, but I hate people gawking at me when I go to the pool, and sometimes little kids want to play with my leg."
"They're just curious."
"Maybe, but it's serious to me."
"I can understand that. With your looks I expect a lot of the attention you get is from women."
Chris looks surprised. "Why?"
"You're so beautiful."
"Aww, I don't look that good."
"The hell you don't. I'm surprised you don't have to beat women off with a stick."
"If I used a peg all the time I'd have one handy. Let's go."
Chris unstraps the peg, hops to the edge of the pool, and dives in, swimming with strong even strokes. Bryn watches admiringly until Chris splashes him.
"Come on in, the water's great."
"I'll get you for that." Bryn cannonballs next to Chris.
They frolic in the water until Cara comes out and calls to Bryn. He swims over to the side of the pool.
"Is he staying for dinner?" She asks.
He turns to Chris. "You want to stay for dinner?"
"Can I really? That'll be cool."
"Good. We'll order pizza. You can go ahead, Cara."
"Tired yet?" He asks Chris.
"Naa, feels good. Let's stay in a little longer."
"Okay by me. You swim, I'm going to get out and have a drink. Do you want something?"
"Got any beer?"
"You drink beer?"
Chris grins. "I drink the old man's when he's out of town."
"How old are you?"
"Practically eighteen. Please, Bryn."
"Okay." Chris climbs out of the pool, hops over to the lounge chair beside Bryn's, and stretches out.
Bryn returns with the beer and a frosty mug, hands them to Chris, then sets a tray of snacks on the table between them.
"This is great. You've got it all, man."
"Just lucky. I didn't really do much in college because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I took a business major that's worked out fine, because I like what I'm doing."
"Wish I could find something would give me the time you have to enjoy things."
"Afraid there's not many jobs like mine around. It sure beats farming though."
"You got a girl?"
Bryn shakes his head. "No. I'm not much interested in women. I like my life the way it is."
"Yeah. They always wanna boss you around. That's how come I broke up with mine last year."
"You have plenty of time to find one. You should be out of school before you get really serious." Bryn can't help the disappointment in his voice.
"Naa. They're too much trouble." Chris sets his beer down and stretches, then looks at Bryn with a smile. "Been a long time since I felt this good. Swimming makes my stump feel better."
"It certainly doesn't seem to slow you down. I swam on the college team and you kept up with me with practically no trouble."
"Wish our school had a team. It's the only sport I give a damn about."
After Chris fell asleep, Bryn got his digital camera and took several pictures of him, enjoying the sight of the handsome tanned young man. He's everything I've ever dreamed of, he thought. For the last shot, Bryn picks up the peg leg and leans it against the chaise next to Chris's stump, carefully composing the picture to include everything. I'm falling in love with him, he admitted to himself, putting the camera away.
He wakes Chris in time to change before the pizza arrives. Ah, the young, Bryn thinks watching Chris eat heartily.
"Okay, guy, time to go to work," Bryn says when Chris devours the last slice of pizza.
"Let me get my stuff."
Chris pulls up a chair next to Bryn's at his computer. "Wow! Look at all that. I'm not going to need anything else."
"But you're going to have to put it in your own words."
Chris scrolls through a few pages. "Hey, there's even footnotes."
"You'll need them, so it was easy for me to put in the references as I went along. If you follow this format, the computer will do your bibliography for you automatically."
"Great. I've got the introduction all written out." He flips a page in the legal pad and begins to type.
About ten, Bryn says, "It's getting late, Chris. Why don't you save your work and pick up again tomorrow?"
Chris gets up and stretches. "Yeah. I didn't know it was getting so late."
"Put on your leg and I'll take you home."
Chris suddenly throws his arms around Bryn. "Please let me stay here tonight. I don't want to go home."
He hugs Bryn tighter. "I'll be alone there and being here with you is so good. You make me feel wanted."
Feeling his own loneliness acutely for the first time and the appeal of this young man, Bryn feels tears spring to his eyes. Fighting them for a moment, he says, "I'm glad you feel so comfortable with me, Chris. I've enjoyed this day more than you will ever know, but won't your dad check on you?"
"I doubt it, but I can leave a message on the machine that I'm staying with a friend. He won't care."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Let's go sit down a minute."
When they're on the sofa, Bryn's arm around Chris's shoulder, Chris lays his head on Bryn's shoulder.
"Hold me, Bryn."
"I don't mind, but why is it so important to you?"
Bryn sees tears in Chris's eyes. "Since mom died I haven't had anybody to talk to, to hug me. I guess you think I'm too old for that, but two years is a long time without some love."
"Surely your father loves you."
"I guess. I mean he works hard and he gives me most anything I want, but he never talks to me or pays me any real attention. I guess he doesn't know how, cause he never did. It was always mom." The tears are flowing now. "I needed her so much when they cut off my leg and dad wasn't any help. He just told me to get over it and get on with life. I miss her, Bryn."
Bryn moves enough to put both arms around Chris and hug him. "I'm sorry, Chris. I'll always be here for you when you need me."
"Do you love me, Bryn?"
Bryn fights an impulse to kiss him. "I … Yes, Chris."
He's so great, I like the way he's holding me. I wish he'd kiss me like mom used to, Chris thinks. "Say it."
"I love you, Chris."
"I love you, too, Bryn." He raises his head and kisses him.
Reason won the emotional battle raging in Bryn's mind. "Please, Chris, this is wrong."
"Why? If I love you and you love me, that's all that counts."
"You're not gay are you?"
"That's why I don't have any friends," he says bitterly. "Nobody wants to be seen with the school queer."
"How did they find out? You certainly don't act gay and you said you had a girl friend."
"She was just camouflage cause being gay at school isn't a good idea. I got outed by one of the guys in our class. I used to have a buddy lived next door and we were fooling around one afternoon after school. Jim came over and Don's mom sent him up to Don's room. When he saw us, he ran out and told his friends at school what we were doing. Don and his folks moved just before my accident. That's all the real love I've had 'til now."
"I'm so sorry, Chris. Does your dad know?"
Chris shrugs. "I don't know. I think he might, but he's never said anything. Maybe that's why he's gone so much." Chris pulls out of Bryn's embrace and looks into his eyes searchingly. "You gonna throw me out, now?"
"Why should I?"
"You ain't gay."
Bryn leans closer and kisses him. "You're my dream come true, Chris."
"I love you so much, Bryn. Let's sleep together tonight."
Bryn shakes his head. "You're still under age and I'm five years older than you. You should find a friend your own age."
"I don't have any. It's you I want to be with."
Bryn takes both of Chris's hands and holds them tightly. "I do love you, Chris, but the risks are just too great. You're welcome any time you want to come here, but if you stay over it will be in another room, not mine. If you find a friend your age and want to bring him here, that will be fine too."
"Aww, it's only seven weeks 'til I'm eighteen, Bryn."
"A lot can change in that amount of time." At the change in Chris's expression, Bryn adds, "You are always welcome here, Chris, I mean that. And I'm willing to help you with your schoolwork, swim with you, and enjoy being with you, but that's as far as it goes for now. Can you accept that?"
"I guess. I really like being with you, Bryn."
Bryn pulls him up and hugs him. "Let's go to bed now; you've got a lot to do on your paper tomorrow."
Bryn showed him the bedroom next to his and, after Chris kissed him again, went to his own, wishing Chris were of age. He's wakeful for a while, half expecting Chris to sneak into his room, but finally falls asleep.
He wakes the next morning to the sound of Chris's voice at his door. "You going to sleep all day?"
"What time is it?"
"Almost nine. Cara's fixing breakfast."
"How do you know?"
Chris enters Bryn's room, wearing a pair of cargo shorts, a T-shirt, and on the peg. He sits on the edge of Bryn's bed and grins. "I've already had a swim. The water's great."
"Oooh," Bryn groans. "It's too damned early for swimming or anything else."
"Naa. Soon as we eat I'm going to work on my paper some more, but I won't touch your computer unless you're there."
God, he's so beautiful, Bryn thinks, watching Chris walking lightly on the peg leg, it would be worth getting up every morning just to see him.
They eat breakfast while reading the paper. Bryn glances at Chris occasionally, enjoying his presence and welcoming the lack of conversation. After Bryn has finished his second cup of coffee, he looks up to see Chris staring at him. "What?"
"You don't like getting up, do you?"
"Never have. Thanks for keeping quiet until I had my coffee."
"No problem. My old man don't talk until he's had his either."
"Well, since you're all bright eyed and bushy tailed, get to work on that paper."
"Kay. I hope I can finish it today. She gives us an extra point or two if we hand it in early."
"You may need it if she doesn't like your topic."
"Aaw, she'll like it. She wants it to be different, and I'll bet she's never had one like I'm writing."
"That's for sure. I just hope she doesn't think it's too far out."
"I asked her about it like you told me and she knows about my leg, so she said she would be interested if I had some history in it. She said I could put the pictures at the end so she could see what I was writing about."
"Then let's get to work."
Chris worked steadily, Bryn occasionally offering suggestions, until Cara called them to lunch.
"Gee! Another hour and I ought to be finished if your computer does the bibliography and all. Then I'll take the pictures. Wish I didn't have to wait for the prints, I could hand it in tomorrow."
"I've made the pictures for you. They're on the computer and only need to be printed out after you've decided which ones you want. I'll print them on photographic paper so they'll be as good as the prints you'd get with a camera."
"Fantastic, Bryn! I thought I was going to have to spend all my time on this thing."
"You're welcome, Chris. You've worked hard and I'm glad I could help you."
"When I finish I'm gonna jump in the pool."
"You'll have company, too."
Another hour of work after lunch brought Chris to the end of the paper. "Done!" He told Bryn.
"Okay. Let me get there and do some checking."
"I'll run spell check, a reading difficulty test, then load it on a floppy for you to proof read at home. When you're satisfied, bring it back and I'll print it out for you with the bibliography and pictures."
After Bryn had made a few corrections to spelling and loaded the work to a floppy, he hands it to Chris. "Here you go. Read this over carefully and make any changes you want then bring it back and I'll print it out for you. You'll need to get a binder too, unless your teacher wants it loose."
"She wants it bound. I've got one at home; I'll bring it."
"Good. The left margin is wide enough. You did very well and the reading level is above average. I think your teacher will be impressed."
"I sure hope so. Let's go swim."
After a couple of hours in the pool, Bryn pulled himself up on the edge of the pool and looked down at Chris. "You've worn me out. It's about time for you to go home unless you want to stay for supper."
"I know. I wish I could stay."
"Me, too, but I'm sure your dad would like to see you once in a while."
Chris pulled himself up beside Bryn. "I guess. I'll go get ready."
"I'll dress and carry you."
"You're wearing the peg home?" Bryn asks when Chris comes down carrying his leg.
"Yeah. I like it a lot and my leg hurts sometimes, like I told you."
Bryn smiles at him. "Keep it there, if you want. I'll make you one to use when you're here. You can't ride your bike with it."
For the first time Bryn felt alone when he returned home, realizing how Chris had filled his weekend with pleasure. He looked over his material again and toyed with the idea of writing a short book on the history of peg legs. He searched the net finding several bits of information, and saved the material. Looking again at the resources he'd gathered for Chris he realized he had a solid nucleus to work around. More research into the types of pegs made and used in other parts of the world would round out the subject nicely. He already had a picture of an oriental peasant wearing one of woven wicker. Interested now, he began his search.
With no complaints to take care of from the Lakeview residents, Bryn spent practically all of his time for the next several days going through every source and link his web connection brought up. Material began to mount, though he was disappointed at the lack of pictures and illustrations, then he remembered his grandfather's interest in obscure facts about the Civil War. Computers were science fiction and lacking the time to do extensive research on his own, the elderly man had subscribed to a national clipping service. Thinking of the information that had been accumulated mostly from small town and weekly papers, Bryn smiled to himself. Why not?
He searched the net and found two that looked promising, one national, and one advertising its sources as worldwide. A short message specifying his wants and taking a month long trial subscription to both was quickly sent. Darn kid has put me onto something here, he thought. If I can pull this off I know I'll have to self publish because no mainstream publisher will touch it, but a few lines of publicity on some of the devotee sites and it'll sell.
He switches to his picture program and brings up the one shot he'd taken of Chris standing on the peg leg. Damn! Using this in color on the cover will attract devs like flies to honey. I'll even dedicate it to Chris; he got me started on it with his paper. He closed down his computer and finally went to bed.
The phone interrupted his concentration the next afternoon. "Yeah, Jake, send him on and put his name on my permanent list." He walked to the door and opened it, smiling when he saw Chris peddling his bike swiftly, barely discernable across the lake.
"Hi, guy, you can fly on that thing," he said as Chris braked at the front steps.
"Yeah. You weren't kidding about nobody getting in this place were you? I mean the guard gave me the third degree."
"Sorry about that. I forgot to give him your name, but it's there now." Chris's shirt is wet with perspiration. "Want a Coke?"
"Thanks. I got warm riding out here."
"Come on in. What brings you out?"
Chris hands him the floppy. "All done and ready to print. You got time to do it now?"
"Sure. Let me start the printer and I'll get the Cokes."
Chris pulls a chair up next to Bryn's and watches.
"You're sure this is exactly the way you want it?"
"Yeah. I went over it a half dozen times. Couldn't find anything wrong, but I changed a word here and there."
"Okay, buddy, it's your funeral." Bryn starts the printout then hands Chris several sheets of pictures. "Here're the shots of the pegs you wrote about. I'll print them on high quality paper for you."
"Cool," Chris says looking at them. "I thought you said there couldn't be anything personal in a formal paper."
"That's right. Why?"
Chris holds out the picture of himself on the peg leg. "Why's this in there, then?"
Bryn tousles Chris's hair. "It's not for your paper; it's to remind me how great you look without that leg you've got on."
Chris grins. "You're wicked, Bryn. I wish I felt the same way."
"You're still the same old Chris you've always been. Losing part of one leg doesn't change that." Bryn smiles at him. "It just makes you that much more attractive to me."
"Yeah? Prove it."
"You know how."
Bryn shakes his head sadly. "Six and a half more weeks before I would even think of it, Chris. I love you but you're off limits as long as you're underage. Find someone your own age."
He's surprised when Chris grins again. "Think I have."
"Yeah. Remember that stud checking me out at the rest stop?"
"He sent me an e just like he said he would. He lives over in Montdale, so he's going to try to get his dad's car and drive over Saturday. If he does, can we come here?"
"You guys wouldn't rather be alone?"
"Naa. You're cool Bryn. I want 'im to meet you and maybe see all your peg legs. I'll be using mine, cause he wants me to, but I don't want nobody in town seeing it."
"I thought you understood my collection is a secret I shared with you. You haven't told him about them, have you?"
Chris drops his head. "Sort of."
"You either did or didn't. Which is it?"
"I just told him you knew all about them and gave me mine. I'm sorry."
"That's all right if that's all you told him."
"It is. I swear, Bryn."
"Okay, buddy. You can show him the pics since they'll be in your paper anyway, but please don't mention the collection again."
"Let me get those Cokes, cause it's going to take some time to print the pictures."
Chris watches the paper creep almost imperceptibly from the printer. "That's as slow as sending one with e-mail."
"A lot slower, because I've got it set on high resolution for the best print. You don't have a cable line?"
"Just a regular phone line."
"No wonder. If you ever want to send a large picture you can send it from here."
"Thanks. Can we swim while we're waiting?"
"If you want. I need the exercise after sitting here the last two days."
"What 'cha been doing?"
"A little research. Now I've got to wait to see if my clipping services come up with anything. Let's go before sun sets and it gets cool. Your trunks are in the top drawer of the dresser in your room."
A few minutes later Chris comes hopping down the hall toward Bryn. "I'm sorry. I should have gotten you a pair of crutches," Bryn says.
"It's okay. I hopped around home a lot before you gave me the peg."
"Won't you hurt your foot or get shin splints or something?"
"Doctor didn't say anything about it."
"He didn't expect you to be hopping so much either. You've got to take care of the foot you've got."
"Kay." He puts one arm around Bryn's shoulders and hops along lightly with Bryn's arm mostly supporting his weight. "I like doing it this way."
"Don't make a habit of it."
After an enjoyable hour in the pool, Bryn motioned to Chris. "Kay, guy, let's get dressed. The pics should be printed by now and we still have to bind your paper. I'll take you home because I don't want you riding on the highway at night."
"This is gonna blow my teacher away!" Chris says on seeing the pictures.
"She's going to be grading your written work, not the pictures. Let me know how you did as soon as you get your paper back."
"I will. This looks real professional," he says as Bryn hands him the bound report.
Bryn swats him on the behind. "It is. Now let's go, because I've some work to do tonight."
"Man, am I ever glad I went to that show looking for a peg leg," Chris says as he starts to get out at home.
"I am, too. You make my life a lot more interesting."
"Wish you'd let me make it more interesting."
"Down, boy. I want to ask you something. How well do you know the prosthetist who made your leg?"
"The head guy's okay, but I like the young guy who started there about time I got my new leg. Why?"
"Didn't you say he showed you a peg leg when you asked?"
"Yeah. What about it?"
"I was wondering if he would let you bring me by so I can take some pictures of the peg he showed you."
Chris shrugs. "Don't know. But I'll ask him when I go in next week. I gotta get a new liner."
"In that case, let me know when and I'll pick you up at school and go with you."
Saturday morning Bryn sat looking at some new material he'd found on the net when the phone rang. He answered, said, "They're expected," and hung up, smiling at the seriousness with which Joe, the new guard on early shift, was taking his position. He walked to the door wondering what Chris's new friend would be like and watched as Chris swung the peg leg out of a new Cadillac.
"Hi, Bryn," he yelled, as the slender dark haired driver got out and looked at him.
Attractive boy, Bryn thought, watching them walk to the door.
"This is Will, Bryn."
"Nice to meet you, Will. Come in."
"Thank you, sir. It's nice to meet you, too, after all Chris told me about you."
Bryn smiles. "You sure about that? Chris has a wild imagination."
"Only good stuff about you."
With a grin, Chris punches Bryn on the arm.
"Oooow!" Bryn yells, clutching his arm in mock agony. "See? He's trying to cripple me too."
"You should be so lucky," Chris retorts, then hugs Bryn. "Got my paper back yesterday. Got an A + on it, too."
"Congratulations. What did the teacher say about it?"
"Oh, man, it blew her mind just like I told you it would. She said I did a great job of describing the pegs, cause she didn't even have to look at the numbers to tell which was which. She said the history of 'em was excellent and my bibliography was the best she'd seen. She wanted to know how I found so much information and where the pics came from."
"What did you tell her?"
"I told her I got interested because of my leg and I met a man who had an awesome library for research. She said she was glad because she didn't think my paper would be much when I told her what I was gonna write about."
"She give you any trouble over the material from the video?"
"Naaa. She said if it came from the History Channel it was all factual stuff, and she was glad I watched it."
"Very good. What do you guys want to do?"
"You got a pair of crutches around?"
"I'm gonna use 'em and let Will pretend with my peg."
Will blushes. "No way, man."
"Hey, here's your chance and Bryn don't care."
"You sure, sir?"
"Go ahead. I'd like to see you on Chris's peg. He looks so good on it I know you will too."
"Yeah. The pics in my paper really got to Will."
Bryn sees Will blush to a deep red. "Don't blab all your secrets, Chris," Bryn says, getting a grin in reply. "Now you guys go do your thing. I'll get the crutches for you."
By the time Bryn gets back, Chris is sitting on a chair, Will is standing on his peg leg.
"You're gonna have to show him how, Bryn. He says it's too heavy."
"I just said it felt awful heavy."
"Chris does have about a ten pound advantage on you, Will."
"That's about what the portion of leg he's missing weighs, so you've got more to move. Try it this way." Bryn shows him how to swing the peg out a little before lifting it forward.
"Feels funny," Will says after a few steps.
"You get used to it. I don't even notice any more unless I put my leg on right after. Then it's the leg feels funny."
"You look good, Will. Can I take a picture of you?"
"Yeah. That way I can see how I look. Take one of Chris on his crutches, too."
After Bryn has taken the pictures, Will asks Chris to let him use the crutches.
"I thought you wanted to mess around on my peg?"
"This is enough. I like crutches better."
"You've used them before?" Bryn asks.
"Yeah. I busted my leg a couple of years ago. I still like to use 'em."
"If you'll do it like you told me," Chris says.
Will blushes. "Naa, man. Not here."
"Yeah, here. I'll be back in a minute." Chris swings off toward the stairs.
Will watches admiringly. "He's sure easy on 'em. I never could go up stairs that fast."
"He's had plenty of practice."
Chris is back quickly and holds out a rolled Ace bandage. "On the sofa, Will. I'm gonna show you how they wrap a stump when you lose a leg for real."
"No way. I'm gonna make you an amp like me. Take off your sneaker and drop your shorts."
In a few minutes, Chris has Will's leg doubled up and wrapped in the bandage, then has him stand on the crutches while he pulls Will's cargo shorts up. "Good thing these are loose or I'd never get them over your big foot." He stands back and looks at Will. "How's that look, Bryn?"
"From the front I'd swear he's real."
Chris grins. "Yeah. Take his picture."
"I want one with both of you together, too." Bryn says.
When the pictures are made, they gather around the computer as Bryn downloads them. "Kay, guys. Here they are." He brings up the one of Will on Chris's peg.
"Shit," Will gasps. "I really do look like I'm using your peg for real, Chris."
"Told ya. Bryn knows how to take a good picture."
"Wow! I like that one." Chris is standing with his stump draped casually over the handgrip of his crutch.
"I do, too. I'm going to have to get Chris a pair of forearm crutches. He'll look great with those."
"Come on, show us the next one," Chris says.
This is the one of Will on the crutches, with his wrapped 'stump' showing just beneath the end of the shorts. Chris grins. "That one I gotta have. He looks real for sure."
"Very much so. I'll play around with the pics of Will sometime next week and see how real I can make him look."
"You can do that?" Will asks.
"I haven't tried it but once or twice. I have to use a paint program and wipe out anything that doesn't look absolutely real, then replace it with the background so you can't tell it's been altered. There's a guy who does it really well."
"You got some of his pics?" Chris asks.
"He has a web site. Want to see?"
"Yeah," both boys answer at once.
It's only a few seconds before the site comes up and Bryn starts it as a slide show. Chris points to one. "Ya gotta be kidding. That kid's a real amp."
"Total fake. I told you this guys good. He's an art student, so he knows anatomy and how to make his subjects look real."
"Blows me away, man," Will says softly, moving enough to put his arm around Chris. "But you're the real thing. I like that."
"I don't. Like having one leg, I mean, but you and Bryn make me feel good about it."
"Hey, I'd of never paid you any attention at the rest stop if you hadn't had on that awesome peg."
"If my leg wasn't hurting me that day, I wouldn't have had it on. I was kind a sensitive about it, cause it's the only time I ever wore it in public."
Will reaches down and pats Chris's stump. "Gotta thank this for hurting that day. You're a great guy, Chris."
"Well, guys, what do you think of a couple of amps together?" The picture of them standing together fills the screen.
"Best looking pair of amps you'll ever see," Chris says.
Bryn reaches back and pops Chris on the arm. "Don't get a swelled head from looking at yourself."
"Don't have to look at myself; I just look at Will when he's looking at me. He drools just like you said, Bryn."
"Yeah, you do. I like it."
"Ego doesn't become you, guy," Bryn says, getting up. But he's proud of how Chris now accepts the looks he gets. "Cara should have dinner ready. Let's eat."
Will looks around in panic. "You told me there wasn't anybody else here," he says to Chris.
"That's okay, Will. She won't see your leg because you'll be at the table. She's used to Chris anyway, so she won't think anything of it."
"No, man. I gotta get my leg down."
"Come on, Will. She won't care." Chris gives Will a little push to get him started.
After giving Will time to find a comfortable position in his chair, Bryn rings for Cara.
"Hi, Chris. I hope you and your friend are hungry. I fixed my special burgers and fries for you." She smiles. "Bryn likes them so much he won't eat a burger anywhere else."
"Great. Thanks, Cara.
"Gawd! Look at the size of 'em!" Will says when Cara has returned to the kitchen.
Bryn passes the oversized buns. "Fix 'em while they're hot. Hope you guys like her fries. She won't tell me what she puts on them, but they're special."
Chris reaches for one and pops it in his mouth. "Wow! I never had one like this. Get one, Will, they're super."
Bryn has to smile at the burger Chris fixes for himself. The bun is piled high with lettuce, tomato, onion, and the thick burger.
"You better be glad it's your leg gone and not a hand, or you'd never manage to hold that together." Will comments.
Chris grins back. "Yeah! I'd feel sorry for a one armed guy trying to eat one of these."
"Oh, man, I've died and gone to heaven," Will sighs after his first bite.
"Told ya you'd like it," Chris mumbles through a full mouth.
"Ready for dessert, guys?" Bryn asks when both boys lean back in their chairs.
"Why didn't you warn me?" Will moans. "I'm stuffed."
"Ya gotta," Chris says quickly. "Won't get nothin' so good anywhere else. What is it, Bryn?"
"Cara never tells me."
Cara looks at the plate of burgers when she comes in to clear. "Weren't they good? You boys didn't have but one each."
"They were awesome good; I had two," Will says. "But they were sure big. The fries were great, too."
"I'm glad you liked them. I made apple turnovers, Chris. You want it with cream or ice cream? Bryn likes his with cream."
"I'll go with Bryn," Chris answers.
"Me, too," Will says. A few moments later he's looking down at a soup bowl containing a large golden brown apple dumpling in thick cream. "Oh, man, where'm I gonna put this?"
Chris has already tasted his. "This is great. If you eat like this all the time, I'm gonna move in with you, Bryn."
"Don't even think of it. I'd never get any work done."
Chris grins at him. "Yeah. I'd keep an old man like you worn out."
"Old man! See if I ever invite you back here again, kid."
"Can we go swimming after we're through?"
"Not for an hour at least with all you've eaten."
"I know. What you wanna do, Will?"
"Chris said you've got some wild pictures of peg legs on your computer. Can I see them?"
"Sure. Chris can explain most of them as well as I."
After looking at the pictures, Will puts his arm around Chris's shoulders and pulls him close. "I can't believe what the guys that had those pegs went through. I'm sorry about your leg but I like seeing you on yours."
Chris looks at him closely. "Thanks. I know you're having fun pretending and all, but it's not fun having one leg for real."
"I wasn't making fun of you or anything." Will looks remorseful.
Chris smiles. "I know. You and Bryn are different."
"You guys joke and make me laugh about it. I thought Bryn had flipped when he told me I looked great because of my leg, then he told me a lot of guys think that way. I didn't like it at first, but after I thought about it I felt a lot better about myself."
To Bryn's surprise, Will pulls Chris up and kisses him. "A stud like you ought a feel good all the time."
"You, too. I'm sure glad you talked to me that day. Let's go swim."
Bryn lets the boys go while he remains to clean up some files, feeling they'd have a better time without him though he'd like to be in the pool with them. His solitary swims weren't the fun they were before Chris. He looks up at a tap on the window. Will is standing there. "Aren't you coming?" He shouts.
He nods, delighted they want him to join them.
The minute he's in the pool, the boys gang up on him, trying to duck him, but he gets them a few times too. They frolic for an hour or so, before Will asks Bryn the time.
Bryn glances at his watch. "Almost five."
"Aaw, I've gotta get going. The old man wants me home before it gets dark."
Bryn is dressed and waiting when the boys come down to leave. Chris hugs him. "Thanks a lot, Bryn."
"You're always welcome, Chris."
Will holds out his hand. "I had a great time. Could I maybe call you sometime just to talk?"
Bryn shakes his hand. "Evenings are best, but certainly. I'm glad Chris brought you; I've enjoyed having you here."
Bryn is exhausted but feels good. After telling Cara he'll have one of the left-over burgers for dinner and for her to take the night off, he picks up his mail and goes back to his study.
There is a thick mailer from one of the clipping services. Opening it, he takes out a sheaf of clippings with a note attached explaining this is material they already had on hand, but that they're expanding the search, especially of small town papers whose files date back to the civil war period. He's delighted to find a several pictures of peg legs, though most are shown being worn. A few of the pictures, he knew, would take some complete reconstruction with one of his computer programs before they were suitable for use, but that would give him an interesting diversion from writing.
He put in an hour's work scanning the clippings into his computer before going in the kitchen to warm a burger and get a cup of coffee to take back to his study. He looks at some of the new material, finding words beginning to flow. He finally stops writing after midnight and goes to bed.
It's going better than I expected, he thinks to himself late Friday evening. "Of course, those pictures and clippings are helping a lot. Now if I can just get a copy of that out-of-print book …."
He checks his e-mail to find a message from one of the old book dealers he'd sent a request to. He has a copy of the book, binding heavily damaged, but all pages intact. Elated, he immediately orders it, then sits back. I just hope it lives up to the promise of heavy illustrated. Tired, he shuts his computer down and starts to go to bed, but the phone rings.
"Yes?" · "No, I was still up, Will. What's the matter?" He listens for a moment, then says, "I'll be home all day, so come any time. I'll be happy to talk with you. See you tomorrow morning then." He hangs up, surprised and wondering why a boy he's seen only once wanted to talk with him alone.
Bryn is working when the phone rings early. He lets Cara answer.
"Bryn?" Cara calls from the door, "it's the gate. Some kid named Will."
"I'm expecting him."
A few minutes later Cara brings Will into the study, then brings coffee for them both.
"Sit down, Will, and tell me what's on your mind."
"I'm sorry I'm so early, but I'm supposed to spend the day with Chris and I didn't want him to know I was coming to see you, or he'd of wanted to come."
"Bryn …" Will pauses uncertainly.
"It's okay, Will. Sometimes it's hard to get started."
Will nods. "Yeah. I guess you figured out I'm gay."
"You really as cool with it as Chris says?"
"Yes. I have a few gay friends; it doesn't bother me at all."
Will looks relieved. "Nobody knows but you and Chris and my cousin."
"As long as you're in school that's probably best."
"For sure. I mean my folks don't know. God knows what they'd do if they found out. I mean it's not like with my cousin. My aunt and uncle know he's gay and they're cool, but dad won't let me even talk to him on the phone now and we were like brothers until he went to college." Will takes a sip of his coffee before he continues. "My aunt called me last Saturday night just after I got home. Cole's in the hospital. I gotta find a way to see him, he's hurt bad."
"Haven't you called him?"
"No way. He lives in Woodbridge. I got my own phone line because of my computer, but the bill goes to the old man and I have to explain every zone call on it that isn't my server."
"So you're hoping I'll let you call from here?"
"Will you? I'll pay you for the call, honest, Bryn. I can't call from Chris's."
"Use the phone on my desk, not the one by the computer."
Bryn goes to get another cup of coffee and sits in the breakfast room to give the boy privacy. A few minutes later Cara comes to the door. "I think you better go see to that boy."
Bryn sets his cup down and sprints toward his study. Will is leaning over the desk, face in his arms, sobbing. Bryn puts a hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong, Will?"
Will springs up and clings to Bryn. Bryn leads him to the sofa and sits down, his arms around the boy. "What is it?"
"Cole! They cut off his leg!"
Dear Lord! Bryn thinks. Will was pretending last week, so he's very aware of what it means now to someone he loves deeply. "I'm sorry, Will, but he'll be up before long and doing as well as Chris."
"But he's the soccer and swimming champ at school. Now he won't be able to do it no more. He told me he'd try to see me soon as he could to say goodbye."
Bryn frowns. "Why goodbye?"
Will looks up with tears streaming. "He's gonna kill himself. I know it, cause Cole said he'd rather be dead than a cripple."
Bryn hugs Will to him again. "Will, it's only seventy miles to Montdale and another ten to Woodbridge. I can take you to see him now. If you were going to Chris's it might be a good idea to take him along, too."
"He'll see Chris walk in and not know he's an amp until you tell him. That might prove to him he can live a good life with one leg."
Will looks at Bryn with hope. "Yeah. I can tell Chris on the way. Cole's in the hospital at Montdale."
"You can't see him there?"
"Not alone. Too many people know my old man. If you're with me they won't think anything of it."
"Go wash your face while I change clothes."
Bryn has just asked for the room number at information and turned when he sees Will suddenly turn his back. "What?"
"That was my dad. I don't want him to see me."
The man passes out the doors. "Okay, he's gone, Will."
"Why you care if he sees you?" Chris asks.
"Cause he'll know I'm here to see Cole. He don't let me talk to him any more."
"Cause Cole's gay. My old man hates 'em."
They go up to fourth floor. There's a No Visitors sign on the to Cole's room, but Will opens it and peeps in, then throws it open.
"Cole!" He runs over and hugs the startled young man in the bed.
"Will! How'd you get here?"
"Bryn brought me and Chris. I wrote you about him. Didn't you get my letter?"
"Yeah, it was good to hear from you. I wish I could call you without your dad finding out."
"You can now. I got my own phone like I told you. I can't call you, but you can call me." Will looked down at the flattened sheet then squeezes his cousin's hand. "I'm really sorry about your leg."
Cole hugs him. "Not half as much as me. I'm glad you came so I can tell you goodbye, Will, cause I love you, man." Tears are streaming down Cole's cheeks now. "Soon as they let me out of here, I'm going to find an easy way out." He looks down at the flattened sheet where his leg should have created a mound then back at Will. "I can't take it, Will, not being a useless cripple."
"You can't, Cole! What'll I do?" Will cries.
Chris shuts the door and yells, "Knock that shit off! It won't get you anywhere and you've got Will half crazy. Damn it! He loves you."
Bryn and Will's mouths drop open at a Chris's assertiveness.
"What do you know about it, kid?" Cole growls savagely.
Chris puts his foot on the chair and pulls up his jeans leg. "This, wise ass."
"He does anything he wants, Cole. You oughta see him," Will says.
"That's true. Will tells me you're a swimmer. I was on the team when I was at State and Chris can keep up with me." Bryn adds.
"Not in the least. Ask Will?"
Cole's tears have changed to a faint look of hope. "That true, Will?"
"Damn straight. Chris can swim circles around me. So can Bryn."
"I've seen your picture in the gym, Bryn. You say the kid can keep up with you?"
"Yes, and do anything else he wants. If he'd work at it a little he could be bike racing. No way I can keep up with him on one."
Chris is grinning. "Yeah, Bryn's getting old."
Bryn swats him on the behind. 'What did I tell you about that 'old' crap, kid?"
Will starts to snicker, and a moment later Cole smiles.
"You guys sit down. Come sit on the bed beside me, Will." The moment he's beside Cole, Cole whispers something in his ear.
"Yeah! Chris is my guy; he's awesome. Bryn let's us go to his place and do what we want. He let me call you from his house. He's cool."
Cole looks at Bryn again. "You're gay?" He asks softly.
"Yes, but I'm not out except to the guys here."
"Man, Bryn is so cool. He gave Chris a real peg leg. I wish he'd used it today so you could see it. He's awesome on it."
"Wait a minute, Will. You telling me Chris's got a real peg leg and you thinks he looks good on it?"
"Yeah, man. He looks great on it, but he won't wear it nowhere cept at Bryn's or when he's home alone."
"Cause I don't like people looking at me like I'm different, but Bryn and Will are okay. They make me feel good."
"Bryn's got a wicked sense of humor. He's always making jokes about my leg, and Will likes to pretend. It's cool, cause he's not putting me down or anything." He looks at Cole. "Hell, you're a better looking stud than Will. You'll be awesome on crutches. Right, Bryn?"
"Absolutely." Bryn grins at Will and Chris. "What would you guys say if Cole became my boyfriend?"
"Rad!" Will yells.
"Way cool," Chris adds.
Bryn looks at Cole whose mouth is open in surprise. "Just kidding the guys. We don't even know each other." He steps over to the bed and takes Cole's hand. "Bryn Johanson."
He's surprised when Cole squeezes it and hangs on. "Cole Harriman. Good to meet you, Johanson. Will wrote half a page about you in his letter, so you have to be cool cause he doesn't like many people."
"I didn't think he paid enough attention to me to write anything. It's Chris he's interested in."
"Chris got two whole pages. So who loves you, Will?"
"I do," Chris says. "He's mine and I ain't sharing."
Cole puts on a sad expression. "Not even with his poor cousin?"
"Well, maybe since you got what he likes most about me."
"Oh? What's that?"
"One leg. He can't keep his hands off my stump." Chris grins widely. "He sure knows how to make it feel good."
"It's a real turn on, Cole. He looks so great on his crutches and his peg leg. You gonna get one?"
Cole scowls. "Hell, no. I'm not living like a cripple."
"Asshole," Will says and leans down to kiss him, then whispers something to him.
Cole's scowl vanishes and he punches Will on the arm. "Get out of here. What makes you think I'd let you do that?"
"Cause you've liked it every time before."
Cole pushes Will off the bed. "Chris, if I can get rid of these guys, will you let me ask you some questions?"
"Will, you and Bryn go get some coffee or something. Bring me a Coke when you come back."
Will and I go down to the coff ee shop and chat over a cup of coffee.
"Wonder what Cole's asking Chris?" Will asks.
"I suspect he asking Chris quite a bit about how he lives with one leg. I hope so, because Chris won't pull any punches with him. I hope it does them both some good."
"Chris seems okay with it."
"With you and me, yes, but not with anyone else. I think the only reason he went for the drinks that day was that he forgot he was on his peg until you mentioned it to him. But he was okay because you thought it was cool."
"Hope I can make Cole feel that way. I love him, Bryn."
"He's a good looking guy; must run in your family. But tell me something, if Cole settles down some place where you can see him are you going to leave Chris?"
"No way! I love Chris and he loves me." He smiles. "I was kinda hoping maybe you and Cole might hit it off."
There's no one seated near us thankfully. "You playing cupid?"
He grins. "Maybe. You guys would be awesome together like Chris and me, and I know you like Cole better with one leg."
"What makes you think that? If he's as great a guy as you say, I would like him anyway."
"You showed us all those pics of one legged guys, so you gotta like 'em."
Bryn shakes his head. "Geez, kid, what makes you think I need a guy in my life?"
"Chris told me. He was really disappointed you wouldn't let him sleep with you." He grins again. "You should of taken the chance when you had it cause he's mine now, and I don't share."
"You guys are too young. Now Cole looks about the right age."
"He's twenty-three. He started his masters degree last fall."
"Architecture. He loves drawing house plans. Always has."
"He's lucky then, because a leg won't hold him back much. Let's go back up and see what's going on."
"Let me get the Cokes for Cole and Chris."
A nurse steps out of the room just as Will and I get there. "That boy in there is really something. Mr. Harriman didn't want any visitors and now he's laughing."
"Chris is funny. I'm glad Cole likes him," Will says.
"Is he family?"
"Chris is my friend. I'm Cole's cousin."
"Well see if you can get them to keep it down a little. This is a hospital."
Bryn has an idea. "Can Cole sit in a wheelchair yet?"
"He's supposed to, but he refuses. Why?"
"If we can get him in one, can we take him down to the cafeteria to eat with us?"
"Would do him good. Ring and I'll bring one if he wants to."
"So the mailman says, 'you should of seen that damn dog when he bit my fake leg '" Chris is saying when Bryn and Will go in. Cole is smiling.
"That joke's so old it stinks, Chris," Bryn says.
"Shut up. Go on, Chris," Cole says.
"So he says to the lady, 'guess you're gonna have to name him Old Toothless now.'"
"That's so bad it's funny," Cole says.
"Yeah. Chris tells lousy jokes," Will says with a grin, "but he's great in bed."
Chris pretends to kick Will with his prosthetic leg. Will growls like a dog, and Cole laughs. "You kids are too much!" Cole exclaims. "How do you stand it, Bryn?"
"I've got a good cook, so I keep 'em too busy stuffing their faces to get into trouble."
"Yeah. Cara makes the best burger and fries I ever had," Will says. "You gotta try 'em."
"We can go to Bryn's when you get outta here. He'll feed us good and let us swim, too. He's got a great pool; you'll like it."
"You started inviting people to his house now?"
"Yeah. He's hot to see that great bod of yours."
Cole looks at Bryn with raised eyebrows. "Oh?"
Bryn's blushing. "I won't have the guard shut the gate in your face."
"Good. From what Chris has told me I'd like to see your place. I'm in architecture."
"That can be arranged, but it's just a big house."
"Hey, I'm getting hungry," Will says.
"You're always hungry. Go on down to the cafeteria; it's almost lunch time," Cole tells him.
"You gotta come so all of us can eat together."
"Yeah, you are. It's time you got your lazy ass out of bed. Get his robe outta the closet, Chris."
"I'm not going down there like this," Cole growls.
"If it'll make you feel any better, I'll take off my leg and go on your crutches," Chris says. "Now take your robe."
Chris pulls up the leg of his cargo pants and takes his leg off, then ties the end of the pants leg in a knot.
"Sexy, babe," Will says as he rings for the nurse, who arrives and helps Cole into the chair. "Don't let this young man run you into the wall," she tells him with a nod at Will.
"Damn it, Chris, how'd I let you guys talk me into this?"
"Don't sweat it. You aren't the only amp ever been in this place. Look at me."
"You look pretty good. I think Will's onto something for a change."
"He'd better be or his ass is grass," Chris says. Bryn is glad the four of them are alone in the elevator.
Cole looks apprehensive when they enter the hospital cafeteria, but the few people already there are hospital staff and pay them no attention. Will pushes Cole's chair along the line as he chooses his meal. When they reach the cashier, Bryn points to himself to indicate they're with him.
"I can't put my tray in my lap, it'll hurt, so get your lazy butt moving," Cole says to Will.
"Yeah. You can take mine, too," Chris tells him.
"Take it yourself," Will retorts.
Chris pretends to cry and wipes his eyes. "You won't help a poor one legged guy?" He whines. "Shame on you,"
Bryn has to smile at the cashiers' expression as he pays her. "Are they always like that?" She asks.
"Oh, no. Most of the time they're worse," Bryn replies.
She smiles. "I'm glad to see the young man has adjusted so well. Have a good day."
When Bryn reaches the table, Cole is shaking his head. "What a pair of clowns."
Chris picks up his salad bowl in one hand and holds out the other. "Wanna see my juggling act?"
"God, no! You'll have it all over the floor."
Bryn reaches over and slaps Chris lightly on the back of his head. "Behave or leave the table."
"Yes, daddy," Chris says in a tiny voice.
Cole is laughing again. "Knock off the crap so I can eat," he tells Chris.
Bryn is amazed that Chris and Will keep up the foolishness until he reminds them it's time to leave. "Cole's going to be glad to see the back of you two."
"Naa, it's been great. Thanks for bringing Will; I love that kid," he says, shaking Byrn's hand. "I'm glad he's got Chris. He's sharp; he's helped me out a lot today."
"When you getting out?" Will asks.
"Next week. I've got to learn to use my crutches better first. Wish Chris could teach me. He's smooth."
"It's a snap. Took me two days to learn. Course I busted my ass trying to show off, but after that I got serious. Will's good on 'em."
"He should be. He used them for a month when he broke his leg."
"Uncle Mike coming to get you?" Will asks.
Cole's face grows serious. "Yeah. I hate going home cause mom's gonna be all over me."
"If it gets too much for you, give me a call," Bryn tells him.
"What good will that do?"
"You said you wanted to see my house, so it's your chance. I'll warn you now, I have a cook, but you'll have to take care of yourself for the most part."
"If I can put up with these two hanging around, I know I can enjoy the company of an adult." Bryn smiles. "It'll give me a chance to get to know you better, and you can find out how many lies Will and Chris have told you about me."
Cole smiles. "I hope you're serious because you might get a call pretty soon."
"Good. Now I've got to get these guys home before I'm accused of kidnapping."
"I expect Will's parents wish you would kidnap him. Thanks for bringing them up."
"Feel better, Will?" Bryn asks as they drive off.
"A lot." He hugs Chris. "Thanks for talking to Cole. Maybe he'll be okay now. What did he want to know?"
"He didn't want to talk about it at first, but I told him that's the only way he'll get over it and get on with life. I told him like it is and how I wished I'd died with mom when I found out they'd cut off my leg."
"I'm glad you didn't. I'd of been cheated outta the best thing in my life."
"You, stupid! Ain't that many sexy one legged studs around."
Chris grins. "Yeah, and I'd of missed meeting you. I hope Bryn and Cole hit it off like us. We can have some fun."
"They gotta, cause it's the only way I'll get to see Cole."
"Now wait a minute, guys, I've just met Cole and know nothing about him nor does he know anything about me. There's nothing to base a friendship on."
"You guys will go great together, Bryn," Will says.
"Time will tell, if there is a time."
Will grins. "Chris and me'll make the time, all you gotta do is make the right moves. I know Cole likes you cause he was checking you out, specially after you told him you're gay."
The boys take off in Will's car the minute they arrive at Bryn's. Bryn gets a cup of coffee and goes to his study. He leans back in his chair, eyes closed to envision Cole on crutches, his long AK stump outlined by the jeans he's wearing. Don't I wish, he sighs.
Tuesday afternoon, Bryn finds himself overwhelmed by the mail in his box. There's a heavy package from the bookseller and a thick envelope from the international clipping service. Torn with indecision as to which to open first, he finally opens the clippings and sorts through them with delight. Fantastic, he thinks, they've gotten more examples than I thought they would. Now I can really get to work.
He looks longingly at the box containing the book thinking, If it's as good as I hope it is, I won't do anything but look at it. Best get these clippings scanned and put away so the cleaners won't see them when they come tomorrow. By the time Cara calls him to dinner, he has all the material scanned and is putting it in a small file cabinet in the room holding his collection.
Now for the book, he says to himself as he picks up his coffee and returns to his study. After six hours of fascinated reading he closes the book and rubs his eyes. How could they ever let a work like this go out of publication? Guess there wasn't that much interest, but it's just what I want to do with mine. He picks it back up and looks at the copyright date - 1918. Wonder of the author is still alive? Not likely, but I'll need permission to use this stuff. Hell, I've never even heard of the publisher. I'll have to check tomorrow.
After breakfast he calls the reference librarian he had come to know while at the university. I can only hope, he thinks when he hangs up with the promise of a return call after the librarian researches the publishing house he'd never heard of.
The phone rings almost immediately. "Yeah?" … "Sure, Chris. I'll pick you up at three-fifteen in front of the school."
Making certain that the batteries in his digital camera are fully charged, he changes the lens to a wide angle and lays it with an extra disc on his desk, then goes back to organizing the new resource material.
Chris lifts his bike into the back of the Range Rover and climbs in beside Bryn.
"How you doing, buddy?" Bryn asks.
"Great. You heard from Cole?"
"He's not out of the hospital yet. You think I will?"
Chris flashes his ready grin. "Yeah. Will sent me an e last night. Said Cole had called him late and they talked for a while."
"Did he say how Cole's doing?"
Chris reaches over and punches Bryn on the arm. "Said Cole asked him if he thought you really liked him. Said it gives him something to look forward to."
"Did he say anything else about killing himself?"
"Naa. Will says he's too excited about seeing you, and he thanked me again for talking to Cole."
"I'm thanking you, too. You're a great guy, Chris."
"Naa. I just told him like it is. I'm the lucky one, getting you and Will."
"Ha! So where're we going?"
"Doctor's Village. They moved a couple of months ago."
"Hi, can I talk to Jimmy a minute," he asks the receptionist.
"I'll call him for you, Chris. He doesn't have a client right now."
A few seconds later, a young man no older than Bryn comes into the waiting room. "Chris, my man, how you doing?"
"Great Jimmy. Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure. Want to go in one of the rooms?"
Bryn follows Chris and Jimmy to a small examining room.
"Leg giving you some grief?" Jimmy asks.
"Not much. I need a new liner."
"All ready? They're supposed to last longer than this." Jimmy opens a cabinet and takes out a package, handing it to Chris. "Maybe I'd better check your leg to see why. Let me have it."
He checks the leg carefully then sets it aside and removes the liner from Chris's stump, checking it. "You been riding your bike?"
"A lot. Why?"
"I thought so. You've damn near pulled the pin out of the liner and worn hell out of the latch. I'll have to replace it."
"Sorry. We're out, but there should be some coming in late today or early tomorrow. Use your crutches and come in tomorrow after school."
"I hate 'em, Jimmy."
He grins at Chris. "Tough. It's only overnight, not like the four months you were waiting to get this thing."
"Jimmy, do you have crutches here?"
"A few. Why?"
"Wouldn't Chris be more comfortable with the forearm type?"
"They'd be better for him, but hard head wanted the wooden ones."
"Then fix him up. He needs a pair to keep at my house because he swims a lot."
"Let me get 'em."
Jimmy is back in a few moments and hands the crutches to Chris. 'Stand up and let me fit 'em, then you're going to show me you can handle them or Bryn can carry you out."
Chris takes a few steps. "I don't know. They're harder than my old ones."
"Because you can't lean on 'em." Jimmy reaches over and squeezes Chris's upper arm. "You're going to build some real muscle here, get rid of the flab," he teases.
"Who says?" Chris punches Jimmy on the arm. "That feel like flab?"
Jimmy looks up from rubbing his arm. "Well maybe you've got a little muscle there that doesn't show, kid."
Chris looks at Bryn. "See what a one legged guy has to go through? Jeez!"
"Get out of here, kid, I got work to do."
"Bryn's got a question for you."
"Chris was telling me someone here showed him a modern peg leg. I … well, I'm starting a history of peg legs and I need a few pictures of the newer types."
"So you're wondering if you can photograph the one John showed him?" Jimmy finishes for him.
Bryn's face flushes. "Yes, if it's possible."
"Tell you what, John doesn't like peg legs and showed Chris one only because he insisted, but I use one when I go surfing. Mine's the one he showed Chris. I've got some pictures of other types at home; you can copy those and take a pic of mine if you want. It'll have to be at my place after I get off work. Okay with you?"
"Very. If it's no bother, why don't you come out to my place for dinner? It's the least I can do. We eat at seven."
Jimmy smiles. "Good. That gives me time to go home and change. I'd like to see some of your resource material."
"I'll be glad to show it to you. You might be able to offer some suggestions."
"Can I come, too?" Chris asks.
"Why?" Jimmy looks surprised.
"Cause you don't eat better anywhere. He gave me a cool peg, too. You gotta see it."
"You're using a peg?"
"Yeah. The end of my stump hurts sometimes."
"I'm not surprised, loose as that pin was."
"What's your dad going to say? It's a school night," Bryn asks.
"He's out again, be home later. He won't care long as I'm home by eleven. I'm going with Bryn. You'll take me home, won't you Jimmy?"
"Naa. Think I'll make you walk."
"Give you some practice on those crutches. Besides, I don't give rides to guys who beat on me in my own office."
"Try to make me walk and I'll pull your leg off and make you crawl."
Jimmy hold up his hands in mock horror. "No! Not that! I'll give you a ride."
"You must like Jimmy," Bryn says when they're in the car.
"Yeah. He's great. First thing he did when I was getting this one was show me his leg. Made me feel a lot better, cause he knows how it is. Hey, did you tell Jimmy you're writing a book?"
Bryn nods. "That's great. Why didn't you tell me? Is it about peg legs?"
"Yes. You gave me the idea with your paper. I checked and the last book I could find was written in 1918. I thought it would be interesting since I collect them and you like your peg so much."
"You gonna show Jimmy the collection?"
"I might, if he's interested, but don't mention it. Thanks for letting me go with you. I'd like to get to know Jimmy well enough to ask him to let me watch him make a leg."
"I asked and he won't. Says there's some sort of danger with the equipment he uses."
"I imagine it's with the thermoplastics. Oh, well. You need to stop off at home to get your peg? I haven't quite finished the one I'm making for you."
"Yeah. Guess it's good you're along, cause if dad's home he'll want to know where my leg is."
"I hadn't planned on meeting him. How can I explain our being together?"
Chris grins. "Easy. I'll tell him I met you at the library and you helped me with my term paper."
"But that was two weeks ago."
"Yeah, but you were in the library today when my leg broke, so you took me to the shop. He'll be glad I'm not hanging around the house."
"I hope you're right."
"Don't see his car, so I guess he's out," he says when Bryn stops in front of the house. "I'll go get my peg. Hope I can get it in the car before he comes home."
"I'll go with you and take it out."
"Thanks. Back in a second."
They're driving off when a Lincoln turns into the drive and stops.
"Close call," Chris says.
"Yes, but I can't understand why your father doesn't like to see you without your leg. You're a lot nicer looking without it."
Chris grins at Bryn. "You're just saying that cause you're one of those weird devs."
Bryn reaches over and knuckles Chris's head. "Yeah, and I love ya too."
"The hell I don't."
"Naa. If you did you'd let me sleep with you. It's only four more weeks 'til my birthday."
"Yes, and if Will found out he'd kill us both; he's really in love with you. Do you love him?"
"More than anybody. I just wish he lived here."
"You're both seniors. Have you thought about going to the same college and rooming together?"
"Way ahead of you on that. We're both accepted at State. Dad's gonna rent me an apartment off campus. He just don't know Will's gonna be my roommate."
"Have you met Will's parents yet?"
"Going to this weekend if I can get a ride to Montdale. We're gonna try to sneak away and see Cole if we can."
"Would you like me to take you? I can meet Will's parents and take you guys to see Cole. I want to see him again, too."
"I was hoping you'd say that. Thanks, Bryn."
About six-thirty the phone rings and Bryn tells the guard Jimmy's expected. When he walks in, Bryn notices Jimmy's stiff-legged gait. His right leg extends straight out when he sits down until he presses on the side and the part below the knee drops so that the rubber tip rests on the floor. "You wore the peg instead of bringing it?"
"Makes for a change sometimes. You can photograph it after dinner." He pats the briefcase he brought in. "I brought all the pictures I could find of other types, too. I hope you have a scanner."
"I do. Thank you for bringing them."
"Least I could do for an invitation to dinner. My fiancée is out at one of her clubs tonight; saves me from having to eat my own cooking." He looks at Chris. "Stand up and let me see your peg, buddy."
Chris walks over and let's Jimmy examine it carefully.
"This type was developed around the time of the Civil War. You like it, Chris?"
"Yeah. It's easy to walk on. I just have to remember to swing it out a little so I don't trip."
"That's exactly why I don't encourage the use of one like this. Messes up the straight swing-through pattern you use with a leg. Haven't you noticed that?"
"Some. Makes my leg feel funny when I put it on, but it gives my stump a rest."
"Crutches do that."
"How damn much can you carry using crutches?"
Jimmy grins. "You would be surprised when I'm using under-arms. You develop a way to swing them forward without using your hands."
"And you're leaning on 'em, too. You said that was bad."
"Caught me, didn't you. Actually it is bad over a long period, but okay once in a while. I seldom use crutches."
"Since you don't approve of Chris's peg, let me show you the one I just made for him."
"You got it done?" Chris asks.
"Almost. It just needs a few coats of urethane and it's all done. Let's see if it's comfortable for you. Be back in a minute."
When Bryn returns he hands the peg to Chris who sits down beside Jimmy so he can see it as well. He examines the gracefully formed wooden peg. At the top is a short piece of padded PVC to hold Chris's stump, surrounded by rubberized material.
"How do I put it on?" Chris asks.
"Just like your liner." Jimmy takes the peg, rolls down the rubberized fabric, slips the peg on Chris's stump, then rolls the fabric up until it extends above Chris's knee. "Try it and walk like you would with your leg."
After a few steps, Chris grins. "Feels good, almost like my leg except the end of my stump's carrying my weight."
"Hurt?" Jimmy asks.
"Naa. Just feels a little funny. That rubber stuff is tight. Hard to bend my knee."
"It'll loosen up some with use but it has to be snug to hold it on. What you going to use it for?"
"It'll be great at the beach. You told me not to get my leg in salt water."
"That's why I'm putting several coats of urethane on it, Chris. It feel the right length and everything?"
"Yeah. I want to keep it on."
"As long as you're here on the house. I'm not going to finish sand it again if you get it dirty. What color you want it?"
"Natural. It looks great like it is."
"I'm glad you approve. Cara's got dinner ready, shall we go in."
"Yeah, I'm hungry." Chris is already moving toward the dining room.
"That was super good, Cara," Chris tells her as she clears the table.
"Thank you, Chris. I'm a little surprised you ate your salad. Not many young men like endive and artichoke hearts vinaigrette. It's one of Bryn's favorites."
"That what it was? It was good though, like everything you cook."
"If this was an example, I have to agree with Chris," Jimmy adds.
Cara smiles at Bryn. "You do bring special young men home, Bryn. It's a joy to cook for them, especially Chris."
"You've been eating my food for years now without complaint so I know you're satisfied. I like to hear others say it once in a while."
"That's why I don't invite older people to dinner. They'd try to steal you."
"Don't you worry. I wouldn't have it near so good anywhere else. Now, Chris, think you can make room for an apple turnover?"
"Be right back."
In Bryn's study, Jimmy closes the door, then drops his jeans. To Bryn's surprise the peg leg he has on is made like an exoskeletal prosthesis except ending in a rubber tip instead of a foot. "This is the most common type now. We make it for people who need to swivel around quickly. The knee action isn't all that good, because it's either locked straight for standing or unlocked for walking. I don't know how old this one is, but John says he hasn't had a call for one in several years. This was a reject, so he let me fit it to my stump."
Bryn takes a picture, then sets his camera down. "It's not what I expected."
Jimmy grins. "I thought not." He opens his briefcase and hands Bryn a stack of photographs. "Here are the other types."
"I had no idea there was such a variety," Bryn says as he scans the last picture.
"Each prosthetics firm makes a different type according to the clients' needs, but none of us encourage their use. A peg causes a different walking pattern from a terminal foot."
"I like this one," Chris says, holding out a picture of a black stump socket which has a rod extending down and ending in a crutch tip.
"Some people who stand in one place all day, like machine operators in factories, like this one." He points to a joint in the rod. "This unlocks so the wearer can get in a car and sit normally. I've seen one without the joint, but I wouldn't want to use it. I think it's the next picture."
"Let me show you a picture and ask if a peg like this is possible," Bryn tell Jimmy, then brings up an e-surgery picture of a teen age boy wearing a one-piece molded plastic peg in bright blue.
Jimmy laughs. "Possible, I suppose, but not very likely. That somebody's idea of a joke?"
"In a way. This entire site is what devs call e-surgery. It's done by scanning a picture then using Adobe or some other paint program to alter it."
Jimmy shakes his head. "Weird. I've heard of it, but this is the first time I've actually seen any pictures. What pictures do you have of pegs from the past?"
"Quite a few. Sit down and take your time. Some of them are unbelievable."
Jimmy set the computer to show the pictures in sequences of six at a time, stopping the display occasionally to look at a picture closer. When he's gone through them all, he leans back. "God, what those poor bastards went through. Anybody seeing these will really appreciate modern prosthetics. I see you got a lot of pictures from the old Winstead book."
"I'm waiting for permission to use them. I was lucky enough to locate a used copy. The binding is about gone, but the pages are intact. I had to clean up quite a few of the pics to make them usable."
"You're going to have quite a book here. I want a copy when you're done."
"Really? I thought it would interest only devotees."
"I can think of several limb makers like me who'll want it, and some universities having prosthetics schools will want it for their libraries. I trained at Northwestern. They had a copy of the Winstead, but students weren't allowed to use it. They said the condition was too fragile. I only got to see it once."
"Interested in an editor's job?"
"No way. I damn near flunked English, but I'll read your manuscript for what little history I know of peg legs."
"Thanks, I may just ask you to do that. I was a hesitant about asking a professional prosthetist to do it, I didn't know any personally before I met you."
"Be glad. That you don't need our help, I mean."
"Knowing Chris has given me a deeper appreciation of that."
Jimmy smiles and slaps Chris lightly on the back. "Wish all my clients were like Chris; he got his leg and never looked back. He's easy to work with."
"He's a pretty good kid. I like him."
"So do I." He gets up. "I've really enjoyed this, Bryn, but I've gotta get going. Come on, Chris, I'll drop you off at home."
"Kay. Let me take off this peg. Can I borrow your crutches, Bryn? I forgot to bring mine."
"Sure. Bring 'em back so you'll have a pair here."
"What's wrong with the peg?" Jimmy asks.
"Don't want my dad to see it. I already caught hell for using crutches tonight cause I was coming here."
Jimmy looks at Bryn. "Like that, is it?"
"Unfortunately. Chris is the only one doesn't seem bothered by it."
"Damn shame. That would have held a lot of kids back."
"Keep my peg here and bring it on Saturday. I might use it when we go to see Cole."
"Will do. See you about eight-thirty."
"I'll be ready."
Saturday morning Bryn is surprised when Chris comes out on his crutches.
"Didn't you get your leg back yet?"
"Yeah, but I want Cole to see me on crutches or my peg. Might make him feel better." He grins. "You know Will likes me without my leg."
"I might have guessed. Glad you've got a guy like him."
"Me, too. Hope you and Cole hit it off."
"You and Will. I swear you guys will have us married before long and we haven't even met but that once."
"So? The first time Will and I saw each other that was it."
"You have to remember Cole and I are older and have lives already. It's not that easy."
"Wait and see. Will says you guys are meant for each other."
"I'm not sure I trust a kid's judgement about that."
"Why not? I mean you're both into houses and stuff like that. It'll sure make Will happy if you do, and I want 'im happy. And don't call us kids."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Erickson."
"Aw, damn, Bryn. You know what I mean."
"Chris, Bryn!" Will yells, bounding down the front steps as they stop in front of the nice brick colonial home. "Let's split, or the folks'll be asking a lot of questions," he says as he gets in.
"You might have let me meet your parents, Will. Won't they be questioning about who you spend your time with?"
"I told 'em I was going out with some friends from Highland Springs. My old man's a lawyer, you sure don't want him to get started asking questions. It's a fate worse than death."
"A lawyer's better than being a gynecologist like my old man," Chris says. "I mean can you imagine spending all your time looking in women's …"
"Cool it, Chris," Bryn snaps.
"Kay. I'm sure glad I'm gay."
Will hugs him. "I am too."
"Want to go see Cole, Will?"
"Yeah, man! He's home now. Uncle Mike and Aunt Martha are great. They'll feed us, too."
"Not a chance; it's an imposition. Chris and I'll go somewhere if you want to stay."
"Never happen. Aunt Martha won't let you out of the house, wait and see. Turn right at the next corner and go out Brookside Road to Woodbridge. I'll tell you which house."
"Should I put on my peg?" Chris asks.
"Naa. Cole can ask if he wants to see it. He's still on crutches."
Bryn stops in front of the small brick ranch style house Will directs him to. Will opens the door and calls, "Aunt Martha?"
A short plump woman wearing an apron comes out of the kitchen and runs to grab Will in a hug, words flying. "Will, honey, you and your friends come right on in. Cole will be tickled to death to see you. How on earth did you get here? Your daddy would have a stroke if he knew."
"Bryn brought me and Chris to see Cole."
She looks at Chris, then hugs him too. "I'm so glad to meet you, Chris. His daddy and I won't ever forget how much you did for Cole when you went to see him in the hospital. He talks about how wonderful you are all the time. You're always welcome here, son."
Chris looks a little overwhelmed by the time she turns him loose and looks at Bryn.
"My goodness but you're handsome, Bryn. No wonder Cole is attracted to you. I think it's just wonderful you took Will and Chris to see Cole in the hospital and now bringing them here. Will and Cole are just like brothers and it broke my heart when Will's daddy acted so mean just because Cole's gay.
"Don't you want something to drink? I'm making oatmeal cookies, Will. You boys get a glass of milk; the cookies are on the table. I spect you'd like coffee, Bryn. The maker's on, just help yourself."
She turns and calls down the hall, "Cole, get yourself in here; you got company. I declare he hasn't done nothin' since he got home but stay in his room and read when he ain't on his computer. Come on in the kitchen and sit to the table and help yourself to them cookies."
By the time Bryn reaches the large kitchen, the boys are grabbing cookies while Cole's mother is pouring them glasses of milk. "The mugs are right beside the pot, Bryn. Help yourself. Cole, come on, cause I've got to run to the store a minute."
Will drops his cookie and jumps up to hug Cole. "You look good, man."
Cole hugs Will and ruffles his hair. "I'm glad to see you. You, too, Chris." He turns on his crutches and holds out his hand to Bryn with a smile. "Keep your seat. It's great to see you. Thanks for coming and bringing the boys."
"Great to see you, too."
Cole winks at him. "Feel a lot better now you're here." He drops into the chair beside Bryn and props his crutches against the wall. Looking at the crutches Chris has leaned against the table, he asks, "New ones, Chris?"
"Bryn got them for me. My leg was in the shop for a couple of days."
Chris grabs another cookie just as Cole's mother walks back in. "These are sure good."
"Leave some room for dinner, boys. Cole, why don't you all go in the living room and give me some space."
Bryn watches Cole admiringly as he swings off on his crutches followed by Will.
"Sexy!" Chris whispers to Bryn.
"Almost as much as you."
Chris shrugs. "Maybe. You like him?"
"Very much. Why?"
"Wish it had been me, but you blew your chance, so don't fuck this one up."
Chris grins. "You know how. Now I'm taken.
"But I'm not certain about Cole. I may need some help."
"You've got it. I mean you're the reason I got Will and I ain't forgettin' it."
They chatted together until Cole's mother called them to the table. After a filling pot roast dinner they went back into the living room.
"I'm getting sick of looking at these four walls," Cole says.
"Won't they let you drive yet?" Bryn asks.
"Doctor said I could next week, but my truck's straight shift. I'm trying to sell it so I can get an automatic."
"You even looked at cars?" Will asks.
"How? I'm not going out like this," Cole snaps.
"The hell you ain't!" Chris fires back. "Let's take 'im looking, Bryn. He's gotta have a car to come see you."
"Great idea, Chris. Go get ready, Cole,' Bryn tells him.
"I'm gonna get the new peg you made for me. Will hasn't seen it yet."
"You got a new one?" Will asks.
"With 'til you see it. I like it much as my leg. Get it for me, Bryn."
"Get it yourself. What are you, a cripple or something."
"See, Cole? You better get used to it if you come see him."
Cole snickers. "Who can win when it's three against one. You can put it on in my room, Chris."
"Don't need to. I'll wait 'til you come back so you can see it."
"Let me see it," Will demands the minute Chris brings the peg in. He looks it over carefully. "How's it feel?"
"Great. I like it." Chris takes it from Will and puts it on.
"You're lucky you've got your knee and can use this. Hell, I can't even tell you're wearing it unless I look down at your feet."
"Foot, Cole. We don't have but one less we've got on our legs."
"Man, you look cool on that peg," Will says, "but I like the other one better, can see more of it."
Chris sticks his tongue out at Will. "You would. You damn devs gonna drive me and Cole nuts."
"Devs?" Cole asks.
"Yeah. Guys who think we're sexy cause we have one leg. Bryn likes to see me on my peg, and Will drools all over the place if I'm wearing shorts and he can see my stump."
"Quit yer bitchin'," Will says. "That stump gets you a lot of lovin'."
Chris grins. "Yeah. Gonna get Cole a lot too, once his stump heals up and he lets a certain guy see it."
"Bryn, if you play your cards right," Will tells Cole. "He hasn't taken his eyes off you since we got here."
Bryn blushes deeply. "Must you embarrass me, Will?"
"Chris says you guys need some help. Just trying cause Cole's so great."
"Damn it, Will, you've got a big mouth," Cole snaps with a smile. "So let's go if I've got to."
"Wait a minute, Cole, that jeans leg's gonna fall down and get in your way." Chris pulls the empty leg up behind and tucks it firmly over the waistband of Cole's jeans. "There you go. Looks good."
"Have you though about what you want, Cole?" Bryn asks as they drive away.
"I like my truck, but it's a little high off the ground. Guess I'll have to settle for plain old car."
"Car?" Will snorts. "Get a cool looking convertible so I can borrow it."
"Never happen, kid, my car's gonna be a real necessity now. What do I need a sporty job for? I'm not out to trap any women, and you know it."
"Women, no, but it might give Bryn a thrill. You know, riding down the road in a sexy car with a sexy one-legged stud driving. Would sure give me a thrill."
"Put a cork in it, kid. I won't impress anybody now."
Will reaches across the back of the seat and hits Cole on the shoulder. "You're already impressing three people in this car. You look great, stud."
"Damn it, Will, if you don't shut up I'm gonna turn you across my knee and bust your butt."
"Can't catch me."
"Bryn can and if you keep embarrassing him and me, he'll do it, so shut up and let me enjoy what I can of this. It's good to be outside again, Bryn."
"I'd feel the same way after staying indoors nearly six weeks. Pure cabin fever."
"You've got it. I'd of taken mom's car, but she'd of gone with me and driven the whole time, if you know what I mean."
Bryn nods. "Absolutely."
"Same with me," Chris says. "I've had drivers ed and my license for nearly two years, but the old man won't let me near his car. It's not fair."
Bryn pulls over on a quiet street. "Try driving, Cole, it's automatic and full power. The accelerator is an easy reach with your left foot."
"Yes. You can stop if you feel uncomfortable."
They switch places and Cole starts off slowly. When he finds a comfortable position for his foot, he speeds up. "Sure feels good to be driving again. Just a little awkward for my foot."
"When you find a car you like, you can get an extension accelerator pedal put in cheaply, or do it yourself. I had one in my old car; I liked to use it on long trips."
"No kidding? Never heard of 'em."
"There's a whole website full of things for people with special needs. I'll send you the address."
"Great. I …"
"Stop, Cole!" Will shouts.
It takes Cole a moment to shift his foot, then he brakes smoothly. "What?"
"Take a look over there." Will is pointing to a sporty blue convertible on the lot of the Ford dealer. "That's what you need! It's way cool!"
"Who says I need it? I'm not buying the first thing I see. I'm gonna check around cause I want a good used one without too many miles on the clock. Can't afford a new one, and I don't know what a leg's gonna cost me."
"You don't have insurance?" Bryn asks.
Cole nods. "Don't know how much they'll cover though, specially if I get the best."
"You might want to check around for that, too. I'm very impressed with the guy made Chris's."
"From what Chris says, he's got a good one."
"I do," Chris says. "You'll like Jimmy, Cole. His leg's gone too so he knows what it's like and really makes sure it fits right. He made his own leg."
Cole nods again. "Sounds like my kind of man. I've been scared I'd get somebody with two legs who doesn't know what he's doing."
They check out two more car dealers then Will says," Hey, let's stop at the mall. I wanna get a CD."
"Okay." He parks near the entrance. "Thanks for letting me drive, Bryn. You take it when the kids get back."
"Come in with us. We can get a drink or something," Will says.
"Come on. Nobody's gonna be looking at you and Chris has got on his peg."
"Might as well, Cole. We're not going to get any rest if we don't."
"Yeah. Ya gotta do it sometime, might as well be now," Chris says. "I'll take off my peg and use my crutches."
"Gonna make me whether I want to or not, aren't you?"
"Right. Reach back there and get my crutches, Will."
By the time they reach the food court, Cole has slowed noticeably. He drops down in a chair. "I can't believe my ass is whipped already," he says to Chris.
"Ya gotta start walking more and build up your arms."
"Damn, there's a lot to think about now."
"'Til ya learn. You're doing great though."
"Got an experienced teacher."
'Wish I'd had one. I had to learn a lot of this stuff by myself. Hey, send me an e-mail if you think of anything ya wanna ask me."
"Thanks, Chris. You're a great guy like Will says."
"Get yourself a car and come to Bryn's for a weekend. We'll party."
Cole smiles. "Might be fun."
"Yeah. Will and me, and you and Bryn."
"You had Cole looking pretty happy by the time we left," Bryn says after they've dropped Will off at home.
"He's gonna be okay, I think. I know you wanted us to go out to dinner, but I could tell he wasn't ready. I'm surprised he went in the mall."
"You're good for him, Chris. I got a real winner in you."
Chris blushes. "I did some pretty good picking too. You're okay, Bryn."
Other than dealing with a minor complaint leading to him lighting a small fire under the firm to which maintenance in Lakeview was contracted, Bryn worked uninterrupted on the book for the next two weeks. By Thursday evening he was pleased at his progress. The book was outlined and the information chaptered, only a small amount of information was needed for him to begin a serious edit of the completed chapters, then work on the final chapters. Damn! I wish the librarian would call about the Winstead book, he thought as he shut down his computer.
The phone rang as he started to get up. He glanced at his watch - eleven-thirty. What now? "Yeah?"
"Bryn?" A voice asked barely above a whisper.
"It's Will. I had to wait for the folks to go to bed. You busy this weekend?"
"Hi, Will. Not really. Why?"
"Cole's got a car. He's gonna pick me up after school tomorrow and we're headed your way, if you don't care."
"Great! Chris coming too?"
"Yeah. I had an e from him a few minutes ago. We'll pick him up."
"Good. I haven't seen him for a couple of weeks, so you guys come on. Make sure Cole brings his swim trunks."
"I'll try. He still don't want anybody seeing his stump."
Bryn laughs. "Chris'll change that. See you about five or five-thirty then."
The next morning, Bryn told Cara of his guests.
"I'm glad, Bryn. I haven't had anything to do the past couple of weeks."
"You know how Chris and Will eat, so be prepared."
"I'll fix burgers and fries for Saturday lunch then."
"Good. After hearing Will describe them, I expect Cole is going to want to try them. Best fix some snacks too. The boys will want them after they get out of the pool."
"Don't worry, I'll have plenty of everything."
Bryn shakes his head. "When don't you?"
After Cara has gone back to the kitchen, he phones the gate, then thinks to check his mail. He grins as he looks at one envelope bearing the university's crest and tears it open the moment he's in his study.
Dear Mr. Johanson,
Sorry it took so long to get back to you about the publisher of the Winstead book. It was an involved search. Oak House was a small family owned press which ceased operations in 1924, a casualty of the depression.
The Office of Copyrights at the Library of Congress informs me that the last royalty payment was sent to Mr. Brian Winstead III of Chilliocothe, Ohio, (no street address given) in 1945.
I trust this information is of use to you.
Andrew Avery, Reference Librarian.
Now what do I do? Bryn asks himself. As he lays the letter on his desk he looks at his phone. Why not? Checking the area code for Chillocothe, he dials information, asks for the listings under Winstead, and jots down the single phone number he's given.
Only one Winstead left there; I sure hope it's the right family. He picks up the phone again and dials. Just as he's about to hang up, his call is answered.
"Ms Winstead? This is Bryn Johanson of Highland Springs, North Carolina. Are you by any chance related to Arthur Winstead who wrote the book on the history of peg legs?" "I'm sorry to hear that, Mrs. Winstead. I'm calling because I'm writing a similar book and I would like permission to quote from Mr. Winstead's work and use many of the photographs." "That's very kind of you. I'll draft a letter of permission and send it to you for approval. If you agree, have your signature on one copy notarized and return it to me. I will enclose a copy for your files and the notary fee as well. Let me verify your mailing address." He reads back the address she has given him, then listens to her question. "No, I'm afraid I'll have to publish it privately so I'll be fortunate if it sells enough to cover the printing and binding costs." · "He did? No wonder it's so difficult to find a copy. I won't detain you any longer, but I'm deeply appreciative of your kindness. I'll be delighted to send you a copy if you like." "Thank you again, Mrs. Winstead. Goodbye."
Well I'll be damned! The old boy wrote the book and printed it privately as a hobby because he used a peg leg. Chris and Jimmy won't believe it. Just hope I sell more copies than he did. Shame her husband trashed the few copies he had when they moved.
Bryn turns immediately to drafting the permission letter. An hour later he's satisfied and prints out three copies, then addresses an envelope, enclosing two with an addressed return envelope.
Good day's work, he thinks, dropping the letter in the post box just outside the gatehouse. Now I can relax and enjoy the guys.
I'll be damned, Will did talk Cole into that convertible, he thought, watching the dark blue car with the top down roll to a stop in the driveway. Chris and Will have seen him and are yelling, "Hi, Bryn."
He walks over. "Hi, guys. Welcome, Cole, I see Will wore you down."
Cole grins. "Yeah. This was a demonstrator and I got a great deal on it. Hate to admit it, but I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Obviously Will is happy."
"I would be if you'd let me drive it more."
"Get your own, kid. Hand over my crutches."
"You look great," Bryn says when Cole gets out.
"Feeling better, too, now my stump's healed."
"I'm glad. Come on in and get settled. I expect you've had enough of the guys for the moment."
Cole grins. "Right. Chris got to telling those lousy jokes after we picked him up."
"You have my sympathy. Hope the stairs aren't going to be too much of a problem."
"I'm still slow, but I've been practicing. Chris was right, I can feel my arms getting stronger."
Bryn looks him over. "Just the arms? You look like you've been working out."
"Some. The guys at rehab suggested it."
Bryn grins. "I like the new look."
"So do I, but some of my shirts are getting tight." He looks at the house. "This is the largest example of a Tudor house I've ever seen. Beautiful execution and balance."
Thanks. My grandfather built it. He was crazy over English architecture."
"Who was the architect?"
"I have no idea, but whoever it was knew his business. Even after all these years the maintenance is minimal. I've had the wiring and plumbing updated, and the kitchen modernized of course."
"Mind if I explore a bit tomorrow?"
"Not at all. The furniture is massive and dark, so it's not the most cheerful of houses."
"It's antique of the period?"
"Pretty much. I don't use much except my study and bedroom, so I left it as it was. You'll see when we get inside."
Cole looks around. "Where'd the boys get to?"
"I imagine they're in the pool by now. Why don't we join them, there's plenty of time before dinner unless you'd rather have a drink instead."
"A drink would go down good."
"It's cooled off enough to be pleasant on the patio. Why don't you put on a pair of shorts."
Cole shakes his head. "Not up to that yet. Will's been riding my ass about it."
"Do what makes you comfortable, that's the priority here. Let's get that drink. What'll it be? I'm for a tall vodka Collins."
"I'll have the same."
"You realize the few pieces I've seen so far are museum quality?" Cole says as Bryn mixes their drinks in the bar off the butler's pantry.
"I knew it was old and in good condition, but that's all."
"One of my professors would go ape. I'm going back to school in the fall and I'd love to do my thesis on this place."
"I think we might be able to work something out. I thought you'd be heavy into contemporary architecture."
"Some of that stuff I've seen makes me want to puke. I probably won't amount to much in practice because I'm a traditionalist at heart."
"Another reason for me to like you." He starts to hand Cole his drink. "Sorry, I forgot."
Cole grins. "I'm liking you more all the time. Lead on."
"We'll have to use the back door from the hall. It's quicker to go through the kitchen, but Cara doesn't like her domain invaded."
"Like that, is it?"
"Afraid so." Bryn smiles. "Hell of a thing when a man can't go into his own kitchen. If you want anything, pick up any phone in the house and hit line one. It rings the kitchen automatically."
"Damn! Will told me you had everything. Now I believe it."
They've hardly taken their seats on the patio when Cara comes out with a tray holding Cokes for the boys and a large platter of canapés. "Chris, here's your Cokes. You boys make sure you don't ruin your appetites."
"We won't. Thanks, Cara."
Will jumps out of the pool and runs to the table, Chris hoping behind. "Slow poke," Will says.
"Slow, hell. If I had my leg on I'd beat you."
"Oh, yeah? Was I lying about this place, Cole?"
"It's all you said and more. I'm impressed."
"Yeah. The old man would piss his pants if he ever saw this place." He grins at Cole. "Do worse if he knew Chris and I sleep together and … you know."
Cole chuckles. "Hell, he'd have a fatal heart attack. Would serve him right for being such a gay basher. Bryn and I were having a nice talk before we were so rudely interrupted so beat it, kid."
Will grins. "Not now. Chris'll get to that later."
Cole reaches over and pops him smartly on the behind. "Get your mind off sex for a change, some things are best kept private."
"How can I? Look at Chris, he's gorgeous. So are you. Don't you think so, Bryn?"
Bryn's face pinks. "Very. Now go mind your own business or you'll get sent to bed without any dinner."
"That's okay. Cara will bring me some."
"She will not. She serves meals on a tray only if you're so sick you have to stay in bed."
Will wraps his arms over his stomach and makes a tragic face. "Oh, I got terrible pain. I'm dying. I gotta go to bed."
"Bryn, pick him up and throw 'im in the pool before I pick up a crutch and pound him into the ground with it."
"You two con artists scram. It's almost time for you get ready for dinner."
"I guess that ends any hopes I had of coming back and having some time alone to get to know you, Bryn," Cole says.
"If I came for more than an hour, Will would find out about it and get here if he could find a way; Chris, too. How can you stand them?"
"Easy. They don't usually act this way. They're ganging up on us to get us together."
Cole smiles. "I can think of worse things."
"I can, too. You are damned attractive like Will says."
"That the real Bryn speaking, or the dev?"
"Both. Sorry, but I can't divorce one from the other."
"But you learned to like amps, didn't you?"
"It's not learned; it just is. Always has been. I know you're uncomfortable with the idea that you're more attractive to me with one leg and I'm sorry, but I can't help it. Even as a little kid I drooled at every amp I saw."
"So does Will I guess. He drove me to an amp support session and he was goggle-eyed the whole time."
Bryn smiles. "I'm more discriminating now and I get to see Chris frequently and he's cute, but my eyes don't wander when you're around. I hope you can get over your shyness with me."
"Pretty much done so with Will. If he's at the house I get no privacy, so I'm learning to relax with people I know."
"Good. I'm looking forward to seeing …"
Cole grins. "Don't rush me."
"Sorry. Even fully dressed you're enchanting. I'll enjoy what I can get."
"Flattery aside, at least you're a gentleman about it. Will came in my room one time when I was undressing and started yelling, 'Take it off. Take it off. Take it all off!' Made me feel like a male stripper, damn 'im. I thought for a minute he was going to make a grab for my stump. I'd of killed him if he had, it's still tender."
Bryn laughs. "I'll have to try that on Chris."
"Don't bother. I think that's where Will got the idea. If he was twenty-one, I'd take him to a male strip club I know of."
"He wouldn't like it unless there's an amp in the line-up."
Cole grins. "As a matter of fact, there is. I hear he was one of their top attractions until he lost his arm. The crowd wanted him back, so he's working again. What an ego that guy must have to enjoy people looking at him and seeing his stump."
"Strikes me that most strippers are exhibitionists."
"I suppose they'd have to be." Cole shudders.
"Time to eat yet?" Will asks. Both boys are back neatly dressed.
"Yes, BP," Bryn answers.
Cole howls with laughter. "Bryn's got your number, kid." He holds out his hand and looks at Bryn. "Pull me up. That damn drink was stronger than I thought."
When he's standing with his crutches, Bryn asks, "Make it okay?"
"Yeah. That chair is low. I have a trouble getting out of them."
"Good Lord," Cole says when he see the table, "Will wasn't exaggerating."
Bryn smiles. "Cara likes to make a good showing the first time someone is here for dinner."
Cara comes back and fills the wine glasses in front of Cole and Bryn. "Us, too," Will says, when she starts to set the bottle down.
She looks at Bryn. "One glass," he tells her.
"Thanks, Bryn," Chris says.
"Make sure Cole gets plenty," Will says to Bryn once Cara leaves the room.
"Cole does not need to be drunk when he's using crutches."
"I don't mean get him drunk. Just loosen his inhibitions and maybe he'll…"
"Shut up, Will, or I'll never bring you here again."
"Just trying to help out. It's your loss, stud."
"I don't need your help. Chris, for heaven's sake keep him occupied so Bryn and I can have a civil conversation without his smartass remarks."
Chris grins. "Yeah. I know just how."
Will grins back. "Oh, boy! If Cara wasn't such a great cook I'd skip dinner for that."
Cole shakes his head and reaches for the platter Byrn is holding out.
"Cole and I will have coffee in my study, Cara," Bryn says after dessert has been served. "We're sending the boys upstairs."
"That was the best dinner I've ever eaten," Cole tells her. "I know it was chicken, but what else?"
"Chicken breasts stuffed with crab meat. The market had some fresh crab today and Bryn specially likes it."
"I know I'm coming back for another visit now."
"Good. We're having burgers for lunch tomorrow, boys."
"Great!" Will yells.
"Will said something about a website for devotees, Bryn, but he couldn't remember the address. Would you mind showing it to me?"
"I don't mind if you really want to see it, but it might upset you. Some of the comments on the bulletin board are pretty blunt."
"Chris is right. I'm an amp and I've got to live with it. I might as well find out why a devotee would find me attractive."
"You're attractive to begin with, but I'll show you some articles that are scientifically accurate about the phenomenon. There's one written by a surgeon who's a devotee. He's the best authority I've read except for a psychiatrist."
"Devotees are nut cases?" Cole asks in surprise.
"Not at all. It's just a new field of study, so there's not a lot of knowledge about it. Take that chair in front of my computer and I'll show you."
"You weren't kidding me," Cole says after reading the articles Byrn pulls up for him.
"I won't kid about anything as serious to me as your attractiveness, Cole." He changes sites and brings up a posting. "Look at this."
"Damn! Do all devs come straight out with questions that personal?"
"Some do, but most are more polite than that. Don't even think of posting your picture on one of these sites, or you'll be getting loads of similar mail."
"Put my picture up so anybody can see my stump like those guys? You've gotta be kidding."
Bryn brings up a picture of a one armed man about Cole's age. "This poor guy did in all innocence, looking for support. I mailed him immediately about what he was going to get. He replied saying he thought he'd entered the twilight zone and thanked me. He hasn't posted since. I feel sorry for him."
"Thanks for the warning."
"Just wanted you to know what might happen."
Cole points to a file under pictures. "Pegs?"
"Yes. Didn't Will tell you I'm writing a book on the history of peg legs?"
"No kidding. I knew you made that one for Chris, but you know enough to write a book?"
"Yes. I've done quite a bit of research and I got permission this morning to draw heavily from a book printed in 1918 and now out of print. Winstead's grandson's widow told me he wrote it because he used a peg leg."
"Chris seems to like the one you made for him, but it don't look like the one Will told me about."
"It's not. The first one is entirely different. You'll probably get to see it tomorrow. He likes it if he's going to be in and out of the pool a lot because it's easier to put on."
"I'm getting a real education here."
"Sorry, I can get going on this topic. I didn't mean to bore you."
"I'm not bored; I'm fascinated. They never mention this stuff in rehab."
"Afraid of the reaction they'll get, I suppose. There's one website run by a leg amp who's rabid on the subject of devotees. He's as bad in his way as the worst dev I've ever run across."
"Guess I'd of been that way if it hadn't been for Chris."
Bryn smiles. "Will's devotion did a lot for Chris's self image. The first time I met Chris the poor kid was at the end of his rope. He thought nobody could love a gay amputee. I'm damn glad he forgot he was wearing that peg and Will saw him."
Cole chuckles. "You'd of thought Will had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow from what he told me. I thought he was making most of it up, then you turn up in my hospital room with them. When I got over my surprise, I looked at Will and knew Chris's goose was cooked as far as Will was concerned. My uncle is an ass, but Will's mama told mine he's a lot less trouble at home now. God help the kid if they ever find out he's gay. If his dad doesn't kill him first, mama will probably wind up taking care of him, not that it would bother her a bit."
"You're a lucky man to have such understanding parents."
"You know it. Just wish mama would get over my leg and stop trying to do everything for me. Guess she will when I go back to school. I sure don't look forward to having a roommate. I expect he'll be curious as hell."
"Take it one step at a time. You're still trying to deal with a new aspect of your life."
"Yeah. Chris says he's determined to desensitize me, as if putting up with Will wasn't enough. I'm glad he's got Chris for a diversion."
Bryn smiles. "Then there's me."
"I'm getting there, guy. Might be slow, but you've got good sense."
"It's a damned hard on my self control."
Cole smiles. "Mine, too, but don't rush me."
"You far enough along for this?" Bryn leans over and kisses him.
After Cole returns the passionate kiss, he draws back. "So far so good. I'm falling for you, Bryn," he says with a serious expression.
"Good, cause I'm in love with you."
"Like you told me, guy, one step at a time. Slow and easy wins the race."
"Damn slow race, but I'll be here."
"Like that idea." Cole yawns. "Getting sleepy; too much good food and wine."
"Take it easy on the stairs. Sleep in as long as you want, Cara'll feed the boys tomorrow morning and keep them out of our hair."
"Good. Night, Bryn."
"I will. No doubt about that."
Bryn glows with pleasure as he goes to his room. Part way there with Cole. I hope the next step doesn't take so long, I'm really falling for the guy.
By the time Bryn is up Saturday, Cara has fed the boys and they're in the swimming pool having the time of their lives. Cole comes down as Bryn is finishing his first cup of coffee.
"I slept better last night than I have since before the accident. Sorry if I've delayed things."
"Not at all. Sit down and I'll ring for Cara. The boy's have been up God knows how long."
"Where are they?"
Bryn jerks his thumb in the direction of the window. "In the pool. They'll both look like prunes by lunch time."
"That warm already?"
"It's going to turn into a scorcher."
Cole looks out the window. "That's a great looking pool. I wouldn't mind being in it myself."
"Then go after you eat. I'm planning to."
Cole sits down. "I don't think so. Not yet anyway."
After Cara has served Cole, Bryn looks at him. "I'm going to sound like Chris, but damn it, Cole, why not?"
"Always honest, aren't you. I … I just feel freakish around others."
"Chris is still much the same anywhere else, but that's mostly his dad's fault. For a doctor, that man has no sensitivity for others feelings."
"Let me think about it."
"After you've finished eating we'll take our coffee out on the patio and let you watch the boys. See if some of Chris's don't give a damn attitude rubs off on you."
"Always have an answer, don't you?"
Bryn grins. "I try. You look good this morning, but I think you forgot something."
Cole looks startled. "What?"
"This." Bryn gets up and kisses him. "Good morning, love."
Cole smiles. "Good morning to you, too. I could get to like starting a morning like that."
"We started a tradition last night, I plan to enlarge on it."
"I like who started it, too."
After Cole has eaten, he and Bryn go out on the shady patio with their coffee and watch the boys.
"Hey, Cole, come on in. It's great!" Will yells.
"Yeah, You, too, Bryn," Chris adds.
"You guys just want to drown me," Bryn yells back. "Cole and I just ate, we'll have to wait."
"Not too long, it's gonna get hot," Chris yells back before Will ducks him.
Cole watches them play for a few minutes then looks at Bryn. "When Chris is in the water like that, I'd never guess about his leg."
"He tells me it's a lot easier the stand and swimming makes his stump feel better. Something about circulation, I suppose."
"I guess I'll find out some day."
"There's no place safer than a pool with someone else around."
"I was thinking about a mill pond I know where nobody else ever goes."
"That's really stupid. Think about it, the pool has a gently sloping bottom and only drops off at the diving area. I was on the swim team at school and Chris swims well too. We both have lifesaving certification so you'll be safe, where you wouldn't be at a deserted pond."
Cole shakes his head. "Might of known you've have a logical argument. Hell, I hate the idea, but looking at that pool is making me weaken fast. Think you can make the guys lay off me."
"Go change. I'll make 'em promise and I'll kill 'em if they try anything."
After he's helped Cole up, Bryn walks to the edge of the pool and calls the boys over. "Kay, guys, Cole's coming in, so lay off him. He won't be too steady and he's got to learn to swim again."
"I know how it is," Chris says, then turns to Will. "You mess with Cole and I'll drown you."
"No way. I can't believe he's gonna do it. You coming in too, Bryn?"
"Yes. Remember what I told you, you especially, Will. I know you love Cole, but he needs you to be serious now."
"Yeah. I won't screw around."
"See that you don't."
Bryn changes, then taps at the door to Cole's room. "Ready?"
"Go on. I'm trying to build up my nerve."
"For what? There's no body here but another amp and a couple of drooling devs."
Bryn hears a snicker before Cole calls, "It's the damn devs that worry me."
"Why? One of 'em's family and the other's kissed you. What more do you want?"
"Oh, hell! Here I come ready or not." He opens the door, and Bryn whistles at him.
"What a great build! You weren't kidding when you said you've been working out."
Cole smiles. "I like what I see in the mirror from the hips up."
Bryn glances down. Cole's stump is still swollen a little, the scar a bright red. He looks back up into Cole's eyes. "I like the whole package. Hell, if I didn't already love you, I would now."
Cole kisses him. "I was so afraid …"
"Forget that. It never entered my mind. You're going to make the guys jealous."
The boys are so involved in their play they don't notice Bryn and Cole until Cole has eased down to the edge of the pool and puts his foot in the water. Will immediately swims over and stands up, gazing at his cousin. "Wow, Cole, that tattoo is awesome!" Cole has a stylized medallion tattooed on his stomach, the center of it his belly-button. "When did you get it?"
"Last year. Some of the guys on the team got drunk one night and we all got one. I wish I hadn't now."
"Why? It's cool. I want one just like it."
"No way, kid. Mama would kill me if she saw it, and your old man would go into orbit."
"I don't give a damn about the old man. He'll kill me if he ever finds out I'm gay."
"I know, but this would make it worse. You'd forget about it and take off your shirt when you're mowing the lawn. That's all it would take. I damn near did the same thing at home right after I got it. I'm glad mom had gone to the store and didn't see it."
"You look great, Cole!" Chris has come up beside Will.
"You look pretty good yourself, kid. A real swimmer's build."
"I'm getting it back since I've been swimming here."
"Keep it up."
Chris cuts his eyes toward Bryn. "Long as this guy lets me. It's cheaper than the pool in town and I get fed, too. Only problem is he makes me pay."
"He does?" Cole asks in surprise. "I thought he liked you."
"He does, but, "Chris lifts his stump out of the water, "he says this makes me eye candy."
Bryn pushes Chris back in the water and jumps in beside him, grabbing him and nuzzling his shoulder. "Uuum! Gonna eat you alive, sweet."
Will jumps on Bryn's back. "That's mine!"
The tussle begins, Cole laughing. With the boys occupied with Bryn, Cole slips in and swims a couple of laps before going to the edge of the pool and standing in chest deep water.
Chris slips away and swims over beside him. "Ya did good, Cole. How's your stump feel?"
"Hurts a little."
Chris nods. "Mine did too at first, but the more you use it the better it'll be and the quicker the swelling will go down."
Cole puts a hand on Chris's shoulder. "I'm glad I've got you to talk to. I know Will and Bryn are good guys, but they don't know like you do."
"Yeah. It takes a while to get used to. I mean it's been two years for me and this is the only place really I forget about it."
"How can you forget with Bryn always looking and Will touching your stump every chance he gets?"
"Cause Will loves me and helps when he massages it. Bryn's a great guy. He's always trying to make me feel better, like with that peg he got me when I told him my leg sometimes hurts. Sure he looks, but he's never tried to touch my stump or asked me anything about it and he listens when I want to tell him something."
"He's never touched you?"
"Only when he was making sure the pegs fit right, and the one time I asked him to rub my stump cause it hurt. He's not gonna make a grab for you unless you tell him it's okay."
Cole looks around to see Bryn and Will still playing on the other side of the pool, then back to Chris. "I'm in love with him, Chris. I'm just not sure whether it's me he really loves or if it's my stump."
"Damn, man, forget your stump. It's you he loves. It's written all over 'im. Will says so too."
Cole hugs Chris. "You're really special in my book. I'm damn glad Will and you ran across each other."
Chris grins. "You're pretty awesome yourself. Cole?"
"Give Bryn a chance. Sleep with him if you want to, cause if you don't you're gonna miss a hell of a lot. I wanted to awful bad after I met 'im, but he wouldn't. Said I was too young and should find a guy my age. I'm not kidding now; it was my stump got me Will, and it's yours that's got you Bryn if you'll have 'im. Relax and enjoy; it's worth it."
"You guys are looking awfully serious," Bryn comments as he joins them.
"What cha talking about?" Will demands.
"None of your business, kid," Cole says with a smile.
"But it might be Bryn's. We'll have to see," Chris says with a wink at Cole.
"I hope." Bryn smiles at Cole. "It's about time for lunch, guys, and Cara hates people coming to the table late. We'd better shower and dress."
"Yahoo! Cara's burgers for lunch!" Will yells. "Come on Chris."
"So that's your other peg," Cole says as Chris straps it on.
"This is the first one Bryn got for me. I like to use it around the pool cause it's fast to take off and put on."
"Nice looking, but I like the other one better. It isn't so obvious that you're an amp."
"That's why I like it, but Will likes this one better."
Cole grins. "That little pervert would."
"If I'm one, you're one too," Will snaps back.
"No way. I'm not the one drooling."
"Hell, it's just cause you and Chris are so awesome. Right, Bryn?"
Bryn raises his hand and coughs into it. "Enough. Some things are private as I think you've already been told. Go get ready to eat."
With an amused expression, Cole watches Chris and Will build their burgers then follows their example. When he's swallowed the first bite, he sets his down on the plate and looks at Will. "This is one time you didn't lie about something, kid. Bryn, You can guess how many burgers I ate at school, but none of 'em came anywhere near these."
"Told ya!" Will says. "Wait'll you try the fries."
"Dinner last evening was excellent, Cara, but you make a gourmet burger and fries, too," Cole tells her as she's clearing.
"Thank you. I like to see young men eat like they're enjoying it. I hope you come back, cause Bryn needs somebody to enjoy like those two boys enjoy each other."
"Damn, Bryn, does she know?" Cole asks after Cara has returned to the kitchen.
"I honestly don't know. If she does, it doesn't bother her, but I'm not open about it when she's serving or the cleaners are around."
"Whew! I'm not ready to come out. She hasn't even looked at my crutches either."
"Why should she? You and Chris are no different from anyone else in her eyes."
"I'll have to use Will's word for it. She's awesome, and I don't mean just as a cook either."
"José is the same, but I doubt you'll see him."
"Cara's husband. He talks care of the maintenance on this place."
"You're lucky to find such good people."
"Don't I know it. What would you like to do this afternoon?"
"We sort of got off subject last night, so if it's no bother I'd like to see your pictures of pegs."
"No bother, but may I ask why?"
Cole shrugs. "Guess seeing Chris on his has got me curious. I never saw one before, and after you said you were writing a book on 'em I figured there had to be more than one type. Like the two different ones Chris has."
"You're perfectly welcome to see them if you want. Let's go in the study. I'll take your coffee for you. You might want to start with the term-paper Chris wrote for his history class. It has pictures."
"He wrote about his peg legs when he's sensitive about it?" Cole is astounded.
"The people at school know because he's had to use crutches a few times, so he wasn't to worried. Only his teacher saw the paper, of course."
"Kid's got guts, I'll give him that."
"Take your time. I'll work at the other computer while you're reading."
Half an hour later, Cole leans back in the chair. "Excellent job for a kid his age. Will could never write a paper like this; I've seen his work."
"Chris is exceptional in many ways. I'm sorry his father doesn't recognize it and give him some encouragement instead of ordering him to do his best."
"Will's folks are much the same. I try to help him, but I don't get to see him that much, thank to his son of a bitch of a father."
"Shame both kids have to live with that. They're good kids and a lot of fun to have around."
"For sure Will's been a lot happier since he met Chris and you. Have you met his parents?"
"No yet. The day I brought them to see you at home Will hustled us away."
"Be glad. Did Chris use all the pictures you have?"
"A very few. Switch over to pictures and have a look."
"Damn! You've got them all annotated by date and with notes."
"Necessary for doing a book."
"Of course. These modern ones look good, not that I'd use one mind you."
Bryn grins. "Chris didn't think so either until he tried one. He hates crutches."
"He hasn't worn it to school or in town has he?"
"Not yet. He says his father would have a fit if he saw it, but he does use the new one when he's home alone and keeps the one he's using today here for his visits. He has to use his leg to ride his bike well."
"This may sound silly because of the way I act about people seeing me, but I wish I could see some of these pegs for real. The pictures are good, but they're like pictures of houses, it's just not the same."
"How serious are you, Cole?"
Cole looks surprised. "Very. You're not telling me you have some of them?"
"Chris is the only other person that knows and I'd like to keep it that way, but yes. If you will keep it a secret …"
"Then come on over to the bookshelves." Bryn locks the study door then presses the button that opens the hidden door.
"Well, hell!" Cole gasps.
"Now you know my real secret. I collect them."
"Antique dealers and anywhere else I can find them. Look around."
"You've blown my mind again," Cole says when he's finished looking at the collection.
"Let's sit down and I'll have Cara bring us coffee."
"I find you hard to figure, Bryn. Other than liking amps and peg legs, you're a normal hard working guy who's had a lot of success."
"This is no different from our being gay, Cole. I'm an acrotomophile, but no way am I an apotemnophile."
"You've lost me."
"The first is the psychological term for a devotee. You know Will and I are that. An apotemnophile is a guy that seriously wants to have a limb amputated."
"Jesus!" Cole shouts. 'Who would be nutty enough to want that?"
"Quite a few apparently. It's not nutty, but a serious psychological condition. A doctor in the UK recently did two amputations for men after their psychiatrists recommended it to restore a desirable self-image. Some guys in this country stage accidents to get amputations, like shooting their leg off with a shotgun or lying down with a leg across a railroad track when a train's passing and claim it was an accident. There's a tremendous risk they'll die before they get help though, because they don't have anyone with them in most cases."
Cole looks incredulous. "Impossible to believe. I'm not doubting you, Bryn, but damn! I hate my stump and they want one." He shakes his head. "Glad you're not that crazy."
Bryn grins at him. "Oh, I'm that crazy, crazy about you."
Cole smiles. "That kind of crazy I can put up with."
"Good. I think I hear the boys back in the pool. Want to go in?"
"No, but I could do with another of those drinks while we watch them horse around."
"My thoughts exactly. Let's go."
"'Bout time!" Will yells when they come out on the patio and Cara follows with the canapés and Cokes.
Cole grins. "Okay, BP, don't be such a pig."
"You gonna call me that too," Will asks him in an aggrieved tone.
"Bryn called you right on that one. Better get used to it."
"Only if it's Cara's cooking. That makes anybody hungry."
"You walk nicely on that peg, Chris. Almost convinces me I should get one."
"Do, Cole, you'll be awesome," Will says.
"I said almost. I'm getting a leg."
"Peg's a damn good alternative when you need one," Chris says. "I like it more than my leg."
"So do I," Will says, stroking the end of Chris's stump.
"Stop it, you perv," Chris tells him with a grin.
"Okay, okay." He gives Chris an evil grin. "Just wait 'til tonight."
Bryn shakes his head and looks at Cole. "I created a monster here when I got Chris that peg."
"If you ever messed with my stump like you do Chris's, I'd cut your hand off," Cole tell Will.
"For real? Chris and I would look great together with both of us amps."
Chris hits Will lightly on top of his head with his fist. "Meat head! Be damn glad you've got all of you."
"Jeez, Will, Bryn'll think you haven't got a grain of sense," Cole says smiling. "I already know you don't, but you don't have to parade it in public."
Will puts his arm around Chris in a hug. "Who cares? Chris sure don't and he's all that counts."
"Enough. You guys go fool around somewhere else and let me and Cole have some peace."
"I can tell when Chris and me aren't appreciated. Come on, Chris."
"That was an excellent paper you wrote for your history class, Chris," Cole remarks over dinner.
"You read it?"
"Bryn was kind enough to show it to me."
"You didn't show it to me," Will says.
"Did, too. You just drooled over the pictures. That's okay, cause I know you can't read."
"Can, too. How the hell you think I read your e-mails."
"Thought maybe Cole read 'em to you."
"That's enough of that language, Will Harriman. Don't you guys do anything but insult each other?" Cole reprimands.
"Yeah, but you said we shouldn't talk about that either," Will answers back.
"Quiet! Damn, I can hardly hear myself think. Keep it up and you guys won't get any dessert."
"Oh, no! Not that. We'll be quiet," Chris promises.
With the boys upstairs in Chris's room playing computer games, Bryn and Cole settle in the study and talk until Cole yawns. "I swear, Bryn, I don't know what it is. I've never gotten sleepy as early anywhere else as I do here."
Bryn smiles. "It's because you're relaxed, just as I hoped you would be. Let's go up. No need to get on the guys, they won't go to bed until they're ready."
"If they're not already there," Cole says with a grin.
Bryn shrugs. "Whatever."
Bryn is in bed and has just turned the light out when there's a tap at his door. He props up on his elbow and calls, "Yes?"
The door opens and he can see a silhouette against the hall nightlight. "What is it, Cole?" He reaches for the light switch.
"Don't turn the light on, Bryn." Cole crutches across and stands by Bryn's bed. "I … you think I could sleep in here tonight? I don't mean do anything, I just want you to hold me."
"There's nothing I want more, Cole. Get in."
After Cole is spooned against Bryn, Bryn's arms around him, he sighs. "Feels so good, Bryn. It's been a long time."
"For me, too. I love you, Cole Harriman."
"Love you, too, Bryn Johanson." Cole suddenly gives a start.
"What?" Bryn asks, tightening his arms around Cole.
"Now I've found a great guy who'll have me like I am, it's not going to be long before I start school again. Damn! How'm I gonna get anytime with you?"
"Are you serious about this, Cole?"
"Absolutely. I'm not ready to go further just yet, but you're willing to put up with the way I feel. 'Bout time I'll really relax with you and forget about my leg, I'll be leaving for school."
"I have a solution for that."
Cole snickers. "Might have known. What?"
"The U is only a half hour from here. You could move in with me instead of staying in the dorm and commute now that you have a car. It'll be cheaper, too."
Cole turns and grabs Bryn in his arms. "God, I'd love that. Save a lot of questions from a roommate. You sure?"
Bryn smiles in the darkness. "Remember what I asked the guys when we saw you in the hospital?"
"I asked them how they'd like it if I made you my boyfriend. You ready to say yes now?"
Cole kisses him. "There's your answer. But, damn, Will and Chris are going there too. They'll want to live here with us."
"Not a chance. Chris's father has rented him an apartment off campus. The guys will be living together. At best we'll only be seeing them on weekends." He hugs Cole. "I have a feeling they'll be as busy with each other as I plan to keep you."
Cole pulls Bryn closer and kisses him. "You've always got the answer. Let's go for it."
"I love you, Cole."
"Not a bit more than I love you, Bryn, and I'll make you a solemn promise. Whether I'm ready or not, I'll let you celebrate the night I move in by loving my stump."
"What more could I ask?" Bryn kisses him.