The Idol
By:
Jess Mercer
( 2009 by the author)
 

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


I had a pretty good life until about two months ago. My mom says I should be flattered to be looked up to by someone younger and that I should develop the patience she's always on me for lacking. It began when a family moved in across the street. They have a son named Ryan and with this being an older neighborhood, I'm the only guy around who's anywhere near his age. He's just turned fourteen and I'll be seventeen in another month.

This kid must not have much of a life because it's 'What you doing, Shane?' at least once a day if he sees me outside. Lately he's started coming in our house any time he wants, thanks to my mom's making him welcome. She thinks he's cute and he is, but, damn, I wish he'd give me a little time to myself now and then. Besides, he may be fourteen, but he comes off more like a ten or eleven year-old, immature as hell.

I guess part of it is he reminds me of my past. The real bummer of my life took place when I was about his age. I was on my bike and a truck ran a red light. The end result is they cut off my left leg just above the knee. I was really bummed out at first, but then an on-line buddy put me onto a site for teen amputees and after reading some of the postings, I realized I got off easy and sailed through rehab. The guy who made my leg couldn't believe how fast I learned to make it do anything I wanted. I'm not sensitive about being an amputee, but I always wear the leg unless I'm going to get wet, simply because it frees my arms for carrying things or whatever.

It was maybe a couple of weeks after they moved here that I was out washing mom's car one morning when Ryan comes over. I have on a pair of old shorts; I seldom wear them if I've got on the leg. It's the first time he's known I've got one leg and seen my stump, so he's asking questions so fast he can't seem to get a breath between them. I answer the few I can separate in my mind, but I'm tired of his constant chatter, so I 'accidentally' turn the hose on him.

"Sorry," I mumble, happy to see him head for home. But ten minutes later he's back and follows me to my room.

"How about a little privacy? I'm gonna get a shower," I tell him.

"Aw, can't I stay?"

"No."

He leaves and I breathe a sigh of relief and hop into my bathroom and the shower. I finish and dress, but when I get downstairs, he's drinking a Pepsi and talking to my mom. I grab the car keys and am out the door before she can finish saying, "Shane, why don't you ..." I know she wants me to take Ryan to the mall with me, but it ain't gonna happen. I don't have but one close friend to pal around with and he's out of town with his parents, but right now I like need some breathing space and time alone.

I grab a burger and a drink then browse the book store and record shop. On the way home I begin to feel a little ashamed of leaving Ryan like that. He'd be okay if he wasn't such a leech; it's like he's got to be with me every minute. He's gone when I get home, but mom calls me into the kitchen and points to one of the chairs at the breakfast table. Uh, oh, lecture time!

"Unless you can give me a really good excuse for the way you've acted toward Ryan since he's been here and today especially, you're grounded for the next two weeks. How you could deliberately turn the garden hose on that sweet child, I'll never know."

"I know it was mean, Mom, but he was driving me nuts asking one question after another so fast I couldn't even answer him. He's always over here wanting to do things with me. I need some space, Mom. Besides, he's younger than me."

"Have you even once been nice enough to sit down and talk with him?"

"How can I when he never shuts up?"

Mom holds up her hand. "Listen to what I have to say and don't interrupt me, then I'll listen to what you have to say.

"Ryan had a brother the same age as you and they were inseparable. Two years ago Mark died suddenly from a blood clot in the lung. Ryan was so depressed he had to see a psychologist for over six months. His mother told me that the day they moved in across the street and Ryan saw you, his whole attitude changed and he was much like he was when his brother was living. When you chased him out of your room and then dashed out of the house, the poor boy went home in tears because he thinks you hate him. Now, what do you have to say for yourself?"

If I felt a little guilty on the way home, I feel awful now and tell mom so. "Should I go over and apologize?"

Mom shakes her head. "Ryan's too upset. Marge had to give him one of his tranquilizers and put him to bed. Tomorrow will be soon enough."

I reach across the table and take mom's hand in mine. "I swear I'll be nice to him, Mom. I didn't know, but his constant hanging around just got to me."

"I know you value your privacy, Shane, and I'm not asking you to entertain him constantly, but when you're going to the mall, or a movie, or some activity he can enjoy, think of taking him with you. I know you're not his brother, but you are - or will be - in his mind, so I have a feeling that when he feels that you're not going to leave him, he'll ask fewer questions and give you some space if you ask him nicely. I know the summer has hardly begun, but when school starts again, you won't see as much of him."

Mom smiles at me. "And, Shane, you're not grounded as long as you treat Ryan as you've said you would. If you have any problem come talk to me about it."

"Thanks, Mom."

Actually, it does seem odd not to have Ryan around the rest of the day, and I go to bed early thinking of what mom said and feeling bad for the kid.

I'm awake the next morning when my mother comes up to my room carrying the cordless phone. "Shane, Marge is on the line. Ryan wants to come see you and she's told him he can't because he made a nuisance of himself yesterday. Now she's afraid he's going to start withdrawing again. What shall I tell her?"

No way I want to be responsible for Ryan making himself sick again. "Tell her I'll be glad to see him."

Mom takes the phone off mute and tells Marge to let Ryan come over. She smiles at me as she turns the phone off and goes out leaving my door open.

It's only a couple of minutes before Ryan is standing by my bed looking at me. "You sick, Shane?"

"No, I like to sleep-in sometimes. I'm going to get up in a minute or two. I gotta pee."

"Want me to go downstairs?"

"You don't have to unless you want to." I don't care if he sees me nude, I sleep that way, so I throw back the top covers and swing my leg out, then pull myself up and hop to the bathroom. When I come back after washing my face and brushing my teeth, I see Ryan watch me closely as I hop back to the bed and prop up on the pillow. He looks at me like he wants to ask me something then down at the floor.

"What?" I ask softly to keep from upsetting him.

"C ... can I see your leg, Shane?" He stammers, then blushes.

Might as well get it over with. "Sure." I shift until my stump is at the edge of the bed.

He sits down on the side of the bed and touches it tentatively. "Does it hurt?"

"Not any more. You can put your hand on it if you want." I hold it up so he can see the scar.

He puts his hands on it and begins to rub it gently. It feels good.

"Your leg's real cool, Shane. I never saw one that's been cut off before."

"Cool? There's nothing cool about having one leg, it's a pain in the ass!" I see him looking at my fake leg like he's about to pick it up, so I grab it and put it on, then start to dress. He's watching everything closely.

"Can I see your leg sometime?"

"Maybe." I answer, meaning not likely. I don't like anybody screwing around with it, even less than I like anybody screwing around with any of my stuff, 'cept Steve and we grew up together.

"How's it work?"

I open my mouth to tell him to fuck off, but I remember my promise to mom, so I spend a half hour explaining how my fake leg works, it's one of those hi-tech jobs without any cosmetic covering. He doesn't miss a thing I say, but he doesn't ask any questions either. After I dress, I put my arm around his shoulder, and he puts his arm around my waist and sort of hugs me as we go down for me to get breakfast.

One of the things I love to do is sail. My dad did, too, that's why our house is on a point where the river joins the bay. There's a pier from our backyard that I keep in good shape. When dad died, mom sold his big powerboat, but I kept my fourteen-foot sailboat.

A few days later it's really warm so with Ryan's help I clean up my little boat. When we're done, Mom fixes us some sandwiches and we take a sail down the bay. Of course I'm using crutches. All is fine until we get back and Ryan jumps up on the dock to grab the mooring line I toss him. When I look up again, he's standing there with his left leg drawn up behind him and balancing with his hand on a piling.

"What the hell are you doing, Ry? You're going to fall off the dock, or into the boat and hurt yourself."

Ryan shakes his head. "I wanted to find out how it is to be like you, Shane. You look so cool with one leg, like now." I'm standing on my one leg, balancing against the mast. My crutches are in the cockpit until I get the sails down and stowed.

I'm so shocked that for a moment I can't say anything. I must have had an odd expression, because he asks, "You aren't pissed at me, are you?"

I shake my head. "No. You just surprised me. Grab the other line and secure it, then help me with the sails. I've gotta tell you some stuff when we get back to the house."

He sits down on my bed after we've had our showers and I spend the next hour telling him in great detail all the problems of having just one leg, not to mention the pain and the time it takes to become proficient with a prosthesis. The whole time he's stroking my stump like it's the most wonderful thing he's ever touched.

It's a wonderful feeling for me, too. I never thought my stump would be so sensitive, but what Ryan's doing is so distracting I have to stop several times to think about what I was saying to him. I glance over at him and see his shorts tenting in front almost as much as mine. He's rubbing all the way up my stump, so I put my hand on his to stop him. "I think you'd better stop now."

He looks at me dreamily and says, "Why? We haven't done anything yet. Don't you like the way I touch you?"

Not that I would mind going further, but I realize he's phasing out on me, thinking I'm his brother, so I take his hand and squeeze it lightly. "Ryan?"

He looks at me, blinks rapidly several times, then says, "Thanks for letting me touch your leg, Shane, I like it."

"Maybe you can do it again when we've got plenty of time if you want to. But remember what I told you about getting a leg cut off."

He looks at me seriously. "I don't care if it does hurt, I want my leg to be just like yours."

"You sure it wouldn't make you feel funny?"

"How?"

"Like the way it shows when I've got on shorts or my fake leg."

"No way." He suddenly reaches over and hugs me. "I like my brother having one leg."

Hell, all this time talking about things I've tried to forget and he's still hung up on the idea it's romantic to have one leg. I can't think of anything else that might dissuade him, then I have an idea. Would a day on crutches bring him to reality? I decide to go for it. "Ry, I have a pair of adjustable aluminum crutches I used before I got the forearm type. If you want to come over here tomorrow morning about nine, my mom's gonna be out of town, so I'll let you spend an entire day with just one leg. You can use my crutches to pretend. Wear those baggy cargo pants you've got, 'kay?"

He throws himself on me in a bear hug. "That will really be fun. I love you, Shane. I got to go now."

After he's gone, I go back to my room and rummage in the back of the closet for my crutches and the extra long Ace type bandage I used to wrap my stump when I first came home from the hospital.

I'm barely awake the next morning when I hear mom greet Ryan as she's leaving. He runs up to my room with a wide grin. "I'm ready, Shane."

"Would it be okay if I wake up first and maybe use the john?" I finally grin at him. "Take your pants and T-shirt off while I'm gone."

He looks at me expectantly when I come out of the bath. I'm glad to see he has on a pair of boxer shorts which are a little large. "Okay, buddy, Take off your shorts then lay on your stomach."

I pull his left leg up behind him and find he's limber enough for me to place his foot almost perfectly flat against his left cheek. I start to wrap his 'stump' just as I was taught to do mine. It looks complicated, but once you learn how it goes quickly. I have to find a second bandage to hold his foot in place so that it doesn't stick out like a wing in back, then I get him to turn over so I can help him stand while I pull his shorts and pants up. Once that's done, I have him sit on the bed until I can drop the length of the crutches a notch. He's about an inch and a half shorter than I.

At last I have him standing on the crutches while I pin up the empty part of the pants leg. "There, buddy. Now you really look like an amputee. Can you walk?"

I grab him to keep him from falling, then show him how to swing along. After a few tries he does well enough I don't worry about him getting hurt. Naturally, he wants to see how he looks, so I take him into my mother's bedroom where there's a full-length mirror on her closet door.

Ryan just stands there unable to believe what he's seeing. He does look a perfectly natural leg amp from any angle and, to me, he's so good looking I go over and stand behind him, running my hand up and down his 'stump.' "How you like having one leg?"

His grin runs from ear to ear. "My stump's awesome! I can't believe it looks like yours, Shane. I wish it was for real."

"You'll be wishing differently by the end of the day."

"Take my picture."

We go back to my room and I take several pictures of him with my digital camera then load them on my computer. His mouth hangs open speechless when he sees himself on the monitor.

"Send 'em to me," he asks and gives me his e-mail address.

"Okay, but don't let your mom see 'em," I warn.

"She won't, she's got her own computer."

After I send the pics to his e-mail, we go down for me to get something to eat. Ryan is slow on the stairs while I'm ready to grab him if he falls. When he's settled at the table, I fix my cup of coffee and a large piece of apple strudel I love for breakfast. He has a piece of strudel and a glass of milk.

Ryan wants to walk on crutches, so I take him out in the backyard where he isn't likely to be seen. Once I teach him a few basics, he does well enough for a first-timer. At last he's tired enough to want to sit, so we go back inside and mess with some of the games on my old playstation until it's time for lunch.

"Okay, buddy, let's get your leg down and go get a burger for lunch."

"Do I have to, Shane? I like the way I look using crutches. Can't I go like this?"

I happen to think of a Micky D's across town I've never been in so it's unlikely we'll run into anybody that knows us. Ryan's delighted, especially when I take my leg off and roll up the empty part of my jeans leg and grab my crutches.

I'd planned on doing the drive-thru, but for some nutty reason Ryan wants to go in. Got to admire his guts at pretending in a busy public place like this, so I park and we go in together. We get lots of stares, but how often do people see a couple of teens together, both with their left legs missing and on crutches?

After we've ordered, I make Ryan go sit at one of the tables. I can carry the bag our burgers will be in because I've had practice. I can get our drinks individually by using one crutch. People don't notice us once we're seated and I keep thinking of how much fun it is for Ryan to be fooling all these people, especially the older ones who gave us sympathetic looks.

Ryan breaks out laughing when we're back in the car. "All those people thought sure I was for real. Hell, I feel like I am. It's fun, Shane."

I'm snickering at him, cause he's so proud of making others and himself think he's an amp. "You didn't mind all those people staring at you?"

He shakes his head emphatically. "Unh unh. I get looked at anyway. Mom says it's because I'm cute."

Actually he is, but I like a guy to look his age and act it. "That's good, cause you'll get looked at a lot if you're ever this way for real, and I hope you ain't. I gotta tell you it ain't any fun when you can't put your leg back down and walk on it."

We're hardly back in the house when Ryan scares hell out of me by screaming. "My leg! Get it down, Shane. It's hurting bad!"

Fast as I can, I get him undressed and pull the Ace from his leg. He screams again when I take his foot and start to pull it back down, then settles to crying. His foot looks kind of blue and it's cold. I leave him lying on the sofa and get my leg on then carry him to my bath and put him in a tub of warm water. It seems to help and after he's soaked for a few minutes, I lift him and he slowly straightens his leg out. After about half an hour he seems okay and smiles when I help him out of the tub and dry him off.

After he's dressed, we walk down to the dock and take my boat out for a sail.

"What made your leg hurt like that so suddenly?" I ask him.

"I don't know. It was like I didn't have a leg for real, then it suddenly hurt so bad I couldn't take it. I'm glad you were there to help me."

"I think maybe you'd better leave this pretending shit alone. There's gotta be some reason for your leg to hurt like that. Your foot was kind of blue and cold, too."

He shrugs. "That's nothing unusual. My arm's like that nearly every morning if my head's on it when I wake up. Can I try?"

I let him take my place at the tiller and watch the sails. I have to show him how to correct when he steers us out of the wind and the sail begins to luff. If I hadn't pushed hard on the back of his head, the boom would have busted him a good one when we came about. He's pissed at me until I show him what would have happened by taking over and bringing us about once more. He listens carefully to everything I tell him and only asks questions about sailing. I let him take the tiller once more and stay with it until we're ready to dock. He's a good student.

"That was so much fun, Shane. Thanks a lot for teaching me, but I got a lot to learn, huh?"

"You learn real fast, Ry. Next time I'll teach you how to rig the sails and hold trim. When you can pull it all together, you'll be a decent sailor."

He hugs me and says, "I'll be glad when I can do it on one leg like you." I stand there watching him walking home and thinking how good his hugs feel and of the fun we had together. He didn't continually ask me stupid question after question either. I'm only sorry his foot hurt so bad when he was pretending. But what he said really gets to me. I just hope he's not going to do something really stupid.

We both have to cut our grass the next day, so it's not until after lunch he comes over. We take the boat to a nearby little sandy beach and we get some swimming in and catch a few rays. I take him home early because he's turned a little pink and a sunburn's the last thing anybody needs.

I'm reading when mom knocks on my door and comes in to hug me. "I'm so proud of you, Shane."

"What did I do?" I mean this is unusual, 'less it's a good report card.

"Marge called and told me how wonderful you've been to Ryan. He's so happy they can hardly believe it."

"Aw, that's nothin', Mom. You were right; once I gave him a chance he stopped talking so much and he's learning to sail real good. It's fun going out with him."

"I'm glad you're enjoying it, too. You've made me proud of you, son. Thank you for finding time to cut the grass, too."

For the next week, Ry and I take the boat out every day so I can teach him and let him practice. It's not long before he's almost as proficient as I, and I've had that boat for eleven years. My dad taught me to sail it when I was a little guy. If we're not sailing or if I want to go to the mall or whatever, I take Ry with me. I notice that Ry never looks at anyone else the way he looks at me. His eyes are begging for me to hold and love him. He reminds me of the puppy I had way back. It really gets to me because I'm liking Ry more and more.

Mom tells me one morning that Ry's parents are going out of town for a couple of days on business and Ry will stay with us. I don't mind cause I've nothing planned. We can sail, play with my playstation, or whatever. I have to admit he looks cute when he's happy, and he hugs me the minute he's in the door.

Mom has fixed the guestroom for Ryan, but I've hardly turned my light off and gotten settled when my door opens and I feel Ry slip into bed with me.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I want to sleep with you. I used to sleep with Mark a lot."

"'Kay. Go to sleep now." It feels good to have him snuggled up against my chest, my arms around him. It's not long before we're both sleeping. I wake first and go to the bathroom. I look at him sleeping when I come out and he does look no older than maybe twelve. Cute hardly describes him.

I get him up for breakfast cause mom's already called, and wait until he's dressed. We go down the stairs together, my arm around him.

"Did you sleep well?" Mom asks him.

I almost panic, but he smiles and says he didn't move last night cause he slept so good. Mom smiles and sets his plate down.

The two days pass fast because, much as I hate to admit it, I'm falling more in love with Ry each day. He responds the way mom predicted and he's a joy for me to have around. He kisses me when his parents come home and call him.

Ryan comes over Friday night and asks to borrow my old crutches. His parents are going out of town overnight and he's going to pretend while they're gone. I have a bad feeling about this, but he begs and since he knows I don't use those crutches any more, I can't refuse him.

"You be careful. I don't want you getting hurt," I tell him. "And don't leave your leg up too long! Remember the other day?"

He hugs me. "I won't. Thanks, Shane. I won't let nobody see me with your crutches."

I expected he might come over Saturday morning, but I don't see him. Steve calls that he's back home and wants to cruise the mall, so he picks me up and we spend the day there, taking in a flick after lunch. It's almost six when he drops me off at home.

I'm leaning on his car talking to him when we hear a scream. "What the hell's that?" Steve asks.

I suddenly know and Steve's had first aid. "Come on," I yell at him and run across to Ryan's and into the house. Ryan's lying on the floor curled up, clutching his folded up leg and crying loudly. With Steve's help, I get him undressed and his leg free of the old Ace bandages he's used to tie it up.

"Oh, shit! Look at that!" Steve's pointing to Ryan's left foot. It's black! Steve grabs the phone and dials 911.

As soon as the rescue squad arrives, so does mom. Once Ryan's in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital we close up the O'Neal's house after mom calls the number they left with her in case of an emergency. She's so upset she doesn't think to ask me why my crutches are at Ryan's. I put them back in my room and we go to see how Ryan is. Neither mom nor I can answer the doctor's questions, but they let us sit with Ryan until his parents get here. Ryan is sedated, so he's sleeping most of the time. Watching him, I'm overcome with a feeling of dread.

The O'Neal's finally come rushing in and when the doctor comes to talk to them, mom and I go home; it's nearly mid-night. Mom told Mrs. O'Neal she would fix breakfast for them any time they got up. We've had ours when Ryan's dad comes to our door and says he's given Marge a sleeping pill and put her to bed. He does come in and have a cup of coffee. While he's drinking it, he looks at me.

"Shane, you've done so much for Ryan his mother and I are eternally grateful, but I'm going to ask a big favor of you now." I see tears start down his cheeks. "We need you to spend as much time at the hospital with Ryan as possible. They took off his left foot right after we got there last night. You can help him like no one else can. Will you do it for us?"

"Oh, my God!" Mom whispers.

"What happened?" I ask.

"Blood clot in the femoral artery. Mark had the same genetic disposition for poor circulation as Ryan has. In Mark's case the clot lodged in his lungs." He starts to cry. "At least we still have Ryan."

I get up and put my arm around his shoulders. "I'll do anything for Ry I can, Mr. O'Neal. I'll get dressed and go see him now."

The hospital has loose visiting hours, so I go on up to Ryan's room. He's asleep so I sit down. The nurse comes in shortly and checks on him, then tells me to come back tomorrow morning when he'll be fully conscious. She remembers me from when they cut my leg off.

The next morning Ryan's parents are with him when I get there. I'm surprised when he looks at me and yells, "Get out! You made them cut my leg off. I hate you, Shane!" He starts crying wildly.

His mom grabs him in a hug while Mr. O'Neal comes to the door and gently pushes me back into the hall. "Please forgive him, Shane. l don't know how he got this notion you're responsible for this. His mother and I know you've done everything possible for him and we're most grateful. Give him a day or two to adjust then come back, will you?"

"Yes, sir," I manage to say before I walk slowly down the hall, tears streaming. My heart's breaking because I realize how much I love Ry.

Without him being around, the two days I wait to go back seem endless. My mom gets on me for moping around even when I tell her it's because I miss Ry so much and he hates me.

"It's just because he's in pain and knows what he's lost. Be patient with him, Shane, and give him all the help you can. He needs you now more than ever." She hugs me to give me reassurance, but it doesn't go very far toward making me feel better.

Because mom has some things she wants me to do, it's actually the third day before I get back to the hospital to see Ry. I open the door cautiously and see that he's alone and his eyes are shut. I walk quietly as I can over to his bed. Sleeping, he still doesn't look more than eleven or so. I can't help the tears that spring to my eyes as I lean over and kiss him on the forehead, then jerk back as he moves.

"Shane!"

"Yeah. How ya doin'?"

"Okay, I guess. I had a funny dream just before I woke up."

He looks at me without smiling. "It was like real. I dreamed you leaned over and kissed me. Then I woke up and you're here." He holds out his arms so I give him another hug.

"No kiss?" It's hard to tell if he's teasing or wistful, but my response is automatic. I put my arms around him and kiss him on the lips.

"I love you, Ry."

He kisses me back. "I love you, too, Shane."

"How're you doing, buddy?" I ask.

"My leg hurts, but not bad. They cut it off almost like yours. See?" He flips the sheet back. He's lucky because his is gone just below the knee. He'll be able to walk great with a leg.

"I'm so sorry, Ry. I shouldn't have ever lent you my crutches and let you pretend."

He grimaces. "It was fun until it started to hurt so bad. I couldn't get it down and it just kept hurting worse, and there wasn't anybody to help me. I'm glad you heard me."

"I am, too. I taught you to sail, now I guess I'll have to teach you to walk on crutches until you get a leg."

He smiles. "Yeah. I'll be glad when we can go sailing again and do things together again."

"Did your dad ask you what happened?" I'm worried he told them about the pretending.

"I said I slipped on the dock and hit my leg against a piling, but I thought it was okay until it started to hurt so bad."

I hug him. "Thanks, buddy. It's my fault you got hurt and I'm really sorry. Why didn't you tell me you had problems with your circulation?"

"I didn't want to think about it." Tears run down his face. "It killed Mark and I was afraid it would kill me the same way. That's why I don't play a lot of games with other guys." He looks up and wipes the tears away. "Don't leave me, Shane."

"No way. I told you I love you and I don't run out on people I love. I'm going to teach you all I can cause I promised your dad I would." I grin at him. "Now get your butt out of here fast, cause the weather's great for sailing."

Despite his problems, Ryan heals fast. He's home in two weeks and moving so good on his crutches he's back at our house as much as he's home. I show him a lot of little tips on using crutches I wish someone had taught me. It's not long before he's moving around far better than he should for the short time he's been on them.

We're watching TV one afternoon when he suddenly slips into my lap and is kissing me. I'm so surprised I can't respond for a minute. It's the first time he's initiated a kiss. "What's that for?"

He looks disappointed. "I love you and I want you, Shane. I have ever since that day you let me rub your stump. I saw you getting hard, but you went to the bathroom and that was it."

I'm totally disconcerted. I've never been attracted to girls, though I get chased enough at school. I didn't make any attempt to squelch the rumor one of them started that I was gay. It helped, but nobody acted like they believed it. At least I didn't catch any shit about it from any of the guys. And, yeah, there've been two or three guys I've given more than a few looks. I look at Ryan and remember liking what I saw the day they moved in. Now I see how attractive he really is. His cute is turning into beautiful.

I return his kiss and wrap my arms around him. "I do love you, Ry. When your stump," he frowns at the word, "heals, we'll see how well we make it together."

He smiles. "I hope it heals fast. I love you."

"Why'd you frown when I said 'stump,' buddy? You wanted one and you got a better one than mine. Enjoy it, cause it's long enough for you to walk way better on a leg than I do."

"It just doesn't feel real. I mean I can feel my leg still there. I know it's not, but I got to look to be sure."

"That's from the pain meds they were giving you. It'll feel real once you aren't taking anything. You're gonna look totally cool on crutches now it's for real."

He looks at me hopefully. "Really?"

I hug him. "Really. Cool and sexy. That's my bud."

He hugs me back. "I gotta get out of here fast. And this time when we go to Micky D's it ain't gonna be pretend. You gotta teach me how to carry stuff using one crutch, too."

"I will, but you gotta build up a lot of muscle in your real leg. Hopping around a lot will help. I'll show you."

From the minute the doctor tells him his stump is healed and he can begin to bear weight on it, Ryan begin to bug everyone with his demand for a leg. I talked to his dad and now Ryan's a member of the Amputee Coalition like I am, so he sees a number of types of legs in the journal, but he wants one like mine, hi-tech black with an energy storing foot. He should be thankful he doesn't have to mess with choosing a knee. His mother wants him to have a pretty cosmetic leg, but he says it looks fake, and it does. Besides, all that 'pretty' costs a lot and is easy to mess up. With just rods and mechanics, there's nothing to really mess up with mine.

He almost throws a tantrum when the doctor tells him it'll be another couple of months before he's ready for a leg. I get him smiling when I tell him I'll use my crutches, too, like I have to when we go sailing and if we go out like to Micky D's or the mall.

I guess it was lack of self-confidence, because any time I'm with him and on crutches, he actually struts a little like he's calling attention to the two coolest studs in town. The idea makes me grin; we certainly are the two coolest amps in town and attention is one thing we get.

His folks fall all over themselves telling me what a saint I am for using crutches to give Ryan confidence, my mom does, too. I like the attention, but it's no big deal. Like I said, I like the leg because it frees up my arms to carry things, otherwise I like crutches fine. I've got great looking arms from using them. It's not long before Ryan can keep up with me.

With everybody feeling I can protect Ryan if he needs it, and seeing that he can keep up with me, his folks give him permission to go sailing with me again. I let Ryan rig the sails and take the tiller. I cast off and sit convenient to handle anything that comes up unexpectedly. He does a smooth creditable job. After an hour or so, I point to a small sandy beach in a little cove I know is completely private. He guides us in, I pull up the centreboard, and jump out into ankle deep water, hopping to a tree to tie the line snugly, then help Ryan out.

"My private beach, buddy. Want to swim or soak some rays?"

"Sun," he says, so I flip open the old beach blanket I keep in the boat. We lay down, but in a moment Ryan is pressing against me, giving me a serious kiss. Instantaneously I know I'm in love with Ryan. I return his kiss and he props up on his elbow and looks at me as he strokes down my chest until his hand is caressing my stump. I turn on my side so he can reach it easier and begin to massage the end of his. To my amazement, his stump is as much a turn-on for me as mine is for him.

I put my arms around him and hug him close, kissing him deeply. "I love you so much, Ryan."

He starts crying. "I love you, too, Shane. You're the only one holds me like Mark did. It feels so good, specially when you rub my stump."

"You look so beautiful with one leg, Ry. I like having a boyfriend with a stump like mine cause I don't feel like I'm the only one different."

His hug almost crushes the breath out of me, his tongue searching my mouth in a deep lingering kiss. For a few moments our tongues duel for prominence. I open my eyes and look at him again, seeing how truly beautiful he is and feeling his love washing over me in waves. Nothing matters except the two of us, so the sun is setting before I'm aware of the time.

"Like your first full day of real activity as a true amp?" I ask him when we dock at the pier back of my house.

"Awesome! There'll never be another like this one."

After we've moored my boat and stowed the sails, we kiss once more and he starts walking home on his crutches, the old aluminum ones I gave him. I watch until he's out of sight, thinking I never expected to love a kid younger than I, but how happy his love makes me.

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Posted: 01/30/09