A chilly January rain beat against the window behind A.J.'s desk in the Simon and Simon office. It wasn’t quite four o'clock, but the unusual streak of rainy weather San Diego was having, combined with the short daylight hours of winter, caused an early darkness to be settling in.
The gloom and chill outside Simon and Simon Investigations went along perfectly with the gloomy and chilly atmosphere that was prevailing inside Simon and Simon Investigations. A.J.’s was bent over a report, studying it for errors prior to entering the information into the commuter. The only sound in the room was the scratching of the detective’s pencil on paper as he added or deleted things from the report. Every so often the blond detective would venture a glance in his brother's direction. Rick was seated at his desk, studying a report as well. Or, at least, going through the motions of studying a report. Rick had turned no page for the past half hour, and his pencil and pen sat idly on the desk next to his right hand.
A.J. watched as Rick rubbed a palm over his eyes, then kneaded his temples. After a minute had passed and this activity on Rick's part continued, A.J. asked cautiously, "Rick? Are you feeling all right?"
Still massaging his forehead, Rick replied shortly, "Yeah. "
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," came the tightly controlled response.
Not one to be fooled easily, A.J. pressed on. "You've been having a lot of headaches lately. Maybe you should make an appointment to see--"
Rick's right hand slammed against his desktop. “Damn it, A.J.! Layoff, will ya'?"
Rick's sudden anger didn't catch A.J. by surprise. His brother had been grouchy for over two weeks now.
A.J. rose and walked toward Rick’s desk with his arms spread in a gesture of peace. "Look, Rick, I know you're not feeling well, so does Mom and--"
Rick scowled. "Oh, so you and Mom have been powwowing about me, huh?"
A.J. took a deep breath in an effort to stay calm. "No, we haven't been. Mom simply mentioned to me that you haven't been yourself lately - that you seem tired every time she sees you."
Rick’s tone made his question sound like an accusation. "What'd you tell her?"
"I didn't tell her anything! What could I tell her? You keep assuring me that there's nothing wrong."
"Well, there isn't."
After a moment of silence, A.J. chose to debate that. "I know better."
Rick waved a hand at his brother in a gesture of dismissal. "Leave me alone."
"Rick, it's obvious to me that you've been having headaches, and that you're tired. Why won't you make an appointment to see Joel?"
"Because I don't need to, damn it! Because there's nothing wrong with me! Just mind your own damn business."
"I am minding my own business! You're my business partner, and my brother, and I have a right to suggest that you see a doctor when I know you're not feeling well."
"Sorry, pal, but no you don't. You don't have the right to suggest I do a damn thing!"
Rick shot up from his desk, ignoring the report he dumped on the floor in his anger and haste. He yanked his jacket and hat off the coat rack, making a beeline for the door without ever looking back. A.J. was left standing alone in the office, the sound of the slamming door echoing in his ears long after Rick had departed.
The blond man sighed heavily as he bent and picked up the scattered papers. He tossed them carelessly back on to Rick's desk, then walked over to the picture windows. A.J. Simon didn't move for the next half hour. He stood staring out at the rain with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his dress slacks, letting the approaching darkness engulf him. As the streetlights began to flicker on A.J. sat back down at his desk. He tried to concentrate on finishing the report from earlier, but after fifteen minutes had passed and his pencil hadn't moved, A.J. realized his attempt was a futile one. The blond detective pushed his chair far enough away from his desk so that he could open the middle drawer. A.J. dug under several manila folders and pads of paper before pulling out a thin catalog that read, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO: Adult Outreach Classes Winter Session 1993.
A.J. opened the catalog to a page he had dog-eared over a month ago when the book had first arrived in the mail. For a long time he sat staring at the class title, then read its description through three times. A.J. finally came to a decision and tore the registration form from the back of the catalog. He filled it out, wrote a check, and enclosed both the form and check in an envelope.
An hour later A.J. left his office with the addressed and stamped envelope in his sport coat pocket. As he walked to his car A.J. stopped at a corner mailbox. He stood there for a few seconds in the rain, staring down at the envelope while having second thoughts regarding whether to mail it or not. As a loud rumble of thunder shook the ground underneath his feet, A.J. made his final decision and dropped the envelope in the box. He walked away then, hurrying to his car as the rain began to pour down again in earnest.
Two weeks passed without much improvement in the weather, or Rick's mood. Cases were still taken and completed, and every day office tasks done, but not without Rick snapping and growling about every one of life's little inconveniences that came his way, or simply lapsing into a cold silence that A.J. couldn't break through. It was late on Monday afternoon, and the detectives were headed back to the office in rush hour traffic after a long day in court. They were in Rick's truck, meaning he was driving. That was a situation A.J. had a great desire to remedy as Rick laid on the horn each time someone wasn't driving in the way the eldest Simon thought they should. A.J. was actually thankful for the rain, chill, and early winter darkness today. At least that meant that everyone Rick was yelling and cursing at couldn't hear him since their windows were rolled up. Nor could they see him clearly because of the steady downpour. On the other hand, that meant Rick's anger wasn't getting vented at the drivers of the other vehicles, but rather at A.J., the innocent passenger sitting next to him. Although several times during the course of that thirty minute drive back to their office A.J. came close to losing his own temper and telling his brother to shut up and cool it, the blond man practiced restraint. A.J. did this partly because he knew that if he started yelling as well, things inside the truck would only escalate to a level of complete ugliness, and partly because he had guessed the reason behind Rick's erratic mood swings of late.
Every year or so Rick seemed to go through this, a period of a few weeks when his mood swung like a pendulum. Years ago, A.J. had no idea what caused this abrupt change in his brother, but in the past six or seven years A.J. had learned all too well. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Four words that had come to be a big part of the Simons’ lives on occasion, or at least a big part of A.J.'s life. More often than not Rick denied that anything was wrong, denied that he was tired and as moody as a grizzly bear that had been rudely awakened from hibernation. But A.J. knew his brother well enough to know the signs by now. It always started out the same way, with Rick seeming to be overtired and bothered by headaches. From there, it moved to the mood swings and Rick being crabby and hard to get along with. What caused these sudden changes A.J. never knew. Rick certainly never told him, or even acknowledged that they were occurring. A.J. had come to guess that the changes in Rick's personality at these times were brought on by a disturbing memory of his time spent in Vietnam. Maybe Rick had read an article in the paper pertaining to Nam, or maybe he had seen something on TV about that long ago war, or had gotten a letter or phone call from an old Marine buddy that brought back unsettling memories. A.J. didn't know if his guesses were correct or not, although he suspected he was on the right track if nothing else. Rick never dropped any clues; therefore A.J. didn't have much to go on except his own sensibilities. What A.J. did know for a fact was that at times like this Rick pulled back not only from him, but also from everyone else as well. In the past few weeks A.J. had heard his brother on the phone more than once turning down invitations from Carlos and various other buddies who had called to ask Rick to join them at the bowling alley, or a weekly poker game, or at Ollie’s, Rick’s favorite watering hole.
A.J. also knew Rick had put a halt to dating the woman he had been seeing steadily for quite some time. The reason A.J. was privilege to this information was because Nancy had called the office looking for Rick one day the previous week. Rick had been out doing some legwork on a case they had been hired for, so A.J. had talked to Nancy that afternoon. It was then that the woman remarked, "You two sure have been busy lately, haven't you? Rick doesn't seem to have any free time. He says work is tying him up."
In order to cover for his brother A.J. had told Nancy that yes, they had been extremely busy, and that he was sure once things quieted down she'd see more of Rick. When Rick arrived at the office later that afternoon A.J. gave him Nancy's message. Rick shrugged and replied, "I'll call her back later." A.J. highly doubted that Rick ever did. When the blond casually asked, "Are you cutting it off with Nancy?" Rick looked surprised at that suggestion.
"No, not at all. I like her a lot. She's fun to be with. Why?"
At that time all A.J. said was, "No reason, I guess. Forget it," then changed the subject.
For A.J., as well, had been cut off by his brother recently. During football season they had made it a regular habit of spending Sunday afternoons together watching the Chargers play while polishing off pizza and beer. They alternated Sundays between A.J.'s house and Rick's boat, but when A.J. had shown up at the marina two Sundays ago, Rick had acted like he was surprised to see his younger brother and didn't even turn the TV on or mention the game. A.J. hung around for a half hour or so, then left and went back home, feeling like an intruder. Then this past Sunday Rick didn't show up at A.J.'s at all, nor did he bother to call to say why he wouldn't be there. A.J. was unable to get a hold of his brother by phone that afternoon, and when he finally did later that evening the explanation Rick offered was, "Oh, yeah. I guess I forgot."
A.J. wondered how someone could forget something they'd been doing every Sunday afternoon for the past three football seasons, but didn't pursue the issue further. And, over the last few weeks if A.J. inquired of his brother, "How are you feeling?" or "What's wrong?" he was told, "I'm feelin' fine," or "Nothing's wrong," or even, "Mind your own damn business, A. J.," so that's how A.J. knew that post-traumatic stress disorder was back in their lives.
A.J. was jolted out of his musing by a sharp, "Damn it, A. J.! Roll your window down!"
"What are you daydreamin' about? I said, roll your window down a little ways. It’s gettin' fogged up in here."
A.J. looked around, realizing the truck's defroster wasn't keeping the side windows clear.
It was all A.J. could do not to growl in return, "Shove it, Rick," but he kept his mouth shut and did as his brother ordered. Ten minutes later the Simons pulled into the small parking lot outside their office. Rick broke the silence that had prevailed in in the cab of the truck since his outburst.
"Do you wanna go somewhere for dinner tonight? My treat."
A.J. took note of Rick's mood that now swung in a completely opposite direction, as if the foul temper from earlier had never happened. A.J. stared out at the rain a long moment before answering.
"No, I can't. I have to be at the university at seven for a class I'm taking."
"You didn't tell me you had signed up for any classes this winter."
A.J. shrugged. "It's not a class really. It's more of a one evening seminar actually."
"Oh. What's it about?"
"Nothing you'd be interested in," came A.J.'s vague response.
Rick didn't question his brother any further on the subject. He knew the university sometimes offered evening seminars on a variety of subjects ranging from enhancement of personal computer skills, to the impact the Nixon administration had had on the government. Rick knew A.J. had gone to an evening seminar last winter pertaining to Abraham Lincoln's influence on the country and the outcome of the Civil War. Rick had thought it a little weird at the time, and had even said so, but also respected his brother's desire to keep learning. Knowing A.J., tonight's seminar could be about any subject ranging from the Great Depression, to income tax advice for small business owners. Whatever it was, Rick was certain he wanted no part of it.
Before Rick could comment, A.J. opened the truck door and said, "I'll see you tomorrow," then dashed for his car.
Rick watched his brother start the Carmaro and pull out of the lot. He was confused by A.J.'s odd behavior. After being away from the office all day, A.J. would normally want to go in for a few minutes to check the answering machine and look through the mail. Rick glanced at his watch to see that it was after six. He shrugged and muttered, "Oh well, I suppose he had to get goin' if that seminar starts at seven. "
Rick, being well aware that he hadn't been in the best of moods lately and being well aware as to why, decided he owed A.J. a favor. That's what prompted the detective to exit his truck and run through the rain to the office. As Rick rode alone in the elevator up to Simon and Simon Investigations, he decided getting some Kentucky Fried Chicken and renting a movie sounded good. Vaguely, he realized there was a part of himself that didn't want to be alone. He wished then, that he could pick up the phone and invite A.J. to join him on the boat. Rick supposed that he could call Carlos, or Nancy, or a number of others tonight, but he didn't want their company. Only A.J.'s. Unfortunately, A.J. was busy.
Serves me right. I've turned down enough of his invitations lately, and I know I've been a real bastard to put up with. I don't blame him for not wantin' to wait around for me to come outta one of my moods.
As the elevator came to a stop Rick opened the old fashioned gate and walked the short path to the office. He spent the next ten minutes going through the mail, then walked over to the answering machine that sat on one corner of A.J.'s desk. Rick rewound the tape, hit play, and wrote down whatever information was necessary from each message he listened to. Rick's pen stopped abruptly as he heard the last one. As that came to an end Rick's face set in anger.
"Damn you, A.J.! How many times do I have to tell you to mind your own damn business?"
The longer Rick stood there and thought about the message he had just heard, the angrier he became. The furious man threw a stapler across the room and watched it make a dent in the wall before it bounced to the carpet. Rick stormed out of the office, giving the light switch a hard whack as he went by and slamming the door so violently that the glass pane rattled long after he was gone.
The weather on Tuesday started out sunny, but storm clouds moved in and by ten a.m. the heavens had opened up once again and a steady rain was falling. The atmosphere in the Simons' office had progressed that day as well from chilly, to cold, to down right frigid, by two that afternoon. A.J. had heard of being given the cold shoulder, but this was ridiculous. It had even gone so far that when A.J. had offered to get lunch from the corner deli, Rick had told him no, he wasn't hungry. Yet, not twenty minutes after that Rick rose and headed for the door. When A.J. asked him where he was going, Rick replied sharply, "I'm hungry. I'm goin’ to McDonald's. I didn't think I needed your permission to do that."
With that, the door shut and a A.J. was left sitting alone in the office. He gave a heavy sigh of frustration as he stood. He headed to the deli to get a sandwich. For some reason, A.J. had a feeling Rick was not going to bring back anything from McDonald's for him.
The only further mention of that incident was when Rick arrived back at the office an hour later and A.J. commented, "I would have gotten us both lunch today, but you said you weren't hungry."
All A.J. got in the way of an explanation was a grumbled, "I changed my mind. Besides, I had to get outta here for a while."
Those words were among the few Rick said to his brother all day. The blond man had quickly come to the conclusion earlier in the morning that he was being ignored. And when he wasn't being ignored, then what words Rick graced him with were short and sharp. On more than one occasion A.J. had to take a deep breath and count to ten in an effort to keep from being short and sharp with his own words. As far as A.J. was concerned this was one day when five o'clock couldn't come soon enough. Both brothers were now absorbed in studying background checks they had been hired to complete on several hundred employees of a large, local firm. The office was quiet until Rick broke the silence.
"Damn it, A.J.! How come you got these reports out of order? I can't figure out what goes where now!"
A.J. took a deep breath. "They were in order when I gave them to you, Rick."
"They were not!"
Calmly, but firmly, A.J. reiterated, "Rick, yes, they were."
Rick stood up and threw the papers down on his desk. At that act A.J. couldn't help but think with a bit of amusement, Well, regardless of whether or not they were in order, they're certainly not now, big brother.
Rick glared at his sibling. "Don't you I think I'd know if these papers were in order or not? Do you think I'm lyin’ to you here or what?"
A.J., sensing that he and his brother were treading on thin ice, tried to defuse the situation by smiling and saying quietly, "Look, Rick, it's not that big of a deal, okay? It doesn't matter how the papers got mixed up or who did it. And no, I don't think you're lying." The blond man stood up. "I'll help you put them back in order."
“I don't want your help, goddamn it! I don’t want your help! Can't you understand that?"
A.J. nodded slowly from where he stood by his desk. After a moment he acknowledged softly, "Believe me, Rick, I understand that. You've made it perfectly clear on more than one occasion in recent weeks."
A.J. watched his brother pace the floor for a few minutes. Rick's anger was evident by his facial expression and tightly controlled body movements. Although A.J. would readily acknowledge Rick's moodiness of late, he felt his brother's rage was way out of proportion for the present situation. Deciding to tread where even angels would fear, A.J. inquired, "Rick, what's wrong?"
A.J.'s patience had reached the end of the line. "Oh, come on, Rick! You can do better than that. Lie to me for Heaven's sake, but don't just stand there pacing back and forth while telling me nothing's wrong. I know better."
Anger flashed in Rick's eyes as he turned to face his brother. "Yeah, you think you know everything, don't you?"
After four long weeks, A.J.'s temper finally exploded. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Would you please tell me what is going on with you today?"
"Oh, so you don't know?"
A.J. didn't back down to his brother's sharp tongue. "No, Rick, I don't know."
"Then I guess you didn't learn much from that little class you took last night, did you?"
A.J. couldn't hide the look of surprise that crossed his features at Rick's words. He was just about to accuse Rick of spying on him, when he recalled that the University Outreach Program always had someone call to confirm the class that had been signed up for on the first night it was scheduled to meet. Obviously, Rick had somehow gotten the message meant for him.
A.J. shrugged. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"I don't know, A.J. What does it have to do with anything?" Rick asked as he resumed his pacing. "You know, I really don't appreciate you goin' to some stupid class and blabbin' my problems to all of San Diego. And to top it off, you couldn't even tell me the truth last night when I asked what the class was about! All I got was a “nothing you'd be interested in.” I guess you didn't have the guts to come clean and tell me that you were goin’ to a class about post-traumatic stress disorder!"
"No, Rick, it wasn't that I didn't have the guts. It was that I didn't figure it was any of your damn business! I'll remind you of what you told me two weeks ago. You might be my business partner and my brother, but that's as far as it goes! What I do on my own time is my own business! You don't have the right to interfere, pal!"
Rick stopped his pacing and took three steps towards A.J. "I have the right to interfere when your business involves me!"
"Don't flatter yourself."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
“What it means is that I didn't take the class for you, I took it for me. It wasn't about you, it was about me."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"How could it be about you, Rick? According to you, there's nothing wrong. There's absolutely no reason, according to you, as to why you've got a headache almost every day, as to why you look like you're ready to fall asleep at ten o'clock in the morning, and as to why you're crabbier than hell and I'm getting the brunt of it. But I'm no fool. I've seen the signs for too many years now, and I know perfectly well what's going on. I know--"
”A.J., just can it! I don’t give a damn—“
"You may not give a damn, but I do! I care about your health, and I care about what you're going through. I've also learned to respect the fact that you don't want to share with me what's going on at times like this. But if you think I can just ignore it and go on living my life like nothing's happening, you're wrong. Maybe you can, but I can't! And if that makes me too sensitive, or if it means that I don't mind my own business, then so be it. I have the right to be concerned about my brother!"
"A.J.--" Rick began to say in a softer tone.
"Shut up!" A.J. interrupted. "Just shut up and listen to me for a change!"
There was silence in the office as a somewhat humbled Rick did as his brother ordered, and as A.J. took a moment to calm down. When A.J. finally felt he could speak without yelling he said, "The class that I took last night had nothing to do with you. It was for me. To help me, learn how to deal with all of this. To help me, learn how to put up with you when you get like this. I can't talk to you about it because all you'll tell me is that there's nothing wrong. I can't talk to Mom about it because I don't want to worry her, and it would only make you more upset if I did. And I can't talk to anyone else about it because frankly, like you, I feel it's no one else's business. So if you think I go blabbing your problems all over San Diego, or to my closest friends, you're wrong. But I've come to a point in my life, Rick, where I can't always handle this anymore. I don't know what to do. When you get like this I spend weeks walking a tightrope wondering if I'm going to say or do some innocent thing that's going to set you off and make things worse for you. I guess I'm just getting too damn old to play this game anymore. This game of you telling me that there's nothing wrong, and me pretending to believe it.”
A.J. turned away from his brother as he stared out the window at the rain. "Back when this all first came to light I did everything you asked of me. I went to therapy with you when you asked me to, and I stayed away when you asked me to. I stayed up all night with you helping you chase the demons away when you asked me to, and other nights when you pushed me away I left you alone like you asked me to. I went to the Wall with you because you asked me to, and because I wanted to be there with you. But later that same month, when you wanted a few days on the boat by yourself, I respected that and didn't intrude on your time alone even though I was worried about you. Over the years I've read every book I could get my hands on about post-traumatic stress disorder in an effort to learn how to help you. I've watched every documentary and credible movie about the Vietnam War, again in an effort to learn how to help you cope with all of this. But nowhere along the line did anyone teach me how to cope with all of this. All this time I've been learning what to do for you, but never have I learned what to do for me. That's what last night's class was all about, Rick. It was for people like me - people who have someone in their lives that they love who's affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. People like me who don't know how to cope with the moods, and the anger, and the silence any longer. I can put up with it when you're crabby for a few days, just like you put up with me when I'm in a shitty mood for a few days. But it's been a month now, and I just don't know how to handle it anymore."
A.J. turned from the window and retreived his sport coat from the back of his chair. As he put the jacket on he said to his speechless brother, "If you're worried that I told all your little secrets at that class last night, don't be. I didn't say a word during the entire three hours. And if you're worried that someone knew who I was, don't be. We didn't even introduce ourselves."
As A.J. headed for the door he finished with, "And if you're worried that I'm going to try some psychological bull crap on you in an effort to help you through this, don't be. This class taught me how to help myself, not how to help you."
A.J. opened the door and stopped his progress just long enough to say softly as he stared out into the hallway, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to deceive you about the class, but I didn't want to upset you either. I didn't plan on you ever finding out what it was about. You've got to understand though, that I'm not like you. I just couldn't deal with it by myself any longer. I am sorry, Rick."
With that, the door closed quietly, and for a change it was Rick was left standing alone in Simon and Simon office.
A wet and cold A.J. Simon let himself into his house at six o'clock that evening. He had walked the beach in a windy drizzle until it was too dark to see, then sat in his car for another hour with the heater on full blast while watching the waves crash against the shoreline. During his walk, and then his time in the car, A.J. mulled over the past four weeks and the events that had prompted him to go to last night's class. He thought, too, of the argument he and Rick had just hours earlier, and how he had drawn on some of what he had learned in class the previous evening to get through it. And he recalled, as well, how often the instructor had reiterated that post-traumatic stress disorder was not something the majority of its victims ever completely recovered from. It could continue to be a problem for the person on and off throughout the rest of his life. That was a fact A.J. knew all too well, but had still hated to hear.
A.J. entered his dark house, flipped on the kitchen light, and stood for a minute dripping on the floor while he quickly looked through his mail. The blond man then headed upstairs to take off his wet clothes and soak in the whirlpool tub. Ten minutes later, as warm jets of water swirled around A.J.'s chilled body, he sighed and leaned his head back against the lip of the warm tub. A year ago, with some bonus money he and Rick had earned from a long, grueling case, A.J. had finally done what he had long wanted to, remodeled his master bathroom and enlarged it by taking a few feet away from his bedroom. He knew right from the beginning the whirlpool tub he put in that space would greatly outweigh in benefit the few feet he had lost from the bedroom, and it had. This tub had helped to ease more aches and pains brought on by the private investigation business than A.J.
could count. Even Rick had popped over to use it on occasion after an especially body-bruising day. It had also come in handy when A.J. was entertaining a favorite lady. And sometimes, like this evening, the aches and pains it eased were purely emotional ones, but it was therapeutic nonetheless.
A.J. soaked for a half hour before climbing out of the tub. He dressed in faded blue jeans, a warm bulky sweater, and thick white athletic socks. He padded downstairs to make supper. Once the dishes were done and the newspaper was read, the detective stretched out on the sofa to watch Coach, one of the few sitcoms he enjoyed. A.J. was able to forget about his day with Rick somewhat as he laughed at Hayden's and Luther's latest antics. The show had just gone to a commercial break when the bell outside the kitchen door clanged. A.J. briefly wondered who'd be coming to see him at this time on a Tuesday evening, and in this weather.
A.J. opened the door and was surprised to see his brother standing outside. Usually, Rick knocked once, then walked right in without waiting to be asked, or if the door was locked, used his key to gain entrance before A.J. had a chance to unlock it.
A.J. stood to the side of the doorway and waited for Rick to walk in. When Rick made no move to do so, but continued to stand out in the rain that was once again pouring down, A.J. asked lightly, "Are you coming in, or is this your new way of helping me mop the floor?"
Rick took notice then, of the rainwater that was blowing in through the open door and onto the kitchen floor. "Oh, uh, sorry. Can I come in?"
A.J. smiled slightly. "Since when do you need an invitation?"
As Rick stepped on into the kitchen he confessed sheepishly, "I thought I might tonight."
A.J. didn't reply to Rick's words, but instead instructed, "Take off that wet coat. You look cold."
Rick gladly complied by laying his field jacket on the counter top by the sink and putting his equally wet cowboy hat beside it.
"Come in the den." A.J. said as he walked around
the snack bar to the den and shut off the TV.
Rick followed several steps behind his sibling. His eyes flicked to the TV screen as the picture faded. "I uh...I didn't mean to interrupt what you were doin’. Go ahead and finish watchin’ that. I know it's one of your favorites."
"Don't worry about it," A.J. assured as he sat on the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table.
Rick stood uncomfortably in the middle of A.J.'s den, which was totally out of character for him. Although Rick hadn't lived on the Hole in the Water in his brother's backyard for almost seven years now, he still felt just as much at home at A.J.'s as he had when he had been in and out of this house on a daily basis. A.J. finally had to say to his brother, "Have a seat."
Rick sat down in the chair, but didn't say anything.
"Do you want a beer, or a cup of coffee?”
"No. No thanks."
The brothers sat without anything further being said. A.J. finally broke the silence by lightly teasing, "Did you just come over here to stare at my four walls, or did you need something?"
Rick smiled at the teasing, and after a moment admitted, "Yeah, I need something."
When nothing further came forth, A.J. prodded gently, "What did you need, Rick?"
Rick's eyes dropped to the floor. "I...uh, I need to apologize for my...mood lately. I know I've been a real bastard to get along with, and I'm sorry that you've been takin' the brunt of that."
A.J. accepted the apology more graciously than he should have. At least in Rick’s opinion he did.
"Hey, what are brothers for?"
Rick made eye contact with the blond. "Not for the shit I've been dishin' out. You don't deserve that, A.J."
"Rick...look, don't worry about it, okay? I can handle it as long as I know the reason behind it."
At Rick's puzzled expression, A.J. expounded, "If I know that what's causing your moodiness has to do with...Nam, then I can deal with that. It's the not knowing that drives me nuts. When I know you're not feeling well, having headaches, and looking so tired, then I worry that something physical is wrong. Or when you seem angry at me, I wonder what I've done that needs to be corrected or apologized for. When all you'll tell me is “nothing's wrong,” it leaves me guessing, and I don't like to be left guessing. You know that fact about me better than anyone."
Rick nodded. "Yeah, I do."
A.J. thought about some of the things that had been discussed at the seminar the previous evening. "All I'm asking is that when you're going through a rough time concerning...the past, that you tell me that's what's going on when I ask. Don't just tell me there's nothing wrong. I promise I won't take it any further than that. I told you today that I've learned to respect the fact that you don't want to talk about Nam with me."
"It's not just you, A.J. It's anybody. I don't wanna talk about it with anybody. Sometimes I do talk about it...at Vietnow meetings, but not too often anymore. If I could talk to somebody, that somebody would be you. I want you to know that and believe it. It's the truth."
"I believe you," A.J. confirmed. "In light of that, just promise me that you'll let me know when things are closing in on you. I know that's hard for you to do, but in the long run it’ll be easier on both of us."
Rick reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, I suppose you're right.
I '11...I’ll do my best. "
"I know you will. And I promise you, at those times, no questions asked on my part."
Rick nodded again. "Okay."
Rick finally relaxed a bit then. He stretched his long legs out in front of him as he settled more comfortably into the chair. He said out loud more to himself than to A.J., "You know, I thought this whole thing was finally behind me when we did that letter together for the documentary two years ago. It's taken me twenty years to realize that it’ll never be fully behind me."
"Maybe it's not supposed to be."
"Maybe you, and the other vets like you, are here as a reminder to the rest of us of how foolish war is. Of what a waste of young lives it is. And how it's not just the young men who died on the battlefield that lost their lives, but that many of you who came home in one piece lost a part of your lives over there as well. That many of you experienced a kind of death, too."
"That we did, A.J.,” Rick agreed with a heavy sigh. “That we did."
"I know," came the soft acknowledgment.
After a moment, Rick asked, “Was your class last
A.J. didn't go into detail, just replied with, "Yes, it
"I'm glad you took it, A.J.,” Rick admitted as his gaze returned to the floor. “I'm glad there was something out there like that for you. I shouldn't have blown my stack over it this afternoon. You were right, I'm your business partner and your brother, but that's as far as it goes. I don't have the right to--"
"Rick, as my business partner and my brother, sometimes you do have the right to interfere in my life. I may not always like it when you do, or agree with your opinions, but I know it's only done out of concern. I hope you understand that when I seem to over step my bounds with you, that it's for the same reason - concern."
"I know," Rick nodded as he looked over at A.J. "And, uh...well, I'm glad I've got a kid brother who cares so much about me."
A.J. smiled. "That's what this kid brother is for."
"After all these years, I know that fact pretty well."
"I'm glad you know it. Just remember it during the rough times, too. Deal?"
Rick nodded and smiled. "Deal."
A minute of companionable silence passed before Rick spoke again.
"I heard the weather forecast as I was drivin’ over here. It's supposed to quit raining around midnight, and the wind's supposed to die down. They say it's gonna be sunny and in the seventies tomorrow."
A.J. shot his brother a puzzled look. "Thank you for the weather report, Willard Scott."
"Ha, ha. There's a reason for my weather report."
"And what's that?"
“Well, I was thinkin' tomorrow's supposed to be the first nice day we've had in almost three weeks, and it's been a while since you and I have gone fishin' together so-- "
"Oh, so you want to play hooky tomorrow," A.J. said with mock sternness.
"Now I wouldn't exactly put it that way, A.J. I'd call this a...uh...what do they call it at the police department? Oh yeah, a mental health day."
A. J. laughed. "A mental health day, huh?"
"Yeah. I think we both need a day away from it all,
"Yes, I do."
"Um...I'd understand though if you don't want to spend the day with me tomorrow. I mean, if you wanna be by yourself or something. I know the way I've been actin' lately hasn't exactly--"
"Rick, I'd like to spend the day fishing with you tomorrow, so don't say any more about it." The blond man finished by warning, half seriously, half in jest, "But if you're the least bit crabby, I swear I'll throw you overboard and use you as bait."
Rick chuckled. "Fair enough. If I end up in the ocean, I can't say I haven't been warned."
"No, you can't," A.J. agreed. "When our day at sea is over, plan to come back here and I'll cook up our catch. If we don't have any luck, then I've got a couple of t-bone steaks in the freezer just waiting to hit the grill."
"Sounds good. And while you're doin' that, maybe I could wash the fish smell off by soaking in your whirlpool."
"You can wash the fish smell off in my shower, then you can soak in the whirlpool for as long as you want to."
Rick laughed at his fussy brother. "Okay, okay, if that's the way it's gotta be, shower first and then whirlpool. I guess I can live with that."
"You're going to have to. After all, it's my whirlpool."
Rick chuckled again, then rose from the chair to go home.
A.J. stood and walked with his brother to the door. "What time do you want me to be at your place in the morning?"
"About seven. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"And I'll pack us something for lunch since you're
gonna make dinner," Rick volunteered as he picked up his
coat and hat.
"Just make sure it's edible," A.J. warned. "Something
normal please, like a simple ham sandwich. Not one of those nauseating concoctions like you brought along the last time we went fishing."
"Hey! What's wrong with peanut butter, marshmallow, and banana sandwiches?"
"Several things, none of which I have time to mention
"All right, ya’ stick-in-the-mud. Ham sandwiches, cold beer, chips, apples, and some of the homemade oatmeal cookies Mom dropped off at my place the other day. How's that?"
“Mom dropped homemade cookies off at your place? She didn't bring me any. Gee, I guess that finally proves you’re Mom's favorite."
"Oh, no, Golden Boy, it's you, believe me," Rick tossed back. "Mom just knows that you can make your own cookies."
The Simon brothers stood in A.J.'s kitchen a few minutes longer, teasing one another over the issue of which one of them was Mom's favorite. Once that discussion came to its usual unresolved end, Rick reached for the doorknob. "I'll see you in the morning then."
"See you at seven," A.J. agreed.
Rick hesitated in the act of opening the door and turned around. "I...I’m sorry about everything that's been goin' on lately."
"I know that. I already told you not to worry about it, and I meant it. We'll both get through it somehow. We always do."
Rick gave a rueful smile. "Yeah, I guess you're right
about that. I want you to know something though. I may not act like it sometimes, but...well, I couldn't get through times like this without you, little brother."
"I'll always be here for you, Rick. Whether you need to talk, or need someone to go fishing with, or just need someone to stare at the wall with, I'm here for you. Please don't ever forget that."
Rick nodded, then said goodbye. As he pulled the door closed A.J. just barely heard his, "Believe me, kid, I've never forgotten - and I never will."
A.J. smiled as he shut off the kitchen light and headed up the stairs. While he got ready for bed, the detective realized he had been wrong about the recent class he had taken. It hadn’t just benefited him. In a round about way, it had benefited Rick, too. As far as A.J. was concerned, that meant it was money well spent.
When he climbed into bed, A.J. caught sight of the picture on his nightstand taken twenty-five years earlier with Rick in his Marine dress blues, and A.J. with an arm flung around his brother’s shoulders.
Money very well spent, A.J. thought as he looked at those two young men right before he drifted into the first restful night’s sleep he’d had in weeks, all thanks to a simple three hour class he’d taken the evening before.
~ ~ ~