I woke up at seven on Christmas morning. I was surprised to discover that I'd actually slept four straight hours. I had figured I’d toss and turn all night. Being able to sleep even for those four short hours made me realize just how tired I was. The house was quiet, so I dressed and silently made my way down the stairs to start the coffee.
The downstairs rooms were dark. No evidence of boxes or wrapping paper was to be seen in the kitchen, so I figured Mom had stayed up like she said she was going to. I took my coffee and sat on the living room couch. I plugged the tree lights in as I passed by. I stared at the evergreen as the lights blinked on and off, remembering the day two weeks before when A.J. and I had brought the tree in.
Mom always says it’s not officially Christmas until she hears A.J. and me fighting while we're trying to set up the tree. Our first problem came with just getting it through the front door. A.J.’s temper quickly reached the breaking point.
"Rick, I told you this tree was too damn big!"
I had the top of the tree, and A.J. had the trunk, as we tried to enter the doorway with it.
"A.J., damn it, quit pushing it like that! And it's not too big! It'll be just the right size."
A.J. grunted as he lifted the tree higher. “Rick, if it doesn't fit through the door, it’s too big. It doesn't matter if it’s just the right size for the living room, if we can't even get it in the house!"
We pushed and we shoved, we tugged and we swore, and yeah, we did finally get the tree into the house. Only to then have several heated arguments while we tried to get it in the stand. Mom had wisely retreated to the attic to start bringing down the ornaments and let us fight it out ourselves. Several times when we must have sounded like we were engaged in an all-out war, ‘cause Mom would call down the stairs, "Boys, it doesn't sound much like Christmas down there!"
When we’d hear that we’d stop fighting and start laughing. Mom always used to say that when we were kids and bickering around Christmas time.
I was staring at the tree, lost in thought, when Mom appeared in her bathrobe. She kissed me before going into kitchen to get her own coffee. When she returned she joined me the couch.
"Can I make you some bacon and eggs, Rick?"
"No, I'm not really hungry."
I could tell she was going to object to that, so quickly added, "I'll have some cereal or toast in a little while."
"Okay, but make sure you eat something," she ordered. “What were you doing down here by yourself? Shaking presents, I'll bet."
"Nah,” I smiled. “Just lookin’ at the tree and remembering the day A.J. and I carried it in."
"Oh, the day I almost had World War Three start in my living room."
"Aw, Mom, it wasn't that bad."
"Richard, it was just like when you were little. I thought you two were going to kill each other, and then by the time we started decorating the tree twenty minutes later you were best friends again.
“You boys used to drive me crazy that way when you were small. One minute you'd be so angry at each other, and the next minute you'd be running off with your arms around each other’s shoulders, on your way to some new adventure. The worst punishment I could ever inflict on the two of you when you'd start fighting like that was to separate you and A.J., and tell you that you couldn't play with each other for the rest of the day. Within fifteen minutes you'd be coming to me and asking, ‘Mom, can I play with A.J., please?’ Ten minutes after that, A.J. would appear and say, ‘Please Mom, let me play with Rick. I promise we won't fight.’"
"Yeah, he always could hold a grudge longer," was all I said, but hearing her words brought back a lotta memories. She was right about the Christmas tree, too. Once we had it up, the three of us had a great afternoon decorating it. A.J. went into the kitchen about five o'clock that night to make a pot of my favorite chili. He and I stayed late that evening, playing cards and talking with Mom long after the decorating was finished.
Mom broke into my thoughts by taking my hand in hers. "Nothing made A.J. happier when he was little than being with his big brother. I think he still feels the same way." Mom paused a second before finishing with, "A.J. loves you very much, Rick. You know that, don't you?"
Speaking past the lump in my throat, I acknowledged, "Yeah, Mom, I know. I love him, too. I hope he knows that."
"He does, Rick. He does."
We sat in silence for a few minutes before Mom said, "I called the hospital when I woke up. The nurse I spoke with said A.J. had a pretty good night. Doctor Rafferty is supposed to be in at nine‑thirty. Bob had told me he'd be there, too."
"Okay, I guess we'd better get ready then.” I stood to head up the stairs for a shower. “What did the nurse say about his temperature?"
“It was one hundred and one a half hour ago."
A.J.’s temperature had risen to one hundred and three the previous afternoon, so I was glad to hear it had come down some.
Twenty minutes later, I was showered, shaved, and headed toward the kitchen to eat something. Mom was in there making toast as I entered.
"Did the phone ring while I was in the shower?”
“Yes, it did. I was going to tell you as soon as you came down.”
“Tell me what?”
“Janet called. She was on the phone with a friend yesterday who had read about A.J. in the newspaper. Janet said she tried to call here several times last evening, and had tried to get you on the boat, but couldn't reach us."
“That was nice of her."
Unlike with Liz, I was genuinely pleased that Janet had called. We'd had our problems in the past, but had actually become good friends as the years had gone by. "How was she? Was she upset?"
“Yes, she was upset. Like the two of us, Janet’s worried about A.J. She said she didn’t sleep well last night. I kidded her a little when she told me that. I told her that proved she was still part of the family, since none of the Simons are getting much sleep lately either."
“That’s true,” I agreed, as I rubbed a hand over my tired eyes.
Mom poured us both a cup of coffee. "Janet asked to speak to you as well, but I told her you were in the shower. She said to tell you hello, and to let you know she was thinking of you. She's going to drive down sometime in the next few days to see us."
"Did you tell her she might not be able to see A.J.? That he may still be in intensive care?"
"I told her. She said she’s coming to see you and I just as much as she’s coming to see A.J., and that I wasn’t to try and talk her out of it."
I nodded my head as I buttered a piece of toast. I knew this news had to have been a shock to Janet. She was another person on our list of ‘people to call when we know something definite.’ If I'd known she'd find out the way she did, I would have called her the day the shooting happened. Even though she was married to another man now, I knew she still had a lot of love for A.J. and our family.
Mom tried to sound nonchalant, as I was about to take a bite of my toast.
"Oh, and by the way, Janet also mentioned Myron is here visiting for the holidays. She said he'll come with her when she drives down to see us."
I rolled my eyes and smirked at my mother. “Thanks a lot for the postscript, Mom. I think I've lost what little appetite I had."
Mom laughed at me, but was wise enough not to say any more. After the news about Myron, and hearing from Liz the previous day, I began to wonder who else might be popping back into our lives in the coming days that I had no desire to ever see or hear from again. With my luck, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Karbel, would be the next to call. I had gotten caught egging and toilet papering her house because she kept me after school for an entire week for not doing my homework. Mrs. Karbel never had much use for me after that little incident, but, of course, she had loved A.J. when he was in her class.
"Uh, hey, Mom...um, Mrs. Krabel hasn't called by chance, has she?"
Mom gave me a funny look. She musta thought lack of sleep was causin’ me to suffer some sort of mental trauma. I didn't bother to explain either. I just smiled at her as I took a sip of my coffee, and figured it was best not to remind her of what a hell raiser I’d been as a kid.
Mom and I arrived at the hospital shortly after nine o'clock. As far as I was concerned, it was a stupid place to be on Christmas Day. A.J. seemed about the same as he had when we left him late the previous night. Doctor Rafferty and Bob arrived at nine‑thirty and were with A.J. for the next twenty minutes. When they came out to the hallway to talk with us, they had no definite answers as to the reasons for the temperature he was running, or for his unresponsiveness. Bob spoke to us at length about that last fact.
“We're becoming more concerned that A.J. isn't responding to anyone, or much of anything at all, for that matter. We've reduced the sedative he's been getting to the point that he should be able to talk to us and answer our questions. We know he can feel pain, so that means the dosage of the sedative is where we want it. We don't know for sure what's going on with him."
“What do you mean, you don't know for sure what’s going on with him?" Mom asked.
“What I mean, Cece, is that we don't know what's causing this lack of response on A.J.'s part."
It sounded like we were talking in circles as far as I was concerned. Mom and I had a pretty clear picture that A.J. was unresponsive. I didn’t need a medical degree in order to figure that out. I could feel my temper threatening to blow as I tried my best to remain calm.
“What are ya’ gonna do about it, Bob? What kinds of things can you do to find out what's causing all this?"
"Doctor Rafferty and I have just been discussing that, Rick. A.J. will continue to be watched closely today. Then, first thing tomorrow morning, we’ll be doing some extensive blood tests, and also another C.A.T. scan. The one we did three days ago didn't show anything as you both know, but I want another one run just to be sure. That bump he has on the back of his head hasn't changed any in looks, and is starting to go down, so I still don't think that's the problem, but we'll check for sure once again."
A.J. had a good sized goose egg on the back of his head where he had come in contact with the concrete floor at the warehouse when he had fallen after being shot. There had been X-rays taken, and a C.A.T. scan done, the day he had surgery just to make sure there wasn't any kind of brain or skull injury. Everything had checked out fine at that time.
Bob gave us some good news - A.J.'s pulse and respiration rates were still strong, and overall, they were happy he was holding his own.
How I hated that phrase, ‘holding his own.’ Hated the whole situation, as a matter of fact. I've never been known for my patience, and I was about at the end of what little I had left. I felt like we were teetering on the edge of a cliff, and whoever was in charge of deciding whether we'd be pushed over the edge, or pulled safely onto solid ground, was gettin' a hell of a bang outta toying with us. Just when it seemed like we were leaning one way, everything would shift, and we'd be leaning the other. Living in limbo like that is not something I ever wanna experience again.
We stayed with A.J. until we had to leave for Aunt Pat's. His temperature had climbed to one hundred and two by noon, but he was also opening his eyes again. I thought he focused on me once or twice, but he didn't squeeze my hand when I asked him to.
As the morning wore on, I was becoming more and more concerned. Things seemed different with A.J. somehow, yet I couldn't pinpoint what it was. He wasn't nearly as restless as he had been at other times, and didn't seem to be feeling pain like he had been the last two days. I guess that should have made me feel better, but for some reason it didn't. He was almost too quiet. I didn't know what was causing my increasing feeling of alarm, I just knew I didn't wanna leave him. I felt like something was gonna happen. But, since about the only gift I could give Mom that Christmas Day was the promised family dinner at Aunt Pat’s, I didn't say anything to her about how I was feeling, or what I was observing concerning A.J. I don't think she noticed anything, so when she told A.J. good‑bye and where we were going, I did the same without protest. While Mom went to give the nurses Aunt Pat’s phone number, I stayed with A.J. a moment longer. I practically begged him when I urged, "Come on, A.J. Wake up for just a minute here and tell me Merry Christmas." I might as well not have said anything for all the response I got. I squeezed his hand one last time, turned, and walked outta the doorway, all the while tryin’ to ignore the inner voice that was telling me not to leave.
Everyone was at Aunt Pat's when we arrived. I knew this was hard on all of them - having Mom and me there without A.J. After hugs, kisses, and handshakes were exchanged, I started lookin’ around for Uncle Ray. Aunt Pat came up behind me and put her hand on my arm. Quietly, she said, "Ray's not here yet, Rick. He hasn't called, but I'm sure he'll come as soon as he can."
I kept my face a neutral mask as I nodded, but I saw Pat and Mom exchange glances. For the first time in my life, I understood how A.J. felt when he was ten years old and Ray didn't show up for his Little League game. It wasn't anger; it was hurt. I knew that wasn't fair of me. Ray didn't know A.J. had been injured. If he had, he'd have been there if he could. Any other time I would have been the first to defend him. The first to say to everybody, "Oh, you know Uncle Ray, he's probably got a good deal goin’ on exotic birds in the Amazon Rain Forest. He'll be here soon." And I woulda’ meant every word of it and not been hurt. In fact, I had been half expecting him to show up for Christmas dinner on December 27. That's just typical Uncle Ray. This year, though, for the first time in forty some years, it hurt. This year I needed him. Uncle Ray had been the only bright spot left in my Christmas.
We sat down to dinner fifteen minutes later. It was quickly apparent that the conversation and occasional laughter was strained. I could tell everyone didn't know if they should mention A.J. or not. Uncle Will finally settled on a safe subject by asking Aunt Pat what kind of pies she had made this year. Aunt Pat was famous in our family for her pies. A.J. always teased her by saying she should market them under the name of, "Aunt Pat's Pies." She knew what everyone's favorite was, and even if only one person liked that kind of pie, you could bet it would be part of Christmas dinner.
I tuned in as Aunt Pat was telling everyone, "And there's chocolate meringue for Rick, George and Bill. Blueberry for Cecelia, Will, Jim, and Julie. There's apple for A.J., Kar--” at that, she stopped.
"Oh, Cece, I'm so sorry."
Mom smiled at her, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "No, Pat, don't be sorry. You're right, apple is A.J.'s favorite, and he's always loved your apple pies the best of anyone's."
I was seated across the table from Mom. As she caught my eye, I winked and gave her a smile. I was so proud of this strong woman I called Mom.
Uncle Jim set things right then by saying, “Well, when A.J. comes home, we'll just have another Christmas dinner, and Pat will have another apple pie for him. Won't you, hon?"
Pat wiped her eyes and nodded. "Of course I will." Looking at my cousins and me she smiled and added, "Anything for my favorite nephew."
We knew she was teasing us, so we all protested by telling her we each thought we were her favorite. Those brief moments of merriment were about the best part of the whole day.
The phone rang as we were about to start in on those pies. I didn't even give it a thought that it might be the hospital. Actually, I thought it was Uncle Ray, and was even more certain when Aunt Pat called me to the phone. I figured Ray had found a new, unique way to herald his impending arrival. I think everyone did at that point. Uncle Ray's antics are well known within our family.
They all knew it wasn't Uncle Ray, however, when all they heard was my quick, grim,
“Yeah, we'll be there in twenty minutes."
Mom musta suspected it was bad news, because she was outta her chair and headed toward me as I hung up the phone.
“That was the hospital,” I told her. “A.J.’s not doing well. We need to get back there."
Everything was pretty confusing from then on. About ten people offered to drive us, and everyone was callin’ instructions to one another as several of my uncles and cousins got in cars to follow us. I blocked all that activity out. My mind was focused on only one thing, the prayer I kept silently chanting as I held onto Mom’s hand and led her to her car.
Please, God, don't let him die. Don't let A.J. die. Especially not today. Not on Christmas.
The rest of that day is a blur in my memory - everything happened so fast it was hard to absorb it all. Doctor Rafferty was just getting there when we arrived, and didn't know much more than we did. A.J.'s blood pressure had suddenly shot up and he was having trouble breathing. Doctors and nurses kept goin’ in and out of his room, as did other staff members with various pieces of portable equipment.
Why did I leave him? I berated myself as I paced the waiting area floor. I knew something like this was going to happen. I knew things weren't right with him this morning.
The family members who had followed us began arriving at the I.C.U’s waiting area. It was a good thing I had no desire to sit. The couch and chairs were soon occupied, and those of us under sixty years old were forced to stand.
Bob showed up fifteen minutes after Mom and I got there. He rushed past us and through the double doors that led to A.J.'s room. I kept walking over to those doors and peering in through one of the small windowpanes they each contained. Activity finally started slowing down in my brother’s room about six o'clock. The doctors came to see us a few minutes after that. Bob me to sit next to my mother on the couch. Uncle Will stood up and moved outta the way so I could do as the doctor wanted. Bob sat across from us on the coffee table, while Doctor Rafferty stood next to him.
“We have A.J. stabilized. Whatever happened to cause his blood pressure to go so high seems to be under control."
I couldn't believe it. He was actually telling us they had no idea what had caused this.
"He was having trouble breathing for a while, too, but he's doing fine with that as well at the moment. We didn’t have to put him on a respirator, though we will if it proves to be necessary."
"So what's all this mean?" I asked. “What caused this? Will it happen again?"
“We don't know for certain, Rick,” Doctor Rafferty said. “We don't know what for certain what caused it, or whether or not it will happen again. At least not right at this moment."
I shot to my feet. "I can't believe this! You don't know anything? You're tellin’ me you have absolutely no answers? You guys are something else; you know that? Jeez, where'd you get your medical degrees from? A box a’ Cracker Jacks?"
No one said anything. I guess they were waiting to see if I was done, or if I could come up with some more insulting comments aimed at the guys who were tryin’ to keep A.J. alive.
The silence lingered as I turned my back on everybody. Bob finally broke it.
"Rick, we've run a lot of tests. We'll run more tomorrow morning. It's possible we'll have the answer then. It's also possible this won't happen again--”
"Or it might," I cut in.
"Or it might," he acknowledged. “I told you yesterday that A.J. wasn't going to take any giant steps here. That he has a rough couple of weeks ahead of him. But, it could have been much worse. A.J.'s blood pressure was high enough that it could have caused him to have a stroke, which he didn't. Or, he could have gone into respiratory arrest, which he didn't. So right now, we have to be thankful for what didn't happen, rather than be upset over what did."
Yeah, right. Thanks a million.
"Until we get the results of the blood tests back we won't know for sure, but it's possible A.J. had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic we had him on."
"Bob, you told us two days ago that this antibiotic was one A.J. has been on before!” Mom exclaimed. “How could this be an allergic reaction to something he's had in the past?"
“Cecilia, I'm not sure. For one thing, we don't even know for certain that it was a reaction to the medication. It's just that the problems he was having could point in that direction. A.J.’s allergic to so many things. I was careful before I put him on any medication. This particular antibiotic though, was one he was only on once, and it's been nine years since he's had it. It's not unheard of for people to react to medications they’ve been on in the past, even though they may not have experienced any problems with the drug the last time they took it. Especially someone with A.J.'s sensitivity to various medications. To add to that, it’s been many years since he’s taken this particular drug, and was only on it for a week then. Also, his entire system has been under enormous stress the last three days. That factor can effect how a medication will be accepted by the body as well."
Doctor Rafferty picked up the conversation before Mom or I could say any more.
“We've taken A.J. off as much medication as we can. That's the wisest thing we can do at this point. He’ll continue to be watched closely for the time being. We should have more answers tomorrow." The man’s eyes traveled from me to my mother. "Remember, Rick; Mrs. Simon, that A.J. was doing better this morning, opening his eyes more and such. That’s still a good sign."
Yeah, I thought. And I've heard a lot of people who are doing better in the morning, who are dead in the evening. I thought that, but the look of fear that had remained on Mom's face throughout this latest ordeal caused me not to say it.
Our family remained there with us as the doctors left to go back in with A.J.. Finally, after another half hour had passed, a nurse came and told Mom and me we could go in with him as well. Mom sent everyone back to Aunt Pat's then. They hadn't had much Christmas, and it was already after seven. There wasn't anything they could do, so Mom was finally able to convince them to go. She promised to call my aunt’s house later in the evening with an update on A.J.’s condition.
Mom gasped and squeezed my hand as we entered A.J.’s room and got our first look at him since leaving that day at noon. I was shocked by his appearance, too, but tried not to show it for my mother's sake.
The afternoon's events had taken a further toll on A.J. If it were possible for his skin tone to become grayer, it had. His lower lip, which had already been cracking and splitting, was now raw and caked with dried blood. When Mom questioned Bob as to how that had happened, he told her A.J. had been biting down on it with his upper teeth when had been goin’ so bad for him. Mom squeezed my hand and murmured softly, "Oh, A.J."
“It’s not as bad as it looks, Cece,” Bob attempted to reassure. “A nurse put some salve on it. We’ll continue to do that, and in a few days the lip will be healed.”
I don't think what Bob said helped much. I knew Mom wasn't as concerned about the condition of A.J.’s lip, as she was upset over the circumstances that had caused him to bite down on his lip so hard in the first place. At least, that's what I was upset over. Once again, Mom and I were agonizing over the fact that A.J. was suffering. It seemed so unfair. He had been through enough. I gave Mom a hug, while wondering what more my brother was gonna have to suffer. How much more would he be put through before this was all over?
For the first time since the shooting had happened three days before, I found myself praying, Lord, if all that's left for A.J. is pain and suffering, if you've already decided he's gonna be taken from us, please let this end now. Don't let him linger on for two or three days, or a week, like this. Unconscious, in pain, and without his dignity. It's not what A.J. would want. Not at all.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not a very religious guy. I've seen so many bad, unfair things in my life, and experienced so many first hand, that sometimes I have a hard time believing there is a God. Yet, I guess I've always held out the hope that there’s one. I've always hoped to be reunited with Dad someday, and with others I've been close to who have died. Right then, as I found myself praying silently that my brother's suffering would end one way or the other, I knew there had to be a God and a heaven. There just had to be. That's the only way I could pray what I did - that A.J. be taken from us if that's what the master plan was. I could only pray that by havin’ the faith that someday he and I would be together again. That there would come a time when we'd all be a family again, in a place where there is no suffering.
I also had to force myself to recall a conversation A.J. and I’d had about a year ago. We had been workin’ late at the office one evening, and A.J. turned the T.V. on to the news. There was a big case tied up in the California state court system right then, concerning a family who was tryin’ to obtain the right to pull the plug, so to speak, on their brain dead son. The guy had been seventeen when he was injured in a car accident four years earlier. It had been a huge story in the news for several weeks. A.J. looked at me after the broadcast was over and said, "Rick, promise me if something like that ever happens to me, you won't let me linger like that. That's just so obscene. What kind of a life is that, to exist only as some lifeless shell of what you once were? I mean, really, for all intents and purposes, you are dead. But, instead of that being acknowledged, they let you lie there stripped of your dignity, stripped of your pride, stripped of everything that made you the person you once were. I couldn't stand that, Rick. I wouldn't want to be kept alive like that. It's silly. They talk about having kept the kid alive all these years, but he's dead. He left them long before they’ll ever pull that damn plug."
At first, I didn't take the whole thing nearly as seriously as A.J. did. I kinda laughed at him and said, "A.J., you've been brain dead since the day Mom and Dad brought you home from the hospital and I haven't pulled the plug yet."
He gave me a dirty look while taking off a shoe and throwing it at me. We both laughed as I threw it back at him, but then he grew serious once again.
"Rick, I mean it. I can't stand the thought of being kept alive like that for God knows how long, with my mother making a pilgrimage to my bedside for years maybe, just holding onto the hand of a son who doesn't even know she's there, and never will. And you'd do it too. I know you would. You’d come every day, and just sit there and stare at me, and it would tear you apart. I know it would. When it's my time to go, I just want it to be quick. I want my dignity. I want my self‑respect. That's important to me."
So, on that day, I promised A.J. I'd never let something like that happen. That if it ever came to that, if he was declared brain dead, I wouldn't let him linger. I'd be able to let him go.
That's the one and only reason I'd been able to say that prayer. Because I knew I was only praying A.J.’s wishes. I wasn't ready to give my brother up yet, and he certainly wasn't brain dead or anything, but if God had already decided A.J. was supposed to die from all this, I knew A.J. would just want it to be over with.
Whether A.J. had talked to Mom about his right to die at one time or another, I don't know. To this day I don't know. I've never asked either one of them. But looking down into her eyes that night as I hugged her, I knew without a doubt she was praying the same thing I was. Praying that A.J.'s suffering would come to an end one way or another. As hard as it was for both of us to pray that prayer, Mom and I knew one thing, if A.J. had to die, at least he'd be with Dad. That would make A.J. happy, and allowed me a small piece of mind as well. Dad would watch out for him until I got there, I was sure of that fact. I figured A.J. could manage to get himself in scrapes even in Heaven. He'd need somebody to take care of him.
Bob sat with Mom and I quite a while that evening, that act only adding to the guilt I already felt over my unjust comments from earlier. Here he'd given up most of his Christmas Day as it was, and was now stayin’ with us, when I knew he had seven grandchildren back at his own house waiting for him. I made a pretty feeble apology, which Bob brushed off with, "Forget it, Rick. Among many of the qualities your father possessed that you inherited, one is your temper. You come by it honestly, believe me. Besides, you and A.J. are like the sons I never had." He smiled at me then and added, "Sons I've been tempted to turn over my knee once in a while, even at this late stage in the game, but sons nonetheless."
I smiled back at him, knowing his words were true. Bob had three daughters, and in the years since Dad’s death, he had, on occasion, been more than just a doctor to A.J. and me.
Bob left shortly after nine that night. Mom and I reclaimed our chairs then, neither of us suggesting the other go home. I noticed, as time passed, Mom was acting more like me than I was. She was in and out of her chair more times than I could count. She'd stand by A.J., then pace the room a moment, then look out the window, and then be back in her chair. This went on for forty‑five minutes, and in all that time she didn't say anything, not to me, or to A.J. She hadn't said much of anything all evening as a matter of fact.
Finally, after watchin’ her do this to the extent that I feared she'd wear the pattern off the floor tiles, or give herself permanent arthritis, I asked her quietly, "Mom, what’s wrong? You wanna talk about it?"
Her answer was a short, tense, "No, Rick, I don't want to talk about it."
I was silent a moment, and then tried again. "I know it’s been a pretty rough day--"
Before I could finish, Mom whirled to look at me from where she stood by the window. "You bet it’s been a pretty rough day, and I'm just so damn mad at him."
She'd never said anything about her anger. About the anger I knew she must harbor for the boy who did this to A.J. The same anger I harbored for a kid who was no longer here to receive my wrath. Mom had taken the whole story of what happened in the warehouse stoically. She hadn't asked any questions of Abby about the kid or his family, which wasn’t like her. I figured it was all gonna come out now, and I thought, Good. She needs this. She needs to release these feelings.
What Mom said next couldn't have shocked me any more than if she'd walked up to me and slapped me across the face.
“I’m so damn mad at your brother right now, Rick, I can hardly stand it."
She held up her hand to stop me. "No, don't say anything. If A.J. hadn't decided to be a private investigator this would never have happened. He'd have never been in that warehouse three days ago, and we couldn't be here tonight. Why didn't he go on and become a lawyer like he'd planned for so long? Why in the world did he ever choose a profession that requires him to use a gun? And why did he drag you in it with him? It's bad enough one of my sons does this job. I just don't understand it. All he had to do was take the bar exam." She paused because she was crying, but then continued after taking an angry swipe at her eyes. “Why does A.J. always have to be so stubborn? He's just like your father. He always wants everything his own way. He doesn't care about anyone but himself."
I didn't give her last sentence a second thought. I knew she didn't mean it. Everything from the past three days was just closin’ in on her. Mom knew as well as I did that, yes, A.J. was stubborn. And yes, he was focused on his own personal goals. But the last thing that could be said about my brother was that he didn't care about anyone but himself. A.J. was one of the most thoughtful, caring men I had ever known. Anyone who knew him readily acknowledged that fact about him.
By the time I walked over to Mom's side she was cryin’ harder. "I didn't mean that, I didn't mean that. I'm just so tired of all this, and I'm so worried about him."
She let me hold her as she cried, and I whispered, "I know you didn't mean it. A.J. knows you didn't mean it. It'll be okay. Everything will be okay. A.J. loves you so much, Mom. He'd never do anything to hurt you."
That only made her cry harder.
I couldn't tell Mom why A.J. hadn't taken the bar exam, or become a lawyer, because I didn't know myself. That was the one thing he had never shared with Mom or me. One of the few decisions A.J. had ever made and kept the reasoning behind it from both of us. But, as she quieted down, I knew there was something I could tell Mom, something I hoped would help her deal with her grief and anger.
Still holding her in my arms, I rested my chin on top of her hair.
"Mom, I've got something to say to you that I've never even told A.J. I can't tell you why he didn't become a lawyer, because I don't know. He's never told me. But, I do know this. A.J. came to me with the idea of us goin’ into business together at a time when I really needed something to give me a purpose in my life again. Those couple of years in Florida I was just drifting from one thing to another, not happy with myself, or with anyone else. Vietnam and the things I experienced there were really closing in on me. I was having a lot of problems; nightmares, insomnia, drinking heavily. Problems that I never told anyone about; not even A.J. Sometimes I was so scared. I didn't know what was happening to me. What I had didn't have a name then. Nobody understood the Vietnam vet. Nobody cared. There was no place to go and get counseling like there is today. At least not any place I could afford. There was just this big nothing. And that’s how I felt, like a big nothing.
“Then A.J. came along with this idea for a business everybody said would fail, and gave me something to grab on to. Something to believe in. Something to be proud of. A.J. believed in me, and was proud of me, and that made me believe in myself again. He helped me in a way nobody else can ever fully understand. A.J. was there for me, Mom. He wanted to be with me at a time when I didn't even wanna be with myself. I'll never really be able to repay him for that."
Mom was crying again so I stopped for a moment to give her a chance to calm down. When she had, I told her, “Mom, I'm not sayin’ all this to make you cry, or make you feel sorry for me. It’s all in the past where it belongs. I've dealt with it. I'm saying this because I want you to know that if A.J. hadn’t decided to become a P.I., and wanted me in business with him, I truly don't know where I'd be today. I honestly believe he gave me back my self‑esteem, my purpose in life, and now, almost eleven years later, we have a business we're both proud of. We do a job that brings us a lot of satisfaction and pleasure.”
My eyes shifted to my brother. "Mom, A.J. is so proud of that business. He's worked so hard to make it successful. He loves what he does, and he's good at it. Don't take that away from him. Let it be his decision to quit if it comes to that, not yours. A.J. loves the business, Mom, but he doesn't love it more than he does you, and neither do I."
“I love you, Rick,” Mom said as she clung to me. “I love you both so much. I just can't stand to see A.J. like this, in so much pain, suffering so much, wondering if we might lose him. He's so special to me." She looked at me through her tears then and tried to smile. She reached up to lay her hand on the side of my face. "You're both so special to me, in two so totally different ways."
I guess all kids are special to their Mom's, no matter how old they are.
"You're special to us, too, Mom."
When she stepped out of my embrace I held her at arms length and looked her in the eye. "Come on, Mom. No more tears now, okay? A.J. and I can't have the prettiest partner of Simon and Simon crying. We don't allow that, it drives the customers away. Besides, it takes credibility away from the motto we live by, ‘Only the Best for Our Mom.’"
That got a small smile out her, and she hugged me once. "Oh Richard, what am I going to do with you?"
As much as Mom might, at times, want to deny any association with A.J. and I, and our various schemes, in some ways she is as much a part of Simon and Simon as we are. We had long ago lost count as to how many times one of our clients had been hidden at her house, or how many clients she had referred to us through her many social and civic contacts. Aside from those things, she was always willing to pick up our mail if we were out of town for a few days, or just help us with general office stuff like filing or correspondence, if we had a few days where we were pressed for time.
Mom pulled away from me and walked to A.J.'s bedside. She kissed him on the comer of his mouth while gently running fingertips over his split lip. She then moved to kiss his cheek, and to rest her face against the side of his.
"I love you, A.J. I need you. I love you so much, honey. Rick and I need you so much. Please get better for me, okay?"
Mom quietly repeated those few sentences to him for a few minutes, and then pulled her chair beside the bed. She didn't sleep all night. She sat by A.J.'s side holding his hand, reaffirming her love for him with an occasional kiss on his forehead, or squeeze of his fingers.
Things finally started to change for us the morning after Christmas. By eleven o'clock, A.J. had been put through a battery of tests. His doctors came to the conclusion that he was, in fact, allergic to the antibiotic they had him on, and Bob told us he was fairly certain that's what was causing A.J.'s unresponsiveness, or lethargy, as he put it. He told us he could almost promise that we would see a change in A.J. during the day. I was skeptical about that. We were goin’ on our fourth day now since the shooting, and I had gotten so used to not having any answers, that I couldn't make myself believe some were finally comin’ our way. I didn't think I could stand the disappointment I’d feel if things didn't start improving the way Bob promised they would.
I worried for nothing though, and Bob did prove to me his medical degree was legitimate, and not something he got as a prize from a Cracker Jack box. By that afternoon A.J. was once again opening his eyes regularly and taking in his surroundings. Doctor Rafferty commented that A.J. was more alert than he had been since he had arrived. I wasn't sure about that. To me ‘alert’ would have been A.J. smiling at me and saying, "Hi Rick," and then carryin’ on a conversation of some sort. Alert wasn't layin’ there with his eyes half open, mumbling incoherently. But again, Bob reminded me that we had to be thankful for the small steps and not expect giant ones.
Late that afternoon, A.J. would squeeze our hands with his if we asked him to. Even if his eyes were closed, he started raising his left hand, trying to push people away from him if they were doing something to him that was uncomfortable or painful.
Mom and I left early that night, just a little after six, to go back to her house and get some sleep. Since both doctors were relatively positive about A.J.'s condition for the first time in four days, and A.J. was responding so much better by late that afternoon, I decided Mom needed to go home and get some rest. She hadn't slept at all since the three or four hours she got Christmas Eve. I had every intention of going back to the hospital. I was so afraid to leave A.J. after what happened Christmas Day, but once we got to Mom's she insisted I stay and get some rest as well. Rather than have the argument of the decade, I ended up consenting.
About eight‑fifteen that evening I was in the kitchen sampling one of the desserts that still sat on the countertop. Mom was getting ready for bed. I could hear the shower running in the master bathroom. I was headed for the shower myself and then to bed. The total amount of sleep I had managed to catch over the past four days was all of about ten hours, and my body was having fun reminding me I wasn't twenty‑five anymore. This sleep schedule was getting rough, even for me, a person who could normally go on very little sleep if need be. I guess this was different though. This wasn't lack of sleep because Carlos and I had been in the desert all night hunting snakes, or because I had been spending the night with the female mud‑wrestling team from Wrestle 0' Rama. This lack of sleep was combined with a lotta tension and worry over A.J. The phone rang at that moment, breaking into my thoughts concerning my lack of sack time. As I answered it, and the caller identified herself, I swear my heart stopped for a second.
"Hi, Rick? This is Kathy. A.J.'s nurse at County General."
Kathy stopped the conversation there, and I waited for the other shoe to drop. I knew something bad had happened again. I left that evening and didn't go back when I had really wanted too, and now something terrible had happened.
"Rick? Are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm here. What’s wrong? What’s happened to A.J.?”
"Nothing, Rick. There's absolutely nothing wrong."
Now I was confused. Her tone was light, kinda lively actually. I couldn't figure out what she was calling for.
"Rick, I've somebody here who wants to talk to you. Hang on a second."
I waited, wondering what was going on, but figured some doctor wanted to speak to me, or some lab technician had a question about A.J.'s allergies or something. I could faintly hear Kathy talking to someone, and then the next thing I heard was a raspy, weak, "Hi Rick."
It took my shocked brain a few seconds to register the fact that it was A.J. I was talkin’ to. I could hardly hear him, and certainly wasn't expecting this to be the person I was holding for. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I said quietly, "Hi, little brother. We've missed you." I could hardly talk I was so choked up, but finally managed to tell him, "Hang on A.J. I'll get Mom."
He sounded so tired and weak that I didn't know how long he'd be able to stay on the phone, so I put the receiver on the counter and ran for the living room. It took me a second to swallow the lump in my throat and call up the stairway, "Mom! Hey, Mom! Pick up the phone. Someone wants to talk to you!"
She called down from her bedroom, “Who is it, Rick?"
"Just pick up the phone! Hurry!"
I ran back to the kitchen and listened in on my end. I heard her pick up the phone in her room, and then heard Mom's voice saying, "Hello?"
There was silence on the other end for a couple of seconds. I was afraid A.J. wasn't there anymore, but then his raspy voice came over the line.
I heard Mom's heartfelt, "A.J. Oh, A.J. Hello, sweetheart," before she started to cry.
I could hear A.J. say to Kathy, "My mom's crying," as he handed the phone back to her. She came back on the line and filled us in on a few things, and then told us A.J. wanted to say good‑bye to us. He got back on the phone long enough to say good night. Mom and I both said good night in return, and I found enough of my voice to tell him we'd see him in the morning. Kathy came back on and told us A.J. was failing asleep again, which was good, because Mom and I were both crying now, meaning we couldn't have talked to him anymore if we’d wanted to.
That night, I slept long and deep. And yeah, I did remember to toss up a big prayer of thanks before my eyes closed.
A.J. remained hospitalized for the next three weeks. There were still some bad days ahead for all of us after that late evening phone call. I found out Bob was right. A.J. just wasn't gonna wake up one day and be ready to play a few sets of tennis.
He was moved out of Intensive Care two days after that phone call, but it wasn't all smooth sailing from there. There was one day about a week after he’d been moved to a regular floor, that he was in so much pain he laid curled in a semi‑fetal position all day holding Mom's hand and letting me rub his back. The fear returned in full force for me. It was hard to see him suffer like that. Once again, no one really had any answers as to why the pain intensified that day, or why, the next day, A.J. felt so much better.
The shooting brought Mom and I close in a way we'd never been before. We banded together in our efforts to make sure A.J. ate well, badgered him to what his doctors told him, and didn't suffer any shame when we policed the length of time visitors stayed on those days we knew A.J. was too tired, or in too much pain, to deal with anyone for very long. Mom and I knew A.J. would never chase them out, so we did it for him.
Yet, what really drew Mom and I together was those first few hellish days and nights when we didn’t know whether A.J. would live or die, and could only find comfort in each other. Its funny, now that I think about it, but I guess we alternated being what one another needed. Sometimes I was Mom's anchor; sometimes she was mine. Sometimes I had to boost her spirits; sometimes she had to boost mine. And sometimes she had to chew me out a little, as I occasionally found myself doing to her. This last was sure a change. Sometimes, all I could do was hold her while she cried, and there was one time, when she did the same for me.
Surprisingly enough, the bond A.J. and I had shared for years, as brothers and as best friends, seemed to strengthen from our ordeal. I say surprisingly, because I didn't think it was possible for us to get any closer then we already were. I was wrong. A.J. required a lot of care, and the overworked hospital staff was more than willing to let Mom and me help in any way we could.
The night A.J. talked to us on the phone the nurses had him sitting up in bed on and off for several minutes at a time throughout the rest of the evening. The next morning, while Mom and I were there with him, they decided it was time for A.J. to get out of bed for the first time in five days. I knew this wasn't going to be easy on any of us. The doctors had already been in that morning and unhooked A.J. from his monitors, I.V., and drainage tube. Mom and I were in the room when Bob told A.J. they would be getting him up to walk several times during the day. A.J. didn't protest that, although I knew he had to be dreadin’ it. All he did was tell Bob with as much force as he could muster, that he had no intention of ‘mooning’ his mother, so if Bob wanted him out of bed he'd better find A.J. a pair of pajamas. Bob laughed at him, but told him if that was all it took to make him a cooperative patient, then he was sure A.J.’s request could be met.
Later that morning, my favorite nurse, Kathy, came in the room with a pair of pajamas in her hand.
“Well, A.J., we've been able to meet your needs. I've got a pair of p.j.’s for you to put on, and then we'll see if you can't take a little stroll around this room. If Rick will help you sit up, I'll get these on you and we'll be ready to go."
As weak as he was, the look on A.J.’s face was priceless when she said that. He turned red and stammered, "Uh...I can put them on myself. I don't need help."
The looks on our A.J. there was no way he was gonna be allowed to do that. He was in a narrow bed with both railings up, not to mention the fact that even slight movements on his part caused him discomfort. He could have never maneuvered around enough to get those pajamas on. Before he could say more, big brother came to the rescue, as usual.
I reached out a hand and took the pajamas from Kathy. "If you ladies will step out of the room a minute, I’ll help my younger brother get these on. I haven't helped him put on a pair of pajamas in about thirty‑four years, but I think I remember how to do this."
Kathy, who has a wonderful sense of humor, pouted and handed the pajamas to me. "A.J., I'm really hurt by this. You'd rather have Rick help you put those on and not me? What’s this cowboy with the mustache got that I haven't got?"
That only made A.J. blush more. “Nothing! Believe me, nothing. I can put them on myself if everybody would just get out of here and leave me alone for a few minutes."
"No, sweetheart, you can't get those on by yourself and you know it,” Mom said with a teasing lilt to her voice. “If you won't let Kathy or Rick help you, then your mother will have to put them on you. It’s been about thirty‑five years since I've helped you put on a pair of pajamas, too, but I know I can manage the task if I have to."
The look of defeat on A.J.'s face made the three of us laugh as he mumbled, "I'm sick. I shouldn't have to put up with this kind of abuse."
As Mom and Kathy walked out the doorway, Mom looked back at A.J. and pointed a stern finger. "As long as you do everything we tell you to and cooperate the next few weeks, you won't have to put up with any abuse, Andrew."
A.J. looked up at me and sighed after the women were out of the room.
"It's going to be a long couple of weeks, I think."
I helped him sit up and put the railing on the right side of the bed down, then pulled the covers off him. "Oh, it won't be so bad. Come on, let’s start by gettin’ this gown offa ya’.”
He leaned forward a bit so I could untie the hospital gown he was wearing. Once I had the gown off I started putting the pajama bottoms on him, only to have A.J. protest, "Rick, you're no better at this than you were thirty‑five years ago. You're putting them on backwards!"
I had been concentrating so hard on being gentle and not hurting him, that I hadn't even paid any attention as to which way I was puttin’ the stupid things on him. “Well, now that you're sitting here buck naked, little brother, maybe you'd like me to call Mom in and have her finish the job.”
The fun went out of our little game when, instead of a wisecrack from A.J., all I heard was a weak, breathless, "Just get them on, Rick. Please."
I looked up to see his eyes squeezed shut and his left hand clenched on the railing of the bed that was still raised.
"A.J., are you okay?"
Through clenched teeth he muttered, "I'm dizzy, and it hurts to sit up like this."
There was no reason he had to be sitting up now that I had gotten the gown off of him, so he leaned him back against the pillows.
He nodded his head slightly, but kept his eyes closed as I worked quickly to get the bottoms on him. I snapped them at his waist, my eyes drawn to the wicked scar on the left side of his abdomen. I shook off the thoughts I had about how that scar had gotten there, and said, “A.J., I’ll need you to sit up again for me. I gotta get the top on you.”
A.J. pulled himself up using the railing. I put an arm around his back, and with one hand struggled to get the pajama shirt on him. We didn’t do too badly until he had to put his left arm in the armhole. He sucked air in-between his teeth at the movement, but didn’t say anything. As soon as the top was on I laid him back against the pillows and then buttoned it.
"They're on, A.J.," I finally told him, touching his arm. I couldn't keep the concern and fear out of my voice. "Do you think you can do this right now? Get outta bed, I mean?"
A.J. opened his eyes. “Yeah, I can do it. I might as well get it over with."
I turned to go get Mom and Kathy, while putting on a carefree face. I didn't want Mom to know how painful just getting dressed in pajamas had been for A.J. My brother’s voice stopped me before I could get to the door.
"Rick, see if you can get Mom to wait out in the hall until this is over."
I nodded my understanding of the reason behind his request. "No problem, little brother."
When I got out in the hall, Kathy was gone looking for an orderly or another nurse to help her get A.J. up.
"A.J. asked if you'd wait out here, Mom."
"He doesn’t want you in there when she gets him up and makes him walk."
I knew getting Mom to wait out in that hall was going to be more of a challenge than my confident answer to A.J. of, "No problem, little brother."
I figured telling her the truth was gonna be less of a hassle than beatin’ around the bush.
"Getting’ those pajamas on him was no picnic. He got dizzy in just the few seconds I had him sitting up, and he said it was painful to have to be in that position. But by lookin’ at his face, I’d say it was hurting him even more than he let on. Just that little bit of activity has worn him out." I held my arms open to her and pulled her into a hug. "A.J. just doesn't want you to see him hurting, Mom. That's all."
Mom reluctantly nodded where her head against my chest. "Okay, I'll wait out here. Kathy said she'll have him walk from the bed to one of the chairs, and then see if he can sit in it comfortably for a few minutes." Mom pulled away from me and said, “I want to be in there when they get him to that chair though. I want to know what's going on with him. I won't be kept in the dark, or hear it second hand from some nurse, Rick. If A.J.'s going to have problems just doing this much today, I want to know about it. We've spent too many days in limbo. They’re over now, if I have anything to say about it."
I agreed with Mom on that, and told her I'd make sure she was in there when A.J. got to that chair, no matter what he said.
I looked up and saw Kathy walking toward us. "Did you get those p.j.’s on your brother, Rick?"
"Yeah, not without a few complaints from him though. You're lucky you let me do it. You don't wanna have to listen to A.J. Simon when he's in a foul mood.”
Kathy arched an eyebrow at me. “Your brother? Prone to foul moods? I can hardly believe that. He’s been nothing but a model patient for me.”
“Well, believe it,” I tossed back with a grin. “And believe me when I say you don’t wanna witness one of A.J.’s snits.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the woman agreed with a smile of her own. “Snits aside, I can't find anyone to help me right now. Would you mind, Rick? There's really not much to it. I just need someone on A.J.'s other side to help steady him and support his weight."
"Yeah, I can help you. Mom's gonna wait out here. A.J. asked if she would."
I promised Mom I'd get her when A.J. was sitting in a chair, and then followed Kathy into A.J.’s room.
A.J.'s eyes were closed as Kathy greeted him. “Well, I see Rick didn't do too much damage getting those p.j.’s on you. Are you ready for your walk?”
A.J. had opened his eyes by this time. He got a funny look on his face when he saw I was in the room with Kathy. He was obviously expecting another nurse, or an orderly.
“I couldn't find anyone to help me, A.J., so Rick’s going to if that’s okay with you."
A.J. looked at me for a second. "I thought you would wait out in the hall with Mom."
"Kathy needs help, so I said I'd give her a hand.”
I could see the indecision on his face, and knew exactly what he was thinking. He couldn't voice it though, so I voiced it for him.
"I know this is gonna be painful for ya’, kid. I can handle it. I'd really like to be the one to help if you’ll let me, but if you don't want me in here, I understand."
A.J. stared at me a long moment, evidently tryin’ to decide if he thought I could really handle all he knew this short walk was gonna cost him. Finally, he gave me a slight smile and a nod.
"If it’s okay with you, Rick, I'd like it if you stayed and helped."
As Kathy and I helped A.J. sit up and swing his legs over the bed, she was giving me instructions on exactly what she needed me to do. When she was through I told her, “This shouldn’t be too hard. He hung onto me when he took his first steps forty years ago. I think I can do this again without much trouble."
A.J. looked from me to the nurse. "Please don't put too much faith in him, Kathy. Mom's told me I took a lot of tumbles down our stairway when big brother here was supposed to be ‘helping’ me"
"Hey!" I protested. "It's not my fault you were an uncoordinated little kid."
Kathy laughed at both of us. "Don't worry, A.J., I'm not planning on having you tackle any stairways today. Let's just see if we can make it to that chair over there. I think we can do it in about eight steps. It's not that far. Are you ready?"
A.J. nodded his head as we each helped him up off the bed. He gasped in pain at the movement of going from being in a sitting position, to being in an upright one, as his feet touched the floor. Kathy spoke words of encouragement to him. "You're doing fine, A.J. See if you can stand up a little straighter though."
Once A.J.'s feet touched the floor he had bent over slightly at the waist. Now, at Kathy's direction, he worked at standing up straight. I could tell it was so damn painful. I had my left hand resting on the middle of his back, while I supported A.J. on his right side. His right hand was firmly encased in mine. Every time we inched our way toward that chair, his grip would tighten.
“You doin' okay, A.J.?” I questioned. I thought he'd be more likely to tell me if he was having problems, than Kathy. A.J. hates not being at his best in front of people.
A.J. kind of gasped as he answered me. "Ye...yeah."
I knew he really wasn't doing ‘okay,’ but I guess A.J. knew he didn't have much choice - that this had to be done. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway, that this had to be done, that we had no choice. It was the only way I could get through it without taking him right back to that bed where I felt he belonged.
The three of us finally arrived at our destination, my favorite orange vinyl chair. Not much of a reward, I thought. It must have seemed to A.J. like it took a long time to get there, although it couldn't have been more than five minutes from when we got him off the bed to when we got to the chair. But then again, considering it would take a healthy person about five seconds to make the trip that took us five minutes, I suppose it would seem long to him. A.J.’s only comment through the entire trip had been a weak, "Are you sure this is only eight steps? It seems like eight hundred."
Kathy and I helped him turn around and get seated in the chair, then she left the room to get Mom.
A.J. sat in silence, gripping the arms of the chair until his knuckles were white. I crouched down in front of him and put my hands on his upper arms. I was afraid he was gonna fall forward onto the floor.
There were beads of sweat on his forehead, and his forearms were trembling.
"A.J., are you okay? Can you sit here like this for a few minutes, or is it too much?"
His voice was weak when he said, “I'm okay, just don't move. If I fall out of this chair, I'd like you to catch me. I don't think landing on the floor is going to feel real good right now."
I squeezed his arms. "No, I don't think it will either. I'll stay right here."
Silence lingered between us for a few seconds, and then I told him, "A.J., I'm so sorry. I hate to see you hurtin’ like this. If I could take the pain away, little brother, I would."
"I know you would, Rick,” he whispered. “I know you would."
Mom came in and stood next to him, running her fingertips through his hair. She didn't say anything to him. I know she could tell how much he was hurting. Finally, she bent and kissed him on the cheek.
"A.J., I love you. Thank you for trying so hard to get to this chair. It does your mother good to see you sitting up for a change."
Kathy came back in as A.J. answered Mom. "I'm glad it does you good, Mom, but it's not doing me much good right now." Looking at Kathy he asked, "Can I get back in bed now?"
Mom and I exchanged worried glances over his head as Kathy told him yes, that she and I would help him back to bed, and we'd try this again later in the day. The look on A.J.’s face told me how much he wasn’t lookin’ forward to that. As all three of us helped A.J. out of the chair, he gave us a weak smile and asked, "Can Rick carry me back to bed?"
A.J. musta realized how much that question alarmed Mom and me. We knew he had to be in a lotta pain to even jokingly suggest such a thing. Quickly, A.J. said, "No, bad idea. He'd probably drop me."
As we got A.J. back to bed that day, it was evident that the pain was intense. He didn’t suggest Mom leave the room as we made our way slowly to his bed. I think he was in so much pain, and so tired, that he completely forgot she was there. Or maybe he just didn't have the energy left to mention it. Anyway, once we had him settled he dealt with some initial discomfort and then fell asleep. Our little excursion had taken a lot out of him.
Mom and I stayed with A.J. until he fell asleep, then Mom went out in the hall and cried while I kicked a few chairs around the waiting area. I was so angry again with the little bastard who had done this to A.J. that I could hardly see straight. Kicking those chairs helped relieve some of that anger - not a real productive thing to do, but since I have been known to put my fists through walls when I'm mad, my new-found method of relief saved me some pain and medical expenses.
The next few days, as A.J. was made to get up more and more. I was the one he leaned on as we made our way back and forth to that chair, and I was also the one who helped him as he broadened his horizons and took small, weak, steps to the bathroom. By the time he was ready to venture farther and start walking the hallway several times a day, it was my arm A.J. hung on to as we made our way up and down the corridor outside his room. I hated seeing him like that; frail, in pain, and moving like a ninety‑five year old man. My little brother, who took such great care of his body and was such a gifted athlete, his physical condition reduced to the point where a ten minute walk was his big workout for the day.
Throughout it all, though, A.J. never complained. He just hung on to me while the two of us traded wisecracks or exchanged opinions on pretty nurses. We were being our typical selves - almost normal again. This was something I had been so afraid I'd never experience again, the simple pleasure of just spending time with my best friend.
After A.J. was moved to a regular room, it was nice to see some of the nurses from I.C.U. stop in to say hello to him. As they were going on duty or off, various ones that had taken care of A.J. while he was on their floor would drop by for a minute to see how he was doin’, and to say hi to Mom and me.
I arrived one afternoon as visiting hours were starting to find Kathy in his room. I stopped as I was about to step in and greet her. I heard enough of their conversation from the doorway to conclude it was a private one, and knew I'd be intruding if I appeared right then. Of course, I'm a nosey enough big brother hat I remained standin’ outside the door, listening to what they were sayin.’
I could tell by the conversation that A.J. had been asking Kathy questions concerning his first four days in Intensive Care. I was glad to hear that. Bob had told Mom and me that it was important to tell A.J. the truth about all he went through, and all we went through those first harrowing days. He said A.J. would feel like he had lost four days of his life, and it would be normal for him to inquire about the events of those days. Up until now, A.J. had said very little about it. Occasionally, he would ask Mom or I something about those missing days, but nothing in depth. I didn't consider, "Who was at Aunt Pat’s Christmas Day?" to be a real important inquiry about all he had been through. But, I also realized talking to Mom and me about those first rough days was hard for A.J., simply ‘cause talking about them was hard for us. Several times Mom would have to wipe her eyes while answering one of A.J.’s questions. One time he even held her in his arms, I.V. and all, as she cried when she was telling him about Christmas afternoon and evening, and how close we had come to losing him.
After that, A.J. just didn't mention anything about it. Even if I brought it up, he’d change the subject. I was glad Kathy was able to tell A.J. all the things that were so difficult for Mom and me to reveal. I gotta admit to feelin’ a fair amount of pride for our little family as I overheard Kathy's last words that afternoon.
"You've got a wonderful family, A.J. Your mom and Rick love you so much. They lived on our floor, right in your room with you, until you were out of danger. And that big brother of yours is quite protective of you. There were a couple of times I thought for sure he was going to punch one of the doctors in the nose when they couldn't give him more specific answers concerning your condition. Rick hated seeing you in pain." There was silence for a second, then, "He loves you a lot, A.J."
I heard a soft, “Yeah, I know. I love him, too. I love them both. They mean the world to me. I've got a very special family. Believe me, I know that."
Well, I suppose what A.J. said to Kathy that day is true. And, based on the number of visitors who came to see A.J. once he was moved off I.C.U., I’d say he’s got a special extended family, too.
The afternoon of New Year's Day, A.J. and I were slowly walking down the corridor outside his room. A.J. was using the metal railing for support that was attached to the wall. He held onto it with his left hand, while I support him on his right side. A.J. was bent slightly at the waist as we shuffled along, like he always was when he was made to walk the first week or so after the shooting. I was doin’ my part by reminding my brother he needed to stand up straighter. I hated to have to do that. It hurt A.J. to be in a completely upright position in those early days after his surgery, but I knew he had to try. I guess A.J. knew it, too, because he never said anything to me at those times, just tried to do as I told him to, even though it hurt like hell.
So, there we were on New Year’s Day, slowly shuffling along. A.J. was bent over at the waist, and I coaxing him to stand up straighter, when I looked up and saw Janet at the end of the corridor. How long she had been watching us, I don't know. It must have been long enough for her to get the full impact on what the shooting had done to A.J. Janet’s expression broadcast her shock as she stared at A.J. a moment longer. She and I locked gazes right before she turned to hurry down the hallway away from us. I figured she was going to the ladies room in an effort to get her feelings under control.
Having been with A.J. everyday since the shooting, I had become used to his appearance. But, it always came as a shock to his visitors, to people who didn't see him each day like Mom and I did. A.J. had only been off the I.C.U. floor three days when Janet came to visit. He was down fourteen pounds by then. You could see the weight loss in his face and around his waist. If you saw him bare‑chested, you could see the loss of muscle tone in his upper arms and chest as well. That was due to the lack of regular workouts A.J. normally put himself through. At least that's what he told me when I commented on it. He'd know, I suppose. He's the fitness freak in the family.
Anyway, between the noticeable weight loss, and the way A.J. was walking, I wasn't surprised at Janet's reaction. Like I said, she still has a lotta love for my brother.
A.J. and I completed our journey back to his room. I didn’t say anything about having seen Janet. I was just about to make up some excuse to leave the room for a minute in an effort to locate the woman, when there was knock on the open door.
"Janet!" A.J. greeted her in surprised delight.
"Hey, if it isn't the prettiest D.A. I know," I commented, winking at her as she came on in the room.
Janet locked gazes with me for a second and I nodded slightly, letting her know that I had kept her secret. That I hadn't told A.J. I had seen her in the hallway a few minutes earlier.
Janet greeted me with a hug and a kiss, then walked over to A.J.'s bedside and stood there for a second. She reached for his hand and squeezed it tightly. She didn't say anything to him, just stood holding his hand and blinking her eyes as tears started to form.
A.J. attempted to lighten the mood. "Hey, what's this? My ugly big brother gets a hug and a kiss, and I don't even get a hello?"
At those words Janet gave a half laugh, half sob, and bent to kiss A.J. on the cheek. "Oh, A.J., I was so worried about you. I'm so thankful you're all right."
A.J. put his arms around Janet. I could tell he was being careful as to how he held her. I suppose he didn't think it would do her peace of mind any good to hear him scream in pain.
"I'm okay, Janet. I'm okay. Come on now. Don't cry. I've got enough problems as it is, I don't need your husband coming in here and finding you crying in my arms. Especially if he brought his trusty ashtray along."
Janet laughed as she pulled out of A.J.’s embrace. He patted the mattress, indicating for her to sit down on the bed next to him.
"I don't think he's gonna like it much better if he comes in here and finds you two in bed together," I quipped.
Janet laughed from where she sat on the bed holding A.J.’s hand. “You guys will never change, will you? Allan didn't come down with me, so you don't have anything to worry about, A.J. Daddy’s here though--”
"Oh wonderful. A visit from Myron should really make your day, little brother."
"Rick," A.J. warned, in that tone he uses to tell me to behave myself.
Janet laughed again. “Don't worry about it, A.J. Rick wouldn't be Rick if he wasn't making some smart aleck comment about Daddy."
“No, I wouldn’t be,” I agreed.
"Anyway, Daddy and I saw your mother as we pulled in the parking lot. They’re down in the lobby visiting. They said they'd be up in a little while."
The three of us talked a few minutes longer, then I left the room for a while to give A.J. and Janet a chance to visit alone. I knew once Myron came up, his big mouth would dominate any remaining conversation.
"A.J., I'll go get you that 7‑UP you asked for before Janet came. I'll be back in a little while." Looking at Janet, I asked, "Can I get you anything, darling?"
"No, Rick. Thanks. I'm fine."
“You're sure? A.J. can tell you all about the wide variety of refreshing drinks this establishment has to offer, can't you, little brother?"
"That’s true. I'd hate to see you leave here without sampling the 7‑UP, the apple juice, or the grape juice. That’s about it for the house wine list, but I can tell you all about them, believe me."
Shaking her head at our silliness, Janet said again, "No, that’s okay. I'll think I'll pass."
With that, I walked outta the room, leaving A.J. and Janet to visit in private.
When I returned with A.J.'s 7‑UP fifteen minutes later, Mom and Myron were in the room. They’d just arrived, so I guess they wanted to give my brother and Janet some time alone together, too.
The five of us spent the next twenty minutes visiting. Surprisingly enough, Myron wasn't nearly as obnoxious as usual. Hardly obnoxious at all, as a matter of fact. I suppose he and I were tryin’ to be on our best behavior for A.J.'s sake. Or maybe Myron had been warned by Janet to behave himself, in much as the same way I was warned by my mother days ago when we knew Myron was coming with Janet to visit A.J. Then again, Myron has always thought a lot of A.J., even back in the days when we were stealing clients from him. I know he was disappointed when A.J. and Janet broke their engagement. Myron had told me several times that he didn't think he could ever ask for a better man for his daughter than A.J.
That day of Janet and Myron's visit, it was evident that Myron was worried about my younger brother. He asked A.J. three times during the course of their stay, how he was feeling. And then Myron gave A.J. a fatherly lecture on the merits of, "No gun play." His gravelly voice could probably be heard clear to the nurses’ station.
"I always told you, no gun play. Didn't I always tell ya’ that, kid? I always said, stay away from those damn guns. Anybody playing those kinda games is too dangerous to mess with. Didn't I always tell you that, A.J.?”
Well, it's true. Myron always said that. None of the Peerless Detectives carried guns. I doubt any of ‘em knew how to use one. I knew Myron didn't.
A.J. accepted Myron's speech with good grace. "Yes Myron, that’s what you always said. I know that." A.J. and I both had to acknowledge the truth to Myron's words - anybody playing those kinds of games is dangerous, there's no doubt about it. Unfortunately, my brother and I don't seem to be able to stay outta that kind of trouble for very long. I’ll have to ask Myron sometime where he found all of his sedate, clients.
As Janet and Myron stood to leave that day, Myron shook A.J.’s hand and told him to take care of himself. Janet bent and hugged him again. She whispered something to him I couldn't hear, but I heard his responses of, "I know," and “I will," and "Thanks for coming." Then I saw him kiss her cheek right before she released him.
Mom and I followed them into the hall, me to say good‑bye, and Mom to take them down to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. Mom wouldn't hear of them making the journey back to Sacramento without her buying them an early supper, or a late lunch, or whatever ya’ wanna call it.
Mom and Myron walked toward the elevators as Janet hugged me good‑bye. I was surprised when she started crying a little as I held her against my chest.
"Hey. Hey, it's okay,” I said as I ran a hand up and down her back. “Everything's gonna be okay, honey."
Janet pulled away and wiped her eyes. "Oh, Rick, he just looks so bad. He's so pale, and so thin."
"Yeah, I know," I nodded. "But he looked a lot worse a week ago, sweetheart. He's come a long way since then." Looking into her eyes, I told her, "I'm glad you didn't see A.J. when he was in Intensive Care, Janet. It woulda’ torn you apart."
"Like it did to you?" she asked knowingly.
'Yeah, just like that," I admitted.
"Rick, A.J.'s running a temperature yet, isn't he? I could feel how warm he was when I was holding his hand, and I know that's something they were having trouble with when he was in I.C.U."
I nodded. "Yeah, it's back up to one hundred and one today."
“What's causing that?"
"They don't really know," I shrugged. "Could be an infection he picked up as a result of the bullet wound. They just keep reassuring us it's not that unusual with his type of injury. I'm gonna help him get into a cool shower in a minute. That’s why I'm not going to eat with you guys. That seems to be about the only thing that makes him feel a little more comfortable." Smiling my reassurance, I told her, "He's due for some kind of pill for the fever in a little while, so between that and the shower, he'll be feelin’ better soon. Don't worry, he's gonna be okay."
Janet looked into A.J.'s room. His bed was raised to a forty degree angle, and he was layin’ against his pillows with his eyes closed.
"He seemed so tired when we were in there. While you were gone, right before Daddy and your mother came in, A.J. almost fell asleep while I was talking to him. He just drifted off for a few minutes."
"Yeah, he does that sometimes. He's on quite a few medications, and those walks he has to take always wear him out. Don't let it worry you, hon. Believe me, this is normal for A.J. right now."
"I know. It’s just hard to see him like that. A.J.'s always been so active. That was part of our problem when we were engaged. I couldn't keep up with him."
I chuckled. “Well, you could keep up with him now, darlin,’ that’s for sure. You wanna give it a shot, or are ya’ afraid your husband will find out?”
"Rick! You're terrible. And you've got a dirty mind, too." Janet’s eyes traveled to my sleeping brother one last time. “When are they going to release him?”
“I don't know, not for a while yet. Could be a couple of weeks. He's not ready to come home yet. Our family doctor said we won't begin to discuss it until the end of next week. A.J. hasn't mentioned going home yet, so that gives me a pretty good indication of how he's feeling."
Janet put her arm around me again, hugging me tightly. "It was really bad, wasn't it, Rick? I mean, the shooting, A.J.'s injury. It was all really bad, wasn't it?"
I hugged Janet back. "Yeah, it was bad." As I kissed the top of her and looked through the doorway at A.J., I added, "But not nearly as bad as it could have been. Believe me, not nearly as bad as it could have been."
A.J. came home January 18th, almost a month after the shooting had occurred. He had been kept a week longer than what he normally might have been because of the fever he continued to run on and off during his hospital stay.
The two of us went to Mom's house, since A.J. still needed help with things like going up and down stairs. We could have just as easily gone to his place. I was gonna move in there with him until he didn’t need my help anymore, but Mom wanted us at her house, and A.J. didn't protest that. I think he knew how much Mom needed us to be a family right then. Maybe A.J. needed that feeling of security, as well. That feeling of safety that, no matter how old you are, you can really get from your mother. Mom was sure ready to spoil him a little, and A.J. accepted it all with good grace.
Mom and I hadn't taken down the Christmas tree yet. I think we woulda’ left it up until A.J. came home if it was standing there with all the needles off of it. Actually, rather than suffering from lack of water, the thing had been over-watered. If it's possible to over-water a Christmas tree, that is. The same elves that had stocked Mom's refrigerator on Christmas Eve were continuing to do so at regular intervals. Each time one of ‘em came into the house, that Christmas tree got a drink. Everyone knew how important it was to us to keep it decorated until A.J. got home. We hadn't opened any presents yet, and while Mom and I had talked about hauling them all to the hospital to open a week or so before A.J. was released, he told us no, he'd rather wait until he was home so we could have a real Christmas.
I knew he was feeling guilty about the way Christmas had turned out for us. Several times he had said to Mom or me, "I'm sorry about ruining your Christmas. I know how much you were looking forward to everything this year." I just told him to cut the crap when he'd start talking like that. We sure didn't blame him for anything, I kept reassuring him of that fact.
Once A.J. was home, Mom left it up to him to decide when he wanted to open gifts and have our Christmas. He didn't mention it for the first couple days, but finally said something to Mom on the third day about us opening gifts the following morning. Mom asked him if he wanted to have a big family dinner in the afternoon, but A.J. told her no, he wanted it to be a day just for the three of us. That didn’t surprise me. I didn't figure he was up to having a lot of people around. He wasn't eating much yet, and spent a good deal of his time sleeping, or just laying on Mom's couch reading or watching T.V. I think it was important to him, too, that the three of us be together on our belated Christmas Day without the interference of others. Ironically enough, the day A.J. chose to open gifts was exactly one month after the shooting had occurred. I don't know if A.J. realized that, but it held a lot of significance for me.
Mom did everything up that day just as she would have for Christmas. There was a ham in the oven by eight o'clock, and by the time I was helping A.J. down the stairs to the kitchen at eight‑thirty, she had bacon and eggs frying on the stove, and sweet rolls in the warmer. This tradition went all the way back to when we were small. Mom always made a special Christmas morning breakfast, and other than allowing us to empty our Christmas stockings, we never got to open anything else until we’d eaten and cleaned up the kitchen. Mom always said that was the one and only morning of the year I was eager to clear the table and do the dishes.
We lingered at the table, and then while Mom and I cleaned up, A.J. slowly made his way to the living room to plug the tree lights in, and put some Christmas carols on the stereo. Rex followed at A.J.’s heels. He was happy to finally be back with his ‘family’ after having spent the last few weeks with Carlos and Eva.
Once we could hear the music Mom looked up at me from where she was loading the dishwasher. "Rick, he looks so tired. Do you think we should do this today? Maybe he's not ready for it yet.”
“We’ve gotta open those gifts sooner or later. That tree’s not gonna last much longer.” I paused for a moment, trying to decide how to say what was on my mind, “Look Mom, I know this isn’t going to be easy for A.J. Hell, it’s not going to be easy for any of us. It’ll kinda be a symbol of how much we could have lost on Christmas Day. But, it’s got to be done eventually. We might as well get it over with.”
“I guess you’re right. We can’t keep putting off Christmas, can we?”
I smiled at her as I bent and kissed her cheek. “No, we can’t. And besides, if A.J. gets too tired, or this is too hard for him, we can always stop and finish up later this afternoon. It doesn’t all have to be done right now.”
She nodded as we went back to work clearing the remains of breakfast.
Mom and I entered the living room to find A.J. lyin’ on the couch with his eyes closed. As Mom sat by his side, he opened opened his eyes and sat up.
“If you’re too tired to do this, honey, we can wait until later.”
“No, no, I’m not tired, I was just listening to Christmas carols while I waited for you two. You should have let me help you, Mom,” he said while throwing me a teasing grin. “We would have been done twice as fast.”
I made a face at A.J. as he and Mom settled on the couch. I started passing out presents, my designated Christmas Day job ever since our dad had died.
A.J. watched me work. “This probably won’t take long anyway, Mom. By now, Rick’s shaken every present with his name on it at least eight times. He should be able to whip through his pretty fast.”
From under the tree I called, “Very funny, little brother! You’re not as smart as you think you are, wiseguy.” I didn’t wanna say what I was really thinking - that my desire to shake Christmas presents, or even have a remote curiosity about them, had disappeared the afternoon of December 22nd.
It had been a long four weeks, and the thought of our planned cruise had sometimes been the only thing that kept me going once A.J. was past the worst of things. I had already checked with Bob as to whether A.J. would be able to go, and upon receiving his yes, had left that particular package under the tree. There had been times when I had almost retrieved it, back in those first hellish days when no one could tell us whether A.J would live or die. Now, I was actually feelin’ some of that old Christmas spirit I had so long ago, and made that the first present I pulled out. Those two tickets were wrapped in a big box that I had lined with bricks to make it heavy. As I sat it on the couch between Mom and A.J., I could see by the looks on their faces that they were confused as to what I could possibly be givin’ both of them.
A.J. let Mom open the box, but couldn’t resist makin’ several smart-ass comments.
“Be careful, Mom. It’s probably filled with the leftover rattlesnakes Rick and Carlos couldn’t sell.”
“I know, I bet Rick’s bought us both cowboy hats. He’s tired of being the only one in the family who looks ridiculous.”
“Hey, Mom, I know. It’s a years supply of tequila. Rick figures you and I deserve a stiff drink about now.”
I never said a word through all this. Mom got the wrapping paper off and opened the lid. She pulled out the envelope that contained the tickets and a note stating our destination and date of departure. The look on A.J.’s face – stunned surprise - was worth it all as Mom held up the tickets and read the note out loud. He was even more shocked when I explained how long I had been planning this, and that it was more of a gift to celebrate our ten years in business together, than it was a Christmas present. At first, I think A.J. and Mom assumed it was something I went out and impulsively planned after A.J. was shot. That would have been typical Rick Simon. The other was definitely not.
I really caught them off guard. It took us quite a while to get back to the business at hand after that. They both had so many questions, and of course, Mom had to hug me about four times. Once, when she was doing just that, she whispered in my ear, “We all really need this, sweetheart.” She was right, too. By the time the end of February rolled around we would all be in need of some time away.
We finally got back to the gifts. I was surprised to find a deep-sea fishing rod and reel under the tree from A.J., along with a new tackle box filled with stuff I didn’t have. I don’t know how he always picks the perfect gifts, but he does. After I had opened it, A.J. smiled at me. “That was supposed to be for that fishing trip we were taking in February.” I told him not to worry; we’d get around to more than one fishing trip this year sometime.
My biggest surprise came when I opened another box from A.J. that contained a khaki field jacket. I know I had a puzzled look on my face. I couldn’t figure out why he’d buy me one. A.J. hates ‘em. He says I look like a cross between an over-aged G.I. Joe and a hunter in bad need of psychiatric care whenever I put one on. The image A.J. presents with the clothes he wears is always so important to him. It drives him nuts that, most of the time, I couldn’t care less what I look like.
I looked at my brother and said, “Thanks. This is great.”
He musta been able to read my expression, because he shrugged his shoulders. “I know your other one got ruined in the warehouse that day.”
He was right about that. The only thing the emergency room nurses had handed me back were the tennis shoes A.J. had been wearing. His clothes and my jacket were so covered in blood that they had been thrown out.
The three of us shared an uncomfortable silence for a minute, lost in our own thoughts of that day, when in the act of putting on the jacket I lightened the mood. “So, this was the errand you sent Mom on last week.”
A.J. groaned, probably feelin’ the need to break the tension as well. ‘Yes, it was. And I wouldn’t have asked her to get it if I’d known you were going to put it on the instant you opened it.” A.J. looked at Mom. “We’ll probably have to peel it off of him before he goes to bed tonight.”
“That’s okay. I used to have to peel his Rough Rider costume off of him, too. I caught him once getting in the bathtub with it on, cowboy hat and all. Your brother told me he figured if he had to take a bath, he might as well wash his clothes at the same time.”
“And I still think I was on to something,” I said as my family laughed. They knew how much I hated mundane household chores like doin’ laundry.
We continued openin’ gifts until the last present A.J. had in his now depleted pile was the watch I had gotten for him.
Once he got the wrapping paper off, A.J. lifted the lid on the case and looked at the watch for few seconds, then smiled. “Rick, I can’t believe you remembered that I lost--”
He stopped then, as he lifted the watch out of the case and turned it over. That’s when he saw the engraving on the back. A.J. read it, then cleared his throat. “Thanks...thanks, Rick.”
Yep, only my little brother could get sentimental over a watch.
I started to make a reply to A.J., intending to tell him all the things the watch could do. At that same time my back to him ‘cause I was reaching under the tree to retrieve Mom’s final gift. I turned quickly when I heard her, “A.J.! A.J., honey, what is it?”
I looked up, expecting to see A.J. toppling off the couch. He had started looking’ pretty worn out as our gift exchange progressed. Instead, I saw him still seated next to Mom. He held the watch in his right hand, and his head was bowed as he stared at it. I could see the silent tears that were running down his cheeks as Mom reached over to lay her hand on his arm.
He didn’t look up as he replied hoarsely, “It’s nothing, Mom. It’s just...I don’t know. The gift. The music. Everything, I guess. I don’t know.”
I realized then that, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was playing on the stereo. As A.J. started to cry harder, Mom wrapped her arms around him. A.J. finally laid the watch down and let her hold him. I got up and sat on the coffee table.
“I love you. I love you both so much. Thank you for everything.”
A.J. wasn’t looking at me, his head was resting on Mom’s shoulder and he was facing the kitchen, but Mom saw me open my arms and she leaned their bodies into mine. A.J. moved into my embrace, his head resting on my right shoulder while Mom’s rested against the left side of my chest. He whispered again, “Thanks, Rick, Thanks for everything.”
I tightened my hold and said, “Merry Christmas, little brother. Merry Christmas.” And then, because I knew for sure A.J. could hear me this time, I added softly, “I love you, too, kid. I love you, too.”
Two weeks have gone by now since our belated Christmas celebration. A.J. has gotten to the point where he can walk without assistance, and is startin’ to get his strength and stamina back. He’s ready to move back to his own house, and has been having me bring home paper work for him to do.
Even when your life is in turmoil, the world doesn’t stop turning. Therefore, to keep the cash flow coming in, I had taken on some easy cases right after the new year had started. At two o’clock this afternoon, I was sittin’ at my desk filling out a security report for a client when the phone rang.
“Simon and Simon Investigations.”
“Hi, Mom. What’s up?”
“Rick, did you come back to the house and get A.J.? Is he at the office with you?”
“No, he’s not here. What’s goin’ on?”
“I was gone to the grocery store for an hour or so, and when I got back A.J. wasn’t here. I can’t find a note that says where he went.”
Mom was pretty upset, so I tried to calm her. “He probably just went for a walk.”
For the past week A.J. had been walking a few blocks each morning and each afternoon before returning to Mom’s house.
“No, Rick. I already checked. I drove up and down the street, and even went over to his house. He’s not there either.”
I highly doubted A.J. would walk as far as his house. He lived five miles from Mom. I knew he couldn’t make it that far right now.
“Well, maybe somebody stopped by and took him to lunch. Or maybe Abby picked him up and took him to the station. A.J.’s been saying he wanted to get down there to thank everybody. I’m sure it’s nothin’ to worry about.
And I was sure it wasn’t. I knew A.J. had to be feelin’ pretty stifled by Mom and me by this time. If he wasn’t with one of us, then he was with the other, and it had been that way for six weeks now. During A.J.’s three-week hospital stay there hadn’t been an afternoon when at least one of us wasn’t there with him, and there was only one evening during that entire time when Mom and I weren’t there together. Uncle Ray had finally come in to town on December 28th - my prediction of his arrival date proved to be fairly accurate. One evening in early January, A.J. forced me to leave the hospital so I could spend a night on the town with Ray. That night of ‘fun’ ended up being pretty fruitless, however. A.J. had been running a temperature again that day, so my entire evening was spent worryin’ about him. I tried to hide my concerns, but Uncle Ray could tell, I guess, ‘cause about ten‑thirty he suggested we call it a night and see if we could sneak into A.J.’s room to check on him. Which is exactly where my night on the town ended, right back at A.J.’s bedside.
I shook off my thoughts and focused on my mother’s voice again.
“It’s just not like A.J. to leave with writing me a note.”
“Somebody probably stopped by and took him somewhere, and he forgot. He is forty‑one years old, Mom. I think A.J. can go somewhere without checking in with one of us first.”
“I know that, Rick, and I don’t care if he went somewhere. But, he’s still weak and I’m worried that he walked too far and can’t make it back home.”
Actually, that’s what I was thinking, too. Maybe A.J. had taken a walk and gone farther than he intended to, and was now sitting on a park bench waiting to get up enough energy to head back to Mom’s.
I sighed giving into Mom’s concern. “Why don’t you call Abby and any other friends of A.J.’s you can think of who might have taken him somewhere. In the meantime, I’ll drive around and see if I can spot him. I’m sure he hasn’t gone too far. One way or the other, I’ll check in with you in an hour.”
“All right,” Mom agreed before we hung up.
I drove to the places I could think of that A.J. might have walked to. When I didn’t spot him at the beach, or at a couple of local parks, I drove to A.J.’s house. Maybe he was headed there when Mom checked his house and they just missed each other somehow. I knew A.J. was anxious to get back home. We planned to move him later in the afternoon, so I half expected to find him there cleanin’ out closets, or washin’ out kitchen cabinets, or doing some other absurd household chore only my brother would find necessary. When I arrived, though, he wasn’t there. I searched the house calling his name, then checked the garage to make sure his car, which was still off limits to him per doctor’s orders, was parked there yet. It was, so having no other ideas I picked up the phone and called Mom. She answered on the first ring.
“Mom, it’s Rick. Is he back yet?”
“Rick, I’ve been waiting for you to call,” she sounded relieved. “A.J.’s not here, but I saw Mr. Edwins watering his flowers so I went over and asked him if he’d seen A.J. taking a walk. He said no, but that he had seen a taxi pull up in front of the house about twelve‑thirty, and saw A.J. get into it.” Her voice was pitched higher now with concern. “Where in the world could he have been going, Rick?”
I pondered that for a minute. I was drawing a blank until a thought came to me. Suddenly, I was pretty certain I knew where A.J. was.
“I don’t know for sure, Mom, but I think I’ve got a pretty good idea. I’ll check it out, and if I’m wrong, we can call the cab company. They should be able to tell us where the driver let him off. Don’t worry, I’ll find him. I’ll call again in an hour or so.”
I could tell Mom didn’t wanna hang up without getting’ more information from me, but all she said was, “All right Rick, just bring him home. please.” There was a silence for a moment, and then she added with some of her old familiar spirit, “And you tell A.J. he may just get a spanking from his old mother when he walks in that door for worrying me like this.”
I chuckled. “Okay, Mom, I’ll tell him.
I couldn’t blame Mom for being upset with him, but I also understood A.J.’s need to have some time alone. I couldn’t quite figure out, though, why he didn’t let one of us know where he was going. Unless where he was going, was where I thought I’d find him.
I pulled up to the warehouse twenty minutes later. I hadn’t been back there since the shooting occurred. I had no desire to relive the happenings of that day. I still dreamed about it occasionally, and certainly didn’t feel the need to make those dreams any more vivid than they already were. Especially since they all ended the same way, with A.J. bleeding to death on the warehouse floor before help arrives.
The building looked deserted, and since I expected to find the cab waiting for him, I assumed I’d been wrong. I was turning to head back to my truck, figuring I’d go to Mom’s, when, for some reason, I decided to try the side door as I walked past it. Much to my surprise, it opened. Either someone had left if open, or a certain P.I. I knew had picked the lock.
I had only taken two steps into the dim structure when I saw him straight ahead of me, sitting on the floor in the same place he’d been layin’ six weeks ago. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to find him there, although I admit, I was. If I’d been thinking, I would have known we were headed in this direction.
In all the time A.J. had been in the hospital, and now at home, he had never said a word to either Mom or me about what happened that day. He had never asked us any questions, and would only comment on it if one of us brought it up first. His standard reply to anything we might say was, “I don’t remember.” So, we’d assumed he didn’t remember. That he didn’t remember much of anything until he was past the heavy doses of sedatives, and affects of the drug reaction, those first few days in the hospital.
I had only found out in the last week that one day when John Hanrahan was visiting A.J. in the hospital, my brother had questioned him about the day’s happenings. It wasn’t until John had answered most of A.J.’s questions that he realized A.J. had never discussed the day with me. That A.J. was using John to fill in the gaps. My brother - the guy with the law degree. He’s good at getting answers from people who don’t even realize they’re giving them until it’s too late.
Although I had wished A.J. had come to me for those answers, I also realized he knew it would be hard for me to relive that day with him. That he would ask someone like John made sense to me at the time.
A.J. didn’t look up at me, didn’t acknowledge me in any way, though he knew I was there. He had to ‘cause that door had quite a squeak to it. Not knowing for sure what to say to him, but having a strong desire to get us both out of there, I stopped a few feet away from him and said lightly, “Our mother’s threatening to turn you over her knee when I get you home. We’d better go, A.J.”
He didn’t comment. I moved closer and sat beside him. I finally saw what A.J. was looking at. There was still a large stain on the cement where he had laid bleeding so many weeks before.
A.J. sighed, and without looking at me said quietly, “I remember you being here. I remember lying here with Abby and John bending over me, and I wondered where you were. I was so scared, thinking that you might have been shot, too. Then all I remember was the pain for a while, pain like I’ve never felt before, and then finally, hearing you talking to me. Telling me to hang on, that things would be okay.”
I nodded because I had said those things; those were almost my exact words. A.J. didn’t see me nod, though, because he still wasn’t looking at me. He was still staring at that stain on the floor.
“I tried so hard to see you, but for some reason I couldn’t. I kept hearing your voice and tried to look for you. That really scared me then, that I couldn’t see you. I thought maybe you weren’t really here, or maybe you were hurt, too, and I was just imagining I heard you. Everything was so hazy. It was like being in a thick fog. The pain was so intense, and I felt so weak, that I couldn’t focus on anything.”
I laid my hand on his shoulder. “I was here. A.J. You weren’t imagining it. I did tell you to hang on, and that things would be okay. I never left your side until they put you in the ambulance. I wouldn’t have left you then, only they wouldn’t let me ride with you.” I paused a moment, then reiterated, “But while you were here on this floor, I was right beside you.”
He looked at me, smiling his understanding. “I know that.” He shrugged his shoulders then, “I mean, where else would you be?”
Yeah, where else would I be? No place but by my brother’s side where I belong.
A.J. stared straight ahead and picked up where he had left off.
“I don’t remember anything again until the emergency room. I know I looked around for you and tried to call for you, tried to tell someone I wanted my brother, but they had a tube in my throat and I couldn’t do it. It’s strange. I wasn’t scared, even though I really thought I was going to die. I just wanted you to be with me. I wanted to be able to say good‑bye if I had to. I didn’t want to die alone.” He was quiet a moment, and then added as he looked at me, “Kinda childish, huh? To be forty‑one years old and want your big brother.”
I squeezed his shoulder and talked past the tightness that was suddenly in my throat. “No, I don’t think it’s childish at all.”
A.J. shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess maybe it’s not. I remember thinking you had been there since I was born; that I didn’t remember life without you. I just didn’t want my life to end without my big brother by my side.”
A.J. didn’t say any more then, and after a few minutes of silence I decided it was time to suggest we go home. Before I had a chance to, he started talking again.
“I hate him, Rick.” A.J. looked at me, his blue eyes burning with intensity I’ve rarely seen before. “I hate that kid for what he did. I don’t care that he’s dead. I don’t care about his family, or how they must be hurting. I don’t even think about them. I just think about that kid, and how I’m glad he got what he deserved.”
As A.J. spoke those few sentences I knew we had finally come to the root of the problem. I knew he didn’t mean what he had just said, especially about the kid’s family and about the kid getting what he deserved. I knew he was confused. Confused by the fact that he couldn’t forgive the kid who had shown up in this warehouse that day with a gun. Compassion and forgiveness for others is as much a part of A.J.’s makeup as his blonde hair. It was something about himself that he couldn’t change. I knew forgiveness for that boy and compassion for his family was there, but that right now it was buried deep inside of A.J. and it was going to take him a while to find it and to come to terms with everything.
We’re so different, A.J. and I, in so many ways. I still have a great deal of anger for that boy. I guess in a way I still hate him. I probably always will. I’m not gonna beat myself up because I can’t find it in my heart to forgive him. All I had to do was remember my brother bleeding on the very spot we were now sitting. That thought alone brought my anger and hate back with a vengeance.
But, A.J. and I are different. Over the years we’ve come to respect those differences and accept them. So, now I had to come up with the right words to help him deal with how he was feeling. To assure him that eventually he’d be able to come to terms with all of this. If we were exactly alike it would have been easy. I would have just said, “You’re right, A.J., he got exactly what he deserved. He’s dead, and I really don’t care, and neither should you. He made his choice the day he showed up to rip off this warehouse and brought a gun.”
Instead of that, though, I said, “A.J., it’s only natural right now for you to be feelin’ like you are. You were in the hospital for three weeks. You aren’t going to be able to return to work full time for another month. That kid took a lot away from you. You suffered a hell of a lotta pain because of what he did to you. Damn it, A.J., you almost died! And, as for the kid’s family – well, they never contacted us, or Abby, or the hospital, about your condition.”
I paused there and calmed down before continuing. “You’re twenty pounds underweight. You’re just starting to be awake more than you are asleep. And it’ll be a while before you can box or lift weights again, or do so many of the other things you like. He took a lot away from you, A.J. Feeling like you do is okay. It’s normal, even for you. Anybody would feel the way you do right now.”
A.J. had been silent throughout my entire speech, and now began shaking his head. “No, Rick, that’s not it. That’s not it at all. I don’t hate him for what he did to me. I hate the bastard for what he did to you and Mom.”
My compassionate, thoughtful brother, Andrew Jackson Simon. The man Mom, in anger and grief, accused of caring for no one but himself.
A.J. turned to face me, causing my hand to fall off his shoulder.
“I don’t remember much about those first four or five days in the hospital, Rick. But, I do remember hearing Mom crying like her heart was breaking. I remember seeing both of you bending over me at times; looking so tired and worried. I don’t ever remember either one of you not being there. I know you both slept there with me those first few days.”
I shrugged and reluctantly admitted, “We left a couple of times. We went home on Christmas Eve.” I knew he was already aware of that. Mom had told him weeks ago.
“Yeah, for about eight hours. It’s okay, Rick, you needed to leave. You needed the break. I know Mom needed a break from it all, and she needed you with her. I’m glad you took her home. I sure don’t remember anything about that night. She needed you far more than I did right then.”
I’ll say this for A.J., he always knows how to make me feel better.
Quietly, he continued, “I remember hearing you crying, too, Rick, and I felt so bad because I couldn’t make myself wake up enough to tell you to stop - that everything was going to be okay. I hated that kid so much then for hurting you like that.”
I would have never guessed A.J. had heard me crying, or was aware I was crying, is a more accurate way to phrase it. I did. though, on Christmas night. I guess everything that had occurred up to that point finally got to me.
I was so afraid A.J. would die that night after the scare we had that afternoon. After Mom had told me how angry she was at A.J., and I had laid it on the line to her about what the start of Simon and Simon meant to me, I sat and watched her as she stayed next to his bed, holding his hand. I started going over in my mind again the things I had shared with Mom. The reasons I had given her for my feelings of despair during my years in Florida. Suddenly, those same feelings hit me with a force I wouldn’t have thought possible. Feelings that I thought were long dealt with and buried. Feelings of loneliness, fear, anger, and confusion. I realized then, that those were the things I was feeling again. Same feelings, different situation. I remember thinkin,’ How will I ever go on living if A.J. dies? How will I ever deal with all this again, all these feelings, if he’s not here to get me through it?
As I watched Mom sitting by him, trying so hard to will all her love and strength into him, tears started running down my face. Silently at first, and then pretty soon I was sobbing quietly while sitting in that stupid vinyl chair. I was thinking about how grateful I was to my kid brother for giving me another chance at life all those years ago. For always looking up to me and being proud of me, even when I didn’t deserve that kind of devotion. Wondering if I had waited too long to tell him thank you.
I kinda scared Mom then. Hell, I scared myself. I don’t think I’ve cried like that since Dad died. Mom didn’t say a word, just came over and held me. I think she understood what I was feeling better than I did. I remember after I was done, I made Mom promise not to tell A.J. I had cried. I tried to joke about it, telling her I didn’t want him to think his big brother was a sissy. She promised me she’d never tell him, so I knew that somehow that night, he must have heard me and understood what was going on. I don’t know, I guess that’s how it was meant to be.
We were quiet for a long time as we sat facing each other. A.J. finally spoke again.
“You know, Rick, someone once asked me if I could ever feel entirely right about doing a job that puts me in an alley with a gun. Now I can’t help but wonder what kind of a man finds himself in a warehouse in that same situation once again.”
“You didn’t have a gun, A.J.”
“I don’t think it really matters.” He paused, then looked me in the eye. “What kind of a man am I, Rick? I’ve asked myself that question a lot in the past few weeks.”
I didn’t even have to think about that.
“The kind of man who has great compassion for other people. The kind of man who has a great love for his family, and a great love of life. The kind of man who should always be proud of the work he does, he’s good at it, he should learn to accept the fact that he can’t right every wrong, and cut himself a little slack once in a while.” I stopped there for a minute and let A.J. mull over what I had just said, then continued with, “The kind of man I’m proud to call brother,” and as I tapped the face of his watch where it lay against his left wrist I finished, “and best friend.”
“You’ll forgive him, A.J.,” I said quietly. “Just give it time.”
We sat cloaked in silence for a few minutes before A.J. spoke.
“You know, Rick, the world is sure a different place than it was when we were seventeen. Back then doing something wrong meant skipping a day of school to go surfing, not supporting a drug habit by ripping off warehouses.”
“Yeah, and when you skipped school that time I think you broke down three days later and told Mom about it, didn’t you?”
That got a smile out of him.
“Yeah, I did. I felt so guilty about it.”
“No matter how hard I tried, I never could completely corrupt you.”
A.J. laughed. “No, you couldn’t. But, believe me, Rick, it wasn’t from lack of trying on your part, that’s for sure.”
We grinned at one another, and then I thought of one more thing I needed to talk to A.J. about. One more thing I needed him to understand and believe.
“You know, A.J., no matter what decision you make from here on out, I’m with you. Whatever you need from me, I’ll give it if I can.”
“What do you mean?”
“If going back to the P.I. business is something you decide you just don’t wanna do, or can’t do, I understand. I’ll respect your decision and do what I can for you.” I shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe you wanna finally be a lawyer or something. If you do, I’ll come along and be your secretary.”
It took my by surprise when he started laughing, then I could feel myself turning red. I hadn’t really meant the secretary thing; I was just trying to make a point. Ungrateful little creep.
“Oh, that would be great, Rick! With the way you type, in two days my office would be so backlogged we’d never see daylight.” Now that he had the knife in, he just had to twist it. “And what did get out would be so illegible everyone would think my secretary was either blind, or illiterate. Besides which,” he added with a twinkle in his eye, “you just don’t look good in heels.”
I grabbed him and pulled a loose headlock, letting him know that I didn’t find him nearly as funny as he found himself. He pulled away from me after a few seconds of horseplay.
“I’ve never given it a second thought about not going back to the business. You and I have worked too hard, for too many years, to get it where it is now. I know that what happened here was something that will probably never happen again. I can deal with it, Rick. I know I can. Seven or eight years ago, I might not have felt this way, but time and experience has changed me from the person I was when we first opened Simon and Simon. I think Mom even understands.”
“What has she said to you?” I asked. Even though I knew Mom was long over her anger and upset from Christmas night, it didn’t surprise me to find out she may have felt it necessary to have a ‘chat’ about this subject with her youngest son.
“Not much, actually. She did tell me how concerned she is at times about the work we do, and how it sometimes frightens her. The bottom line is, she hates seeing us pursue a career that could get you or I killed.”
“That must not have been a real pleasant discussion,” I commented, remembering my own discussion with her on the same subject Christmas night.
He smiled slightly. “It wasn’t fun, but we got through it. I told her some of the same things I just told you. That I was proud of our business, that I loved being a private investigator, and that I wasn’t afraid to pick up where I left off. I also told her that I love her very much, and that I hoped she wouldn’t ask me to give up what you and I have worked so hard for, and enjoy so much. I told her I could only imagine how hard those first few days after the shooting were on her. I also told her that I was sorry I had put her through all that, how guilty I felt about it, and about the way Christmas had turned out for both of you.”
“What’d she say to all that?”
“Well, first she told me in that no nonsense tone of voice she has, that she didn’t ever want to hear me say anything about feeling guilty again. That none of it was my fault, and that neither you nor she blamed me for any of it, and that sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. Then she told me that the three of us are a family, and that being a part of a family sometimes means making sacrifices for each other, and that’s just the way it is, Nobody keeps tabs as to who is giving up what. Then she said something like, when it comes to love a mother doesn’t count the cost, she just gives freely of herself to whichever child needs her at the time.
“Then, she hugged me and cried a little bit. When she pulled away, she told me how much she loves us both, and that even though we drive her crazy sometimes, she’s very proud of us and the work we do.” He paused before finishing with, “That was two weeks ago, and she hasn’t mentioned it since. She’s a strong lady, Rick.”
He didn’t have to tell me that. That was one fact I knew without a doubt.
“Mom’s right, A.J. You aren’t to blame for anything that happened. She told you to quit feeling guilty about it, and now I’m telling you the same thing. I had to finally come to terms with my own guilt over all of this, you know.”
“I’ve gone over it in my mind a lot the last few weeks, wondering what we could have done - what I could have done, differently. What I could have done to keep all this from happening. Problem is, A.J., I’ve finally come to realize that there’s nothing either one of us could have done differently that day. We were doing the job we had been hired to do, and we took all the precautions we should have. I guess we could say, “If only we hadn’t taken Abby up on her offer and been here that day.” Or, “If only we hadn’t been private investigators to begin with.” We could play the ‘if only game’ forever. But, Mom’s right. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. That’s just the way life is. You and I both know that by now.
“And, speakin’ of things we know, I want ya’ to know one more thing. What Mom said goes for me as well. A mother doesn’t count the cost, and neither does a big brother. Big brothers are more than willing to do what has to be done for little brothers, and we don’t charge anything, either.”
A.J. smiled. “I know that, Rick. The same goes for younger brothers.” His smile broadened a little as he ribbed me. “If this younger brother counted the cost every time he had to get a certain older brother out of trouble, or kept track of every time he covered up for a certain older brother’s antics, I’d be a rich man today.”
I shook my head at him, trying to act put out by his smart remarks. “Boy, you’re really pushin’ it with me today. You better watch it, or I’ll forget you’re still recuperating and you’ll end up right back in the hospital.”
A.J. laughed at me and my idle threat, then grew serious again.
“I’m so glad it wasn’t you, Rick. If this had to happen to one of us, I’m glad it happened to me. I wouldn’t want you to go through all that I have these last six weeks.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. A.J. voiced out loud what I had known all along. That if one of us had to be injured in that warehouse, he was glad it was him and not me. Which was exactly what I had been wishing the reverse of since this whole thing started. Wishing that it had been me who had been shot, and not A.J. I didn’t have to say that to him, though, for A.J. to know. We drive one another crazy at times, but we really are best friends. Sometimes I think that’s more important than the fact that we’re brothers. You can’t choose who’s gonna be your brother, but you can choose your best friend. I have no doubt I’ve chosen well.
A.J. and I sat in silence for a while longer, and then I decided we were done with that warehouse. We had exorcised the demons that we still carried inside of us regarding this incident, and now it was time to go. I clapped him on the shoulder and stood up, pulling A.J. with me.
“We better get going, little brother. Sitting on cold concrete causes hemorrhoids.”
“Rick, you’re so strange. You know that?”
I slung an arm around his shoulder. “You may think so, but I read somewhere that’s a fact. And besides, we better start taking good care of your butt.”
He shot me a funny look and pulled away. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“A.J., unless we do some mighty fast talking, when your mother gets a hold of you she’s gonna tan your behind for this little disappearing act.”
He chuckled and said, “Well, maybe if we promise to take her out for a nice dinner this evening, some place where you can’t wear that stupid field jacket I’ll--
“I’ll get off the hook and still be able to sit down tonight,” he finished.
“That might work.”
We stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. As I turned to shut and lock the door behind us, I asked, “Hey, if you sent the cab away, how were you going to get home?”
“I don’t know, I never really thought about it. I guess I must have known my big brother would come along right when I needed him.”
“Just like I’ve been doing for the last forty years, huh?”
“Yep, just like that.”
As we walked toward my truck, A.J. suddenly turned to me and pulled me into his arms. I heard his soft, “Thanks, Rick. For everything. You’re the best brother.”
I returned his embrace before pulling away and teasing, “I am, huh? The best?”
“You are,” A.J. nodded.
I put an arm around his shoulders again. “You’re not so bad yourself, little brother. You’re not so bad yourself. Now let’s get home before Mom decides to spank us both.”
Our discussion in the warehouse happened over seven hours ago now, and a nice dinner out with Mom, A.J.’s couch and I are getting reacquainted after a long separation. He tried to get me to go to the marina tonight, saying he’d be fine by himself, but he didn’t say it with a lot of force, so I don’t think he really minds that I’m here. I had planned to stay a couple of days anyway, until I was sure he was ready to be without help.
Mom was pretty mad at A.J. when I first walked in the door with him earlier this afternoon, but after she was through ranting and raving he told her he was sorry, and that he loved her, and gave her one of his big dimpled smiles. Then he wrinkled his nose at her as he held his arms open to her. I can’t believe the same stupid tricks that worked for him thirty‑five years ago still work today. Yep, he’s still Mom’s golden boy - still her baby. Oh well, Mom’s oldest got a hug and a kiss from her, too.
As I sit here now on A.J.’s couch in his quiet, dark house, reviewing our Christmas, for the first time I find myself not thinking about what we missed out on. Not thinking about what we gave up. But, instead, I find myself thinking about what we received.
So yeah, I guess this was a special Christmas after all. A very special Christmas.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This story was written in 1992, and was just my third effort in the Simon and Simon fandom. Little did I know then, that I’d go on to write in excess of eighty S&S stories. Without realizing it at the time, it was through this story that I started to build a history for the Simon family based on what tidbits of information the TV show gave us in that regard. I suppose every writer of Simon and Simon fan fiction has a story that, to her, signifies what the Simon brothers are about. You Don’t Count the Cost was an early effort in an attempt to show the brotherly love, loyalty, and family appeal that drew me to the TV show to begin with.
‘Cost’ was long ago, and still is, dedicated to the woman who got me started on the road to fan fic writing, my dear friend, Anne. And, it’s dedicated to a new friend, Sue, who scanned this story and sent it to me via e-mail when she discovered I had no plans to put it in the S&S Library because I didn’t have it on a disk. Thank you, Sue!