*First Times is loosely based on a scene from the aired episode, Who Killed The Sixties. A portion of that episode, including dialogue, is used in this story.
A sunburned and tired Rick Simon swung his Harley Davidson into his mother's driveway. He cut the roaring engine as he came to a halt next to her luxury Oldsmobile.
Rick took immediate note of the absence of his younger brother's Woody station wagon.
I guess now's as good a time as any to talk to Mom, the young man thought as he tripped the kickstand into place and secured his bike in an upright position.
Rick approached the side door that led into the kitchen, brushing the road dust off his jeans and leather jacket as he went along.
He opened the door quietly as if he was not quite sure that he wanted his presence known. The interior of the yellow kitchen was as warm and inviting as always to the weary traveler. At this early hour of the evening supper was simmering on the stove, filling the room with tempting aromas that were hard to ignore.
Rick's stomach growled, reminding him that his last decent meal had been right here in this very kitchen several weeks earlier. He lifted the lid on the savory beef stew, allowing the fragrant steam to rise up into his face.
Rick opened the drawer where the silverware was kept and snatched up a spoon, dipping it into the simmering supper. He stood over the sink for a moment, blowing on the hot food. When it had cooled sufficiently Rick ate it all in one hungry mouthful.
"Mmmmm. Mom hasn't lost her touch in the kitchen since I've been gone." Rick deposited his spoon in the sink, placed the lid back on the big pot, then went in search of his mother.
Rick's search didn't take him far. He entered the living room to find his mother seated on the sofa reading the evening newspaper with half an eye on the television set. The popular game show Let's Make A Deal, provided muted background noise to the otherwise quiet house.
Cecilia looked up in surprise. "Rick! I didn't know you were home! I didn't even hear you come in. When did you get back?"
Rick bent and kissed his mother's cheek in greeting. "About five minutes ago. I've only been in the house long enough to sample your stew. Hope there's enough for me."
Cecilia gave her wayward eldest a fond smile. "There will always be enough for you no matter how often you appear unexpectedly out of the blue."
Rick smiled back. "Glad to hear it." Changing the subject he asked, "Where's A.J.?"
"Off somewhere with Anita, as usual. He said he won't be home until around ten. I'm certainly glad graduation is only two weeks away. He's spending way too much time with that girl, and not enough on his studies. His grades would really be suffering if it wasn't for the fact that the end of the school year is so close at hand."
Rick sat down on the sturdy coffee table in front of his mother. "Oh come on, Mom, cut the kid a little slack. He's always been a model student. Let him have some fun before he goes off to the college grindstone in the fall. He's graduating number three out of a class of four hundred. He's done a fine job this year."
"Yes, he has," Cecilia was forced to acknowledge. "I'm very proud of him."
"Good. You deserve a son who makes you proud."
Cecilia eyed her lanky eldest, trying to determine just what he had meant by that remark. "I'm very proud of you, too, Rick."
Rick gave a snort of self-deprecation. "Why? What have I ever done that's made you proud?"
"Why, Rick! A lot of things! Just by being who you are you've made me proud. You're an intelligent, independent young man who--"
"Who bounces from job to job, town to town--"
"I didn't say I like all the choices you've made over the past few years, son, but I am proud of you."
Rick smiled shyly. "Thanks, Mom." There was a moment's hesitation before Rick asked, "Uh...Mom...can I talk to you for a minute?"
"If you take your hat off you can. Really, Richard, you'd think I hadn't raised you with any manners at all," Cecilia scolded.
Rick threw his Stetson on the coffee table. His long hair tumbled out from underneath it.
"I wish you'd cut some of that hair off. All you boys are starting to look like beatniks these days. I suppose A.J. will be wearing his that way next."
"I don't know,” Rick shrugged, only half listening to his mother's tirade. “Maybe.”
Setting her paper aside Cecilia asked, "Now, what was it that you wanted to speak to me about?"
Suddenly unsure of how the news he was about to deliver would be received, Rick stammered, "Well...uh...well, Mom, it's like this. I...uh...well I--"
"For goodness sake, Rick, spit it out. Whatever it is, it can't possibly be that bad."
"Well...no...it isn't bad. Not exactly anyway. I guess it all depends on how you look at it."
Cecilia's eyes narrowed suspiciously at her nervous son. "You haven't gone and gotten some girl in trouble, have you?"
Rick couldn't help but smile. "No, Mom, it's nothing like that, believe me."
"Good," Cecilia sighed with relief. "I've always worried that I...well, that I wasn't able to convey to you boys properly the many complicated aspects a...sexual relationship involves. A boy really needs his father to discuss those things with him, I suppose, but then we didn't have much say so in the matter, did we?"
"No, Mom, we didn't. But don't worry, you conveyed everything just fine," Rick laughed, a twinge of red coloring his cheeks as he thought back to those embarrassing in-depth dissertations given by his mother during his teen years.
"I'm glad to hear that. I'll sleep better at night having gotten that assurance from you," Cecilia stated dryly with twinkling eyes. "So, what did you need to tell me?"
"I...well I...well, you know how you just said you don't like the fact that I bounce from one job to another? Drift from one town to another?"
Cecilia nodded. "Yes."
"Well, I won't be doing that anymore. At least not for quite a while."
Cecilia's face lit up in a big smile. "You mean you found yourself a permanent job here in San Diego?"
"A permanent job, yes. Here in San Diego, no."
"I...I went down and joined the Marines today, Mom."
"I went down and joined the--"
"I heard you the first time. What made you do such a thing? Do you have any idea where they'll send you?"
"Yeah. Vietnam most likely."
Cecilia's blue eyes filled her face. "But...Rick...why?"
Rick brought an envelope out of his jacket pocket, silently handing it over to his mother.
Cecilia pulled out the contents, reading the government document it contained. "An induction notice into the Army,"
she stated weakly.
"Yeah. It came three weeks ago. That's why I left. Why I told you and A.J. I had a job prospect I wanted to go check out. I had to...get away. To think for a while. It really didn't come as any big surprise. I mean, I knew it was only a matter of time before Uncle Sam caught up with a guy like me."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I'm not in college. I don't have a wife and kids. No steady job. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Especially with what's going on in Vietnam."
"Yes, I suppose it was," Cecilia agreed softly. "I was hoping it wouldn't though."
Rick gave a gentle laugh. "Every guy's mom hopes that."
"You're right, Rick. Every guy's mom does," Cecilia said with sadness, suddenly drawn back in a time vortex. She could see her eldest as a little boy again, his father's old Army uniform hat perched on his head, toy guns in hand. "You loved to play war when you were a little boy," she said, her mind's eye years in the past.
"Maybe I'll learn to love it again," Rick smiled.
Tears welled up in Cecilia's eyes. "I hope not, Rick. I hope not."
"Don't cry, Mom. Please don't cry. I'll be okay. A lot of guys go off to war and come back without so much as a scratch. Look at Dad."
But on the inside your father bore a lot of scratches from the things he saw, the things he had to do as a serviceman, Rick. I don't want that to happen to my Peter Pan.
Cecilia composed herself after a moment, asking, "But why the Marines? Why didn't you just answer this induction notice and join the Army?"
Rick looked down at the floor, hesitant with his reply.
"Because...because I wanted to make you proud of me. I wanted to make Dad proud of me. The Marines are elite fighting men. Trained to be the best our nation has. For once, I want to be a part of the best. For once, I want to...excel at something."
"Oh, Rick," Cecilia sobbed, her tears flowing freely down her face.
Rick leaned forward, perching on the edge of the coffee table. He gathered his mother in his arms, allowing her to cry into his shoulder.
"I had to do this, Mom," he whispered softly. "For just a brief second I thought about going to Canada but--"
"I would have supported you had you made that decision," the grief stricken Cecilia stated into her son's jacket.
"You say that now, but you don't mean it. If I'd have done that, Mom, I'd have been considered a deserter. I wouldn't have been able to have any contact with you and A.J. for the rest of my life. I wouldn't have even been able to let you know where I was. Is that what you really want?"
"No. I don't suppose it is," Cecilia reluctantly said, pushing away from Rick so she could see his face.
"Besides, if I had left for Canada...well, then the likelihood of A.J. someday gettin' drafted would become a very real possibility. Sure, right now he'll have a college deferment, but there's talk that if the war goes on college deferments will become a thing of the past. In our situation, with there being just two sons in the family and you a widow, they'll never draft A.J. as long as they have me. I don't want him to have to go, Mom. He's got too bright of a future to have it blown away in some jungle in Southeast Asia."
Cecilia began to cry again at Rick's words...and his sacrifice. "But I don't want you to go either. I don't want to give either one of my sons to some damn politician's war."
Rick reached over and took his mother's petite hands in his. He squeezed gently. "I know you don't. But as you've said to me ever since I can remember, sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to."
Rick gave his mother a jaunty smile as he tried to lighten the mood. "Besides, look at this way. I'll finally have all the things you've wanted for me for so long. A good job, a steady income, three square meals a day, a place to live, short hair--"
At that last Cecilia didn't know whether to cry harder or burst into laughter. "Oh, Rick," was all she could manage to say.
Rick reached over, pulling his mother into a tight embrace once more. "Everything will be okay, Mom. I don't have any regrets about the decision I've made. It's the right one for me."
"I love you, Rick. I am so very, very proud of you. Please take that with you and carry it always in your heart."
Rick lightly placed a kiss in his mother's hair. "I will, Mom. I will."
Long minutes passed before Cecilia broke their embrace once more. "What about, A.J.? Have you told him any of this yet?"
"No. He doesn't know anything about it. But I'm gonna tell him tonight as soon as he gets home. Unless you think I should wait until after he graduates."
Cecilia shook her head. "No. That wouldn't be fair. He's a young adult now. He has the right to know. The three of us have always handled the hard times together. We can't make an exception in this case."
"That's how I feel, too. I hate the thought of tellin' him, but I can't keep it from him either. He's not a little kid anymore. Hasn't been for a long time now, I guess."
"No, he hasn't been," Cecilia agreed. "When do you leave?"
"I have to report to boot camp on August 25th, so at least we'll have most of the summer to get used to the idea."
"Will you stay here until you go?" Cecilia asked, though it was more of a request.
"If you'll have me."
"Of course I will. What makes you think I wouldn't?"
Rick shrugged. "It might not be easy spending your summer with two adult sons in your home."
Cecilia smiled. "No, it might not be. But if the three of us sit down and discuss a few simple rules, I think we'll all survive quite nicely. I don't plan on being anyone's maid, nor will I wait up until dawn worrying and wondering as to where one or both of you are."
Rick nodded. "Fair enough. The three of us will come to some kind of an agreement, I'm sure. I've got a job lined up, too. It doesn't pay much, but at least it will keep me busy until I have to leave. I figure with A.J. workin' full time life guarding at the pool, and me workin' full time...well, things will be easier on all of us until August."
Although Cecilia didn't say anything, she silently agreed. No doubt the three of them would face challenges during the upcoming summer while living together. Rick had been on his own for so long that he was bound to have to make some adjustments in his lifestyle in order to live under his mother's roof again. And A.J. would be brand new to adulthood, a fledgling testing his wings at the expense of his mother's sanity at times. And through it all, the cloud of Rick's obligation to the Marine Corps would be hanging over their heads, creating an extra stress and tension all its own.
Cecilia reached up and laid a tender hand on the side of Rick's face. "No matter what you do, Rick, or how far your travels take you, you'll always have a special place in my heart as my firstborn. You and I have gone through so many first times together. This will only be one more."
Rick smiled fondly, thinking back to all those first times. There had been easy ones, like the first time he'd tied his shoes by himself. And there had been hard ones, like the first time he held his mother in his arms as she sobbed out her grief over his father's passing, assuring her all the while that things were 'gonna be okay.’
Rick leaned over and hugged his mother again. "You're right, Mom. This will only be one more. And if you ask me, I think we've come through all those first times with flyin' colors. I know we’ll come through this one the same way."
"I'll pray for it every night, Rick. I'll pray for it every night," came the muffled answer from where Cecilia's head rested against her son's strong chest.
"I know you will. Now come on, wipe those tears and let me serve you supper, Mrs. Simon."
Cecilia looked up with a smile, brushing away the dampness on her face. "You're going to serve me?"
"Sure. You just sit right down at the kitchen table and relax. I'll finish getting everything ready. I'll even do the dishes when we're done."
Cecilia allowed Rick to take her hand and escort her into the kitchen. "An offer like this one doesn't come my way from you very often, son. I'll take you up on it."
"I guess I'll have to do it more often then. I'm gonna treat you like a queen this summer, Mom. "
Cecilia laughed as she sat in the chair her son pulled out for her. "I'd settle on you just making your bed and taking care of your own laundry."
Rick bowed deeply at the waist. "Whatever your heart desires, my fair lady."
Cecilia laughed again at her oldest and his nonsense. The rest of the evening followed the same pattern. Rick kept their conversation light, amusing his mother with funny stories and anecdotes from his travels. At nine thirty the tired man bid his mother good night, heading up the stairs with the newspaper in hand.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
It was two minutes to ten when Cecilia heard the kitchen door shut. She tracked A.J.'s progress through the room by the familiar sounds he made. His tennis shoes were kicked off by the door, a light was flicked on, the refrigerator was opened, then a kitchen cabinet. She could faintly hear what she guessed was orange juice being poured into a glass. A few moments later that sound was followed by water running in the sink. The rinsed glass was set down with a light 'thump' onto the porcelain. The sound of running water ceased right before the swinging door between the kitchen and living room was pushed open.
Cecilia's blond son bounced in the room. "Hi, Mom!"
"Hi, sweetheart. Did you have a nice evening?"
A.J. perched on the same coffee table his brother had just a few hours earlier. "Yeah."
"What'd you do?"
"Met Tim and Margo at the beach, surfed for a while, swam a bit, then went out for burgers and fries."
"Do you have homework?"
"Some. Not much."
"You'd better go upstairs and get it done then. I don't like you being out this late on a school night, A.J."
A.J. rolled his eyes. "Mom, I'm almost eighteen years old. And besides, it's not that late. It's only ten."
"Just be thankful that the school year's almost over, Andrew. Otherwise you'd find me imposing a curfew on you."
A.J. laughed. "Get your licks in while you can, Mom, 'cause come July, when I turn eighteen, I'm a free man."
"We'll see about that, son,” Cecilia said playfully. “We'll see about that."
A.J. decided a change of subject was in order. "Is Rick home? I saw his cycle parked outside."
"Yes. He got in around six o'clock. He went up to bed about a half an hour ago."
"I'm glad he's back," A.J. said, echoing the words he always said whenever Rick returned home from one of his jaunts, no matter how brief.
"I know you are. You'd better get up there, too, and get that homework done. Don't stay up all night talking with your brother either. You've got school tomorrow."
"I know. I know. I won't," A.J. promised as he bent and kissed his mother's cheek. "Good night."
"Good night," Cecilia called to her son's retreating back. "A.J..."
The young blond man turned around. "What?"
Cecilia hesitated before saying simply, "I love you."
With a puzzled expression on his face A.J. replied, "I love you too, Mom. Are you okay?"
"Yes, son, I'm fine. Go on to bed."
"Okay," A.J. said, turning to ascend the stairway.
Rick was lying bare chested on his bed, staring up at the ceiling when A.J. burst in the room.
Playful jabs and punches were immediately thrown at the reclining Rick's midsection.
"Hey, hey, hey, watch it there," Rick warned as he sat up to fend off his brother's fists and to get in a few playful jabs of his own.
When the horseplay stopped the two young men spent a few minutes getting caught up on the events of the past three weeks in each of their lives. A.J. then sat down at their desk, opening his history book and pulling out a piece of paper.
"This is all the homework I have. It will only take me about twenty minutes to finish, but if the light's going to bother you I can go down to the kitchen," A.J. offered.
Rick reclined back on the bed. "No, you can stay here. I need to take a shower yet anyway."
in his own thoughts, Rick wasn't aware as to how quickly those twenty minutes
passed until A.J. slammed his history book shut. "There.
Rick watched through half closed eyes as his brother retrieved pajama bottoms and a T-shirt from his bureau drawer.
"Were you gonna get in the shower or can I go ahead?" A.J. asked.
"Go ahead," Rick consented with a wave of his hand.
Fifteen minutes later A.J. reentered the room dressed for bed. He pulled the covers back on his twin bed and climbed in, relaxing against his pillows.
Rick looked over at his brother. "Where were you tonight?"
"At the beach with Tim and Margo and--"
"Anita," Rick finished for his brother.
A.J. smiled. "Yeah. And Anita, too."
"I guess I don't have to ask you if you had a good time," Rick teased.
"No, you don't. I always have a good time when I'm with Anita."
"You really like her, don't ya', kid?"
"Yeah. I really like her. I've never felt this way about a girl before. This serious, I mean. She's really special."
Rick sat up on the edge of his bed, nodding, "Yeah, she is. She's a nice girl. A.J., I need to talk to you for a min..."
Oblivious to his brother's words, the lovesick A.J. hiked himself up on his elbows looking over at Rick. "I want her to know that she'll always be the only one for me, even when I'm away at college next year. I have to convince her this isn't just some high school fling that's going to end when we graduate. I love her, Rick. An engagement ring would show her how serious I am."
Rick nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. I could even loan you enough bread to help make a down payment. I'm not gonna need a lotta' money where I'm goin.’ "
Sorry, kid. This isn't exactly how I wanted to break the news to ya', but the longer I wait the harder it's gonna be.
A.J. looked over at his brother in puzzlement. "Where you goin'?"
"Hitched up with the Corp.,” Rick finally admitted. “Gonna be a Marine."
Seventeen-year-old A.J. Simon stared at his brother in disbelief. When the shock of Rick's words had worn off somewhat, the youth rolled over on his side, his back to his older brother.
The pain and fear radiating from the young blond man was all too apparent to Rick. To the huddled figure he vowed, "I'll be back, kid. Promise. I'll be back."
It was a long time before Rick rose to head for the bathroom. He reached over and gave his brother's shoulder a squeeze. "I'm gonna go take my shower. When I'm done we can talk if you want to."
"It won't change anything," came A.J.'s muffled reply.
"No, it won't. But it might help...both of us."
A.J. gave a little nod of acknowledgement to the truth of his brother's words.
With a final pat to A.J.'s back Rick walked away.
He was beckoned to turn around by his brother's voice. "Rick?"
A.J. propped himself up on his elbows once more. "About your promise to come back?"
"I'll be waiting. No matter how long you're gone, I'll be here waiting for you to come home again."
Rick smiled softly. "That's how I always find my way back, kid.”
A.J. held his brother’s eyes a long moment, then nodded and laid back against his pillows.
Five minutes later, as he stood under the warm water of the shower, Rick said quietly, “It’s just another first time, A.J. Just another first time. And knowin' you're waiting for me to return from all my ‘first times,’ is how I always find my way back. It’s always how I find my way back.”
And at that moment Rick Simon vowed he’d find his way home from this new, and very frightening, first time as well.
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