By: Kenda



Chapter 1


Rick’s Puzzlement











      I called my brother's name progressively louder as I tried to get his attention that Wednesday morning in the office.  His back was to me and he was staring out the picture window behind his desk at what, I didn't know.


     "Hey!" A.J. turned around and glared at me.  That action was prompted by the fact that the pen I had thrown at him seconds earlier hit him squarely between the shoulder blades.  "What'd you do that for?" 


     "I called your name three times.  What's the problem, A.J., you gettin' hard of hearin' in your old age?  Did that cute little nurse give you bad news the other day?  Am I supposed to buy you a hearing aid for your next birthday?" 


     "No, there's nothing wrong with my hearing.  Everything's fine."


     A.J. snapped at me a little sharper than necessary.  I was certain he knew I was only teasing.  I wondered if he was still mad at me over that little joke I had played on him several days before.  Hell, it wasn't even a joke really. It was more of a purposeful deletion of information on my part.


     Due to rising premium costs A.J. and I had been forced to change to a new health insurance company.  Considering our line of work and how much trouble it sometimes brings us, we're obviously considered high-risk clientele.  Very high-risk clientele.  When A.J. began working up the business's budget for 1994, it became quickly apparent what we were paying for health insurance was far more than what we wanted to be paying, or could afford to be paying. Therefore, A.J. spent the first part of the new year shopping around for other options.  He finally found a policy that would fit our needs without costing us an arm and a leg in the process.  The only draw back was we both had to have a physical before the new company would take us on.  Neither one of us was too thrilled about that idea and we both tried to weasel our way out of it, but the insurance salesman said, and I quote, "Because of your ages, Mr. Simon and Mr. Simon, it's company policy.  We don't insure anyone over forty without a complete physical being taken first."


Boy, did A.J. and I have a good laugh over that comment.   Here some twenty five year old overweight insurance man is telling us that because we're over forty the likelihood that we're out of shape is greater than if we were younger.  A.J. and I kidded back and forth about that issue after the guy left our office.  A.J. laughed while saying, "If it wasn't for the fact that I'm afraid he wouldn't insure us, I'd like to tell that kid how many times these two decrepit old men have jumped out of the way of speeding cars intent on mowing them down."


     I agreed as I, too, laughed.  "Yeah, or ran a zig zag pattern a pro football player would envy while dodging bullets."


     "Yeah, or gotten up and finished our working day after having the shit kicked out of us by some irate jerk we've been hired to tail," A.J. contributed.


     We could have gone on in that vein all day, citing hundreds of examples as to why we were in better physical shape now than we had been as teenagers.  However, we both knew all the boasting and bragging in the world still wasn't gonna get us out of a trip to the doctor if we wanted to make this switch to the new insurance company.  We finally resigned ourselves to the inevitable with a fair amount of bitching and moaning thrown in for good measure.


     I was the first one to go and get the dirty deed out of the way.  Not by my choice, I might add, that's just the way the appointment was set up by the insurance company.  The ordeal lasted almost five hours.  A complete physical was given, including things, a lot of things, I'd never had done before.  After one stress test, drainin’ me dry of most of my blood, and just about every other test imaginable and some not even thought of on my part, I was surprised to find out I was in pretty good shape for a guy fifty years old.  Since A.J. takes much better care of himself than I do I knew he'd sail through the whole thing with no problems.


     When I arrived at the office the morning after my physical A.J., who hadn't gone for his yet, immediately pounced on me.


      "How was it?  What'd they do to you?"


     I just smiled nonchalantly.  "Nothin' to it.  They listen to your heart, your lungs, take a few drops of blood, and that's it.  It's over."


     "That's all?"  My surprised brother asked.


     "Yep, that's all," I lied, knowing that if A.J. knew half of what I had been put through he'd just be up all night worrying about it, or he'd back out of the whole deal completely.  There was no way I was gonna let him do that.  If I had to go through all that shit, he was gonna go through it, too.


     Two mornings later when I arrived at the office A.J. was waiting for me at the door.


     "Mornin', A.J.," was all I said as I brushed past him and headed for my desk.


     "Good morning, Rick," came the terse reply.


     "Did you have a nice physical yesterday?"  I asked while hiding my smile.


     A.J. walked over to sit on one corner of my desk.


      "Oh, it was wonderful, just wonderful," he replied sarcastically.  "There were several things you neglected to mention in regards to the physical, however."


     "There were?" 


     "Yes, there were.  The prostrate exam for one, and the colon-rectal cancer screening for another."


     "They really did those things to you?"  I asked with astonishment.  "They didn't do anything like that to me.  Ahhh, but then again, A.J., the ladies do think you have a cute butt, so I bet that female doctor just wanted to get a good look at your ass."


     A.J.'s color took on a dark red hue as he tried to hide both his embarrassment and his smile at my teasing.


     Holding up a warning finger, he threatened, "This had better be one of your sick jokes, Rick, because if I find out that I was put through the most humiliating, degrading, and embarrassing day of my life, and you weren't put through the exact same thing, I'll--"


     "You'll what?"  I challenged.


     "I'll drag you back to that hospital, tell that lady doctor she didn't complete your exam, help her drop your drawers, then stand there and laugh at the look on your face when she sticks her finger up your--"


     I began laughing then at my joke, A.J.'s threats, his mock anger, and his red face.  I soon 'fessed up about the horrors of my own physical and we spent some time joking and teasing one another over what we'd been put through.  We also promised each other we'd never change insurance companies again, no matter how premiums might cost us.


     The only person who was happy about the whole thing was our mother, who had been after both A.J. and me for the past five years to get a thorough physical exam.  A.J. and I were simply happy the ordeal was over with, and the preliminary test results good, and that we could get on with our lives.


     Which was exactly what we had been doing for the week since the exams.  We had just completed one case and taken on a new one.  It was that new case we were discussing, or at least I was discussing, when I realized my brother hadn't heard a word I'd said.  Which was what prompted me to throw my pen at his back in order to gain his attention.


     After A.J.'s snapped assurance of "Everything's fine," I tried to tease him into better humor.


     "Hey, you're not still mad at me over that little joke, are you?"


     "What little joke?"  Came his confused question.  At least I was finally getting some type of response.

     "You know, 'cause I didn't tell you about the prostrate and rectal exams?"


     That got a slight smile out of him.  "No.  I'm not mad."


     "Then what's wrong?"  I asked from my seated position behind my desk.


      A.J. turned to stare at the traffic passing below our office windows. "Nothing."


     I studied his back, quickly coming to the conclusion that whatever was bothering him was more than 'nothing'.  He'd looked tired for the past two days, and alternated between unusually quiet or unusually short tempered.  A sure sign to big brother that something was indeed, wrong.


     Not really knowing how far I should push the issue, I pressed on gently, "Are you sure it's nothing?"


     A short, "Yes," was all I got in the way of an answer.


     "A.J. I'm not trying to be nosey, but--"


     He turned to face me.  "Then don't be."


     "But," I picked up where I had left off as if he hadn't interrupted me. "That's what big brothers excel at.  Being nosey."


     "That's for sure," A.J. wisecracked with a hint of humor.


     "So in light of the fact that it's my job to excel at bein' nosey, I'll ask again.  What's wrong?"


     A.J. moved to sit down behind his desk before answering me.  He picked up a stack of papers and shuffled through them, finally telling me, "Nothing's wrong.  I'm just tired today.  Let's get back to work."

     I sat there staring at my brother's bowed head and taking in his 'all business' like demeanor.  I contemplated whether or not I should pursue the matter.  I finally decided against it.  Whatever was wrong evidently didn't have anything to do with me, or the business. So for the time being I let the subject drop.  I'd learned back when A.J. was about three years old that if he wanted to tell me something he always would eventually, but not before he was good and ready.


     We soon became engrossed in our new case.  By the time we closed up shop for the day I had forgotten all about my concerns from earlier.



Chapter 2


Cecilia’s Worry



     I was bustling around the kitchen early on Thursday evening, putting the finishing touches on supper.  I had gotten home late from a meeting at the library.  My sons and I have a standing dinner date at my house on Thursday evenings. Or as standing as it can be considering the unorthodox nature of their job sometimes prevents them from being able to make it, or sometimes I'm out of town on vacation, or doing the things one enjoys pursuing after retirement.


     Even on a day like that Thursday was, a very busy day when I didn't have time to leisurely prepare dinner, but rather I was running between the stove, refrigerator, and cupboards in an effort to have everything ready before the boys arrived at six o'clock, I still enjoy preparing the meal.  Thursday is the only night of the week I fix a big dinner unless I have company.  I've been a widow for thirty five years and my sons have been grown and gone for close to twenty five so I don't have a lot of occasions to prepare the type of meal men enjoy.  Meat, potatoes, vegetables, rolls, and dessert.


     I can't say I'd care to cook like that again every night, but I do enjoy going to the trouble for my sons once a week, as well as eating the leftovers for a day or two afterwards.


     I glanced up at the clock to see it was six-twenty as I pulled the roast from the oven.  I wondered then where Rick and A.J. were.  Usually if they're going to be late they call. . .well, at least A.J. calls.


     It wasn't ten minutes later, though, that I heard the doorbell ring and the sound of a key being turned in the lock.


     "Hi, Mom," I was greeted by my eldest as he entered the kitchen.


     "Hi, Honey," I replied, receiving his kiss on the cheek.


     Rick eyed the steaming roast beef.  "Mmmm, that smells great."


     I put my oldest to work slicing the meat since I was running behind schedule. While Rick did that task, I pulled out plates, glasses, and silverware.  It was as I came back from setting the dining room table that I first took note of the fact A.J. wasn’t in the house, too.


     "Where's your brother?"


     Rick looked up from the platter of meat.  "He didn't call you?"


     "No.  Should he have?"


     "Since he's not here yet I figured he must have called to say he was gonna be late."


     Over the sound of the hand mixer I was using to mash the potatoes I replied, "No, he hasn't called me.  Wasn't he at the office with you today?"


     Rick went back to slicing the roast.  "Until lunch time he was.  Then he said he had to go somewhere and wouldn't be back for the rest of the day."


     "Where was he going?"


     "Don't know.  He wouldn't say," was the only reply I got.  I reply I found to be rather unusual.  Working together as they do, the boys don't keep many secrets from one another.  But then again, they never have.  They've always been very close.


     I shut the mixer off.   "You don't know, Rick?  Or you won't say?" 


     Rick looked at me and laughed.  "You make me feel like I'm about ten years old and hiding something from you."


     "I won't even bother to remind you how many times one of you has hidden something from me for the benefit of the other." 


     Rick smiled.  "True.  But not this time, Mom.  Honest.  I have no idea where he went or what's goin' on."

     "He was planning to come here tonight, wasn't he?"


     Rick shrugged as he stood at the sink running hot water over the carving knife.


     “I don't know.  I assume so.  We always do.  But come to think about it, he didn't say anything about seeing me here tonight."


     "That's not like your brother," I commented while taking my turn at rinsing off the utensils I'd just been using.


     "No. . .no, it's not,"  was the only answer Rick would give me as he moved out of my way.


     When seven o'clock rolled around and there was still no sign of A.J., I began to grow irritated.  I don't know if Rick was irritated or not, but I do know he was hungry.  I watched as he polished off two dinner rolls and a small piece of beef while we waited for his brother.


     By ten minutes to eight I was past irritated and Rick was past hungry.  We were both moving rapidly toward worry as A.J. still hadn't shown up, nor had he called.  Rick got no answer at the office or his brother's house when he called both places several times from seven o'clock on.


     Rick and I were sitting at the dining room table at eight-thirty, staring at each other over my rose patterned china, trying to decide what to do next.  Just as I was about to suggest calling. . .who, I didn’t know, but someone, I heard a car pull into the driveway. I moved to the window, parted the draperies and looked out.


     "It's A.J.," I sighed with relief.


     "It's about time," Rick grumbled in an aggravated tone I knew was meant to hide his own relief.


     I wasn't sure what I was going to say to my wayward youngest when he walked in the door, I was angry and I had the right to be, but then again he was forty-four years old.  A bit too old to scold for being late to dinner.  I decided I'd simply let A.J. know a phone call would have been appreciated, and that I wasn't planning to ever wait dinner for him again.


     When A.J. walked in the door a few moments later my plans for a firm scolding fell by the wayside once I caught sight of his face.  A.J.'s always been my open book, and as the years have passed my ability to read my youngest's feelings hasn't changed.  I knew immediately something was wrong.  He looked tired and depressed.  I noticed, too, that he must have gone home and changed his clothes after leaving the office earlier in the day because he was now wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a red short sleeve polo shirt.  His hair was wind tossed and held fine grains of sand, as did his tennis shoes.  When my A.J. feels the need to walk the beach alone, it's a sure sign that something is bothering him.


     Being the good detective he is, Rick took note of the signs as well.  He said nothing in greeting but, "Are you ready to eat, A.J.?"


     A.J. gave a small nod of his head as he walked toward the table.  I touched his arm as he passed me and asked softly, "Sweetheart, are you okay?"


     My blond son gave me a half smile and a kiss on the cheek.  "Yeah, Mom, I'm okay.  Sorry I'm late.  I. . .I didn't realize what time it was."


     I certainly didn't fall for that lie.  My organized, conscientious A.J. always knows exactly what time it is. He has since he was five years old.  Even if I'd been naive enough to fall for that lie, I would have quickly realized that A.J. was not, in fact, okay as supper progressed.  Rick and I exchanged long looks several times as we both became aware we were carrying the entire dinner conversation, and that A.J. hadn't said so much as, "Please pass the salt."


     I also discreetly observed as my youngest halfheartedly pushed his food around on his plate, but never managed to get any of it in his mouth.  It wasn't until my own plate was clean and Rick was working his way through a second helping of everything that A.J. seemed to notice he was lagging far behind.  Even then, he only ate a few bites of meat and potatoes.  His plate was almost full yet when I got up to clear the table.


     "Are you finished, honey?"  I asked before picking up his plate.


     "Yeah, Mom, I'm done. Thanks.  Everything was great." 


     I didn't think he'd eaten enough to know if the meal had been great or not, but I kept my peace.


     Things didn't improve any through dessert.  Even the boys' old standby favorite, chocolate cake and ice cream, didn't whet A.J.'s appetite in the slightest.  I watched as he absentmindedly played with his ice cream until it was soup.  He never touched the cake.  Nor did he seem to notice that Rick and I had long ago run out of things to talk about.


     By the time we finished our dessert I decided I had held my tongue long enough and that all mothers, even those with sons fifty and forty-four, have the right to be nosey now and then.  As A.J. sat there moving his spoon back and forth in his ice cream bowl, I asked point blank, "A.J., what's wrong?"


     He looked over at me, then away.




     Rick and I exchanged glances before I spoke again.


     "A.J., don't tell us nothing's wrong when it's so obvious to your brother and me that something is indeed the matter."


     A.J.'s blue eyes caught and held mine.  "Mom, it's nothing.  Just forget it."


     Rick had told me enough before A.J. arrived for me to know my oldest son had suspected something had been bothering his brother since Tuesday morning.  Rick, too, had been repeatedly told, "Nothing's wrong.”


     "A.J., if you don't want to tell Rick or me what's wrong, then at least give us the courtesy of saying, "It's none of your business,” or "There's nothing to worry about,” but please don't blatantly lie to us."


     I was caught off guard, and so was Rick, when A.J. abruptly stood up from the table.  I thought for sure he was going to walk out the front door.  I think Rick did, too, as he stood up and just waited by his chair, watching his brother.  I think Rick planned on intercepting A.J. if he did move to leave.


     But we both guessed wrong.  The front door was not where A.J. was headed.  First he walked by a living room end table and paused there a moment, staring down at a picture someone had taken of the three of us at last summer's family reunion.  We were all clowning for the camera, the boys on either side of me with their arms around me, Rick making rabbit ears behind his brother's head with his fingers.


     From there A.J. walked over to the windows that faced my large side yard.  He parted the curtains and then simply stood there for the longest time, staring out into the darkness, not saying anything.


     "A.J.?"  Rick began as he started to move toward his brother.


     A.J. didn't turn to look at Rick, but he held up his left hand in a silent message for his brother to stop.


     Rick looked at me, puzzled, but respected A.J.'s wishes and stopped his progress halfway between the table and the couch.


     We waited in silence again, the ticking of the Grandfather clock the only sound in the room.  I stayed where I was, seated at the table.  Rick still stood motionless in the middle of the room, and A.J. still stared out the window, at what I couldn't fathom.


     I finally grew tired of waiting and stood up, intending to go to A.J. whether he wanted me to or not, when suddenly he spoke.  His voice at first was so soft that Rick and I had to strain to hear him.


     With his back to us yet, A.J. said, "I wish I could tell you it's none of your business, or that there's nothing to worry about. . .but I can't."    


     He stopped there, with just those few words.


     With a pounding heart, I pleaded once I realized he wasn't going to offer us anymore.


     "A.J., don't do this.  You're scaring me.  Please, son, tell us what's wrong."


     A.J. only turned to look at me for a brief second, but it was long enough for me to see the pain in his eyes.  He turned away again.


     "I. . .I got a call from the hospital on Monday.  They. . they found something on one of the tests I took for the physical and I've...uh...I've got to go in next Wednesday morning for a biopsy."


     Before I could frantically ask it, Rick did. 


     "What do you mean they found something?  What'd they find, A.J.?"


     A.J. began drawing circles on the windowpane with his right index finger.  After a lengthy pause he answered Rick with, "A spot on my right lung."


     Without realizing it at the time, my hand flew to my mouth as I whispered, "No!"  My mind screamed cancer over and over for a few seconds, then I got a hold of myself and rushed over to my blond son, embracing him tightly and burying my head in his broad chest.    


     A.J. didn't respond to me at first.  He stood there, stiff as a board as I clung to him, hugging him as if I'd never get to hug him again.  Finally though, he bent down and returned my embrace.


     "Don't worry, Mom.  It'll be all right.  Don't worry."


     He sounded so much like his father right then that it was all I could do to keep from crying.  But I didn't. . .cry that is.  I wouldn't allow myself to do that.  With all the fear that was running through me I knew we had to remain optimistic.  I knew it was going to be up to Rick and me to be strong for A.J.  I knew we had to give him the utmost hope that this spot, or whatever it was, would turn out to be nothing.


     It was then that I felt another set of arms encircle me.  Without having to look up I knew Rick was now embracing both his brother and me.


     None of us said anything for a few minutes.  We just stood there like that, reaffirming our bond as a family.


     Rick finally broke the silence by vowing while he rubbed a hand over A.J.'s back, "We'll get through this, A.J.  We'll get through it.  Mom and I will be here for you.  It's all gonna turn out okay."



Chapter 3


A.J.’s News



     The hardest thing I've ever had to do was tell Mom and Rick about my test results.  I put off giving them the news as long as possible, longer than I should have, I know.  But just the thought of the worry and fear that news would cause both of them led me to delay the inevitable.


     The haunted look I saw in their eyes, and the fear I heard in their voices, was almost more than I could bear.  I think I would have walked out the door if it hadn't been for the two tight embraces I was confined within.  Once we broke apart, it came as no surprise to me that Rick took charge, ushering Mom and me over to the couch.  From that point I spent some time answering their many questions concerning the whole situation, while at the same time trying to calm their fears as best I could.  I did an excellent job of spouting off the statistics the doctor had quoted me concerning what a small percentage of these unidentifiable 'spots' actually turned out to be cancerous.


     By the time Mom's Grandfather clock was striking eleven I was drained, both physically and emotionally.  I was more than ready to go home and climb into bed.  I hadn't been sleeping much at all since I got the news, so I was constantly tired.  I took advantage of a lull in my family's questions to rise from the couch and announce I was heading home.  I kissed Mom on the cheek and turned toward the door when Rick piped up with, "How about a camping trip this weekend, A.J.?  Just you and me.  Mom'll take care of Rex, won't you, Mom?"


     With more enthusiasm than was necessary my mother didn't hesitate to smile broadly and reply, "Sure, Honey.  I'd love to.  You boys go ahead and have a good time.  Rex and I will get along just fine.  He hasn't stayed here in quite a while.  I've missed him."


     I had to bite my tongue to keep from sarcastically pointing out that I was on to their little game.  Not to mention the fact I thought Mom was going a trifle overboard when it came to her gushing verbal enjoyment of babysitting Rex, Rick's seventy pound dog, as if he were a favored grandchild and not a rambunctious Golden Retriever who still sometimes confuses coffee table legs with trees.


     Upon hearing Mom's eager consent to dogsit, Rick turned to me, bouncing on his heels and smiling.


     "So, A.J.?  How about it?"


     "I don't know, Rick," I replied hesitantly.  "It's really not necessary.  We've got this new client we've just taken on, and I really have some things I'd like to get done. . ."


     Rick wouldn’t take no for an answer.


     "There's nothing you need to do that can't wait a few days. I can help you with whatever needs doing around your place or the office when we get back.   And don't worry about Mrs. Rafkin, I'll handle her.  We can leave--"


     "Damn it!  Don't do this to me!"  I shouted.  "Don't treat me like I'm going to break!  Like I'm some kind of invalid.  Either one of you!"  I turned my back so I wouldn't have to see the hurt on their faces. "I'm still capable of making my own decisions. When I'm not, you'll be the first to know, Rick, and you can gladly take over for me."


     I didn't have to be facing Mom and Rick to know they exchanged a long look behind my back.  The uncomfortable silence was broken when Rick placed a hand on my shoulder.  "A.J.," came his soft entreaty.


     I shrugged off my brother's solicitous offering.  I walked away from him, giving myself time to calm down while at the same time mentally chastising myself for my behavior.  True, I was tired and worried, but that in no way excused the fact 'd just acted pretty shitty to someone whose only crime was that he loved me very much and was trying to help in the only way he knew how.


     I turned to face Rick.


     "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean that.  It's just that I'm...tired.  I'm sorry."


     And, of course, Rick accepted my apology with more grace than I deserved.       "That's okay.  I understand."


     My eyes met my brother's and I managed a small smile.  "A few days away does sound pretty good after all.  What time will you pick me up tomorrow?"


     "Tomorrow?"  My surprised sibling questioned.


     "Yes, tomorrow," I nodded.


     I'd caught Rick off guard and I knew it.  I'm sure he was expecting me to insist on putting in a full day at the office on Friday, and therefore not leave on the camping trip until Saturday.  But at that point in time I knew Friday at the office would be a wasted day.  It had been all I could do since Tuesday to concentrate on the tasks required of me there.  Now that Rick knew what was going on my likelihood of concentrating, and his, would be nil.  I knew without a doubt, Rick would spend Friday staring at me, watching for signs of, I don't know, worry, weariness,

tension. . .whatever.  All I knew was I couldn't handle that right at the moment, so for the benefit of my temper and our future relationship as brothers, I figured it would be wise for both of us to spend some time away.  At least if we got on each others nerves on the upcoming trip we'd have several hundred acres of woods in which to distance ourselves and walk off our tempers.


     "Okay tomorrow.  That sounds good," Rick agreed, probably having just had the same thoughts as me.  "I'll need to pick up some food at the grocery store tomorrow morning, and pack, and drop Rex off here, and--"


     I nodded, interrupting, "That's fine.  Just pick me up whenever you're done with all that.  I'll be ready."


     Mom and Rick exchanged glances at my uncharacteristic behavior.  First, wanting to leave on the trip the next day, and then not being concerned as to what time Rick would be picking me up, or what kind of food he would be purchasing.  Usually Rick alone in the grocery store, buying food for my consumption, is something I don't allow to happen because I'm likely to spend an entire camping trip eating Cocoa Puffs and bologna sandwiches.  But I was too tired and had too many other worries on my mind that night to be concerned with what I was going to be eating for the next few days.  I didn't figure it really mattered too much anyway.  I hadn't found food to be appealing since Monday afternoon.


     Mom broke into my thoughts concerning Rick and food.


     "I'll get your office mail.  I'll have it here when you get home.  That way if you boys don't want to go into work when you get back, you won't have to.  You can just relax until. . .until Wednesday."


     And although once again I felt like screaming, "Don't treat me like an invalid!" I didn't.  I wasn't up to anymore apologies.


     "That'll be fine, Mom.  Thank you."  I bent and kissed her cheek again, this time intent on making it out the front door.


     Mom kissed me back while hugging me tightly.  I didn't hesitate to return that hug and held her to my chest for a long time before finally releasing her, bidding both her and my brother good night.


     I have no doubt that two pairs of eyes followed me to my car that night, and that Rick stayed on at Mom's long after I had gone, the two of them discussing all I had just revealed.  That thought at first made me angry, made me feel like a child, but upon mulling the whole thing over some more I came to the conclusion that if Rick's and my positions were reversed, I would have done the exact same thing.


     I headed straight to bed when I got home, but ended up tossing and turning restlessly.  For a long time I laid there, staring up at the ceiling, realizing after a while that my mother and brother were probably doing the exact same thing in their respective beds.  I hated myself then, for putting my family through that, even though I knew the entire situation was beyond my control.  It's just that when you love two people as much as I love my mother and brother, the last thing you want to do is bring them news that causes distress or sleepless nights.  I wondered then, how many sleepless nights lay ahead for the three of us. 



Chapter 4


The Camping Trip



     I picked A.J. up at his house at eleven o'clock on Friday morning.  The bed of my pickup was loaded with camping gear and four days worth of groceries since I wasn't planning on coming back until Monday evening, unless A.J. said otherwise.  Somehow, I didn't think he would.             


     We didn't go far away, only about two hours outside San Diego to a large state park we had camped at on previous occasions.  I didn't want us to spend the majority of this mini-vacation traveling since the sole purpose of it was to give A.J. a chance to get away and relax a little before Wednesday.


     We arrived at our destination shortly after one o'clock that afternoon.  By two-thirty we had the tent in place and all the other gear unloaded, then took a ride to a small store several miles away to get ice for the coolers, as well as cold beer, soda, and a variety of meat.


     It was three-thirty when we were finally able to cast our lines into the water.  We both sat down on the wooden pier that looked out over a large lake.  Amidst fishing gear and cold beer we waited for our first bite of the day.


     A.J. never has been a serious angler.  Half the time when we go fishing together he reads a book while letting his line dangle absently in the water, or suns himself while napping in a lawn chair.  That Friday, however, he did neither of the above.  He simply sat on the pier next to me, not saying a word other than to respond to my occasional comments or questions.  Every once in a while he'd reel his line in and cast it out again, but I knew his mind was far removed from our fishing hole.  An hour later he reeled his line in for the last time, laid his pole by the tackle boxes, and without saying anything to me walked off the pier.  I watched him, wondering if I should follow, when he stopped and sat down on a grassy hillside underneath some tall, old pine trees.  He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them while giving me a little wave of his right hand.  I took that action to mean he was okay and just wanted some time by himself, and that I was supposed to go on enjoying my fishing.


     I 'enjoyed' myself for as long as I could resist going to him.  A half an hour later I,too, packed it in and walked up to sit beside him.


     "Done already?"  A.J. asked as I sat down.


     "Fish aren't biting," I shrugged.


     "I don't think you were trying very hard," my observant brother stated with a small smile.


     "Ah, I'm just giving the fish a break.  I figure I can't catch 'em all in one day.  The little buggers and me wanna have some fun together.  You know, make a sport out of it and all."

     "I see," A.J. nodded knowingly.  "You didn't have to quit on my behalf."


     "I didn't," I denied.  "This just looked like a nice spot to sit and relax outta the sun."


     A.J. didn't say anymore in regards to me having quit fishing so I let the subject drop there as well.  I wasn't so stupid as to think that I had fooled him in any way.  He knows me well enough to know that I can fish for five or six hours straight without getting bored or frustrated, regardless of whether the fish are biting or not.


     We sat together in silence for a long time in that big grove of trees.  It was so quiet you could hear the branches rustle together in the breeze and the sound of small animals as they scurried through the woods behind us.  The chirping of an occasional bird was the loudest noise we heard for the hour we sat and looked out at the lake in front of us, watching as the sun slowly moved farther down in the western sky.


     I finally broke my reverie long enough to look at my watch.  I saw it was already five-fifteen.  My stomach reminded me that I hadn't had anything to eat since we'd stopped at a Burger King at noon. 


     "A.J."  I said in way of getting my brother's attention.


     When he didn't look at me, but rather kept staring out at the lake, I touched his arm as I tried again.  "A.J.?"




     At that same time he must have realized that I'd called his name twice because he apologized, "Oh. . .sorry.  Guess I wasn't paying attention."


     "Don't worry about it.  You've been ignoring me ever since you were four years old."  I teased.


     "With good reason," A.J. tossed back, and added the first genuine smile I'd seen all day.


     I jostled his arm with my elbow, announcing, "I'm gonna start supper.  How does some grilled pork chops and baked potatoes sound?"


     "Sounds fine," A.J. agreed.  "If you don't need my help maybe I'll sit here a while longer...maybe take a little hike."


     "Do you want me to come with you?  I can, you know.  Supper can wait a while."


     "No, I'll be fine.  You go ahead and start supper.  I won't be gone too long."


     "All right," I reluctantly agreed as I rose to head back to our campsite.  A.J. followed suit, heading in the opposite direction, taking a path that led him deeper into the woods.


     I stood in that grove of trees a moment longer, watching A.J.'s back until he disappeared completely from sight.  I contemplated following him, then just as quickly decided against it, knowing there'd be hell to pay when he turned around and discovered me at his heels.  Instead, I walked down to the pier and gathered up the fishing equipment, then hiked back to the campsite and began preparing dinner.





     After supper was over and the sun had set, A.J. and I sat on the ground in front of the comforting glow of the campfire, leaning back against a large fallen tree.  I toasted some marshmallows, then tried but failed at getting my brother to eat a few.


     I worked hard at making small talk, chit chatting about how the fishing had been earlier in the day, about the nice drive we'd had up here, about how the pork chops at supper had hit the spot, and about my enjoyment of our little spur of the moment vacation.  When I only got small nods of A.J.'s head in response to all my comments, I got desperate for something more to say and soon found myself discussing the weather at great lengths.


     That seemed to bring A.J. back from wherever he had been.  He looked at me and gave a sarcastic, half smile. "You always have sucked at making small talk."


     I couldn't help but give a self-deprecating chuckle at his observation and the truth it contained.  A.J. has the ability to make polite, interesting small talk with a tree, and get a response back.  While I, on the other hand, rarely use it as a method of communication.  That's why he's the one who handles all the niceties when we first meet a client, while I anxiously await for all that polite crap to come to an end so I can jump right in and get to the heart of the job we're being hired to do.


     "Okay, so small talk isn't my thing," I readily admitted to my brother.  "How about if we have some big talk?"


     "Big talk?" 


     I studied A.J.’s face a moment, not fooled by the bland expression I saw there.  His eyes gave him away, they always have.  The dim glow cast from our fire couldn't hide the worry and fear I saw in them. 


     "A.J., we need to talk about this."


     "What?"  He asked, determined to play the game out to the bitter end.  “This camping trip?”


     "No, not about this damn camping trip!  About you!  About what you're facing here.  About--"


     His interruption came quietly.  "Rick, I know perfectly well what I'm facing."


     I held his gaze.  "Do you?"




     "Then talk to me about it," I requested.


     A.J. turned his head away from me, staring into the fire.  "Why?"


     "Because you need to get some of this out,"  I said with exasperation.  "You haven't said a word about it since last night, and even then you didn't say anything about how you feel, only what the doctors thought, when you have to check into the hospital, when--"


     The flames cast shadows across his face.  "Maybe that's all I want to say."


     "But maybe you need to say more."


     With a teasing smile, he fenced, "And maybe I don't."


     I was more than fed up with this little game we were playing.  I talked to him like I did when we were kids and I got tired of him giving me the spoiled little brother act. 


     "A.J., knock it off.  This is serious."


     Catching my eyes, he replied earnestly, "Don't you think I know that?"


     I studied his face a moment before slowly nodding, my anger leaving me as rapidly as it had arrived.


      "Yeah, I think you know that.  I'm sorry I came on so strong.  I just thought maybe. . .well that maybe you needed to talk about it.  I wanted to let you know I'm here to listen.  Guess I wasn't very subtle about it, huh?"


     That question got a laugh.  "Lack of subtlety is another one of your strong points, Rick."


     "That's true."


     A.J. looked back at the fire.


     I know you're here to listen.  I've never doubted that for a moment.  I honestly can't recall a time in my life when you weren't willing to listen to what I had to say. . .except maybe that time when I was six and broke your favorite model airplane.  You weren't too willing to listen to what I had to say then."


     "If I remember correctly I didn't give you much of a chance to explain as I chased you around the couch vowing to scalp you when I got my hands on you."


     A.J. smiled at the memory.  "Lucky for me Dad came to my aid just as you got your hands on the back of my shirt."


     "Lucky for your hairline you mean," I pointed out.


     "You'd know," came his smart-ass retort.


     I made a face at him for that remark, then we fell quiet again.  For the longest time we sat there without another word passing between us.  Had the circumstances been different I would have thoroughly enjoyed the wilderness night time, listening to the croaking of frogs and chirping of crickets while staring up through the pine trees at the black sky filled with the moon and what looked like thousands of stars.


     I watched the path a falling star took, following it until it plunged out of sight.  I hadn't made a wish on a falling star in close to forty years I don't suppose, but that night I did.  I felt kind of silly afterwards, but then decided wishing for good health for my brother wasn't so silly after all. 


     Even though we had both been silent for quite a period of time, I knew what we had on our minds.  When I could no longer stand watching A.J. stare into the fire, with a look of such loneliness about him, as if no one else could fathom what he was going through, how he was feeling, I demanded quietly once again, "A.J., talk to me.  Please.  What are you thinking about?  What's on your mind, little brother?"


     He didn't look at me, and for a minute I thought he wasn't going to answer me.  Instead, he sighed heavily and began to toss little twigs into the fire. 


     "A.J.?"  I gently prompted.  "Please."


     Still looking into the fire, he finally confessed,  "I'm thinking about Danny.  About how. . .how it was for him in the end."


     "A.J., don't," I admonished, reaching over to give his shoulder a firm squeeze.


     He looked at me then.  "Rick, I have to.  How can I not?  I can't avoid it.  I can't hide from it."


     "But, A.J., you have no idea if this spot even is cancer."


     "I know that," he acknowledged softly.  "But I can't help thinking about it, and I have to be prepared."


     While I personally didn't think it was necessary at this point for A.J. to be 'prepared,’ I didn't have the right to make light of his worries and concerns.  And being prepared was just a natural part of A.J.'s personality.  He's the kind of person who addresses Christmas cards in September and actually changes the batteries in his smoke alarms on a scheduled basis. 


     I wasn't gonna admit it to A.J., but actually I'd been thinking a lot about Danny in the past twenty-four hours, too.


     A.J. interrupted my thoughts, "The last thing he said to me before he died was, 'A.J., when you think of me, please smile.'”


     I couldn't help but smile a bit myself at those words.  How like Danny they were.


     Whenever I think of him, my mind's eye goes back to the first time I met him.  He was four years old and had just moved to our neighborhood.  I came home from school to find Danny and A.J. sitting on the front steps eating ice cream cones.  They both had chocolate moustaches and more ice cream on their shirts than they had in their stomachs, but that didn't seem to bother them any.  A.J. had an arm slung over Danny's shoulders as he announced, "This is my new friend, Rick.  He just moved into old Mrs. Lipton's house.  His name is Danny."


     From that time on, until they graduated from high school, the two of them were inseparable.  Mom used to laugh while saying, "If A.J. isn't with Rick, then he's with Danny."  It got to the point that on some days I had two little brothers tagging along behind me.


     Dan and A.J. even had planned to attend the same college, the University of Oregon, and be roommates.  My little stint with Uncle Sam changed all that, however, as A.J. decided to stay close to home for Mom's sake.


     After college, Danny ended up back in San Diego as a sports writer for the Times.  When A.J. and I moved back from Florida the two of them picked up their friendship where it had left off ten years earlier.  They had a weekly appointment for either racquetball or tennis, and because Dan had free seasons passes to every sporting event in town, the two of them took in more baseball, football, and basketball games than I can count. 


     A.J. quickly became good friends with Danny's wife as well, a girl he had met and married while still in college. A.J. shared in the couple's joy when their daughter Amber was born, and three years after that stood as godfather for their new son, Kyle Andrew.


     No one could have imagined then, that seven short years later A.J. would be standing in the front of the same church where he held Kyle in his arms during the christening ceremony, only this time serving as a pallbearer at Danny's funeral.


     Yeah, I guess if anyone knew what death from cancer was like, it was my brother.  He watched as one of his closest friends withered away to the disease in only one year's time.  The vibrant, handsome, fun loving forty year old who weighed one hundred and seventy pounds before the start of his illness, died weighing only ninety-five.  Danny looked like an old, old man at his wake.  His skin was actually flecked with age spots, the once thick, curly, blond hair nothing but a few grey wisps here and there, a shell of what he had once been.


     Through it all, A.J. had been there, keeping in close contact with the family and visiting Dan as often as he could.  We were in the office shooting the bull about a case one summer Tuesday afternoon four years ago, when the call came.  It was Dan's father, telling A.J. the end was very near.  Everyone had been expecting it.  A.J. had seen Dan at the hospital on Sunday and was still visibly upset on Monday morning.  I remember he told me, "He's really suffering, Rick.  He's ready to die, he told me so yesterday.  I just hope it comes soon for his sake.  He shouldn't have to go through anymore than he already has."


     A.J. rushed out of the office after the call that day, going straight to the hospital.  Five hours later Danny was released from his misery.  In the end, it was truly a blessing.  The man had been through hell, so had his family. . .and his friends.  


     A.J.'s voice broke into my thoughts of that day four years earlier.


     "I keep seeing him as he was the day he died, Rick.  I keep seeing what the cancer did to his body.  It's funny, up until now whenever I thought of Dan I always saw him as he was when he was healthy.  I could instantly recall one of his corny jokes, or the way he laughed, or how his eyes lit up when he talked about his kids, how proud he was of his wife, and when I thought of him that way, I always smiled.  Just like he asked me to.  But now. . ." he shuttered involuntarily, "Now I only see him as he was the last few weeks of his life.  He was so sick, Rick.  In so much pain, so weak. . ."


     Without even thinking about it I moved sideways until I could put my arm around his shoulders, pulling his unresisting body back against my chest.


     "A.J., don't.  Don't say it.  Don't even think about it.  I know it's hard, but let's just take it one day at a time until we know something definite.  We might be worryin' for nothin' you know."


     "Yeah, I know.  It's difficult not to, though."


     I tightened my hold on him.  "I know.  Believe me, kid, I know."


     We were both quiet for a minute before I suggested, "Let's just try to put it all on the back burner as much as we can for the next three days.  I want you to relax and have a good time.  I know that sounds pretty stupid considering the circumstances, but it's all I can give you right now.  I know it's not much, but--"


     "It's enough, Rick," A.J. interrupted.  "I appreciate this trip.  I really do.  I'm sorry about last night.  About blowing up at you over all this."


     "Hey, forget it.  I understand where you were comin' from."


     "Still, thank you," A.J. reiterated before going on to ask, "Is Mom okay with all this?  I kind of hate the thought of her being alone this weekend."


     "She fine, A.J.  You know Mom.  She possesses a heck of a lot of inner strength.  She thought this trip was a good idea, too.  I stayed at the house last night for quite a while after you left--"


     A.J. accused lightly,  "I figured you did."    


     "Yeah, well anyway, Mom and I talked about a lot of things.  One of those things was this trip.  If I was the least bit concerned she was having problems handlin' all this we wouldn't be here tonight."


     A.J. nodded his head from where it still rested against my chest.  "She seemed okay with it this morning, too."


     "This morning?"


     "She popped in at my place about seven-thirty with the pretense of helping me pack and getting instructions on watering my plants.  I don't have to be a detective to see right through that little charade.  She certainly knows how to water my plants by now, and she hasn't helped me pack since the first summer I went away to camp when I was eight."

     "She just needed to be. . .close to you I suppose.”


     "I know.  And I appreciated that.  I just hate to see her so worried."


     "Yeah, I know.  I do too."      "She made me French toast for breakfast, than sat and watched me until I had eaten it all."


     I laughed at that.  "Mom will always be Mom, won't she?"


     "Yes, I think she's got that particular job down to a science.  We talked for quite a while, too.  She promised me she'd call Aunt Edie, or Margaret, or some other friend if all this started closing in on her.  It made me feel a little better about coming up here today and leaving her behind."


     I nodded.  "Yeah, she promised me that, too.  And I'm sure she will.  You know women, A.J.  They tell each other everything.  Nothing's to personal for them."


     "That's for sure," my experienced brother agreed.


     "And how about you?"


     "How about me what?" 


     "Are you gonna talk to me this weekend if all this starts to close in on you?"    


     A.J. didn't answer me for a moment, then quietly offered, "I. . .I just don't want to burden you with all this shit.  I know you're already worried, I just don't want you to--"


     I gave his body a stern little jostle with the arm I still had wrapped around his chest.  "A.J., stop it.  Can the crap about burdening me.  I'm here to listen, to be whatever you need me to be, just like you'd do for me if our positions were reversed.  Got it?"


     Even though I couldn't see his face, I could tell he was smiling.  "I guess you're not going to take no for an answer."


     "No, I'm sure not," I said with a chuckle.  "And don't you forget it either. Promise?"




     Not long after that A.J. went to bed.  I sat staring at the fire by myself until only glowing embers remained.  Around midnight, as quietly as I could, I entered the tent and climbed in my sleeping bag.  Just as my head hit the pillow a hand reached out and squeezed my arm.  "Thanks, Rick."


     And because I knew that, "Thanks, Rick," encompassed a wealth of things, and because I didn't know what else to say, I replied simply, "You're welcome, A.J.  Good night."


     "Good night," his quiet voice said in return.


     I lay awake that night until I was certain A.J. had managed to drop off to sleep.  It was some time later before I finally managed to do the same.


Chapter 5


The Campers Return



     There was a knock on my front door at seven-thirty Monday evening.  I opened it to be greeted by my two sunburned, stubble-faced campers.  I gave each of them a hug and a kiss, subtly studying my youngest son in the process.  I can't say either of them looked particularly rested, but considering the circumstances that didn't come as too great a surprise.  I hadn't been resting well lately myself.


     As A.J. stood by the dining room table looking through the office mail I had collected, Rick followed me into the kitchen.  I collected Rex's bowls, food, and leash, while Rick and I talked quietly.  My eldest briefly filled me in on the trip he and his brother had just returned from, assuring me that A.J. had relaxed as much as possible, and that he had even managed to take a few afternoon naps to make up for the sleep he was losing at night.


     I then inquired of Rick as to how he was holding up, not that I expected him to say anything more than "fine," which he did.  I gave him a smile that told him I knew better.  He, in turn, inquired of me as to how I was doing.  I let him know that I was worried, of course, but trying to remain optimistic, and that I had sought out the ear of my old friend Edie Krelman just as Rick had encouraged me to do before leaving to go camping.


     I didn't feel at this time it was necessary to let a lot of people in on what was happening.  A.J. had specifically asked that I not tell any other family members until we knew more.  So, when I felt the need to talk to someone about my fears, Edie, my friend of over fifty years, fit the bill perfectly.  She was there for me several years ago when I was sexually assaulted, just like I was there for her last summer when she and Bud tragically lost a four-year old grandson to an accidental drowning.  Edie couldn't offer much more than a sympathetic ear on Saturday when we met for lunch and I poured out my worries and concerns over A.J.'s health.  But having someone else to talk to, another mother, did help somewhat.  I didn't feel so alone and burdened after talking to Edie.


     Rick gave me a hug while the two of us were still alone in the kitchen, telling me he was glad I'd sought out Edie, then thanking me again for dog-sitting.  By eight o'clock both my sons were gone, anxious to get back to their own homes and sleep on something other than the ground, as A.J. said.


     The three of us relaxed as much a possible on Tuesday, trying to keep our minds off of what we were facing the next day.


     Rick and A.J. went into the office on Tuesday morning.  Rick convinced A.J. to call it a day at noon, however.  According to Rick, A.J. didn't protest that suggestion.  We were all to meet at A.J.'s house for an early dinner that evening as he wasn't supposed to eat anything after seven p.m. and was allowed no liquids after midnight.  I had volunteered to do the cooking so arrived at my youngest's around three-thirty that afternoon.  A.J. was lying on the couch with the stereo headphones on, deeply asleep.  Quietly, I puttered around the kitchen, getting together a simple meal.  It was almost five before A.J. woke up.   He seemed in good spirits, joking and teasing with me while he set the table.


     Not too long after that Rick arrived with a gallon of chocolate ice cream, his brother's favorite, along with a rented movie for after dinner.  Rick seemed to know just what the doctor ordered as he had picked out an excellent comedy none of us had seen before.  For a few hours we were able to laugh and forget, somewhat, the upcoming day.


     I left A.J.'s at nine-thirty that evening.  We had to be at the hospital early the next morning, and I knew if the news the doctor brought us wasn't good it would be a long day.


     I tried to unobtrusively hold onto my youngest son for an extra minute as I hugged him goodbye.  My desire to not want to release him was plainly evident for A.J. wrapped his arms tightly around me, giving me a gentle squeeze while chuckling, "Mom, I can't take you in the operating room with me tomorrow.  You're going to have to let go of me before then."


     I almost sobbed, "But I don't want to let you go!" but managed not to.  Instead, I laughed a bit at his teasing, released him, and said good night to both my sons.


     I found out later Rick stayed another half hour and even tried to talk A.J. into letting him crash on the sofa under the pretense that he was too tired to drive home.


     A.J. simply told his brother in a light tone of voice, "Get out of my house and go crash on your own sofa.  You're nuts if you think I'm going to let Rick Simon mold his form into my new couch.  That's why I got rid of the old one."


     Rick took that to mean his brother wanted to be alone that night so he respected A.J.'s wishes and was home in his own bed by ten-thirty.


     I don't know how much sleep my sons got that night.  When I inquired of them the next morning I was told, "Enough," by A.J., and "Don't worry about me, Mom," by Rick.  I know I tossed and turned until one a.m. before finally getting up and taking two Tylenol P.M.  They didn't quite have the effect the T.V. commercials proclaim, but at least I was able to doze off sometime shortly after two and slept fairly soundly until five.


     I awoke, facing the new day with as much optimism as possible.  Before I began my morning routine I said a little prayer for A.J., then asked God to give all of us the strength we'd need to deal with whatever news the doctors brought us.  The sun broke through the heavy layer of clouds that had blanketed the early morning sky just as I finished my prayer.  For some reason I took that to be a good omen, then chastised myself for being so silly.  Still, the bright sunrise and the sound of the birds singing right outside my window did give me hope that things were going to turn out all right.  I prayed again that they would before heading to the shower.



Chapter 6


A Big Brother’s Relief



     That Wednesday was the longest day of my life, and I've had some pretty long days a time or two, let me tell you.   All that waitin' around just ain't for me.  I know I drove Mom crazy with my pacin', especially since I started that in as soon as A.J. was admitted and taken behind closed doors with several hours to go yet before the actual biopsy.


     A half hour into my pacing, Mom ordered, "Rick, sit down."


     I nodded my head at her instruction, sitting next to her on the waiting room couch.  I just couldn't sit still though, and alternated between nervously bouncing my legs and tapping my fingers on the sofa's wooden arm.  After a half hour of this, Mom ordered dryly, "Rick, pace."


     I couldn't help but smile at her as I tried, unsuccessfully, to relax completely and keep my body still.  Trouble was, my mind wasn't still and my body seemed to feel the need to keep up with my jumbled thoughts.  Finally, with Mom's blessing, I resumed my pacing in earnest once again.  For a moment I was tempted to go in search of a cigarette machine, but then the thought of A.J. caused me to squelch that desire.  I had finally given up smoking completely four years earlier, much to the happiness of my mother and brother.  Although A.J. had kept his nagging to a minimum, he’d been after me for years to quit.  I had managed to once for a year or so, but had started again when my friend Ray Maynard was killed.  I had never realized how much my smoking had concerned A.J. until our camping trip, when out of the blue he said on Sunday evening, "I'm so glad you quit smoking, Rick."  Now I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but in light of recent events I knew what he meant and what had prompted him to say it.  Just thinking of that, the way his voice had sounded when he said that to me, the expression on his face, made me turn and head for the soda machine instead.


     Three hours later Mom and I saw the doctor heading toward us.  By the look on the man's face I had a feeling the news he was bringing us was good.


     And it was.  Although we'd have to wait a few days for the official lab report, he was positive things were fine.  He gave us a long name for what he removed from A.J.'s right lung, then smiled while telling us, "It's basically a harmless cyst.  But we'll still do a biopsy as we always like to be completely sure."


     The doctor then told me I could see A.J. for a few minutes.  Without A.J.'s knowledge I had previously requested of the man, and Mom had agreed, that I would be the one who told A.J. the news if it was bad.  Now I looked at Mom to see if she minded if I was the first to share the good news with him.  She nodded and smiled broadly.


     "You go ahead and see your brother, honey.  Tell him the good news.  I'll wait for you here, then you and I can get a bite of lunch."


     I followed the doctor to a curtained cubicle in the recovery room.  I parted the drapery and walked to A.J.’s bedside.  He was layin’ there with his eyes closed, the head of the bed raised to a forty degree angle.  He was pretty pale. That would have concerned me had the doctor not told me that A.J. was suffering royally from one of the occasional side effects of local anesthesia, nausea. 


     I touched his bare forearm, calling softly, "A.J.?"


     Two bleary blue eyes, heavy with the aftermath of a painkiller, opened slowly, managing to focus on my face after a few seconds.


     "Is it over?"  He mumbled.


     I reached down and squeezed his hand.  "Yeah, A.J., it's over.”


     He must have been with it enough to notice the big smile I couldn't contain because the next thing he said to me was a slurred, "Judging by that shit ass grin you're wearing I'd guess things are okay." 


     "Yeah, little brother, things are okay," I confirmed.  "Better than okay actually.  Things are great."


     "Glad to hear it," he smiled, as his eyes slid shut and he gave my hand a squeeze.


     I returned the pressure, then stood over him another minute until I was sure he was sleeping.  I gently disentangled my hand from his, slipped his arm under the covers, then quietly left the room to join Mom for lunch. 

     For the first time in six days I was hungry.  In fact, I was starving.  There was no hospital cafeteria food that day for Mom and me.  I treated her to a celebration luncheon at a fancy restaurant down the street.  As I told her, it was just what the doctor ordered for A.J.'s mother and older brother.



Chapter 7





     As quickly as trauma enters our lives and turns them upside down, it leaves us.  It's hard for me to believe that only five days ago I was facing on of the most frightening times in my life, and now I'm back to work and it's business as usual.


     I was released from the hospital late that Wednesday afternoon.  Making it from Mom's car to my kitchen door was a big effort because of the side effects of the anesthesia.  Rick practically had to carry me up the stairs and put me to bed.  I don't remember too much about that evening as I slept fairly soundly from five p.m. until four the next morning.  I know Mom stayed until early evening.  I remember once waking up and hearing muted sounds coming from the kitchen that indicated to me she and Rick were eating dinner.  My stomach immediately warned me against even considering joining them. 


     Rick spent the night in the guest room, waking up when he heard me down in the kitchen shortly after four.


     "Hey, what are you doin' up?"  My rumpled brother asked as he entered the kitchen in nothing but his khaki boxer shorts, eyes squinting as the bright light assaulted them.


     "Looking for something to eat," I replied while searching the cabinets for just the right thing to satisfy my suddenly enormous appetite.


     "Are you sure that's a good idea?"  Rick asked skeptically.  I guess I couldn't blame him for that.  After all, he was the one who witnessed me throwing up my first drink of water at the hospital just fourteen hours earlier.


     "I'm fine.  Starving as a matter of fact."


     "Well sit down and I'll make you something then," Rick ordered, guiding me toward a kitchen chair as if I was ninety-five years old. 


     "Rick, you don't have to do that.  Go back to bed.  I'm fine.  I don't need--"


     Rick raised a warning finger.  "A.J., just sit there and shut your trap.  I don't want you down here alone yet.  You haven't even been home from the hospital twelve hours.  With your luck you'll get dizzy, pass out, hit your head against the sink, and start the house on fire in the process."


     "That sounds rather drastic," I quipped from my chair.


     "Maybe so, but after this past week I know it's not somethin' I want to wake up to.  My nerves couldn't take it."


     "And here I thought you had nerves of steel.  Don't tell me it's all just an act." 


     Rick glanced at me from where he was scrambling eggs in a bowl. 


     "Sometimes it is, A.J.  Sometimes it is."


     I smiled slightly and nodded my head, knowing exactly what Rick meant, exactly how difficult it must of have been for him.  Exactly how far we'll each go to help one another through a hard time.


     My brother and I shared a very early morning breakfast, then we both went back to bed.  Neither one of us stirred again until Mom arrived later that morning, shortly after ten.


     On Friday I got a phone call telling me that the spot from my lung had indeed been a harmless cyst.  I spent the rest of that day and the weekend relaxing, allowing myself to be waited on hand and foot by my mother and brother long after if was necessary.


     I came into work this morning, very happy to be back to a normal routine.  As a matter of fact it's so normal around here that right now Rick is busy concentrating on throwing wads of paper balls into the garbage can he has centered in the middle of the office floor.  He's trying to break his past record of sixty-three baskets in a row.  He's up to forty-five now. . ooops, he missed. 

     Rick just threw me a glance as if to ask my permission to start his little game over again.  I don't say anything, so I guess he takes that to mean yes, as once again paper wads are sailing through the air.  After everything he's done for me these past two weeks I can hardly deny him this one simple pleasure.  Heck, if he wants to play wastepaper basketball all day, I just might let him. . .that is if nothing else comes up in the way of business.


     Sometimes it doesn't take much to make you realize how lucky you are.  I do a job I love and am moderately successful at, I've got my health, and most importantly a close knit family who love me very much. . .and a brother whose ability to be entertained playing wastepaper basketball never ceases to amaze me.

     Ooops, missed again.  He's starting over now as he assures me, "I know I can do it today, A.J.  I know I can break my record.  I'm really feeling lucky."


I just smile while shaking my head fondly at my 'older' brother and think, Yeah, Rick, I'm really feeling lucky, too, right about now.  Very lucky.  Together, the Simon brothers have managed once again to score another lucky break. 





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