Chapter Twelve



     Several more times during the remaining days of January, and on into February, A.J. would cry in his sleep. It reached the point that Rick didn't wake Cecilia anymore, but just reported to her in the morning that, "A.J. was crying in his sleep again, Mom."


     During those weeks when Rick would report that his brother was crying in his sleep, Cecilia observed no changes in A.J. He continued to bounce off to school every morning, continued to bring home good grades, and continued to enjoy his after school sports program, as well as his friends. Cecilia talked once again to Doctor Barton, who in turn consulted the pediatrician whom he had first contacted concerning A.J. shortly after Jack's death.


     The pediatrician confirmed what Cecilia had assumed. That A.J.'s crying in his sleep was the work of his subconscious mind helping him to heal. The doctor told Bob that A.J. might be remembering the events of the accident in a deep level of his mind. Bob advised Cecilia to continue to do what she already was doing - watch her youngest son for any signs of personality change, or changes in his grades, or interaction with her, Rick, or his friends. If none of these things seemed affected by the dreams, Bob's advice was to leave well enough alone, and again to assure Cecilia that maybe A.J. was finally letting out some of his pain and sorrow in the only way he could allow.


     After her conversation with Doctor Barton, Cecilia found her thoughts to be similar to Rick's words from weeks earlier.


Why does it have to be so complicated? Why don’t I, as A.J.'s mother, have any answers? Why is life so unfair at times? Why does A.J. have to hurt so much?


Of course, Cecilia had no answers to these questions, and had to follow the advice she had given Rick.


All we can do is take each day as it comes, and handle the hard times the best way we know how.


Thinking these words over, Cecilia could understand why Rick was so frustrated. It might all be advice, but it wasn't advice that produced concrete results.


     Sighing softly, Cecilia chased away her thoughts. She returned her attention to her household tasks, and once again tried to take each day as it came.



Chapter Thirteen



     As February rolled into March that year of 1960, spring was coming rapidly to southern California. As spring came, A.J.'s dreams that caused the night-time crying seemed to cease. Once again, Cecilia and her boys settled into a routine of several pleasant, uneventful weeks.


     With spring, as well, came A.J.’s renewed enthusiasm for baseball. Baseball was to start up again in intramurals on April first, and for several weeks in early March that was all A.J. could talk about. He shocked his mother one day as she was sorting laundry in the basement when he appeared at her elbow and asked, "Mom, do you still have that new mitt I got for Christmas?"


     Cecilia glanced at A.J., then and answered casually, "Yes, I do, A.J. It's in my bedroom closet."


The boy scuffed his tennis shoes against the concrete floor.  "I...I've been thinking that maybe I'd like to use it for Little League this summer...and that maybe I should start breaking it in now. It's not that long until June, you know."


Cecilia did a good job at hiding how happy A.J.’s words made her.


"You're right, June isn't too far away. It’ll be here before we know it." Cecilia resumed sorting dirty clothes into their appropriate laundry baskets. "Why don't you run upstairs to my room and get the mitt so you can start breaking it in right now. It's on the floor by my shoes. You'll see it when you open the door."


"Thanks, Mom!” A.J. smiled as he ran up the stairs. “I'll be outside with Jeff and Danny playing ball."


     Cecilia couldn't help but smile, too, as her son disappeared from view. She was thankful that they seemed to have overcome another hurdle tied to Jack's death. She couldn't wait to tell Rick the news. He had been upset ever since Christmas that A.J. had made no further mention of the new baseball mitt, and had seemed to have forgotten all about it. She had no doubt that Rick would be just as thrilled over this new milestone as she was.


     It was obvious that thoughts other than those about baseball were on A.J.'s mind early in March, as well. Several times he had approached his mother and said, "Mom, I forgot Saturday, didn't I?"


     The first time A.J. had asked that question, it caught Cecilia off-guard. "What do you mean, A.J.? What did you forget on Saturday?" Cecilia thought her son was referring to the Saturday that had just passed, and not the Saturday of Jack’s death back in early August.


     “A.J.?” Cecilia had turned from the kitchen sink and prompted when her son didn’t answer her.


     A.J. concentrated on the math textbook that lay in front of him on the kitchen table. "The Saturday...the Saturday of the...accident."


     Cecilia studied A.J.'s bowed head for a moment, before replying honestly.  "Yes, A.J., you forgot Saturday. You had a bad bump on your head. Do you remember Doctor Bob and I telling you that sometimes a bump on the head can cause a person to forget the events of a day, like you did?"


     A.J. nodded, and then returned his attention to his homework. Cecilia didn't comment further on the subject, but several times during the following days A.J. would question her about, "forgetting Saturday." He never seemed to want any information about that day, and once when his mother gently inquired of him whether he was recalling anything from that specific Saturday, A.J. shook his head no, and walked away from her.


     Cecilia wasn't sure what to make of it. A.J. hadn't questioned her like this since the day of Jack's funeral, when he had finally gotten his days of the week straightened out. She wondered if the dreams he’d been having that winter prompted these questions somehow, or was A.J. simply looking for some answers in a subtle way? Cecilia had no idea, but recalled Bob Barton's words from months ago to follow A.J.'s lead, and her own realization at Christmas time that A.J.'s healing process might be a lengthy one.


     Cecilia should have realized then, that things were going too well. Her household was never quiet and uneventful for long.


     One rainy Friday evening late in March, Cecilia was in the kitchen making dinner when she heard a commotion erupt in the living room.  Cecilia yelled from where she stood at the stove, "Boys, I've told you before, no rough-housing in the living room! If you want to wrestle, go down to the basement, please! That's why your dad put that square of carpeting down there in the first place."


     The noise didn't stop after Cecilia's directive, but rather, seemed to be escalating. Cecilia turned the burner off on the stove and walked toward her formal living room/dining room.


     “Boys, I just said that if you want to--”


"Don't say that to me! Don't you ever say that to me again! You're a liar, Rick. You're a liar!"


     Cecilia entered the room to find Rick on the floor. A chair from the dining room set was tipped over, and the coffee table and ottoman were askew. A.J. sat on top of his brother's chest, swinging his fists at Rick's face and shoulders. Rick had a red welt on his left cheek, and the corner of his mouth was bleeding.


     Cecilia immediately discerned that Rick wasn't attempting to defend himself. Nor was he attempting to get A.J. off of him.  Whether that was because he was afraid he’d hurt his brother if he defended himself, or was simply too stunned to defend himself, Cecilia wasn’t certain.


     “Liar!  You’re a liar, Rick! You’re a stupid liar!”


Cecilia ran to her sons, grabbed A.J.'s arms, and pulled him off of Rick. 


"A.J., stop it!  That's enough!" As A.J. continued to struggle with Cecilia she got him to a standing position and gave his right arm a firm shake. “Andrew, I said that's enough! I mean it! Stop it right now!"


     A.J. twisted, breaking the hold Cecilia had on his arm. He took four few steps backwards. His hair was tousled from fighting, and his face red with anger. "Rick says I was playing baseball! He says Daddy took me to my baseball game the day of the accident and--"


     "A.J.--" Cecilia interrupted gently, but before she could say anymore, her youngest continued shouting in a voice filled with despair.


"I wasn't playing baseball! I wasn't. Daddy and I weren't together because of my game! We weren't! Rick's a liar! He’s a stupid liar!"


     A.J. turned and started running for his room before Cecilia could stop him. He got halfway up the stairs when he turned around.


"You blame me, don't you? You both blame me! Everybody does! I don't care. It's my fault. It's all my fault! I hate...I hate myself for what I did to Daddy!  I hate myself!"


With that, A.J. pounded up the stairs. Cecilia heard his bedroom door slam when he reached his final destination.


     Cecilia and Rick were frozen in their respective spots for a moment. Cecilia turned at the sound of Rick pushing himself off the floor. She reached down and put her hand around his upper arm while helping him to a standing position.


"I...I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry. I didn't mean-—”


     Cecilia didn't let Rick finish. She knew whatever had just transpired here, was not his doing.


"It's all right, Rick. I'm sure it wasn't your fault. Just tell me what happened, please.


     Rick nodded as he wiped at the blood on the corner of his mouth. "A.J. and I were sitting at the table playing Scrabble. He was talking about Little League this summer, and his after-school baseball team. Then outta the blue he asked me if he and Dad had been to his Little League game the day of the accident."


     Rick stopped there, and at his mother's slight smile of encouragement, he swallowed hard and continued. "A.J. seemed okay with all of it, Mom. He really did. He didn't seem upset or anything, so I told him yeah, that he and Dad had been at his ball game and had spent the whole day together. A.J. just lost it then. He threw himself on me and we fell to the floor. He started hitting me, and kickin’ me, and calling me a liar."


     “I see,” Cecilia nodded.    


"I'm sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to upset A.J. like that. I thought I was doin’ the right thing. I thought over all the things Doctor Bob talked to us about before I answered A.J., I really did." Rick's eyes were full of doubt as he looked at his mother. "I guess I said the wrong thing. I really blew it, didn't I?"


     Pulling Rick into her arms, Cecilia said softly, "Don't do this to yourself, Rick. Don't blame yourself. You did what you thought was best. You were only trying to help your brother; you weren't trying to hurt him. I understand that, sweetheart, believe me. I understand that."

     Rick spoke from where his head rested against his mother's shoulder. "He's just so upset, Mom. I didn't mean--"


     Cecilia stepped away from Rick so they were standing face to face. "Rick, you know as well as I do, that A.J.'s been asking a lot of questions again about the accident in recent weeks. And remember, too, he was having those dreams about Dad in January and February. Something's going on. A.J.'s obviously been thinking a lot about the accident recently. He asked you a question, and you told him the truth. I would have done the same thing. You didn't blow anything. I think A.J. is looking for some answers as to what happened that day. Just because he doesn't like what he hears, doesn't mean you're at fault." Patting his arm, Cecilia gave Rick a soft smile. "Don't worry about it. Let me do some worrying for a change."


     “Okay, Mom, if you say so. I'd better go up and check on A.J., though. He was awful mad."


     “No, not right now. Let me talk to A.J. first. Besides, I want you to go to the bathroom and clean that cut on your lip. Do you need my help before I go upstairs?"


     "No, I can handle it. It's already stopped bleeding."


     "Okay, then. Get it cleaned up. Do you want some ice for your face? You've got a good size bruise there."


     "Nah. I'm all right, Mom. I've been hurt worse than this lots of times."


     Cecilia nodded at the truth in that statement. Both her sons were ‘all boy’ when it came to their rough and tumble ways.


"When you're done cleaning up, could you do me a favor? I was browning hamburger for Sloppy Joes. Can you finish that up for me, please? Once that's done, drain the grease, then add the onions and barbecue sauce I've got sitting on the counter. Stir everything up, put the lid on the pan, and let it simmer."


     "Yeah, Mom, I can do that."


     "Good. Thank you, sweetheart." Cecilia headed for the stairway. When she turned back to look at her oldest son, she could tell that, despite her words, he was still blaming himself for A.J.'s anger and upset. Feeling the need to help Rick get past that mood, and at the same time to break the tense atmosphere that had fallen over her household, Cecilia teased, "And, Rick, no chili sauce, jalapenos, or Tabasco sauce, in the Sloppy Joes. Your brother will really be mad if he has to come down to that for supper."


     That got a smile out of Rick. "Okay, okay, just onions and barbecue sauce, I promise." Teasing his mother right back, Rick advised, "Watch out for A.J.'s right hook, Mom. It's a good one."


     "I can see that, dear,” Cecilia said dryly. “Go clean up now. I'll be upstairs with your brother for a while."


     While Rick headed for the half bathroom off the kitchen, Cecilia climbed the stairs to her home’s second story.





     Cecilia knocks on her sons' closed bedroom door. "A.J., may I come in, please?"


     After a long moment passed with no sound coming from within, Cecilia knocked again. "A.J., I know we don't normally enter a room with a closed door without permission in this house, but this time, if you don't tell me I can come in, I'm going to anyway. I'd like your permission to come in, but I am coming in one way or another."


     A moment later, Cecilia heard an angry, "You can come in, I guess. You're gonna anyway."


     Cecilia entered the room to find A.J. sitting on the floor and leaning back against his bed, with his knees drawn up to his chest. He ignored his mother as he stared at the wall in front of him. As Cecilia walked on in the room, all she could think was, This sullen, angry little boy isn't my A.J.  How do I deal with this ten-year-old stranger?


     Cecilia approached A.J. and sat down on the floor next to him. The youngster still made no attempt to acknowledge his mother. Cecilia wasn't sure where to start, but decided to ease carefully into the subject of what had just occurred downstairs.


"A.J., you know as well as I do, that we have a rule in this house concerning hitting. I've never allowed you boys to hit one another, and I'm not going to allow it now. I realize you were angry with your brother a little while ago, but that doesn't give you an excuse to hit Rick and bloody his lip. That's not acceptable behavior in my house."


A.J. turned to look at his mother. "Rick said Daddy took me to my baseball game that day. He's a liar."


     "Do you really believe that?" When her son didn't answer her, Cecilia asked, "Has Rick ever lied to you before about something that's important to you? Has he ever tried to hurt you by lying to you?"


     "No, I guess not, but he--"


     "A.J.," Cecilia interrupted, "you asked Rick a question. Did you want him to lie to you when he gave you the answer to that question?"


     "No, but Rick said I was at my baseball game with Daddy, and I wasn't. I wasn't! He is a liar!"


      "You know, A.J., just because we don't like what someone tells us, doesn't necessarily mean what was said was a lie.”


A.J. scowled and turned to face the wall again.    


     When Cecilia couldn't stand the silence and pain that filled the room any longer, she cupped her hand under A.J.'s chin and said, "Please look at me, son." Getting no response, she turned A.J.'s head toward her, "A.J., please, I want you to look at me."


     A.J. finally did as his mother requested. She knew if she could see his eyes, then she’d know what he was feeling. And, for a moment, what she saw in those blue eyes broke her heart. Cecilia saw pain, suffering, guilt, and incredible hurt. She wondered how one ten-year-old could carry so much sorrow around inside himself.


     "A.J., no one, absolutely no one, blames you for the accident. Not me, not Rick, not Grandma or Grandpa, not Uncle Will, not anybody. That's just ridiculous. Nothing that happened that day was your fault. Daddy wanted nothing more than to see you pitch. You have absolutely no reason to blame yourself--"


     “I don't wanna talk about it any more. I'm not going to listen any more, so don't talk about it."


     "I’m sorry, but I can't let it drop here. There are things we need to talk about yet. I can't leave you alone in this room, when not fifteen minutes ago, you told me that you hate yourself."


     "I didn't mean that. I was just mad."


     Cecilia didn't know what to think. Were those words just said in anger, or had A.J. really meant them?


     Cecilia sat silently with her sullen son for a few minutes, then finally decided to let the subject drop for the time being.


Hopefully, in a day or two, when some of the hurt and anger has dissipated, I'll be able to make some progress with him.


     "This conversation isn't over, A.J. I'll let it drop for now, but in a day or two, you and I are going to sit down and talk about what just happened."


     Cecilia sighed when she once again received no response.


"A.J., I want you to know something that I don't think you realize. When you hurt like this, I hurt, too. So does Rick. You're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting all of us. I don't think the A.J. Simon I know wants to hurt his family like that."


     Cecilia got to her feet. "I want you to think about what I've just said. I also want you to think about how much I love you, and how much Rick loves you. You’re very precious to your brother and me. Don't ever forget that. We're here to help you. We always will be."


     A.J. didn’t turn around as his mother exited the room.


     To her son’s back, the woman said, “I’m going down stairs to finish getting supper ready,” right before she walked into the hall.





     Thirty minutes after Cecilia had left her youngest son upstairs, supper was ready. It had taken all of Cecilia's parental skills to keep Rick out the boys' bedroom and away from A.J. As he finished setting the table for her, Cecilia told him, "Go on up and get your brother, Rick. Supper's ready."


     As Rick bounded toward the doorway, Cecilia called him back.


"Don't push him, Rick. I don't know if he'll talk to you. He was pretty withdrawn when I was up there."




The pain she saw in Rick’s eyes caused Cecilia to give him a smile. "Don't worry, he'll come around. It'll be all right. Run upstairs now so we can eat while supper's hot."


     Rick nodded, then left the kitchen.


     The teenager entered the room he and his brother shared to find A.J. sitting on his bed holding his baseball glove. A.J. looked up upon hearing someone come through the door, then looked away again. Rick hesitated a moment before approaching his sibling.


"Hi...hi, kid."




     ", supper's ready."




     Rick stood by A.J.'s bed, waiting for his brother to say something more. When he didn't, Rick sighed with frustration and turned to leave the room. He stopped in mid-stride when he heard, "Rick."


     Turning, Rick looked into the blue eyes that were gazing at him. "Yeah, A.J.?"


     A.J. dropped his gaze back to his baseball glove. “Rick, I'm sorry about hitting you before."


     "Forget it. It's no big deal."


     Looking up at Rick, A.J. took in his brother's cut lip and bruised cheek. "No, I shouldn't have hit you. I hurt you." I...I didn't mean to hurt you, Rick."


     Rick sat on the bed and reached up to tousle A.J.’s hair.


"Hey, don't worry about it, squirt. I told you it's no big deal. Billy Brummel's hurt me a lot worse." Throwing a grin his brother's way, Rick teased, "Although I gotta admit, in a few more years you'll be able to give ole’ Billy a run for his money."


     Rick's attempt at humor was lost on the younger boy. "I was just mad, that's all."


     "I know. I understand."


     "I told you not to make me feel bad. I told you that a long time ago, and you forgot. That's why I got so mad."


     "A.J., put your mitt down and look at me."


     A.J. didn't immediately comply with Rick’s request, but after he realized Rick wasn’t going to leave the room until he’d had his say, the boy laid the mitt down on the bed and looked up at his  brother.


     "A.J., I didn't forget. I know you told me a long time ago not to make you feel bad. But you gotta understand that you asked me a question today I thought you wanted an honest answer to. I didn't mean to make you feel bad, or to make you mad. But you didn't want me to lie to you, did you?"


     "No, I guess not."

     A.J.’s answer was too vague for Rick to discern what the boy was really feeling. If the teenager had learned anything since his father's death, it was that being an adult wasn't all it was cracked up to be.


     "Sometimes I don't know what you want from me,” Rick admitted, “or what you need from me. And that scares me."


     A.J. didn't reply, and the two boys sat in silence or a few minutes. A.J. finally sighed and looked up at his brother.


"It's just not easy, Rick. It's just not easy."


     Rick opened his arms to his little brother. The boy hesitated just long enough to make Rick certain this offer of comfort would be refused. Just as Rick was about to drop his arms, A.J. leaned into him. He rested his head on Rick's chest, and wrapped his arms around the teenager’s waist.


     Unconsciously rocking the boy he now held to him, Rick said softly, "I know it's not easy, A.J. I know it's not easy. But it'll get better. I promise it'll get better. We just gotta give it more time."


     The brothers were still sitting like that, the older holding the younger, when Cecilia appeared in the doorway intending to tell them supper was getting cold. She stopped short as she surveyed the scene before her, then quietly walked away. Supper could wait. What was going on in this room was far more important than a ruined meal.



Chapter Fourteen



     For many years after that rainy Friday evening, Cecilia Simon would regret that she didn't make A.J. sit and talk with her. She always thought that maybe if she had forced him to talk, or at least to listen to what she had to say, that the nightmares wouldn't have started - the nightmares that would plague her youngest son on and off for the next twenty-four years.


     The house was quiet at one on Saturday morning, like most houses are. The Simon family had been asleep for three hours. That stillness was suddenly broken by screams, and then a young voice shouting, "Daddy! Daddy!"


     Cecilia shot up in bed, disoriented at first by the sounds that had brought her out of a deep sleep and caused her heart to race. As the screams and shouts continued, she realized what was happening. She reached for her robe, scampered out of bed, and struggled into the garment while running to the boys' room.


     Cecilia entered the room to see A.J. sitting up among a tangle of sheets and covers while shouting, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy, no! Daddy!"


     Rick had flicked on the bowling pin lamp that sat on the nightstand, and was standing beside A.J. shaking his shoulder.


"A.J., wake up! Wake up, A.J.! It's okay. Wake up!"


     Cecilia rushed over and sat on the bed. She put her hands on A.J.’s upper arms and squeezed. "A.J., wake up now! Andrew, wake up!"


     That last command by A.J.’s mother, coupled by Rick's persistent pleas, brought A.J. back from his place of terror. He trembled as he sat wide-eyed, gasping for breath.


     Cecilia could tell that A.J. wasn't completely awake. He wasn't looking around the room, or at her or Rick. Instead, he stared straight ahead, and didn’t attempt to orient himself.


Cecilia gave her son’s arms another firm squeeze. "A.J., come on, wake up! You're in your room with Mom and Rick. Everything's all right, son. Wake up!"


     A.J.'s eyes finally focused on his mother. He briefly glanced up at Rick, who still had his hand on the younger boy's shoulder.


"Rick,” Cecilia said, “please get me a damp washcloth and a glass of water."


     Rick hesitated for a moment, the concern he was feeling for A.J. plain to see on his face. Cecilia threw him a small smile that said, ‘It's all right. He'll be okay,’ as she motioned with her head for him to go do as she asked.


     Turning her attention back to her youngest son, Cecilia realized that A.J. was still shaking.


He's so pale.


"Honey, are you all right?"


     When she received no response, Cecilia commanded, ”A.J., come on now, answer me. Are you all right?"


     The boy swallowed hard and finally gave a slight nod.


     Cecilia feared that A.J. was in a state of shock, so she picked up one blankets and threw it over his shoulders. At the same time that Cecilia was doing this, A.J. seemed to shake off the remaining remnants of the nightmare and reached up to grab her arms. His voice was hoarse as he clung to her.




     Cecilia drew A.J. to her chest. She smoothed his sodden hair off his forehead while rocking back and forth.


"Shhh, shhh, it's okay. It's only a dream. It's okay, A.J., I'm right here. Nothing can hurt you."


Cecilia repeated these words until Rick appeared the washcloth and water. Rick sat the glass of water down on the nightstand, then handed his mother the damp washcloth.


“Thank you, Rick,” Cecilia said, as she began to gently bathe A.J.’s face with the cloth.


     Rick sat down behind A.J. and rubbed a hand over his brother's back. No one said anything, but instead allowed A.J. to be quietly comforted by his family’s ministrations.


Cecilia finally eased A.J. away from her so she could look at his face.


"Are you okay now, sweetheart? Are you feeling a little better?"


     A.J. bit his lower lip while dropping his gaze to the bed.




     “Can you tell me what the dream was about?"


     "I...I don't remember."


     "Was it about Daddy? Were you dreaming about Daddy, A.J.?"


When no reply was forthcoming, Cecilia plunged ahead. "Were you dreaming about the accident, son?"


     Cecilia knew her question had been on target. Although she still received no verbal reply from A.J., the youngster was chewing his lower lip while frantically shaking his head no. His breathing sped up, as well, and she felt his body stiffen under her hands. As she glanced at Rick, Cecilia could tell that he had reached the same conclusion she had. That conclusion being, that A.J. remembered the dream, and that it was, in fact, about the accident.


     The woman smoothed her son’s tangled hair into place.


     "A.J., why don't you and I go down and raid the refrigerator? Rick didn't eat all the roast beef we had on Thursday night. I bet you and I can get ourselves some sandwiches out of what's left. Plus, there's plenty of chocolate ice cream in the freezer."


     Cecilia Simon was not prone to eating roast beef

sandwiches and ice cream at one-thirty in the morning, but she was hoping her offer would be accepted. She thought that if she could get A.J. downstairs and relaxed, she could get him to open up and tell her about the nightmare.


     "Well, how about it?" she asked.


     "No. No...I'm not hungry."


     "Could we just talk then? Just you and I?"


     "I'm...I’m pretty tired, Mom."


     Meeting Rick's gaze over the top of A.J.'s head, Cecilia shook her head in frustration as her oldest shrugged his shoulders.


     Cecilia sighed as she gave in. "All right then, let's get these blankets in some kind of order and get you settled back in bed. Does that sound good?"


     A.J. nodded as his mother and brother straightened out blankets and pillows. When they were through, the boy lay back down on his bed and closed his eyes as if to shut his family out.


     Not knowing what else to do, Cecilia told Rick to get back into bed and try to get some more sleep. Rick reluctantly left his little brother's side.


"If you need me, A.J., just call."


     A.J. opened his eyes and glanced up at Rick, then gave another nod of his head in reply. Rick climbed in his own bed while Cecilia continued to sit beside A.J. She smiled down at him and said, "I'll stay here with you until you fall asleep again.”


     "You don't have to. You can go back to bed."


     Cecilia gave A.J. a gentle poke in the chest. "Well, maybe I want to. And I'm the boss in this house, right?"


     That got a tiny smile out of A.J. as once again he nodded his head.


     Cecilia reached up and shut the lamp off, then sat beside her youngest son for another half hour. As each minute passed, it grew more apparent that A.J. wasn’t relaxing and drifting toward sleep. Cecilia wasn't sure if he was too keyed up to sleep, or if he was afraid to go to sleep again for fear the dream would return. She tried to get him to accept an offer of hot chocolate, but that was refused, just like her earlier offers of food had been.


     Finally, after forty minutes of sitting with A.J. to no avail, Cecilia decided that maybe he needed her to leave in order for him to relax. A year ago, she would have had no doubt that he wanted her with him until he fell asleep again after a bad dream. Now, she wasn't sure. So many times since Jack's death, Cecilia had found herself not knowing what A.J. needed from her. This was just one more of those times.


     Cecilia leaned down and kissed the boy’s forehead. "I'm going back to bed now, A.J., unless you want me to stay."


     "You don't have to stay. Rick's here."


     Yes, he is. But if you need me, no matter what time it is, you come get me. All right?"


     "All right."


     Cecilia stood and walked the short distance between the boys’ beds. She bent to give Rick a kiss, as well. Quietly, she said, "If you need me, Rick, come get me."


     Rick nodded his understanding of his mother's words. He watched as she exited the room and closed the door. By focusing on the crack beneath the door, Rick could tell when the hall light was extinguished. A few seconds later he heard his mother’s bedroom door close, as well.


     The teenager turned on his left side so he was facing A.J.  If the boy was still awake, he gave his older brother no indication of that fact. Rick remained vigilant another twenty minutes, then drifted back to sleep.






     The house was quiet for the next several hours. The stillness was interrupted shortly after four when Rick rushed into his mother's room.


"Mom! Mom!"


     Cecilia hadn’t slept good since returning to bed. Rick’s voice brought her off the mattress without hesitation. "What is it, Rick?"


     "A.J.'s sick."


     Cecilia grabbed her robe for the second time that night and shouldered into it. "What's wrong with him?"


     "I'm pretty sure he was just in the bathroom throwing up. He says he wasn't, but I can tell he's lying." Rick fell in step beside his mother as they headed toward the boys' room.  "I think he's got a bad headache. I don't think he ever fell asleep after you left, and he looks real pale like he does when he gets one of those migraines."


     Cecilia nodded at Rick's words. A.J. had started getting migraine headaches when he was six. Ever since they had begun, she could usually count on A.J. having two or three a year. That was one thing A.J. had inherited from his father, that both Cecilia and Jack had wished he hadn't. Jack, as well, had been plagued by migraines going back as far as age eight.


     A.J. hadn't had a migraine headache since before Jack's death. After the upset of the day, and now the nightmare and lack of sleep, this latest event didn't come as a surprise to Cecilia. She mentally berated herself for not thinking to get some aspirin into A.J. when he had awakened after the dream.


     Cecilia and Rick entered the room to find A.J. curled up on his bed moaning softly, "Daddy. Daddy." He was as pale as the case covering his pillow, and his eyes were squeezed shut in an effort to ward off the pain.


     "A.J.," she inquired softly, while laying a hand on the side of A.J.’s face.  His skin was clammy and warm to the touch.


     "Daddy. Daddy."


     "A.J., it's Mom. Open your eyes, honey. I need to talk to you for a minute."


     "I want Daddy. Get Daddy for me," came the whispered reply that tore Cecilia apart. She knew A.J. was in so much pain that he didn't realize what he was saying, or for whom he was asking.


     In the past, whenever A.J. had suffered from a migraine, it was Jack who had comforted him. It was Jack who had stayed with him until the worst of the pain had passed. Jack had hated the fact that A.J. suffered from the same severe headaches as he did, and on more than one occasion he had told Cecilia, "I'll take care of Andy, Cece. I'll stay with him. I know exactly what he's going through. Nobody can understand how bad the pain is unless they've suffered from one of these god-awful things."


Therefore, it was Jack who had always sat with A.J. through a migraine bout. Now the one person A.J. wanted, was the one person Cecilia couldn't give him.


     Cecilia brushed A.J.'s sweat-matted hair off his forehead. "A.J., I can't get Daddy for you. I'm sorry. But I'll stay with you, and we'll get through this together."


     Turning to Rick, Cecilia requested, "Go to the medicine cabinet in my bathroom. You’ll find a bottle of pills on the bottom shelf with A.J.’s name on it. Bring me one along with a glass of water, please. You can fill a deep bowl with cold water and add some ice cubes, too, just like Dad always did. Then grab a couple of washcloths and a hand towel.  Take all of that to my bedroom."


     "Sure, Mom. I know the routine," Rick acknowledged. He gently squeezed A.J.'s shoulder, and then hurried from the room.


     Whenever Jack had suffered from a headache this severe, he would always lay in a quiet room with a cold cloth on his forehead. He had told Cecilia that was about the only thing that seemed to help until the pain medication kicked in. Therefore, that was the remedy Jack always used on A.J.’s headaches, too.


     Cecilia sat with her youngest, lightly massaging his temples until Rick reappeared with a pill in one hand and a glass of water in the other.  She coaxed A.J. into lifting his head enough to swallow the pill.  Rick was at her elbow, ready to take the glass from her and set it on the nightstand. 


"The other stuff's in your room, Mom. Do you want me to carry A.J. in to your bed?"


     Cecilia eased out from under her youngest son. "Yes, please, Rick."


     Rick moved to gather his brother in his arms, blankets and all. A.J.’s eyes were still squeezed shut as he began to struggle against Rick while moaning, "No, no, leave me alone. I want Daddy. I want Daddy! Leave me alone."


     Cecilia didn't think she had ever seen Rick look so frightened and unsure of himself as A.J. tried to twist away from him. He paused in the act of picking his brother up. 


"It's all right, sweetheart,” Cecilia reassured. “A.J.'s head hurts so badly that he doesn't know what he's saying. Remember how Dad always told us that we couldn't understand how severe the pain is?"

     "I know. It's just that I've never seen A.J. act like this before when he's had one of these things." The pain in Rick’s eyes was impossible for his mother to miss. "It's my fault, isn't it? It's because I told him about the baseball game."


     "Rick, no, it's not your fault. This is not your fault," came Cecilia’s firm words. “Honey, I've got to help A.J. right now, but you and I will talk more about this later. You've got to understand that this is not your fault."


     Not for the first time since Jack's death, Cecilia thought, I've got two children who need me right now, and only time enough to give to one of these children. How will I ever be both mother and father to my boys? How do you decide whose needs come first? I could really use your help right now, Jack Simon.


     Focusing her attention back on Rick, Cecilia knew the best thing she could do for him right now was offer him a way to help A.J.


"Can you pick A.J. up even if he starts struggling again, or will he be too much for you to handle?"

     "No, I can do it," Rick assured while bending to pick up A.J. once more. Rick proved himself right. Though A.J. continued to struggle against him, Rick was able to carry his brother into Cecilia's room, where he gently deposited the boy on the queen-size bed.


     Cecilia sat beside A.J. with her back propped up against the bed's headboard on a pillow. She put another pillow against her left side, and with Rick’s help, maneuvered A.J. so his head was resting on it. Rick had put the items Cecilia had requested earlier on the nightstand. Cecilia reached over and picked up a cold washcloth from the bowl, twisted it tightly to get the excess water out, and laid it on A.J.'s forehead.


     Rick sat on the end of his mother’s bed while Cecilia brought A.J. what relief she could.  When the washcloth she was using began to grow warm, she’d return it to ice water and remove the cold cloth that was waiting to be used.


     After thirty minutes of this routine, Cecilia could tell A.J. was feeling better. He would occasionally open his eyes, and he was no longer calling for his father. He seemed to be oriented as to where he was, and was giving coherent answers to any questions Cecilia asked of him.


     Cecilia turned and looked at Rick. She could tell the night had taken a lot out of him, and that he was in need of several hours of sleep yet.


     "Why don't you go back to bed, Rick. A.J.'s feeling a little better. I can handle things from here on out."


     "I can stay. I'm not that tired."


     Glancing at the alarm clock, Cecilia saw it was now five-thirty. She knew Rick hadn’t gotten much sleep since they had first been awake with A.J. at one a.m.


"Go on, Rick, please. See if you can't get a few more hours of sleep."


“But what if you need me?”


“If I need you, I’ll come get you.”




“Go on now. You know how these headaches lay A.J. up for most of the day. By later this afternoon he'll be feeling just good enough to want you to read to him, or play a game with him. I'll be counting on your help then, so I can sleep for a while."


     Looking into his mother's tired face, Rick knew she was right. She would be counting on him to be with A.J. later in the day so she could rest.


     Rick stood up from the bed.  He leaned forward and kissed his mother on the temple, then gave A.J.’s shoulder a pat.


"Night, squirt. I'll be ready to beat you at Monopoly later this afternoon. You’d better be prepared to do battle."


     "Night, Rick," came the soft reply.


     Cecilia continued to hold cold cloths on A.J.'s forehead after Rick left. After twenty minutes had passed with mother and son sitting in silence, Cecilia was sure A.J. had finally fallen asleep. Therefore, she was startled when his voice broke the stillness in the room.


"It's all my fault, isn't it?"

     Cecilia combed her fingers through A.J.’s tangled hair, and looked down into his open eyes. "No, honey, it's not your fault you're sick. You can't help it.”


     "I forced Daddy to go, didn't I? I made him go to my baseball game that day."


     Now Cecilia understood what he meant by, "It's all my fault." She understood what A.J. meant when he had spoken those words to Rick on Christmas Day, and when he had yelled them down the stairway in anger on Friday evening.


     "No, A.J. No. Your daddy wanted to see you pitch that game more than he wanted anything. You and he had worked so hard together last summer so you could be the starting pitcher, and Daddy was so proud of you. Nothing could have kept him from your game that day, A.J. Nothing."


     "But, I bugged him all week about it. I kept reminding Daddy about the game all week, 'cause I was afraid he wouldn't come. He was always working on Saturday last summer. If I'd only left him alone, if I wouldn't have been such a baby about it, he wouldn't have been there that day. The accident would never have happened. Don’t you see, Mom? It’s my fault. It's all my fault."


     Although A.J. wasn’t crying, Cecilia couldn’t keep the tears from running down her face.


"A.J., no, none of that is true. You have to believe me when I tell you nothing, absolutely nothing, could have kept your father from your game that day. He wanted to see you pitch, A.J.; you didn't make him do anything. If you don't believe me, you ask Doctor Bob, or Uncle Will. They'll tell you the same thing - that nothing would have stopped Daddy from attending your game. He told both of them that the week of the accident."


     "Really, is that true?"


     "Yes, A.J., it's true," Cecilia assured him, at the same time making a mental note to have both Bob and Will talk to A.J. about that fact. "Sweetheart, was your dream last night about the accident?"


As A.J. started to look away from her, his mother commanded, "No, look at me, A.J. Don't shut me out. I won't allow you to do that this time."


When the boy made hesitant eye contact with his mother again, Cecilia repeated her question. "Was your dream about the accident?"




     "Tell me about it, honey."


     "Daddy and I were in the car...and it was rolling over and over. Then the car...the car stopped, and I was calling for Daddy...telling him that I was hurt. When he didn't answer me, I climbed over the front seat and...and I sat next to him shaking his shoulder and asking him if he was okay. Only he...he wasn't okay, Daddy was..."


     A.J. stopped his monologue there. Cecilia knew the reason for that was because he couldn’t bring himself to say, "Daddy was dead."


A.J. still wasn't crying, but his voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper, and his entire body was trembling.


Oh, Lord, how I wish he could just let go and cry.


     Although Cecilia had no way of proving it, she suspected A.J.'s recount of his nightmare was similar to what had transpired in the car that night.



"It's okay now, A.J.,” Cecilia crooned as she stroked a hand through her son’s hair. “It's okay. It was only a dream. None of it was your fault. I love you, son. I love you so much. Daddy loved you so much. Everything's going to be all right."


     Cecilia repeated these reassurances to A.J. for the next several minutes. In time, he stopped trembling and relaxed in his mother's arms. When he looked up at her, she smiled a soft smile of maternal love.


     "A.J., I have something important to tell you. I want you to listen really well to what I say, and I want you to know I mean every word of it. Can you do that for me?"


     A.J. nodded his head.


     "Honey, you've got to believe that the accident was not your fault. It was an accident - something that couldn't have been prevented. No one could have prevented it. Daddy wanted to see you pitch. Nothing could have kept him from your game. I truly believe that long ago, God had decided Daddy was supposed to die that day. God wanted your daddy in Heaven. I know that's hard to understand, and even harder to accept, but nonetheless, your father’s death was part of God’s plan. We’ll never be able to understand why someone as young and good as Daddy has to die, but God has a reason for these things, A.J. He needed Daddy in Heaven, and we know Daddy's happy there, don't we? Heaven's a wonderful place, isn't it?"


     "Yes," came the quiet reply.


     "Daddy's body was hurt badly in the accident. So badly that if he had lived, he never would have walked again. He wouldn't even have been able to use his arms or hands. Daddy wouldn't have wanted to live that way, honey. He couldn't have lived that way. Your father was too proud and stubborn to be dependent on others for his most basic needs. I think God knew all of those things about Daddy, and that's why He took him home to Heaven. That way Daddy could live in a place where his body is whole again, and where he doesn't have to suffer."


     “I learned in Sunday School that there’s no pain in Heaven,” A.J. commented.


"No, sweetheart, there isn’t. And someday, you, and I, and Rick, will be with Daddy again. We'll all be together in Heaven. But until that time comes, I know your father would want you to be happy. I know he would never want you to blame yourself for what happened. Dad would be heartbroken to see you so sad, A.J. He loved you so much, son. He was proud of his two boys, and he loved them very, very much."


     A.J. made no reply, but that was all right with his mother.  Cecilia was satisfied to sit there holding her son. He was finally taking the comfort from her that she had for so long wanted to give him.


"A.J, every night before I go to bed, I thank God for keeping you safe. I thank God that you weren't seriously hurt in the accident, and that you came home to Rick and me. I miss your father more than I can say, but when I see you smile, or when you tease me, or when I watch you play baseball, I see your dad. And when Rick plays a practical joke on me, or when I see him being so protective of us, or even when he loses his temper, I see your Dad again. Your father will always be with me, A.J., as long as I have my two boys."


     A.J. reached up and wrapped his arms around his mother's neck. "Rick and I will always be here for you, Mom, I promise. I love you."


     "I love you, too, A.J.,” Cecilia said through her tears. “I love you, too."


     Cecilia gingerly laid her son against the pillows thirty minutes later, and covered him with a blanket. A.J. had finally fallen asleep in her arms. Cecilia hoped he'd sleep for the rest of the morning. If he did, he’d feel better when he awoke.


The woman kissed A.J.'s forehead, and then stood.  She took the bowl and other paraphernalia from the nightstand, then exited the room. She peeked her head in the boys' room as she passed, and was happy to see Rick was sleeping soundly, as well. He was trying so hard to deal with all of the turmoil just as Jack would have. She closed the bedroom door, hoping Rick would sleep several more hours, too.


     Cecilia puttered around the kitchen that Saturday morning, mentally reviewing the things she had said to A.J. She prayed that her words had made a difference, and that he would now be able to come to terms with the accident.


     It wouldn't be until years later, that Cecilia Simon would come to realize that, while her words had made a difference that day, A.J. still hadn't dealt with his feelings concerning his father's death. Or rather, he had dealt with them by brushing them aside. As time passed, Cecilia would come to realize that the harder those thoughts and feelings tried to surface, the harder A.J. pushed them away.


     During the coming years, as Cecilia watched her adult son struggle with those leftover feelings of guilt, she would blame herself for not getting A.J. professional help after the accident. Even though the practical part of her mind had to acknowledge that in 1960, a child receiving any type of counseling was almost unheard of, and that she had, in fact, stayed in close contact with Doctor Barton concerning A.J.'s emotional health, Cecilia still blamed herself for not pursuing other options.


     Cecilia would also wonder in the coming years, if the tremendous amount of guilt A.J. carried inside himself concerning the accident, was why he so easily placed blame on himself for so many things. Things that Cecilia and Rick thought of as trivial, but that A.J. took to heart. She would wonder, too, if A.J.'s experience that night with his father is what made him grow up to be such a compassionate man. When she would see her son agonizing over some client's personal situation, or hear him berating himself for some mistake made, Cecilia would think to herself, Oh, A.J., do you allow yourself to suffer so, because you still hurt so much inside over the death of your father?


     That morning of 1960 though, all Cecilia did as she went about some household chores, was pray that she had made a difference.


     Cecilia would never fully know how much she had helped A.J. that morning as she held him in her arms, offering the comfort he was now ready to accept. She would never know how much A.J. appreciated the fact that she didn't force him to accept what he wasn't ready for. Looking back on those months following his father's death, the adult A.J. would marvel at his mother's endless supply of patience when dealing with her moody, angry, grieving, ten-year-old. A.J. would shake his head while thinking about that young boy and those hard months. He’d realize how much his mother had probably wanted to grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shake, yet she never did. Instead, she had always let him know she would be there for him when he was ready to talk. When it came to that promise, A.J.’s mother never let him down.


     The nightmare A.J. experienced that spring Saturday in 1960 would reoccur three times the next week, and then continue on and off until June, when it stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Sometimes A.J. would let Cecilia comfort after one of these terrifying dreams, sometimes he would only take comfort from Rick, and sometimes he pushed both Rick and Cecilia away while refusing comfort from either one of them.


     The week in late July and early August that brought the Simons to the first anniversary of Jack's death, caused the nightmares to return with a vengeance. A.J. woke up screaming every night that week, even though Cecilia and Rick had been careful not to mention to the boy what the week signified. Cecilia had prayed that somehow the busy days of summer vacation would prevent A.J. from noticing the date on the calendar, even though she knew the notion was a foolish one. The dreams then stopped as suddenly as they had started when the first year anniversary date of the accident has passed.


     That fall, as A.J. started the sixth grade, Cecilia watched her youngest son begin the physical changes, as well as the emotional ones, that would leave the boy in him behind forever. As she began to get glimpses of the man he would become, he seemed to come to terms with Jack's death, and the nightmares became a thing of the past.


     The nightmares would remain a thing of the past until Rick left for Mexico two years later, and A.J. had to deal with his feelings of being abandoned by a loved one once again. But after a couple of weeks, A.J. accepted Rick's absence and his old personality reasserted itself. Cecilia was reminded of Rick after Jack had died, as A.J. took over being the man of the family in his brother's absence. Although Cecilia had to smile as she watched A.J. dedicate himself to this role, she also told him how proud she was of him, and how much she depended on him, just as she had done with Rick three years earlier. Jack would have been so proud of the fierce protectiveness and love the boys showed toward their mother. In their own individual ways, they had each become the man of the family.


     Once again the nightmares ceased, not returning until six years later when Rick shipped out to Vietnam. The nightmares plagued A.J. on and off while Rick was overseas, then stopped when he returned home safely. It would be close to fifteen years before they came back to haunt A.J. again. This time though, the dreams would change in such a way that A.J. would begin remembering the events of the night his father died, and those memories would cause two detectives by the last name of Simon to discover that the accident wasn't really an accident after all. A car had run Jack Simon’s Buick off that curvy canyon road in an intentional, well-planned murder by Arthur Cavanaugh. Mr. Cavanaugh had been a good friend of Jack’s, and they’d worked together at the same law firm. After going through some old files his mother had stored in her attic, A.J. had discovered amongst his father’s notes, that Jack had found out Arthur was embezzling from the estate and trust accounts he managed for clients. Jack had given the man the option of turning himself in to the owner of the law firm. If Arthur didn’t do that, Jack was going to tell their boss, Mr. MacPherson, what he’d uncovered. Coming in such direct contact with his father’s past, caused long sealed-off passageways in A.J.’s mind to open. He remembered seeing a car racing up behind them, and remembered getting a glimpse of Mr. Cavanaugh’s face right before Jack lost control of the Buick and it went over the side of the canyon.  When A.J. confronted Arthur Cavanaugh about all he remembered, the man committed suicide, rather than turning himself into the police for murder.


It was only then, twenty-five years after Jack died, that A.J. would be completely at peace with himself concerning his father's passing.





     In all the years, and in all the milestones that Cecilia and her boys passed in regards to Jack's death, she knew without a doubt the milestone she'd never forget was the one that happened in late April of l960. Cecilia was busy preparing dinner, and both boys were upstairs in their room doing homework. At least A.J. was doing homework. With Rick, who knew for sure? Suddenly, Cecilia heard a commotion from overhead accompanied by shouts. She couldn't make out the words that were being exchanged, but she dropped what she was doing and rushed to investigate. Cecilia was fearful she would once again find A.J. hitting Rick over some innocently spoken words like she had a month earlier.


"Oh, Lord, not this again," Cecilia whispered fervently as she approached the boys' room. She stopped short in the hallway, shocked by what she was hearing. Was that A.J. laughing? Hearing another burst of giggles from her youngest and an adamant, "I do not, Rick!" caused Cecilia to hurry to the doorway of the room. When she arrived, the woman observed the boys playfully wrestling on the floor. The comments were flying back and forth between bouts of laughter.


"You do, too, A.J. Don't lie. I know you do."


     "I do not!" 


     "You do, too, and you better admit, or I'll have to tickle you until you do!"


     "I'll never admit, I never will!" A.J. declared as he tried to roll out from underneath his brother.    


     Cecilia pretending she’d just arrived on the scene so the boys wouldn't know she’d been watching them. "Boys! What's going on here? It sounds like a band of wild Indians has moved into this room."


     Rick rolled off A.J. "A.J.'s got a girlfriend, Mom."


     A.J. pushed himself to a sitting position. "I do not!"

     “He does, too, Mom. A.J.'s got the hots for Kathy Meyers."


     "Oh, A.J. Kathy Meyers,” Cecilia gushed. “She's so pretty. Didn't I see you and Kathy standing out in our driveway talking together last Saturday afternoon?" Before A.J. could protest Cecilia winked at Rick and continued her teasing. "And she's been your partner for your science fair projects the last three years, too. What a coincidence. This is so nice. She's such a sweet little girl."


     Red-faced with embarrassment, A.J. declared, "She's not my girlfriend!" The smile on his face told another story, however.    


     "Yeah, she is," Rick said. “I heard from Kathy’s brother, Chuck, that you’ve been stopping by there house every day after school.”


     "That doesn’t mean she’s my girlfriend. I don't have a girlfriend. I only go over there because I carry her books...because they're too heavy for her, that's all."


     "I don't know, A.J.,” Cecilia said, “your face is telling me a different story than your words are. I think I should start planning a wedding."


     "Mom!" A.J. protested.


     "Yeah, Mom! That sounds good," Rick agreed. Turning to his brother, Rick said, "I can even move into the guest room so you and Katht can have your honeymoon in here."


     "Richard!" Cecilia exclaimed, as she shook her head at her eldest. The last thing she wanted to do was get into a discussion about a honeymoon and what it involved with her ten-year-old. She was hoping that talk was a year or two away yet.


     Rick laughed at his mother, but kept his peace about A.J.'s ‘wedding night.’


     Fortunately, that part was lost on A.J. "You guys are crazy. You make up all kinds of stories that aren't true."


     "Yeah, well, if we’re such liars, why are you going to Kathy's birthday party next week, and why did I hear you tell Mom you were going over there early that day to help Kathy get things ready? And didn’t I hear you tell Mom you wanted to buy Kathy a special present?"


     With that, A.J. launched himself at his brother once more. The boys fell over in a tangle of arms and legs, laughing as they rolled across the carpeting.


     Cecilia watched them roughhouse for a few more minutes. She was enjoying the sound of laughter coming from her children. Since Jack's death almost nine months earlier, Cecilia had not once heard A.J. laugh. Now that sound was music to her ears.


     Cecilia finally put an end to the boys' fun. "Okay, A.J., that's enough. Go easy on your big brother. He's got a geometry test tomorrow I know he doesn't want to miss."


     "Yeah, right, Mom," came the sarcastic reply from Cecilia's disheveled oldest as the boys got to their feet.


     "Go get washed up now. You boys need to set the table, then we can eat."


     As A.J. passed Cecilia on his way toward the bathroom, she

reached out and pulled him into a hug. "I love you, A.J."


     A.J. looked at his mother with confusion, having no idea what had caused her sudden flood of emotion. To cover her feelings, Cecilia teased him. "I'll miss you when you and Kathy get married and you move away."




     Cecilia stalled any further protests from A.J. by instructing, "Go wash up, please."


     After A.J. left the room, Rick and his mother shared a long look. They were both aware of the significance behind what had just occurred.


     Quietly, Rick said, "I made A.J. laugh again, Mom. I promised Dad I'd make A.J. laugh again, and I did."


     Although Cecilia didn't know exactly what Rick meant, she did understand solemn vows made to a deceased loved one. She had made a few of her own to Jack since his death.


     Rick stepped into his mother's embrace. "You're the only one who could, Rick. I had no doubt that when A.J. laughed again, it would be because of you." Cecilia kissed her son’s cheek. "Thank you, Rick. I love you."


     "I love you, too, Mom. I think things are gonna be okay now."


     Cecilia nodded as she pulled away from the teenager who now stood eight inches taller than she. "Go wash up now, please."


     Cecilia sat on Rick's bed, listening to the laughter and teasing coming from the bathroom. Tears came to her eyes as she whispered, "You've got yourself two strong boys, Jack Simon. Two boys that will do you proud someday; do us both proud. Thank you for leaving so much of yourself behind for me in our precious sons."


     Wiping her eyes, Cecilia got up and headed out the doorway and down the stairs. Echoing Rick's words from earlier she looked Heavenward and said, "We're going to be okay, Jack. I know now, we're going to be okay."


     Five minutes later, the sound of running footsteps and laughter was heard coming down the stairs. The boys burst into the kitchen amidst Rick teasing A.J. about his upcoming wedding plans, and A.J. adamantly denying that fact between giggles and half-hearted threats to inflict bodily harm on his brother.


     Once again, the sound of laughter filled Jack Simon's house...just like he would have wanted it to.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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