I’ve been sitting here for a long time now, watching the rise and fall of your chest while listening to you breathe. I’ve also been staring at this blank piece of paper for a long time, too, trying to decide what to write on it. I guess nothing much has changed since I was in school, has it? I mean, about the blank piece of paper and me struggling to decide what to put on it. At least that’s the type of smart remark you’d give me right now if you were able.
I suppose you’d be surprised to find out I keep a journal of sorts. Kind of like the one Dad kept that we read from a few years back. For me, it started out as a therapy exercise, I guess you’d call it, from when I was in the V.A. hospital and having so much trouble opening up at the group sessions. Oh hell. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t opening up at all.
Anyway, when I couldn’t talk about anything pertaining to ‘Nam, Barry – you remember him? My counselor? Well, he suggested I write down my thoughts and feelings as journal entries. It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that at first I balked at the idea. I’ve never been one to take the time to write much of anything, and certainly not anything I don’t have to. Well, with the exception of those couple tries at novels, but I’ll be the first to admit those attempts came from pure lust for money, not because I enjoyed writing or anything like that. But when I started to think about Dad having kept a journal at a time when things were obviously so rough for him, I decided to take Barry’s advice and give it a try.
I don’t think I was too good at it at first. Pretty much all I wrote was short phrases like, ‘It’s warm out today,’ or ‘Mom and A.J. came by to see me this afternoon.’ Real in-depth stuff, wasn’t it? But once I stopped resisting it, and just let my pen do the talking, I started making progress in the group sessions, and then with my own personal healing. I was really surprised at how much that journal helped. Barry told me to keep in mind that my journal was something I never had to share with anyone else, and was a place where I could say whatever I wanted to, express whatever feelings I couldn’t express out loud, and the most important thing to me, that I didn’t have to use grammatically correct sentences, or spell every word right. It was just a place for me to be me, that no one else would ever see. No teacher was ever going to grade it, or make me read it out loud in class. Gee, I might have done a lot better in school if I’d had more assignments like that, huh?
Another technique Barry mentioned when I was having so much trouble getting started, was that it might help me if I wrote my journal entries in the form of a letter to someone I completely trust, and could be myself with. I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise to you, little brother, that you were the one all my entries were addressed to. Funny thing is, I’d never tell you about any of the experiences I wrote of – still won’t – but you were the one I could address them to in my journal. Kind of strange, I guess. But then again, I suppose not, considering there’s no one I trust more in this world than you.
I guess the other thing that would surprise you, is to find out that long after my treatment at the V.A. ended, I still keep a journal. I don’t write in it every day anymore, and sometimes when I do write in it all I put down are a few sentences regarding a case we’re working on, or something special I’ve done or seen, or maybe something funny that’s happened to us on some stake-out or another. Like that time last year when you fell out of that tree we were hiding in while we were tailing Roger Jonas. Remember, you fell over the fence and into that swimming pool in his neighbor’s backyard, where the lady of the house was floating around topless on an air raft? As long as I live I’ll never forget the expression on your face when you broke the surface of the water and tried to give the woman a coherent explanation as to how you ended up in her pool. I really thought, ‘Arthur Crumset, Pool Inspector for the F.B.I., was a pretty far stretch, A.J., but considering the circumstances I can understand you were hardly at your finest. The best part was that the broad didn’t mind in the slightest. She invited you to take your clothes off and join her. After that little incident neither of us was worth a damn. I remember we packed it in early and headed for home. When I wrote about it in my journal later that night I was able to recall a lot of what we said to one another on the drive to your house, and recorded all that word for word. So someday, if I ever get around to writing, Rick Simon’s Memoirs Of Life As A Private Detective, watch out of that chapter. You’ll hate it, but the American public will eat it up.
All that aside, at times I do still write about my feelings regarding some issue or another. It does help a guy like me. A guy who doesn’t reveal his inner most thoughts too often. I guess in that way I’m a lot like Dad was. Maybe that’s why he kept a journal, too, when there was no other outlet for his pain and fear.
I’ve been here with you for going on three days now, and I finally came to a point where my own fear and worry needs a place to go. I asked one of the nurses if she had some paper lying around here I could use. She gave me a funny look when she brought me a handful of typing paper, but didn’t question me as to why I wanted it. I suppose she thinks I’m some kind of neurotic workaholic who can’t leave the office behind, even when his only brother is injured and in serious condition. She doesn’t know me very well, does she?
It took me damn near two days to stop shaking over what happened, which might be why I can finally write. I don’t think my hand could have held a pen steady before this morning. Maybe I wouldn’t have been in such bad shape if I hadn’t seen it happen, I don’t know. I do know I never want to witness anything like that again. It’s bad enough when one of us ends up in the hospital because some case we’re working on backfires, but this is just so senseless. You probably don’t even remember what happened, do you? Well, I can assure you, kid, I do. I sure as hell do.
Let’s see, three days ago was Tuesday, I think. Yeah definitely, it was Tuesday. I’m not stupid. I’ve just lost track of time since you’ve been here. Anyway, it was noon on Tuesday and we were working in the office. Both of us were really wrapped up in that bank fraud case we’d taken on. We had papers spread all over the place, and charts and maps stuck to the walls, so rather than break from the job, we agreed to a take-out lunch and you offered to head down to the Chicken Noodle to get us sandwiches and soup. What made me walk over to the windows after you left the office I’ll never know. Maybe just because it was a nice day, and I was enjoying the weather vicariously through the glass. Or maybe the Powers That Be knew you were going to need me.
I watched you walk to the corner, then saw you waiting at the crosswalk with a woman and her little girl. The kid was about four years old. A cute little thing with blond pigtails wearing a red dress and shiny black shoes. I could see her talking to you, and saw you smile and bend down to answer her. Then the Walk signal flashed and they started across ahead of you, the little girl skipping so that her mother had to run and catch up with her in order to hold her hand. They were about halfway across, and you were several feet behind them, when a car flew around the corner, running the red light. You must have heard it, or seen it coming, because the next thing I saw was you pushing the woman and child out of the car’s path. You didn’t quite make it out of harms way. The front left bumper slammed into your right leg and you were thrown about ten feet in the air before landing hard on your back on the ground. Thank God that car didn’t run you over, or drag you along with it as it continued down the street. Fortunately, as well, several quick thinking pedestrians prevented any other cars from going through the intersection as the light changed to green.
It all happened so fast, and was probably over in twenty seconds. I saw you lying in the street, and vaguely remember seeing the car that hit you speed by below me. It came to a halt on the sidewalk, knocking down a couple of street signs in the process. By then I was headed out the door. I almost ran over Vickie - the woman from the insurance office down the hall. I shouted at her to call an ambulance, but I didn’t wait for her reply as I dashed for the stairs. I wondered later if she was the one who called 911, or if someone on the street did. I realized she had no idea what the hell I was talking about. She stopped by yesterday to see how you were doing, and I found out she was the person who made the call. Vickie admitted she didn’t know what I was talking about when I’d yelled for her to call for an ambulance, but she said my face was white as a sheet, so she knew whatever was wrong was serious. And it was.
When I got to the street a lot of people were crowded around you, but I bowled my way through. I think I was yelling something like, “Get outta my way! That’s my brother!” I suppose I must have been yelling those words now that I think of it, because I heard some of the people say to one another in hushed tones, “That’s his brother, the poor guy,” and, “I bet he saw it happen,” and, “What a rough thing to go through.” I’ll tell you, A.J., rough doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I got through the crowd and saw several men crouched beside you. One of them had covered you with his suit jacket. I shoved some guy aside and dropped to my knees while giving the terse explanation of, “He’s my brother.”
You weren’t breathing, and I couldn’t find a pulse either, so I started CPR. God, A.J., I don’t ever want to have to do that again. I had to completely block out the fact it was you I was trying to revive, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do it. As it was I went blank for a few seconds. I couldn’t remember how many breaths I was supposed to give, or how many chest compressions, but I gave myself a mental shake while chastising, Come on, Rick. Get your shit together. A.J.’s life depends on what you do until help arrives.
I didn’t have to do one-man CPR too long, maybe a minute, before a young woman showed up who knew it as well. She took over the chest compressions while I have you mouth-to-mouth. If you’d seen her, I’m sure you’d tell me you would have much rather had her do mouth-to-mouth on you. She was about twenty and a total knockout. Foxy. Definitely your type, though a little on the young side now days, kid. For both of us, I’m sorry to say.
It seemed like forever, but actually it didn’t take us long to get your heart going again, and to get you breathing. I swear I said a big prayer of thanks then. The ambulance came right after that, and from there until we arrived at the hospital is a blur to me. I rode up front with the driver while a paramedic was in back with you, so I was in the dark concerning what was going on at that point.
You were in surgery three hours. That’s how long it took them to set your leg and stop the internal bleeding. It’s a miracle you have no major internal injuries to speak of, though the doctor said you’re pretty bruised up inside. After I found out that’s not as serious as it sounds, I didn’t ask any more questions. I’ve seen how bruised up you are on the outside, and it’s not a pretty sight. Not to mention the road rash you’ve got on your arms, hands, back, and butt. Good thing you’re reclining right now and not sitting. It would hurt, little brother, believe me. Remember how bad we got scraped up that time about twenty-five years ago when we barreled down Mansfield hill on our bikes, and wiped out in that big gravel pile? Well, you look about thirty times worse than that. I don’t even want to think about Mom’s reaction when she sees you. Which is why I’m glad it’ll be two more days before she gets here. I’m hoping you look a little better by then. With Mom being on that senior citizens’ tour of Europe it was hell tracking her down. But, Mom finally surfaced after having called your house, my house, and the office several times in the last two days. When she couldn’t reach either of us by this morning she called Abby.
Abby gave Mom the news as gently as possible, then Mom called here. I talked to her for quite a while and managed to calm her down. She called back about a half an hour ago to say she’d be arriving at the airport at seven o’clock on Sunday morning. She’s still pretty worried, but it helped that you were able to talk to her for a minute. Bet you don’t remember that, do you? You’ve been drifting in and out of consciousness the last day and a half, and have yet to be real coherent. But your eyes were half open when I was talking to Mom, so I asked if you wanted to talk to her. You nodded your head yes, but when I held the phone to your ear and mouth you slurred, “Hi, Marlowe,” then promptly fell back to sleep.
Mom couldn’t understand you, but when I told her what you’d said she laughed and said to tell you that you’re in big trouble with your mother. She was only teasing, of course. Actually, I think your little mistake helped ease some of the tension and worry for her. She seemed to relax a little bit after that. Still, I’m sure this plane ride will seem like the longest one in history for our mom.
Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to call Marlowe and see if you say, “Hi, Mom,” to him. Carlos is keeping old Marlowe at his house for me, which has helped a lot. Carlos has been a good friend for too many years to count. He’s almost as worried about “Ricky’s hermanito,” as Ricky is. Hermanito meaning ‘little brother,’ if you didn’t know that, considering you took French, A.J.
Let’s see, getting back to what’s going on here. You haven’t been too with it yet, which really had me worried until a nurse told me that’s not unusual considering the sedative you’re being given for pain. One time when you were awake you asked me if the Camaro was all right, so I assumed you thought you’d been in a car wreck. You’ve asked me three times if I was all right, so at those times I knew you thought you were hurt while working on a case. Yesterday morning you really threw me for a loop when you asked me, “Rick, am I going to die?” But you were in so much pain, and pretty out of it, so I’m not sure you even knew what you were saying. At any rate, I grabbed your hand and squeezed it as I answered you firmly with, “No, A.J., you’re not going to die. You’re gonna be fine. I promise.”
I guess you believed me, because you gave me a half smile and then asked, “Do you think Mom will let me go to the movies on Saturday night with Becky Ritman?”
Now that question was pretty off the wall, let me tell you. I’d forgotten all about Becky Ritman. Was she your girlfriend in seventh grade, or was it eighth? Anyway, I told you, yeah, that I thought Mom would let you take Becky to the movies. You gave me a doped-up smile and slurred, “All right!” then fell asleep.
Abby’s been by every day to see you, as well as, believe it or not, make sure I’m eating. It’s real strange being mothered by Abby. Kick me for saying this, but I think I like the old Abby better. You know, the hard-ass lady cop. You’ll be happy to know I haven’t let her see the brush burns on your butt yet, but don’t tempt me. If you don’t do everything your doctor orders, Abby will see your behind so fast your head will spin.
When Abby was here this morning she told me the preliminary autopsy report on the man who hit you indicates he had some kind of seizure, probably a diabetic one. He was seventy-five years old, and was killed instantly when the car hit a light pole. So while I hate what’s happened to you because of him, I feel bad for his family. I know the accident wasn’t his fault. Abby said the man’s son asked if she thought we’d have any objections to some family members stopping by to visit you when you’re feeling better. I told her that would probably be fine. The son told Abby his mother was beside herself with grief over this whole thing. Any anger I might have still felt toward the guy evaporated when I thought of that widow in relationship to our own mother, and how devastated she’d be over situation like this. You’ve got some flowers here with a card that says, Get Well Soon, and is signed, The Higgins Family, which is the last name of the man who hit you.
Oh yeah, and you’ve also got flowers here from the woman and little girl you pushed out of the way. The woman and her husband – Dave and Linda Kemper are their names - came up here and talked to me last night. They wanted to know how you were doing. They’re real grateful for what you did, little brother.
Well, I’ve been at this for three hours now, and I’m starting to get writer’s cramp, so I think I’ll quit. I’m going to get some coffee and take a walk while you’re still asleep. I’m heading home later today for the first time since you were brought in. I’ll wait until after you wake up though. They’re going to get you out of bed for a few minutes, which isn’t going to feel very good for you, then make you eat something. This will be the first meal you’ve had since breakfast on Tuesday morning, so I can just imagine what your reaction to Jello, applesauce, and pudding will be. Don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be back to steak, lobster, and all that French shit you like that I can’t pronounce.
There’s a lot I’ve written here I’ll never tell you, but the one thing I am going to tell you when you’re feeling better is that I’m real proud of you, A.J. Knowing you the way I do, I’m sure you didn’t give your own safety a thought when you saw that car coming toward Mrs. Kemper and her daughter. Although I hate like hell to see you in pain, and you’ve scared the shit out of me in the process, and I’ve probably lost a few more hairs worrying about you these past couple of days, I sure am proud to call you brother. You’re one of the good guys, A.J. One of the few good guys left. Don’t ever change. But for your big brother’s sake, just learn to move out of the way a little faster, will you, please?
A.J. Simon was surprised to find tears spring to his eyes, and a tight feeling inhabit his throat, as he finished reading Rick’s journal entry. The blond man read the papers through a second time, and then a third, before finally refolding them and putting them back where he had found them – in the pocket of Rick’s jacket.
A.J. was home from the hospital and recuperating from his injuries. He had been picking up around the house as best he could, considering the large cast on his right leg. As the detective hobbled around the main floor on crutches, he gathered up three discarded beer cans, a stack of newspapers and magazines that had been peeking out from beneath the sofa, and two bowls that had held popcorn, and had been been left on the coffee table. While in the process of cleaning, A.J. had also picked up Rick’s khaki jacket that had been tossed across the arm of a chair. Because A.J. had snared the jacket between three fingers, and because that act had tipped the jacket upside down, a tightly folded stack of papers had fallen out of one of the deep, side pockets.
A.J. wouldn’t have unfolded the papers and looked at them, had it not been that the previous evening Rick had torn the house apart searching for some notes he’d taken regarding a case he was working on. When the papers had fallen out of the jacket pocket, A.J. was certain he’d located the needed items his brother had misplaced. The blond man soon discovered otherwise, though, as he began to read the words those sheets of paper contained.
A.J. had read through the journal entry a second time before it really dawned on him that he was violating Rick’s privacy. His guilty conscience caused A.J. to justify that act by saying out loud to Marlowe, who was slumbering on the floor in front of the French doors, “Well, he shouldn’t leave his jacket laying around. I’ve asked him not to at least a hundred times this week.”
Those words didn’t quite relieve A.J. of the guilt he was feeling, but they helped. . .as he struggled to sit in the chair, and then read the papers through a third time.
Rick had been correct when saying to A.J. in his journal entry; I suppose you’d be surprised to find out that I keep a journal of sorts. A.J. was surprised. Very surprised. This was a side of his brother the blond man never would have guessed existed.
Yes, over the past two weeks Rick had told A.J. many of the facts regarding the accident, and the early days of his hospitalization that A.J. could barely recall. Yet, not too surprising, Rick had left out most of his personal thoughts and feelings surrounding that time. Those thoughts and feelings came through clearly in the journal entry though, and for that, A.J. was grateful. Based on what Rick had written, it sounded as if A.J.’s older brother had badly needed an outlet for his worry. A.J. was glad Rick had found that outlet somewhere, even if it was only on a few pieces of plain, white typing paper.
A.J. was lost in thought as he absentmindedly refolded the papers in the same way he’d found them, then returned them to the pocket of Rick’s jacket.
An hour later, when she arrived to prepare lunch, Cecilia Simon found her youngest son lost in thought while sitting in his favorite easy chair. His broken leg was popped up on the coffee table, and Rick’s safari jacket was draped across his knees.
It was five-thirty that evening when the kitchen door slammed, heralding Rick’s arrival from work.
“Hey, what are you doin’?”
A.J.’s head surfaced from the inside of the refrigerator. As he shut the door and sat several bottles on the countertop, he replied, “Making dinner.”
Rick scowled. “You’re not supposed to be doing that. I told you I’d cook when I got home tonight. You promised me that if I started putting in regular hours at the office again, you’d take it easy around here. Geez, A.J., I can’t even be gone for one day without you thinkin’ you have to—“
A.J. held up a hand.
“Whoa. Slow down, Rick. First of all, this is my house, and I’ll do whatever I think is necessary to keep it in the state I like it.” A.J. paused, then rushed on when he saw Rick was about to make a comment. “And Mom was here most of the afternoon cleaning, so I really didn’t do much except pick up a few beer cans and some newspapers. She also helped me get supper started, so don’t get so upset over it.”
“Okay, okay. You win,” Rick conceded, as he bent to pet Marlowe, then let the dog outside to romp over A.J’s yard. “I’ll stop bossing you around.”
“You’d better, or I’ll send you packing back to the marina,” A.J smiled. “Speaking of which, you don’t have to stay here any longer if you don’t want to. I was able to get around okay today.”
“You’re not getting around that well,” Rick point out, as he studied his brother.
A.J. was leaning heavily on his crutches, as though he was tired and sore. The large cast the blond wore was awkward and heavy, and made moving around the small kitchen difficult. Not to mention that without the crutches, A.J. had little mobility. Rick couldn’t begin to guess how his brother had even set the table, let alone prepared supper.
All those thoughts were running through Rick’s mind as he shot his brother a skeptical look.
“If you really think you’ll be okay alone, I’ll move back to the boat after supper. I can understand that you’re probably ready to get rid of me, so if you want me to—“
“No, no. That’s not what I meant,” A.J. quickly amended. “I just assumed you were anxious to return to your own place. I don’t want you to feel as though you have to stay here. You’ve given up enough of your time in order to be with me these past three weeks.”
“Don’t worry about it, little brother,” Rick shrugged, as he leaned against the sink. “I didn’t give up anything I didn’t want to. You’ve had done the same for me. And I do think I should stay here until that cast comes off. How are you going to get up the stairs at night if I’m not around to help you?”
“That’s a good question,” A.J. commented with a smile. “I guess I hadn’t thought of that. Looks like I do need your around for a while yet.”
“Yep, I think you do,” Rick agreed. As his stomach growled, the older man changed the subject. “Whatever’s in the oven sure smells good.”
“Spare ribs and baked potatoes.”
“Ribs? Barbecued beef ribs? Made with your own secret recipe barbecue sauce?”
“Sounds great. I haven’t had your barbecued ribs in I don’t know how long. I gotta tell ya,’ A.J., I don’t think much of that fancy French crap you make, but your barbecued ribs are the best. Better than any restaurant could ever dream of making.”
A.J. smiled at the flattery, glad to hear Rick’s raving. The blond man had wanted to do something special for his brother as a way of saying thank you for all Rick’s help recently. A.J. knew the easiest way to do that was to feed Rick a good, solid home-cooked meal.
Rick moved over to the stove now, lifting lids on various pots and pans, while exclaiming over all the good food A.J. was cooking.
“You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble. You go over to the table and sit down. I’ll finish this up.”
“I’m already in bad enough shape,” A.J. teased in reference to Rick insisting on finishing the meal preparations. “Don’t cause me to have a heart attack, too.”
“Aw, shut up, wise-guy, or I’ll break your other leg,” Rick teased in return. He collected A.J.’s crutches and set them against the kitchen wall once the blond man was settled in a chair.
The brothers discussed the case Rick was working on as the older Simon moved around the kitchen getting dinner ready. He let Marlowe back in the house when the dog barked at the door, then set the steaming food on the table. Lively conversation continued throughout the meal. Finally, after the last morsel was eaten, Rick rose from the table and began collecting dirty dishes. A.J. rose as well, grabbed his crutches, then carried what dishes he could to the sink despite Rick’s protests of, “I’ll do that! Sit your butt back down in that chair.”
A.J. grinned. “Gee, having this broken leg is almost worth it. It’s not very often that I have the luxury of you waiting on me hand and foot.”
“Yeah, well don’t get too used to it. My days as your maid are gonna come to a quick end as soon as that cast comes off.”
“That I can believe,” A.J. quipped.
“Therefore, ya’ better enjoy it while you can. Now sit back down in that chair.”
“Yes, sir,” A.J. replied crisply to the order as he and Rick made their way to the table once again. This time Rick collected the remainder of the dishes, while A.J. pulled out a chair.
Before he took his seat, however, A.J. impulsively threw an arm around Rick’s neck and pulled the man into a bear hug.
Still within the confines of A.J.’s grasp, the startled Rick replied, “A.J., it’s no big deal. It’s just a few dirty dishes.”
Rick heard A.J.’s chuckle by his right ear.
“I mean, thanks for all your help these past three weeks. I couldn’t have gotten through all of this without you. Thanks for being my brother.”
Now it was Rick’s turn to chuckle as he reciprocated the hug.
“I didn’t have much choice in that matter, but I gotta admit, I usually think I got a good deal when it comes to kid brothers.”
A.J. pulled away and arched an eyebrow. “Usually?”
Rick chuckled once again as he drew A.J. back into a hug.
“All right. Most of the time I think I got a good deal.”
“Most of the time?” Rick heard muffled near his right shoulder.
“That’s all you’re gonna get out of me, so don’t keep tryin,’” Rick teased. “Seriously. . .you don’t have to thank me, A.J. Like I already told you, you’d do the same for me. . .you have done the same for me on more than one occasion. But, you’re welcome anyway.”
A.J. moved out of Rick’s embrace and sat down. With an exaggerated wave of his hand, he ordered, “Well, Richard, don’t just stand there doing nothing. Get those dishes done.”
Rick gave A.J.’s cast a gentle nudge with the toe of his boot. “I think you’re beginning to enjoy my help a little too much.”
“That’s true. You and the word ‘help,’ so rarely go together in the same sentence, that this is a pleasure.”
“Hey, now,” Rick growled, for lack of any way to defend himself.
The brothers continued to banter back and forth while Rick washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen.
Later that evening, as they sat together watching television, A.J. decided he’d never tell Rick that he read the journal entry. Therefore, a favorite meal, a hug, and a thank you, would have to suffice. Somehow, even though A.J. would have liked to do more for his brother in way of showing his gratitude, he knew the simple things he offered were appreciated.
And, as always, the simple things were enough for both A.J. Simon, and his beloved big brother.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~