THE SIMON BROTHERS
This story makes reference in several places to the aired episode, I Thought The War Was Over.
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A.J. Simon fought off weariness while walking down a corridor at County General Hospital. As he came upon his brother's room, A.J. peered cautiously around the open doorway. When the blond man saw that Rick was sleeping he entered the room quietly. He approached his mother from behind and bent down to kiss her cheek.
Cecilia turned around in her chair. In a hushed tone she greeted, "Hi, honey. How'd your day in court go?"
A.J. took off his suit coat and tie. He laid them on the other bed in the room that currently didn’t contain an occupant. In consideration of his sleeping brother, A.J. spoke softly.
"About how they usually go – boring, and too long. But our client won the case, so at least something good came out of the day. Rick will be glad to hear that all the time we spent on that stakeout wasn't wasted. The evidence we got really helped."
Cecilia looked down at her eldest son. "Good. Maybe that news will perk your brother up a bit."
A.J. sat on the edge of the empty bed. "What kind of a day did he have?"
"Not much different from yesterday. His temperature has been high all day. At noon it hit one hundred and four. He's been coughing a lot, so he hasn't gotten much rest. He finally fell asleep about thirty minutes ago."
A.J. studied his older brother, observing Rick's pale complexion. The only hint of color on the detective's face was the circles of red around his cheeks that signaled fever. The bed was raised to the point that Rick was almost in a sitting position, and an IV was inserted in a vein on the top of his left hand.
"When did they take the oxygen away?"
"A couple of hours ago. They've been watching him closely to see how he does without it. Bob said Rick's lungs are clearing up fairly quickly with the help of the antibiotics, so he thought it was safe to remove it."
A.J. and his mother talked quietly for another twenty minutes as Cecilia brought her youngest up-to-date on Rick’s progress. As A.J. took note of how tired his mother looked, he glanced at his watch to see that it was now six-thirty. He knew that meant that this was the third long day his mother had spent here. A.J. and Cecilia had been at the hospital with a delirious Rick until eleven o'clock the previous evening, and until after midnight the two evenings prior, only leaving after the staff had finally gotten his temperature down and had gotten Rick resting somewhat comfortably. Cecilia had been back at the hospital this morning and had stayed with her oldest all day. A.J. had been unable to relieve his mother since he had to be in court.
"Mom, why don't you go on home. I'll stay here this evening. "
"No, I'll stay a while yet."
"Mom, come on, you're dead on your feet. We've had three late nights, and you've also spent three full days here now. Go on home and get some rest tonight."
"A.J., I don't--"
"Mom, please. For Rick. He doesn't want you to wear yourself out. He told me that last night."
"A.J., I'm his mother. I can wear myself out if I want to."
A.J. smiled. "I know you can, but you're not going to do Rick any good if you do. Please. For both your sons."
Cecilia weighed the decision for a minute, not wanting to leave Rick, yet knowing A.J.’s words were true. She was beyond tired and headed toward exhausted. Then there was the worry. That worry had prevented her from getting more than four hours of sleep over the past four nights. Maybe A.J. was right. Maybe she should go home early this evening and come back refreshed in the morning. After all, Rick was sleeping peacefully now, and his temperature was down, and A.J. would be here.
Reluctantly making up her mind, Cecilia stated, "All right, I'll go home. But you call me later this evening before visiting hours end and let me know how he's doing. Promise?"
"I will,” A.J. nodded. “I promise."
Cecilia stood. She bent over Rick’s bed and kissed him lightly as she ran her hand over his receding hairline. "He's still pretty warm."
"I know. But he'll be okay, Mom. Come on. Don't worry. You know Rick, as soon as he decides he's well he'll be out of this bed and running off to go fishing with Carlos."
Cecilia smiled. "You're right about that. Rick's been that way ever since he was small. When you were little and were sick I never had any trouble getting you to play quietly. You'd color, or draw pictures, or play with one of your toys, but Rick was another story. He'd still be running a temperature, or coughing and sneezing, and insist to me that he was well. No matter how hard I tried to get him to rest or play quietly, he'd have no part of it. He'd be running all over the house getting into whatever mischief he could."
Looking back down at her sleeping, feverish son, Cecilia's smile faded. "That's why I hate seeing him so sick. Rick just never gets sick. I can count on one hand how many times I've seen him in bed, ill like this. I don't think your brother said three words today."
A.J. pulled his mother into a hug. "Don't worry, Mom. Before you know it, he'll be running around getting into mischief again. You've just got to give him a few days to get past this."
Cecilia nodded against A.J. 's chest. When their embrace ended she told him goodbye, picked up her purse and the book she’d brought along, and left the room.
After his mother departed, A.J. sat in the chair she had occupied. As he sat watching the rise and fall of his brother's chest A.J. thought back over the last few months. So far 1986 hadn't been such a great year for the Simon family. First there had been the shooting incident involving Rick's friend, Ray Maynard, and all the problems it had subsequently caused the oldest Simon brother. Then there had been Rick's stay at the V.A. Hospital, and then out-patient counseling upon his release. Rick was still attending a weekly counseling-rap session for Vietnam vets that had been organized by the VietNow association.
A.J. thought back to the trip he and Rick had made to the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and how that trip had seemed to help Rick somewhat. If nothing else, it seemed to give Rick a place to start. A place to start coming to terms with all he had seen and done in that God-awful war. A place to say good-bye to so many of the young men who had lost their lives there. And a place that helped Rick accept the fact that he didn't have to feel guilty because he came home in one piece, because he was one of the lucky ones who had a loving and supportive family who anxiously awaited his return, eager to help in any way they could, even fifteen years after the fact.
Yet, even the Wall hadn't been able to heal Rick completely, a fact that A.J. was well aware of. Rick just wasn't Rick. There were days when A.J.'s older brother was far too quiet, or seemed preoccupied. Days when A.J. didn't hear his brother laugh. Those were the days that were the hardest on the blond man. The days when A.J. wasn't teased or picked-on, or conned into doing something he didn't really want to. On days like that A.J. knew Rick was still far from healed. Still far from being at peace with himself. And now this. Double pneumonia. It was just so unfair. Hadn't Rick dealt with enough this year? Hadn't they all dealt with enough?
It had seemed to start out as a simple chest cold three weeks earlier, then it had taken on the symptoms of the flu. None of that seemed too serious. According to the newspaper, half of the citizens of San Diego were sick with some new strain of flu. Downtown Brown had been out of his office for a week, nursing the same type of thing Rick had.
But, of course, Rick Simon didn't believe in nursing a cold. He came to work every day and put in more than one all-nighter staking out a warehouse for a client who had recently hired Simon and Simon. Rick ignored all of A.J.’s protests regarding these long hours on the part of his ailing brother. It hadn't been until the past Friday that A.J. was finally able to talk some sense into his sibling when he strong-armed Rick into going home at noon.
Rick had looked horrible when he came into work that morning, and had a deep, chesty cough that made Simon and Simon Investigations sound like a tuberculosis ward. By looking at his brother's overly bright eyes, A.J. suspected Rick was running a temperature as well, although the older man vehemently denied that fact as A.J. practically pushed him out the door, telling him to go home and get some rest.
Despite his protests, Rick gave in to his brother’s wishes. He spent that entire weekend on his boat, in bed.
A.J. called his brother on Saturday to see how he was, and stopped by for a few minutes on Sunday afternoon to observe that Rick was still as sick as he had been at the office on Friday.
Early on Monday morning A.J. received a phone call from his brother who informed him between coughs, "I'm still feelin' pretty rotten, A.J. I think I'll stay home today if you don't need me."
A.J. assured his sibling there was no reason to come to the office that day, told Rick to rest, and promised to call him sometime in the afternoon to see how he was doing. A.J. hung up the phone that morning knowing Rick had to be really sick. In all the years they had been in business together A.J. couldn't recall Rick ever having called in sick. Yes, Rick Simon was known to play hooky now and again, and yes there had been times when Rick had been laid up due to some work related hazard, like a gunshot wound or getting clubbed over the head with a baseball bat. But Rick Simon, just plain sick? Never.
True to his word, A.J. called Rick from the office that afternoon. He wasn't too concerned when he didn't get an answer. He assumed his brother was sleeping so soundly that he didn't hear the phone ring, or, knowing Rick, he had started feeling better, pronounced himself cured, and had left on some errand or another.
On A.J.’s way home shortly after five he stopped at the marina. The blond detective wanted to see how his brother was doing, and see if Rick was in need of anything from a grocery or drug store.
That turned out to be one stop A.J. Simon was thankful he made. What might have happened if he had gone on home, assuming Rick had indeed begun to feel better and had left his boat to do some errands, A.J. didn't like to think about.
A.J. had observed Rick's truck parked in its usual spot as he made his way to the boat. When several loud knocks and calls produced no Rick, A.J. used the key Rick had given him to gain entrance.
Rick was nowhere to be found in the boat's living area, so A.J. walked on into the bedroom as he called out his brother's name. He heard Marlowe whine as he entered the dark room and flipped on a light switch. It was then that A. J. caught sight of his brother sprawled on the bed, unconscious and burning up with fever. A.J. also heard a funny, rattling sound that he soon realized with alarm was Rick breathing. Then he noticed, too, the shallow, fast rhythm his brother was using to get air. At this point A.J. decided that trying to get Rick to a hospital in his Camaro was not the wisest of ideas, so he picked up the phone and called for an ambulance. As he awaited its arrival, A.J. propped Rick up on three pillows in an effort to open his airway, covered him with one of the blankets that had been kicked onto the floor, then wet a hand towel with cool water and spent the remainder of his wait wiping his feverish brother down.
That whole nerve-wracking episode had been over seventy-two hours ago now. Once Rick had arrived at the hospital and had been examined it didn't come as any great surprise to A.J. when the emergency room doctor diagnosed pneumonia. Nor was A.J. overly shocked when their family doctor, Bob Barton, told him Rick seemed to be run-down. The doctor questioned A.J. further as to whether he knew if Rick had been getting enough rest, or if he was under an unusual amount of stress. About all A.J. could say reply was that it had been a rough year for Rick. Dr. Barton, knowing of Rick's stay at the V.A. Hospital and the circumstances surrounding it, simply nodded his head in understanding.
A.J.'s thoughts were brought back to the present by the sound of his brother's voice. A.J. rose from his chair and stood next to the bed. Quietly he asked, "Rick, what did you say?"
Rick’s eyes didn’t open when he mumbled again while his head rolled back and forth on the pillow.
A.J. bent over the bed. "Rick? Rick, it's A.J. Rick, do you need something?"
The blond man reached out and laid his open hand on Rick's forehead. He assumed that Rick's temperature was rising again as it had the previous evenings.
At the touch of the cool hand, Rick's eyes opened halfway and roamed the room in a dazed manner.
A.J. moved his hand down to his brother's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Hey, big brother. How are you doing?"
The feverish Rick didn't answer the blond, but instead gazed up at him lethargically.
Trying again to get a response, A.J. informed Rick, "Tim won his case today. He was really happy with the work we did for him. He told me to tell you thanks, and that he hopes you're feeling better soon."
Rick still didn't respond as he dealt with a coughing spasm that left him breathless and drained. When Rick finally quieted and laid back against his pillows, A.J. rubbed his hand over his brother's shoulder again.
“I know you're feeling pretty rotten, but I've got some news that should make you feel better. Tim gave us a two thousand dollar bonus. And because you look so pitiful right now, I'll even let you have a thousand of it to do with whatever you want. I won't bug you to save any of it."
A.J. couldn't tell if Rick didn't understand much of what he was saying because of the fever, or if he was too weak to respond, or if he was just too sick to care. A.J. could now sympathize with how his mother had been feeling when she left the hospital earlier. This type of behavior was so unlike Rick that it was scary. Usually when Rick was sick, he didn't act sick. Normally when the eldest Simon brother had no choice but to be admitted to the hospital, he was loudly voicing his demands, and in general letting everyone around him know how he felt about hospital beds, hospital food, and hospital rules. To see Rick like this, so quiet, so compliant, was disconcerting to A.J. He couldn't help but wonder how much of it was Rick's actual illness, and how much of it was a combination of the various stresses Rick had dealt with throughout the year.
Looking down at his brother now, A.J. had to agree with Dr. Barton's assessment that Rick was just plain worn out.
A.J. removed his hand from his brother's shoulder, intending to pour Rick a cup of water from the pitcher that sat on the bedside table. As A.J. turned away, his right forearm was grabbed and squeezed. A.J. turned back again to look into a pair of glassy eyes. Before A.J. could say anything, Rick mumbled with urgency, "We are brothers, A.J. We really are."
A.J. smiled at Rick and brought his left hand up to rest on top of his brother's. As he did so, he teased gently, "Of course we're brothers. Has Mom been denying it again?"
Rick didn't take part in the teasing as once again he emphasized weakly, "We are, A.J. We are...we are brothers. "
Concerned by the weakness in Rick's voice, and also puzzled by his words and the urgency behind them, A.J. squeezed his sibling's hand. "Yes, we are, Rick. We're brothers."
"The Simon brothers," Rick mumbled as his eyes closed.
A.J. nodded and confirmed softly, "The Simon brothers."
A.J. stood by his slumbering brother's bedside a few minutes more, only moving when a nurse came in to check on Rick and write the information she gathered on his chart. A.J. then conferred quietly with the woman for a moment, asking her questions concerning Rick's condition.
The detective's mind was put at ease somewhat by the nurse's assurance that Rick was doing well considering all his depleted body had to fight.
A.J. sat back down in the chair as the nurse left the room. His mind replayed Rick's words from fifteen minutes earlier.
We are brothers. A.J. We really are.
This was the fourth night in a row now, when feverish and in a somewhat delirious state, Rick had said that phrase to A.J. And, it was the fourth night in a row that A.J. had stood by his brother's bedside responding to those words by confirming, "Yes, Rick, we're brothers."
The first night that Rick had been here his temperature was so high, and he was so delirious and out of control, that those words had been yelled repeatedly as his feverish eyes cast wildly about he room. Rick didn't seem to hear A.J. 's assurances that night, nor did he seem to realize that it was A.J. who was standing beside his bed, holding firmly to his hand.
Then the past two evenings those same words, “We are brothers,” were spoken by Rick several times. The past two nights had been different from the first night, however. It was only the first night that those words were said in delirium. The other evenings had been much the same as tonight. The words had been said in much the same way they had been a few minutes ago. Quietly, weakly, urgently, yet lucid. And A.J. had no doubt that the past two nights, and tonight as well, Rick knew he was there with him. That Rick was fully aware that it was his younger brother who was holding on to his hand and offering him reassurance.
What A.J. didn't know was why Rick felt the need to say those words in the first place. Why was it so important to Rick to confirm with A.J. that they were brothers? Was it just the illness and some type of unsettling dream brought on by the fever? Or was it something more than that? Had Rick had some concern on his mind before his illness about their partnership, or about their relationship as brothers?
A.J.’s internal questions yielded him no answers since he didn't have a clue in that regard. Rick hadn't said anything, or even remotely hinted at anything of that nature prior to getting sick.
A.J.’s eyes never left the sleeping form of his sibling as he shrugged his shoulders and said softly, "Sometimes you confuse me, big brother. You keep so much inside. You always have. Sometimes I just don't know what you're thinking. I don't know how to help you when you won’t talk to me. I wish you could understand that."
Of course, the sleeping Rick didn't answer his brother, who sighed with concern and frustration as he settled a little more comfortably in the chair. A.J. picked up the newspaper his mother had discarded and began scanning the headlines. For the moment Rick's puzzling words were shoved to the back of the blond's mind as he began to read the front page.
Two evenings later, A.J. Simon was in his older brother's hospital room again. This time things were different than they had been the other nights A.J. had been here. This time Rick was sitting up in bed, fully awake. There was even a twinge of color to his pale features.
Rick was still ill, but at least his temperature was down to near normal and the tight, chesty cough he had was finally breaking up. In between coughing spells Rick was slowly eating a bowl of soup and sipping on the chocolate milkshake A.J. had smuggled in to him. Actually, smuggled wasn't really the correct term. A.J. had brought the milkshake in per doctor's orders. Rick had dropped ten very needed pounds off his lean frame since the start of his illness, and wasn't finding food of any kind to be too appealing at the present time. Both A.J. and the doctor were hoping that some of Rick's favorite foods would entice him to eat.
"You'd better finish that," A.J. urged as Rick pushed his half full soup bowl away.
"I'm not really hungry."
"I know," A. J. acknowledged. "But you need it. Besides, there's a very large nurse on duty tonight who's expecting you to eat all of it."
Rather than the smart comment A.J. would normally get to the words he had just spoken, Rick simply shrugged his shoulders as he picked up the milkshake container and took another drink.
A.J. let the subject drop, deciding that the milkshake would at least give Rick some much needed calories.
"I can bring you another one of those tomorrow if you want me to."
As he set the shake down on his meal tray, Rick nodded. "Yeah, that would be okay."
A period of silence passed that A.J. finally broke with, "Tim gave us a two thousand dollar bonus for all the work we did for him."
Rick coughed, then replied with, "I know. You told me that the other night."
A.J.'s brow furrowed with puzzlement. He thought Rick had been too out of it on Thursday night to know what had been said. That's what Rick had led his younger brother to believe anyway, whenever A.J. had asked why, when Rick was so sick and feverish, he keep insisting they were brothers. Each time A.J. had inquired that of his brother Rick became withdrawn and he would reply quietly, "I don't know what you mean, A.J. I don't remember sayin’ anything like that."
When A.J. attempted to explain to Rick what he had said, Rick would change the subject before A.J. could finish, or he would simply close his eyes and say, "I'm pretty tired, A.J. Let's just forget about it."
A.J. knew his older brother well enough to know when Rick was avoiding a discussion he didn’t want to partake in. This was definitely one of those times.
Deciding to give it a try tonight, A.J. said, "You were pretty upset the first few nights you were here. You kept yelling for me, and then you’d tell me, ‘We are brothers, A.J.’ What'd you mean by that?"
A.J. could feel Rick pull back from him emotionally. The room was quiet for a minute, then Rick turned his head on the pillow and faced the wall. "I don't know. I don't remember anything about it. I didn't mean anything by it. It was probably just the fever and all that crap they were pumpin' into me. It didn't mean anything. Just forget it."
A.J. shook his head in frustration as Rick closed his eyes. "I'm tired, A.J. It's gettin' late. Why don't you go on home. I'll see you tomorrow."
A.J. stayed seated a few minutes longer, finally rising when he saw Rick had no intention of conversing with him any further this evening. Lightly touching his brother's arm, A. J. said, "All right, I'll see you tomorrow. Do you need me to bring you anything?"
Rick's eyes remained closed. "No. If I think of anything I'll call you."
"Okay," A.J. acknowledged as he stood looking down at his brother a moment longer before turning around and leaving the room.
At the sound of A.J.'s retreating footsteps Rick's eyes opened and he looked cautiously around the room. Sure now that his brother was gone, Rick sighed heavily, then slowly turned on his side, being careful of the IV that was still in his left hand. For a long time that night Rick Simon remained wide awake, staring out into the hallway through his open door until finally, with the help of some medication, he drifted off into a fitful sleep.
The following Thursday Rick was released from the hospital after a nine day stay. He was still weak and recuperating, therefore his activities were limited to walking from the bedroom to the bathroom, or from the bedroom to the couch in the living area of his boat. Both A.J. and Cecilia had tried to convince Rick to stay a few days at one of their homes, but he had adamantly refused, saying he would be fine by himself. Rick's mother wouldn't quite accept that, and insisted that she would at least stop by the marina every day until he was stronger in order to fix his lunch and supper. When Rick tried to argue this point his petite mother simply gave him a stern look and said firmly, "You can not regain your health on a steady diet of frozen burritos and Captain Crunch, Rick. You've lost enough weight as it is, I don't intend for you to lose any more. I will be fixing your meals until you're up and about. Don't even think of arguing with me, son. I'm stronger than you are right now, and if you give me any more lip I may just punch you a good one right in the jaw."
A.J. had laughed at that last sentence, and in return got a dirty look from his sibling before Rick turned his attention to his mother and reluctantly agreed with her ultimatum. "Okay, Mom. Whatever you say."
Cecilia's purpose in visiting her recuperating son every day was actually two fold. While she did, in fact, feel he needed someone to fix his meals for a few days and do some household chores, she also didn't want Rick to be alone. Both she and A.J. had been concerned about how withdrawn Rick had been throughout his hospital stay. Even some of his visitors, like Town and Carlos, had noticed and commented on it. He never had gotten that old Rick Simon twinkle back in his eyes as he started to feel better. Also uncharacteristic of Rick, he hadn’t once complained about the hospital's food, or rules, nor demanded to be released before his doctor approved it. Cecilia and A.J. weren't quite sure if this placid attitude was due to Rick not feeling well, or if there was more behind it than that. Cecilia's concern regarding this grew daily as she spent time with Rick on his boat.
Early on Saturday afternoon Cecilia stood in Rick's galley preparing a pot of chili and a homemade loaf of bread. Her brow knitted together in concern as she glanced in to the living room at her eldest son where he was reclining on the couch, back propped up against some pillows. Again, uncharacteristic of Rick, the TV wasn't on, nor was any music coming from the stereo. He simply sat there, staring out the patio doors at the rain that was steadily coming down while he absentmindedly scratched Marlowe behind the ears. Ever since Rick had been released from the hospital this is how he had spent his time. If he wasn't sleeping, then he sat staring out the patio doors of his boat, not even taking interest in the newspaper or magazines A.J. brought by daily.
As Rick coughed, Cecilia asked from the kitchen, "Are you feeling okay, honey?"
Rick looked at his mother and smiled slightly. "Yeah, Mom. I'm fine."
"Do you need a blanket? It's kind of damp and chilly with all this rain we've been having."
"I don't need a blanket. I'm fine. Thanks."
Cecilia looked at her son a moment longer before turning her attention back to her chili. As she finished stirring the soup and turning the burner on the stove off, she opened the oven door and checked on the pie she had made earlier. Satisfied with what she saw, Cecilia put the loaf of unbaked bread in next to the pie, shut the oven door, then turned to the sink and began washing dishes.
"The pie and the bread should be done in about twenty minutes, Rick. I'm going to turn the oven off and leave them in there for you boys. They should still be warm when the two of you are ready to eat supper. All A.J. will have to do is heat up the chili when he gets here."
"A.J. doesn't have to baby-sit for me tonight," Rick commented. "And you didn't have to make dinner either."
Cecilia wiped her hands on the dishtowel and turned to face her son. "He's not babysitting for you. A.J. wants to come keep you company."
"Well he should be going out on a date or something. He doesn't have to be here."
Not quite understanding her eldest, or his mood lately, Cecilia replied, "You can argue that with your brother. I'm staying out of it."
That comment got a small smile from Rick. "Just like you did when we were kids, huh?"
Cecilia smiled back. "Well, I tried to stay out of your fights as much as possible. It wasn't always easy for me sometimes, but usually you and A.J. worked out your disagreements by yourselves. I only intervened when the yelling got above a dull roar, or when there was blood drawn."
That actually got a laugh out of Rick. "Yeah, I guess you're right, come to think of it. I can remember coming to you a few times wanting you to take my side over something I was mad at A.J. about. You always listened to whatever I had to say, but then you told me A.J. and I had to work it out for our selves. You'd sit with me and offer suggestions on how we could do that, but you usually didn't interfere."
"I always tried not to. I didn't want to take sides with one of my children against the other. I was always under the assumption that doing that would only cause more problems later on for all of us."
"You were probably right, too."
With a twinkle in her eye, Cecilia commented dryly, "Occasionally, I am."
Rick smiled again. "More than occasionally, Mom."
An hour later Cecilia kissed her dozing son good-bye, picked up her umbrella and coat, and quietly left Rick's boat.
It was dark when A.J. pulled into the marina's parking lot at seven that evening. He had planned to be at Rick's at least an hour earlier, but had gotten tied up at the office. Since so much of his time had been taken up at the hospital the past two weeks, A.J. had decided to take advantage of this particular Saturday to catch up on the stack of paperwork and unpaid bills that had been neglected since Rick's illness.
A.J. rapped lightly on the sliding glass doors of Rick's boat, then entered just as Rick shut a blue folder he had in his hands. He set it on the coffee table as A.J. greeted him.
"Hi. How are you feeling?"
"I wish everyone would quit asking me that."
"Well, it is kind of a normal thing to say, you know. You did just get out of the hospital."
"Yeah, yeah," Rick acknowledged with a wave of his hand.
"What did you do today?"
From his reclining position on the sofa, Rick said, "I went dancin', A.J. What does it look like?"
"Gee, Ricky sure is crabby when he's sick," A.J. teased as he sat on the arm of a chair.
"Listen, I'm sorry,” Rick apologized for his sarcasm. “I'm just gettin' bored, I guess." After a pause, Rick went on to relate his day to his brother. "Mom was here most of the morning and part of the afternoon cleaning things that don't need cleaning, and cooking too much food. Town stopped by around eleven and stayed and ate lunch with us. That made Mom happy. At least someone cleaned his plate for her. Carlos was here for a while an hour or so ago. We sat and talked, then he had to leave. He's takin' Eva to a movie tonight. Other than that I've just been layin' here. I'm gettin' lazier than Marlowe."
"Good. You need to be lazy for a while. Are you ready to eat?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Mom made a pot of chili. It's in the refrigerator. You can heat it up in the microwave if you want. It'll be faster that way. There's homemade bread and a pie in the oven."
"Sounds good." A.J. walked to the galley and began pulling dishes out of a cabinet. "Do you wanna eat in there?"
"No, I'm sick of layin' down. Let's eat at the table," Rick replied as he got to his feet and walked to the kitchen. Picking up the dishes A.J. had sitting on the counter, Rick began setting the table while making small talk with his younger brother, who was busy heating up their dinner.
Although A.J. tried to get his brother to remain seated while the blond man washed the dishes later that evening, Rick wouldn't listen to him. He insisted on drying the clean plates and silverware and putting them away. A.J. smiled to himself, knowing Rick had to be bored to insist on doing this chore. Usually the oldest Simon brother just let his dishes dry in the drainer, if he bothered to wash them at all.
Once the dishes were done and put away the brothers stood in the kitchen talking for a minute, then Rick made his way slowly to the bathroom.
A.J. walked into the living room and saw that the folder Rick had set on the coffee table earlier was now on the floor. It was open, with its contents spread all over the room.
"Marlowe," A. J. said with mock sternness. "What did you do?"
At the sound of A.J.’s voice the guilty dog looked up from the paper he was playing with and slunk off to Rick's bedroom.
A.J. bent to pick up the folder and gather the papers. Glancing at the first paper he’d retrieved, A.J. was surprised to see that it was one of Rick's old school papers. In the upper right hand corner was written, Rick Simon, March 18, 1960. Advanced Science. The paper also had a large A on it, and underneath it was written, ‘Keep up the good work, Rick. Great job!’
A.J. smiled to himself, surprised to find out that even after all these years there were still small parts of his brother he didn't really know. He never would have guessed that Rick would have saved any old school papers. As A.J. went about collecting more of the papers, he noticed the majority of them were from Rick's high school science and Spanish classes - the two classes Rick had enjoyed the most and excelled at. A.J. could still recall the fights his father and Rick had over some of Rick's other classes. Especially English and History, two classes Rick barely passed each semester. A.J. remembered over-hearing his parents discuss fourteen-year-old Rick one time after report cards had been sent home.
"Richard makes me so angry sometimes," Jack had said to Cecilia as he waved Rick's latest report card in the air. "Look a t this! A's in Spanish, Science and Auto Shop, an A minus in Algebra, and then D's in History, English, and Government. "
"I know, Jack," Cecilia had sympathized. "His teachers told me at the conference yesterday that there's no reason why Rick can't be making straight A's. He simply doesn't do his homework in those classes he got D's in. Mrs. Bartlett showed me his test scores. Rick's gotten A's on every English test she's given this semester, yet he doesn't turn in any homework or participate in class. Except to make smart-aleck remarks, that is."
"I'd like to give him a smart remark right across his rear end," Jack grumbled. "I don't know what I'm going to do with that boy, Cecilia. I just can't seem to get through to Rick that he can't just excel at what he wants to, that he has to do well in all his school subjects. I might as well be talking to a tree for all the good it does me. He just gives me a smile and says, 'Yeah, Dad, I'll do better from now on. I promise.' Then the next thing I know we're getting a report card like this one. Our oldest son is really trying my patience, Cece."
A.J. 's thoughts came back to the present, his smile broadening as he picked up a drawing Rick had evidently made for their mother in his early grade school years. On it was a picture of a woman drawn in crayon holding what looked to be a baby. The baby had a big round head with two bright blue crayon dots for eyes, as well as a mass of yellow crayon hair. Underneath the drawing was printed, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY. I LOVE YOU, MOMMY. LOVE, RICK. P.S. THAT'S YOU AND A.J. IN OUR FRONT YARD.
A.J. shook his head in amusement as he put the card back in the folder with the rest of the papers he had picked up. As he moved to return the folder to the coffee table, A.J. caught sight of one last paper hiding half underneath the couch. As he bent to retrieve it, A.J. was surprised to see that this was one of his old school papers. As A.J. skimmed through it, he recalled that his second grade class had been assigned to write a paper on the most important person in their lives. Most of A. J.'s classmates had written about one parent or another, one or two about a favorite aunt or uncle or grandparent, and one little boy had even written about his dog. That paper prompted the teacher to kindly point out to the child that while a dog can be a good friend, it's not a person. But A.J. hadn't written about any of the above things. A.J.'s paper had been about his big brother. Seven- year-old A.J. had been so proud of the paper that he had laboriously printed all by himself over a time span of four days. The only help he had accepted was from his mother, who had given spelling assistance on some of the hard words. A.J. stood now looking down at the paper that had been entitled, 'THE SIMON BROTHERS.' In the left hand corner was a gold star. His teacher had also printed, ‘Well done, A.J. Rick sounds like a very special big brother.’
Rick walked back in the room as A.J. was reading over that long ago assignment.
"Hey!" Rick said as he snatched the paper and folder from his brother's hands. “What are you doing?"
"Sorry," A.J. apologized. "I wasn't snooping or anything. Marlowe had gotten into that and had your papers spread all over the floor. I was just picking them up."
"Oh," was all Rick said, his face shading pink with embarrassment.
As Rick set the folder aside and sat down on the couch, A.J. sat down as well. "Why do you have one of my old papers in there?"
Rick looked away from his brother and shrugged. "I don't know. I asked Mom if I could have it the day she finally took it down off the refrigerator. I guess...it kind of meant a lot to me back then...that you thought that much of me, and I just wanted to keep it."
Smiling slightly, A.J. offered, "I still think that much of you...well, on most days anyway."
"I know," Rick acknowledged softly as he stared out the window into the darkness.
Not sure what had caused Rick's mood to suddenly nosedive A.J. said no more. He simply sat in silence with his brother hoping that if he waited long enough, he might get some answers to Rick's recent withdrawn behavior. Ten minutes passed with no sound at all but the soft pitter-patter of raindrops hitting the boat's deck. Finally, Rick's eyes moved from the window to the picture on the shelf of himself at age twenty-three in his Marine dress blues, and eighteen- year-old A.J. standing beside him with one arm slung around his big brother's shoulders.
Rick sighed heavily as he sat staring at that picture. Finally, he spoke. "A.J., I... well, I think I owe you an apology. "
"You do? For what?"
"Well...I...I..." taking a deep breath, Rick tried again. "I shouldn't have said that to you."
Rick was silent for a minute as he thought back to the night in their office over six months ago now. The words Rick had said in anger to his brother still echoed in his head.
"Sometimes I'm amazed we come from the same parents!"
Not only could Rick still hear those words as plainly as if he had just spoken them, he could also still clearly see the pain in A.J.'s eyes. Could still clearly see the surprise on A.J. 's face at the fact that Rick would say something so hurtful. What had made Rick regret those words even more in all the months since he had spoken them; was the fact that A.J. had never once mentioned the incident. Never once brought up to his older brother how nasty and hate-filled those words had been. It had been bothering Rick for long time now - too long. He just hadn't known how to approach the subject with his brother, wasn't sure how to say, "I'm sorry." That whole incident - the death of Ray Maynard, those words, and Rick's subsequent problems afterward, were something he and A.J. didn't talk about much.
A.J. interrupted Rick's thoughts as he asked again with confusion, "You shouldn't have said what, Rick? What are you talking about?"
Rick glanced at his younger brother and then looked away. "What I said to you in the office the night after Ray died."
A.J. 's mind cast back to that particular night, and after thinking it over for a minute the blond detective was still confused. So much had gone on in their lives during that time period that he certainly couldn’t recall every incident, every word spoken. A.J. was still left with no idea as to what Rick was referring.
Although the blond man didn't know what Rick was trying to say, A.J. could see that whatever it was it was very difficult for Rick. ,
"I'm sorry, Rick, but I don't know what you're talking about."
"You don't remember?"
"Rick, look, that was a very rough time for you...for both of us. I was fairly preoccupied on most days. I just can't remember everything that happened."
Rick chuckled. "You can't? And here I thought you were the one with the good memory in the family. You never seem to forget how much money I owe you, or some past mistake I've made I'd rather not hear about one hundred times. "
A.J. smiled at the teasing. "Okay, Okay, so my memory's not what it used to be. Help me out here, all right?"
Again, Rick's eyes went to the picture that was almost 20 years old. "I said... well, I told you...I said, I said, ‘Sometimes I'm amazed we come from the same parents.’”
"Yeah, so?” A.J. teased. “Sometimes that amazes me, too."
"That's not how I meant it that night, A.J. I wasn't kiddin’ around. I...I really meant it. I was so pissed at you 'cause you couldn't understand what I was feeling. Hell, I guess I didn't even understand what I was feelin', but I took it out on you. I said something on purpose that I knew would hurt you just out of spite. Just because I was in so much pain."
Softly, A.J. acknowledged, "I know, Rick."
Rick looked at his sibling with surprise as A.J. smiled and explained, "Rick, we've been brothers for a lot of years now. We've both said things to one another at times that have been hurtful, and we've both said things out of spite. It's part of being as close as we are. As unfortunate as it is when that type of thing happens, I don't think it can always be avoided. That was a bad time for you. I chalked that remark up to everything you were dealing with, and then forgot about it. You have to do the same as well."
"I just don't want you to ever think that you bein' my brother isn't important to me. It's one of the most important factors in my life, A.J. When I knew the gang that had killed Ray had you, I...I didn't deal with it very well. I was sure they were going to kill you before I could find you, and if that had happened I...I just couldn't have handled it. Especially not then." Rick stopped there, took a deep breath, then went on. "And I don't want you to ever think I wanted you there. In Nam. I never wanted that. I just wanted you here at home. Safe. That's all I ever wanted back then."
Again, a quiet acknowledgment from A.J. "I know that, Rick." After a moment he went on to ask, "Rick, is this what all that stuff in the hospital was about? The times that you kept insisting to me that we were brothers?"
"Yeah, I guess so. I've...I’ve spent a lot of months thinkin' about those words. I've had a lot of regrets because of them. I guess when I was so sick with that high fever and all, everything just kinda came out."
"Why didn't you say something before now? Why did you let yourself become ill over it?"
"I...I don't know. I just couldn't. There were too many other things I was dealin' with maybe. I don't know."
A.J. sat there a moment, then reached over and patted his brother's leg. "Rick, just forget about it now, all right? It's no big deal—“
“Yeah, it is a big deal, A.J. It is. I sat in a group session at the V.A. Center right after it all first happened and this woman - she was a nurse in Nam - she talked about all the guys she had seen with severe injuries, all the boys she had seen die. She talked about how when the guys would come off the choppers she and other nurses and doctors would have to make decisions on who would get medical treatment based on their injuries. If a soldier was severely wounded and they didn't think they could save him, he was put off in a corner by himself to die. When she said that, when she talked about how those decisions she had to make back then still haunt her today, the feeling I got I can't begin to describe. I still have nightmares sometimes about that exact type of thing. Only in my dreams it's not me who's dying, and it's not some guy I knew from over there, instead, it's always you, A.J. For some reason you're always the young soldier whose face I see that's being left to die all alone in the corner of some room. I don't know why that is, why it's always you, but it is. It always has been."
Plainly seeing Rick's anguish A.J. squeezed the leg he still had his hand resting on. "Rick, they're just dreams. Nothing like that is ever going to happen. They're probably caused by the type of work we do. By the fact that we have to use our guns sometimes, or something like that. But they're just dreams. Don't tear yourself apart over them." A.J. went on to tease, "Hey, I'm too old to be drafted, so nothing like that is going to happen to me."
Rick smiled slightly before turning somber again. "One time that same nurse told us about the last day she was scheduled to be in country. She was helping pull wounded soldiers off a chopper when she looked down into the face of her little brother. He had no legs anymore, A.J. The damn V.C. had blown 'em off. He had gone to Nam because his big sister was there. When she told us that I kept thinking of you, and of what I had said to you that night in the office, about not havin' any bush savvy. I kept thinking of how I must have made you feel, of what my words must have sounded like to you. I must have made you feel like I didn't think you were worth anything 'cause you didn't go to Nam. I didn't mean to--”
A.J. 's hand reached up to his brother's shoulder and he squeezed hard. "Rick, no. You didn't make me feel that way. I've always known you didn't want me there."
Rick leaned forward and put his head in his hands as he thought again of his words, the nurse's story, and his nightmares. "I just shouldn't have said any of it. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
A.J. rubbed a hand over his brother's back for a few minutes, not removing it or stopping the motion until Rick finally sighed heavily and leaned back against the couch once more.
"Rick, you don't have to apologize. But, your apology is accepted, okay? You were going through a real shitty time then, and I understand that. And I also have always known you never wanted me in Nam. And, I've always known we're brothers, no matter how much we both might want to deny that fact at times. "
When Rick made no comment, A.J. asked, "Do you remember when I was a freshman in high school? On the very first day of school I was sitting in Mrs. Bartlett's English class, and as she was taking roll and got to my name she stopped and looked around the room with this menacing grimace on her face and asked, "Simon? Andrew Simon?”
“After I raised my hand and said 'here' she asked me, "Are you related to a Richard Simon, Andrew?" I knew you had terrorized the poor woman throughout your entire high school career, so when she asked me that I said no, that I had no idea who Richard Simon was. That I had never heard of the guy, much less met him. She didn't know we were brothers until Mom showed up for parent-teacher conferences at semester time. Mrs. Bartlett told Mom that she couldn't believe the two of us came from the same family. Mom told her she couldn't believe it sometimes either."
Rick laughed at A.J. 's story. "Yeah, my baby brother, Mrs. Bartlett's best little debater."
"Yeah, and my big brother, the most trying student Mrs. Bartlett encountered in forty years of teaching."
"Hey, we all gotta be good at something," Rick quipped.
A.J. laughed at his brother, then urged, "Rick, put this behind you once and for all. Don't let something eat at you so much that you get sick. If you can't talk to me about these things, then talk to someone, anyone. Just don't do this to yourself. It's not worth it, big brother, and it only worries Mom."
"I know. It's just not always easy, ya' know?"
"Yes, I know."
Silence lingered in the room for a few minutes. Rick was the one who finally broke it.
"I just wanted you to know...I wanted you to understand why I said what I did. I wanted you to know that...that I'm sorry."
"I understand, Rick,” A.J. nodded. “I understand completely."
Rick gave his brother a smile. When he spoke again he changed the subject.
“How about making us some popcorn? There's a really good movie on cable tonight. You'll love it."
"What movie?" came the skeptical question.
"Women From Venus Rule The World. It's a classic, A.J."
"A classic, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. See these giant women with really big...brains, take over the earth. It's great."
"Oh, it sounds great," A.J. replied as he moved around the kitchen, retrieving the things he needed to make popcorn.
Rick stretched his lanky frame out on the sofa as he picked up the remote and turned on the TV. "Yep, it's great all right. I've seen it five - no make that six times, and I never get tired of it."
"I'm sure you don't."
"Yeah, so bring me a cold beer with that popcorn and we'll be all set to watch it."
"No beer. You can have a soda."
"What? No beer! Rick questioned as he peered over the back of the couch at his sibling. “Why not?”
"Because you're still on medication," A.J. informed his brother while waving his hand at the various prescription bottles that were lined up on the counter.
"Aw, hell, I can have one beer."
A.J. reached in to the refrigerator and retrieved a beer for himself, and a can of Pepsi for his brother. "No, you can't. You'll have to be satisfied with this."
With a glint in his eye, Rick accepted the soda can offered him. "You know, A.J., it is hard to believe we're brothers sometimes."
Glancing at the TV that was loudly proclaiming, 'Women From Venus Rule The World,' A.J. confirmed, "Yes, Rick, it is. It definitely is."
As he walked back to the kitchen, A.J. turned to look at his brother as he emphasized, "But we are."
Rick smiled. "Yeah, A.J., we are. The Simon brothers."
A.J. lifted his beer can in a gesture of a toast and stated firmly in response, "The Simon brothers."
It was close to midnight before A.J. left to go home that evening. The two brothers had an enjoyable time trading wisecracks and sharing laughs as they watched ‘Women From Venus.’
After A.J. was gone, Rick clicked off the TV and leaned back against his pillows. He was trying to decide if it was worth the effort of getting up to go to bed, or if he should just spend the night on the couch. As he lay there contemplating, Rick's eyes fell on the blue folder that A.J. had set on the coffee table hours earlier. Picking it up, Rick opened it and took out the paper that was on top. The paper he had read at least ten times in the last three days. A smile came to Rick's face as he looked down at the big block letters that filled the page, and he began reading once again.
By: A.J. Simon
My big brother is 12 years old. His name is Rick. Rick taught me how to ride a bike and how to build a model airplane. Rick does lots of stuff with me, but sometimes he tells me to get lost. Sometimes he teases me too and is mean. Like the one Easter when I was 4 and he got up before anyone else and took all the eggs the Easter Bunny had left. Then Rick told me the Easter Bunny didn't leave me any eggs or candy cause I was bad. Rick got in lots of trouble for that, but whenever Rick is mean he always says later, “I’m sorry, kid,” then he buys me ice cream, or candy, or lets me read his favorite comic book.
Rick always looks out for me. He makes sure I look both ways before I cross the street, and he yells at me if I go too far out in the water when we’re at the beach. He says it’s his job to keep me safe cause he’s the oldest.
Rick and me stick up for each other. Rick says no one messes with the Simon Brothers. One time last year a big guy was picking on me and my friends. When Rick found out about it he told the guy to leave us alone and pick on someone his own size. Then once we both got in a fight with two kids who were picking on a girl who lives by us. Those guys were bullies, and Rick and me fought them and told them to leave the girl alone. Rick yelled at them as they ran away. "Stay out of our neighborhood!" Then he put his arm around my shoulders and smiled and said, "No one can beat us if we stand together, A. J., cause we're the Simon brothers."
When our family goes camping Rick and me fish, and swim, and hike. I like those times a lot cause its just Rick and me. No other kids are tagging along. We have fun.
Rick is the most important person in my life just because he’s my brother. I wouldn't want any other brother except Rick. He’s the best big brother there is, even if he does tease me sometimes. We will always look out for each other cause we're the Simon brothers.
A drowsy Rick Simon smiled as he placed the old yellowed paper back in the folder. Just before he shut the folder, Rick gently rubbed a finger over the gold star in the corner and read the teacher's words again.
Well done, A.J. Rick sounds like a very special big brother.
As he closed the folder and set it aside, Rick said softly just before he fell asleep, “You're a special brother, too, A.J. Simon. We'll always look out for each other, 'cause we're the Simon brothers."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~