The Times, They are a' Changin'
Seventeen-year-old A.J. Simon parked his Woody in his mother's driveway and walked toward the house, head bowed and hands stuffed deeply in the pockets of his blue jeans. The young man entered his home through the side kitchen door.
"A.J., it's almost supper time," Cecilia announced as her teenager breezed past her without any sort of acknowledgment.
The petite woman stood by the stove, shaking her head in dismay. "I wish he'd snap out of this blue funk he's wallowing in."
From where he sat at the kitchen table playing solitaire, A.J.'s older brother chastised gently, "Come on, Mom, give the kid a break. Anita was his first serious love. He's taken a hard fall. He's off to college in two months. Things will change then."
"I sure hope so. I knew that girl wasn't any good for him. All she ever cared about was having fun. As much as I hate to see A.J. hurting, I can't say I'm not glad it's over. I was concerned that she'd interfere with his college studies."
"Mom, he's gotta have some fun once in a while," Rick pointed out.
"I'm not against your brother having fun, Richard. I just don't think Anita was a good influence. You heard him a few weeks ago, talking marriage. That was her doing. I know it was. A.J.'s no more ready for marriage than I'm ready to take up surfing. He's too young for one thing, and he's got college ahead of him for another."
Rick couldn't help but smile at his mother's words.
"Mom...how old were you when you and Dad got married?"
"You know perfectly well how old I was. I was eighteen." As soon as those words were out of her mouth, Cecilia knew her son had walked her right into a trap. "But that was different, Rick."
"Why? You were young, in love - what's so different about it?"
"Well...it just was. Your father was older for one thing, almost twenty-four. And--"
"And you were young and in love, just like A.J. is, and your mother didn't approve of Dad anymore than you approve of Anita. It makes the forbidden fruit all the more sweet, don't you think?" Rick asked, eyes twinkling.
Cecilia settled her hands on her hips, pretending to be annoyed. "You know, Richard, for a young man who doesn't hold a steady job and has hair half way down his back, you're very intelligent. "
Rick laughed. "I must inherit my I.Q. from my mother."
Cecilia walked over and gave her eldest a peck on the cheek. "You do, son, you do. Now, do you think it will do us any good to call your brother to supper?"
"Just leave him be. Sometimes a guy needs to be alone with his thoughts, Mom. I'll get him to eat something later on."
"Okay, " Cecilia reluctantly bowed to her eldest's wisdom in matters such as these. "I'm going up to get ready for my meeting."
A half hour later Cecilia knocked several times on the closed door of the boys' bedroom.
"Come in," A.J. called.
Cecilia entered the room, hearing the strains of Peter, Paul, and Mary coming softly from A.J.'s transistor radio. Her youngest son was lying on his bed, head cradled in his hands, staring up at the ceiling. A.J. reached over to the nightstand and shut the radio off as his mother sat down on Rick's bed.
"Are you okay?" Cecilia asked, concerned.
"Yeah, Mom, I'm fine."
"A.J., I know Anita meant a lot to you and--"
A pained expression crossed the young face. "I don't wanna talk about it."
Cecilia hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should push the issue. She and A.J. had always been able to talk to each other, but over this subject they were miles apart.
She finally decided to tell her son, "A.J., if you ever want to talk about any of this, I'm willing to listen. As hard as it may be for you to believe, I was once a girl Anita's age."
That comment got a small smile out of A.J. "I know, Mom. Thanks."
Cecilia rose from Rick's bed and bent over her youngest, placing a kiss on his forehead. "I just hate to see you so sad," was all she said before going on to inform him, "I'm leaving for my Women's Club meeting. There's a casserole in the oven for you boys. I don't think Rick's eaten yet either. Why don't you go down to the kitchen and keep him company?"
"Maybe in a little while," A.J. said as he resumed staring at the ceiling.
"I want you to eat something, A.J."
A.J. knew it was no use to argue with that tone of voice. "I will," he promised.
Cecilia stood over her son a moment longer, then exited the room, quietly closing the door behind her.
An hour later A.J. could still be found in the same position on his bed. Summer evening sounds drifted in through the open window. Children’s playful shouts from somewhere in the neighborhood, the bark of a dog, and a lawn mower being run two houses down. A.J. rose from his bed, moving to look out the window at the brilliant red western sky where the sun was slowly sinking down the horizon. On the sidewalk in front of his house stood a teenage couple holding hands, engaged in animated conversation. When the boy leaned forward to kiss his girl, A.J. looked away, the sight causing his young heart too much renewed pain.
A knock on the door broke into the sudden hurt A.J. was feeling. Before A.J. could answer the knock, Rick entered the room.
"Hey, kid, I'm gettin' pretty hungry. Wanna come down and join me for supper?"
A.J. turned and sat on the windowsill. "No, not right now."
"We don't have to eat that casserole Mom left, you know. I could make us one of Rick Simon's famous garbage omelets, or one of Rick Simon's super deluxe Dagwood sandwiches."
"No, thanks," A.J. turned down his brother's offers without so much as a smile or a teasing word about Rick's culinary skills...or lack of them.
Rick walked over to A.J.'s bed, parking his lanky frame on the edge of it and letting his cowboy boots splay out across the floor.
"You've been going through a pretty rough time lately, haven't ya'?" Rick said with sympathy.
A.J. looked down at his worn sneakers, nodding. "Everything's changing, Rick."
"Things have a way of doing that, buddy."
A.J. looked over at his brother, his sorrow and worries evident in his clear blue eyes. "You're going in the service, probably off to Vietnam--"
now,” Rick protested, “I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. I know that's where you'll end up, and you know it, too. I read the paper, Rick. I watch the news on T.V. Besides, I heard you and Mom talking the other night."
"Oh," was all Rick could think to respond with.
"How is she?"
"She's okay, A.J. Upset, I guess. Probably more than she's lettin' on. But she understands why I made the decision I did. There's really not much choice. It's either the service or Canada, and I won't do that."
"Why? I've been thinking a lot about it and I don't think it would be so bad. Canada, I mean. I'd come up and see you there every chance I got."
"A.J., come on, you know I'd be considered a deserter. What do you think, those guys just go up there, and get jobs, and buy a house, and live happily ever after? The law in both countries is looking for them, A.J. I could never come home. Besides, I was up there this spring just to kind of check things out. They don't live so good. It's just not for me. And to be honest with you, I guess I've always wanted to do something that would make Dad proud of me. I know joinin' the Corps. will fill that bill."
"Rick, Dad was proud of you. You don't have to do this just to prove--"
Rick put an end to the conversation. "It's already done, A.J. It doesn't really matter now why I did it, what matters is, it's done. In three weeks I leave for boot camp."
A.J. was quiet for a moment, then informed his brother, "I'm not going to Oregon State."
"You're what! A.J., Mom's gonna kill you. You'd better--"
"I didn't say I'm not going to college. I just said I'm not going to Oregon. I went down to U.C.S.D. after work this afternoon. I can still get in there, and with all my scholarships intact. There's only one class I was going to take this first semester at Oregon that's full here at San Diego, but that's no big deal. I'll just substitute it with another class and take it next semester."
"But why are you doing this?" A bewildered Rick questioned. "You've been planning on Oregon State since you were a junior in high school. They've got one of the best track teams in the country. That's all you ever talked about was studying up there and running track."
"I can run track right here in San Diego just as well as I can run it in Oregon."
"Because...well, because more than likely you'll be shipped out to Vietnam, and I don't think I should be so far away from Mom. I still want to live on campus even though I'm going to stay here in San Diego. I've got a friend from high school that's going to college here and who doesn't have a roommate yet, so I can share his dorm. But even that way I'll be close to home if Mom needs me."
"Can I ask you to change your mind about all this?"
"No, my mind's made up."
"Does Mom know?"
"Not yet. I'll tell her tomorrow."
"She's not gonna like it," Rick warned.
"I don't care if she likes it or not, it's not her decision to make," A.J. said. "Besides, I don't think she'll be too upset just as long as I'm going to college somewhere. That's all she cares about anyway."
"A.J., that's not true and you know it," Rick admonished.
"She never liked Anita," A.J. stated vehemently. "Mom didn't like her because she was afraid Anita was going to keep me from my studies."
"That's not entirely true--" Rick started only to be interrupted.
"I don't see what the big deal was. Mom was only eighteen when she married Dad. Every time I pointed that out to her, she said it was--"
"Different," Rick ended for his brother with a smile.
"Yeah, that's exactly what she said. I don't see how it was so different."
"A.J., look, I hate to sound like Mom, but in a way it was different."
"Now just calm down a minute and listen to me. Mom and Dad were dating in an era when most young women were married right outta high school. And there was a world war goin' on. A lot of young couples married simply because the guy was getting’ shipped over seas, much like Dad was when they got married. Dad didn't have the opportunity you have either, A.J. His folks couldn't afford to send him to college. Mom just doesn't want to see you throw that opportunity away and regret it someday on down the road. You're a smart kid, little brother. Real smart. Look at all those scholarships you won. Your education isn't hardly costin' Mom a dime. You don't want to waste all that do you?"
"No, but it wouldn't have been wasted. Anita and I would have made it work."
"Maybe you would have," Rick nodded, giving his brother that much.
A.J. sighed heavily as his shoulders hunched forward wearily. "I guess it doesn't really matter. I'll never know now."
There was a long pause before Rick asked, "Anita was your first, wasn't she, Kid?"
"My first what?" A puzzled A.J. asked.
"The first girl you went to bed with," Rick stated candidly.
A.J. didn't have to answer his brother, the blush that suddenly turned his features bright red and made his ears hot gave him away.
Rather than teasing him, as A.J. would have expected Rick to do, Rick sympathized, "The first girl is always special. It's a hard relationship to let go of."
"There was more to it than just that."
"I'm sure there was. But that's a very important part of it, isn't it?"
After a moment A.J. nodded, acknowledging softly, "Yeah, it is. I really thought that she was the one, Rick. The girl I'd spend the rest of my life with. It was all really important to me. Not just the...sex, but all of it. I thought she felt the same way about me, but I guess I was wrong."
"I don't think you were wrong at all, A.J. I think Anita did feel the same way about you. She's going through a real bad time right now. You said yourself she was very close to her brother. Give her some time to heal. She may change her mind."
"I don't think so. Besides, if she feels the same way about me, then why won't she let me help her through this?"
"I don't have an answer for that, kid. Everybody grieves in his or her own way, I guess. Maybe in order to grieve, Anita needs to be left alone."
"I took the ring back to the jewelers today," A.J. said, changing the subject. "There's your money on the dresser. Thanks for loaning it to me."
"You keep it."
"Well...it's like I told you, I won't be needing it where I'll be going. I didn't buy you anything as a college going away present, so to speak, so you use that money to buy something for your dorm room, or to put toward your books or something."
"Rick, that's a lot of money! I can't take it. It was only supposed to be a loan."
"Forget about the loan. I want you to have it. You use it for college."
A.J. could see that his brother's mind was made up, but he still didn't feel right about taking that kind of money from Rick. After a little thought, he said, "How about if I save it, and you and I will do something special with it?"
"Yeah, like go on a vacation together when you get back from Vietnam, or...or maybe open a business together or something someday."
"A business?" Rick laughed. "A.J., what the hell kind of a business could we ever open together? You're gonna be a hot shot lawyer and I'm gonna be...heck, I'll probably never be anymore than what I am right now."
"You'll be more, Rick. I know you will," A.J. stated with great confidence. "And I don't know what kind of a business yet, but I've got a lot of time to think about it."
"That you do, kid,” Rick chuckled. “Now, I want you to make me a promise."
"You don't spend a lot of time worrying about me. I can take care of myself. I want you to do your best in college. I wanna see A's on your report cards. You're gonna be somebody someday, A.J. Don't blow it, ya' hear me?"
A.J.'s eyes cast downward. "Yeah, Rick, I hear you. I'll do my best, I promise. And you...you be careful over there, please?"
"I will be, kid. I will be."
A.J. looked at his brother, the fear plainly evident on his handsome young face. "I'm really scared, Rick. I don't want you going there."
"I know. And I'd be lyin' to you if I didn't say I wasn't just a little scared, too. But I'll do my damnedest to come home in one piece, kiddo, I promise you that."
"Please do, Rick. Please do."
Rick rose from the bed, walking over to urge his brother off the windowsill by placing an arm around A.J.'s shoulders. "Come on, that's enough of this doom and gloom talk. I'm springin’ for a pizza and a movie, so let's get going."
"Rick, I don't feel like--"
Rick pushed his brother toward the bedroom door. "I'm not taking no for answer, A.J."
Rick's good-natured enthusiasm was hard to resist. "I can see that," A.J. laughed. "But wait a minute, I need to comb my hair."
Rick reached up and thoroughly tousled the thick, blond locks. "You're hair doesn't need combin.’ It looks fine to me."
"Hey, cut it out," A.J. laughed, pushing his brother away and heading for the bathroom. A few seconds later a freshly groomed A.J. returned.
"Ya' don't look any different to me," Rick teased as the brothers headed down the stairs.
Right before the brothers left the house, A.J. thought of something more.
Rick halted his progress out the front door. He turned around. "Yeah?"
"Um...uh, you won't tell Mom about what we talked about upstairs, will you? You know, about me and Anita...about us having slept together?"
"A.J., no, I won't tell Mom," Rick assured. "That was a private conversation just between you and me. What you do with your girlfriends is your business. You're not a kid anymore. All I'm gonna say on the subject is be careful. I know Mom's talked to you about a lot of things concerning sex, and you and I have talked in the past, so I trust that you know what you're doing. You and Anita...well, you two were using birth control, weren't you?"
"Anita told me she was on the pill," A.J. said.
Let's just hope she wasn't lyin' to you about that little fact, kid. That's definitely not a problem any of us needs right now, Rick thought. All he said, however, was, "Good. The only piece of advice I'm gonna give you now that you're almost a college man, is make sure when a girl tells you she's using a certain kind of birth control, that she is. If you're ever in doubt that she's telling you the truth, you go out and buy yourself some rubbers. You understand me?"
A.J. blushed again at his brother's frank words, but took them to heart. He nodded earnestly. "I will."
"Okay, enough of Sex Ed. 101, let's go get that pizza," Rick said, throwing an arm around his brother's shoulders as the two of them headed out the door.
The seriousness of their conversation was soon forgotten as Rick and A.J. enjoyed a light-hearted evening together. An evening filled with laughter and brotherly teasing. An evening A.J. was well aware he might not experience again for a long time to come. An evening Rick didn't take for granted for one single moment, for he knew, in leaving A.J. when he went off to war, he was leaving a boy behind but would return to a man. Rick doubted there would be a lot of evenings left in their lives like this one had been. Evenings when they talked over a problem, then enjoyed a good a meal and a lot of laughs.
Nights like this will be few and far between in the future, Rick thought, watching with amusement as his brother flirted with their waitress. After he graduates from college, A.J.'ll go his way and I'll go mine. As much as I hate to think about it, we'll probably drift apart like most brothers do.
Years later, long after the birth of Simon and Simon Investigations, Rick would remember this particular night and realize how wrong he had been. How very, very, wrong he had been.
Time had changed things for Rick and A.J. Simon, yes. But on the other hand, the important things had stayed the same.
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