Discovering Love

Written by Rick Beck

Chapter 40


I was heading up the road that led to the road that led me to Greg's house on Monday morning when I saw the familiar blue-bomb heading my way. She stopped with the passenger side door next to me. I got in the car, thankful for the air-conditioning. It was already getting too hot.

"I'm sorry if I'm holding you up. It's been a long weekend."

It had been. Ted had called twice a day since Friday night and George had called to cancel lunch Saturday because of extra practice and we were meeting at noon in the hospital cafeteria.

"It's no problem, Martin. I'd only need to leave five minutes earlier to pick you up. I wish you'd let me. It's the least I can do."

"I don't like making people go out of their way," I said. "Let's just leave it the way it is. I start school soon and I won't be going until later after that."

"Doug said to tell you he gave George your number."

"Oh, yeah, he called. That's cool."

"Don't let him upset Greg if he comes by," she said. "Doug said they had some trouble."

"Greg mostly sleeps. I don't think it'll be a problem but I'll make sure."

"They're withdrawing the drugs. Slowly at first. He won't be sleeping as much or so I'm told. Try not to upset him."

"That's great."

"Yes! He shouldn't be excited at all. The one leg is still a problem. They can't seem to get rid of the the last of the infection."

"I heard them talking," I said. "They changed the antibiotic to see if another one might be more effective."

"Yes, that's what they said."

"They say it'll be a year before he's getting back to normal."

"Yes, that's what they've told us."

"I can't imagine Greg lying-low for a year."

"That makes two of us," she said sounding doubtful.

She dropped me off at the hospital entrance and told me to tell Greg hello for her. We smiled and she sped away. I raced up to his room, smiling big and waving to Attila, flashing my infamous ID. I burst through the door wanting to talk to Greg at last.

He was sleeping.

My excitement waned by lunchtime and I slipped out to join George in the cafeteria after filling Greg's cup with ice before I left him. I took a table near the main entrance and got a Coke and some fries to keep me going.

George was fifteen minutes late but he was no doubt worth the wait. He'd grown an inch or two and he had filled out by fifteen or twenty pounds. He stood tall and proud in a military uniform as he stepped inside the door to look for me. He spotted me immediately and when he got to the table he shoved his hat up under his arm and reached for my hand. I was impressed at his spit and polish. His hand had a white glove on it but I shook it anyway.

He looked like a million. He was more beautiful than I remembered. It was a perfect beauty, no marks, no flaws, and he flashed his dazzling teeth at me.


"Hi, George," I said, trying not to stare. "What's up."

"We're playing downtown. I thought I would look you up while I'm here. I've thought a lot about you."

"George, we don't even know each other."

"Doesn't mean I haven't thought about you. That night at Greg's. I know you liked me. I liked you. What's to know?"

"Well, gee, you never said anything before."

"Yeah, I know. I'm like that. So many people come on to me. I forget if I want something I've got to make an effort. That was a while back. I wasn't sure what to say to you. You seemed younger then."


"I'm in the band. Piano actually. I'm officially a member of "the band". It's more of an orchestra to be precise."

"Yes, let's be. You came to see about Greg?"

"Oh, no. Greg and I didn't part on very good terms. I'm afraid I insulted him. I can't even remember what it was about but I don't want to upset him. Doug says he's still pretty sick."

"Yeah, that's best. Why are you here?"

"I told you. I came to tell you I wanted to see you."

"Here I am," I said, being a little confused why someone that looked like George would even glance at me twice.

There was no way I was getting involved with someone that was not only beautiful but on stage six nights a week.

"I want us to see each other."

"How long are you here?"

"Just this week but we'll be stationed down in DC soon. I have a car. New T-bird. I can pick you up any time you say. We practice in the morning and then I'm free until we play at night, usually at eight. Then I'm off by eleven. You could come see me."

"I see. I'm a high school kid, George. I don't do much going out during the week. Haven't you met anyone that you like in the military?"

"Sure, most of them are better looking than me. They can't be bothered. I just thought we could get to know each other."

"Sure, but I'm not dating anyone. I mean I've got to go to school and study at night. I'm not very exciting."

"In the eye of the beholder. And then you see Greg in-between. He's never going to be what you want, you know that, right?"

"Sure! It's not about what I want. It's about him. I want to be there for him, George."

"I figured maybe you'd be over him by now."

"I am. We're friends. I like him."

"Yeah, don't we all. Can I call?"


"What about dinner one night?" he asked.

"Sure. Look, I told him I'd be back after I ate. I was here quite awhile before you came. I think I better get back."

"I play tonight. I'm off tomorrow night. Why don't I meet you and I can drive you home. You don't start school for another week or two. If you're in the mood we'll stop for something to eat."

"Okay, cool," I said, not knowing how to say no to him. "That would be nice. I be up in Greg's room. He's always asleep so just stick your head in and let me know when you get here."

I excused myself from the table and escaped the cafeteria. Every time my life started to sort itself out, the next thing I knew it was more complicated than ever. Now I had both Ted and George wanting more time than I wanted to give them. I had no feelings for either of them that I could identify. Certainly I could have sat and stared at George for hours and I would have been perfectly happy, but George was too fast for me. I was a plaything he wanted to have and he'd want to have another one in time. There was no way I was getting involved with him but that meant I had to shut him down and that was no easy task in my world.

Rejection is a terrible thing. I'm sure a lot of people never recover from the first love rejection. The pain of which you can carry for a lifetime and it can destroy any hope of happiness or even trust. I wasn't that worried about George. He'd just turn around and someone would be waiting in line. I guess I had no right to assume that, but if George didn't have guys waiting line, well, I sure as hell couldn't help him.

Ted was a different story and more worrisome than George by far. He was genuinely needy with no hope of finding what he was looking for in a small berg he knew nothing about. I'd have to keep seeing him until it was safe to cut him loose. By the time I started school I'd figure out how to do that without making things worse for him than before he picked me up.

He seemed desperate for someone that understood his complicated mix of desires. Man was he ever barking up the wrong tree with me, but tell that to someone even more needed than I was. I could be his friend and just try to discourage the sex thing until he found someone else to like that way.

I didn't know what was wrong with me. George would have been the catch of the century for most guys. Yet, I didn't feel it. I'd follow Greg to hell and back and have him cursing me all the way there and back but I'd hang in there. With George I didn't even want to go there. Perhaps it was all the complications I'd already experienced in my too young life. Greg had rejected me and Kent had left me, but the feeling I was left with was about the same. It hurt like fuck and I was damned tired of the pain.

It didn't matter much how he left me. He was gone and I was alone and the emptiness was winning again. Now I could be close to Greg knowing he'd never tolerate it if he wasn't so out of it that he didn't even know it was me, but it was something where otherwise there was nothing. Neither George nor Ted chasing me was as potent as sitting next to Greg's bed while knowing it wouldn't and couldn't last long. At least we could be close for a time.

While I was with him there was a tiny bit of hope that could continue to burn. I loved being next to him no matter how long it lasted. It's where I wanted to be all along. I knew it would hurt bad when I finally had to let him go for good but I was sure there was a little time left. After that I'd take it a day at a time.

I pushed my way back into Greg's room and walked over to the window to open the shades now that the sun was over top of the building. I watched the cars passing down below and wondered what to do now. I could smell Greg. I always liked his smell.

"Where were you?"

"Huh?" I said, whirling around to meet Greg's gaze.

"I woke up. You weren't here."

"I left your cup full of ice. I was only gone a half hour. Thirty-five minutes."

"I wake up at nights some times and you aren't there."

"I go home in the evening. My parents still insist that I'm home for dinner or else. I never am but I need to go in early enough so they can yell at me about it. Makes them feel important."

He tried to smile and his eyes seemed clouded as he kept them on me.


"I don't know. Power to the parents, I guess. You know how that is."


"Yeah, that's true. You got winners when it comes to parents, Greg. I'm not sure what I got. I guess someone had to get mine."


"You mean you think nobody had to get mine. I sure as hell did."

"Will you shut up! That's not what I asked you," he said weakly, sounding mightily frustrated with me as usual.

What's new!

"What did you ask me?"

"Why are you here?"

"I like hospital food?"

The bottom fell out of my stomach. I expected him to say get the fuck out of my room or something not quite as polite as that. I'm sure I got tears in my eyes. Of course he might not want me hanging around him. I'd always aggravated hell out of him, lots of times purposely, and he'd done his share of aggravating me as well. It seemed like a draw to me but of course I saw things differently than he did. I'd get out gracefully and leave him alone.

"I don't know. I'm worried about you. You know the way I told you I feel and all. I just want to make sure you're okay. It can't be any fun being up here alone. I mean except for when they come in to work you over. I mean I just thought a friendly face might help even if it was only mine. Not that you think my face is all that big a deal. I know you don't. I just... . What was the question?"

"Ice?" He said sounding really weak.

"Yeah! It's in the cup. Here I'll get it."

He had pushed his tray to one side and the cup of ice was just out of his reach. I used the spoon to scoop some out and he watched me carefully measuring the amount I left on the spoon.

"Thanks!" He said, sounding a little stronger as I shoved in the third shovel full. "I'm really hot."

"Me too," I said, looking at his naked chest and feeling flush.

"Cut it out. Can't you ever get serious about anything?"

"I did once. Didn't pay. Feelings weren't mutual. You might remember that."

"Shut up, Martin!" He coughed.

"You want me to go, Greg? I'll go."

"NO! Please don't. Sit."

"You had enough ice?"

"Yeah! Sit down. Please sit down."

I sat down and he placed his hand on mine. I enjoyed the touch. I wasn't sure if this came just before he asked me to leap from his hospital window, although the ground wasn't all that far off.

"Thank you."

"No problem. I'm here to serve," I said.

"Thank you for coming. For staying with me."

"It's okay."

"I wake up and you aren't here and I get scared."

"Of what?"

"Something happened to you," he said swallowing and then coughing. "I'm scared you won't be back. I'm scared you'll get fed up with my shit and you'll leave me for good."

"I'll be here every day. Every day. That's a promise. I'll come every day until you go home."

"After that?" He asked, suddenly getting way ahead of me.

"After that what?"

"Will you come every day after I go home?"

"You want I should? Last I heard you didn't like me going to your house."

"God you're dense. YES!" he yelled the last word but it came out somewhere between a squeak and a cough.


He nodded vigorously. I smiled. It was all suddenly quite perfect if he hadn't looked like death warmed over.

I got up and started scooping more ice into his mouth. He held the spoon with his lips and closed his eyes like there was major relief.

"Hot!" He said sounding weak again.

"More ice?" I asked and he nodded, holding my wrist as I put in more.

"Hot!" he said again in protest.

"Yeah! Should I put some on your chest? That might help a little."

"Yes!" He said.

I used my hand because I wanted to touch him. He watched me moving the ice around and it melted almost as quickly as I put it against his skin. He was burning up and it alarmed me. I figured the doctors had it covered but it stayed on my mind. When I sat down after wiping up the mess the ice made, he held my hand but didn't say anything.

It was good that he was back but watching him was suddenly very difficult for me. If I'd lost sight of how sick he was the illusion was gone. Even after weeks he was still suffering and it hurt me to see him in pain.

"Should I call the nurse?" I asked.

He held up the control that was wrapped around the other side of the bed. The red light blinked mindlessly and his finger was pressed hard down on the call button.

"You in pain, Greg?"

He nodded weakly and squeezed my hand in a flinch. It anyone told me he could look any worse I wouldn't believe them, but he had gotten more pale and there was a powdery substance at the corners of his mouth. I watched his chest jump as he gasped bigger gulps of air.

"You sure you don't want me to get someone? It might be faster," I said, resting my chin on the back of his hand as I watched him.

He once again held up the blinking box with his finger pushed down on the red button.

"Maybe it's broke. Maybe no one is up there."

He shook his head and squeezed my hand. "Don't leave me. I don't like being alone."

I couldn't if I wanted to. If he was too weak to talk he wasn't so weak that he couldn't get a good grip on my hand. While I knew it should have comforted me, it didn't. It disturbed me seeing him in distress and not being able to help him. I thought it would pass at first but then I remembered they had cut back on the pain meds. That's when I started getting alarmed. I didn't want it to get any worse and I knew Greg was too strong willed to ever admit the pain could beat him.

"They're reducing your pain medication. Maybe they've reduced them too much," I said.

He didn't answer.

"I can go ask. I'll come right back. I won't leave you."

His eyes were pinched closed. His grip was strong and then all at once his entire body relaxed. I couldn't tell if he was breathing and panic set in. I ran to the door and started up the hall ranting and raving about someone getting off their fat asses to help him. There was nobody between the last room and the end of the hall, and I started to run to the nurse's station for help.

"Is anyone working!" I yelled. "We need help down here."

Nurse Attila was in full trot when I caught sight of her. She didn't bother to reprimand me or to check my ID. In fact she ignored my yelling and was going into Greg's room before I went into reverse, satisfied help was on the way.

"Dr. Johnson, Dr. Krakovich, STAT," she was yelling in the speaker above Greg's bed. "Dr. Johnson, Dr. Krakovich, STAT."

"You! OUT!" She yelled at me when she saw me at the door.

"What's wrong?" I said, watching her checking the IV and stripping the gauze off the bad leg.

"Out! Out!" She yelled, leaving him to push me out the door. "Go to the solarium. Wait there!"

She shut the door in my face and as I stood their indecisive, two doctors, fifty feet apart came dashing toward me with white smocks trailing behind them as they banged into the room without slowing down for chit-chat.

I couldn't follow what was going on but they were pulling wires and tubes and yelling at each other. The one doctor got to the pin that ran through Greg's leg just below the knee and deftly disconnected it from the rigging that held the leg up off the bed. As I was caught between terror and awe the gurney smashed me against the wall as it was rushed into the room. In ten seconds they were wheeling Greg out and whisking him away from my view.

I turned and looked back into the empty room with the wires, tubes, and gadgets swaying like some invisible breeze had erupted inside. My heart was pounding and my mind was blank. I walked toward the area where Nurse Attila had instructed me to go as I searched my pockets for the Colonel's phone numbers. I stopped at the nurse's station and punched a button as a nurse rushed over to interrupt me.

I held up my hand and stared hard into her eyes. I'm sure I looked rabid.

"Dial nine for an outside line," she advised, backing off and walking away.

"Colonel. Something's wrong with Greg."

"I'm on the way," the raspy voice said and the phone went dead.

Greg's mom and dad sat on one side of the waiting room and I faced them. They'd asked what happened when they first came and I told them about the doctors and the gurney. The Colonel had gone out a few times and came back with no information. He made a few phone calls and we sat staring at one another. If I looked as bad as they looked, I looked like hell.

They'd been there over an hour when the doctor finally eased himself in through the door to face us.

"His temperature spiked. The infection had spread into his groin and down his leg. I'm not sure how it got out of control so quickly. He's fine. We're trying to get his temperature down further. It'll be a few hours before he's back in the room. Maybe not until morning. You'd best go home."

"When was the last time he was checked?" The Colonel asked.

"Ten! Regular rounds. We were weaning him off the pain medication. I can only think that had something to do with the adverse reaction."

"The leg?"

"It's not damaged any further. The infection is back in check. I don't see there should be a problem," Dr. Johnson said. "The worst is over. The fever has broke and I think we've finally nailed that infection down."

"What's next?" The Colonel's voice was unusually detached.

"We'll keep him out of it the rest of the day. I've ordered the pain medication back up to what it was. We'll try again tomorrow and keep the nurses checking on him. We might try new medication in case we're getting an allergic reaction."

"He'd rung the button for the nurse for fifteen minutes before he passed out from the pain. I was screaming for them when I was going up the hall and no one was around. They didn't answer his call for help," I said and I sounded as angry as I was about it.

"You can't be certain the reaction was pain-related. I'm sure there was some discomfort. I think it might have been...."

"I could be certain," I persisted. "He had a hold of my hand and he was hurting big time. He needed the godamn nurse to come when he rang. He wouldn't let me go. He doesn't ring that often. I've never seen him ring at all before."

"I'll see it doesn't happen again," Dr. Johnson said sweetly. "The nurses will respond when he rings from now on. No exception."

"No, you won't. I will see it doesn't happen again, Major. You will see that there are no more glitches in my son's recovery, is that clear?"

"I really think you should take a personal interest in this case because I have dinner with your superiors twice a week to discuss my son's progress. He's in this hospital because I trust it is the best care he can get anywhere on Earth. You will see to it that I am not mistaken in those beliefs?"

"Yes, sir," the Major said, standing stiffly as he listened to his orders.

He escaped as soon as the Colonel told him that was all.

"I've got to go back to work. We're on a special project. Why don't you take Martin and go home. He'll be out of his room for the rest of the day anyway," the Colonel said to his wife.

"You okay with that, Martin?" Greg's mom asked. "You look like you could use a break."

"Sure! My parents will be happy to see me home for dinner. It'll make their day."

I was exhausted by the time I got home. I went to bed and fell asleep as my head hit the pillow. When I got up my parents had been there, eaten dinner, never bothered to think I might have wandered home for a change, and had gone back out. Oh well, some days just don't work out all that well.

I started heating up the leftovers knowing that even when I was right I was wrong.

The phone rang while I was putting my dinner on the plate. Ah, timing is everything.


"Martin. Ted. Can I come over?"

"No, Ted. It's late."

"It's only eight-thirty. I had to work late."

"It's been a long day. Can we make it some other time?"

"Tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, tomorrow night. Meet me over at the base," I said, getting a really good idea.

"Just tell me when and where."

"Great!" I said.

The answer came to me while I was trying to figure out what to do about Ted. How is it I didn't see it right away?


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