Discovering Love

Written by Rick Beck

Chapter 48

The Long Hello

Life has a way of building complications into it. When there is only you, there isn't much thought required to figure out what you want. You can pretty much decide anything in a minute or two. However, once you add someone to the mix, it starts getting more complicated exponentially. The more people you add the more complicated it becomes until you are unable to decide anything.

Then after it becomes so complicated you can't move, you go back to the basics and decide for yourself what's best for you. I suppose it is selfish and at times harsh to make decisions on the basis of what you want and need disregarding the expectations and preconceived notions that the people in your life might have for you and about you. My relationship with Greg had altered forever the power that my parents had over me. My need to be with him outweighed anything else and they knew it by this time and rarely objected to my comings and goings.

While being committed to Greg and his recovery, that didn't mean I didn't have deep feelings for Doug. He was the easiest person I was ever with, although it wasn't always easy figuring out what to do with him. The one consistent feature about Doug was his desire to get married and to have kids. I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be with me and that left us at a dead-end, but whenever he was around me, I wished for more, only to add even more to the confusion. I had no understanding of how he could feel the way he felt about Herbie and me and still think he would eventually end up married with children, but that equation wasn't my master plan and Doug always did his own thing.

Recognizing who you are and what you need is a tricky business; it changes from day to day. When someone like Doug is coming around and giving you attention, it's difficult to remember that you and he are headed in completely different directions - it's only a pit stop for him while he looks for what he really wants. And for you? ....it's only your emotional well-being. I suppose if you could do it, you'd have the best of both worlds. But I simply couldn't, or wouldn't, and Doug had no trouble accepting that concept.

Most of all, I was looking for something that would last, although I wasn't without my weakness for him.

A person without love can go along without considering much while a person with love is always trying to figure out the proper balance needed to keep it alive. How much do you give up and how much do you demand in return for your love? Does loving someone mean that you can't love someone else at the same time? What if you find yourself loving two someones at the same time? What if they're brothers? What if you find both of them equally irresistible but in quite different ways?

I was at that stage; they were too, but there was no future at all with one and a questionable future with the other. But if I didn't love them I wouldn't have love in my life, and I was thankful I did. I tried to keep everything straight in my head but whenever I was around Doug that put a kink in my certainty about Greg. No one could or would do to me what Greg did but Doug got to me on an entire different level. I loved being with Greg and having him to myself, except for people who came to prod and poke him. It was a good deal for me and I suppose for him.

In the end it would be our feelings for each other that determined how it all came out. I was going to continue loving him and hope for the best. The wildcard in the deal was what would happen after he got out of the hospital. Will he be tired of seeing my face and will his minions return to his side, or would I remain an important part of his life? I wasn't sure and I don't know that he was and so being with him as much of each day as I could seemed like a good deal at the time.

I talked to Nurse Atilla on Monday and she approved my return to the hospital. We didn't talk about Greg but I assumed that if I was being allowed back he was okay. Of course I was fine until a half an hour before school let out. I had a ton of work to catch up on but that didn't stop my race to his bedside. I would have skipped school if I hadn't missed so much, but now all I wanted to do was to get next to his bed.

His eyes were open when I came through the door. He was hunkered down in the bed with his head being lost in the huge billowy pillow. His deep blue eyes penetrated me as I stood just inside the doorway and looked at the bed. The I.V. stand was gone from the side of his bed and things seemed like they were back to normal. There was a tray full of food on his table and several cups of liquid on the nightstand. Neither of us had anything to say but the room was filled with the energy we created.

His face was drawn and the shadows under his eyes had deepened and it made them look sunken. His face had lost all the gains he had made in weight after the initial recovery period had ended seemed gone. Nothing moved but the eyes and he kept them on me until I was beside the bed and feeling for his hand under the blanket. It too was cold but without resistance.

"You afraid I'd make you sick?" he asked.

"No, they were afraid I'd make you sick."

"Doug said you were sick."

"Doug?" I said, with a thousand visions running through my head. I was unsure how to answer him.

"Yeah, you remember, my twerp brother."

"Yeah. I know him."

"Did I make you sick or something?"

"I don't know, Greg. I was sick. They said to come back in a week. It's been a week. They said I could come back."

"I noticed that," he said, closing his hand in mine. "I missed you."

"I missed you," I said. "How do you feel?"

"A little more or less like shit."

"Yeah, you look more or less a little like shit."

"Thanks. I needed that. Can I have some ice. I've been looking at that pitcher for the last hour but I didn't have the energy to reach for it."

"No chin-ups?"

"I can't even pee without pissing on myself. I hate this place. They're going to do x-rays tomorrow."

"Why?"

"See what's up with my leg."

"Does it hurt?" I asked.

"Not particularly. It took a beating while I was sick is all. They've got to look to see if it is still healing."

"What do you think?"

"I missed you," he countered.

"About your leg, asshole."

"How could I miss it. It's right there."

"So do you think it's still healing or what?"

"I guess. Did you miss me?"

"Yeah, of course I missed you."

"I wondered if you were coming back."

"Why?"

"I don't know. Everyone else left me. Why not you? I'm not the most loveable character in the world."

"I am not leaving you," I said.

He watched me carefully as I shoved ice in his mouth. He was hot and I could feel the heat coming off him. There was a sour smell that had moved into the room while I was gone. It was a cross between puke and piss, heated lightly, and perhaps a little sweat and stale bedding for good measure. I pushed the button for room service.

When Nurse Atilla came, I explained the problem with my nose. She assured me they would get right on it and soon there were two corpsman lifting and twirling Greg as they changed the bed and him. One used a damp towel to wipe him down and I swallowed hard when his he roughly wiped Greg's crotch. In about two minutes they were gone and we were alone together again. "Thanks," he said. "I needed that."

He was sitting up by the time he had gotten enough ice, which was half of what was there. Just rising from the depths had him winded. He buttoned his pajama top up to the last button and he looked like a refugee.

We played Canasta until he threw the cards on the floor after I beat him two times in a row. We played Chess and he was a lot more involved with that until half way through the game.

"I'm tired," he said.

"Close your eyes. I won't go anywhere."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

Nurse Atilla checked on us when they started delivering trays for dinner. I thanked her for bedding change.

There wasn't much food on his tray and he wanted me to eat that but I fed him the cottage cheese and some of the fruit until he was full. I held him after he ate and I could count his ribs and that made me a bit uneasy. He was once again worn out and we just stared at each other for awhile. Once his meds came he was back sleeping fifteen minutes later and I went home.

I was beat and still had homework. I did my best to concentrate but fell asleep before I got finished. I could always do it in study hall the next morning. By the time the final bell was ringing I was already yawning. Much to my surprise Greg was more alert and energetic when I got to him.

"How'd the x-rays go?" I asked right away.

"Fine."

"Is your leg okay or not?"

"Yeah, they said it looked good. They've never said it looked good before. I guess it's healing. They said I can get out of here before too much longer."

"Oh," I said.

"I won't be able to climb the steps at the house. They were going to put a bed in the living room but I told them I wanted the television room."

"What did they say?"

"It's cool. They have another television they can put in the living room."

"That's nice," I said, having put off thinking about what came next.

"You won't have to go home at night. You can stay up at our house," Greg added.

"I don't know," I said.

"My parents will talk to your parents," he assured me. "They are all for it. They like you."

"Yeah, well, I think it will take a little more than talking to my parents."

"Who cares. It's going to be really cool once I'm home. I can't wait. We can do all kinds of stuff together."

"Me either," I lied.

The unknown is always the scariest thing. Even when the unknown was known, I still didn't know what it would mean once he was freed from the bed. It's not something we discussed further but I thought about it all the time. I thought about it and the way things were and how they were about to change.

By the end of the week I was almost caught up at school and spring was in the air. Greg was also coming back to life and he slowly started exercising again. It was nothing like before and he seemed content to use his muscles only to keep them from going any further south. He never seemed to have the zest that was so apparent before he got sick.

We didn't talk about him going home any more but it was on my mind. He knew of my apprehension on the subject and we didn't get into it because it always set me off no matter what he said. I had it in my mind that Greg would go right back to his old ways as soon as he wasn't chained to a bed. Being with him all the time was the best thing that had happened to me and I feared losing him, but the days of always knowing where he was were coming to an end.

Things had gone back to a routine and Greg even started gaining some of the weight back. I'd race up after school each day and put off my homework until the following morning. I was in my shirtsleeves when I went up one day and it was the kind of day that I wanted to stay outside it was so nice. When I went through the door of his room I didn't notice anything except he was laying in bed all covered up. It's odd how much you miss when you aren't looking for anything.

You know how when you see something every single day and you just stop paying attention and it was like that. There he was lying there like a mummy and I couldn't figure out what was wrong with this picture. I knew something was wrong but I couldn't figure out what it was and he was no help. Maybe I didn't want to see.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" He asked as though I'd immediately know everything he knew.

"What?"

It was only then he threw the covers back and he was dressed in pajamas, both top and bottoms, and he had a coat on and there was this humungous cast on his left leg and there was no cast on his right leg.

He just lay there flat on the bed and stared at me, waiting.

"You're out of traction."

"You're a regular Einstein and we're out a here. I got a pass."

"A pass?"

"Yeah, it's Friday ain't it. I'm off until Monday. Let's get out of here," he said.

"You're serious?"

There was a pair of crutches leaning over in the corner and he'd been practicing on them all day. He'd kept the secret from me all week for several reasons, not the least of which, was the look on my face when I realized he had been freed from his prison.

"Help!" He said, holding both of his arms straight up like a little boy might do when he wanted his mother to pick him up, but I suspected with his new attachment, he had gained thirty or forty pounds over night and there would be no picking him up.

He wrapped his arms around my neck and I helped him to maneuver to an almost sitting position. When I started to stand up, he held onto my neck, and when I resisted the confinement he used his lips on mine. My apprehensions dissolved into a lingering kiss that he knew would get him anything he wanted.

"It'll be okay," he said.

"I know," I said, standing up as he held on to my hand until he was standing.

"I can't do this alone," he said.

By the time he was up on his crutches he was breathing hard and sweating with the look of determination on his face. I considered kicking the crutches out from under him but at least doing it his way it left a chance he might still want me around.

"You don't need a coat Greg. It's like seventy degrees out."

"Trust me. I need the coat. Let's argue about stuff once you get me out of here."

I left him in the waiting room after using a wheel chair that one of the corpsman was standing by with to get him to the door. I more poured him than sat him in the car. He had to sit in the back seat with the passenger seat pushed forward against the dashboard so him and the cast could fit. He insisted on keeping the coat on and I didn't argue. I'd hold him up in the shower once he got all hot and sweaty.

"Where to?" I asked, realizing I was driving his car.

"McDonalds. You got any bread? I'm dying for a Big Mac."

"Yeah, enough to fill you up."

Little did I know how little it would take to fill him up. He left half the burger, half the fries, and even more of the Coke. He kept looking at them like the memory of the food was better than the actual food itself.

"Where to?" I asked.

"Let's cruise."

"Okay," I said.

It was rush hour and there was lots of traffic. He seemed captivated by all of it, the sights, sounds, and the ride.

"I've dreamed of this forever, you know," he said, slumped in the corner of the backseat, peeking out of the side of the car.

"I bet."

"You don't know what it's like being in a bed for months on end. I've got to be really careful or they'll have me back in traction."

"It's a good idea. What do you want to do?"

"Ride," he said, looking out the window as he spoke. "Just ride awhile. Thanks."

I reached back and put my hand on the cast and he put his hand on mine. We drove to Waldorf and then to La Plata and we went off into the back roads where everything was turning green. He didn't say much and he just looked out of the car as we moved past the woods and the farms. It was already starting to get dark by the time we got back to the highway.

"Won't your parents be wondering where you are?"

"They're in the mountains. I called some friends."

The hot flash hit my face and it was suddenly very hot in the car. I bit my tongue and said nothing, suddenly being very focused on the road.

"You're practically the only person I've seen since I've been up there, you know."

"We can remedy that pretty damn quick," I said. "I've done what I set out to do. You'll be okay now. You don't need me any more."

"I knew you were going to be like this. I can't help it. I had to let people know I was getting out of there. People don't like hospitals. They weren't going to come up there."

"I guess not."

"They're coming over to the house tonight."

"Fine," I said. "What time?"

"I said between seven and eight. What time is it?"

"Seven fifteen," I said. "So you want me to help you into the house or will they come out and get you? I'll leave the car and walk home."

"Quit being pissy about it. I don't want you to leave the car and I don't want you to go home. It's only a few friends for a few hours. The rest of the weekend I'll be with you. Don't start acting all weird on me. I want to have a good time. I want a drink. I want you there with me. I can't stay there alone. I need your help, Martin. You're the only one that knows what to do."

I didn't have anything to say. I was angry and disappointed but I knew what was coming.

I listened to all his words for all their hidden meanings and I tried to figure out how I felt. I knew how I felt but I wasn't sure if I could do what he wanted me to do. I pulled up into the driveway and listened to the gravel crunch under the tires. The house was all lit up and I could see people in the dining room behind the big windows. I knew them. We'd all partied together before.

Neither of us said anything as I looked up at the house. I did feel a little like the kid that just had his lollipop stolen. I didn't want to share Greg with anyone, ever. I knew that was not only stupid, it wasn't realistic. I needed to let go of Greg and hope that he wouldn't let me get too far away.

Love is a strange bird. I'd never been in loved or been loved before I met Greg and meeting him was the single most disruptive moment of my life. Everything changed that day because all the things I'd wondered about came into focus. Before you love there is nothing but routines. Once you love there isn't anything like love. I would continue to love Greg no matter what he did. Love isn't something that goes away one afternoon while you're out to lunch. I knew I might go away but the love I felt for him would always be there. First love is like that.

If I had to let him go because that's what he wanted, then I would let him go. I'd walk away and hope that I loved again, but looking up at the house, it wasn't anything I wanted to do. It wasn't anything I wanted to think about. He sat in the corner of the backseat all bundled up and without expression. He too knew that our lives were about to change. I'm not sure he wasn't worried too.

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