Discovering Love

Written by Rick Beck

Chapter 53

A Leg Up

Greg stayed close all night. While once this would have comforted me, it didn't. I wanted to take away his pain and the fear. His anger was understandable. He'd already climbed a mountain and he never let it best him for long, but now he had been kicked back to the bottom after struggling for most of a year to come out on top. I understood how difficult it was for him to accept that it was all for nothing. They could have taken the leg in the beginning and the rehab and training would have taken far less of his life from him. Now he was taking a mental beating and his will to fight had been seriously altered.

I wanted to stay close to him but I couldn't. I hadn't slept at all and now I was restless and I got up rather than risk waking him up. The sun had barely raised above the horizon I couldn't see, and the light was dim at best. As I stood in the hallway between the bedrooms and living room, I watched billowing smoke rise up past the huge window.

I could picture the Colonel at the stove outside, doing his thing. When did the guy ever sleep? I could still hear Ike barking late into the night.

I suddenly could taste hot black coffee in my mouth and as a chill ran through me, I passed Greg's mom, sleeping in the chair where I had left her, a ugly green ball of yawn had rolled off her lap and half way across the floor. Whatever she was knitting looked quite lovely, but the yarn on its own couldn't claim any credit.

I eased myself around the side of the house and I could see the colonel in his shorts and white T-shirt, turning rabbit and whatever else he had taken in the night. Ike lay two feet from the big rusty red stove. Augie sat on a pile of cinderblocks, steam rising up from a cup he held in both of his hands for the warmth it provided. He didn't have a shirt on and I shivered and he looked as though he hadn't slept at all, but when I peed a few hours earlier, him and Doug were still wrestling with the night and Cheryl's sleeping bag no doubt.

It amazed me when the colonel reached for a cup and turned the big blue coffee pot up to fill it almost to the top. He sat it at the side of the stove and went back to tending his fire.

"Not used to so many early-risers. My sons burn the midnight oil and then can't get up. They take after their mother."

I knew he was talking to me but for the life of me I never knew how he always knew when someone approached and not only that he usually knew who it was. He still hadn't looked at me and I could see no mirrors or gadgets that he could look into to see my reflection. I thought about it but never did come up with any explanation for the colonel's talents. I suppose there were things I not only didn't know but couldn't even imagine.

"How is he?" He asked, as Augie nodded, held the cup to his naked strong chest, and then sipped from the metal cup before putting back against his skin.

"I don't know. Depressed, I guess," I answered.

"We make better the things we can, accept the things we can't, and are here so he knows he's not alone. It's not for us to take his journey for him. It's not for us to understand the why. What is, is, and that cannot be altered."

"I think he feels like he's had enough," I said.

"Yes, that's the first reaction. He will accept it. Greg is strong. He has a warriors heart. Don't worry, it won't let him down now."

It was hard for me to see the colonel as an Indian. It was written all over him. His face was ten shades darker than my own but I never noticed it or the strong features that were chiseled into his face. He was big and strong and gentle and wise. That's all I saw when I looked at him and listened to his words. I never noticed how dark he was or how light his sons were in comparison. It just never came up then. I was somehow comforted by his words when nothing had comforted me since Greg told me.

We drank coffee and I ate three pieces of rabbit as soon as the colonel took them off the fire. I can tell you, it doesn't taste like chicken and had the most incredible flavor you can imagine. Of course I was always starving up in the mountains. Almost every time I went there, and I went there plenty, I ate like a pig and was always ready for more.

The colonel did eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes with onions and peppers. I ate a plate and Augie did likewise but no one had a lot to say. It was still a bit cold for my taste but that food sure warmed me up. I was surprised when Doug showed up, half asleep with his eyes half closed. He sat on the same pile of cinderblocks as Augie and they kept looking at each other and laughing.

Doug drank coffee but refused the offer of food. He was smart and had on a jacket that made me jealous. Then the sun came up over the tops of the trees, and then it warmed up immediately even with that stove only five feet away.

The colonel sent Augie and Doug into the basement to bring out the "contraption." The colonel had made it at work and it was a platform on four bicycle wheels that could be hooked to the front of another bicycle, which would then propel it nicely. With the cushions and the location of the padding it was obviously a conveyance built with Greg in mind. I was curious about it when the colonel explained.

"You can take him down to the river later. No way to get him down to the river here. He likes the water. It will do him some good, even if he doesn't agree."

"How do you drive it?" I asked, seeing the size of the thing and I wasn't sure I could manage it.

"You do is all. You ride the bike. The rest is up to the cart. Just take your time until you get use to it. He'll want you to go faster than you are willing to go, but don't. It'll give him something else to be mad at for a while. He probably won't want to go but we won't give him an option once we load him up. He needs to occupy himself with something besides worry."

"Yeah, I can do that. What do you think they're going to do?" I asked.

"What they must."

"They aren't sure? They haven't told you?"

"Greg knows everything I know. It's not up to us. They really need to take a look see before any decision is made."

"He said he doesn't want me to come to the hospital Monday."

"Yes, he is afraid."

"I can't not be there."

"School?" Greg's dad queried.

"I don't care about school. I couldn't do anything at school. I'd be a basket case. I'm not going back until I know what happens."

"Yes, well, you do what your heart tells you. We'll be there. You can sit with us and we'll hope for the best."

"His mom doesn't know?"

"No, I'll talk to her once we're home tonight. Just no point in giving her too much time to think about it. She's rather attached to her sons and the word cancer scares all of us too much for our own good. She'll sit up all night worrying. In a way, I think she already knows."

"Do all you guys read minds?" I foolishly asked.

"Life is not so much a mystery if you read the signs Martin. The things you can do nothing about you don't do anything about them. It doesn't mean you don't know these things exist. We wouldn't choose certain things for our sons because they cause them pain and create hardship. When they exist, you can't make them go away by fighting about it. You accept it and hope that in time it will all work itself out. It usually does and for the best. This seems monumental, when you look straight at it, as we are all looking at it now, but later next week, when we can see beyond the words and the obstacle, there will be clear vision. That clear vision will lead to better times for all of us, especially for Greg. You can't struggle with life so much as you go along with it."

"Yeah, I wish," I said, wishing I could understand so that the pain in my chest would subside soon.

I hid the tears just behind my eyes but I don't think I was fooling anyone. I hadn't had a pain like this since early on when Greg would kick me out of his life as a matter of routine. Although this pain wasn't as sharp, it ran far-deeper and did something to me that even Greg's rejections had never done.

I'd never known what love was before I met him, and so I had no way of knowing what it was like to lose love. I thought that there was most definitely a chance that I could lose him and his love, and in spite of not being able to do a thing about it, I was scared in a way that nothing had ever scared me before. Maybe because there was nothing I could do.

I took a plate of rabbit, potatoes, and bacon up to Greg once the sun was high in the sky. I found him staring at the ceiling and unmoved by my entrance.

"I brought you rabbit."

"I'm thirsty," he said.

"I brung you coffee just in case."

"Just water for now. Where you been?"

"Watching your father cook."

"We didn't get to sleep until really late," he reminded me.

"We didn't get to sleep at all. Me anyway. I was tossing and turning and didn't want to wake you up."

"You know I'm lonely when you aren't there."

"How about orange juice," I suggested, not wanting to cry.

"Yeah, orange juice. Hold the water. How about a piece of that rabbit? No sense in wasting it since you went through all the trouble of lugging it up here. The old man is an artist when it comes to wild game."

I sat the plate on the television tray beside the bed and brought him back orange juice. He ate most of a piece of rabbit and drank some coffee and the juice. He wanted to lay back down once he'd accomplished this.

"I want my coat. It's cold in here."

"Suns up. Why don't we take you outside. Augie's here."

"You told me that last night. He with Doug?"

"Yeah, Doug's in heaven, I think."

"Augie's a stud. My brother's an idiot."

"He is not, Greg."

"Well, he's been backing up to Herbie just about forever, I don't know, since he was ten maybe. Now he's with Cheryl, and she's a lot woman even for a man like me, but for squirt, give me a break. He'll never handle her and then there's that little quirk in his personality. He likes taking it up the ass. I don't think that's something a girl like Cheryl will ever be able to do for him, no matter how hard she tries."

"Greg, Doug wants a family and kids. Why not give him a break."

"You tell me he's making moves on you, and you tell me he's been with Augie. He should give himself a break and admit he'll never give that up until he's too old to attract someone to fuck him. Then he might give it up by default."

"I think he can do what he sets his mind to do," I said. "Why not let Doug deal with it his own way."

"You make a hell of fag. I thought the object was to turn everyone gay?"

"You can't turn anyone into anything. If you can't get it up it's no good, Greg. What's the point in wanting to be with a guy that isn't turned on by it."

"Well, I do fine," he said, insisting we go there.

"You're hard all the time. It doesn't require any thought for you. If a guy isn't interested he can't get it up and so that means he can't be turned into a fag. It's basic biology Greg. The anatomy doesn't lie."

"So I'm a fag because I get it up when you touch me, that what you're saying?"

"No, that's not what I said."

"It is too. If I can get it up then I'm just like you," he argued.

"Greg, you're just like nobody. You don't care as long as it gets up for someone or something. You are what you say you are. Being gay isn't about turning anyone into anything. That's a myth spread by the idiots who delight on spreading queer fear. Guys don't get hard if they aren't turned on."

"So I'm a fag?"

"You're just hard-headed is what you are and you never listen."

"Well, you got the hard part right. So if I'm not a fag what am I doing with you?"

"Like I said, you've got to decide or accept what you are. Having the ability to do something doesn't make you that which you do. Plenty of guys can swing both ways and do. Some guys can and don't, mostly because of fear, but just knowing they can upsets them so much that they don't have to do anything to be pissed off about it."

"That doesn't make any sense. I'm pissed off and I could care less."

"Yeah but you aren't pissed off about what gets your dick hard."

"No, I guess not. Thanks," he said, just throwing that last bit in.

"For what?" I asked.

"Just leave shit alone sometimes, Martin, okay? Because you're here, because you're you, because you didn't leave me alone. I don't know if I can take any more. I don't know if I want to. I'm so tired. Just when you think you've made it, you find out you haven't even started the really big fight. I don't have anything left, Martin. I keep looking for a way to face up to it, but I can't. I thought I'd be whole again one day. If I kept fighting long enough I'd get it all back. Now, I don't know. I don't even care."

"Well I do. It's going to be fine. I know it's going to be fine."

He looked at me with such a look in is eyes. I could see the doubt and the hope and the alarm at my just saying the words. You couldn't say that when you faced what he faced. Too much could go wrong and saying that just made you responsible for the outcome. He ate a little more and drank more coffee but the conversation stopped.

Augie and Doug showed up in the doorway after a while. They didn't listen to Greg's objections and lifted him out of the bed and carried him outside to where the bike and carrier waited. We went past the colonel and his mother as they watched the operation, supervising as the objecting Greg was placed down in the spot carefully prepared for him.

"I want my coat. I'm cold. Why are you doing this to me. Aren't things bad enough."

"Nope," his mother answered, putting a pillow behind his shoulders to elevate him properly so he could witness the journey comfortably.

"Take it easy, Martin," the colonel instructed. "The brakes to the cart are right beside your brakes. Use them first and then use yours if you need them. The bike won't stop that thing but it will stop the bike. The cart steers when you turn the handlebars. It's all hooked up on a pulley and chain so turn the wheel carefully and don't make any sudden moves.

We passed Doug and Augie as they walked toward the clubhouse. I pedald and it really wasn't that hard to get the thing rolling. Of course we started out on a down slope and that helped. There was a couple of small hills that required pedalling but then we were on a flat stretch the last half mile or so, and that required a minimum of effort.

By the time we turned onto the grass that would lead us to a spot right next to the river, I had figured out all the controls. It was relatively easy if you didn't think about it. I pulled up near the dock and got off the bike to sit next to him as he looked into the slowly rolling river.

"Pretty, huh?" I asked.

"Yeah, Now I want to go swimming."

"I think you might sink, Greg, with that rock on your leg."

"Yeah, and it would all be over. I wish I could get in there. The water looks great."

"Believe me, it's cold."

"The voice of experience speaks," he said, giving me a cold glance.

"I thought you weren't holding that against me. I fixed him up with Augie. I'm with you."

"Yeah, just all heart, Martin. My brother wants to be straight as an arrow and you keep introducing him to guys who will fuck the shit out of him when you know it's not what he wants. A real pal you are."

"Well, it's not what he wants when there isn't a guy that will do it," I said. "He's got to work the details out on his own."

"My brother's an idiot. Why not just accept it?"

"Yeah, like you do."

"Well, there was no reason to until you started fucking with my head."

"Oh, I do that?"

"You know you do. Why do you pretend like you don't know stuff? You probably know more about me than I do and won't tell me if you do!"

"Probably."

"I just told you not to tell me that."

"Yeah, well, maybe not."

There were only a couple of campers in the campground but it was way early in the season for comfort in the evening and at night. There was no activity at all until Augie and Doug came. Then they stood next to us giggling and jostling each other. I was amazed at how mature Augie looked and how immature he acted around Doug. I guess I didn't know everything about how it works but Augie was all man and he could probably kick asses with the best of them but around Doug he was a puppy, and it was nice to see that. It didn't matter what he was elsewhere or what he had once been. He was okay.

I thought about what I had seen him doing with Van and I knew what Doug liked and obviously Doug was getting what he wanted, but I didn't know how Augie could so easily switch roles. Perhaps it was Van the man that furnished him with one thing he needed while Doug the beautiful furnished him with something entirely different, but no less important. Maybe that's how it was with some men. Greg certainly got different things from different people and it was all things he needed to make it all work for him.

It's funny how every time I thought I had it all figured out, something came along to show me how little I know and how there was no one way to be and no one way of doing things. It was a mixture of things and experiences and people that created the good life. Although I didn't have clue how what Greg was going through was going to create anything but more pain and discomfort in my life.

"Come on, I'll show you," Augie said, grabbing Doug's hand.

"What, you haven't shown him yet?" Greg laughed. "I figured little brother would have been all over it by now."

"Greg, bite the big one," Doug said. "Augie's not like that."

"Yeah, well, his is red and curves a little to the left and big as far as most guys go, but then again I'm not most guys, huh, Augie? You boys be good and don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Come on. It's only up the top of the hill. I don't want to go back to your house," Augie said, still pulling on Doug.

"Thought you said two bulls can't always do something together," I said, as Doug and Augie reached the road.

"I didn't say they couldn't try," Greg said. "Augie's a bit aggressive for my taste. He's got a hell of a body, though. Fucker pumped iron in the joint. He's strong as shit."

"And how did you determine all this?"

"I wanted to fuck him and he wanted to fight. We fought. I won't make that mistake again," Greg said, laughing.

"What mistake is that?" I asked.

"Trying to fuck or fight him. He's a bad mo'fo'. Hit me so hard I thought he'd broken my jaw."

"You always seem friendly to each other," I said.

"Yeah, well, I ain't no dummy. I agreed I wouldn't try to fuck him any more and he agreed not to hit me any more. It was an agreement we reached by mutual best interest."

"He has got a nice body," I said.

"I use to have a nice body."

"You still do," I said.

"Yeah, but all you care about is my dick. You don't care about the rest of me."

"Fuck you, Greg, just fuck you. I ought to make you walk back. You know sometimes you just piss me off."

"Yeah, ain't it hell? You're a sucker for an insult, Martin. All the time we've been together and you still fall for it every time. You really need to work on your self-confidence, you know."

"That's not all I want from you."

"Might be all that's left once they finish carving on me."

"We'll deal with whatever we have to deal with when it's time."

"I won't make much of a picture with only one leg."

"Greg, you'll be a better man with one leg than most guys are with two. Besides, you're going to have two legs and that's just something you'll have to deal with."

"Not a better man than Augie," he said.

"Well, I didn't say all men. Augie is a stud," I said with an air of admiration in my voice.

"You little prick, you making eyes at Augie?"

"You fall for it every time, Greg. Get out of the kitchen if you can't take the heat."

Greg glared at me because he had risen to the bait. On the way back he kept trying to get me to go faster. I did for a short ways but I remembered his father's instructions and slowed down and listened to the protests from my passenger. Then he started yelling that he had a cramp and I stopped the bike to see what I could do.

When I got to him he grabbed me and pulled me onto the cart and kissed me. A car came past and I tried to get free of him but he wouldn't let me go. Once we were alone on the road he kissed me again. We held each other for a few minutes, listening for the gravel crunching under tires or feet but no one else came.

I cried but so he didn't know. I was really scared then.

"I'm tired," he finally said, letting me go. "I'm hungry and tired and you crowding me off my cart. What, you want me to pedal?"

"Me too," I said. "On the hungry and tired. I'll pedal."

"I guess I didn't let you get much sleep last night."

"As I remember I had a little something to do with that."

"Yeah, you put up with a lot. I really needed to prove I could," he said.

"You don't need to prove anything to me."

"You know I've never felt like that before. I mean it was like I could go on forever. My dick felt like it was a yard long and a foot wide and both times when I came it was like I wasn't going to ever stop."

"You telling me. You were almost a yard long and a foot wide. You've never reacted like that before," I said. "I got hot just being with you."

"Because I'm scared. It's the only time I'm not scared now, when you getting me worked up. I forget everything then. You figure my brain's in my dick?"

"Probably. It's going to be all right, Greg."

"Yeah," he said, not believing it. "I know."

It was something he had to deal with alone. There was no way for me to help him lift the weight he'd been given. As much as I loved him and as hard as I tried, at best I neutralized the pain for a time. I was hoping the worst thing he faced was losing his leg but I knew, although no one said it, that it was far worse than that.

No one spoke the words and no one wanted to go there but we all knew that while the leg was the worry most on our mind, in the back of our minds was the greater fear of what it meant if they took the leg - . In the back of all our minds was the same words, cancer and metastases.

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