Kaiser's Pack - Next Gen

by Bensiamin

Chapter 11

"Jerrod, I've told you before that you're a crazy fucker, and always until now I meant good crazy, but this is right on the edge."

"What edge?"

Roger jumped in. "You said she was cute. We both think you're good looking so that almost certainly means she does, and she probably thinks you're cute as well. It'd be a double date, so you won't be on the spot, all alone and stuff. You don't have to be afraid of anything. Well, of course, you'll have to let her know that you'll be double dating with two gay boys, and that might lead to having to tell her two of your best friends are gay, and then you might have to talk about having another really good friend who's named Kaiser, and another friend named Sean with cerebral palsy. But you probably won't have to tell her about the recent circle jerk you were part of. So, what's the problem?"

Matt was rolling his eyes. "You're both crazy. Honestly! Where do you come up with this stuff?"

Jerrod had pulled to the curb in front of Matt's house, shifted into Park and turned in his seat. "Matt, we're not crazy, and we're not joking. We're being real. You've got to start sometime. Sam thinks enough of you and Jessica that she thought you two should meet. You think she's cute, so call Sam, get the phone number, then call her and ask her."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because, let's see... it would be a cool thing to do. It's what most high school seniors would do when they meet someone new and cute." He paused, then said, "And because you asked us to help you with this stuff, and that's what we're doing. Now, are you going to get with the program or not?"

Matt was quiet and a range of emotions swept across his face.

Roger was unrelenting, too. "Matt, will you just give it up and do a good thing for yourself. It's just a fucking date, for god's sake. It's not like getting married or something. If it doesn't happen or doesn't work out, then no sweat and you've come off like a good guy. Come on, man!"

"Okay, I give. I can't fight you guys, and you're right. I did ask you to help me. This will be embarrassing, you know that?"

"No, Big Guy, it won't be embarrassing. It'll be exciting. Think of it as an adventure. If she says yes, ask her what movie she wants to see. For you, we'll go see anything, even some chick flick, okay? Ask her and if she says yes, find out what movie, and we'll sort out the rest of the details tomorrow."

"Okay, I give up!"

"Good," Roger said, "and you've got to do it tonight because tomorrow's Friday, just in case you forgot!"

"That much I can remember."

"Good, and, you have to call me later," Jerrod added, "and let me know what happened. You're promising to follow through tonight, Matt, got it? Either that, or I go inside right now and tell Nate what's going on and that his job is to be on your case to make sure it all happens!"

It wasn't until after eight o'clock when Matt called, but he confirmed he'd called Sam and it went well.


"Meaning, she wasn't all weird or anything."

"Okay, in other words confirming that it was in your head, and she thought everything went fine on Sunday, right?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"So, go on."

"So, then I called Jessica, and she wasn't weird either."

"Did you expect her to be?"

"Well, after talking to Coach Sam, I guess not. I was still worried though, but she was really nice. You know… it was great meeting you… I've been wondering if you were going to call me… where'd you get my phone number. All of that?"

"Cool! Then what?"

"I asked her about a double date tomorrow for the movies, and she's on! It's the end of mid-terms for her, too, so she thought the celebration idea was a good one."

"And she's okay with the double date with a gay couple?"

"She said she thought it was cool. Go figure!"

"What does that mean?"

Matt continued. "Actually, it's a good thing. Jessica knows Eric and has met Kim and thinks it's very cool that my best friends are gay."

"Far out! And what are we going to go see?"

"She was impressed that she got to choose, and she wants to see The Big Lebowski . I guess it just came out and it's a kind of offbeat comedy some friends told her about. I've never heard of it."

"Not to worry, I'll sort out the details, you know, where it's playing, what time, and have that in the morning. Then you can call her and tell her what time we'll pick her up. Sound like a plan?"

"Works for me." The line was silent for a few seconds, then Matt said, "Thanks, again."

It turned out that with Friday being the last day of mid-terms and no tennis tournament, there was also no tennis practice, so they were all out early. The boys dropped Matt home and they all trooped inside only to learn that the surgeon hadn't called yet. The boys headed to pick up Kaiser and take him for a long walk at Oaks Bottom Park. Roger had managed to convince his parents to let him stay at Jerrod's both weekend nights because of the double date… which they thought was a stretch, but finally agreed to.

After they walked Kaiser, they drove to a car wash on Tacoma Blvd. and after the wash did a complete vacuum on the interior of the Cherokee, and bought one of those scented air fresheners, that they placed in the cargo area. The Cherokee had been transformed into a dating machine!

David and Jackson were going out the next night, but had an early dinner planned for Friday, and they picked Matt up at six forty-five. After he'd hopped in the back seat and buckled up, he said, "Guess what? The surgeon called twenty minutes after you guys left, and Nate gets his cast off next week! Is that far out, or what?"

"That's the best news of the month. I was worried he'd start getting depressed if the surgeon said a couple more weeks. So, the MRI was good?"

"Yeah, good bone healing and stuff. The appointment to take the cast off is before his PT appointment on Tuesday. Will you guys be able to drive us?"

Jerrod grinned at him. "Well, as his dog therapy team I don't think we have a choice. However, besides the fact that you need a car for college in the fall, this is kind of reinforcing that reality, don't you think?"

Matt nodded. "I'm thinking about it. I need to get past the scholarship stuff and actually get accepted first, don't you think?"

Jerrod smiled at him and they headed for Jessica's house in Eastmoreland, a wealthy neighborhood east of Sellwood.

"You clean up pretty well," Jerrod grinned at Matt in the rearview mirror.

"Thanks, don't make me any more nervous, okay?"

"You'll do fine. You look good, and remember we're still betting that Jessica thinks you're cute."

They waited at the curb while Matt walked up to the front door and was let in by a middle-aged man. Jerrod put REM's New Adventures in Hi Fi CD in the player, and a couple of minutes later Matt came down the walk with a good looking and very fit young lady. He remembered to open the curb-side passenger door for her and trotted around to the street side. Then he made the introductions.

Jessica was moderately tall, with darkish blonde hair and an athletic build. She had medium blue eyes like Matt did. Jerrod immediately thought she looked kind of like Picabo Street, who was fast becoming the most talked about woman vying for a position on the US Olympic Ski Team.

She made it clear immediately that she was happy to meet Jerrod and Roger. "I feel like I've known you guys already, from working with Coach Sam. I've met Eric and Kim, and she's talked about you guys a lot."

"All good, no doubt," Roger said with a smile.

Jerrod pulled away from the curb, heading for the theater in Milwaukie, and Jessica grinned and said, "Well, all good about Eric and Kim. But she's Eric's mom, so you'd expect that."

Then she laughed and added, "Yeah, it's all good. She thinks a lot of you two. Now, make sure I understand the connection between her and her husband and the guys you live with." Jerrod noted the easy laugh, and how genuine it sounded.

"She has told you a lot," Jerrod said. "The quick summary is that David is my guardian and I live with him and Jackson, who's been his partner for over twenty years. Jackson and Will were in the same grade and best friends in high school in Newberg. They were even in a band together, and both sang in choral groups at Lewis & Clark during college. Their freshman year was when they all met Sam, and by the end of the year she and Will were a couple. I think they even lived with David and Jackson for a little while back then at the house in Sellwood. So, anyway, there's a lot of years in that relationship. David is my mom's cousin, and I grew up in Philly. I came out here last summer for a couple of racing camps at Timberline, and one thing led to another and I stayed to finish high school here in Portland."

"That's interesting. They must be pretty cool people to suddenly take on a teenager, and for you to want to live with them." she replied. She looked at Roger and asked, "Now, tell me about you." Roger told her how he'd been born in Switzerland a few years before his parents immigrated, and how he and Jerrod had been introduced by Eric and Kim. "They invited both of us to play tennis. Meaning doubles, but it was a set up! A set up that turned out very well, I will add. We're all seniors and go to the same high school in Sellwood. Jerrod and Matt were on the ski team, Jerrod made me try out for the tennis team, which I made, and the rest, as they say, is history."

"Cool. You both are athletes, so that sets you apart from the geeks and the couch potatoes! That makes sense, meaning how you got to know Matt so well." She looked at her date and said, "Was it the ski team?"

He nodded and said, "Well, Jerrod was on the ski team, not Roger. But Jerrod is a better overall racer than me. He won more events than I did. But Roger skis too, so that was the other connection. He'd come up with Jerrod and ski with Eric and Kim after the races. That's how I got to know these two." He paused, and then continued. "Actually, these guys and Eric and Kim saved my life last winter. I hit a tree and was knocked out and fell into the well around the trunk and would have suffocated, except my hero here," and he leaned forward and squeezed Jerrod's shoulders, "realized I was missing and made them all come back and find me."

"Wow! That's pretty heavy. No wonder you're such good friends!"

Roger redirected the conversation, asking her to tell them about herself.

"Well, I was born and raised in Eastmoreland. My dad teaches Sociology at Reed College. So, I've been a local girl from the start… just in a different school district from you guys. I've always been into sports and stuff, and then the best thing happened when I started high school, meaning Coach Sam was one of my high school coaches. She doesn't coach basketball or volleyball, but it didn't matter. She kind of took me under her wing and helped me understand my strengths, and how to improve my weaknesses. How to develop the right attitude and mental state. She's an amazing coach. It's because of her I got more focused and committed in basketball and volleyball. I was just playing before, not really competing."

Matt joined the conversation, saying, "I've only known her for less than two months, but I can confirm that. My little brother had pretty major hip surgery and these guys are his dog therapy team… well, with their dog Kaiser, but Coach Sam came over to see if she could help Nate, and I got to know her, and it didn't take long, and she was helping me. It was amazing 'cause she'd never met us before and we're in a different school district. And then you know the most recent stuff. The meeting she set up with the football coach at PSU, and it looks pretty much like I'll get a scholarship and get to play there. All because of her."

Jessica grinned. "She's a 'get it done' kind of woman. That's the kind of coach I want to be."

They'd pulled into the multiplex parking lot and Jerrod found a spot away from the main cluster of cars. "Sorry, it's a habit. I park toward the back to avoid getting dings or the paint chipped on my Cherokee."

What they'd heard about the movie turned out to be right, it was an off-beat comedy, but they enjoyed it and there were plenty of funny moments. They stopped at a Burgerville on the north end of Milwaukie on the drive back to Eastmoreland. No one wanted a lot to eat, but Jerrod once again asked what they all wanted to drink, added two orders of onion rings, and they sat down to talk about the movie.

"Okay," Roger asked, "do we give the movie just a C, or did we think it was pretty good?" He glanced at his boyfriend. "And everyone has to help eat these onion rings. No excuses!"

"I thought parts of it were pretty funny," Jerrod replied, "some of it was weird… like hard to follow, but I liked it. I'd give it a B+. What Matt told us Jessica said, that it was an off-beat comedy, is a pretty accurate description." He looked at Matt and Jessica. "What do you guys think?"

Matt waited for Jessica, who said, "I agree. It's not like I'm a Jeff Bridges or John Goodman fan, but mixing up a bowler with a crime, and then the Dude gets to solve the crime was kind of wild."

"Yeah," Matt added, "because he's definitely kind of a slacker, just cruising along like bowling is the most important thing in life… well, until those crooks peed on his carpet, and now he's on a mission about the carpet."

Roger was giggling. "Yeah, where did the peeing on the carpet part of the story come from? Then I realized the whole movie was one insane story piece after another… like none of them naturally fit together, but it still all held together somehow and was funny."

"For sure," Jessica said, "the whole murder and then kidnapping that turns into ransom and stealing from your own foundation was pretty crazy, but in spite of the lunacy, it was still fun to watch. I'd say B+, too."

"So, Jerrod, since you take such good care of your car," Matt asked, "how'd you like it when Walter went sideways and wrecked that sports car with the crowbar, and then gets his own car wrecked?"

"Truth? I winced. It was funny, but I could think of how painful it would be to watch that happen to your own car." He reached for another onion ring. As he popped it in his mouth, he could see a sly grin appear on Roger's face and heard him ask, "So, Jessica, do you wear green nail polish on your toes like Bunny?"

Jerrod worried he'd choke as he swallowed the onion ring, but Jessica just smiled back very coyly. "You know, Roger, there are some questions you aren't supposed to ask a lady."

"About nail polish?" Roger asked incredulously.

"About personal matters. Didn't your mother teach you things like that?"

"Actually, I don't have any sisters, so you shouldn't be surprised. So, you're not going to keep secrets, are you?"

She looked at Matt and said with a smile, "What kind of best friends do you have? I thought you told me they were classy?"

Matt's expression was a mix of concern and humor, not quite sure where this was going or how it could go wrong. "Well, I said they were good guys. I don't remember saying anything about being classy."

She looked at Jerrod and Roger. "Do you have a need to know about my nail polish color?"

Jerrod grinned at her, seeing the humor in her eyes, which validated what he had thought when he first heard her laugh. "My dad's a lawyer, and he'd probably say 'need to know' is a rather strong way to put it. However, I think it would be good to know. You know, like it would provide insight into you, the person we've only just met. Like are you a little weird, like the characters in the movie?" He smiled and blinked his eyes at her. He could see Matt tense.

Jessica held his gaze and finally started laughing. "You guys are too much. I mean that in a good way, like fun and good at conversation and give and take. Are all gay boys like this? So, for the record, I haven't worn nail polish on my toenails, or any nails, since I was like twelve years old. And then, it was red, not green." She turned to Roger and asked, "So, Mr. Inquisitive, what does that tell you about Matt's date?"

Roger smiled widely, and his eyes were sparkling when he said, "It tells me you are a very practical person, you have a wicked and somewhat unusual sense of humor, and that you're probably pretty good at conversation and give and take yourself!"

She smiled back and picked up another onion ring. "These are good. My parents aren't much on junk food, so I don't get to many fast food places, and I think this is the first time I've ever been in Burgerville."

"Really?" Matt was incredulous. "They're a chain, but they started across the river in Vancouver. They're like local."

"Yeah," Jerrod added, getting all serious. "We have to speak to your parents about this. It's very concerning. Do you know what type of onion rings these are?"

Jessica smiled and shook her head.

"They're made with Walla Walla Sweet Onions from the southern part of eastern Washington and the northern part of eastern Oregon. Roger and I were out in Pendleton for part of spring break, and it's serious ranching and farming country out there?"

"Really? You went there for spring break? Not the beach, not Disneyland? What was going on out there?"

Jerrod paused, and Roger deftly said, "Calving. It was spring and we stayed with our friend who lives on a cattle ranch, and it was calving season, so we helped with the calving. You know, I'm sure, helping the mother cows give birth to their calves."

"You're serious, aren't you?" She turned to Matt and said, "Are these friends of yours for real? They do all of this, and they have a therapy dog, too? Are you sure you didn't hire them for the night from a traveling circus?"

Matt looked momentarily shocked, then the grin spread across his face and he slowly said, "Oh, they're for real. They're so for real sometimes, that it's painful. But they're the best friends I've had so far in my life."

Jessica was looking directly at Matt and softly said, "Really?"

"Yeah," he replied, "these two and David and Jackson are just like Coach Sam, they'll do anything they can to help you if you need it, and when you don't need help, they're just great to have in your life."

"Very cool," was all she said. Then she added, "you'll have to tell me more about that some time."

They fell silent for a minute, focusing on the onion rings.

Finally, Roger looked up and said, "So, Jessica. Are you having a good time? Are you glad you said yes to the invite, even though it meant a double date with two gay boys?"

She took her time answering, and they all knew she was maneuvering for position. "Yes, it's been a fun evening. You three are quite the crew, and I know I haven't met the whole team. I'm still waiting to meet Kaiser, and David and Jackson," and then she looked at Matt, "and your little brother. But, in the meantime, I want to know whose idea this whole thing was?"

Roger and Jerrod weren't surprised at the question, but they could see Matt momentarily blanch, as if his manhood was suddenly at risk or something.

"Oh, that's easy," Jerrod replied. "It was Matt's idea. We had no idea he was such a romantic. He hides stuff like that pretty well. I mean, he seemed a little nervous about it, so we had to convince him a double date would be cool, and that if Coach Sam introduced the two of you, then she thought you were at least okay… meaning at least okay for Matt!"

Jerrod paused, and he saw Matt tense again, but noticed the humor sparkling in Jessica's eyes, and went on. "We had to force him to call Sam to get your phone number because he was so embarrassed that he'd failed to ask for it last Sunday, and then, you know, he asked you what movie you wanted to see, and told us what the deal was and that we better plan on liking it. You know, stuff like that."

The humor continued to sparkle in her eyes, and she shifted her glance to Roger as Jerrod was speaking. Then she looked at Matt, as if for some kind of confirmation. He smiled wryly, but said nothing. Then Jessica put her hand on the back of Matt's hand and said, "You guys are all so full of shit! I don't know what to believe. But I'm good with it. I know you're all in this together, and you're all good guys, and this is a lot of fun."

Jerrod and Roger could see her squeeze the back of Matt's hand and suddenly his smile warmed.

"We're all about having a good time," Roger said, "but you'll learn that we're all in Kaiser's Pack, and kind of like the Three Musketeers, it's 'one for all and all for one.' So, in case Matt didn't tell you, a dog comes with this program, 'cause Kaiser chose Matt to be in his Pack, but Jerrod and I are optional."

Jessica started laughing again. "I think I get it. The dog is non-negotiable, but you two are?"

Roger nodded, his eyes sparkling in the light coming in the windows from McLaughlin Boulevard.

She looked at Matt and then said, "Do I have to choose, as in one or the other? Meaning you and the dog, or you and these two? Or can I say, 'Yes' to all of the above?"

When they pulled up to Jessica's house, they watched Matt walk her to the front door. Jerrod and Roger watched them stop and talk for a couple of minutes, wondering what would happen. Then they saw Jessica lean over and give him a hug and turn to go in the door. She waved at the boys in the Cherokee, and they saw the door close. Matt came down the walk with a blissful expression on his face.


"Well, she thanked me and said to tell you that she had a good time in spite of you two!"

"Yeah, right! I bet that's what she said. That lady has a wicked sense of humor. She's not saying something lame like that." Roger started laughing. "More likely she'd be complementing our intellect or wit."

They fell quiet for a minute then Roger turned in his seat and reached a hand back toward Matt. Matt took it, and Roger asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Good. I was nervous at first, but I got over it. She's not just cute, she's a neat person. I finally figured out this double date idea was the best possible, because we all got to know each other without me being on the bubble the whole time. I got to watch her get into it with you two, and I learned a lot about her I probably wouldn't have otherwise."

Jerrod shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb.

"Very cool. So, you're admitting," Roger asked, "that my boyfriend is not only pretty smart, but has pretty good romantic inclinations as well?"

"Geez, if I have to, then, yes." He paused, "Seriously, this was a bigger deal for me than you know, and it was great. Jessica asked me if I'd call her, like maybe we could go out again."

"Way to go!" Jerrod virtually shouted from the front seat. "Good for you, Matt. See, not so hard, and it turns out you've got all these romantic tendencies in there after all. You just have to unpack them and release the hidden lover boy!"

When they got home, they gave David and Jackson a quick rundown on the evening, and they were pleased it went so well. They said goodnight, and as they walked to their room, Roger whispered, "Since you brought it up earlier, I want you to show me how good a lover boy you can be tonight."

He grinned and ran his tongue around his lips. "I bet I can do better than Matt!"

Saturday morning was warm and dry, so Roger helped Jerrod mow and edge, then they both drove to Roger's house and did his yard chores together. Roger's mom gave them lunch, and they headed home to pick up Kaiser and go for their first spring hike up in Forest Park above Portland. When they got back David filled them in on what was in the refrigerator for dinner, and they all relaxed together until David and Jackson went to shower and dress. They were meeting Dieter and Robert for dinner and then going to the symphony.

The boys cooked dinner together, then settled down together to watch a movie… but found their interest to be more in each other. They kissed and snuggled together, holding and stroking each other, until finally Roger whispered in Jerrod's ear, "How about we shut this thing off and go to our room and I'll let you intubate me?"

Jerrod's eyes popped wide open. "You remember?"

"How could I forget? I've thought about it a lot and think I can pull it off. I've never taken a first aid course, but I think I understand the mechanics of getting my throat horizontal so you can slide that wonderful cock in." He danced his fingertips through Jerrod's pubes, then softly stroked the upper surface of Jerrod's cock. "What'a ya think?"

"Lead the way, selle !"

They were still awake when David and Jackson came home, and joined them in the living room to talk for a bit. They shared Dieter and Robert's best wishes, and some suggestions they had made about things to do when they were at the Gearhart beach house.

"It's getting close, isn't it?" Jerrod asked.

"Yes, only two weeks. So, we have to start planning what we need to take down and what we can shop for locally. Dieter pointed out that there's a small store in Gearhart, but we'll have to drive half an hour down to CanonBeach for a real supermarket. Anyway, we have time to plan."

Jackson looked at them slyly. "So, you didn't get into too much detail last night or this morning about how the double date went. Care to fill us in?"

"It went great, actually. Matt and Jessica got along fine. The double date took the pressure off Matt, and that let him realize all the worry was in his head. Jessica's a really cool lady and fun to be with. She has a wicked sense of humor and laugh a lot. She's a lot like Sam in many ways, which is no surprise since she credits Sam with helping here become a really good athlete."

"So, do you think that means he's coming out of his shell?" David asked.

"Oh, more than that. When she was asking about how we became friends he flat out told her we saved his life on the mountain. He did a great job of being open, for the first time they were together," Jerrod said. "I was really proud of him."

"Plus," Roger added, "with her sense of humor, she really got into the give and take with me and Jerrod, but there was even some between the two of them. Meaning that Matt lightened up and was going with the flow."

"That all sounds good. I was worried I'd get a call from him needing to come over and talk."

Jerrod ginned. "I'm betting the only calls he's making this weekend are to Jessica to like just talk, and maybe plan when they get together next. We'll find out tomorrow afternoon."

They chatted with Suzanne when they arrived in the dog therapy room the next day and let Kaiser and Rufus play. Jerrod talked to the therapy coordinator and confirmed they'd be able to miss their session over the long weekend. She said, "We're making an exception for your team since you've been so dependable since you started. I've been told you've even done some extra visiting on your own, which is very commendable. Also, so you know, Dr. Yanowitz called about half an hour ago to see if you were on today and what time you start your shift. He's doing rounds this morning, and asked if you'd stop in the Neuro ward. So, I suggest you go there first this morning."

After saying goodbye to Suzanne they headed up to Neuro. The charge nurse told them Dr. Yanowitz was with a patient, so they waited at the Nurses Station till they saw him come out and waved him down. He said hello to Kaiser, and they chatted briefly about his band's performance. Roger thanked him again for the song dedication, and he said, "Thanks aren't necessary. I meant what I said, and it was so nice to have a patient come hear us play. Now, why I asked for Team Kaiser today. I've got a young patient in room 4D who had neuro surgery two days ago to remove an astrocytoma from his brain. He's doing really well, but kind of down in the dumps, as you'd expect. That's why I think a visit from Team Kaiser is just the ticket!"

"Can you tell us more about the condition and the surgery and his prognosis?"

He proceeded to tell that that the patient, named Trevor, had a pilocytic astrocytoma located in his cerebellum, and that they are slow-growing tumors, his was low grade and caught early, and had well defined boundaries so it was straight forward to remove. "For patients like this, the surgery is usually the only treatment required, and the likelihood of recurrence is very low. I think Trevor is going to do very well, and if it goes like I think it will, he'll live a normal life."

"Anything special we need to know, or that you want us to do?"

"You'll probably find he's still a little spacey and tired, but what he needs is some gentle stimulus. I told him before surgery that I'd try and get a special dog therapy team in to see him, but he may not remember that. Just be patient and try to cheer him up, okay?"

"We can do that!"

When they walked in, Trevor appeared to be on the edge of sleep, but he opened his eyes when he heard the noise of their entry.

Roger caught his eye and said, "Dr. Yanowitz told us there was a special order for you, that you wanted to see the friendliest therapy dog we've got, so we brought Kaiser up just for you."

It took ten or so seconds, but a smile slowly appeared and spread on Trevor's face, and he looked down from Roger to the dog.

"Can we bring him over so you can meet him?"

Trevor nodded and the slowly walked over and Roger said, "Kaiser, sit. This is Trevor." The boy was watching the dog, and his hand automatically extended toward Kaiser, but he couldn't reach.

"Can I bring him closer? He just told me he'd be really happy if you'd stroke his ears."

The boy nodded and softly said, "Yes."

Roger took a step forward and softly tugged on the leash, and Kaiser stood up and licked the back of Trevor's hand. The boy let him for a couple of seconds, then slipped his hand around Kaiser's head and his fingertips stroked behind Kaiser's ears. Kaiser's tail started wagging and thumping into Roger's leg.

"He likes that," Roger said.

Trevor's smile widened and he said, "Me, too."

Jerrod stepped closer and said softly, "We just talked to Dr. Yanowitz and he said your surgery went really, really well, and you're on your way. How do you feel?"

"Still pretty tired, and this bandage on my head feels like a turban or something." He grinned wanly.

"Well, it looks pretty cool from here. Like you're a pro patient and knew how to handle the surgery and like you've got this recovery stuff under control!"

Trevor's grin widened. "I feel better. I don't have the pressure inside my head anymore. Do you know when I'll get out?"

"No, Dr. Yanowitz didn't say, but he said you were recovering really well, so I'm betting it won't be long. Are you from Portland?"

"No, I'm from Salem. My dad works at the Legislature and my mom's a teacher."

"Very cool! Are they coming to visit you today?"

"Yeah, they said they'd be here after lunch. You said, his name is Kaiser?"

Roger nodded, and then said, "What he really likes is to hop up on the bed with the patients he likes. It's cool here at Doernbecher. What do you think?"

Trevor broke into a grin. "That'd be cool."

Roger tugged the leash and said softly "Kaiser, up. Up!"

Kaiser hopped on the bed landing parallel to Trevor, with his head just below the boy's arm. He immediately brought his hand over to stroke the dog's neck.

"Where'd he get that name? Isn't it German?"

Roger grinned back. "Yeah, but it comes from the Latin. Do you know what it was in Latin?"

Trevor shook his head.

"It means Caesar, as in the emperor." He looked at Jerrod and smiled.

"When we found him last year," Jerrod said, "he settled right into our household, and we'd be outside doing lawn work or whatever, he'd lie at the top step of the porch with his paws hanging over." Jerrod mimicked the position with his arms, his hands hanging down. "You know, laying there watching everyone, not doing anything, but acting like he was totally in charge… like an emperor. Pretty cool name, huh?"

"Yeah, I like it."

They talked for a while longer before it was clear that Trevor was tiring. Roger said they had to get going and see a few other patients, and explained they only worked on Sundays. "That means we probably won't see you again, 'cause I'm betting you'll be long gone from here before next Sunday."

Trevor smiled, they said goodbye, called Kaiser down off the bed and headed out the door. After Neuro they gave Kaiser a rest in the pavilion, and then visited patients on the Ortho floor until their shift was over.

When they got to Matt and Nate's house, they told them about Trevor. "He's just starting his recovery, and you get your cast off on Tuesday, so you're almost fully recovered. What a deal!"

The conversation centered on two things. First, planning for Nate's appointment to have the cast removed and the PT session to follow. Second, grilling Matt about how many times he'd called Jessica since Friday night and how all that was going. He understood they cared, and it was in good fun, but he played along being resistant, until he finally confessed he'd called her twice on Saturday and once so far on Sunday.

"Whoa, bro! This is getting suddenly serious," Nate exclaimed.

"What can I say, she's a neat lady. Ask these two. They'll tell you. It's their fault, too. They set the double date up!"

Monday flew by, and after tennis practice they ran Matt home and with the weather so pleasant, picked up Kaiser and took him for a walk before Roger was dropped off at his house.

Tuesday was totally focused on Nate's appointment. They repeated the previous routine of loading him in the Cherokee's cargo area atop cushions from the patio furniture, and then picked up Kaiser for cover in their parking ploy. A few minutes after they checked in with the Surgery desk, the surgeon's assistant came out to get Nate and they watched him follow the PA down the short hall.

"I hope that's the last time I see him using that damn walker," Matt said.

"I hear you, but it's probably not over yet. It'll take time to strengthen the weak leg, then transition to crutches. We don't want to be rushing anything," Jerrod said. "We've all got to focus on getting him to cool his jets. A couple more months of being cool could mean free sailing for him. If he has an accident and injures that hip, it'll be totally fucked and could ruin his life."

"I hear you. Yeah, you're right. Our mission is now to cool his jets. I like that approach. I can probably get my little brother to do that with your help." Matt grinned.

Nate came out half an hour later looking excited but also quite the sight. They could all see what he couldn't. Namely, how much his right leg had withered. He was swinging freely on his walker.

"Feels better, I bet," Matt said, "without the weight of that cast, right?"

"Oh man, for sure. I feel free again."

Jerrod stood up and put his arm around Nate's shoulder. "I'm going to sound like the sour old man, but I've got to say this. You feel free and great right now, and of course you would. You've still got a ways to go, man, and you've got to be serious about being careful and not having an accident. You can't be suddenly racing around in the walker because the cast is gone. You've got a lot of work to do to rebuild your leg strength."

"Yeah, I know. That's what the PT said. He was totally serious about how kids going through this get excited and can fuck it up by falling down and injuring the hip, or worse yet, breaking a bone or something. I get it."

"Cool. Let's head to PT, but we're going slowly, okay?"

Todd was waiting for them when they arrived, and waved Matt and the boys with Kaiser over to some seats against the wall, and slowly escorted Nate to a therapy table. His first comment was, "These cut off sweats that fit over your cast don't fit so well anymore. Didn't you bring some regular shorts or pants?"

Nate blushed and said, "No, I wasn't thinking. It was all about getting here to get the cast off."

"No worries," Todd said as he grinned. "We'll work around it. I can find you a pair of shorts in the back so you're not going home wrapped in a sack or with your junk hanging out. Now, first, you lay back and I'm going to take some basic measurements for your surgeon. I'll be measuring leg length, so don't be surprised when my hand is up in your groin. It's important to measure inside and outside so we know if both legs are the same length. If they're not, you'll need to wear a wedge in one shoe. Then we'll do the muscle strength tests. So, you can plan on it, you just had the cast off, so expect no muscle strength at all?"

"Really?" Nate looked shocked.

"Well, no, not really. But it'll be next to nothing. That's normal since they haven't done any work for a couple of months. The muscles have atrophied. Look at the difference." He made Nate look down his torso at his legs. "This one's got nice tone and strength because you've been working on it. The one that had the cast on looks a lot whiter and thinner, right? That's what we're going to work on."

He took the measurements, completed all the notes in his chart and then announced that it was all normal. "Very weak, but very normal!" Then he went to work with some basic physical therapy. It was the same types of exercises as he'd been doing with his good leg, but with no resistance to speak of. He waved Matt over to join them.

"You're going to be his trainer between PT sessions, right?" Matt nodded.

"Okay, you watch me. For the first few weeks I want you doing this every day, but there won't be any weights or resistance bands. Just your hand exerting only as much resistance as he can push against. You assume he's got no strength, so try to get a feel for it, and it'll be really light, to create some resistance he can work against. You've got to be careful not to overdo it, okay?"

Matt nodded, and Todd said, "Cool. Watch me. This is what I want you to do."

He took Nate through a cycle of leg lifts, and lateral extensions with just his hand softly applied to his leg. Nate was grunting, then panting, and finally broke into a sweat.

Todd grinned and said, "Great. Now, both of you, see what I was saying. This leg is very… and I mean very weak. That's normal, and it'll bounce back in just a couple of weeks. By which I mean recover basic strength. It'll take a couple more months to get back strength equal to the other leg and recover muscle tone. Are you with me?"

They both nodded. Todd then got very serious. "I need both of you to tell me that you understand when I'm telling you, that right now you're very weak in this leg, that you've got to go very slowly, but that the strength and range of motion will return if you're diligent and careful."

They both nodded again. "Cool. Now, let me put that in common language." He looked at Nate. "You're recovering from a major surgery. If you do this right, you'll get your life back, and be able to run and ski and whatever. If you don't and you screw it up, you risk a major problem with this leg. You've got to get through three or four months to get the right foundation laid. Can you do that? I mean, not doing anything stupid. No fuck ups! This is serious."

Nate was grinning, happy that Todd felt free to swear so freely. "Yeah, man. I get it. Matt's serious, and he'll keep me in line and do what you tell him. So will my therapy team over there. They're listening to all of this, and they won't cut me any slack either. You're serious, though, that if I do this right, I'll be back to normal when it's all over?"

"That's the plan, Nate. Just stick with the program for a few more months." Todd smiled encouragingly.

"Can do. Now, to the important stuff. When can I get rid of that walker and use crutches?"

"That's your call. I want you to stay with the walker for at least a week. Your body is relearning balance without the weight of the cast. Plus, there's a big muscle strength imbalance between your two legs right now. Your body will figure it all out within a week, but just use the walker till then and be careful. Then start trying out the crutches. You won't have a problem on level surfaces, but you've got to learn how to handle stairs, so be especially cautious there till you get the hang of it. All the weight on your good leg while you put the crutches on the step above, then push off and lift yourself up. Do that a bunch of times and it'll become second nature."

He paused and Nate was smiling.

"What I'd like to see is that you transition to the crutches in a week or ten days, and then you feel comfortable enough with the crutches and not embarrassed by them, so that you keep using them for a couple of months. That's the timeframe to rebuild your leg strength and they stabilize you. Then you'll be in a really good and a really strong place to walk without them?"

"I have to go two months?"

"Actually, no. You'll be able to walk without them in a couple of weeks. But here's the point, Nate. It won't be stable and safe walking because the leg you had surgery on will be so weak compared to your good leg. Just block out two months as how long it'll take to get both legs the same strength. That means till June. Can you be cool till June?"

"Can do."

Todd handed printed instructions of all the exercises to Matt and told them he'd see then the following Tuesday. When they got to the Cherokee, they had a decision to make.

"Nate," Jerrod said, "the cast is off. We can put the back seat up so you can sit there, or would it be better this time to do the cargo area routine like when we drove down here?"

Nate chose the cargo area. "Todd was serious about not fucking this up. I think I need some practice getting in and out of the car first. I'll ride in back with Kaiser!"

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