Kaiser's Pavilion

by Bensiamin

Chapter 4

Jerrod and Roger had made sure that their therapy dog schedule over Christmas vacation remained the same as during school, only on Sunday afternoons. That assured they'd have some real vacation time and now time to work on the pavilion petition.

During the summer, Chloe accompanied Kaiser and the boys on their daily therapy work at various hospitals, but since she was in training, they'd separate so that Roger and Jerrod alternated days with each dog. That allowed which ever had Chloe to focus on training for part of the day, make a few brief therapy visits with patients, and taking breaks with her in between. The result was that she stayed involved and happy, her attention span wasn't overburdened, and she learned a great deal over the summer. Enough so that by the time college began and they started back at Doernbecher her training and their schedule allowed them to work both dogs together on Sunday afternoons. She wasn't an exuberant dog that was always pulling at her leash, though she did display the typical kind of puppy excitement in new situations. Depending on the number of patients to see, they'd either split up into two teams, or occasionally for patients that were really into dogs, all visit them together.

At the end of their therapy shift on the first Sunday of Christmas vacation, they'd arranged to spend the time to pull the patient logs. They were jazzed to discover that all the dog therapy owners logged their patient visits on a computer and that the information formed a basic database. The info could be downloaded into a spreadsheet that would let them work up a contact list. They'd told the dog therapy program manager what they were up to, and she worked with them to make sure that no confidential patient information would be included.

When they got home, Jerrod called Eric and told him what they'd gotten, and they agreed to meet the next afternoon to work on breaking the list down. Then he and Roger went to work formatting the data in the spreadsheet. After an hour or so, Jackson called them for dinner and when asked how it was going Jerrod looked at his boyfriend and said, "It shouldn't be this hard, right?"

Roger grinned. "It's not hard, it's just messy." He looked at David and Jackson and went on, "Not everyone enters their information the same way, some leave a few fields blank or use nick names, so we've got to clean the data up first and get it all lined up. You know, first names in one column, last names in the next, then addresses. There's a lot of duplicate entries we have to consolidate. It won't take long to finish this up now, though, then we'll have a clean file with all the patient names and addresses and phone numbers. It only looks like a few of them have email addressees, so we'll be doing a lot of phone calling."

When they were done Jerrod called Matt to let him know how much they'd gotten done, and he told them he and Jessica would be there the next afternoon too. When they all gathered around Roger's laptop to review the data the next day, they saw that there were almost five hundred patients listed.

"Whoa," Eric commented. "That's a lot, don't you think?"

Roger laughed. "You should have seen it when we started. There were over two thousand, but a lot were duplicates. You know, different dog therapy teams seeing the same patient and entering them separately sometimes with full first names, sometimes with nick names. Anyway, we got it down to this, and almost all of them have phone numbers." He looked around and said, "Do the math. If all six of us split the list up it's only like 80 or 85 people each. That's not so many!"

"How do we split them up?"

Jerrod looked at Kim and grinned. "We've got them sorted now in alphabetical order, but I think the easiest thing is that we just split it up evenly at 85 each, or whatever. Sound okay?"

Matt said, "Divide the list by seven. Nate's in the pack and he said he'd help. Seven will take it down to about seventy each."

Jerrod grinned at Matt and the others nodded, and Roger went to work breaking it down into seven separate files. "I'll email each of you your file. David's got a real good printer in his office, so if he's cool with it, I'll print each one out as a working copy you can make notes on. But we've got to agree to make corrections or updates in the spreadsheet file so we can merge it back together when we're done."

They all agreed, and Roger went to see David. He was back in twenty minutes with printed copies for everyone. They then talked about how much they could realistically get done over Christmas vacation.

"I'm saying we can maybe make a start. It's the holidays," Kim said. "People travel, people go skiing, whatever. I think we can start but I bet we won't get too far."

Roger nodded and looked at Matt. "When are you and Jackson meeting with the admin person?"

"The first week in January, sometime. He was going to be out of town for Christmas." He looked at Kim and grinned.

"See," Kim said, looking at his group of friends. "Christmas won't be easy."

"Point taken." Matt looked at Roger inquiringly.

"I say we get started and do what we can during the holidays, and then plan on meeting again to go through what we've got in the middle of January. That way we've had enough time to do some good work, and Matt and Jackson have had that meeting and we should know where we are and what to do next."

He looked around. Jessica, who'd been pretty quiet so far, said, "Speaking of what to do next, where's the petition?"

Roger looked at Jerrod and then back at Jessica, just starting to blush, his blue eyes sparkling. "Well, we're working on it."

Jessica laughed. "You mean you haven't even started! Hey, I know you've been busy with the dogs and doing the database, but we need to do the petition next. Open up a Word document and let's start composing."

An hour later they had a draft of the petition they were happy with, stating that the undersigned had experienced and were hereby testifying to the importance of dog therapy while being a patient at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, and that they also understood the importance of the pavilion as a place to rest the dogs year-round as they worked their critically important therapeutic roles during patient's recovery. Based on that they demanded that the pavilion be replaced so the dog therapy program as they had experienced it as patients would continue.

They'd heard David and Jackson come in from grocery shopping. "Let's have David and Jackson give it a read," Eric said. They found them in the kitchen and got them to sit down and read it after the groceries were put away.

"My first reaction is that some of the language is strong, like demand," David said. He paused and thought for a couple of seconds, then added, "But maybe it works given how important this is." He looked at Jackson with raised eyebrows.

"I think you're right on both counts. It's strong and needs to be. Dog therapy was a big deal and a game changer for most of the patients who will sign. They're expressing that, as they should. I'm betting when Matt and I meet with the admin guy we'll get a lot of lip service, but we won't say anything about the petition drive. Then, if lip service is what happens, the next step is to drop the petition on hospital administration, and that should be a wake-up call!"

He looked around at the assembled young people, and all of them were grinning conspiratorially.

The plan was to ski on Wednesday and Friday, but Jessica and Matt bowed out on Wednesday, electing to spend the time working on basketball drills with Sean. The next day was high clouds and no rain, so Jerrod and Roger were able to meet Sean and his mom at the park with the dogs.

After the usual greeting, characterized by the typical exuberance Sean always had when he met up with the dogs, and their normal excitement at seeing him, they walked over the the grassy area. Jerrod got Sean started throwing the ball for Kaiser, and then after a few retrieves, they rotated so Roger was working Chloe with him.

Jerrod and Kaiser stood by Sean's mom catching up about the last week. He pointed out how many mole mounds there were in the park, commenting that they must be extra active in the winter, and then he asked her how the basketball drill had gone the day before. "It went very well. They're such nice young people. Just like you and Roger. They like Sean and care so much it warms my heart. Sean is getting better and better."

"Matt told us his dream is to go out for the basketball team."

"That's true. I don't know if it's realistic given his limitations, but he has good coaching from Matt and Jessica, so who knows by next year." She paused and then added, "Have they told you about the other things that are happening?"

"You mean about his improvements in coordination and speech and stuff?"

"Yes! I've been totally amazed by that and didn't expect it. Sean's doctor has been quite impressed, too, and seems to be becoming more of a believer in sports therapy. He was somewhat skeptical at the outset, but he can't argue with the results."

Jerrod watched Roger tell Sean that Chloe needed a rest as he processed those comments. "Have you told Jessica and Matt that?"

Sean's mom shook her head. "No. Do you think I should?"

"Absolutely. So, they know that part of the story. Knowing that Sean's doctor is taking notice would be good for them to hear. And Jessica wants to be a coach, so it's important for her to know there's more to this than just getting better at shooting hoops." Then he added, "Kaiser and I have to go spell Roger and Chloe."

Sean's mom nodded and said, "Go right ahead. Then after that we should go. We shouldn't be taking so much of your time during Christmas vacation.

On Friday's drive up to Mount Hood, Eric asked a question from the back seat. "How's the petition calling going, you guys?"

Jerrod looked at him in the rearview mirror. "Good for me. I've only been able to reach ten or twelve patients so far. Kim was right about how hard it is to get people over Christmas. Anyway, all of the ones I've talked to are on board. Same with you, Roger, right?"

Roger glanced at his boyfriend and nodded, then said, "It may be easier for us than you and Kim, since we do dog therapy and know some of the patients that way."

"Yeah," Eric said, "I get that. It's part of why I asked. We've got to do the whole intro thing. Like, I'm a friend of Jerrod and Roger, we know Kaiser and Chloe really well. You know that whole deal. Once they connect with that though, it's all good. You know what's weird though?"

He waited for a response from the front seat.

"Tell us."

"Some of these patients, especially the younger ones, because they don't know me want me to talk to their parents. Some of them, the parents want to talk to me 'cause they don't know who's pitching this idea to their kid. Eric had the same thing happen, right?"

He looked at his boyfriend, who said, "Yep, same thing. Maybe, I don't know, forty percent of the time. Not half, and like Kim says, mainly with younger patients, that's what's happening."

"Is that a problem?" Jerrod was really curious.

"No. But it's rad. You know why?"

"Tell us!"

"Because when the parents get the full story, they're totally supportive. A few even told us they want to get involved. Like connect with other parents. Have their own petition. Raise money. Like that."

Jerrod shot Roger a glance. "Seriously," he said? "You're not shitting us, are you?"

"No way, bro. Not about something to do with the dogs. Are you kidding me?"

"I wonder if Matt and Jessica and Nate are having the same thing happen?" Roger thought out loud. "We need to talk about his over lunch today and compare notes. And maybe we need to circle back with the patients we've talked to about informing their parents."

They did, and learned that Jessica, Matt and Nate had all similarly had a few patients want them to talk to their parents or the parents wanted in on the project.

Jerrod looked around at them all. "To quote Jackson, 'I see a trend here.' I hope you guys kept track of which patient's parents were interested and got their names."

Kim looked around the table and them back at Jerrod. "We're part of the program, you know. I know I wrote down the parents' names and how interested they were. You guys?"

The rest confirmed they had, too, and Roger said, "This is great because I bet Jackson, and maybe even David, will get involved. If so, we can have two tracks going on here. We're working the patients who are kids, and they're working the parents adult to adult." He smiled slyly.

"Yeah," Eric responded. "It'll be like some hyped up doubles tennis match or something."

They all cracked up.

The group skied once more before Christmas, and this time Matt came along while Jessica spent time with Sean. On Christmas Eve, Nate and his mom came over to David and Jackson's home for dinner since Matt had been invited by Jessica's parents to join them. Roger was at home with his parents, and over dinner Jerrod asked Nate if he'd called his boyfriend to wish him Merry Christmas.

Nate tried to put a brave face on it, but barely succeeded. "Yeah, I called him before we came over. They're all doing a Christmas Eve thing tonight, too, and the usual Christmas gifts thing tomorrow morning. I think he said they're having roast venison tonight?"

"Yum, yum," Jerrod said. "When we were there the first time Michael's mom cooked it for us with venison that his dad got during the deer hunt. It was fab!"

Nate's mom squeezed her son's arm and said, "Nate's been really good, not letting this get to him and being positive." She smiled at Jerrod and added, "Having him working on the petition drive has helped a lot keep to his mind off not seeing his boyfriend over the holidays."

"When is his next checkup at Doernbecher?"

"That's the bummer," Nate replied to Jerrod. "He's got one more six-month check, which won't be till March, meaning probably Spring break. Then it's once a year."

"Well, you won't have to worry about once a year, 'cause by then he'll be down here living with you!"

"Yeah," Nate replied, "if the plan holds together and he gets accepted at Portland State and his parents don't change their mind and…"

He was cut off by Jackson. "Whoa! Nate, my man, stop spinning a tale of woe here. You've got to think positive. There's a plan, everyone's working to make it happen. Have you heard anything that would make you think something's changed?"

"Well, no."

"Okay, then. Give it up and be positive. You've got the school year to get through and then he's here. Well, probably not till the end of summer. What's so hard about that?"

Nate smiled wryly and then said softly, "Yeah, I get it.

Changing the subject, David interjected, "Who's up for dessert? Jackson went shopping for tonight and came home with plum pudding and hard sauce? Any takers?"

As planned, the next day for Christmas morning, both families exchanged gifts together and then Jerrod, David and Jackson headed over to the Astren's for Christmas brunch. After the memorable and transforming Samichlaus Christmas they'd had the year before it seemed as though it should become a joint family event. The boys weren't sure, but went along with the adults who seemed convinced it was the right thing to do. On the drive over in David's BMW, Jerrod made the point about how there was to be no embarrassment, especially of Roger, since his mom had such a deep and abiding connection between Samichlaus and Roger, her little schatzy .

"Not to worry, Jerrod. Embarrassment isn't in the cards. This is all about giving and receiving in the spirit of the season."

"I know, Uncle David. And, I know you and Jackson, and it's the giving part I'm worried about."

Jackson turned in the passenger seat and looked back at him. "Was there anything embarrassing about last Christmas when David spoke about Samichlaus and his role in the Astren family, and then talked about how the family, and by extension all of us in the larger family, received the best gift we could have dreamt of? You know what I mean, right? You haven't forgotten, have you? I mean Roger getting a definitive diagnosis of his condition and that it was treatable and now it's fully under control."

Jerrod looked a little embarrassed. "No, I haven't forgotten. I was so relieved, finally, that maybe all I remember was Roger being put on the spot about Samichlaus. I guess you're right when you think of it that way, that it was the best gift for all of us."

"It certainly was the best gift for you, wasn't it?"

Jerrod blushed. Finally, he said, "Yeah. It kind of put my life back together. I mean Roger and me... our relationship. And getting closer to my parents and them accepting Roger as my boyfriend."

"Good. You remember the most important parts. Yes, David was speaking about Samichlaus and how that related to Roger, but the point wasn't about putting your boyfriend on the spot. It was about how everything Samichlaus, or St. Nicholas, stands for, namely the giving of gifts to the needy, came to pass."

"You're right. I'm sorry about the embarrassment comment. That wasn't cool."

"It's okay, my man. You're allowed to be protective of your boyfriend. I am of David. See, I've just come to his defense."

David grinned at him in the rearview mirror. "No worries, Jerrod. The point of us getting together is celebration, not embarrassment."

The Astrens settled everyone in their living room and Roger's mom offered David and Jackson their choice of a Mimosa or a Gin Fizz. Both said it was a little early for hard liquor and asked for the Mimosa. She smiled and said, "It is a holiday, is it not?"

David grinned back and replied, "Indeed, it is, but as you well know that doesn't mean there's nothing to do later in the day." They all settled down with their drinks, including one allowed for Roger and Jerrod, and after toasting the holiday, Jackson stood up and handed her a package he had carried in. "It's two bottles of Champagne, so you'll be able to keep the Mimosas on offer for some time."

That comment got a chuckle in response and Roger's dad handed them a wrapped box, saying, "It looks like we both went for alcohol this season." It was a bottle of Ardbeg single malt Scotch about which David got quite excited. "I see it's from the Island of Islay, but it's a new one to me."

"The man at the liquor store said it was the peatiest and smokiest of all the Islay scotches, so let me know how you like it."

Roger's mom turned to her son and said, "If you boys would prefer to exchange gifts in your room, that's quite alright."

Roger smiled back at her, and said, softly, "Is that okay? We don't want to be impolite."

"It won't be impolite, just private. You two go ahead and we'll carry on with our conversation. I'm serving brunch in twenty minutes, so that's all the time you get."

Roger thanked his mom and grabbed Jerrod by the hand and headed for the hall, where Jerrod slowed him down and said, "Wait. I've got to get your present that I left here on the table."

After a few minutes of kissing and snuggling, Jerrod said, "That was just what I needed. And I have to keep reminding myself how cool your mom is. Somehow, she just makes everyone feel so accepted and things like this are so easy."

"She is cool, and she does make things like this easy, and part of it is because that's the way she is, and the other part is she really likes the boy her son is in love with."

Jerrod's eyebrows went up. "Yeah?"

"Yeah! She thinks you're a pretty great guy and that we're a perfect match. She told me the perfect match part last week. I thought it was pretty wonderful. She's never forgotten how focused you were on finding out what was wrong with me when my seizures were starting and that you wouldn't let up until we had a definitive diagnosis. She thinks you're a better doctor than all of the others. Well, except for Dr. Yanowitz, but that's 'cause he knew what it was and had the diagnosis."

"He's a great guy and a really good doctor."

"Yeah, he is, but I got to him because of you, so I feel kind of strongly about what you did for me too."

"I would have done it for anyone."

"Really? There wasn't a special effort because it was me?"

"Well, truth be known," Jerrod said as he pulled Roger close to him on the bed, "there was, and I would have gone to the end of the world for you 'cause I finally found someone I loved and who loved me back the same way."

He felt Roger kiss the side of his face and sigh, and he continued, "Now, I'd better say Merry Christmas and give you your present, or your mom is going to be knocking on the door pretty quickly."

"You're right. I've got one for you too."

Jerrod reached for the package he'd placed on the bedside table and handed it to Roger. His eyes flashed and he was smiling as he carefully opened the wrapping paper and then the box which had a portable DVD player in it.

"Wow! This is so cool. I've heard about these."

"Yeah, it means you can watch DVDs in here, which would come in handy when your parents are watching something you're not interested in."

"Or when I'm at your house or wherever. Now we'll be wanting to have our own collection of DVDs." He opened the drawer of his bedside table and pulled out a small, wrapped box and passed it to Jerrod. "It's smaller, but I hope you like it."

Jerrod grinned and proceeded to more messily open the package. Inside was a Diamond Rio MP3 player. "Whoa! What is this?"

"It's the new thing in music. It's a portable music player that plays digital music files. You load the music you want onto the player and take your music where you want. Like skiing, for instance. Pretty cool, huh?"

"Very cool. How did we end up each buying the other something electronic for Christmas?"

"I guess it's a sign of the times, liebling ."

"I guess. Thanks, that was very cool. Now I get to go explore digital music files which is something I know nothing about."

"Another adventure ahead for Jerrod!" Roger tried to look impish as he said it, and then added, "we better head down and join the adults."

After a pleasant brunch, at the end of which Roger's mom commented that she'd been unable to find any Samichlaus beer to celebrate with, they all moved to the living room for dessert. On the mantle piece, as it had been the year before, was the small statue of Samichlaus with his donkey and a large bag full of gifts.

They chatted and when dessert was finished Roger's mom looked inquiringly around at her husband and then David and Jackson and said, "Which of you are going to share some thoughts on this occasion?"

Roger's dad looked around and said, "You know, it's quite surprising given that I teach at Portland State, yet when it comes to something this personal and emotional, I don't do very well." He looked at David clearly seeking help.

David smiled softly as he looked at those gathered together, then said, "You all know I hardly ever preach anymore, which means I don't have to give a sermon or even some deep kind of message. But I will share a few thoughts, if that's alright."

He went on. "Once again, we're gathered together in front of this figurine of Samichlaus, a symbol that as of this time last year came to have much greater meaning and significance for not only this family but also for the others of us gathered here. I'm sorry Jerrod's parents couldn't be here with us again this Christmas, but I spoke to both of them yesterday and they both are equally sad, but send their best wishes and holiday greetings. For them, like for Jackson and I, what happened last year to all of us, right here in this house, was transformational. We'd all been worried sick about what Roger was going through, but then through Jerrod's love and persistence we finally got to the right doctor and finally got the right diagnosis and the correct treatment. I've thought back to those events and that day many times over the intervening year."

He paused and looked around. "It's worth restating the obvious. Clearly Roger got his diagnosis and treatment and that resolved a huge fear hanging over all of us. The treatment is working well, as we can see by his radiant visage here before us, and these two love birds are the primary beneficiaries of that. However, something else wonderful happened then as well. Jerrod's parents had an epiphany… especially his father. That's not too strong a word to use, especially since it's the Nativity season. He saw the strength of the connection between these two young men and came to understand the love they share. Epiphany is usually defined in New Testament terms, as in the Holy Spirit appearing as a dove at the time of Christ's baptism. However, more generally it means an unusual or sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something."

He paused again, and saw that everyone understood where he was going. "So, I ask you what it was that we suddenly understood or perceived a year ago? I'll say that beyond the obvious we've been talking about, it was the new understanding that Jerrod's parents came to have. The new relationship they had with their son and the new connection they had with Roger. On top of that, I think I can speak for Jackson and I that we were suddenly connected not just to Jerrod's parents, but to Roger's in a new and deep and wonderful way. We all became part of an extended family. And as someone who grew up with very little in the way of extended family, I will tell you how magical and important that is to me."

He paused again, and then raised his glass. "And so, while we don't have Samichlaus beer this year, we do have a very good quality wine, so let's raise our glasses to this wonderful extended family brought together by these two young men…" and here he turned to Roger's mom with a twinkle in his eye and added, "and made possible by Samichlaus himself."

Roger's mom was beaming, with soft tears in her eyes. They spent more time together and then all helped clean up before heading home.

Roger was staying over, and as they were pulling in the driveway, Jerrod's phone rang. "Yo, Michael! Merry Christmas, man."

He walked away from the car and could be seen in an animated conversation. Finally, a huge grin spread across his face, and he said, "Trust me, we'll take care of it on this end. We'll see you when you get in."

He paused and then went on, "Yes, trust me. We'll have him there. Just chill man. See you when you're here."

He turned to David, Jackson and Roger and said, "You're not going to believe what's about to happen."

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