As I was coming to all I could make out was the foul smell of the Good Doctor's smelling salts. I was trying to remember why I was on the floor. Nothing made sense and as my head started to clear Mrs. Tompkins was holding me in her arms cradling me in her arms rocking me back and forth. Her face was wet with tears and she was murmuring tenderly to me. My ears were ringing and my mind was so confused. I was unsteady and unsure of myself. As I started to recover from the shock, the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question was, just why in the heck was I on the floor in Mrs. Tompkins kitchen and why was everyone here?
I was just about to make sense of my confusion when I saw his hand reach down to me. I started shaking like a leaf, my chest was heaving while I was bawling like a baby. Words came out as sobs as I lost the ability to speak having no control over my emotions or my body.
"How is this possible, it can't be" I managed to blub through my tears, shaking my head from side to side valiantly looking around the room to see if anyone could make sense of the confusion reigning over me. Mrs. Tompkins was trying to reassure me as she clutched me to her bosom. When my body came back to me she relaxed her hold on me and I got up onto my knees and moved towards Ethan's outstretched hand. It was then I noticed he had a cast on his leg and one on the other arm. As I placed my arms around his waist I laid my head in his lap. I was so confused and bewildered and I shivered uncontrollably. I must have cried for the better part of five minutes as I clinged to Ethan.
Earl came over to my side and knelt beside me. Placing a hand on my back, he started to tell me what had happened. He told me again about the plane crash only this time there was a different ending. He told me how Ethan had been thrown from the plane as it was breaking apart. He had been holding onto his dog tags praying when it happened. Still strapped in his seat he was tossed from the aircraft as it started to break up as it was coming in for a landing. They had missed the runway and had descended too soon in the fog. When the plane hit the ground, it bounced up and that was when Ethan was tossed from the plane. The plane managed to stay airborne like a skimming stone on a pond until it finally came to rest further down the runway. When it hit the runway, it managed to continue on for some distance as a flaming ball of wreckage. There were no survivors, Ethan's dog tags were ripped from him as he was ejected and stayed with the doomed aircraft. Ethan still strapped in his seat, landed in a swamp at the end of a farmer's muddy field, bordering the approach to the runway. He was thrown quite a distance when he was propelled from the plane. From the force of the impact, as he was tossed like a rag doll still strapped to his seat, was enough to cause internal injuries and shattering both his lower left leg and right forearm. The search for survivors took place where the plane had come to rest. There was no thought given to looking elsewhere as it was impossible that anyone could have survived the horrific crash. Checking the passenger manifest against the identification found, confirmed all were accounted for and none survived.
He wasn't found until two days later by the farm owner inspecting his fields for possible damage. Who he was, remained a mystery as he had no recoverable ID. At first the farmer presumed he was dead by his appearance and went no further. Rather than disturb a dead body, he went back to his home and call the airfield to report his news. When the recovery team came to gather, him it was discovered he was alive and obviously badly hurt. He was raced back to the airbase hospital where they would attempt to save his life. Due to the severity of his injuries, x rays showed a damaged aorta, he was kept in a medically induced coma for the better part of two weeks while his other injuries stabilized. Once he was able to be operated on, surgeons went in and repaired the damage to the aorta. When the operation was deemed a success, he was brought out of his induced coma When they brought him round to they began to ask him questions. He could identify himself and it took another ten days to positively confirm through medical and dental records, clear up his military status and arrange his travel home.
Ethan placed his good hand on top of my head and slowly ran his fingers through my hair. Looking back up at him I felt as helpless as a baby. Nothing made sense and I was wondering just when in the heck was I going to wake up. I tried to speak and words failed me again, nothing would come out of my mouth s I could not call forth or form the words I needed to say. Hard as I tried I was unable to pull myself together or make sense out of any of this. I simply stopped processing the ongoing events around me and shut down, unable to form any rational thoughts.
"It was Ethan in the ambulance this morning". Earl continued "We found out three weeks ago, he was alive. We were cautioned to keep the news very quiet and only between the Missus and me. While you can see the obvious, there was danger because of the severity of his injuries, that while on the mend, he still may not have made it. It was touch and go right up to the time he was cleared to fly home.
"Squirt, I need you to look at me please" he pleaded. As I turned slowly to face him I found my voice. "You bastard" I softly muttered.
"YOU FUCKING BASTARD" I screamed.
"YOU FUCKING KNEW ALL OF THIS TIME". My fists were clenched in rage as I held my arms rigid by my side. I was furious I had been kept in the dark.
"WHY DIDN'T YOU FUCKING TELL ME?" The ferocity built like a volcano deep within side of me. Reason and logic be damned. My life had been ripped asunder and then toyed with. I had been toyed with all those who proffered good intentions. My very reason for being had cruelly been ripped from deeply within. All I could see through my blind, cold black rage was that others had messed with me.
Before I could repeat myself, I saw the tears flowing over Earl's cheeks and down his face, his hurt so deeply ingrained. He lifted his arms out and beckoned to me. At first I recoiled back but then I heard Ethan's voice telling me to listen and calm down.
Coming over to me, barely controlling his emotions Earl placed both hands on my shoulders. In a voice, barely louder that a soft whisper haltingly said "If I had told you he was alive and we had to bury him a second time I didn't think you could stand it. I simply could not put you through this again…I…we…did not want to hurt you, we were so afraid of what may have happened if Ethan did not recover. With that he wrapped me tight to him as I lost it and everything faded to black again.
It was getting dark out as I woke for the third time that day. I was on the couch in the living room. I could smell the food cooking in the kitchen and the indistinct sounds of conversations and laughter. My head felt as if it had exploded from the mixed-up jumble of thoughts and feelings. I had had some fantastically wild dreams the past couple of hours. Ethan was dead, he was here, alive and well. Then he was home again but dead and speaking to me. As the fog of confused sleep faded from my body I realized I wasn't alone and that I did have some very disturbing dreams. When my head finally cleared and I was awake, there was Ethan sitting beside me in his wheel chair holding my hand.
"You ok Squirt?" I heard him ask weakly as the day's events came rushing back to me. "I'm sorry for putting you through all of this. I never intended to hurt you." he looked at me with a concerned gaze and as I looked back there was just a hint of a week smile.
"Oh Ethan" I stumbled struggling through the newly formed sobs. My chest heaving again, my body spent as if it had been through a prizefight "when the news came that you were gone, I lost it, I simply lost my will to live. It was as if I had fallen down into this bottomless pit with no way out. I can't place the feelings, or put into words or try to make sense of it. I was so frigging empty…cold and so very alone. I fell silent for a moment and when I started to continue, Ethan interrupted me, "Squirt, I could use a hug, it's been a long time and I've missed you more than you can imagine."
I sat up on the couch, got as close as I could and despite the wheel chair managed to wrap my arms around him. If I was conflicted before, it was twice as bad as the reality sunk in. Inside of my head I wanted to cry out that Ethan was home, curse the world and everyone in it. And at the same time go running through the streets yelling at the top of my lungs that Ethan was home. Ethan was fucking home and I was holding him. I dealt with those conflicting feelings by hugging him a little tighter and whispering softly, ever so gently to him "welcome back home Ethan…I love you with all of my heart…I…am…never…letting…you…go…again."
I could feel his body wracking as he cried softly into my chest. The last of this day's tears running down my face and landing in his hair. Slowly, ever so slowly I felt my soul fully and finally return from that bottomless pit. We comforted each other with tender touches and soft murmurs' until it was time to rejoin the family out in the kitchen.
I wheeled Ethan back into the kitchen and all eyes were upon us. Sheepishly, I grinned trying my best to look at everyone. It was almost too much as I saw such love and concern from everyone including my folks, the looks on their faces radiating happiness as I scanned the room. It was if the whole evening was but a sepia moment frozen in time, forever etched in my memories. The setting was electric and a night clearly to remember. Mrs. Tompkins had prepared a magnificent meal and we all enjoyed each other's company. Stories were told, tales were spun. Some were humorous and outright lies also graced the table. Earl had even brought out the hard cider. Sitting at that table that night with Ethan by my side, I was for the first time in such a while content. If only this evening could last forever I thought wistfully. As the meal was finished and desert tucked away, the table cleared and the coffee finally served, each of Ethan's brothers came up to us as they were leaving, held us tight and whispered their love to the both of us.
I looked at my parents when it was time to leave. I told them I loved them that I loved them greatly but this was where I was staying now. I got up from the table and gathered the both of them in my arms. I held them tight and told them again how much I loved them. I told them I was here now, that this was my home now. Letting them go I walked them to the door. I reached out for my father's hand and he reached to me. We shook hands and I turned to my mother and once again held her in a tight embrace. I walked out with them on to the porch and once more bid them goodbye. I told them I would be back, that I would always come to their home, just not as often. I was needed here now and this was where I would stay. Walking back to the porch after bringing them to their car, I watched them slowly pull out of the driveway and their tail lights fade from view as they rounded the corner. I said good bye to them once more in my heart and went back inside my home.
I managed to catch Earl as he was putting the hard cider away in the pantry fridge and asked him for a moment of his time. I wanted; I needed to apologize for my outburst earlier. I wanted him to know I never meant to hurt him with the words I spoke so harshly. I didn't mean what I had said or called him and I was so sorry. He looked at me while I spoke those words and a smile formed across his face as he accepted my apology.
He knew I didn't mean it, he understood how I felt. He was more concerned that I remember that I knew how he felt about me. That he loved me as a son, to remember our conversation on the porch the day we buried Ethan. He wanted to make sure I understood what he meant then and how nothing had changed. We hugged for a moment and the world just felt right. Looking at me as we broke from our hug Earl commented "You know how much joy you bring here and how much we miss you when you weren't here. I have to confess that today was the first any of the boys have ever seen me cry Squirt''.
"If I had to admit to it, you mean that much to me and never forget it. For that matter, the last time I cried, I was about ten years old when my dog, Old Spot was hit by a car and had to be put down."
I can't stop the giggles from coming. I clasp my hand over my mouth in a desperate attempt to stifle the guffaws that are bursting out of me. I am horrified as I was convulsing with laughter and I can't stop it. I found the whole situation hysterically funny. I'm laughing so hard I gotta pee. Earl isn't mad, it's more like he's perplexed, but wants to know what I find so funny about his dog, Old Spot. I can't resist another round of giggles and I ask him not to get mad when I tell him.
I want to tell him and I don't hold back, it's a moment we'll share forever and just between the two of us. I tell him that it was my pet name for my penis, Old Spot…the one-eyed wonder dog, but I don't stop there. I also tell him; trying desperately to keep a straight face, that every time I tried to pat Old Spot he'd get sick and throw up. By the time, I finish, tears of mirth are rolling down my face, my sides hurt and we are both laughing our heads off.
It sounds silly but our connection was completed that night. Our bond grew closer and my admiration for him only deepened. That he shared a tender private moment and could see the humor I found so funny, spoke volumes. I may be getting ahead of myself, but over the following years, at the most inappropriate of moments, one of the other of us would call out to the other, in our best Yankee accent, and inquire about each other's dog, Old Spot. Every Christmas, Earl or I, depending on whose turn it was would leave a present under the tree for Old Spot. The family never could figure out what we found so funny about a dog that didn't exist.
When Earl and I managed to compose, ourselves we walked back into the kitchen. I walked up and wrapped my arms around Eddy and told him how much I loved him. He smiled in acknowledgement and we both nodded to each other and continued hugging. I was transported momentarily to the night we made love. While we both knew what, we shared was special we knew it would most likely be the only time. Despite the close personal bond, it was Eddy who had arrived at the decision and I readily agreed. What I would tell Ethan was another matter altogether and I wasn't looking forward to it.
Jolted back to reality by the kitchen phone ringing, I saw Eddy grab the phone. While he was talking, I sat next to Ethan who looked noticeably tired. It was one of our classmates Bobby Robertson, apparently, he and Eddy had plans for the evening. Eddy was explaining the day's events. He told him the good news about Ethan and asked him to come on up, to see if his brother John could drop him off. Judging by the crestfallen look on Eddy's face regarding the change in plans, I knew they were cooking something up. In a voice, loud enough to be heard by Bobby, I suggested that he bring a change of clothes and a toothbrush and spend the night. Eddy whirled around and shot me a thumbs up and said over the phone, "Sure…see you in fifteen".
Bobby and John showed up shortly thereafter and bounded into the house. John was a year behind Ethan in school. Ethan had saved John's bacon in some sort of tussle in high school and they became and remained friends afterwards. As expected, Eddy and Bobby retreated to the porch while John and Ethan caught up on the events of the past two plus years.
Earl came up to me and with a wry grin explained that Ethan would not be able to navigate the stairs to his old room, after all he was in no shape to climb the stairs. Why didn't we use the apartment we had built? It was as if a light went off in my head. Turning back to Earl, I pointed my finger at him realizing the apartment we had made was never for a 'hired hand' but for us!
I was flummoxed, completely floored and dumbfounded. I must have looked like a fish out of water as I gasped for words as I tried to thank him. With a mischievous smile on her face, Mrs. Tompkins handed me one set of bedding and two pillows. Coming back from making our bed, John was making his good byes to Earl, Mrs. Tompkins and Ethan. I thanked him for bringing Bobby up and told him to come back tomorrow afternoon and plan on supper. I walked out with him and watched him leave. I started to go back into the house I walked over to Eddy instead, "Why don't the two of you use Ethan's room tonight." I winked at Bobby and patted Eddy on the bum. While it was dark out, the light from the kitchen clearly indicated they were both blushing.
Going into the kitchen I said goodnight to Earl and Mrs. Tompkins. She placed her hands on her hips and flatly stated "It's Marge or Mom and I suspect you would prefer Marge." Ethan snorted and gave me a good-natured poke in the side, he was grinning from ear to ear. I looked back at Mrs. Tompkins and said "Goodnight…Marge", with the emphasis on the Marge part. She wrapped me in her arms pulling me close to her and told me to take care of her baby. I asked if I was safe now that she had fattened me up, from going to market with the beef steers. That got me a tug on the cheek, a kiss on my forehead and a swat on my backside. Ethan let out a good-natured groan and Earl just chuckled. Earl and Marge made their goodnights and walked off to their bedroom Eddy and Bobby came walking in and made their goodnights to us as well. They walked closely together as they made their way across the kitchen and as they walked up the stairs they were holding hands talking softly between the two of them.
I leaned over and gave Ethan a kiss softly on the lips as we started for the apartment, our first night in our new home. When we got there, I gave him some assistance in the bathroom. Giving him some privacy I changed out of my clothes and into my nightshirt. I knew there would be no love making tonight and I was willing to wait. I just wanted him beside me in bed. I needed so desperately to hold him, lay my head on his chest, to fall asleep listening to the sounds of his breathing. The basic need was to simply feel his body next to mine.
On the way to the bathroom I turned off the lights save the light on our nightstand. I helped him clean up where he needed assistance and when finished brought him back to the bedroom. Helping him out of his wheelchair I sat him on the edge of the bed and helped him undress.
My lord I thought to myself with a look of concern. He looked as if he had been placed in a clothes dryer, set to the tumble spin with a load of bowling balls in the middle of a demolition derby that took place while going over Niagara Falls. He was a series of bruises of every coloration imaginable, scars and abrasions from head to his toes. There were bandages to be changed and wounds to be inspected. He guided me through tending to his needs and when done I placed his nightshirt on. He grabbed my hand and brought me down to his face, "I know I ain't to pretty and look like a sack of crap but all this will all heal in time…will you share my bed tonight?"
Leaning in to kiss him I replied "Our bed Ethan…it's our bed." Standing up to put everything away on the nightstand he wrapped his good arm around me, placed his face against my stomach and held me tight. Standing there was intoxicating, running my hands through his hair I could only smile ruefully as my future, no our future would continue. After a while he asked me to remove his nightshirt and mine as well. I complied, folded them and placed them on top of the bureau. When I turned to face him I heard him exclaim, "Where is the boy I left behind, the one who stole my heart? Where is the boy I nearly lost, the boy I love above all others? Where is the boy who gave me the strength at my lowest to fight harder to come back to?
I blushed and tried to shush him but to Ethan the last two years apart, the last two years of hard work and good meals on the farm, had come to their inevitable conclusion. As I stood there his hand lightly traced the contours and outline of my body. I brought his head close to me, cupped my hand against his cheek as I ran my thumb back and forth across it. He continued to explore my torso and everywhere else he could reach. I resolved once again to give myself totally to him and only him. I would do whatever it took to create the future we had talked about so many times. Gently placing his hand on my shoulder as I leaned over, I slid my hand down to the middle of his back. With the other hand, I reached under his legs and helped him to lie back on the bed. Leaning over to the nightstand I turned the light off and climbed into bed beside him. I gave him a kiss goodnight, told him there would be plenty of time for fooling around, tonight I just needed to be close to him, to feel him beside me and hold him. I had missed all of this and needed to fall asleep next to him and luxuriate in his scent. I lay as close as I could; touching, smelling, rubbing and holding Ethan till he quietly fell asleep. Sometime later, I drifted off as the tom cat and the barn owls made their nocturnal rounds.
I slept as well as could be expected and in fact, much better than I would have thought. It was one of the best night's sleep I had had in a long time. There were a few times when I would move and rediscover that Ethan was beside me and a deep feeling of contentment would wash over me. I would place my hand on his and fall back asleep. On occasion, he would murmur and I would rub his chest to sooth him. Waking the next morning I quietly slipped out of bed, standing there I stared for a moment and pinched myself. I headed to the bathroom to do my business and wash up for the day. As I was toweling off I looked at myself in the mirror. I wondered just where did that scrawny fourteen-year-old boy go? I was forcing myself to remember as I was then, two years ago. Today I stood a strapping six-foot-tall, weighed a hundred and sixty pounds of lean muscle without an ounce of fat. I had filled out and had a classic swimmers body with a well-defined chest. I was smooth all over with the exception of my pubes and underarms. My happy trail was minimal and my legs for the most part had only a dusting if fine hairs. Old Spot, the one-eyed wonder dog had grown with me as well. He had grown to a respectable six inches when excited but was very lazy and shy when not aroused. My balls kept pace with the rest of me as well and served as a daily reminder of the good lord's practical joke. They loved any attention and made sure to furnish copious amounts of goodness as needed.
Shaking my head sheepishly I wondered just where did the horny fourteen-year-old boy go? The boy who could only think of his next self-induced release; dreaming of escapades with another, plotting to achieve sexual congress with another, the boy who lived through the end of his penis. I shook my head in wonderment, how little did I know then, what my actions would lead to or how I would grow out of that phase and fall hopelessly in love. Being torn apart, finding the will to survive and incredibly being reunited after a devastating loss.
Finishing up I walked back into the bedroom to wake Ethan and get ready for the day. He was already awake and propped up on his good elbow. There with a mischievous grin on his face. I leaned over and gave him a heartfelt good morning kiss. I needed to clear the air with him.
"Before we go any further I need to tell you about your brother and I". Kneeling on the floor beside him it all came out at once. What I couldn't say yesterday because of the shock and others present. I poured my heart out; tears streaming down my face, my head hung low, shame coursing throughout my entire being.
"I waited for you, never so much thought of anyone else. When we learned, you were gone it was if good part of me had died as well. A cold unfathomable despair settled deep within me. After your funeral both your brother and I were just going through the motions around here. I had walked up the cemetery one afternoon after talking with your brother when he had told me he knew about us. I needed to speak to you and hoped that you could hear me. After I had said my peace I saw a stag come out of the woods down by the lower cornfields never moving far from the edge of the trees. I looked at the stag and he looked directly towards me, he lowered his head twice as he pawed at the ground before disappearing back into the woodlands. I believed that stag was you, your spirit, a sign that your soul had returned home. What I didn't know was that your father saw me up there and as he walked up, he gave me a moment to finish talking with you in private and has witnessed it as well. I believed at that moment it was a sign from you telling me it was time to move on with my life. Your father and I walked down to the house afterwards agreeing that we would never allow any more hunting.
What had brought me there was a request by Eddy. He told me how much he was hurting and missing you. That he was losing you in his memories. He couldn't remember the sound of your voice. If not for the picture he carried in his wallet, you were fading in his mind's eye. Ethan, I know we were careful when we fooled around all over the farm but Eddy told me he caught us one day in the work shop. Before I could grasp the implications he then told me that he confessed to being like the two of us. Your brother asked me that day if I would share his bed with him, that part of you was forever in me. I believed that afternoon you had finally let me go, for that matter I was letting you go. Your brother was in such pain, I mean…Jesus H Christ…we both were. He hoped by doing this that part of you, your very essence that resided in me, would help him and forever bring him that much closer to you. I'll spare you the details but want you to understand, it was only once. While it has brought us closer, we both realized and Eddy was the first to understand this, that we weren't destined to be together. I feel like such a total shit; can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
"Squirt please look at me" Ethan asked softly. I looked up trembling, my face wet with shame. "How could I ever hate you…there's nothing to forgive. You helped my brother in a time of need, full well knowing I was gone forever. What you did was done out of love". Placing his good hand under my chin he leaned down to kiss me. It was as if the weight of the world was off of my shoulders and my spirits lifted. I started to cry tears of happiness when Ethan reminded me he was supposed to keep his plaster casts dry and I wasn't helping. "Let's get those eyes of yours dry and see about getting me to the bathroom. I need to take care of business and then I need to get cleaned up.
I brought Ethan to the bathroom and helped him to the toilet so he could sit down. "I'll help you wash but you gotta wipe for yourself buster" I said laughing as I helped him position himself. "There's a can of spray on the floor beside you and you had best use it when you've finished. I'll be back in a moment, I gotta figure out how we keep your casts dry when we wash you, you're pretty ripe" I said as I handed him some toilet paper.
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