THE CALM AFTER THE STORM
*The Calm After The Storm inspired by the aired episode, Sudden Storm. Reference is also made in this story to the aired episode, I Thought The War Was Over.
*As is true with several of my stories, there’s an indirect reference in this story to a fan fic story entitled, A Journey Into The Past, by Brenda A. I don’t believe A Journey Into The Past is housed anywhere on the Internet. It was an excellent piece of fan fiction, and was based on the theory that A.J. was ten years old when his father died, and in the car when Jack Simon was killed as a result of injuries incurred that night. Brenda wrote this story several years before the episode May The Road Rise Up aired.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Cecilia Simon entered the vast modern office complex and walked its corridors to the office where her scheduled weekly appointment was to take place. She entered the small, desolate waiting room and registered with the receptionist, then sat and leafed through a magazine for the next ten minutes. The door to the inner office finally opened, and a young woman exited. The receptionist smiled at Cecilia.
“Mrs. Simon, you can go in now.”
The office Cecilia entered was comfortable and feminine. It was decorated in pinks, mauves, and light grays, with just a touch of pale blue here and there. Upon first seeing this office Cecilia had thought of it as homey, and found it soothing to be in this room that was so similar in color and decor to her own bedroom and master bathroom at home. Even the contrasting wallpapers on the walls that were separated by a white chair rail molding were similar to the wallpapers and border Cecilia had chosen for her bedroom when she had redecorated three years earlier. Cecilia guessed this was why she felt at ease here. Why this place didn't fill her with nearly the dread and anxiety she had anticipated it would weeks earlier when she and her sons had arrived here for her first appointment.
Abby Marsh recommended this large building called, The Family Center, first to Rick and A.J., then to Cecilia. Abby knew of more than one sexual assault victim who had sought and received help here, and she also had a good friend who was employed here as a counselor to women just like Cecilia - women who had been raped. The mutual bond the counselor and Cecilia shared through their friendship with Abby also made those first awkward sessions easier for the older lady. She and her counselor had formed a friendship as well, though not such a strong friendship that the counselor couldn't be objective or helpful, but instead, just enough of a friendship to calm Cecilia's nerves and fears.
Upon hearing someone enter the room now, the petite, red-headed counselor looked up from her papers, "Oh, Cecilia. Hi! You startled me. I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in."
"That's all right, Kay,” Cecilia smiled. “You were hard at work, as usual."
"Oh, yes. No rest for the wicked, you know," the counselor chuckled as she rose from behind her desk. She crossed to the beverage cart that rested against the east wall and poured two cups of coffee. She walked over and handed one to Cecilia, who had already made herself comfortable in one of the overstuffed easy chairs that was part of the room's decor. Kay sat in a chair identical to Cecilia's and put her feet up on the small footstool sitting in front of it.
If Cecilia hadn't known this office was a rape crisis center, she would have thought she was in a friend's living room, enjoying an afternoon chat. The atmosphere was that comfortable. But, a pleasant afternoon visit was not what she was here for, and that fact was brought to the forefront of her mind when, after a few minutes of general pleasantries, Cecilia and her counselor got down to business.
"So, how have things been going this past week?"
"Pretty good, I think."
Cecilia shook her head. "No, not this week. The last one I had was almost two weeks ago. Do you think that means they're over?"
"I wish I could tell you yes, but I honestly have no idea. Almost anyone who has lived through a traumatic event, whether it’s sexual assault, or something like a hurricane, will experience nightmares about that happening from time to time. For some it's a one time occurrence, for others it can occur again and again over a period of years. It's impossible for me to predict what will hold true for you."
Cecilia broke eye contact with the woman. “Oh.”
The counselor reached over and laid a hand on her patient's arm.
"I know they're frightening, these nightmares, and I wish I could give you a more encouraging answer. But, since I can't, the important thing to remember when they occur is that they're just a dream. Nothing more. He can't hurt you like that again. If they frighten you so badly that it seems real again, then by all means pick up the phone, call a friend and talk about it.”
With a trace of humor Cecilia questioned, “In the middle of the night?”
"Yes. Definitely. That's what friends are for, and you've got many wonderful, supportive people on your side, Cecilia. I'm sure any one of them will be there for you, regardless of the time.”
Cecilia nodded as she thought of Edie, Margaret, Abby, her sister-in-law Pat, and at least half a dozen others. "You're right. I do. I have some wonderful friends. Come to think of it, I probably owe one or two of them a late night phone call."
Kay laughed. This was what she liked best about this strong woman. Cecilia's wry sense of humor rarely seemed to leave her.
"Well then, I'd say it's time for a pay back. And, Cecilia, you know you can always call me, any time, day or night."
Cecilia nodded again. "Yes, Kay, I know."
The counselor took a sip of her coffee. "Tell me about some other things. How are you doing with the phone and the door bell?"
"I don't seem to startle as easily as I did several weeks ago. It's getting a little better. Some days are harder than others."
"Some days will be harder than others for quite some time yet, I'm afraid. That's normal. It sounds like you're making good progress though. Remember when you first came here you told me you were too frightened to answer the door if someone knocked?"
"Yes...yes, I guess I was. At least I seem to be past that now."
"Good. How is being alone at night going?"
"That's still the hardest part. I still go to bed with every light on in the house, and it takes me a long time to fall asleep. This is the first time in all my years without my husband that I've done that. I've never been afraid to be alone at night before. I think my sons are aware of it, too. At least Rick is. I have no doubt he drives by the house most nights, because he keeps asking me if I want him to come and stay with me for a while, or if I want to stay on his boat."
"How do you feel about that?"
"About Rick's offer, you mean?"
"That, and having him stay with you, or you with him."
Cecilia smiled. "At first I was a little upset at the thought of Rick doing surveillance on me, but when I calmed down I realized, of course, that it was only done out of love, so how could I be angry? Rick has a very strong sense of protectiveness toward those he loves, especially where A.J. and I are concerned. Jack – my late husband, was like that as well. So, I thanked Rick for his thoughtfulness, kissed him, and told him I loved him, but then told him I'd be fine by myself." Cecilia paused before saying with firmness, "I have to be fine by myself, Kay. I have no other choice. I won’t live with one of my children like some ninety-five year old invalid, and I won’t have one of my grown sons living with me. All three of us are far too independent for that to work. We had enough problems when I stayed at A.J.'s those first two weeks."
"Still, maybe having Rick there for just a while would do you some good,” the counselor suggested. “It might help you get back to a normal night-time routine."
“Believe me, Kay, some nights I'd like nothing more than just that. I'm just so afraid, though, that if I have Rick come for even one night, I'll never want him to leave again. That I'll become dependent on him being there. That frightens me. That's not the way I want to live the rest of my life. That's not fair to Rick, or to me."
“You know a lot about yourself, don't you, Cecilia Simon?"
Cecilia chuckled. "Sometimes too much, I'm afraid."
The women talked another twenty minutes about Cecilia’s progress in general. Just when Cecilia thought they were wrapping this session up, Kay asked, "How are things going with A.J.?"
Cecilia's mouth set in a grim line. For the first time since arriving, she had nothing to offer.
“Not so good, I assume," Kay observed.
"No...no, not so good," Cecilia said in a voice with
an odd little catch to it. "He's still avoiding me. He hardly ever stops by the house any more, rarely calls, doesn't..." Cecilia let her sentence trail off.
"Doesn't come to the family counseling sessions on Monday nights with you and Rick?"
Cecilia nodded in answer to that question. In barely a whisper she said, "He just doesn't seem to care."
"Cecilia, may I talk to you about A.J. for a couple of minutes? Do you have the time? I know we're usually done by now."
"I have the time. You're the one who has a schedule to
The counselor rose to refill their coffee cups. "Not today. My four o'clock appointment canceled, so you're my last patient. How about if you and I having a mother to mother chat?"
Cecilia smiled slightly as she agreed. "All right. But your little boy is only four, I don't think he can be causing you near the concern my thirty-eight year old boy is causing me."
Again, the resilient sense of humor made Kay laugh. "You're probably right, but let's see what we mothers can come up with concerning A.J., shall we?"
The woman handed Cecilia a coffee cup, then reseated herself. "In the first session when I met all three of you, you'll recall that I talked to each of you individually."
Cecilia nodded as Kay continued. "I asked you to tell me about each of your sons, and likewise I asked each of them to tell me about you, and about each other. I already knew that your family was very close. Abby had told me that. But, if I had any doubts that she wasn't telling me the truth – often families can appear close to outsiders, when that’s really not the case - those doubts were put to rest that first day. It's obvious that the three of you love each other very much. When I first asked A.J., and then Rick, to describe you to me, to tell me what you're like, they both said nearly the same exact things. They said that you're independent, stubborn, fun to be with, full of life, intelligent, charitable, and a wonderful mother."
Cecilia blushed at Kay’s words. She knew her sons loved her, but the extent of their astute observations and the depth of their feelings surprised her.
"Anyway, my point is, that when I talked to Rick and A.J. separately, they both said the same things when describing you. Just as you and A.J. said the same things of Rick, and you and Rick said the same things of A.J. There was no doubt in my mind that the three of you know each other extremely well. Which, believe it or not, is not always the case within a family. The things both you and Rick shared with me about A.J., is that he's a caring man, and a man who feels things deeply. That he hurts when others hurt. That he has a good sense of humor, and that he's also stubborn, intense, a bit of a workaholic, a good businessman, and a good athlete. Rick said A.J.’s picky. You said he was a perfectionist, which I took to mean the same thing. You both told me that A.J. was easy to talk to and that he doesn’t hide his feelings. You said of your two sons, A.J. is the one you have always had no problem understanding. The one who has always been an open book to you."
"Yes. Until now."
"Until now," Kay agreed. "After that first session, when you and your sons came back a few days later, I was puzzled by A.J. He was the one I thought I'd have the easiest time talking to, based on what you and Rick had told me. I was expecting to hit a roadblock with Rick, just as you had said I might. A.J., as well, had told me that Rick often times does not talk about his feelings. But the roadblock wasn't with Rick; it was with A.J. He maintained a cold exterior for our entire visit. I couldn't get a feel for him at all. At that time I assumed it was just nerves, but the next time the three of you came it was the exact same thing. I might as well have been talking to the wall for all the response I got. A.J. appeared to be angry over having to be here."
Cecilia acknowledged softly, "I know."
"How many family counseling sessions did he go to on Monday nights?"
"Only one. The first one. And that night he was...uncooperative, too. He hasn't come to any since then with Rick and me."
"Has he said why?"
"Oh, he always has some excuse - usually involving work. That he's working on a case, or meeting a client, or has to wait at the office for a phone call he’s expecting, but I know he’s lying.”
"How do you know that?"
"Kay, my youngest son may be somewhat of a workaholic, but never, until now, has A.J. ever let work interfere with the needs of his family. That's why I'm sure these excuses about work and clients are lies. It's obvious to me, as well, just by the tone of his voice. A.J. never could lie to me. But even if I didn't already know all these things, the look on Rick's face says it all. Every Monday night when he picks me up for the session his jaw muscles are clenched as he offers me A.J.'s latest excuse. I'm sure the boys are arguing over this. I can tell Rick is angry with his brother. This past Monday night all Rick would say when I asked him where his brother was, is, ‘A.J. 's an asshole, Mom. Just forget about him tonight.’”
Cecilia's eyes filled with tears. "I've heard my sons swear on occasion, but in all the years, and in all the fights, I've never heard either one of them say something like that about the other. Never. Why are we fighting like this? We need to be a family now more than ever. "
The counselor plucked a tissue out of the box on the coffee table and handed it to her patient.
"Cecilia, this isn't unusual. Often times, just when a family needs to be at its closest, it's at its farthest apart. Stress, tension, sadness, and worry, does this kind of thing to people unfortunately. There's something about this situation that A.J. 's having trouble dealing with. Aside from the obvious, I mean. It seems as if he's trying to run away from whatever it is."
"No, not A.J. Not ever. He's always faced his problems head on. Even when he was a little boy."
"But his mother has never been raped before, has she? This is a whole new problem. One he never imagined he'd have to face."
"I suppose you're right."
"I talked to Abby about A.J.,” the counselor confessed. At Cecilia's look of surprise she added, "I don't mean about the way he's handling this. That would be breaking doctor-patient ethics, so to speak. I just asked her in a casual way while we were playing racquetball last week, to tell me a little bit about A.J. I wanted to see how someone would describe him who is a bit more objective than his family. Unfortunately, what she had to offer didn't help. Abby said basically the same things of him that you and Rick had. The main thing that stands out in my mind is that Abby said A.J. is friendly and open, easy to talk to, and a warm individual. I hate to say this, but that's not a side of A.J. I've seen. After talking with him twice, or talking at him rather, that's not the impression I came away with.”
"I just don't understand him lately, Kay. He's so distant. This is not like A.J. Believe me when say I have an equal amount of love for both of my sons. They're both special to me in many different ways, but A.J. and I have always been especially close. He was only ten when his father died, just a young boy. He needed me to help him through that and to tell you the truth I needed him. Rick was already a teenager and gone more than he was at home on some days - you know how teenage boys are. But A.J. was still a child, and he needed two parents. He missed Jack terribly. Then he was just entering his own teen years when Rick left home to strike out on his own. He worked in Mexico for a while, then did some extensive traveling and worked whatever odd jobs he could pick up. Anyway, that separation was hard on A.J., too. He and Rick had always been close, and after just losing his father just three years earlier, Rick's departure was especially difficult for A.J. to accept. So, for the most part then it was just A.J. and I at home when he was a teenager. I've always attributed that to the closeness we share today. He was such a good kid, Kay. He rarely gave me any problems or cause for concern during those years. Other than an occasional argument over curfew, or some privilege he wanted that I wouldn't allow, we had few of the ups and downs you expect to go through with a teenager." Cecilia paused as she smiled with memory. “None of the problems that I went through with Rick. A.J. seemed to feel that he had to be there for me since his father couldn't be, and since Rick was out on his own."
"And it's always been that way since then?"
"Yes, until now, it's always been that way. A.J. and I have always been close. After the...rape first happened, it was A.J. 's house I went and stayed at for two weeks. He insisted. He would have waited on me hand and foot the entire time if I had let him. He didn't even want to go to work. He kept telling me he had a lot of paperwork to catch up on, and needed to do it at home. I made him go to the office though. I knew that was just an excuse to baby-sit me, and I also knew it wouldn't be good for either one of us. It was hard enough as it was. I know I wasn't the best houseguest during that time. I was...moody, to say the least."
"That's normal, Cecilia. You know that."
"I know. It's just that I said a lot of nasty things to both of my sons during that time that I regret now. Funny thing is, I don't even remember any of them. I just know I said them."
"I believe they understand. I know Rick does, based on things he's shared with me. A.J., well--"
"A.J. you wouldn't know about, because he doesn't show up to talk to you, is that it?"
The counselor simply nodded her head.
"Kay, what should I do? How can I get this resolved with my son?"
"Have you tried coming right out and asking A.J. what’s bothering him?"
"No. I realize now that I should have several weeks ago when I saw him more often, when this behavior on his part first started, but all three of us were just...hurting so much right then, that I let it go. I assumed he'd come to terms with whatever it was. Now I don't see A.J. often enough to ask him. He works hard at avoiding me. I've thought of going to the office and confronting him, but Rick's usually there, too, so that would only make matters worse."
"You mean because Rick would interfere?"
"No...no, not exactly. Maybe ‘running interference’ would be the more correct term. I already told you that I have no doubt that Rick is angry with A.J. over his recent behavior. I'm just afraid with Rick's temper...and A.J. 's temper, things will only get worse. I'm afraid we'll push A.J. farther away." Cecilia paused for a moment in thought, then revealed, "There have been times throughout the years when Rick's had to be a father to A.J. Or maybe ‘chosen to be a father to A.J.’ would be a better way of phrasing it. He doesn't do it very often, but when he feels A.J. needs to be told off like a father would tell off a son, he'll do it. I'm afraid if I give Rick cause to do that now, it will drive a permanent wedge between the boys."
"Does A.J. normally mind when Rick does that?"
"No, not really. He usually ignores Rick, or yells right back at him. I can't say I've heard Rick do it too often since they've both reached adulthood. It occurred more often when A.J. was a teenager. If Rick was home visiting for a few weeks and A.J. would answer me with a smart remark or something like that, Rick would take it upon himself to tell his brother that he was not to talk to me like that. A.J. always listened to him, too. Maybe not without getting angry over it, but he listened. And there were good things, too, Kay, that Rick did for his brother, things that a father would do for a son. He taught A.J. to drive, helped him tear apart his first car and rebuild it; answered the questions about sex that A.J. wasn't comfortable asking me - good things like that. Things that made them closer than they might have been had Jack been living then. I just hate to see that closeness jeopardized now. That's why I don't want to involve Rick if I can help it."
The counselor mulled over Cecilia's words.
"Cecilia, I suggest you confront A.J. about all of this. That's the only way you're going to arrive at the root of it. There's nothing wrong with telling A.J. he's hurting you, and making you angry. There's nothing wrong with demanding an explanation from him. If you don't want to talk to him in front of Rick, then do it at his home, or at yours, where ever you think might work best. The bottom line is, that in order to find out what's wrong, you're going to have to ask. You told me two weeks ago that you were sure A.J. would come to you eventually and want to discuss this, but it just doesn't look like that's going to happen."
Cecilia nodded in reluctant agreement. "You know, Kay, when we started counseling this was the last thing I ever imagined I'd encounter - A.J. being unwilling to help. He was so sweet, so helpful those first few weeks. Now this. I just don't get it."
"Did this behavior start when the counseling sessions started?"
"Yes. Yes, it did, now that you mention it. He was fine up until then. Ironically enough, both A.J. and Rick encouraged me to seek counseling. They told me I had to. It was only after the boys found out that they had to be involved, too, in order for me to get into your program, that this started with A.J. Thinking about it now, I can say he seemed a little...tense over the whole idea, but to tell you the truth, I had too many concerns of my own at that time to take much notice of his reaction. Right after we came to see you that first time was when it started to escalate."
"So we're right back where we started. There's something about the assault that A.J. doesn't want to talk about, and he's fearful it will come out in one of these sessions. At least, that's my guess."
"But what could it be?"
The counselor stood, collected Cecilia’s empty coffee cup, and put it and her own cup on the beverage tray.
"I don't know. That's what you'll have to ask him. A.J. is your son. You know him best."
"I thought I did," Cecilia said softly as she, too, rose. She said good-bye to her counselor and thanked her for her time.
Cecilia traversed the quiet hallways and exited the building with her mind full of worries and unanswered questions. At this point she didn't even know where to begin in an effort to get A.J. to communicate with her. She'd been in this position with her youngest son before. With Rick - yes, there had been times when she had to work hard to get him to reveal what he was thinking or feeling, but with A.J., never that Cecilia could recall.
The woman unlocked her car door and got inside. She eased in to rush hour traffic, her concerns for A.J. pushed aside for the moment as she concentrated on her driving.
Four days after Cecilia's visit with her counselor, her sons were seated at their desks in the Simon and Simon office. A.J. 's head was bent over a stack of files he was studying. Rick, on the other hand, was ignoring his own stack of files as he sat scrutinizing his brother. The older Simon glanced at his watch and saw it was ten minutes to five. He made a noisy production of clearing off his desk. He slammed drawers as he put things away, and then walked to the coat rack to retrieve his field jacket. A.J. never looked up as all of this was going on, and was seemingly oblivious to it.
Rick slipped on his jacket, and then stood by his brother's desk. After a long minute of silence had passed, Rick knew he was being ignored.
"It's five o'clock."
A.J. glanced up briefly, before returning his attention to his papers. "You go ahead, I've got some work to do here yet."
"A. J., it's Monday night."
"I realize that."
"Then you also realize it’s family counseling night at the center. Let's go, we have to pick up Mom."
"I'm not going."
"Oh, and what's your excuse this week?"
A.J. stood and leaned forward, resting his knuckles on his desktop. "I don't have an excuse, Rick. I have a reason. A good reason. I have to get this work done."
"A.J., that's not even a good lie, damn it! What's the matter, are you runnin' short of fibs for me to pass on to Mom?"
"I'm not lying, and I don't much care what you tell Mom!"
"Well you damn well better start caring, pal! That woman is your mother."
"Rick, would you just get outta here and leave me alone! I've got better things to do than--”
"Than help our mother?” Rick questioned as his face burned red with fury. “You've got better things to do than be there for our mother, is that it, A.J.?"
Flustered, A.J. turned away from his brother. "No...I...no. That's not what I was going to say. I've just...I’ve got this work that has to be done."
"And that's more important than Mom?"
"No...yes...no,” A.J. stammered as he turned to face his irate sibling. “It's not more important than Mom, it just has to be done that's all."
"That's a crock of shit and you know it!"
The brothers glared at one another before A.J. finally reseated himself at his desk. He ignored Rick while opening a manila file folder.
Just as quickly as A.J. had opened the folder, Rick reached down and slammed it shut.
"You're gonna listen to what I have to say, A.J., and you're gonna listen good. That woman who was violated, who was raped, is our mother! Our mother! She's not some stranger you read about in the papers, she's the lady who diapered our rear ends and wiped our noses. She's got a face, A.J., and she's got a
name. And whether you like it or not, her name is Simon, just like yours. Now for whatever reason you don't wanna be there for her. Well, you just better start thinkin’ of all the times she's been there for you! You better start rememberin' the day when you were six and you fell against the grill when Dad was cooking and burnt your hand. Mom stayed up with you all night 'cause you were
hurtin' so bad. Or the time when you were seventeen and Anita broke up with you. Mom was there to listen to you, and talk to you when you needed someone to pour your heart out to, and--"
"Rick, look, I don't want--"
"I don't much care what you want, damn it! You're gonna to listen to me!" Rick shouted. "Our mother's devotion didn't end when we turned eighteen either. Maybe you need to be reminded of that fact. Five years ago when you had pneumonia, our mother sat by your bedside in that hospital for two straight days and listened to every breath you struggled to take. She struggled right along with you, A.J. And last year, when that drunk driver plowed into your car, she cried in my arms and said over and over again, ‘Not A.J. Not my A.J.,’ when the doctors told us you might not pull through. She didn't sleep for almost four days. She turned away from you and cried every time she knew a doctor or nurse was doing something to you that was painful. She was there for you, A.J. And now you tell me you can't be there for her. I just don't get it. What the hell is your problem?"
"I don't have a problem!" A.J. shouted back. "Just get out of here and I let me work!"
At that moment Rick Simon was so furious that he feared if this conversation progressed he and his brother would come to blows. That hadn't happened very often in their lives, only once or twice when they were kids that he could recall, and once as young adults in an argument involving Vietnam. Rick knew that if he didn't get a rein on his temper that was going to happen again. Although for just a split second Rick thought that pounding some sense into his younger brother was what he needed to do, he then thought of how such an incident would only further hurt their mother. The last thing she needed right now was to find out that her grown sons had gotten into a fist fight like a couple of school children squabbling over a toy.
With those thoughts in mind, Rick turned on his heel and headed for the door. As he opened it he turned around. A.J. didn't look up as Rick stared at him from across the room.
When he broke the tense silence, Rick said, "You know, A.J., there has never been a time in my life when I haven't been proud to call you brother. But the past couple of weeks is changin' all that. Maybe you don't care about that fact, but I sure as hell do."
With that, Rick turned and exited the room while quietly shutting the office door behind him.
The headlights of Cecilia's Mercedes Benz flashed briefly on Rick's Power Wagon as he pulled the car into his mother's driveway. Cecilia hit the button on the automatic garage door opener that rested on the dashboard. Rick eased off the gas a bit as he drove the vehicle into the garage.
Rick handed his mother her key ring as they exited the garage through the side service door and walked out into the quiet Monday night darkness.
"Rick, why don't you come in for a little while?" Cecilia suggested as her son walked her to the kitchen door. "I made your favorite today, angel food cake with Hershey bar frosting."
Rick could hardly refuse that offer as his mouth watered at the thought of the cake that had been a favorite of his since childhood. Especially when his mother melted Hershey candy bars and mixed them with whipped cream to make a candy-like frosting.
"I don't think I could say no to that if I wanted to," Rick said with a smile as he followed his mother in to the kitchen. "It sounds great, but you didn't have to go to all that trouble just for me."
On impulse, Cecilia turned and wrapped her arms around her oldest son. "It was no trouble. I wanted to do it."
Rick was caught off guard by his mother's tight embrace, but returned her hug wholeheartedly with one of his own.
"Whatever you say, Mom."
As Cecilia took two dessert plates out of a cabinet and began cutting the cake, Rick poured himself and his mother a cup of coffee.
Cecilia walked over to the kitchen table and set the plates beside the cups. She and Rick each pulled out a chair and sat down.
Rick took his first big bite and said after he had
Swallowed, “Mmmm, Mom, this is terrific. You really out did yourself this time."
Cecilia smiled. "I was planning on making a chocolate cake today since both of you boys like that - you know how A.J. hates
angel food - but then I figured he wouldn't show up tonight anyway, so I went ahead and made this one just for you."
Rick studied his mother a moment before giving his reply.
"Well, I'm glad you did. You haven't made an angel food cake since my birthday. I'd forgotten how good one of these things is."
Cecilia and Rick made small talk over their dessert. Rick got up and cut himself another slice when he had polished off the first one.
"Mom, do you wanna another piece?" Rick asked.
"No, honey. No. I'll get fat."
"You will not. You're still as tiny as you were the day
Dad married you."
"Oh, that's not quite true, Rick. I have put on a few pounds since then."
Rick bent and kissed his mother's cheek as he walked by her on his way to retake his seat. "Well, you look great. I think you can have one more piece of cake."
Cecilia laughed. "I don't need one more piece of cake, sweetheart. I'm sending the rest of that cake home with you tonight. I don't need the temptation here, and a few extra pounds won't hurt you. You're too thin."
"You always say that," Rick replied as he started eating on his second piece of cake.
"That's because it's true. You've always been all arms and legs, even when you were just a little boy. I remember when you were about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to go through the growth spurts that all teenaged boys do, I used to tell your father ‘I sure hope the rest of Rick's body catches up with his arms and legs one of these days!’”
Rick smiled. "Yeah, I was a pretty ugly kid back then."
"No you weren’t. You just had that gangly look about you that many boys have at that age."
Rick smiled again, this time in fondness of his mother's defense of his awkward, teenage looks.
Cecilia and Rick talked a few minutes longer about things that didn't really matter. When the conversation died out, Rick asked quietly, "So, how'd you think things went tonight?"
"Pretty good, I guess," Cecilia stated as she looked down at the table.
Rick knew it wasn't easy for his mother to talk about the rape, or about the counseling sessions she attended alone now on Thursdays, and the ones they attended together on Monday nights. Not for the first time since this had all happened, Rick found himself wishing his mother had a daughter to discuss some of this with. It would probably be easier for her than the only option she did have - two sons.
Rick pushed his empty plate aside and leaned back in his chair. "I think some good things were aired tonight, don't you?"
Cecilia knew Rick meant good things in general, not necessarily anything she had said, but things various women in the group and some of their family members had contributed. She had been unusually quiet tonight, and was well aware that Rick had noticed that fact.
"Yes. Yes, I think some...helpful things were said."
Silence lingered in the kitchen for a few minutes, the only sound in the room being that of the cuckoo clock ticking on the wall.
Rick fiddled with his coffee cup a moment, then asked,
"Mom, is there something you'd like to talk about? You've been pretty quiet tonight. Too quiet. Is there something on your mind I can help you with?"
Cecilia smiled her love at her oldest child. He'd been so wonderful, so supportive this last month. It wasn't normally like Rick to be this patient. He was the type of person who didn't believe in beating around the bush. When Rick Simon wanted answers, he wanted them right now. Therefore, Cecilia knew this loving patience Rick had shown toward her these past weeks was not easy for him. He'd been so good about allowing her the space she needed to deal with her anger and fear, then seeming to sense when she was ready for him to step in and help her tread through it. Just as he was doing right now.
"Rick, I...I'm very upset with A.J., and I'm trying hard to deal with that. Tonight it just kind of hit home, I guess, when I saw all those women with their closest family members beside them at counseling. It just really hurt that one of my family members was missing."
"I know, Mom. I'm a little...upset with A.J. myself right now."
Cecilia's eyes filled with unshed tears. "Why, Rick? Why is he doing this? Why is he acting this way? He just isn't my A.J. anymore."
Rick reached over and squeezed his mother's hand. "I don't know, Mom. I can't get him to talk to me about it at all. When I do try to discuss it with him, we end up getting in a shouting match and sayin’ some pretty rotten things to each other."
Cecilia nodded her understanding. Rick's words confirmed what she had already suspected was true. She reached up and wiped at her eyes.
"You've been so wonderful these last few weeks, honey. I love you so much for that, but I need A.J., too. I need both of you. Why can't he see that?"
Again, Rick had no answer other than a frustrated, "I don't know, Mom."
"The one thing I keep remembering through all of this, Rick, was when you were at the V.A. hospital last year, and then the counseling you went to after you were out. A.J. kept telling me that you needed us. That you needed your family no matter how hard you tried to push us away. I can still remember him telling a counselor there that the three of us had always worked together to help whichever one of us was in need. A.J. was so proud when he said that, Rick. He was so proud of our little family. That's why I'm so confused by how he's acting now."
Rick didn't make a reply to his mother's words, but instead just nodded as he reflected on his own hard times of a year
Earlier, and how his younger brother had stood steadfastly beside him.
"I talked to Kay about all of this last Thursday. About these problems with A.J. She suggested that I confront him about them, and let him know exactly how he's making me feel."
"I guess it's long overdue, isn't it?"
"Yes, I guess so," Cecilia replied. “I just don't understand any of it. I know A.J. well enough to know that he really does care. He's putting up a...front for some reason, and I can't figure out why. I know how hard this must be for you boys. I know how hard--"
Rick squeezed his mother's hand as he interrupted her and firmly ordered; "Don't use that as an excuse for A.J.'s behavior, Mom. For as hard as all of this has been for us, it's been a hundred times as hard for you. A.J. knows that. There's no reason for him not to be here with us tonight.”
"I know that. It's just that...well, I do understand how difficult this is for you and your brother. We've all had to discuss things recently we never imagined we would. I've had to say things...very private things...in front of my sons that I never dreamed I'd have to. You both have had to hear things...discuss things with doctors about your mother that I know neither one of you in your wildest dreams ever thought you'd be hearing or discussing."
"Yeah...yeah, I suppose that's true."
"Kay talked to me for quite a while the other day about A.J. She told me how frustrating she found him to be at the few sessions he came to, simply because she couldn't get a feel for his personality. Couldn't find the qualities in him that you and I, and later Abby, had told her are so much a part of him. She said he seemed so angry to have to be there...at counseling, I mean. But then Kay told me something that confirmed the one thing that I've suspected all along about this being some type of a front, or act, on A. J. 's part."
"What did she tell you?"
"She told me that the one and only thing A.J. said about the assault was something like, ‘I was so naive as to never have imagined that a woman as warm and loving as my mother could ever be raped. When I think about it, about what he did to her, how he hurt her physically and emotionally, it makes me furious. It makes me so mad that I can hardly stand it. It makes me sick. If I'd have gotten the chance, I really think I would have killed the bastard.’”
Rick sighed. "I certainly understand how he feels. I feel the same way."
"A. J.’s never talked to you about this? He’s never told you the same things he told Kay?"
Rick shook his head. "No. No, not really. At first we talked about some of it a little bit, but lately...well lately, Mom, we don't talk about much of anything. He's just not my brother any more. He's almost like a stranger on some days, and that scares me."
"It scares me, too, sweetheart. That's why I've decided that I have to talk to A.J. about all of this, no matter how hard it might be."
"When are you gonna do that? Have your little ‘chat,’ with him, I mean?"
"I don't know for sure when, but soon. Very soon. I won't let my family be torn any further apart by all of this."
"Do you want me to be here when you talk to him?"
Cecilia smiled at her oldest. "No, I don't think so. It would be better if I try this alone. I'm afraid A.J. might feel we're ganging up on him if you're here, too. If that happens then I know our discussion will go down hill rapidly. You know how he gets if he thinks we're both ‘mothering’ him."
Rick reluctantly agreed. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. A.J. doesn't like us to meddle, as he puts it, and I guess I can get a little hot-headed at a time like this."
Cecilia smiled. "All three of us can get a little hot-headed sometimes, son."
Rick chuckled. "Yeah, Mom, we sure can. We sure can."
Rick stood and refilled the two coffee cups. "If this is what you think is best, then you give it a try. I agree that it's past time to get this whole thing resolved." As he sat back down, Rick said in a lighter tone, "If A.J. gives you any hassles at all, you pick up the phone and call me. I'll come over here and make him sit on the couch and listen to you just like I did that time when he was sixteen. Remember that?"
Cecilia had to think a minute before she could recall the incident of which Rick was speaking. "Ah, the camping trip! Yes, I sure do remember that. What a fight we had. Your brother didn't speak to either one of us for four days if I recall correctly."
"No, he didn't. He sure was mad. What a stubborn pain in the butt he can be when he wants to. Even back then."
The incident Rick and Cecilia were recalling had occurred twenty some odd years ago now. A.J. had been invited to drive five hours north of San Diego with four other sixteen-year-old boys for a weekend camping trip. That was fine with Cecilia, until she found out there was no adult going along with the boys. It was then that she told A.J. no, he couldn't go if no one's father was going along. She informed her upset teenager that five hours away in a remote wooded area with no phone was much too far for him to be with no adult present.
A.J. had been so angry with his mother. It was the biggest fight Cecilia could remember them having during his teen years.
Then, by chance, Rick rode into town on Wednesday of that week to visit with his mother and brother for a few days since he was
A.J. had been thrilled to see his brother, as he always was, but maybe even a little more so this time. It became quickly apparent to Cecilia that her youngest was sure his older brother would take his side regarding the matter of the camping trip. Cecilia overheard enough of the boys' conversation the first night Rick was home to know that A.J. was counting on Rick helping him wear their mother down on her decision in order to get her to give in to his demands.
A.J. was in for a big surprise, however. Not only did Rick not help him change their mother's mind about the issue, he even agreed with her. Rick said that three hundred miles away with no adult supervision was too far for five sixteen-year-olds to go on a camping trip.
The whole fiasco came to a head on Friday afternoon as A.J. and his mother were once again arguing over the trip. Up until this point, Rick had stayed out of the battle zone, knowing from experience that his mother was perfectly capable of handling an angry teenage boy.
Rick had looked up from the newspaper that afternoon as
A.J. came bounding down the stairs and headed for the door, a packed duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
"Andrew! Andrew Jackson, don't you dare walk out that door!” Cecilia had yelled from upstairs. “Andrew!”
A.J. ignored his mother's shouts as he made a beeline for the front door.
"Hey, where are you going?" Rick had asked as he stood up from the easy chair he had been sprawled in.
"I'm going to meet the guys. I'm going camping! I don't care what she says!"
Rick walked toward his brother. "Well, you'd better care, buddy boy. She's your mother, and what she says goes in this house, in case you've forgotten."
"Rick, leave me alone! I'm going. I don't care--"
"A.J., you're not going anywhere," Rick had informed his
brother as he grabbed a hold of A.J.'s right arm.
A.J. jerked free of his brother's grasp. "Leave me alone!"
Cecilia appeared at the bottom of the stairs. "Andrew, that's enough of this behavior! Get upstairs and unpack that bag. You're not going anywhere!"
"Yes, I am!" A. J. insisted as he opened the front door.
By this time Rick had had enough of A.J.’s behavior as well. He pulled his brother back from the threshold of the door and gave it a resounding slam. Then he grabbed A.J. by the upper arms and dragged him the couch. He threw him on the sofa and held him there, the whole while lecturing A.J. on this ridiculous little scene. Cecilia had stood off to the side and watched her oldest son exert a paternal type of authority over his younger brother. She had said all she could on the subject of the camping trip. Maybe this was the only way A.J. would finally listen.
A.J. eventually did calm down that evening when he realized he was fighting a losing battle. After a very strained supper he curtly apologized to his mother and then went up to his room, not to be seen by his family for the rest of the evening. Cecilia and Rick got the cold shoulder that entire weekend. Rick's offers of a trip to the movies, or just a ride around the city on his motorcycle, were turned down with a minimum amount of civility.
It wasn't until Tuesday that the upset over the camping trip was a thing of the past.
Cecilia smiled as she was brought back to the present by the sound of the cuckoo clock indicating that it was eleven p.m.
"Yes, Rick, your brother was as stubborn back then as he is now. What a time we had with him that day. I think that was the worst experience I had with A.J. during his teen years. I was glad you were here that day. If you hadn't been, I think A.J. just might have walked out the door on me and gone on that camping trip."
"Aw, I don't think so. He might have walked out on ya’, but I think he would have come back after a few minutes. There's no way A.J. would have gone three hundred miles from home without your permission no matter how angry he was. A.J.'s not your rebel, Mom, I am. That's why I agree with you that this whole thing with him now is a front or something. It's not like A.J. to shut himself off from you at a time like this. There have been a lot of times that I haven't been here for you over the years--”
"Rick, no, that's not true."
"Yeah, it is. At least I think it is. But A.J.'s always been here for you. Always. He's the reason why it wasn't so hard for me not to be here back then. I knew I could count on him to take care of you." Rick smiled as he admitted, "Not that you needed much takin' care of, but still, I felt better knowin' he was here, even when he was just a kid of thirteen."
Cecilia didn't say any more on the subject as she took notice of the time and how tired Rick looked. Rising from the table to wrap the remainder of the cake for him she said, "It's late, honey. I didn't mean to keep you this long. I'm sorry."
"Hey, don't worry about it,” Rick said, as he carried the cups and plates to the sink. “I don't mind."
Cecilia smiled as she got up on her tiptoes to kiss her son's cheek. "I know you don't. Thank you. I love
"Love you, too, Mom," Rick replied as he accepted the package Cecilia handed him.
Rick walked to the kitchen door, then stopped and
turned as he opened it. "Are you sure you don't want me here when you talk to A.J.?"
"Yes, I'm sure. At least not this first time. If I find I'm not getting anywhere with him, then I may call you to come pin him to the couch again."
Rick smiled. "Okay, whatever you say. I sure hope your talk works the first time though. I've got a feeling pinning him to the couch won't be as easy as it was twenty-two years ago. I may have to layoff the cake and work on my push-ups for a couple of days."
Cecilia smiled back at her son. "I hope it doesn't come to that. Good night, Rick."
"Night, Mom," Rick replied as he walked on out the door to his truck.
Rick pulled out of the driveway, not noticing the man standing in the shadows of some trees across the street from his mother's home. The man watched Rick as he drove away, and then leaned tiredly against a tree. After a moment he brushed his fatigue aside as he stood up straight once again, and went back to keeping watch over the big house that belonged to Cecilia Simon.
A.J. arrived home on Thursday evening after another long, strained day at work with his brother. He had just loosened his tie and set the mail on the counter when the phone rang.
"Hi, A. J."
"Oh...hi. Hi, mom. How...how are you?"
"I'm fine, son. I'm calling because I need to ask a favor of you."
“Sure. Uh...sure, Mom. What is it?”
"I was wondering if you would come over sometime on
Saturday and change the oil and filter in the car for me. Rick was going to do it, but he's busy this weekend. I've let it go too long all ready.”
Cecilia could hear the reluctance in her son’s tone.
"Yeah...yeah, sure, Mom. I can...I can do that. What time?"
"Oh, in the morning, I suppose. I don't really care. What
ever works best for you."
"I'll be over around ten. Is that all right?"
"Yes, that's fine."
"Okay. See you then. Bye.”
"Good-bye," Cecilia said as she hung up the phone after another all-too-brief conversation with her youngest child. If nothing else, she’d at least gotten a promise from him to appear at her home on Saturday morning. Where that would lead to Cecilia didn’t know, but it was a step in the right direction.
At eleven-fifteen on Saturday morning A.J. Simon was standing in his mother's garage, wiping oil off his hands with an old rag. A.J. heard the door to the house open and then shut. Within seconds, his mother was standing beside him.
"Why don't you come inside and wash up at the sink. I've got a jar of that stuff Rick calls ‘goop’ sitting in there for you. He says it takes grease and oil off your hands really well.”
A.J. turned away from his mother as he picked up the tools he had scattered on the garage floor. "No, that's okay. This rag worked fine. I need to get going."
"You don't have to be in such a rush, A.J. And for goodness sake, you'll get oil all over the interior of your car if you drive home like that," Cecilia said while observing her son's greasy hands. "Now come on in and clean up. I've got lunch in the oven for us, too."
A.J. reluctantly followed his mother. "No, Mom, I can't stay for lunch."
Cecilia turned around and looked her son in the eyes. "Why not?"
The detective couldn't hold his mother's gaze. "Just...because. I've got some other things to do yet today."
Cecilia headed to the house once again with purpose to her stride. "Well, regardless, you'll have to eat lunch sometime, so you might as well eat here."
Cecilia's tone was one of determination as she walked ahead of her son. It was obvious to A.J. that she wasn’t going to take no for an answer where lunch was concerned.
A.J. supposed that he could refuse to go in the house. Supposed he could turn around and head for his car, but he knew that would cause an argument to break out between his mother and him. An argument that he didn't want witnessed by the various neighbors that were working outside and on this sunny Saturday. Therefore, he gave a quiet sigh of resignation and followed his mother into her home.
Ten minutes after entering the house, A.J. walked out of the half bath off his mother's kitchen with clean hands. Cecilia was nowhere to be found, although A.J. could smell something cooking in the oven.
"A. J.!" Cecilia called from somewhere in the house.
"I'm in the den. Would you come in here, please?"
A.J. walked through the living room and into what the Simon family had always referred to as the den. At one point in time this room had probably been a bedroom, but not in all the years that Cecilia Simon had owned the house. When Jack was alive he had used it as his office away from the office. A quiet place where he could work at home when necessary, a place where two rowdy little boys knew they were not allowed. After Jack's death, both Rick and A.J. had used the room on occasion as a place to study. The large oak desk that sat in it made the perfect place to spread out a school project. The encyclopedias and other reference materials on the bookshelves had come in handy for the boys on more than one occasion during their school years as well.
In the years since the boys had left home and Cecilia had become more and more involved in community projects and charity work, the room she still thought of as ‘Jack's office’ had become hers. Other than the computer that now sat on the desk that A.J. had hooked up for his mother two years earlier, the room hadn't changed much since Jack's passing. New draperies, carpeting, and an occasional fresh coat of paint were the only changes Cecilia had made over the years. Cecilia could come into this room yet and feel like her husband was still a part of it.
A.J. entered the room now and walked across the plush sky blue carpet as he came to stand beside the big oak desk. "What did you need, Mom?"
Cecilia looked up from the desk drawer she had been rummaging through. She pulled out a large manila envelope. "I didn't really need anything, honey. I just wanted to give you this."
A.J. took the envelope that was handed to him. "What's in it?"
"Pictures. I was cleaning out this desk last week and found a number of duplicates of pictures I already have in the photo album. I divided them up for you boys and gave Rick his when he stopped by the other day. These are for you."
"Oh," was all A.J. said as he pulled a handful of pictures out of the envelope.
Cecilia moved to stand by her son as he slowly looked through the stack of memories.
Cecilia pointed to a picture A.J. was now looking at. "Do you remember having this one taken? You had just turned five. We had that done at a studio downtown by your dad's office right before the school year started."
A.J. nodded as he studied the formal pose of two smiling brothers ages five and ten.
"You can really tell Rick hated having to wear a tie for this picture," A.J. commented. Behind Rick's smile someone who knew him as well as A.J. did could plainly see the discomfort. Young Rick was holding his head at a slightly awkward angle as if trying to avoid the knot of cloth at his Adam's apple.
"Yes, he sure did hate wearing that tie," Cecilia agreed. “I practically had to sew it on his shirt in order to get him to keep it on. The photographer had just finished snapping the
last picture when, just that quickly, your brother had that tie off and balled up in a pocket of his pants.”
A.J. chuckled at his mother's words as he continued to leaf through the photos. He came across a snapshot he couldn't recall ever having seen before of a very pregnant Cecilia with five year old Rick sitting beside his mother on a sofa, his ear pressed against her stomach.
"Dad took this one just two days before you were born. I'll never forget how hot it was. I was miserable. Dad just happened to catch Rick in the act of talking to you. Rick did that all the time when I was pregnant with you. He'd put his mouth against my stomach and say, 'Hello, baby. I'm your big brother, Rick. Hurry up and be born. I need someone to play with.' Then he'd listen to see if you talked back to him. He always insisted that you did, and would tell me what you said to him. Sometimes the things he'd say were so funny. One time he told me, 'Mommy, the baby says you should let me do whatever I want to, and you should never yell at me again no matter what naught stuff I do.'"
A.J. laughed a little at this story he'd never heard before. "It sounds like Rick was up to no good even back then."
"On some days, he certainly was."
A.J. looked through the rest of the pictures. Most of them
were shots of him and Rick during their boyhood. He recalled the Christmas they got new bicycles as he came across a picture of them standing with those bikes in front of the house. There was a photo of the two of them going off somewhere with fishing poles in their hands, and one of himself as a newborn being held by his father, the picture having been taken just as Rick was giving this new member of his family a brotherly kiss on the cheek.
Looking at that picture, A.J. joked, "I'm glad I don't remember that."
As A.J. came to the last picture in the pile, Cecilia asked, "Do you remember the day Dad took that one?"
A.J. glanced at his mother, and then looked back down at the picture. "Yes, I do, believe it or not."
The picture A.J. now held was of his mother and himself, when he was four. The thing that stood out most about the old
black and white snapshot was the large cast Cecilia had on her right arm. She was seated on the front step, A.J. standing next to her with his arms around her neck. Jack had taken the picture just as A.J. was in the act of giving his mother a kiss. A.J. recalled vaguely now that his mother had been upstairs cleaning one day when the phone rang. As she ran to answer it the toe of her shoe caught in the carpeting and she fell down the entire length of the stairway, landing in the living room in great pain. It was later that same day, in the emergency room, that Cecilia had discovered the arm was broken.
"You were literally my right hand man during the three weeks I wore that cast. Do you remember?"
"Yeah, I do."
"Your dad was at work all day, of course, and Rick was in school, so it fell on you to help me out around here as much as you could. Some days you must have felt like a little puppy dog. I was constantly asking you to go fetch something for me."
A.J. glanced at his mother again as he chuckled at her words.
"But you never seemed to mind. You were always more than willing to help. It got to the point that I could hardly get you to go outside and play with your friends because you were so concerned about the possibility of me needing your help. One day Danny and Tom came knocking on the door for you, and I overheard you telling them that you couldn't go outside because your mommy might need you. I tried to get you to go with them, but you wouldn't do it. Finally I ending up having them come inside the house. That's the only way I could get you to play with them."
Cecilia looked down again at the picture A.J. held in his hands. "The day Dad took this picture we were outside weeding the flower bed. I'll never forget how he laughed as you pushed him away and told him you were Mommy's helper, not him. That he should go find something else to do. You and I were taking a break when he walked around the corner of the house and snapped this picture.
"When we got the roll of film developed and Dad came across this picture he laughed a little as he looked at it, and then said to me, ‘Cece, I've got a feeling our Andy will always be there for his mom. No matter what happens, this kid will always be around to help his mother. You'll be able to count
on this little boy through thick and thin.’"
A.J. felt his mother’s intense gaze upon his face. He refused to make eye contact with as he put the pictures back in the envelope. "I've got to get going, Mom. I'll see you later.”
A.J. was almost to the doorway of the den when his mother’s voice stopped is progress.
"A.J., what happened to that little boy I could always count on? What happened to the man I've always been able to depend on to be here for me when I needed him?"
A.J. turned. There was no mistaking the pain on his face. "Mom, I--"
The anger and hurt Cecilia had been holding inside for the last month came to the surface. "A.J., why can't you be here for me now? I know your father wasn't wrong when he said those words about you thirty-four years ago. I know that because you've proven him right time and time again in all the years since his death. I need you now more than I ever have yet you don't have the time for me! You're too busy!"
"Mom...Mom, no. No...I...no--”
"Oh, you're not? Well, that's suddenly a different tune from the one you've been playing the last few weeks. Up until now you've been too busy to go to counseling with Rick and me, too busy to stop by the house and see me, and too damn busy to even pick up the phone and call me just to see how I'm doing!"
A. J. shook his head. "No, Mom...I...look I--"
"No! You look, mister! That is exactly what's been going on, and don't stand here and feed me another one of your ridiculous lies! You don't have time for me when I need you the most. That's it, isn't it? Or maybe you're ashamed of me. Of what happened to me. Maybe it embarrasses you to have to be seen at the house of the woman who was raped!"
"Mom! No! No. That's not true."
Tears ran down Cecilia’s face. "I don't know what's true anymore where you’re concerned, A.J."
A.J. moved toward his mother with outstretched arms, but she backed away from him.
"A.J., you've hurt me. You are hurting me by acting this way. Why, A.J.? I know you. I know you can't be doing this on purpose, but why? You and I have always shared a special bond. Rick teases and says you're my favorite, but that's not true, all three of us know that. But I also think the three of us are aware that you and I are close. I don't know how else to put it. Because of that closeness, I really thought I'd be leaning on you the most during this time, but instead you're pulling away from me and I just don't understand why."
With that, Cecilia gave in to her tears. Her chest heaved with her sobs as she stumbled back a few feet to sit on the love seat that was against the far wall. She covered her face with her hands, and had no idea if her son was even still in the room with her. He was such a stranger to her lately that it wouldn't surprise her to find he had simply walked out of the house and left her alone.
That was not the case, however. Cecilia felt A.J. sit down next to her, and then felt his arms encircle her as he pulled her to his chest. He held her close, not saying anything as she cried into his shirt. As Cecilia's sobs subsided she asked again, "Why, A. J.? Why?"
After a few seconds of silence A. J. spoke in a quiet voice that indicated to his mother his mind was somewhere else. "You yelled for me that night on the phone. The night of the rape. You yelled, ‘Help me, A.J. Please, A.J., help me.’ Over and over you yelled that. Only I couldn't help you, Mama. I wasn't here, damn it! I wasn't here! I knew that bastard was hurting you. I was so afraid he would...rape you. And he did. And you...you begged me to help you. Only I couldn't. I couldn't."
Cecilia looked up at her son to see tears running down
both sides of his face. He was staring out the window with an expression on his face that told Cecilia he was reliving
the night she was raped.
"A.J...honey, I don't remember yelling for you. I don’t remember asking you to help me. Not at all."
"You did," A.J. said in the same faraway tone. "You screamed, ‘Please, A.J., help me.’ And I couldn't. God, I wanted to, Mom, but I couldn't. I couldn't."
Cecilia held on to her son tightly. "I know you couldn't, A.J. I know you couldn't. You did everything you were able to that night. I know that, sweetheart. Believe me, I know that."
"No. No, damn it! I should have been here. You needed me, and I should have been here."
Cecilia pulled herself away from her youngest and held him at arms length. "Is that what this is all about? Do you blame yourself for what happened that night?"
“Yes, I blame myself. I was the last one to talk to you, Mom, I knew what was happening, only I couldn't get here fast enough. I'm not the little boy in that picture any more. Dad was wrong about me. I wasn't here when you needed me the most. I just...I just wasn’t. here.”
Cecilia squeezed her son’s upper arms. "A.J., no! No, sweetheart, it wasn't your fault. That's silly. I don't blame you. I have never blamed you. That thought has never even entered my mind, A.J."
"Well, it should have. You should blame me."
"Andrew, no. You had no control over what happened that night, just like I had no control over what happened that night. If I called for you...well, I don't even remember doing it. I've never blamed you, A.J. Never. You were so wonderful those first few weeks right after it had happened. You were so supportive, so patient, so...kind, when I was just plain mean at times. You spoiled me terribly when I was at your house, you and Rick...well, let's just say I wouldn't have made it through those first weeks without the two of you. Without both of my sons, A.J."
The lump in A.J.’s throat wouldn’t allow him to make a reply. He pulled his mother to his chest once more and hugged her.
"Is this the reason you don't come to counseling with Rick and me?"
A.J. sighed, knowing that eventually this was where the conversation was headed.
"Yes...yes, I just...I can't talk about it. Not to anyone. Not even to Rick. And I can't stand the thought of sitting in a group of strangers with you, listening to you tell how he...hurt you...when I know if I'd only gotten here a little sooner...been a little quicker...it could all have been prevented."
Cecilia pulled away from her son so she could look at his face.
"A.J., it couldn't have been prevented, and you're going to have to face that fact just like I've had to. For weeks I second- guessed myself saying, ‘If only I'd done this, if only I'd done that, this never would have happened.’ But I've had to face the fact that I didn't ask for what happened to me. That I didn't deserve what happened to me. I was simply the victim of a senseless act of violence that I couldn't have prevented. And neither could you. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"
The look on A.J. 's face was one of indecision. "I understand, Mom, but you don’t understand. You've always been here for me whenever I've needed you. Always. Do you know how it makes me feel to know that the one time you needed me the most, I didn't come through for you? Of all the times I could have failed you this was the one--"
"A.J., no. You didn't fail me. You were the one who insisted I stay at your house those first two weeks. You were the one who held me when I woke up screaming from a nightmare. You held on, A.J., even when I tried so hard to push you away. You and Rick were the ones who forced me to go to counseling, who made me get the help I needed so badly. You couldn't have prevented the rape, but all the other things you could do you have."
"Except been here for you lately." A.J. confessed.
"Except that," Cecilia agreed. “But now maybe that can all change, can't it?"
After a moment, A.J. slowly nodded his head.
"And you'll come to counseling with Rick and me on Monday nights?"
As a look of uncertainty crossed A.J. 's face, Cecilia took his hands in hers and squeezed. "If you don't want to talk, if you don't feel you can participate, I'll respect that. I understand. So will your brother. But I need both of my sons with me if I'm going to heal. I have to know that I have support your support."
"You've always had my support. I'm sorry you didn't know that. I'm sorry I've had such a hard time of letting you know that these past few weeks. You just don't know how much of my support you've had. I've sat outside of this house almost every night since you moved back home, just watching it, just making sure you're safe. I've seen the lights burn all night, and that's when I know how frightening it must all be for you. How hard all of it is for you."
Cecilia looked at her son with surprise. "A.J., why? Why didn't you tell me you’re doing that? Or tell Rick? Why are you doing it?"
"I don't know. I guess because I felt so...guilty. I felt like if I did that - kept watch over you, I was making up in some way for how I failed you. That if I stand outside this house very night no one will ever hurt you again. I just don't ever want anyone to hurt you like that again, Mom."
Cecilia reached up and brushed away the lone tear that trickled down A.J. 's face. "Sweetheart, I can't guarantee you that no one's ever going to hurt me again, and you can't guarantee that by guarding this house either. You can't spend the rest of your life following me everywhere I go, A.J., and watching me every minute. You'll make yourself sick over this whole thing if you try. And as much as I love you for what you've been doing, it can't continue, son. It's not good for either one of us. You can't wrap a person in cotton and still expect them to enjoy life. I learned that lesson when you boys were small."
At A.J. 's puzzled look, Cecilia explained, "The first time Rick informed me that he was going to walk to and from school by himself, I wouldn't hear of it. After a time though, I came to realize that I was smothering him by walking with him every day, and that I was sending out signals to him that told him I didn't trust him. Even though he was only six, that's when I knew I had to let him go. That I had to show Rick that I knew he could get himself to school safely, and back home again as well. Of course, that didn't prevent me from pushing you in the stroller at a discreet distance behind him for the first few days just so I could watch over him, but gradually I was able to let go.
“Then when you were five and had just learned to ride a two-wheel bike you took a bad fall. We ended up having to take you to the doctor so he could stitch the split you put in your chin. But we weren't back home ten minutes that day before you were out on that bike again. I wanted to run outside and pull you off it, but I knew I couldn't. I knew I couldn't let my fear rule you. In my heart I knew you were bound to take a lot more falls in life that I wouldn't be able to prevent, or to pick you up from. I had to let you learn that independence on your own. And that's what I have to do now, too. That's what you have to help me do. Help me get up after this fall, A.J. Help me gain my independence again, but don't smother me. I can't live like that. I don't want to live like that."
A.J. squeezed his mother's hands as he acknowledged hoarsely, "I understand. I won't smother you. At least I'll try not to." A.J. smiled softly as he said his next words, "I might follow you at a discreet distance for a while like you did to Rick, but I'll learn to let go again, I promise."
Cecilia hugged her son. "Just don't let go too soon, A. J. Your mother needs you right now."
"I won't. I promise I won't. I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, A.J., Cecilia said as she was held securely by her youngest. “I love you, too.”
A.J. was sitting at his kitchen snack bar three weeks after that Saturday visit with his mother. A photo album open was open in front of him, and the envelope his mother had given him was sitting beside it.
The blond man heard a truck door slam in his driveway, but remained absorbed with the task in front of him. Within seconds the kitchen door swung open and Rick entered.
Rick motioned to the door as he poured himself a cup of coffee. "You really should keep that locked, you know."
A.J. glanced up at his brother. "If I did that, you'd have kind of a tough time waltzing in here whenever you felt like it, wouldn't you?"
"You got a point there," Rick nodded before he changed the subject. "Hey, A. J., do you mind if I borrow some tapes?"
"You want to borrow my tapes?"
Rick walked over to the stereo. "Yeah. I've got a date with Connie tonight, and she's got a real polished way about her. I need something a little classier than Merle Haggard, I think."
"Help yourself," A. J. offered. "So I take it you didn't find this Connie person at the circus that came through town last week?"
Rick had his back to his brother as he looked through the wide selection of classical, big band, and jazz tunes. "No, nothin' like that. I met her at the courthouse last week. She's the new assistant to that 1awyer you know, Paul DeMarco."
"Oh, so she's got a brain, too. Gee, Rick, this must be a first for you. A woman with good taste in music, and a high school diploma."
Rick threw A.J. a dirty look as he pocketed several cassettes. "Of course she's got good taste. She's goin' out with me, isn't she?"
"I could debate that."
Rick didn’t bother responding to his brother as he leaned against the counter sipping coffee and watching A.J. work. Rick found himself enjoying this mindless activity. In his opinion it was far better than how they had occupied their time several weeks earlier. It seemed like for the better part of two months, the time period right after their mother was raped, all he and his younger brother had done was fight. Not the kind of fighting that didn't amount to anything, the teasing and verbal sparring that went back as far as childhood, but fighting that had caused both of them to say some pretty hurtful things to one another. Rick was glad they had somehow managed to get back on an even keel. He didn’t like having a Cain and Abel relationship with his brother. He had always taken pride in the fact that their relationship as siblings was so much richer than that.
"What are you doin’?" Rick asked as he watched A.J. meticulously go about his chore.
"Putting away these pictures Mom gave me a few weeks ago. She said she gave you some, too."
"Yeah, she did," Rick acknowledged, as he studied the various photos from an upside down angle.
Rick still didn't really know what had transpired between his mother and brother that Saturday morning three weeks earlier. He knew his mother had confronted A.J. that day about the hurt and anger she was feeling as a result of A.J.'s seeming lack of interest in all she had suffered, but that was about all Rick knew. Other than telling Rick things had gone very well, Cecilia had said no more to her oldest about what had been shared between herself and her youngest son, and Rick didn't ask. He figured that it was none of his business, and came to the conclusion that whatever had happened had been something good. For the next Monday evening, and all the Monday evenings since, A.J. had attended counseling with them. Cecilia finally had her family at her therapy sessions, so that was good enough for Rick.
It hadn't been lost on Rick that A.J. didn't have much to say at those sessions, or at their mother's house afterwards where they had fallen into the habit of enjoying a late night dessert, but since that fact didn't seem to bother his mother, Rick didn't let it bother him either. He assumed that, in time, A.J. would need to talk about what had been, and still was, weighing so heavily on his mind. For now, the oldest Simon brother was just happy that he and A.J. were back on good terms. Rick knew that meant some day, when A.J. was ready, he'd open up and reveal what had been troubling him for so long.
Rick's curiosity got the better of him now as he moved to sit beside A.J. on the other stool at the counter. Rick looked over his brother's left arm, studying the various pictures A.J. was carefully putting in the album. Some of the pictures were exact copies of ones that Rick had been given by their mother several weeks earlier, while others were not. As Rick came across one he didn't have in his collection, he started to laugh.
"Hey, A. J., do you remember when Mom broke her arm?" Rick asked as he picked the picture up for a closer look.
"Yes, vaguely I do."
"She broke it on a Saturday. I remember that like it was yesterday," Rick recalled. "Dad had to help her to the car, round you and me up at the same time, and haul us all to the emergency room. I think we were there just about all day. I remember Dad kept giving me change to get us candy and soda out of a machine they had in the hallway just to keep us occupied."
A.J. nodded as Rick's words brought forth a long ago memory. "Yeah, I remember that. I think he even took us to lunch in the cafeteria while we waited for Mom."
"He did. We thought getting to eat lunch there was a big treat. Then he took us to the gift shop and bought me some comic books and you a coloring book and crayons so we'd have something to do. By the time Mom was done most of the afternoon was gone and you had fallen asleep on one of those hard wooden benches. Dad had to carry you to the car."
Rick handed the picture back to A.J. "It's funny what a kid will think is a good time. We really thought that day was a big adventure."
A.J. nodded once again at the truth in Rick's words, just barely able to recall a little boy's excitement over eating in a hospital cafeteria and being granted permission to visit a candy machine several times in the course of a long afternoon.
A.J. tuned back into his brother's words in time to hear Rick reminiscing, "Mom insisted that Dad go to work on Monday. She told him she'd be fine with you at home with her, and then she'd have me there after school to help her, too. Dad told me on Monday morning that I was to come straight home that afternoon and help Mom in any way I could, so that's what I did. I came running into the house after school that day yelling for Mom and asking her what she needed me to do. I found the two of you in the kitchen. You were helping her get my after school snack ready." Rick began chuckling as he finished his story. "Boy, were you mad when I asked Mom what I could help her with."
At A.J. 's blank look, Rick explained, "You told me that you were helping Mom, and that she didn't need my help, too. That you would do everything for her, and that I should just eat my snack and then go outside and play."
A.J. laughed, picturing the miniature version of his present self along with a nine-year-old Rick. "I'm sure you took advantage of my generous nature."
Rick's eyes twinkled. "I sure did. I've never been the fool in this family, A.J., I leave that up to you."
"I wouldn't be so quick to use the word fool if I were you, big brother," A.J. tossed back.
Before the conversation could get off track Rick turned it back to the original subject. "You sure were jealous."
"What do you mean?"
"You didn't want anyone to help Mom while she had that cast on but you. That first day when you more or less told me to get lost, that you'd help Mom, I guess I must have looked kinda hurt 'cause Mom gave me a wink and said, ‘Now, A.J., Mommy needs everybody's help these next few weeks. Can't Rick help Mommy, too?’ Man, did you gave me a dirty look when you told her, ‘I'll help you, Mommy. Just me.’”
A.J. smiled. "Well, I guess I owe you an apology for hurting your feelings way back then."
Rick shrugged. "Hey, it was no big deal to me, kid. Personally I thought you were nuts to wanna do all that work yourself, but I sure wasn't gonna horn in on your territory."
"When it comes to work, I can believe that."
“Well, little brother, it’s like the old saying goes. As much as things change, they stay the same.”
Rick picked up several pictures and began looking through them, while A.J. spent another minute looking at the picture that
had started their conversation.
“I just wanted to be there for her, Rick, you know?"
Rick gave his brother a funny look. "Yeah sure, A.J. I know."
Still looking at the picture in his hand, A.J. continued, "Just like I want to be there for her now."
"You're there for her, A.J. You're there for her."
"This time it's harder though. It's not as easy as it was when this picture was taken."
Rick studied his brother's profile. "No, it's not as easy. I guess life has a way of gettin’ complicated as the years go by."
"Yes, it sure does."
A.J. made eye contact with his older brother. "I can't push you away this time either, Rick. I can't help her by myself."
"No, you can't. And she doesn't expect you to. She needs both of us to help her this time."
"Yes,” A.J. acknowledged softly. “Yes, she does."
When A.J. didn't say anything further, Rick reached over and gave his arm a pat. "She's a strong lady, A.J. She'll make it through this. We're a strong family. Somehow we'll all make it through this. It isn't always gonna be easy. I think we've already seen that. But we can do it. We just gotta stick together. We've gotta help one another."
"I guess that's the only way this is going to work, huh?"
"Yep, kid, that's the only way it's gonna work. That's the only way it always works. At least for us Simons."
A.J. smiled. "That's the way it works best."
"Yeah, it is," Rick agreed. "That's the way it works best."
A.J. focused his attention back on the photo album, letting the discussion he and Rick had been having end there. For the next half hour the Simon brothers laughed and reminisced over various snapshots as Rick sat watching his brother work, only getting up long enough to refill his coffee mug.
A.J. finally completed his task and rose to return the album to its place on his bookshelves. As he did so, Rick stood up as well and walked over to the sink to rinse out his coffee mug.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" Rick asked.
A.J. shrugged from where he stood at his shelving unit with his back to his brother. "Oh, I don't know. I thought maybe I'd stop by your place real early, say around six in the morning, and see if you want to go fishing."
"Don't even think of it," Rick warned. "I'm hopin’ to still have company at six tomorrow morning, and you're definitely not who I have in mind."
A.J. laughed as he walked into the kitchen. "Actually,
Jill and I are going to do something, I think. What, I don't know yet. But something."
"How about if you and Jill meet me and Connie at my place around noon? We could walk up the beach a ways and have a picnic. How's that sound?"
"Sounds good to me. I'll have to call Jill and see if that's all right with her, but I'm sure it will be. I'll call you later and let you know."
"Okay, but why do ya’ have to call her? Aren't you two going out tonight?"
"No. I have a date, but it's not with Jill."
Rick's eyes sparkled as he teased, "Oh, A.J., you little two-timer you. I thought you learned your lesson in high school about how dangerous that can be. Man, Pam Schroeder and Debbie Darnnel almost tore you apart when they figured out what you were doin.’”
"Rick, give me a break! I was fifteen years old for pete's sake! Besides, I am not two-timing on Jill. My date is with our mother."
A.J. gave a small, shy shrug as he leaned back against the counter top. "Mom really hasn't had a night out since the....attack, other than to counseling, so I thought she'd like to go to dinner and then to see that new play that just opened at the theatre downtown. I would have asked you to come along, only you hate eating places where you have to wear a tie, and you hate plays."
“Hey, no problem, little brother. Dinner at a fancy restaurant and a boring play is not my idea of a hot night on the town."
"Yes, I know that, and I didn't figure the wet T-shirt contest down at the Silverado was Mom's idea of a hot night on the town, so I guess you're on your own this evening."
"I'm on my own with Connie," Rick reminded with a sly grin as he opened the kitchen door. "And speaking of Connie, I'd better get going. Thanks for the tapes. Call me about tomorrow after you talk to Jill."
"I will," A.J. promised. The younger man stopped his brother's progress out the door as he added hesitantly,
"Rick...you understand about tonight, don't you? About just me and Mom going to dinner and the play? I didn't mean to exclude you or anything, it's just that--"
"A. J., I understand."
"It's just that I need some time alone with her. I wanted to do something special for her, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. You don't have to explain. And I don't feel excluded, so quit worryin' about it. You and Mom have a good time."
"Thanks," A.J. said, and then added, "It's just that I want to help her. I've always wanted to help her. I never stopped wanting to help her."
"A.J., believe me, even after all the crap we've been through the last couple of months, all the fights, and all the other stuff, I've always known you wanted to help Mom. Mom's known that, too. Whatever was goin' on before that was making this so difficult for you to deal with, is over. You're here for her now, and that's what counts. That's all Mom cares about."
A.J. nodded at his brother's words, but offered no verbal reply.
Rick studied his younger brother a moment longer, then clapped him on the shoulder. "Well, I better get goin’. I gotta clean my boat before Connie comes over."
"Clean your boat? You're going to clean?" A.J. asked in mock awe. "Wow, I can't wait to meet the woman that's inspiring you to clean. Gee, Rick, this really is a first. She's got a high school diploma, and you're going to clean. I never thought I'd live to see--"
"Oh, put a lid on it," Rick tossed over his shoulder as he headed to the Power Wagon.
A.J. stepped out on the front stoop and continued to playfully harass his brother. As Rick opened the truck door he yelled, "Hey, don't worry about bringing anything tomorrow! If we go on a picnic I'll pack the lunch."
"No way! I'm not eating peanut butter sandwiches and drinking warm beer. I'll pack the lunch!"
Rick smiled and thought, I knew that would work. Out loud he pretended to concede reluctantly, "Okay, okay, if you insist. You pack the lunch."
A.J. stepped back into his home as Rick pulled out of the driveway. As the blond man walked by the kitchen counter he caught sight of a stray picture he had overlooked when he was putting the others away. He studied the photo a long moment. Who had taken this particular snapshot A.J. could no longer recall, but he could remember clearly that it was taken two years after his father's death. The picture depicted a grinning twelve-year- old boy, and his equally happy seventeen-year-old brother. The mother of those boys was smiling, too, as she stood with them, all three of them holding paint cans and brushes as they stood in front of their home. Evidently some monkey business had been going on with those paint brushes between the two boys in that photo, as the younger had a stripe of white paint running down the entire left side of his face, and the older had paint on his nose as well as on his forehead. Their mother hadn't been spared either. Her chin and right cheek were liberally decorated with paint.
A.J. recalled now that summer of 1961, and how he, Rick, and their mother, had worked together for two weeks painting the outside of the house. It had seemed like such a big project when they had first started, but once they got going they had worked together as a well-coordinated team. A.J. could even yet remember the pride he and Rick had taken in that important job - what they considered to be the first major household project they had helped their mother with since their father's death.
A.J. walked over to the bookshelves to put the picture in its rightful place in the photo album. As he did so, he smiled down once more at the little family in that photograph and said out loud, "We've always helped one another. That's the way it works best. At least for us Simons."
The detective put the picture in the album, shut the book, and returned it to the shelf. A.J. headed up the stairs to get ready for his evening out with mother, glad that the calm after the storm had finally arrived.