THE GULF BETWEEN US
It was mid-afternoon, hot and humid. The sun shone brightly in the sky, although that brightness that normally brought him pleasure meant very little to him in this place. He was walking silently through an open field. The grass grew as high as his waist. He was carrying fifty pounds of equipment on his back and held a machine with both hands, his right finger posed ready over the trigger. He could feel his own tension, and sensed the tension of the men that surrounded him. Not men really, mostly boys in their late teens. Only a few were over the age of twenty, but this place made you grow up fast. One day you were a fresh-faced kid all of eighteen, and by the next day you had the look of an old man about you. An old man who had seen far more than any human being should have to.
Putting his mind back where it belonged, on his recon patrol, the sergeant glanced around to make sure all of his men were still with him as he continued his efficient, quiet sweep of the area. As he glanced to his right he got a mischievous grin and a ‘thumbs-up’ from the man he depended on the most, Rick Simon. Simon had his faults, there was no doubt about that. The sergeant spent most of his off-duty time pulling Rick out of trouble in various Saigon bars. Simon's devil-may-care attitude could frustrate the hell out of him, but when push came to shove, there was no man he'd rather have by his side than Richard Simon.
Sweat ran down his back, soaking his uniform shirt with moisture until it clung to him like a second skin. No matter how hard he tried, he never felt clean in this place. Now the feel of his own perspiration, combined with the smells of the jungle, and the sights and sounds around him, brought this place back to him in full force. A place he thought he had left behind twenty years ago. A place he had prayed he'd never have to revisit.
Suddenly the silence was broken by the sounds of machine gun fire. As he yelled for his men to get down, he realized that Charlie hadn't changed much in the twenty years he'd been away. They were still the same silent, cunning little bastards they had always been.
Total chaos reigned as they waged a battle with an unseen enemy, machine guns firing and grenades volleying back and forth. He tried to give orders over the shouts and cries of pain coming from his men, but he couldn't be certain he was heard.
He and Rick rose as one to advance forward, waving their men to follow them, when burst of machine gun fire was issued from the enemy. Just that quick, Simon went down. Rick was thrown back several feet by the force of the bullets that had just been unleashed into his abdomen. By the time the sergeant got to him, Rick's eyes already possessed the wide-opened, surprised stare one equates with violent death. His fatigue shirt was a mass of blood and tiny holes.
All activity around him seemed to cease. It was as if someone had closed a curtain on the scene of a play, and the only actors left were himself and Simon. He knelt down beside this man he called best friend, and for the first time realized that Rick Simon was his brother, too. As the horror and cruelty of the act registered in his mind, he opened his mouth and screamed out in his anguish.
"Rick! No, Rick! Oh God, no! Rick!"
The woman sleeping soundly next to A.J. Simon in his queen-size bed woke with a start. The terror-filled screams of the man lying beside her broke the stillness of the early morning hour. Just as she was about to shake the shoulder of her companion in an effort to awaken him from his nightmare, A.J. flew upright. His eyes were wide open, and held both fear and horror. His entire body trembled as he sat there, completely disoriented to his surroundings.
The woman next to him sat up.
She could feel the beads of perspiration that coated A.J.’s back as she laid her right palm against his bare skin. Getting no response, she reached over and turned the bedside lamp on to a soft glow. The light it threw off enabled her to see A.J.'s pale face, tangled blond hair dampened with streaks of sweat, and trembling limbs.
The combination of the light from the small lamp, and the woman's gentle voice, was enough to bring A.J. back from that horror-filled place of long ago. He blinked his eyes a few times, then let out a ragged sigh while willing his hands to stop shaking.
"A.J.? Are you okay?”
Without looking at the woman, A.J. replied hoarsely, "Yeah...yes, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
A.J. finally glanced at his blond companion and gave her what he hoped would pass for a smile.
Dianna, I'm...I’m sure. I'm fine. I'm sorry...sorry I woke you."
Rubbing her hand A.J.’s back Dianna assured him, "That's all
right. It doesn't matter." She paused, then asked, "Would you like to talk about it? The dream? What was it about?"
A.J. turned away from the woman and untangled his legs from the sheet and blanket. "No...no, I don't want to talk about it." Hastily he added, "I don’t remember anything about it."
"You were yelling Rick's name over and over again, just like a few nights ago," she prompted. "Was the dream about Rick?"
"I don't remember." A.J. mumbled as he climbed out of bed and reached for his robe. "I'm going downstairs for a few minutes."
"You want some company?"
Smiling at her thoughtfulness, A.J. bent and kissed her cheek as he belted his robe. "No, you go back to sleep. I know you've got an early meeting in the morning." When he could see Dianna was about to protest, A.J. said, "I'm just getting a glass of juice. I'll be back in a little while."
"Okay, if you're sure."
"I'm sure. Now go back to sleep," A.J. ordered playfully, pointing a finger at his girlfriend.
Dianna gave A.J. a mock salute as she snuggled back down in the bed. “Yes, sir.”
The woman had already turned her back to A.J., so therefore didn't see the odd expression that had crossed his face when she saluted him.
A.J. hesitated a moment longer as images from his nightmare assaulted his brain, then shut off the lamp and quietly made his way to the kitchen.
At five-thirty that same morning, Dianna heard the kitchen door shut and knew A.J. had just left the house for his morning run. About forty-five minutes earlier than usual, she noted.
Boy, that must have been one heck of a tall glass of juice,
The woman shook her head and smiled as she grabbed her robe off the end of the bed, threw back the covers, and headed for bathroom to shower.
Dianna knew it had been two-twenty when A.J.'s screams had awakened her, she also knew that he had never come back to bed. She had been awake on and off the rest of the night, and had heard him pacing the downstairs floor on several occasions. More than once she had almost gotten up to see if he would talk to her about the dream that was obviously bothering him. But in the end, she never had. Just like she hadn't pressured him to talk one night last week when he had woken up screaming Rick's name. They had been at her house that time. And, just like this morning, A.J. had made it clear he didn't want to discuss the matter. He hadn't gotten up and paced the floor at Dianna’s home, but he had tossed and turned for the remainder of the night until dawn arrived and he got up to run. Because of all that tossing and turning, Dianna knew A.J. hadn't gone back to sleep. A fact he denied when she questioned him about it over breakfast.
Thinking about it now, Dianna supposed she never pushed the issue with A.J. in part, because both times he had been so adamant about not wanting to discuss the dream, and in part because she didn't want to overstep her boundaries.
Dianna and A.J. were sharing a very special and intimate relationship, yet they were both independent people who also had demanding careers. The times they had shared together in the last seven months had been wonderful, but as well, the times they had been apart had been good for both of them, too. They didn't need to be with each other constantly, like most new couples do, and each had maintained various parts of their lives separately from their times as a couple. For now, that's the way they both wanted it. That's the way it worked best for them. Therefore, Dianna wasn't sure she had the right to pry further into something A.J., for the moment, chose not to share with her.
The spray of the hot shower felt good on her shoulders as Dianna's mind moved ahead to the busy Wednesday she had before her. Her last thought concerning A.J. and his nightmares was, Oh well, I guess we all have bad dreams from time to time. Maybe he really doesn't remember anything about them like he says. And even if he does, I suppose that's A.J.'s business. I don't have the right to be nosy and pry into something he doesn't want to discuss."
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"Hey, A.J.! You awake over there, little brother?" Rick Simon inquired at four o'clock on Friday afternoon.
"Yes, I'm awake," came the annoyed answer, as A.J. looked up from his paperwork to meet his brother's gaze. "I'm not the one who falls asleep when there's work to be done. That's your job, Rick."
Moving from the filing cabinets, Rick perched on a corner of his brother's desk. "I don't know about that. I think you were noddin' off over those papers. Sure looked like it to me anyway."
"I was not! Your imagination's working overtime again. You're bored, that's your problem." A.J. stood and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Mom's always warned me not to let you get bored. She always says, 'When Rick gets bored Rick gets into trouble. Keep him busy, A.J. That's what I used to do when he was little. It helped keep me sane.'"
Smiling, A.J. picked up the papers on his desk. "So, in an effort to keep you out of trouble, and in an effort to keep me sane, I'll let you fill out the rest of these reports you claim I was sleeping over."
"Oh no, I can't do that." Rick protested. "I made a promise to Mom and Dad when we were kids that I'd never do your homework for you. We all knew ya’ really needed to struggle through it on your own, what with your low I.Q. and all, and when--"
"Oh, give me a break!"
Rick continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "And when we went into business together, I promised Mom I’d make you do your own work. She's always told me, 'Now, honey, A.J. needs to do his own paperwork no matter how difficult it is for him. He won't learn any other way. Be patient with your brother, Rick, it's not his fault he's not as smart as you are.'"
Rick ignored the expression on A.J.'s face, which was a cross between mock anger, and a smile that was trying to break through. "So see, A.J., I have a promise to keep to our mom. I just can't do your work for ya’, little brother. It wouldn't be right. Just take your time. Mom and I don't expect more from you than you can give, A.J. We understand these things come hard for you. Don't worry, despite all that, Mom loves you almost as much as she loves me."
"Oh, ha, ha, ha. You're a real comedian. I've got news for you, big
brother. I wouldn't have let you
do my homework for me, even if you would have paid me for the privilege. As a
matter of fact, I seem to remember doing some eighth grade math papers when I
was nine, just to help someone out who was behind in his assignments, as
Rick smiled. "Like I said, I always was the smart one."
"Yeah, well if that's true, how come the papers I did for you earned A's, and the ones you did earned C's?"
"Mmmm....that's a good question, A.J. I'll have to think on it for a while."
"Yeah, you do that. Just don't think too hard. You might melt down what few brain cells you have left."
Rick laughed at the sarcastic teasing, then asked, "Okay, Okay, whatta ya’ need help with?"
A.J. shook his head. "Nothing. I was only kidding. I'm almost done
"A.J., I can help. I'm done with the security reports I was filing. I'm just waiting for that call from Abby. Now whatta ya’ want me to do?"
"Nothing. Thanks anyway."
Rick looked down at his sibling. "What did Bob tell you the last time you were in the hospital with pneumonia?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“You know perfectly what. He told you that you had to learn to slow down a little. That you had to learn you can't do everything by yourself. That things don't always have to be perfect."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Rick, you don't get pneumonia from doing
paperwork. Besides, I haven't been in the hospital with that in three years
"Yeah, and if you keep goin' the way you have been for the past few months, you're gonna end up right back in there." Giving his brother a warning glare, Rick ordered, "Now let me help you finish those."
Rolling his eyes, A.J. conceded. "All right, all right. I've only got two left. You take one and I'll take one."
Taking the paper A.J. held out, Rick crossed to his desk. "I'll race ya.’ I bet I'll finish first, what with your lower mental abilities and--"
Rick's high-pitched laugh was all that was heard, then nothing but the scratch of pen on paper for the next fifteen minutes.
A.J. had two lines left before he could call his report complete. He leaned back in his chair for a moment, taking a break and rubbing his hand over tired eyes.
Rick's voice startled him. The blond man hadn't heard his brother approach as Rick put his finished paperwork on A.J.’s desk.
"No, no headache. I'm just a little tired, that's all."
"Ah, I was right. You were dozin’ off over your work,"
Rick gloated. Before A.J. could protest that fact again, Rick teased, "Too
A.J. looked up at his brother and smiled. "Yep, that's the problem."
"Well, that's understandable. I mean, if I had a woman like Dianna, I--"
"In your dreams, Rick."
Rick threw his brother a dirty look at the dry teasing. "As I was sayin,’ if I was seeing a woman like Dianna, I wouldn't be worrying about sleep either. But, A.J., I want ya’ to remember you're not as young as you used to be. A man gets to be your age, he's got to think of his heart. So take it easy, no rough stuff, and you better limit yourself to once every three weeks."
"Oh, that way I'll be getting it as much as you do and you won't be jealous anymore, huh?"
“I got no reason to be jealous, A.J. There’s plenty of phone numbers in my little black book.”
“No kidding. Last time I saw your ‘little black book,’ it was the size of a dictionary.”
“Yep, it’s getting kinda heavy to haul around,” Rick chuckled, before a serious note overtook his tone. "Just take it easy, okay? You've been lookin’ pretty tired lately. You'd better get some rest this weekend. Tell Dianna to give you a break."
"Yeah, yeah," A.J. agreed. "That won't be too hard, I guess. She’s in Houston for a convention this weekend."
Rick walked over and turned the TV on to CNN. He kept half an eye on the news about the Gulf War while asking
A.J., "So, what are you doin' tomorrow?"
"I've got some things to do around the house, and then I promised
Mom I'd hang that new storm door for her. It's been two weeks since you went
and picked it up. I haven't had a chance to get over there yet and work on it
like she asked me to."
"What time are you goin’ over there?"
"I don't know. I've got to call her tonight and find out when she
wants me there. Why?"
"No reason." Rick replied as he watched the news. “I was just wondering.”
"You weren't actually thinking of offering your assistance, were
Rick’s attention remained focused on the TV screen that was showing an interview with an American fighter pilot. "Oh no, A.J., Mom knows I'm too intelligent to do that kind of manual labor. That's why she asked you. It's good therapy for you.
You know, fitting the right little screw in the right little hole--"
Deciding he'd had enough of this conversation for one day, A.J. cut his brother off. "All right, I've heard enough about my I.Q. for one day." Changing the subject, the blond man asked, "What big plans do you have tomorrow that are preventing you from helping me at Mom's?"
Rick glanced at his brother from the chair he now occupied in front of the TV. "Some of us from Vietnow are goin’ down to Balboa Park. There's gonna be a minister there giving a little sermon and prayer for the kids over in the Gulf, and then we're holding a support rally. I was gonna ask you if you wanted to come along."
"No...no, I don't think so." A.J. broke eye contact with Rick. "Maybe some...maybe some other time."
"Aw, come on, A.J., for old times sake. It should bring back some memories of your protest days."
A.J. looked at his brother, not sure how to take Rick's comment. He could immediately see though, that Rick didn't mean anything by it. He was just stating a fact in a teasing manner.
Ever since Rick's problem with Delayed Stress Disorder several years back, the elder Simon had become involved with the Vietnow organization. A.J. was happy about that. He felt it finally put Rick in contact with other men just like himself. Men who had fought in Vietnam, and who had come home to little or no gratitude because of it. Men who had experienced the same horrors Rick had, and had dealt with the same feelings of despair and loneliness.
Therefore, A.J. was glad that Rick had this organization to be a part of, but it was Rick's, not his. A.J. didn't feel he belonged there, and had never attended anything Rick had invited him to. A.J. had even told his older brother this once - that he didn't feel he belonged there, that it was something just for Nam vets, and that he – A.J. - respected that fact. After that, Rick rarely asked A.J. if he wanted to attend any special events. On several occasions Rick had assured his younger brother that he understood how he felt. Rick even went so far as to tell A.J. he'd feel out of place at one of A.J.'s bull sessions with his old college buddies, so he could see why A.J. would feel out of place with a bunch of vets who were getting together with the sole purpose of discussing a long ago war. The fact that A.J. protested that war was never brought up by Rick at those times. It hadn't been for several years, as a matter of fact.
Shaking himself loose of his reverie, A.J. realized Rick was still awaiting his answer about the rally.
"The only memories I have of my protest days are that my feet still hurt from all that standing," A.J. said lightly. Shaking his head, he finally gave Rick his answer. "No, I'd better not. I promised Mom I'd get that door on tomorrow, and I've got some things to get done at my place, too."
Shrugging, Rick turned back to the TV. "Okay. I just thought if you weren't doing anything, ya’ might want to come with me."
"Yeah, well, I've really got to get over to Mom's, and I've got a leaky faucet at my house that I've put off fixing for the last three weeks, so I'd better pass this time." A.J. stood and grabbed his suit coat off the back of his chair. "I'm going on home. I'll see you Monday."
"Why don't you stick around a few minutes? We can go out for dinner. I just wanna watch a little more of this. Wait another ten minutes, then I'll be ready to go."
A.J. glanced at the television, where a newsman was now interviewing
frightened Israeli children who were discussing a recent scud missile attack.
He looked away from the screen as he said, "No, I've got some stops to
make. I need to get to the post office and the bank before they close."
"We can leave right now if you want to," Rick said as he reached for remote control.
"No, that's all right. Go ahead and watch the news. I'll eat at home tonight."
"All right, if that's the way you want it, but I was gonna buy."
"Some other time."
"My offer to buy might not be good another time."
Rolling his eyes, A.J. said dryly, "Believe me, Rick, I know that." The blond headed for the door. "I'll see you Monday."
"Yeah, see ya' Monday. Have a good weekend."
A.J. had taken three steps into the hall when his brother called him back.
"Hey, A.J.! Don't forget, to the right, tight, to the left, loose."
"What the hell are you talking about?" A.J. asked as he peeked his head back in the door.
"At Mom's tomorrow, with the screwdriver, little brother. Remember, to the right is tight, to the left is loose."
"Get lost," A.J. replied as he shut the door behind him, hearing Rick's shout of, "Just trying to help you out, A.J.! I know how difficult these kind of things are for you."
As A.J. got into the elevator he could still hear his older brother's laughter. He looked Heavenward and said, "Why couldn't I have had an older sister instead?"
A.J. didn’t get an answer from above, but then he wasn’t expecting one. He shut the gate and hit the button that would take him to the lobby. He wanted to get his errands done, then head home. He was exhausted, and desired nothing more than an early supper, an early bedtime hour, and a night without bad dreams.
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It was so dark, so pitch black, that he could hardly see his hand in front of his face. And damn it, where was Rick? Rick was the one who had said, "No matter what, A.J., we stay together. We don't get separated. Stay right behind me." So now where was big brother? The jungle was quiet except for the usual nighttime noises of rustling foliage, or the occasional roar of a tiger that was doing a nocturnal forge for food. A.J. knew there were other men around them, men from their patrol, but again, because of the darkness, he couldn't clearly see them. They’d been sent to flush out snipers that were hiding somewhere in this mess of tangled vines and undergrowth, that's why they had to be so quiet. That's why he couldn't call out to Rick, couldn't try to determine where his brother had gotten off to.
Suddenly the silence around him ceased as rapid gunfire came from the area of a cliff in front of him. From behind A.J. came the gunfire of his own platoon, returning as good as they got. Well, for a few minutes anyway. It didn't take long for them to determine that they were badly outnumbered. How many Vietcong were in front of him, A.J. had no idea, only that there were a lot. How many men he had behind him, A.J. knew exactly. When they started out their journey there were twelve, and he had seen the bodies of three as he retreated, so that left nine. Nine including Rick, who seemed to have gotten himself lost somewhere along the way.
The confusion on the part of his own platoon, and the escalation of gunfire on the part of the enemy, combined to force A.J.'s men to retreat. Some were backing up in an orderly fashion while still returning Charlie's gunfire, while others were racing through the jungle in terror. A.J. was the one attempting to keep some kind of control over the whole situation. Attempting to lead his men out in some kind of organized manner, as a leader should do.
A.J. was trotting backwards, returning what gunfire he could, when he tripped over something and landed on his back, dropping his gun in the process. Without having to look, A.J. knew he’d fallen over a body. Crawling onto his hands and knees, he recovered his gun. He leaned over the body to see if the man was alive or dead. It was then that A.J. looked into the unseeing eyes of his older brother. The blond man didn't even have to reach for a pulse point, he knew Rick was dead. A silent attacker had slit the man’s throat from ear to ear.
Although a part of him knew it was important to be quiet, important to continue to lead his men to safety, A.J. didn't care. He didn't care about anything as he leaned over his beloved big brother and scream, R...I...C...K! Rick!"
"Rick! Rick! No, Rick!"
A.J. Simon screamed himself awake, only to discover he was in his own bed in San Diego, and not in some jungle in Vietnam. This time there was no sleeping companion to help A.J. orient himself to his surroundings as he lay panting for breath in the darkness. A darkness that made the dream he had just experienced seem all too real.
When A.J.'s heart quit racing he slowly he sat up. He thought about the dreams, and about why he was having them again. He finally threw back the covers and got out of bed. He knew further attempts at sleep would prove futile. He glanced at the bedside clock to see it was two a.m. He wondered just what a person does at this time on a Saturday morning to keep himself busy until dawn, when the rest of the world begins to stir.
A.J. slipped into his blue bathrobe and headed down the stairs. He switched on lights in an effort to wipe away the terror of the dream.
The detective sighed as he sank into the easy chair in the den. By the way his hands were trembling, A.J. knew the nightmare wasn’t ready to release its grip on him just yet, regardless of how bright the lights were.
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"Son of a bitch, this damn thing isn't fitting right!"
Cecilia Simon was working in her backyard replanting some flowers and small bushes. She tried to ignore the profanity coming from the north side of her house, where A.J. was hanging the new storm door for her.
Three weeks earlier San Diego was hit by torrential rains that wrecked havoc on many homes and yards. Cecilia had spent two days picking up branches and twigs from her lawn, and was now replacing the foliage that had been ruined. She was lucky in that the only damage done to her house was the kitchen storm door that had been torn from its hinges and destroyed. Rick had volunteered to use his truck and pick up a new door for her, which he had done a few days after the storm. At that time, Cecilia had asked A.J. to hang the door for her when he had some free time.
If Cecilia had known the language involved in getting the new door in place would make a sailor blush, she would have asked Rick to do this chore instead. This was precisely the reason Cecilia hadn't asked Rick. The language being used by A.J. to accomplish the project was what the woman expected of her eldest. In asking A.J., Cecilia had been attempting to honor the reputation of her Mission Bay neighborhood that was known to be a quiet, sedate place to live.
At least that's the reputation it had gained once the Simon boys had grown up and moved out of their mother's home.
Cecilia smiled a little and shook her head as she heard another, "Shit!" Obviously A.J. was having major problems with that door. In one area Cecilia's boys were exactly alike. They both had little patience when it came to working on something that was causing them aggravation. Much like this storm door was evidently doing to her youngest right now.
Cecilia had to admit she was a surprised at A.J., and wondered at the cause of his short temper. She had long ago learned what each of her sons had a knack for doing when it came to home repairs. Therefore, when she had a request of one of them, Cecilia carefully chose the correct man for the job, just so she could avoid hearing the kind of language that was drifting to her now.
I wonder what A.J.'s in such a foul mood over today? This is usually the kind of job he enjoys doing, or at least does with few problems.
And, that was true. When it came to hanging wallpaper, or tinkering with something like this door that required detailed measuring and fitting, A.J. was the son Cecilia called upon. When it came to cleaning out the dusty, cluttered garage, or helping her paint the living room, it was usually Rick she asked.
Shrugging her shoulders, Cecilia chalked it up to a bad day for her youngest son. She returned her attention to what she was doing, while ignoring the occasional profanity and sounds of disgust that drifted into her backyard. Cecilia hoped the neighbors would ignore all of it as well.
A.J. walked into his mother's kitchen forty-five minutes later. He smiled at her as he washed his hands at the kitchen sink.
Mom. Rick picked out a top-of-the-line door for you. I think this one will last
through even the fiercest of storms."
Cecilia glanced at her youngest from where she was cutting up fresh
broccoli, and commented dryly, "I certainly hope so, dear. I don't think
the neighbors can take another afternoon of the strong language they've been
hearing come from this place."
"Oh, come on, Mom! It wasn't that bad."
Cecilia shot her son a half smile with a look that told him, yes, it had been that bad.
"Okay, Okay," A.J. acknowledged as he leaned against the counter and snitched a piece of broccoli. "Maybe it did give me a little trouble."
"A lot, A.J."
Sighing, A.J. agreed when he realized he wasn't going to win this battle. "All right, you win. It gave me a lot of trouble."
“Thank you for putting the door on,” Cecilia said while moving to the stove to put the finishing touches on supper. "But you know, sweetheart, if you didn't want to work on this project today, all you had to do was say so. It could have waited."
"What makes you think I didn’t want to work on it? I promised you on Tuesday I would."
“You just seemed rather...short-tempered. I didn't mean for you to make a special trip over here. Maybe you had other plans."
"No, I didn’t have other plans. I wanted to get the door hung." Shrugging his shoulders, A.J. apologized to his mother. "I'm sorry if I was out-of-sorts. I'm just a little...tired, that's all."
"That's okay, honey. It's not like I've never heard you, or your brother, or even your father for that matter, swear over a frustrating project. It's a male thing." Cecilia teased her son. "I was just concerned that I had imposed on you, that's all."
"No, you didn't impose on me." A.J. smiled slyly. "And
speaking of swearing, it's not like Rick or I have never heard you swear over a
frustrating project either, Mom."
"Andrew Simon, that's not true!"
"Oh, I think it is. Who kept the cool head when we were
wallpapering your bathroom last fall? Gee, Mom, I think it was me." A.J.
reached for more broccoli while continuing with his teasing. "And, who was
the person that said, 'Damn it' three times in a row? I think that was
Cecilia was forced to acknowledge that A.J. had won a small victory. "All right, son, I get the message." The woman wasn’t about to give in completely though. "But that was a frustrating project. And at least the neighbors couldn't hear me."
"Good point," A.J. conceded. "I bet old Mrs. Witt was straining her neck this afternoon, trying to see if Rick had moved back home."
"I bet she was, too. She likely had one hand on the telephone ready to call Century 21 if she caught so much as a glimpse of him."
A.J. laughed then said, "I'm going to wash up. Leave these plates, I'll set the table for you."
"You don't have to. I can do it."
A.J. walked toward the half bath that was off the kitchen. "No, Mom, I insist. You made dinner, and I never intended for you to feed me anyway, so just sit down and relax. I'll do the table when I'm done washing."
Cecilia decided she wouldn't buck A.J.'s offer twice. She poured a cup
of coffee and turned on the thirteen inch TV that was tucked under one a
kitchen cabinet. The woman sat at her breakfast bar and kept one ear on the
news that was being broadcast about the Persian Gulf War. At the same time she called to her youngest
son, who was now in the bathroom washing his hands, "Have you and Rick
been doing all-night stakeouts this week, A.J.?"
"No,” came the answer from the other room. “Why?”
"I was just wondering, that's all," Cecilia said as she recalled A.J.'s admission from earlier that he was a little tired. She thought he looked very tired, and had thought that when she had seen him earlier in the week, as well. She had assumed then, that her sons were working some late night jobs.
Cecilia thrust her concerns to the back of her mind. A.J. hated being fussed over, and she knew she did enough of it when it was warranted. For now, the woman let the subject of A.J.’s weariness drop. She wanted a pleasant dinner with her son, not one that was otherwise.
"Are you and Dianna doing anything special tomorrow?"
A.J. reentered the kitchen. He picked up the plates and silverware from the counter top. "No. She's at a convention in Houston this weekend. She won't be home until Monday afternoon."
"Oh, so that's why you had time for me today."
A.J. turned from where he was setting the table. "Mom! I always have time for you."
"Yes, honey, you do,” Cecilia smiled, acknowledging the truth to A.J.'s words. Both her sons always had time for her, no matter how busy they were. “I was only teasing.”
Cecilia returned her attention to the TV set. "You seem to enjoy Dianna's company. You two have been seeing a lot of each other lately."
"Yes, Mother, I enjoy Dianna's company, and we have been seeing a
lot of each other. But no, Mother, don't send out the wedding invitations
"Don't worry, dear, I wasn't planning on it.” Cecilia patted A.J.'s
back as she rose to pull dinner out of the oven. "If I sent wedding
invitations out every time I thought you or your brother were serious about
some woman, I'd be in the poor house."
A.J. chuckled. "Yeah, Mom,
you probably would be."
Cecilia pulled warm rolls and a chicken casserole out of the oven, while A.J. poured lemonade in the glasses he had set at the table. As they sat down together and began to fill their plates, Cecilia asked, "You don't mind if I leave the TV on, do you? I haven't had a chance to hear any updates on the Gulf War today, have you?"
A.J.'s hand stopped in mid-air as he was reaching for a dinner roll. "Uh...no, I...I haven't been listening to the news today."
"Oh, wasn't that the radio you had on when you were hanging the door? I thought I heard a Beach Boys song playing."
A.J. resumed picking up a roll from the basket. "No, that wasn't the radio, that was my tape player. Every time you turn on the radio or TV these days all you get is news on the war. I was in the mood for a change, I guess."
Cecilia reached for the steamed broccoli. She dished some up for herself, then passed the bowl to her son. "Maybe you'd rather I turn the TV off...if you're sick of listening to all this, that is."
"No, that’s okay." A.J. smiled across the table at his mother, hoping his unease at what was on the television didn't show. “Leave it on.”
As they started eating, and Cecilia started chitchatting about the new neighbors down the block, A.J. assumed his tension wasn't obvious to his mother. He was relieved at that thought as he focused his attention his mother’s words. Even A.J. was able to ignore the news of bombing runs and skud missile attacks, as he chuckled over a story his mother was relating about the new neighbors. The family had two little boys, five and ten years old, whose antics were similar to those of two other little boys Cecilia once knew. Soon mother and son were laughing together as the stories turned into those of the two boys that used to live in Cecilia Simon's house, and the various antics and stunts they had pulled during their growing up years.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
His arms were clamped behind his back as he struggled to flee. Why was it always so damn humid in this place - so damn hot? The sweat ran down his face and into his eyes, blurring his vision. It didn't help any that he was fighting to break free of the restraining holds that held him in place.
A.J. and his men had walked right into a trap. Now they were being held captive, and he had no doubt they would all be tortured until the Vietcong got the information they were seeking. They had already beaten A.J. unmercifully, but he had managed to hang on and not reveal anything that would be of use to them. ‘Now what do they have planned?’ he wondered, as they dragged him out of a grass hut and into an open clearing.
It took four of the small Vietnamese men to hold onto the struggling A.J. as he got his first glimpse of what was planned for him next. For there, in front of the blond man tied securely to a post, was Rick. A horribly beaten and disfigured Rick. A.J. knew now, that they planned to beat and torture his brother until he, - A.J. - talked. They had finally figured out how to hurt A.J. the most. How to get from him exactly what they wanted.
A.J.'s vision blurred with unshed tears when a fist slammed into Rick's stomach over and over again. Rick's cry of pain echoed in the clearing as the older Simon was hit across the back with a thick wooden board.
A.J. waged an inner battle with himself as his brother's beating continued. He was a soldier, fighting for his country. It was his duty not to talk, not to reveal anything he might know. Other's lives could be put in jeopardy if he gave in to the Vietcong’s demands. But it wasn't fair! This was his brother, this was Rick. Always A.J.'s protector, and now, when Rick needed his younger brother to protect him, A.J. couldn't return the favor.
As Rick cried out in pain again, A.J. struggled harder, frantic in his
efforts to break free. When A.J. caught sight of the gun placed against Rick's
right temple, he shouted, "No! No! Let me go! Rick! Rick! No!"
"Let me go! Let me go to my brother! Rick! Rick! No! Oh God, no!"
Cecilia Simon sat on her couch beside her wildly thrashing son. She grasped his wrists, attempting to waken him from his nightmare. A.J. had fallen asleep on the sofa at eight o'clock that evening, when they were just fifteen minutes into a movie Cecilia had rented. At ten-thirty, when he hadn't so much as moved a muscle, Cecilia had covered her youngest son with a blanket and gone to bed. She couldn't bring herself to wake A.J. up, though she knew he'd chew her out in the morning for not doing so. It was just so apparent to Cecilia that her son was exhausted; therefore she didn't want him driving home.
Cecilia’s bedside clock registered one twenty-four a.m. when she awakened to A.J.'s shouts. It had taken the woman a moment to calm her racing heart, and to remember that her youngest son was sleeping downstairs and that it was his shouts she was hearing. Cecilia had grabbed her robe then and headed down the hallway. She descended the stairs to the living room below, flipping on lights as she went along. When she came upon her son, Cecilia saw the blanket she had laid over him was now in a balled up heap on the floor. A.J.'s hair was plastered to his forehead as sweat ran down his face. His red polo shirt clung to his chest where circles of perspiration dampened it.
Cecilia sat now, trying to calm her son. "A.J.! A.J.! Wake up!
A.J., wake up!"
"No, let me go! Rick! Let me go to my brother!"
Cecilia was mindful of the fact that A.J. was a strong man as she continued her attempts to awaken him. She had to bring him out of his nightmare, but at the same time she didn't want to be hit or attacked by the thrashing man who had no idea who was holding his wrists.
Releasing A.J.'s arms, Cecilia stood and shook his shoulder. She shouted in order to be heard over his screams for Rick.
Andrew, wake up now! A.J., I mean it, wake up!"
With that last command, A.J. abruptly shot up. His eyes were wide open as he frantically scanned the room. For a few moments, he had no idea where he was. Finally, A.J. came to the realization he was in his mother's living room. But how and why?
Before A.J. could answer those questions for himself, a hand squeezed his shoulder.
A.J. turned his head and looked at Cecilia long enough to glimpse the worry showing from her face. He closed his eyes then, turning away from her and taking a deep breath. Of all the people he didn't want participating in his nightmare, his mother was one of them. Well, his mother and his older brother to be exact. If A.J. had to list the names of one hundred people that he didn't want to know about these recent dreams, his mom and Rick would have been numbers one and two on that list. He'd interchange their order of appearance with those two numbers depending on how he needed to. Right now, A.J.'s mother would definitely be number one on his list of, ‘people who don't need to know about these dreams.’
"A.J.? A.J., are you all right? Talk to me please, I'm worried about you."
A.J. finally gave in to the inevitable and opened his eyes. He knew from years of experience that ignoring Cecilia Simon would not make her go away. Actually, it usually only made things worse on the son who was trying to shut her out in this manner.
Sighing, A.J. looked at his mother and answered hoarsely, "Yes, yes, I'm fine, Mom. I'm...fine."
A.J. moved to sit up and swing his feet onto the floor. As he did so, Cecilia sat down next to him. She reached over and covered his trembling hands with hers.
"Are you sure you're okay now, son?"
Blinking the moisture out of his eyes, A.J. simply nodded his head yes. He tried in vain to still the trembling of his hands while he sat silently next to his mother.
Finally, A.J. turned his hands over. He grasped his mother's hands and squeezing lightly. “I’m okay, Mom. Really. What time is it?"
"Around one-thirty, hon--"
"One-thirty! Mom, why didn't you wake me up?"
"A.J., I don't want to hear it," Cecilia said sternly, taking
in her son’s tired, drawn face. "You were sound asleep on this couch by
eight o'clock. When I turned out the lights and went up to bed at ten-thirty,
you hadn't moved a muscle. There was no way I was going to allow you to drive
home when you were so exhausted."
"Mom, I’m fine. I--"
"Which is exactly what you would have insisted on doing, had I awakened you," Cecilia informed her youngest, not particularly caring that she had interrupted him in mid-sentence. "I don't want to hear anymore about it, A.J. There's no reason you can't sleep here tonight."
Yeah, no reason except for a few bad dreams I would prefer you not know about.
It was as if she could read her son’s mind when Cecilia asked, "What was the dream about?"
"Uh...what?" A.J. attempted to act confused in an effort to throw his mother off-track, or at least stall any further inquiries. “What did you say?”
"You heard me. What was the dream about?"
A.J. shrugged while looking away from his mother. It was easier to lie that way. "I don't know...it was just a dream. I don't remember anything about it."
Cecilia chose to ignore this obvious falsehood as she came right out and
asked, or almost stated rather, "It was about Rick and Vietnam, wasn't
A.J. looked at his mother again, not even aware of the startled expression on his face that gave him away.
"It was, wasn't it? About your brother? About Rick being in Vietnam?"
Sighing in defeat, A.J. simply nodded his head yes. After a few moments of shared silence, he gave into his curiosity. "How did you know?"
"The things you were saying...the way you were calling out Rick's name. It was exactly like the nightmares you used to have while he was overseas."
A.J. leaned back against the couch and put his feet up on the coffee table, not answering his mother. He was hoping she'd drop the subject completely if he remained silent. He really didn't want her or Rick to know anything about these recurring bad dreams.
That detective was granted no such luck as his persistent mother continued her gentle, but concerned probing.
"When did these dreams start up again, sweetheart?"
"A couple of weeks ago, I
"How many have you had?"
"Mom!" A.J. protested. "What is this? Twenty
Squeezing his hand in a gesture of "I mean business," Cecilia
asked again, "A.J., how many?"
A.J. rolled his eyes in exasperation, at himself, and his mother.
"A few...five or six maybe, I don't know. I try not to keep track."
"Do you know what's causing them?"
"I've got a pretty good idea," the blond man replied as he studied his stocking feet.
Gee, she's persistent. A.J. thought to himself. Out loud, he
admitted reluctantly, "They started when the...when the war in the Gulf
started. They seem to happen whenever I watch the news. You know how that's all
that's on every broadcast." Smiling ruefully he added, "So, I just
don't watch the news anymore. Kind of a silly solution, I suppose, but it seems
to work. I guess it just...just brings back a lot of memories I thought were
long in the past."
"Why didn't you ask me to shut the TV off earlier then, when I had the news on?"
"Mom, you're sixty--"
"I know perfectly well how old I am, Andrew. I don't need you to remind me."
A.J. chuckled. "Okay, you're sixty-some years old. I don't
think I have the right to tell you what to watch on TV."
"No, but you could have asked me to turn it off. You could have told me why."
"No, I couldn't have."
"Because if I had asked you to shut off the news, I would have had
to explain why, and then we'd be having much the same conversation we are now.
Which, by the way, I was hoping to avoid."
Sitting back and copying her son's posture, Cecilia relaxed against the sofa. "All right, we won't talk about it any more then." After a moment she added, "But I'm a pretty good listener, you know."
"Yes,” A.J. smiled, “ know."
Cecilia Simon and her youngest son sat together in the early morning
quiet for a few minutes. Cecilia was just about to suggest to A.J. that he go
upstairs and finish out the night in his old bedroom, when he said, "You
know, Mom, it's strange how life works sometimes. Rick spent the day at a peace
rally that I had absolutely no desire to go to. Who would have believed such a
thing twenty-two years ago?"
"What's so strange about that? We all change as we grow older.
Things would be pretty boring if we stayed the same our entire lives, you
"Yeah, I know. It's just sometimes, Mom, I look back on that nineteen-year-old kid who was going to change the world by protesting a war, and I have to laugh. I can't believe sometimes, that I was that kid." Looking at his mother, A.J. confessed, "I've never admitted this to anyone before, but it was a big mistake. I was wrong to do that - to protest."
"Your heart was in the right place, A.J. You just wanted your big brother healthy, whole, and home. There's nothing wrong with that. Protesting was the only way you had to accomplish that. It was the only thing you had that gave you some hope at the time."
"Yes, but I can really understand now, why Rick thought I was against him, against the soldiers, and against his decision to join the Marine Corps. I would have felt the same way had our positions been reversed. The older I get, the more I understand that. Sometimes I think all those feelings of resentment over our individual choices made during that time still exist, still come between us even after all these years. We've just learned how to deal with it better, I guess, or at least ignore it." A.J. paused for a moment, then continued softly, "Now when I see all the yellow ribbons and the ‘We Support Our Troops’ signs, I find myself wishing it could have been that way twenty years ago. That somehow we could have let our government know we didn't agree with their decisions, but at the same time let the guys over in Nam know we were behind them. Let them know that we appreciated their efforts on our behalf."
Mother and son were both silent for a minute, then Cecilia asked,
"A.J., have you talked to Rick about how you feel? Have you told him
everything you've just told me?"
"No, no, I...I can't. I don't really want to. We've been past all
that for so long now, I just don't feel like digging it all up again."
"It might help, you know. Talking all this out with your brother
might make these dreams stop." Giving her son a teasing smile, Cecilia
told him, "You can't avoid the news forever, A.J."
A.J. shot is mother a sheepish grin. "Yeah, I know." The man sobered as he said, "I told Rick one time several years ago that I realized I couldn't fully understand his war, that I wasn't in his war. A few days after I told him that, we got to talking about it again, and I told him I wasn't going to feel guilty about that fact anymore. That he wasn't going to make me feel guilty about it anymore. Now, I just wish I could live by that vow. I thought I was ready to, but I guess I was wrong."
"A.J., you shouldn't feel guilty about that. You have no reason to. Rick never wanted you there, not ever. Believe me, that thought scared your brother more than anything.”
during those years, the war would escalate to the point that you'd be drafted
also. He never wanted that, and I can guarantee you Rick would have a thing or
two to say to you about it if you so much as ever suggest it."
A.J. didn't make reply to his mother, so after a few moments she changed
the subject somewhat. "You might find this hard to believe, but I made a
few poor decisions at the age of nineteen too, you know. And even a few since
that time to be honest.”
"You, Mom!” A.J. pretended
to be shocked as he brought a hand up to cover his heart. “Oh no, I can't
believe that. Cecilia Simon has actually made some poor decisions?"
“Yes, I have,” the woman acknowledged despite the teasing. "So on that note, don't you think it's
a little silly to let this bother you to the point that you're having
nightmares? I know how hard it was on you when Rick was in Vietnam, and you
know how hard it was on me, as well. I think you'll recall that I had my share
of nightmares at that time, too. But...the Vietnam war is over, A.J. It's over,
and it has been for a long time now. It's time you put it all behind you for
good. It's foolish for you not to. You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty
"I know, but--"
"No buts. It's time to let it go." Cecilia took one of A.J.'s
hands in hers again. "You can't go on without enough sleep, not given the
job you do. You know that, as well as I do. I don’t want to get a call to come
to the hospital because your lack of sleep has caused something to happen to
you. Do I make myself clear, Andrew?"
Boy, she can still make me feel like I'm about ten years old sometimes.
"Yes, Mom, you've made yourself clear, believe me."
Cecilia's tone changed to soft and gentle as she almost begged,
"Get it worked out, A.J., please. If you want to talk to me some more
right now, or any other time, I'm here. Talk to Rick--"
"No, Mom, no," came the rushed response. "Don't mention this to Rick, please, not any of it. I don't want him to know." Smiling ruefully, A.J. admitted, "I didn't want you to know, for that matter. I'll think about what you've said and I'll work it out, I promise. I just don't want to go through all this with Rick again. We've been through it enough over the years. I'm not going to subject either of us to it again."
"A.J., there's nothing wrong with loving your brother," the youngest Simon was informed. "That's the bottom line here, isn't it? No matter what the reason is for these dreams, whether it's Vietnam, the Gulf War, or the jobs you boys sometimes have to do, it all boils down to the fact that you love your brother very much and don't want anything to happen to him. I don't see why you can't talk to Rick about that."
"I...I just can't. Not right now." Giving his mother a half smile, A.J. lightened the mood. "I promise you won't get a call to come to the hospital, okay? That's the last thing I need right now. To be in the hospital and have you giving me Cecilia Simon's lecture number 203, on how being over-tired is dangerous for someone in my profession."
"And that's exactly what would happen, too, so keep that in mind.”
"Believe me, I will."
Cecilia patted A.J. on the leg. "Why don't you go on up and finish out the night in your old room? There's--"
"No, I'll grab my jacket and go home. It's not that far."
"A.J., what have we just been talking about? You're tired, and it's after two in the morning now. Go upstairs and go to bed." To put an end to any further protests from her exhausted son, Cecilia bribed him with, "I'll even make you breakfast in the morning. How about your favorite, French toast?"
A.J. shook his head in defeat. "I can't win with you, can I? All right, I'll stay here for the night, but you're not cooking for me in the morning, I'll cook for you. Or better yet, we'll go out for breakfast, my treat. Deal?"
"Deal," Cecilia nodded.
A.J. rose and picked the blanket up off the floor. He folded it while asking, "Is it all right if I take a quick shower? I think I could use one."
"Sure, honey, go ahead. You know where everything is. The extra clothes you boys keep here are in the top drawer of the dresser in your old room if you want them for in the morning.”
"You think of everything, don't you?"
"I'm a mother, I'm supposed to," he was told dryly. "Actually, I got so tired of having to run to your house to pick up extra clothes for you, and then run to the marina and pick up extra clothes for Rick, every time you two boys call me and I find you standing on street corners dressed only in bed sheets."
A.J. laughed at his mother before she went on to tell him, "There's a couple of packages of new pajamas in that drawer, too. Open up a pair for yourself if you want to."
"Pajamas?" A.J. questioned in a puzzled tone.
“Just like I got tired of stopping by your houses for changes of clothes,
I got tired of stopping at K-Mart to buy pajamas for one of you boys every time
I get a call to come to the hospital. When you called me last April, when they
kept Rick overnight with that concussion, I stopped by his boat and couldn't
find any. He should have had at least four pairs by then! When I questioned him
about it later, after I went to K-Mart again, Rick said he had given them all
to you since he doesn't normally wear them."
Cecilia was just getting warmed up, as she took a deep breath and
continued, "So when Rick called me to come to the hospital last fall, when
you broke your arm after falling off the roof of that poor little old lady's
house whose windows you boys had been paid to peer into, I stopped by your
house expecting to find at least four pairs of pajamas. All I found instead
were eight pairs of pajama bottoms. When I asked Rick to explain that,
he said you gave the tops to your lady friends when they were in need of
something to wear."
A.J. blushed as he stood over his mother, holding the folded blanket in
his arms. "I think I've used some of them to wash the car with."
"I'm sure you have, dear," his mother said knowingly. Standing
up herself, Cecilia took the blanket from her son. "Go on up and take your
shower and get to bed. It's late. I'm going back to bed, too."
A.J. bent and kissed his mother's cheek. "Good night, Mom...and
"For listening. For just being here."
Cecilia followed her son up the stairs. "That's what I'm here for,
A.J. Anytime you need me, I'm
As A.J. came to the door of the bedroom he and Rick shared as children, he stopped so abruptly that Cecilia almost ran into him. Turning to face his mother, A.J. looked down at her. "Mom, promise me you won't say anything to Rick about all this."
"A.J., I..." Seeing the apprehensive look on her youngest's
face caused Cecilia to stop what she was about to say, and go against her
better judgment. “Okay, I promise. But
you promise me you'll get this worked out. I'll leave it to you to decide how
you're going to do that, but do it, A.J. Don't let this eat at you until it's
gone too far."
"I won't," the blond man promised as he kissed his mother’s
cheek again. "Thanks. Good night."
"Good night, sweetheart."
As A.J. walked on into his old bedroom, Cecilia's called to him as she
made her way to her own room. "And don't run off with those pajamas in the
morning! Put them right back where you found them!"
"I will!" A.J. called back with a smile on his face.
She'll never change, and I guess I don't want her to either.
With that final thought, A.J. headed to the bathroom he and Rick once shared to shower and get ready for bed.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
"Rick!" Cecilia Simon greeted her eldest in surprised delight
as she walked through the kitchen to unlatch the new storm door in order to let
him in. "To what do I owe this visit at four-thirty on a Wednesday
afternoon? In a suit and tie, too! What's the special occasion?"
Rick perched his lanky frame on a kitchen stool. "Aw, I was in court all day on an
insurance fraud case that we had. I just got out about twenty minutes ago, so I
thought I'd stop by and see if my brother got that storm door hung up right for
"He did. It works just fine," Cecilia replied, walking over to
the refrigerator. "I'd offer you a beer, but A.J. drank the last one on
Saturday. How about a Pepsi?"
"Yeah, that's fine. Thanks, Mom."
Cecilia sat beside her son at the snack bar.
"Speaking of your brother, isn't he with you?"
"No, he didn't have to be in court today, just me. He's probably still at the office. I figured it was close enough to five that I could play hooky for the rest of the afternoon." Rick winked at his mother. "That is, if you don't tell on me."
"No, no, I won't do that," Cecilia assured her oldest.
"It's not very often you come to see me looking so handsome. I don't want
to ruin my chances for any further opportunities."
"Why is it you and A.J. only think I look good when I've got a
stupid tie on? I know you two are gonna bury me with one of these damn things
on some day, just so you can both stand over me and tell everybody how good I
Cecilia laughed at her eldest.
"I think you look good all the time, Rick. Your mother just thinks
you look especially good when you're dressed up."
"Yeah, yeah, spoken like a true mom," came the reply before
Rick took a swig of his Pepsi. "So A.J. got the door on without any
Cecilia smiled slightly while remembering Saturday afternoon. "Well, I wouldn't say that exactly. He did have a few problems, but yes, he got it on."
“What kinda problems?”
it this way. There probably would have been less swearing going on around here
if I had asked you to hang the door."
Rick laughed. "It gave him that much trouble, huh? What was
"I don't know. I didn't ask. I tried to stay out of the battle zone," Cecilia commented dryly. "All I know is that A.J. was having a hard time getting it to fit right, but finally he got it worked out. I simply fed him supper in an attempt to make him happy again once the worst of it was over."
Rick smiled. "Did it work?"
"Yes. Just like it did with your father whenever he was frustrated with some household project I asked him to do."
Rick shook his finger at his mother, "You know every trick in the
book, don't you, Mom?"
"And then some, Rick, and then some."
Rick chuckled while shaking his head at his mother, then grew serious.
"That door shouldn't have given A.J. any problems. I'm sure I got the
right size. I wonder what was wrong."
"I don't know, honey. Don't worry about it. It's on now and it's working fine. A.J. was
awfully tired on Saturday afternoon. I think that had more to do with it than
anything else to be honest with you."
"Yeah, he seemed to be pretty tired all last week. I told him he'd
better get some rest last weekend, but he doesn't look like he did." Rick
got up and walked over to the garbage can to throw his empty pop container
away. "A.J. mentioned he slept here Saturday night."
"Yes, he did. He fell asleep on the couch about eight o'clock while
we were watching a movie. He seemed so tired that I let him sleep there all
night," Cecilia lied somewhat, altering the real happenings just a little
in order to keep from revealing too much to Rick. She smiled across the
counter. "Of course, your brother chewed me out about that on Sunday
morning. He told me I should have woken him up and sent him home."
"I can imagine," Rick said. Knowing his stubborn brother, the elder Simon knew their mother probably got an earful from her youngest over that little episode.
Silence reigned in the kitchen for a few moments, finally to be broken
with, "Mom, did A.J. happen to have a nightmare when he was over here
Rick's question caught Cecilia off-guard. She had no doubt her facial expression immediately gave Rick the answer he was seeking.
"Rick, I...I made a promise to A.J. I'd rather not break," Cecilia confessed reluctantly.
"I already know about the nightmares. I just need you to fill in a few blanks for me."
“Honey, I can’t. I promised your brother.”
"Come on, Mom, it's not like you'll be telling me anything I don't already know." Leaning on the counter top, Rick caught and held his mother’s gaze with his own. "I know A.J.’s having nightmares, and I suspect they're about me and Vietnam."
"How do you know all this? A.J. didn’t discussed it with you, did
"No, he didn’t,” Rick shook his head. “Dianna did."
"Yeah. She stopped by the
office yesterday afternoon. A.J. was at the police station, so Di and I visited
while she waited for him. I got to teasing her about A.J. looking so tired
lately, telling her she'd better go easy on him, that she was keeping him up
too late, stuff like that."
Cecilia rolled her eyes. "I can just imagine."
"Yeah, well anyway, Dianna told me then, that she didn't have
anything to do with A.J.'s lack of sleep. That it was me who was causing
him to be so tired lately. When I asked her what she meant, she got a funny
look on her face." Rick shrugged his shoulders. "I guess she thought
A.J. had talked to me about these dreams. She didn't wanna say anymore then,
but I finally convinced her I really needed to know what she meant. So Dianna
told me A.J.'d had four or five nightmares in the last two weeks, and that he
always wakes up screaming my name. She said he’s really terrified when he first
wakes up, and that it takes him a while to get his bearings again. She said
A.J. won't talk to her about the nightmares.
He keeps claiming he doesn't remember anything about them. She also told
me he never goes back to sleep after he has one, and that he usually gets up
and she hears him pacing the floor until dawn." Shrugging, Rick ended his
spiel with, "So, that's how I know."
"How do you know the dreams are about Vietnam, if A.J. hasn't
talked to Dianna about them?"
"You're not gonna tell me anything, are you?" Rick asked.
"I know, I know. You made a promise to A.J. I understand." There was a brief pause on Rick's part before he said, "I know they're about Vietnam, or at least I have a strong suspicion they are, because Dianna told me she's heard A.J. talk in his sleep, and she told me some of the things he's said. I don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what 'Rick' and 'Vietnam' mean, when A.J.'s havin' a nightmare, Mom."
The pair spent a few seconds absorbed in their own thoughts, then Rick broke the silence.
you gonna tell me if I'm right or not? You're not really breaking a promise now,
you know. If you tell me I'm right, then I already found out from someone else
- Dianna. If you tell me I'm wrong, I won't ask you anything else about it.
Cecilia thought a moment before hesitantly nodding her head. "Yes,
A.J. had a nightmare while he was here, and yes, it was about you and
"What else did he tell you?"
"Rick, I think I've said enough," Cecilia told her oldest son. She was torn between the promise she had made to one son, and the feeling that her other son should really know more about what had transpired.
Rick could easily read his mother's face and understood exactly what she was going through. He didn't want Cecilia to feel she was being disloyal to A.J., but he did need to know more about what was causing A.J.'s nightmares. He couldn't help his brother if he didn't know where to start. Therefore, Rick played his trump care.
"Mom, A.J.'s been awfully tired for the past two weeks. You know how dangerous that can be in our line of work. If I can do anything to help him work through this, I think I'd better before something happens that lands somebody in the hospital." Leaning across the counter, Rick took one of his mother's hands in his own. "I can't know how to help him though, Mom, if I don't know what all this is about. Please tell me what A.J. said to you on Saturday night."
"Should I start with, 'Promise me you won't tell Rick any of this, Mom'?"
Rick smiled. "I think we can skip that part."
"I think we'd better."
Cecilia mulled some things over before finally giving in to Rick's request. He had chosen his trump card well, as Cecilia's biggest fear since Sunday morning had been that A.J.'s nightmares would plague him to a point that indeed, she would be getting a call to come to the hospital.
Cecilia explained then what had happened in her home early Sunday morning. She told of waking up to A.J.'s shouts of, "Let my brother go!," and of how, upon hearing those words, she was sure the nightmare he was experiencing was about Vietnam. She told Rick that A.J. reluctantly confirmed that fact in the conversation that followed. She also told Rick that A.J. had reveled the dreams seemed to be tied into the news broadcasts about the Gulf War, and ended by reiterating that A.J. hadn't wanted any of this mentioned to his older brother.
"I just don't get it," Rick finally admitted, after taking a
few moments to absorb his mother's words. "Why would A.J. be dreaming
about me being in Vietnam again? He hasn't had a dream like that since I came
home twenty years ago, has he?"
"No. Or at least not that I'm aware of."
"And why doesn't he want me to know about all this? What's the big deal?"
Cecilia sighed. "Rick...A.J. said he doesn’t want to dig all this
up with you again. He said he felt you two boys have discussed it enough over
the years, and that it was time to leave it alone. He said something about
having told you several years back that he wasn't going to feel guilty anymore
about not fighting in your war. Is that true? Did he tell you that?"
Rick nodded in remembrance. "Yeah, he did."
"Well, A.J. told me he supposed he wasn't making good on that vow," Cecilia confessed.
"So, you think that's what all this is about? Guilt? That A.J. feels guilty because he didn't serve in Nam? That's absolutely insane! Under no circumstances did I ever want my kid brother over there."
"I know that, Rick. So does A.J. But, you have to remember that
your kid brother didn't want you there either. I imagine a lot of young
people who had brothers or sisters in Vietnam during those years felt some
guilt over being the ones who were left safely at home."
"Yeah, I suppose so. It's just that it's stupid for A.J. to feel
that way, especially twenty years after the fact. I joined the Marines,
Mom. It was my decision. I mean, it's
not like someone came to you and said, 'Pick a son to go to Vietnam,' and you
chose me. It's ridiculous for A.J. to let this eat at him in my opinion."
"Yes, it is," Cecilia agreed. "But, he wouldn't be A.J.
if he didn't feel things so deeply, now would he?"
Rick gave his mom a smile. "No, he wouldn't be."
"From what few things A.J. said on the subject, Rick, I would guess this boils down to two things. Number one, all this news coverage on the war in the Gulf has brought back a lot of haunting memories for him. And, number two, he's concerned that you feel you didn't have his support, his loyalty, during those years."
"Did he come right out and say that?"
"More or less he did. He said all the support our country is
showing the troops now, makes him wish it had been that way during Vietnam.
That the soldiers serving over there would have been given this kind of loyalty
and support. A.J. also said that he now
has some regrets over protesting the war. That he understands why you thought
he was against you and your decision. He told me he thinks that nineteen-year-old
kid made a big mistake in doing that."
"Regardless of whether it was a mistake or not, what nineteen-year-old kids don't make some choices they regret later in life? I sure made my share."
"I’m sure you did. And so did I. And don't you dare tell me you're shocked to hear that Cecilia Simon actually has made some mistakes, like your brother did the other morning."
"Wouldn't dream of it, Mom," Rick said, moustache twitching. Although that's exactly what he had been going to say. "So, is that it? Did A.J. say any more?"
"Not really, honey. He didn't want to talk to me about all of this anymore than he wants to talk to you about it. He came right out and told me that." On an afterthought, Cecilia added, "Oh, A.J. did say sometimes he feels like all of this still divides the two of you like it did at times twenty years ago. That it's still a problem between the two of you at times, but that you've both learned to live with it."
"I didn't know he felt that way. I thought we had settled all this three or four years ago. I don't feel like it's still coming between us."
evidently your brother does.”
"Did A.J. go back to sleep? After the nightmare, I mean."
"I don't really know. I thought he had. He went upstairs and
finished out the night in your old room. But, now that you tell me what Dianna
said, I have my doubts."
"When I got up Sunday morning, shortly before seven, A.J. was already down here sitting on the couch, showered and dressed. He was drinking coffee and reading the paper when I came into the room. I asked him how long he'd been up and all he said was, 'Oh, a little while,' then changed the subject. I didn't think anymore about it, but I was surprised to see him up already at that time, and I thought he still looked so tired. I was sure he'd sleep several hours yet, with as tired as he had been, and then with the nightmare interrupting his sleep."
Rick and Cecilia sat in the kitchen a while longer, both going over
their various thoughts. Finally Rick said, "Thanks, Mom, for telling me
this. I know I put you in kind of a bad spot, what with the promise you made to
A.J. and all."
"That's okay. As you said, you already knew most of it anyway. What
are you going to do now?"
Rick winked at his mother. "Don't worry, Mom, I won't get ya' in
trouble with A.J. He'll never know we had this little talk. For that matter,
he'll never know Dianna and I had our little talk." Smiling
sheepishly he added, "I promised her I wouldn't mention anything to A.J.
either. Boy, everybody sure is afraid of him, aren't they?"
Cecilia laughed. "Just his temper, dear. We all know his bark is
worse than his bite."
"Yeah, that's true, but his bark can sure be loud sometimes."
"That it can be, son. That it can be,” Cecilia agreed. “And in order for all of us to avoid that bark, just how are you going to bring this up to your brother without him ever knowing you talked to Dianna or me?"
Rick rubbed his hand over his face. "I haven't thought it all out
yet, but I've got something I've been considering doing for the past three
months, that I've put off mentioning to A.J. 'cause I wasn't sure how he'd feel
about it. Maybe now's the time to find out."
"I'll tell you about it after I see how it goes over with A.J. But, if it works the way I hope it will, maybe my little brother will finally realize that I always knew I had his loyalty and support. Especially during Vietnam. Maybe he'll be able to put all this behind him once and for all, and won't feel guilty anymore."
"And no more nightmares?" Cecilia questioned hopefully.
Smiling, Rick confirmed, "And no more nightmares."
Rick straightened and tugged at the hem of his black suit jacket. "Since you think I look so good when
I'm dressed up, how about if I take you out to dinner, Mrs. Simon? I look too
fancy for McDonald’s, so you pick the place."
"I’ll take you up on that offer, son." Cecilia rose from her stool. "Let me get a jacket and my purse, then we can go."
As Cecilia walked on into the living room, she called, "A.J. won't
be trying to get a hold of you, will he? I mean, since you didn't go back to
the office, will he be wondering what went on in court today? Do you need to
give him a quick call?"
Rick looked at his watch to see it was now after five-thirty. "No, he won't call me tonight. He's gone from the office by now, and he and Dianna had something going on this evening, I think. I'm sure I'll be the last person on his mind once his night with her gets rolling."
Cecilia came back into the kitchen, ready to go to supper with her
oldest. "Well, I hope he remembers to take home at least one of his pajama
tops after he sees her."
Rick cast his mother a puzzled look.
mind, dear, private joke." Heading out the back door on the arm of her
oldest son, Cecilia commented, "Breakfast out with A.J. on Sunday, now
dinner out tonight with you. You boys
are really going to spoil me if you're not careful."
"You deserve a little spoiling, Mom," Rick replied, as he opened the passenger door of Cecilia's car for her. Kissing her cheek as he leaned in the window, he added, "A.J. and I have the best mom in the world, and believe me, we both know it."
With that, Rick walked around to the driver's side of the Mercedes Benz. His mind wasn’t on dinner, however, but on how to approach his younger brother about a certain something he'd been putting off since October.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Rick Simon spent the next two working days subtly studying his sibling. By Friday afternoon, Rick had come to the conclusion that A.J. was still not getting much in the way of a peaceful night's rest. He finally placed his long put-off plan into motion, as he and A.J. were locking up the office at five-fifteen that evening.
"Whatcha' got planned for tomorrow?" Rick asked his brother as they walked toward the elevator.
A.J. shrugged. "The usual Saturday stuff. I've got some things to do at the house in the morning, then Dianna and I are going to dinner and a movie with some friends tomorrow night. Why?"
"I thought I might stop by in the morning if you're not busy. I've got something I need you to look at for me."
"Oh...nothing important. Just something I need your help with. Are
you gonna be home around ten?"
A.J. didn't even bother to question his brother further on what it was Rick wanted him to take a look at. Knowing Rick, it could be anything from a revision of his already rather odd will, to some new business opportunity like breeding racing cockroaches. A.J. was simply too tired to want to hear about any of it at the moment, so as he and Rick reached their respective vehicles he replied, "Yeah, I'll be there. I'll see you tomorrow morning around ten."
"Okay, I'll see you then, A.J.," Rick promised, as he climbed into his truck and headed for the marina.
As Rick walked up the sidewalk of his brother's house on Saturday morning, he glanced in the garage window and caught sight of A.J. lifting weights. Rick tapped on the window and gave his younger brother a quick wave of his hand as he continued on to the kitchen door. Finding it unlocked, Rick walked in and placed the locked metal strong box he’d been carrying on the kitchen counter top. Within a few seconds, A.J. appeared from the garage clad in shorts and a blue sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off of it that bore the logo, SAN DIEGO POLICE DEPARTMENT.
"Hey! I was supposed to get one of those sweatshirts, too. I forgot all about that."
"No, Rick, allow me correct you. Only the people who showed up to work at the policemen's benefit auction got one of these sweatshirts. If you remember right, big brother, you were the one who promised Abby we'd both be there, yet I was the only one of us who made it. I was the one who gave up an entire Saturday and Saturday night, not you."
"Oh yeah, I remember now,” Rick smiled. “I was kinda tied up that day with those ladies from that hair styling place we had just finished that case for. You remember, Joan's House of Design."
"Yeah, right. I highly doubt you were too busy to keep a promise you made to Abby,” A.J. said, as he opened the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice. “You never had any intention of being there in the first place."
Rick leaned his lanky frame back against the counter top. "No, A.J., that's not true." His smile growing broader, Rick said, "I would have been there, only I really was tied up that night, if you know what I mean."
A.J. rolled his eyes and shook his head as he poured himself a glass of
juice. "I don't think I really want to hear this." Changing the
subject, he held up he juice carton. "You want some?"
"No, thanks. I didn't mean to interrupt your workout. Sorry."
"That's okay," the blond man replied as he put the juice away.
"I was just finishing up anyway." Looking at the metal box Rick had
set on the counter, he asked, "What's that for?"
Rick took a small key out of his pocket and unlocked the lid to the strong box. "It's got some stuff in it I wanna show you."
From where A.J. stood he could see various papers lying on top of one another.
to show me insurance papers?" he asked incredulously. "Are you planning on dying soon and
leaving me lots of money? Is that what this is all about?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, A.J., but Mom gets all my money," Rick said dryly.
"Good thing for Mom then that she's well-set in the financial
department. If she had to live off all your money she'd sure be hurting. She'd
have to trade that Mercedes in for a Hyundai."
"Oh, that’s hilarious, little brother," Rick said loudly in order to be heard over A.J.'s laughter.
Rick reached under the various legal papers and pulled out a packet he had wrapped with a rubber band. He held that packet out to A.J. "Actually, I wanted you to look through these for me."
A.J. took the bundle of envelopes, and for a moment, had no idea as to what they were. As he looked closer though, he recognized a younger version of his own handwriting. He took the rubber band off the envelopes and leafed through them. Each one was addressed to Sergeant Richard Simon, and the post marks covered the years, 1968, '69, '70, and a few from '71, Rick's last year in the Marines.
A.J. looked up at his brother with a puzzled expression on his face, as
Rick quietly asked, "Do you know what they are?"
"Yes...I think I do. They're the letters I wrote you when you were in Nam."
Rick nodded his head. "Yeah, they are. Well, most of 'em anyway.
One or two got lost in rice paddies or jungles along the way, but I kept as
many as I could." Silence prevailed in the kitchen for a moment, then Rick
said, "They meant a lot to me, A.J., those letters. That's why I keep ‘em
in a box with other important papers, because they're important, too. Even now,
over twenty years later."
A.J. glanced down at the packet of letters he held in his hand.
"Why do you...why do you want me to look through them?"
"I want you to help me pick out a couple of ‘em for
Rick hoisted himself up on the kitchen counter top and began to explain.
"Do you remember a few years back, there was a special on HBO where actors
read actual letters written by Nam vets that had been sent home to their family
"Yes, I remember. I saw it," A.J. said quietly. "It was
called 'Letters Home.’ I read the book, too."
"I know you did," Rick acknowledged. "Well, all the Vietnow organizations across the country are getting together in an effort to do kind of the same thing - make a documentary similar to that. Kind of something that's made by vets this time, though, from their perspective - from the perspective of the guys who were over there. And one of the things that was really important to those of us who were there, was the mail from home. So this time, we want to use letters written to vets from their family members and friends. Anyone who wants to can submit a letter and some pictures to be used when they put this all together. I've already given them a few pictures I have that were taken in Nam, but I'd like to give them a letter, too."
When A.J. didn't respond to Rick, but rather kept his attention focused
on the letters he still held in his hand, the older Simon went on with, "I
know technically, those are my letters to do with whatever I want. But, you
wrote them. I won't give one to be used for this documentary if you don't want
me to. That's why I came by today. I wanted to get your permission to use one
of them, and I want your help in picking it out." Lightly, Rick added,
"There's a lot of letters there, you know. My kid brother was a real good
correspondent. It might take me a long time to pick one out by myself, and I
only have two weeks left to turn one in."
"You always did wait until the last minute to do anything, even when we were kids," A.J. quipped softly, still without looking at his brother.
"Yep, I guess I haven't changed much, have I?" After a few
moments of studying his brother's bowed head, Rick asked quietly, "A.J.,
what do you think? Do you want to do this with me?"
A.J. chewed on his lower lip for a minute before finally looking up at his sibling. "Rick...you don't need my permission to use one of these letters. They are yours. They were mailed to you."
"No,” Rick shook his head. “I won't do this if you don't agree to it. I already told you that. As far as I'm concerned, those letters are private, just between you and me. I wouldn't just turn one of them over to someone without asking you first."
"If you don't want me to turn one of the letters over, I understand, A.J. You can tell me no and I won't mention it again. I won't ask any questions, and there won't be any hard feelings. It's your decision. I'm not gonna be upset or mad, if you'd rather forget the whole thing."
"No...no, I don't want to forget it. I'll...I’ll do it. I'll help you pick one out." After a moment of silence, A.J. asked hesitantly, "But, why one of my letters, Rick? Why not one of Mom's, or Grandma's, or all the others you got from relatives and friends?"
"Because of all of the letters I got when I was in Nam, my kid
brother's meant the most. The ones that came from A.J. Simon were the ones I
always opened first, the ones I waited impatiently for. Your letters always
made me laugh, A.J. You always had a funny little story to tell me about school,
or one of your girlfriends, or someone in the family, or the neighborhood, or
something like that. And your letters always told me honestly what was
happening back home. How Mom was handling things. Things I needed to know that
she couldn't tell me." Looking his brother in the eyes, Rick added after a
second, "And, even if you didn't say it, your letters always told me I had
your support, your loyalty...and your love. Those things were in every letter,
A.J., even if they could only be read in between the lines. They were always
Nodding his head, A.J. said softly, "Yes, they were."
The brothers stayed as they were for a few minutes, Rick still sitting on the counter top, A.J. still standing next to him, letters in hand. Finally, Rick broke the silence.
one more thing I want to ask you." As A.J. looked up at him, Rick said,
"When they record these letters being read, they've got some actors and
actresses lined up to do it if we want them to. But, if we want the letter read
by the person who actually wrote it, we can do that, too. All we have to do is
go up to a small recording studio in L.A. in a few weeks, and you just read the
letter a few times, and then they use whatever cut comes out the best. It won't
take more than a half hour - or so they tell me. So...huh...would you like to do it that way? Would you read the
"You want me to, don't you?" came the quiet inquiry.
"I'd like you to, yes. It would mean a lot more to me if it was you
reading the letter. But again, if you don't want to, I understand, little
brother. I won't say any more about it."
"It's not that I don't want to, Rick. I'm just not sure...not sure if I can." A.J. fidgeted with the letters he held in his hands. "I'm not sure I can get through it."
"Without getting choked up, you mean?"
"Yeah," A.J. admitted, somewhat embarrassed.
"A.J.," Rick said softly, in an effort to get his brother to make eye contact once again. When A.J. did, the older man told him, "I think that would be okay, if that's what happens, I mean. They want real feelings. That's why they suggested we ask the person who wrote the letter to read it."
When A.J. made no reply, Rick told him gently, "You think about it for a few days. You don't have to decide right now. And if you decide to read it, and then just can't get through it, it's no big deal. They'll just get someone else, okay?"
A.J. nodded. "Okay."
Lightening the mood, Rick teased, "Besides, I already warned them it would probably take my sentimental little brother more than a half hour to get through one of these letters. They can book a recording studio for you for an hour they told me."
Ignoring the warning tone in that one word, Rick continued with his
teasing. "And if you can't get through it, I've already picked out the
actor I wanna have read your letter. They had a list of famous people who are
participating in this, and I told the guys at Vietnow that Sylvester Stallone
sounds the most like you. So if you don't wanna do it, he will."
"Rick! I don't sound anything like Sylvester Stallone! That's disgusting. I can just hear him reading one of my letters in Rocky Balboa fashion. That'll be real sentimental, I'm sure."
Rick just laughed, never telling A.J. he was only kidding. He assumed A.J. knew that, but what the heck, if he really thought Rick was serious, maybe it would be the push the younger man needed to read the letter himself. That part was important to Rick, but he didn't want to let on to A.J. just how important it was. Rick had no intention of forcing A.J. into reading the letter if he just didn't feel he could, or simply chose, for his own personal reasons, not to.
Rick said no more after his laughter died. He remained seated where he was, waiting for A.J. to make the next move. He didn't have long to wait as A.J. looked up at him and smiled.
guess if we're going to go through all these letters and narrow it down to just
one, we'd better start working."
The blond man moved to sit at the kitchen table. Rick slid off the counter top and poured them each a cup of coffee. He walked over to the table and handed A.J. a mug of the steaming liquid before sitting down beside him.
“Thanks for doing this. It means a lot to me. It's nice to know I have a brother who always supports me in everything I do. Well, maybe not in the goofy things, but in the important ones. Maybe you don't always agree with me, or want to go along for the ride, but I've always known I have your support. Ever since I can remember it's been that way. I don't thank you very often for that, I know, but thanks, A.J. Thanks."
Although there were a lot of things A.J. Simon could have said to his older brother at that moment, a lot of things he could have thanked Rick for, he settled on a simple, "You're welcome." Then teased a little with, "That's what younger brothers are for, you know."
Noticing he had all the letters in front of him, already out of their envelopes and spread all over, A.J. pushed half toward Rick. "I'm not doing all the work here, big brother. This was your idea. You go through some of these, too."
Picking up some letters and skimming through them, Rick began teasing, "I don't know, kid, I think this falls under one of those things Mom would want you to do for yourself. You know, with that low I.Q. problem of yours and..."
From there, the Simon brothers spent the next several hours going through the letters Rick had brought over. They laughed together over some of the long forgotten memories various ones provoked, and grew silent and thoughtful at the memories others brought forth, until Rick, with A.J.'s consent, picked the one he deemed perfect. The one Rick thought encompassed all the things he’d spoken of to A.J. earlier. It included all the elements he’d always found in an A.J. Simon letter, and was the one Rick hoped A.J. would agree to record some time in the near future.
Rick left the letter with A.J. that afternoon and drove back to the marina. He hoped, once and for all, that the legacy of Vietnam could be put in its rightful place between them.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
May 4, 1969
I hope this letter finds everything going good for you, and that it's not too hot. You said in your last letter the rains had finally quit and everything was drying out. I know you're moving into the hottest part of the year over there, so take it easy. Don't sunburn the top of your head! I'm only kidding, and no, I don't think you'll have a hairline like Yul Brynner by the time you're forty like you asked me in your last letter. But, didn't I always tell you wearing a hat makes your hair fall out? I told you that way back when we were kids and you were always running around with your Rough Rider hat on. So see, I do know more than you give me credit for.
Three more weeks and school is out for the year. I'm ready for a break. College is a lot harder than high school. But, I think my grades will be good this semester. I was hoping for all A's, but I don't think I'm going to make that. I guess one or two B's is okay, huh? You'd have been happy to see a few of those on your report card once and a while, or at least Mom would have, so I don't know what I'm complaining about.
I've been putting a lot of time in on the track. We've got three more meets before school's out. I ran a good time in a meet last week against U.C.L.A. I came in second, which made me happy. First would have made me happier, but the guy who won was incredible. I don't think I'll ever be able to run the kind of time he did. He was really good. I have a lot of respect for him, that's for sure.
Did Mom tell you about my summer job? I'm going to work for a private investigator this summer. I got hooked up with him through one of my law classes. I'm really looking forward to it, but I get the impression it won't be as exciting as it seems in the movies. I'll be doing background work for him on clients, and serving subpoenas, and doing research at the courthouse and library. The guy used to be a cop, so I think I can learn a lot from him that will help me with my law career. He said he'd have me sit in on any cases with him that go to court. I don't think I'll want to do this kind of work for the rest of my life, but for a summer job it will be okay. The pay's not bad, and right now that's the important thing.
Speaking of money, I put the money you sent in your last letter in your savings account like you asked me to. I didn't need any of it for the stuff for your bike. It only needed an oil change and new spark plugs. You had some oil in Mom's garage, and don't worry about the plugs, I got them from Carlos for almost nothing. The bike's running good. I took it out for a little while the last time I was home like you wanted me to.
Oh, yeah, Carlos says hello. I saw Eva and the baby, too. The baby's getting big. He started walking recently. Carlos says to tell you he owes you a letter, and he'll be writing soon.
Mom's doing all right, really. She was pretty upset three weeks ago when we heard on the news there was a lot of shelling going on where you were at, but then she got a letter from you telling her you were all right and that helped a lot. She's lost some weight I think, but once I come back home for the summer maybe she'll gain it back. I know she doesn't cook much now that it's just her at home. I'm going to try to get her to eat better this summer. At least when I'm there she cooks again. Too much as a matter of fact! She says it's no fun cooking for one. Don't worry, I'll take care of Mom for you. She keeps real busy, which is good. I know she worries about you constantly.
I forgot to tell you the last time I wrote that Mom's been seeing some new guy. She seems to enjoy spending time with him. She says they have a lot of the same interests. I haven't met him yet, but I'll give you a detailed report when I do. I hope he's not as strange as that last guy she was seeing. Remember, I told you about him? He was the proctologist. Weird profession if you asked me. It made me nervous to turn my back on him. I was glad to see that relationship end, let me tell you.
Oh, surprise, surprise, Uncle Bud and Aunt Edie are getting divorced again. Is this the twelfth time, or thirteenth? I've lost count. Uncle Buddy showed up at my dorm room last week asking to spend the night. He stayed four days. I didn't even ask what it was all about this time. I didn't want to know. You should spend part of your college years rooming with Uncle Bud. What an experience! Mom says they'll work it out – that they always do. Bud's gone now at least, thank God. He moved back home, but Mom says Edie won't let him in the house, so he's living in their garage. They certainly are an interesting couple. And don't laugh about me and Uncle Buddy being roommates, either. It wasn't funny!
Too bad you're missing the new bikini swimwear line of 1969, big brother. I was at the beach last weekend, and they're wearing less, not more, which is pretty good in my opinion.
I met a girl there, too. She goes to college at U.C.L.A. We're going out when she comes home for the summer in a few weeks, so I'll write you more about her later. She seems real nice. She's got a brother in Nam, too. Oh, yeah, her name's Sherry. Other than that, I don't know too much about her yet.
Did you get the magazines I sent you? I hope so. I couldn't find any of those Swedish girlie magazines you used to hide at home. I bet Mom found them and threw them all out. So anyway, you'll have to settle for American Hot Rod, Sports Illustrated, and Baseball Digest. And no, I'm not going to buy you a copy of Playboy. Mom would kill me if she found out I did that. You know how she feels about that kind of stuff. I know I'm almost twenty years old, but I’m still not going to do it. You risk your own neck with Mom. She can be meaner than the Vietcong any day.
Next week when I write I'll send you some batteries for your radio again. You must be about ready for some. Oh, yeah, and some Life Savers, too. Cherry and butter rum, right?"
Take care of yourself, big brother. I think about you everyday and pray that you're safe. I know you keep telling me not to worry, but I do anyway. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you, Rick, so watch out for yourself and keep your head low. Please don't go looking for trouble. Mom and I need you back home in one piece. We both miss you a lot. Yeah, I even miss you giving me a hard time, believe it or not. You're right, that's what big brothers are for, and I miss mine. A lot.
BE CAREFUL. I'll write again next week. Wish you were home.
Rick stood outside the glassed-in recording booth, listening to his younger brother read the letter that was written so long ago. Much to his surprise, it wasn't A.J. who had gotten sentimental over all this, but Rick himself. Rick's throat had tightened, and several tears had spilled over to run down his cheeks during the four different times A.J. had recited the letter for the sound engineer. Rick was leaning against the wall, with the engineer sitting in front of him, so the man didn't notice his reaction. For that, Rick was grateful. Rick guessed A.J. had seen though, when he glanced up at his older brother briefly during the first reading. A.J. had faltered then for just a second before looking back down at the paper. He hadn't looked up at Rick since.
It was evident to Rick, as well, that this was hard on A.J. Although the younger Simon was holding up much better than his big brother, Rick could hear the tightness in A.J.'s throat and the way his voice got hoarse, each and every time he read that last paragraph of the letter. The part that told Rick how much he was missed, and how much he was wanted back home, safely and in one piece. Rick could tell A.J. had to push past a lump in his own throat to get those last three or four sentences out.
The engineer's voice was now heard saying, "That was great, A.J. You can come out of there. We're finished. Any one of these recordings should work out fine. It's just up to the director now to pick the one he likes best."
A.J. came through the soundproof door. He and Rick said their good-byes
to the engineer and thanked him for his time. As they moved out into the bright
sunlight of the California afternoon, A.J. gently teased his brother. "I
thought it was me who was supposed to be the sentimental one in the
Putting his sunglasses on, Rick commented, "Yeah, well I guess I'm gettin' soft in my old age." Rick laid a hand on his brother's shoulder as they came to stand by the locked Camaro. "Thanks, A.J., for doing this. I know it wasn't easy for you. I really appreciate it. It means a lot to me. I always wanted us to do something together about Vietnam."
At A.J.'s puzzled look, Rick explained, "Those were some of the few
years we were really ever apart. Not only in distance, but in thinking also.
I've had some regrets about those years, and I know you have, too. But those
regrets aren’t important anymore. They haven't been for a long time. That
letter has shown me that they never really were. Not even then. And today, we
did something together concerning that time period of our lives. I'm glad we
did. The nightmare's finally over for me, once and for all."
Sunlight bounced off A.J.'s hair as he looked at his brother a moment before saying the words Rick needed to hear.
"It's over for me, too, Rick, in more ways than one. Thanks for asking me to do this. You're right, it wasn't easy, but I'm glad I did it." Lightening the mood a little, A.J. added, "Of course, I don't know if I'll be so glad when Mom hears that letter. Somehow I don't think she's going to be real thrilled about being compared to the Vietcong. Not to mention what Uncle Bud and Aunt Edie will say. And who the hell is Sherry? I can't remember anything about her. That's been driving me crazy for two weeks now."
Rick laughed as he got into the car. He watched his brother walk around the front of the automobile and enter on the driver's side. A.J. slipped in behind the steering wheel. He looked at his brother a moment before inserting the key into the ignition.
"I can't remember right now if I've ever said this to you before,
and if I haven't, it's long overdue." After a brief pause, the blond man
went on to say, "Thanks for serving in Nam, Rick. I've always been very proud
that you did. I've always been very proud to tell people that my big brother is
a Vietnam veteran. Always. Thank you."
Rick turned away from A.J. to look out the window. A moment later the younger man heard a hoarse, "You're welcome."
A.J. started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, teasing his
brother gently after a few minutes of silence had passed. "There you go,
getting sentimental on me again. You are getting soft in your old age,
Growling at A.J., Rick informed him, "I'll show you how soft and old I'm gettin' if I have to hear about that from you again!"
A.J. just laughed, then offered,
"How about if I buy a vet some supper at the restaurant of his
"Even if it's Mexican?"
Sighing, A.J. pretended to be annoyed. "Even if it's Mexican."
"You got yourself a deal, little brother."
As the Camaro made its way out of Los Angeles, Rick reached over to turn
on the car radio. Right before doing so, he said quietly, "I've always
been proud of you, too, A.J."
If A.J. heard Rick's words, he chose not to comment on them. Instead, he kept his eyes on the road and listened to the music coming from the oldie's station that Rick had chosen.
Rick sat back in the seat now, pulling the brim of his hat over his eyes and closing them. He let the sounds of Marvin Gaye take him back to a time that was so long in the past. A time that would now stay in the past permanently for Rick and his brother. For, through the simple act of picking out that letter together, and now making this trip together to get it recorded, the two men had finally managed to put the Vietnam years behind them. Where they belonged. Right where Rick knew they should be.