The reference to A.J.’s bungee jump in this story refers to the story, Geronimo!, which can be found under Stories From The Brothers’ Files in the Simon and Simon Library.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ducks were quacking on the canal as A.J. Simon opened his French doors and stepped onto the deck. Sunshine glistened off early morning dew as the promise of another beautiful July day dawned in San Diego.
A.J. savored the quiet of the neighborhood. It was a few minutes before six a.m., and as of yet, no one had ventured outside his or her home. While still standing on the deck, A.J. gently stretched his leg muscles in preparation of his five-mile run. New Balance running shoes, white socks, navy running shorts, and a red tank top, made for ease of movement.
After bending and touching his toes several times, A.J. propped one foot up on the deck railing. He bent forward, bringing his head as close to his outstretched knee as possible. A.J. then repeated this pattern using his other leg.
Fifteen minutes later, A.J. had completed his pre-running routine. He’d felt the telltale pulls in thigh, calf, and back muscles that emphasized to the detective that now that he was in his forties, the stretching exercises he had once bypassed were necessities.
A.J. loped down the deck steps, stopping only long enough to hide a house key in a flowerpot, as he did every morning that he ran. The blond then jogged around the corner of the garage, picking up his pace when his feet hit the sidewalk.
Once A.J.'s body was comfortable with what he was doing, he fell into a stride that was neither too fast nor too slow, but rather afforded him a consistently paced fifty-minute aerobic workout.
As A.J. ran the familiar route through adjoining neighborhoods, he daydreamed about the current case he and Rick were working on. From there, he mentally planned his day, outlining in his head all of the things he hoped to accomplish at the office.
A car horn beeped, the sound bringing A.J. out of his musings long enough to wave at the female driver. Although A.J. didn't know the woman's name, they exchanged waves on the mornings he ran. He did know she lived in the big English Tudor just around the corner, and that she had two teenage sons whom he often saw coming and going from the house when he was on his way to or from work.
A little farther up the quiet, tree-lined sidewalk the blond was hailed with, "Morning, A.J.!"
"Morning, Greg!" A.J. called back to the man who was about to get into a Ford Taurus.
"How about a game of racquet ball next week?"
A.J. turned to face his friend, while continuing his progress by jogging backwards. "Sounds good! Give me a call at the office this week and we'll set a date."
"Okay! I'll talk to you later."
"See ya,’ Greg! Have a good day!" A. J. called as he turned to run forward once again.
A.J. was three miles into his run and headed toward home. The detective entered the neighborhood he enjoyed the most on his route. All the homes were large with Spanish style architecture, their lawns immaculately groomed and brightened by flowers. This was an older section of San Diego with the houses having been built in the 1920s and 30s. A.J. rarely saw a soul moving about when he ran, so he assumed most of the inhabitants were older as well. Lucky retired people who no longer had to punch a time clock, A.J. would often think to himself.
A.J.’s stride increased with little effort as his body eased into its comfort zone with no conscious thought on his part. He turned and looked left when a yard fountain began to spout. Before the blond realized what was happening, the sidewalk greeted him. He felt a sharp sting against his palms and knees as he landed chest down on cool concrete.
Like most runners who consider themselves to be better than average athletes, A.J.'s first instinct was to look around and make sure no one had seen him make a fool of himself. Satisfied that all the occupants of the neighborhood were still in bed, A.J. pushed himself to his feet. Blood trickled down both knees, and his palms were pink and tender. As A.J. put his full weight on both legs, the left one collapsed from underneath him. The surprised detective found himself on the ground once again.
A.J. sat on the sidewalk rubbing his left leg. It felt like it was asleep, and A.J. couldn’t feel the touch of his fingertips against the skin. While the detective waited for the pins and needles sensation to subside, he scanned the sidewalk for the rock or crack that had caused him to fall. When he didn’t spot anything that would have tripped him, the blond shrugged the incident off. After all, this was hardly the first time in twenty years of running that he’d tripped and fallen.
A.J. stood and gingerly put weight on the leg. When it supported him without any problems, he took a few tentative steps. A.J. walked a few minutes to make sure nothing was sprained, and then began jogging once again. Within five minutes, his pace was back to where it had been prior to the fall. The only further thought A.J. gave to the incident came thirty minutes later when he was in the shower. The detective grimaced when he rubbed soap over the scraped skin of his hands and knees.
Three weeks after A.J.’s fall, the Simon brothers were sitting at their desks eating a Chinese take-out lunch. Rick tossed his cardboard container, balled up napkin, and plastic silverware into the garbage can, then reached for his fortune cookie. He unrolled the slip of paper he found within the dessert.
"You are soon to face a challenge." Rick glanced at his brother. “Now what kind of a stupid fortune is that?"
"The kind you get in a cookie you pay twenty cents for," A.J. quipped.
"I'm serious here, A.J. This is a dumb fortune. It's more like a prediction than it is a fortune.”
"Fortune, prediction, they're one and the same," A.J. said while tossing his own garbage away.
"Nah, there's a difference," Rick debated.
"Your problem is that you want all of your fortunes to say things like, ‘You are soon to meet a beautiful woman,’ or ‘You are soon to become a wealthy man.’”
"And what's wrong with that?"
A.J. picked up his fortune cookie and took the paper out of it. "You're a shallow man, Richard Simon."
"I am not shallow! "I just prefer the simple things in life, that's all. A good football game on TV, cold beer, a country song, and a halfway decent fortune in my fortune cookie."
A.J. didn't reply to his brother, but instead laughed at the words printed on the small piece of paper he held in his hand.
"What? What's yours say?"
A.J. smiled. "Oh, nothing."
Rick leaned forward in his chair. "A.J., come on. What's it say?"
"You'll never believe me."
"Yes, I will. Come on, tell me."
With a chuckle in his voice, A.J. read, "You will soon meet a wealthy, beautiful woman with whom you will have a long term relationship."
"It doesn't say that," Rick scoffed. "Quit goofin’ around."
A.J. stood and walked to Rick's desk. He dropped the open slip of paper into his brother's outstretched palm. "See for yourself."
Rick read the paper. The only thing he said to A.J. in regards to it was a disgruntled, "I think they got our cookies mixed up at that place. I think you got my fortune."
"No, no, no." A.J. snatched the paper away from Rick and put it in his shirt pocket. "I'm certain this is my fortune. I intend to keep my eyes open all day looking for the gorgeous woman with the big bank account."
"Great,” Rick grumbled. “So all I end up with is ‘you are soon to face a challenge.’" Rick grumbled.
"Look at the bright side, Rick. Maybe the challenge you are soon to face involves being nice to your brother and his beautiful, wealthy, sexy young wife."
"Keep dreamin,’" Rick snickered. "Besides, your fortune never said anything about this woman being young and sexy."
"It said beautiful, so that means young and sexy, too."
"I think you're taking liberties with your fortune there, pal," Rick commented as he rose while changing the subject. "I suppose we’d better get goin’, huh?"
"Yeah," A.J. agreed as he walked over to flip the answering machine on. "I hate serving subpoenas."
"Ah, A. J., where's your sense of adventure?"
"It left me five years and multiple black eyes ago. Every time we serve one of these damn things I either get punched, or the guy takes off and I have to chase him over a succession of back yard fences."
"At least you're prepared for it today," Rick commented as he looked over A.J.'s casual dress of red polo shirt, blue jeans, and New Balance running shoes.
A.J. headed for the door. "I'm never prepared for it."
"You know, little brother, I think Father Time is creepin’ up on you. You never used to talk like this." Before A.J. could make a snappy retort, Rick added, "Speaking of Father Time, why are you limping?"
"You are, too."
"No, I'm not."
"A.J., I'm walkin’ right behind you and you're limping.” Rick shut and locked the office door. “You might be gettin' so old that your eyesight's goin’, but mine's fine. You're limping. Why?"
A.J. continued his progress toward the elevator while favoring his left leg. "It's nothing. My leg's asleep, that's all."
"Oh," Rick replied. "Well, you'd better wake it up before you have to give chase this afternoon."
A.J. closed the elevator gate while emphasizing, "I’m not chasing anyone this afternoon, Rick. I'll be perfectly content to lean against the car and watch you give chase."
As the elevator began its decent Rick's prediction of, "It'll never happen, A.J.," echoed in the shaft.
At one-thirty that afternoon, the Simons stood outside a massive brick home in a ritzy neighborhood, ringing the doorbell. Rick and A.J. exchanged amused glances as the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony sounded. The music ended when a small, lean brunette man of about thirty answered the door.
"Adam Burke?" A.J. inquired of the man he knew to be a successful jockey.
"Yes? What can I do for you?"
Before anymore could be said, the man caught sight of the folded up court document A.J. had pulled from his back pocket. Just as A.J. was about to say the formal words of "Adam Burke, you've been served," the jockey gave the blond a mighty shove, then fled across the front lawn and down the sidewalk.
A.J. was already pushing himself up off his butt by the time Rick got to his side to offer assistance.
"I told you I hate serving subpoenas," A.J. growled as both brothers took to the chase. A.J. was four steps ahead of Rick, but remained six steps behind Adam Burke as the three men ran through the neighborhood.
At least this time I don't have to scale any fences with junkyard dogs awaiting me on the other side, the blond detective thought as he hurtled a tricycle, Rick following at his heels. Four Big Wheels, three red wagons, two scooters, and one small poodle later, A.J. was almost close enough to reach out and touch the object of his chase.
Just as the blond extended his right hand in an effort to snare Adam Burke's shirt collar, A.J.'s left leg went out from underneath him. He tumbled head over heels, landing on his face in the grass.
Before Rick could stop himself, he fell over the top of his prone brother. The toe of Rick’s right cowboy boot caught A.J. hard in the ribs. Rick heard A.J.'s, "Oooomph!" as the breath was knocked out of the blond. Rick ended up sprawled face down beside his brother in some stranger’s front yard.
The oldest Simon recovered first. He pushed himself to his hands and knees while scanning the area for Adam Burke. It didn't come as a surprise to Rick that the man was long gone. Rick then turned to find his sibling still lying on his stomach.
Rick crouched by his brother’s side. "A.J., you okay?"
A.J. groaned as he slowly rolled over while clutching his ribs. “Yeah...yeah, I’m okay.”
"I didn't break one of your ribs, did I?"
“No...no. I’m fine.”
"Are you sure?"
A.J. grimaced and nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure."
"Okay. Then are you ready to get up before the old lady that's starin' at us out her living room window calls the cops?"
A.J. cocked his head enough to see an elderly lady was giving the Simon brothers the evil eye from behind the safety of a bay window. Not wanting any further trouble, A.J. used his palms to push himself to a sitting position. Without asking, Rick grasped his brother beneath the left armpit and pulled A.J. to his feet.
Rick tightened his hold to keep them both from falling again as A.J. 's left leg went out from underneath him like limp spaghetti.
"Nothing," A.J. answered, trying once again to put weight on the leg.
Rick kept a firm grip on A.J.’s arm. "Are you sure you didn't hurt it when you fell?"
A.J. didn’t to reveal to Rick that he fell in the first place because of the leg - because it had suddenly felt as loose and flexible as a piece of worn-out elastic.
"No, I didn't hurt it. It's fine."
To emphasize that fact, A.J. pulled away from Rick once he was certain that he wasn't going to all again.
“Wasn't that the same leg you were limpin’ on an hour ago?"
A.J. hesitated before admitting, "Yes."
"What's the problem with it?"
"I...I hurt it running a few weeks ago. Twisted the knee, or pulled a muscle, or something. Don't worry about it."
"Maybe you should make an appointment with Joel and have him look at it."
"It's fine," A.J. replied. "Come on, let's go before Tokyo Rose in there sends out an all points bulletin to the neighborhood watch brigade. Besides which, we need to hunt down the jockey who runs almost as fast as the horses he rides."
Rick followed behind his brother and took note that A.J. had a hand pressed to the small of his back.
"Forget him,” Rick dismissed. “We'll catch up with him tomorrow."
The hand dropped as A.J. turned. "I don't want to forget him, Rick. We're only being paid a hundred bucks to deliver this stupid thing. I don't want it to turn into a two day job."
"Okay, have it your way," Rick conceded after he was satisfied that A.J. was walking normally again, and showing no ill effects from the recent fall.
Within minutes the incident was pushed to the back of Rick's mind as he was forced to increase his pace in order to keep up with his brother. When A.J. spotted Adam Burke bent over and catching his breath on the next block, he took off running.
The jockey didn’t have the energy to flee the detectives this time. He held out his hand and accepted the subpoena with an air of resignation.
A.J. patted the man on the arm. “Have a nice day.” He turned and joined his brother on the sidewalk, the two detectives jogging the rest of the way to the Camaro.
At eleven o'clock on Saturday morning, A.J. was in his mother's kitchen. The detective had removed his tennis shoes and was standing with one foot resting on the Formica counter top by the edge of the sink, while the other foot rested on the top step of a four step utility ladder.
The light over Cecilia's sink had stopped working one evening several weeks earlier. At first the woman had thought that the bulb had burned out, so using the same ladder A.J. was now standing on, she changed it. When she flipped on the light switch and still had no light, however, Cecilia knew there was more wrong than she could fix. Thus, the reason A.J. was helping her today.
A.J. had already been to the basement and shut off the electricity to this part of the house. His mother stood on the floor by his side, handing up items from the toolbox as he requested them.
"I'm sorry I didn't get over here sooner, Mom. How long ago did you say it quit working?"
"Oh, about three weeks ago."
"You should have reminded me or Rick that you needed one of us to take a look at it. I forgot all about it after you left the office that day. The only reason I thought of it was because the light bulb over my sink at home burned out on Thursday night."
"Don't worry about it, honey," Cecilia assured. "If it had been that important I would have called you or your brother. I was planning to stop by the office on Monday just to remind both of you that I still needed help. I figured if I offered to feed Rick, I'd get him here sooner or later."
A.J. chuckled as he studied the wires he held in his left hand. “That usually works.”
"Mom, hand me the pliers, please." A.J. held his right hand down toward Cecilia. "No, not those. The needle nose ones with the yellow handle."
A.J. and his mother carried on a continuous stream of conversation while he worked. The only time that pattern was broken was when A.J. would ask for a tool and Cecilia would hand it to him.
The yellow ruffled curtains that hung at the open kitchen window over the sink once again billowed around A.J.'s legs with the summer breeze.
“Do you need me to take those curtains down?”
"No, they're okay." A.J. studied the problem at hand. "I'm almost done here anyway. Within a couple of minutes you should have a working light again. Can you hand me the small, straight head screwdriver?"
"Sure can," Cecilia replied, her head already bent over the toolbox that was sitting on the counter in front of her.
The woman had no idea what was happening when the ladder pushed against her leg. She looked up o see A.J. toppling backwards off the countertop.
Cecilia's youngest landed with a heavy, ‘Thud!’ on the hardwood floor, while the ladder hit the stove with three successive clatters on its way down.
A.J. was sprawled on his back, his blue eyes wide open with surprise, shock, and pain.
Cecilia knelt by her son. "A.J., are you all right?"
It took A.J. a few seconds before he managed to get out, "Yeah... yeah, I'm okay, Mom." To prove that point A.J. began pushing himself to a sitting position.
Cecilia stopped that action with a firm hand to the center of A.J.'s chest. "Don't you move," she ordered. "I want you to lie there until we know nothing's broken. I’m going to call for an ambulance."
"Mom, nothing's broken," A. J. said with a hint of exasperation. "And don't call for an ambulance. There's nothing wrong with me."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure," A.J. reiterated from his position on the floor, then teased lightly, "All that's being accomplished by me lying here like this, is that the headache I have is getting worse."
"What do you mean?"
A.J. turned his head slightly while reaching up to finger a tender lump on the back of his skull. "You've got me lying on a rather painful bump."
Cecilia helped her son to a sitting position, then urged him to turn so he could lean back against the kitchen cabinets. "Let me see that," she ordered while gently, but firmly pushing A.J.'s head forward.
With his chin tucked into his neck, A.J. protested, "Mom, it's okay."
Cecilia parted the thick blond hair on the back of her son's head and probed the discolored lump. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
Cecilia rose, heading for the refrigerator. "I'll make an ice pack for that."
A.J. began to rise, too, only to be told, "You stay put."
"Can I at least sit in a chair?"
"All right," Cecilia consented as she got an ice pack out of a drawer, and then began filling it with ice cubes from the freezer. Because her back was to him, Cecilia didn't notice A.J. lean on the counter top for a moment while he waited to see if his numb legs would hold him up.
By the time Cecilia turned around to make sure her son could get to a chair by himself, A.J. was already seated.
"Hey, that's cold!" the blond cried when the ice pack was held against the back of his head.
"It's supposed to be cold, A.J.," Cecilia stated dryly.
The detective reached up to hold the pack in place for himself. "Mom, this isn't necessary. It's just a little bump."
"A big bump," Cecilia corrected as she took a seat next to her son.
"Whatever. It's not necessary. I'm fine. I already told you that."
"Just sit here for a few minutes with that ice - if not for yourself, then for your mother's peace of mind."
A.J. couldn't protest that request, especially when he recalled the look of fear that had been on his mother's face when she had first knelt beside him after the fall.
"All right, I'll sit here for a few minutes. Then we're going to finish that light."
"No, that’s not necessary. It can wait for another day."
A.J. held his ground. "Mom, I'm fine. Really. I'm almost done with the light. I might as well finish it while I’m here.”
Cecilia had no doubt this was one round she wasn't going to win. Changing the subject before their disagreement went any further, she asked, "How'd you fall?"
"I... my foot slipped, I think. The one I had on the counter top. I think I...moved or something to get at that bad wire, and my sock slipped on the edge there between the counter top and the stainless steel lip of the sink."
Cecilia accepted this explanation without further question. Twenty minutes and two aspirin later, A.J. was finishing up the project he had been working on prior to the fall. Cecilia stood close to her son the entire time, holding firmly to the ladder while never taking her eyes off A.J. until he climbed down for good.
Before A.J. went home that day, Cecilia once again had a working light above her sink. She talked her son into having lunch with her, so the two shared fruit salad, ham sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade out on the patio.
A.J. left shortly after that, though not before assuring his mother one last time that he was fine.
Cecilia kissed her son on the cheek, thanked him for his help, and watched him drive off in his Camaro. When A.J.'s car was out of sight, Cecilia went back into her house. She pulled a notebook and pencil out of a kitchen drawer, sat at the table, and began making a list of things she needed to do for the upcoming San Diego Women's Club Ball.
Cecilia looked up from her list thirty minutes later upon hearing an insistent ‘rap, rap, rap,’ on the kitchen storm door.
The woman greeted her oldest with a smile while walking over to unlatch the door.
"Hi, Mom," Rick responded as he entered the kitchen.
"To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
Rick bent, kissing his mother's cheek. "Oh, just my desire to gaze upon a beautiful woman...and get her new recipe for spaghetti sauce."
"Hot date tonight, dear?" Cecilia asked knowingly as she walked over to pour two cups of coffee.
Rick followed his mother, accepted the cup she handed him with a "Thanks," then leaned against the counter while sipping at the hot liquid. When Rick spoke again, it was in answer to his mother’s question.
"Yeah, Nancy's comin' over. And you know what they say about women and Italian food."
Cecilia feigned innocence. "No, I don't. What is it they say?"
"Well, uh, well...you know, Mom, Italian food's supposed to be romantic. It's...uh...supposed to set the mood."
"The mood for what?"
Cecilia laughed at her son, who was blushing like a sixteen year old. "Never mind, Rick. I get the picture."
Cecilia opened a cabinet and pulled out her recipe box. She flipped through the index cards it contained until she’d found the one she wanted.
"I'm glad I tried this recipe on you boys last week. I found it in the food section of the paper some time ago."
"It was great. Even A. J. raved about it the next day at work."
"Well then, we know a recipe is a hit if A. J. raves about it."
Thinking of how finicky his brother could be, especially when it came to food, Rick agreed. "That's for sure. That's how I know it's worth tryin’ out on Nancy tonight. "
Rick took notice of the red toolbox that was still sitting on the counter top. He gestured toward the box with his right index finger.
"Do you have a problem you need help with, Mom?"
Cecilia glanced in the direction Rick was pointing. "Oh...no. I guess I got so busy on my Women's Club project that I forgot to put that away."
"What were you using it for?"
"A.J. stopped by this morning to fix the light above my sink." Cecilia handed Rick the requested recipe card, then turned to put the box it had come out of back in the cabinet.
“Sorry. I forgot all about your light."
"As I told your brother this morning, Rick, don't worry about it. If it was that important, I would have been nagging one of you boys to stop by here."
Rick took another drink of coffee, then asked, "So what was the problem?"
"A faulty wire. "
"And A.J. got it fixed for you?"
"Yes, he said there wasn't much to it. With the exception of the time we took out when he fell, he probably had it done in all of thirty minutes."
"Whoa. Wait a minute.” Rick set his coffee cup on the counter. “Back up. What do you mean, when he fell?"
Cecilia's muffled answer came from within the kitchen utility closet where she was putting the toolbox back on a shelf. "He fell off the counter top while he was fixing the light."
"Did he hurt himself?"
"No, not really. He gave his head a good whack against
the kitchen floor, but other than a slight headache, which two aspirin cured, he was fine. To be honest with you, the whole thing scared me more than it did him."
"I can imagine," Rick sympathized. "How did it happen? I mean, how did he fall?"
Cecilia shut the door to the closet, and then crossed to the table and sat down. "He had one foot one the counter top there by the sink, and the other one on the top step of my utility ladder. He had taken his shoes off before getting on the counter, so I assume his sock slipped on the Formica."
With suspicion in his tone, Rick asked, "Did you see it happen?"
"Well...no, no, I didn't. My head was down. I was looking through the toolbox trying to find a screwdriver for A.J. Why?"
"Then how do you know he slipped?"
"Because he told me that's what happened. Rick, what's wrong? What's going on?"
"Mom, was A. J. limping when he was here today?"
"Not that I noticed. I'm sure he wasn't. Why?"
"Well, on Thursday I noticed that he was limping pretty badly on his left leg. Not all day or anything, just for a while. Then later, when we went to serve a subpoena, the guy took off on us so we had to chase him. A.J. almost had the guy when he fell."
"A.J.?" Cecilia asked for clarification.
"Yeah. He fell face down into some lady's front lawn. I ended up falling on top of him."
"Did he trip over something?"
"No, not that I saw, or that he mentioned. Then when I helped A.J. get to his feet, his left leg went out from underneath him. If I hadn't been hangin' on to his arm, he woulda' fallen again."
"Did he say why that happened?"
“He said he thought he twisted his knee, or maybe pulled a muscle, when he was running a few weeks back."
Cecilia's concern receded considerably at Rick's explanation.
"Oh, well then he should have Joel looked at it if it's giving him trouble. But I don't think that's what happened today, honey. I think A.J. just slipped like he said. He wasn't favoring his leg at all, and he didn't say anything to me about it bothering him."
After a moment of further thought, Rick agreed, "Yeah, you're probably right. If the leg had been bothering him, or had caused the fall, you would have noticed it."
The last thing that was said concerning the subject was Cecilia's, "If your brother complains about that leg again, or favors it in any way, you tell him to make a doctor's appointment."
Rick chuckled at that order. "Mom, you should know by now that nobody tells A.J. Simon to do something he doesn't want to."
Cecilia reluctantly agreed. "He's just like your father in that respect. But ‘nobody’ has ever included Andrew's mother, so you can tell him for me that if he continues to be bothered by that leg and doesn't go see Joel, I will personally haul him there by his ear."
Rick chuckled again as he bent and kissed his mother goodbye.
"That may be the only way he'll go, Mom. You're too tough for both of us. Thanks for the recipe."
"You're welcome. Have a fun night."
Rick waggled his eyebrows. "I hope to," he smiled evilly, then with a final goodbye walked out the door.
Only minutes after Rick's departure, Cecilia was engrossed once again in the papers she had spread across her kitchen table. The conversation she had just had with her eldest regarding A.J.’s recent tumbles receded to the back of her mind.
The persistent ringing of the telephone woke Rick out of a sound sleep early on Sunday morning. The detective's brain was shrouded with fatigue as he rolled on his side to pick up the phone. With that motion, Rick took note that the clock on the bedside table read one twenty-two a.m.
This better not be a wrong number, and it better be important.
“This is Dianna. I'm really sorry to bother you at this hour
For as tired as he was, the oddity of this phone call registered immediately with the balding man. A.J.'s girlfriend didn't normally call Rick - and especially not in the middle of the night.
"Dianna, what's wrong?” Rick raised himself on his right elbow. “What's happened to A.--"
“Nothing's happened, Rick,” Dianna assured the upset man. “Well, at least I don't think anything's happened."
By this time the buxom brunette who was sharing Rick's bed was awake. As she sat up inquiring, "Rick?" he silenced her with a wave of his hand.
Rick returned his attention to the phone. "Whatta ya’ mean you don't think anything's wrong? What's goin’ on, Di?"
"Now that I've got you on the line I feel silly," the woman apologized. "A.J. will probably kill me for doing this, but...well, I think it's important that you stop by his place in the morning just to make sure he's okay."
"What do you mean?" Rick asked again. "What's happened?"
"A.J. and I went to a play tonight, and then had a late supper. We were walking out of the restaurant about an hour or so ago, headed for A.J.'s car, when he fell."
"Fell? Did he trip over something?"
"No. It was like his legs just went out from underneath him. That's the only way I can describe it, Rick. He tried to get back up, but he couldn't. I wanted to go get someone from the restaurant to help him, but A.J. wouldn't let me."
"That figures," Rick commented more to himself than to the woman on the other end of the phone. "How did he get back up?"
"After a couple of minutes had passed, he was finally able to stand with my help. I don't know exactly what was going on, Rick, but I could tell that A.J. was feeling pain from somewhere every time he tried to push himself to his feet. Each time he tried to use his hands to push his weight up, he'd grimace. When I asked him if he was hurting, he just kept saying, no, that he was okay. But I know he was lying to me."
Rick was assimilating all that Dianna had just told him as he said, "Thanks for calling, darlin’. I'll head over to his house right now."
The relief that Dianna felt at those words was evident in her voice. "Thank you, Rick. I tried to get A.J. to stay at my place tonight, or get him to let me stay at his, but you know how A.J. can be when his pride is at stake. I'm just concerned that if he falls again tonight and he's alone, he won't be able to get back up."
"You did the right thing, Di," Rick assured. "I appreciate the call."
"I probably wouldn't have called you, if it weren't for the other times this has happened recently."
“Other times? What other times?"
"A.J. hasn't told you?"
Rick sighed with disgust and worry. "No, he hasn't said a damn thing about it. How many other times has this happened that you know of?"
"Two. A couple of weeks ago at my house, A.J.’s left leg seemed to go out from underneath him while he was helping me make supper. If he hadn't grabbed on to the counter top he would have ended up on the floor. Then last Monday night when I was at his house, he fell down the stairs. When I asked him what had happened, he said he tripped. But now I doubt that was the truth. And now that I think back, Rick, it was three weeks ago that A.J. and I went to the outdoor art exhibit at the beach. He was limping that day, and before we were halfway through he could hardly walk on his left leg. We had to stop and sit down for a while.”
"Did he tell you what was wrong?"
"He just said his leg was asleep."
"All right. Thanks, Di. Like I said, I'm gonna head over to his place right now."
"I suppose if he's asleep he'll be pretty mad at both of us," Dianna said with a note of dry humor.
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart. I'll smooth things over with him. There's nothing wrong with the people who care about A.J. bein' concerned for his health - whether he likes it or not." Rick chuckled as he added, "Besides, I've had lots of practice at getting’ in and out of my brother's house in the middle of the night without wakin’ him."
It was Dianna's turn to chuckle. "So I've heard, Rick. So I've heard."
The two hung up with a final, "Thanks, nswer’,” from Rick, and his promise that he would call Dianna later in the day to let her know what had transpired.
Rick’s steady girlfriend of one year asked with concern, “What was that all about? What did Dianna want? What’s this about A.J. having fallen? Is he okay?”
Rick smiled at the woman’s rapid-fire questions, appreciating her worry for his brother. For now, he said simply, “I’ll explain later. It’s kind of a long story.”
Rick turned the bedside lamp on and stood. He rummaged through his closet for jeans and a shirt.
“I’m gonna go over to A.J.’s for a while. I should be back in a couple of hours, if not sooner.”
Nancy nodded her consent. “If you need me for any reason, call.”
Rick smiled as he finished dressing, then leaned on the bed and gave the woman a long, meaningful kiss. “What I need you for can’t be done over the phone.”
“If I didn’t know you better, Richard Simon, I’d think you were a sexist pig,” Nancy teased.
“I’ve been accused of that a time or two,” Rick admitted with a laugh as he tucked his shirttails in his pants.
Nancy lay back down, curling into a comfortable ball underneath the sheet and light blanket. She yawned while saying, “Drive carefully.”
“I will,” Rick promised as he switched off the bedside lamp before exiting the room.
Rick wasn’t able to get out of his home without his golden retriever awakening at all the commotion. As the dog danced around Rick’s feet barking, the detective admonished, “Quiet, Rex. You’ll wake the whole marina.”
When the dog ran to the sliding doors, Rick knew he had no choice but to take him along. Rex had gotten too used to being included on late night stakeouts.
“Okay, come on then,” Rick invited, opening the door and allowing the dog to run out.
Rick grabbed his cowboy hat from the rack in the corner and put it on. He stepped onto the deck, and then slid the door shut behind him. He pulled on it twice to make sure it had locked securely before following his dog to the parking lot.
A.J. was soaking in his whirlpool tub with his eyes closed. His head rested wearily against the fiberglass lip where the tub met the raised tile ledge that was built around it.
A.J.’s eyes flew open when a large, slobbery tongue licked the right side of his face.
“Ah!” the blond yelped as water splashed from the tub at his startled movement. A.J.’s heart was still racing when he caught sight of Rex, and then of Rick, who was leaning against the bathroom doorway.
“Rick! What are you doing here? You scared the hell out of—“
Rick was too busy laughing at what had just transpired to pay any attention to A.J.’s outrage.
“Stop laughing,” A. J. ordered as his brother came to sit on the navy and white checkerboard patterned ledge.
Seeing that they were going to be here a while prompted Rex to settle in the middle of the bathroom carpet. He curled into a ball and closed his eyes. From A.J.’s vantage point, he too discerned that Rick and his dog seemed intent on paying him a prolonged visit.
“Rick, I repeat, what are you doing here?”
Rick quit laughing. Without further ceremony, he replied with, “Dianna called.”
“Oh, great,” A. J. muttered.
“Now don’t go gettin’ mad at Di, A.J. She’s just worried, that’s all.”
“She doesn’t need to be.”
Rick raised a skeptical eyebrow. “She doesn’t? Then how come you’re soakin’ in this tub at two in the morning?”
“Because it’s my tub and I want to.”
“Oh, geez, you can do better than that.”
“Rick...” A.J.’s tone left no doubt of the warning behind it. A warning Rick chose to ignore.
“A.J., you’re so tired that your eyes are bloodshot, which leads me to believe that you’d rather be sleepin’ instead of doin’ what you’re doin.’ Not to mention the fact that you never heard me and Rex come in. And you’ve got those jets goin’ full blast. It looks like a tidal wave in there.”
When A.J. chose not to answer his brother, but instead stared at the bubbling water that surrounded him, Rick came right to the point.
“What’s goin’ on, A.J.?”
Still no answer.
“Look, I know about the times you’ve fallen when Dianna’s been around, and I know you fell today at Mom’s, and—”
A.J. glared at his brother. “You and Mom been comparing notes?”
“I don’t like you when you’re over-tired,” came Rick’s candid response in reference to A.J.’s sarcastic tone. “And no, Mom and I haven’t been comparing notes. I stopped by her house this afternoon and she mentioned that you had been there earlier fixing her light. That’s when she said something about you having fallen.”
When A.J. chose not to respond once again, Rick began to lose his temper. “Look, A.J., I didn’t haul my butt outta bed at one-thirty in the morning just to come over here and watch your skin wrinkle. Believe me, I had a better offer at home. “
A.J. couldn’t help but smile. “Nancy?”
“Yeah Nancy, but that’s beside the point. I wanna know what’s goin’ on with that leg of yours, and I wanna know how long it’s been goin’ on. And you’d better start talking, ‘cause I’m tired, and rapidly losing my normally pleasant nature.”
A.J. knew the time had come for the truth whether he wanted to face it or not, or whether he wanted to share it with Rick or not. No longer were the excuses, “I tripped,” or “I slipped,” or “I pulled a muscle running,” going to fool his brother...or himself. After a long pause, the blond man confessed hesitantly, “It’s not just my left leg anymore...it’s...it’s both legs now.”
Rick accepted that news with a calmness he didn’t feel inside. “What’s happening?”
A.J. leaned his head back against the tub once again so he was looking up at his seated brother...or at the ceiling, depending on where he chose to focus his eyes. At this point he chose the ceiling.
“Without any warning, I suddenly get that pins and needles feeling you associate with your legs going to sleep. Then they feel weak, and numb, then just...go out from underneath me, before I realize it’s going to happen.”
“How long has this been going on?”
A.J. knew what Rick’s reaction would be to his answer, so hesitated before finally admitting, “About two months.”
“Two months! A.J., damn it—”
A.J. attempted to pacify his brother. “I didn’t think too much of it when it first started. I really did think I’d pulled a muscle or something. At first it wasn’t causing me to fall or anything, and it was just my left leg. It’s only been in the last couple of days that it’s started in both legs.”
“How many other times have you fallen that I don’t know about?” Rick probed.
Um...the other day, Tuesday, at the office when you were gone mailing that package. Then once or twice here at the house this week.”
“A.J., you gotta go see a doctor whether you want to or not. Something’s not right here.”
Rick was surprised to hear his brother so readily agree.
“I know. I’ll call for an appointment on Monday.”
“Yes, first thing.” A.J. stopped there for a moment, then went on to reveal, “It’s starting in my arms and hands, too.”
“This morning when I was lifting weights my arms suddenly felt tingly, then went numb. I could feel it in my shoulders as well. At the same time I got this shooting pain from my back to my arms.”
“Did the pain happen again tonight when you were with Di? When you fell, I mean? She said something to me about it.”
“Yes. Every time I tried to push myself up off the ground with my hands, I’d get a sharp pain shooting up my spine.”
Rick did an excellent job of hiding the worry his brother’s confession evoked. All he said for the time being was, “You make that doctor’s appointment on Monday before you do anything else.”
“Good. Now get outta that tub and get to bed,” Rick ordered while standing and retrieving a large navy blue bath towel that A.J. had draped on the ledge.
A.J. resented being ordered to bed as if he were six years old, and didn’t hesitate to share that fact with his brother.
“I’m not ready to get out of this tub. The tub I paid for. The tub in my house. The house I pay the mortgage on. You just go on and go home.”
“A.J., I ain’t goin’ home until I know you’ve gotten out of this tub safely.”
Rick’s voice rose a decibel or two.
“Look, that tub’s deep, it’s slippery, and you’ve been fallin’ without warning for two weeks now. I’m not goin’ home until you get out of there, but I’ll warn ya’, I’m tired and I’m more than ready to call it a night, so get out, or I’ll help you out.”
There was no mistaking the fact that Rick was not making an idle threat.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” A. J. mumbled as he rose, angrily snatched the towel from Rick’s hand, and wrapped it firmly around his hips. “Once in a while I’d like to soak naked in my own tub without you coming along at the oddest times just to make conversation. I thought when you moved to the marina I’d finally have my privacy back, but no, who comes waltzing into my bathroom at all hours of the day or night like he owns the place. And brings his dog along besides. Gee, Rick, I’m surprised you didn’t bring Nancy, too. I’m sure she would have enjoyed the show.”
Rick had to hide the smile of amusement at this typical A.J. Simon not-so-serious ranting and raving session. “Ah, if Nancy woulda’ seen you naked, A.J., it woulda’ only served to prove to her that she got the better Simon brother.”
A.J. shot his brother a dirty look while brushing aside the hand Rick offered him in an effort to help him out of the tub. Once he was on solid ground the blond grumbled, “Are you happy now?”
“Yes, I’m happy. Thank you.”
A.J. padded into his bedroom, opened a dresser drawer and pulled out a pair of pajama bottoms. “You can go now, unless you’re planning on tucking me in.”
“Nope, wasn’t plannin’ on doing that. See, you shoulda’ let Dianna come home with you tonight, then you wouldn’t have had to put up with me.”
“Good point,” A. J. agreed.
Satisfied that A.J. was on his way to bed, Rick called for his dog. “Come on, Rex. Let’s go,” then to his brother said, “I’ll stop by sometime later this morning, maybe around eleven or so.”
From where he stood pulling the bedcovers back, A.J. replied, “Rick, you don’t have to do that.”
All Rick said in return was to repeat firmly, “I’ll stop by sometime later this morning.”
Knowing there was no use to argue, A.J. said no more.
“Good night,” Rick tossed over his shoulder as he headed out of the bedroom doorway.
“Good night,” A.J. returned, then added after a moment, “Thanks, Rick. For stopping by and everything, even if you did ruin a perfectly good soak.”
A.J. heard Rick’s soft chuckle from the stairway. “You’re welcome,” was all Rick said in return.
The kitchen door was shut and locked by Rick, then A.J. heard his brother’s truck engine come to life.
The blond man remained awake a long time that night. He stared up at the ceiling with a multitude of troubling thoughts running through his head.
Unbeknownst to A.J., his older brother was plagued by insomnia too, and by troubling thoughts, as Rick lay awake in his bed on the houseboat.
Promptly at nine o’clock on Monday morning, with Rick listening from where he sat at his own desk, A.J. made the promised phone call to their physician.
A.J.’s appointment was scheduled for ten a.m. on Thursday morning. In between Monday and Thursday, A.J. fell two more times. One time Rick was aware of because it happened at the office, and one time he wasn’t aware of because it happened at home and A.J. chose not to mention it to his brother.
By noon on Thursday, Rick Simon was glancing at the office clock every five minutes as he waited for A.J. to return from his doctor’s visit. When the phone rang at one o’clock, Rick snared it on the first ring. “Simon and Si—”
“Rick, it’s me,” A.J.’s voice interrupted.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at a neurologist’s office across town. As soon as
he can squeeze me in, I’ll be seeing him.”
“A neurologist? Why? What happened? What did Joel say?”
Joel was Doctor Joel Lankey, the physician Rick and A.J. had begun using six years earlier when their family doctor of many years had retired. They had known Doctor Lankey prior to becoming his patients because they had done a variety of work for the large clinic he was a part of, which accounted for why they were on a first name basis with him.
When A.J. hesitated in answering, Rick repeated, “What did he say, A.J.?”
“He...he didn’t really say anything, except that he felt I needed to see a specialist, and that he felt it was urgent. He made a call to this doctor I’m waiting to see, and made arrangements for me to get in as soon as possible.”
“Where are you? I’ll come over there and wait with you. “
“No, Rick. No...don’t. I’m forty-five minutes away from the office, and with the construction that’s going on downtown it will take you over an hour to get here. Besides, Cheryl Kratz is due at the office at two-thirty, remember? One of us has to be there to go over her case with her.”
“It’s not that important. I can get a hold of her by phone and cancel, or put a note on the door if I have to. I’ll leave in just a few minutes.”
“Rick, don’t...please. I don’t want you to. I might even be done by the time you get here. Besides which, Cheryl is paying us good money. I don’t want to risk getting her mad, and then find out she hired another detective agency.”
A.J. didn’t go on to say what he was also thinking - that if he had a serious medical problem, they were going to need Cheryl’s money more than they might imagine at the present time.
Rick reluctantly respected A.J.’s wishes. “All right, if that’s the way you want it. But I’ll be waitin’ here for you. If anything changes...if the guy wants you in the hospital or something, or if you just want me there, call.”
“I will,” A.J. promised.
“Okay, take care,” Rick responded for lack of knowing what else to say.
“I will,” A.J. promised again. Then added, “Don’t worry,” right before hanging up.
Rick waited at the office until six for his brother to return. At five forty-five he had called his mother to inquire if A.J. was at her home.
When Cecilia replied, “No, he’s not,” then chuckled and asked, “What’s the matter, honey, did you lose your brother?” Rick knew A.J. had not yet told her of all that had transpired since Saturday evening. Because of that, Rick didn’t spill the beans either.
“Yeah, Mom, I guess I kinda did. He was runnin’ some errands this afternoon and I’m waitin’ for him to get back so we can discuss a case. He must have gotten tied up with Abby or something. Thanks anyway.”
“You’re welcome. If he stops by here I’ll tell him you called.”
“Uh...yeah, do that please. I’ll be leavin’ the office in a few minutes, so have him give me a call at home.”
“Okay, I will. Goodbye.”
Rick then tried calling Doctor Lankey’s office. Given the time of day, it didn’t surprise Rick when a recorded voice gave him the number of Joel’s answering service and advised him to call if this was an emergency. Rick hung up the phone while kicking himself mentally for not having gotten from A.J. the name of the neurologist he had been waiting to see. Not knowing what else to do, Rick left a note on A.J.’s desk instructing his brother to call him at home, then locked up and left the office.
On a whim, Rick stopped by his brother’s house on his way home. Even though there was no sign of life around it, no car in the driveway or welcoming light shining from the kitchen, he knocked on the door several times anyway. When there was no answer, Rick returned to his truck and headed for the marina.
Rick left three messages on his brother’s answering machine between seven and nine, and then when he hadn’t heard from A.J. by ten, decided to head out in his truck once again. Although he had no idea where to start looking, Rick decided to run by A.J.’s house first. This time there was a welcoming light coming from the kitchen, as well as one coming from the den.
Rick knocked, then heard a quiet, “Come in, Rick.”
A.J. was seated on the couch in the den with his feet propped up on the coffee table. No longer was he attired in dress slacks, white shirt, and a tie, but had evidently been home long enough to change into blue jeans and a burgundy pullover shirt.
“How come you didn’t return my calls?” was the first thing Rick asked as he sat in a chair next to the couch, while at the same time throwing his cowboy hat on the floor beside him.
“I was going to in a few minutes.”
Rick was already getting a feeling that something was wrong. A.J. sat staring straight ahead into the dining room with a starkness about his eyes that spoke of both fear and shock.
“How long have you been home?”
“About a half hour or so, I suppose.”
“You were at the doctor’s office all that time?”
“No. I was...I was done there around four.”
“Why didn’t you come back to the office then? You said you were goin’ to. I told you I’d be waiting.”
A.J. still wouldn’t look at his brother. “I...I know. I’m sorry. I went for a drive and lost track of the time.”
It was become increasingly obvious to Rick that A.J. was upset about something. Gently, he asked, “What is it, A.J.? What’d the guy tell you?”
A.J. moved to rest his forehead against his left hand. With his head bowed, and shading his eyes from Rick’s view, A.J. finally answered with, “He’s...he’s not sure. I mean I...I have to go for some tests at the hospital, but he thinks it could be...” A.J. faltered, then regained his composure. “He’s seen a lot of cases similar to mine and he thinks it’s...that it’s a strong possibility that it’s either...that it’s...that it could be either...that it’s—“
A.J. couldn’t seem to go on from there, and that scared Rick. He leaned forward in his chair. Reaching out a hand and laying it on his brother’s knee, he squeezed gently.
“What, A. J.? That it’s what?”
A.J. finally looked at Rick and met his brother’s gaze. He seemed to draw strength from that gaze as he was finally able to say, “Either multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
In shock, Rick released A.J.’s knee and sank back into the chair. “Oh my Lord,” he murmured. Never in his wildest dreams, did Rick expect to hear what he had just been told. For one brief, strange moment, his mind flashed back to his fortune cookie from a week earlier.
You are soon to face a challenge.
Upon first meeting Rick Simon, most people wouldn’t give him credit for being the well-read, well-informed man that he was. True, his taste in literature was nothing like his brother’s, and he rarely set foot in a library, but Rick enjoyed a good paperback western or mystery on a rainy day. He also subscribed to Reader’s Digest and several other periodicals because he liked the ease of reading a complete, informative article or piece of fiction in one twenty minute sitting. Because of those informative Reader’s Digest articles, and also due to the extensive health section in the San Diego Sunday Journal, Rick had a fairly good layman’s knowledge of multiple sclerosis. At least to the point that he knew its effects could range from mild and minor, all the way to total disablement.
That in itself was bad enough, but at least it held some hope. Lou Gehrig’s disease, on the other hand, scared the hell out of Rick. Like most American boys who grew up loving baseball and worshipping its greatest players, Rick was familiar with the disease that had forced a beloved man into retirement in the prime of his career, and ultimately killed him several years thereafter. And not before it had stripped the man of everything, impairing all bodily functions but leaving his mind intact. To Rick, that was the cruelness of the disease. That its victims were all too aware of what was happening to them, were all too aware that each day a little more of their independence was slipping away.
Rick didn’t even want to think about how they’d deal with such a thing...about how A.J. would deal with it, about how he and their mother would deal with it.
Rick cleared his throat, speaking past the tightness that suddenly constricted it. “When do you have to go to the hospital for the tests?”
“Monday morning. I have to be there at eight-thirty.”
“I’m going with you.”
A.J. nodded his head in agreement rather than arguing, which indicated to Rick how much his brother needed his support.
“Does Mom know about all of this?” Rick asked.
“No. I don’t want her to know just yet. You haven’t said anything to her, have you? About me going to the doctor or anything?”
“No. I called her earlier this evening looking for you, but I never let on as to why.”
Rick wondered if A.J. was making a wise decision concerning keeping their mother in the dark.
“A.J., I don’t know if we should keep something like this from Mom. I can talk to her if you want me to. I’ll tell--”
“No,” A.J. negated firmly. “Not yet. Saturday night is the annual Women’s Club Ball. You know how hard she’s been working to prepare for it. It’s their biggest fundraiser of the year. I don’t want her night to be ruined because of...all this. She asked me months ago to escort her. I know she’s really looking forward to it. She’s so proud of the fact that they’ve already sold more tickets to the Ball than ever before. It was her idea to donate all the proceeds to Children’s Hospital.”
Rick nodded reluctantly, knowing A.J.’s words were true. Knowing that this upcoming event meant a lot to their mother, especially since she had been the Club’s president this past year. Rick knew his mother had worked hard for the organization, and certainly deserved to bask in some glory on Saturday night.
“Okay, we’ll wait until after the Ball,” Rick agreed.
“No, after the tests.”
“After the tests,” A.J. reiterated. “They’ll all be done on Monday. I’ll be there as an outpatient, so there’s no reason for her to know anything until I have a definite answer. “
This explanation forced Rick to agree with his brother again, but yet he had no doubt that Cecilia Simon wouldn’t. “Okay, I’ll go along with you on this, but Heaven help both of us when Mom finds out.”
“Don’t worry about it. When the time comes, I’ll be the one to tell her. I’ll let her know you didn’t agree with me, and only went along because I asked you to. She won’t like it, but she’ll get over it.”
Rick wasn’t sure if he should ask what was on his mind next, but decided to anyway. “Do you want me to stay here tonight, or until Monday when we know more about what’s goin’ on?”
A.J. was far from ready to lose his independence yet, but wasn’t angry over Rick’s question either. He was well aware that it only came from love.
“No, I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, if you’re sure,” Rick conceded reluctantly. “Just make sure you’re doin’ what I asked you to.”
“I am,” A. J. confirmed in reference to the fact that Rick had insisted ever since Sunday, that A.J. carry the portable phone with him wherever he went in the house or yard. Rick gained some peace of mind knowing that at least if A.J. did fall, help would be only a phone call away.
“If you change your mind about wantin’ me here tonight, or if you just want to talk...no matter what time it is, call me. Please.”
“I will,” A.J. promised.
Before he got up to leave, Rick leaned forward in his chair. He rested a hand on top of A.J.’s and squeezed.
“A.J., I can’t tell you it’s all gonna be okay, because as much as I pray it will be, I can’t promise that. I wish like hell I could, but I can’t. No matter what happens though, I’ll be here for you.”
A.J. moved his hand so it was clasping Rick’s. He squeezed back while saying in a choked voice, “I know.”
After a minute Rick released A.J.’s hand and stood up. “I’d better get goin’ so you can get some rest. You know, we don’t need to open the office tomorrow. I can go by there in the afternoon to get the mail and check for messages. There’s not much goin’ on so--”
“No, I don’t want to do that. I...I need to keep busy.”
Rick decided not to argue that point because he knew it was probably true.
“I’ll see you in the morning then.”
A.J. followed his brother into the kitchen. He stopped Rick’s progress toward the door by hailing him with a quiet, “Rick.”
As Rick turned to face his brother, A.J. pulled the older man into a firm hug. A hug Rick reciprocated wholeheartedly without a moment’s hesitation.
When Rick finally spoke, he said, “I can’t promise you anything else other than I’ll be here for you, A.J. Every step of the way, I’ll be here. Whatever this thing is, whatever you need in the way of help, I’ll be here to see it through with you. Every day and every night if I have to be. You won’t go through this alone, I promise you that.”
The strong love and appreciation A.J. had for his older brother at that moment came through clearly as he increased the strength of his hug. No words were necessary, nor could A.J. have found the right words had he been forced to.
When the two men finally broke apart there was no embarrassment on either of their parts for the feelings that had so openly been displayed.
With a final, “Bye,” and “Call me if you need me,” Rick walked out into the night.
A.J. stood in the kitchen for a long time after Rick left. Although he hadn’t mentioned it to his brother, A.J.’s afternoon and early evening hadn’t been spent entirely in the car. A good portion of it had been spent at the library where he had read several of the most recent medical findings pertaining to multiple sclerosis and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Like Rick, A.J. was left with some hope regarding M.S. Although it could be physically devastating, many of its victims were able to lead normal lives with periods of long remissions. Flare-ups of the disease could be no more serious than what A.J. was presently dealing with. It would take some adjustment, but A.J. knew he could learn to live with that.
A.L.S. was another story, however. A story that at this point had no happy ending. A.J. knew if that was the diagnosis he faced eventual loss of use of his limbs, impotence, bladder and bowel control, and the ability to speak. It would be a continual downhill slide until the disease, after taking everything else from him, finally took his life in as little as three years time.
If that’s the diagnosis I might as well put a gun to my head and end it all right now. I don’t know if I can live that way. I don’t know if I can face that. I don’t know if I can put Mom and Rick through that.
At that moment A.J. almost picked up the phone and called his brother. Almost picked up the phone and said, “I need you. I’m scared and I need to talk to you. I need you close by,” but he didn’t. He didn’t want to burden Rick anymore this evening. If things didn’t go well, Rick would have enough burdens to bear. A.J. knew his brother would bear the emotional burden of this for the entire family. Rick would be strong for both A.J. and their mother. He’d never let on to anyone about how much pain he was keeping inside. Or how exhausted he was from first, the worry and stress, and later, from the physical demands being A.J.’s caretaker would place on him.
“I can’t do that to him,” A.J. said out loud. “Not tonight. Hopefully we won’t have to face the worst, but if we do, he’ll have enough problems to deal with. He doesn’t need any more right now.”
With that final thought, A.J. turned out the lights and made his way up the stairs. He knew any sleep he got would be restless and interrupted by troubling dreams, just like he knew the same would hold true for Rick on this night.
Saturday evening promptly at six, A.J. rang the doorbell of his childhood home. His mother must have been awaiting his arrival since it was only a matter of seconds before a smiling Cecilia opened the door.
A.J. stepped in to the house. He gave his mother a big dimpled smile, a kiss, and a sincere, “Mom, you look lovely.”
For indeed Cecilia Simon was a vision of beauty. The floor length gown she wore was in shimmering, beaded shades of pale blue and silver. The small purse she carried and the shoes she wore matched her dress. A discrete diamond necklace was at Cecilia’s bare throat and matched her earrings. The necklace and earrings had been a present from A.J.’s father many years before. Tonight, shining in the light of the living room, the jewelry looked as though it had been purchased for just that particular gown, for just this special occasion.
It was at times like this that A.J. still felt great pain over his father’s passing. The beautiful woman before him should be escorted by her husband this evening, not her son. How proud A.J.’s father would have been of his wife. Her petite form was still trim and athletic, her figure still feminine in all the right places. After all, A.J. thought, how many other sixty-eight year old women could still carry off wearing a gown with a scooped neckline and a slit up one side that showed off a shapely calf?
“You should have asked someone else to escort you tonight, Mom. One of your gentleman friends, not your son,” A.J. admonished while thinking that his mother deserved to have her beauty savored by some special man in her own age group.
Cecilia got on her tiptoes and kissed the cheek that smelled of aftershave.
“And what other man could I have asked to escort me tonight who’s as handsome as my son? You look quite dashing, sweetheart.”
A.J. had rented a black tuxedo for the formal occasion. Gold cuff links that had been a Christmas present from his mother sparkled from the cuffs of his white dress shirt. A modern, but modest blue plaid bow tie and cummerbund rounded out A.J.’s formal wear.
“Sorry I didn’t get around to getting a haircut,” A.J. apologized. “It’s been a...hectic week.”
“You look fine, A.J.” Cecilia assured. “Don’t worry about it.”
A.J. helped his mother wrap a lightweight silver shawl over her shoulders.
“Ready to go, Mrs. Simon?”
Cecilia nodded as she handed A.J. the keys to her Mercedes. “I’m ready, son.”
A.J. crooked his left elbow and felt his mother slip her arm through his. He shut the door behind them before escorting Cecilia to her car.
Thirty minutes later, A.J. stood outside the cloakroom checking in the shawl Cecilia had worn.
The blond man pocketed the ticket the attendant gave him, then turned to escort his mother into the main ballroom. The two stopped for a moment in the large foyer with its marble floor and spiral staircase while Cecilia greeted several people. As her visiting came to an end, Cecilia and A.J. once again resumed their progress toward the room that lay ahead of them. The two were stopped once more when Cecilia felt an arm join A.J.’s on her back.
“What a vision of beauty you are, madam. I must rid you of this lowly escort and have every dance with you this evening, my Cinderella. Please don’t tell me though, that like the real Cinderella, you will disappear at midnight, returning to your former life as a scrub girl. Alas, this will cause me great heartache and a lasting search in quest of my lovely princess.”
“Rick!” Cecilia exclaimed with surprise as she laughed at her eldest.
A.J. echoed, “Rick?” with a question plainly evident in his tone.
“You look so handsome, honey,” Cecilia gushed as she took in her lanky son all decked out in a black tuxedo similar in style to A.J.’s but with a red bow tie, red suspenders, and small red silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. “And no cowboy boots either,” Cecilia said in reference to the black dress shoes on Rick’s feet.
Rick wiggled his toes inside the rented shoes. “No, no boots tonight.”
“Now don’t be offended by this,” Cecilia said, “but what are you doing here? As you’ve told me many a time, a ball isn’t exactly your style, Rick.”
“I decided that it’s not fair that A.J. always gets to escort our gorgeous mother to all these shindigs. And gets a free meal besides. I wanted my turn, too.”
“Wonderful,” Cecilia smiled as she hooked an arm with each of her sons. “I’ll be proud to be shown off on the arms of two such handsome men.”
A.J. gave his brother a puzzled look over their mother’s head as the two men escorted her into the ballroom. Cecilia didn’t notice any confusion on A.J.’s part over his brother’s arrival, as she was beaming from ear to ear because both of her sons were present this evening.
Within a few seconds of entering the room, Cecilia bustled off to check on the details of her evening. She left Rick and A.J. with the promise that she’d meet them at the head table when dinner was served.
When their mother was out of hearing range A.J. asked, “Rick, what are you really doing here?”
“Just what I told Mom. You always get to bring her to these things, so I figured it was about time I got a turn.”
“The truth, Rick. I know you better than to fall for that line of bull.”
Rick grabbed several crackers with cheese off a tray from the nearby hors d’oeuvre table. He handed half to his brother while admitting, “If you wanna know the truth, I got to thinkin’ of what a dancing maniac Mom is. She’ll have you out on the floor for every dance. I’m not sure you’re up to that...your legs, I mean. I thought maybe you could use some help.”
A.J. nodded at Rick’s words, having thought the same thing himself. He was fairly certain that after only two or three dances he’d be limping. What might happen after that, he hadn’t wanted to think about. Ever since Thursday night, he’d had visions of himself sprawled flat on his back in the middle of the dance floor, thereby ruining his mother’s evening and embarrassing himself in the process.
A simple, “Thanks, Rick,” was all A.J. could think to say at the moment.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rick shrugged. As he looked around the room with its bright flower arrangements, linen table cloths and napkins, elegantly dressed men and women, and listened while the orchestra warmed up, Rick added, “You were right. Mom worked damn hard to put all of this together. I want this night to be special for her - one she’ll remember for a long time to come. Especially if on Monday we have to give her bad news. I wanted all of us to be together tonight. I want it to be a night we’ll all remember.”
A.J. nodded fondly. Rick wasn’t often given credit for being the sensitive, caring man he really was. Even A.J. himself didn’t always give his big brother enough credit in that area. Not knowing what else to say, A.J. repeated again, “Thanks, Rick.”
Rick didn’t want the occasion to get heavy with gloom and doom, so lightened the mood by teasing, “You better thank me, kid. This tie’s chokin’ me, the shirt’s got too much starch in it, and the damn shoes are too tight. I don’t know why women think men look so good dressed up in one of these damn monkey suits. I swear it’s their way of gettin’ back at us for something or the other. Anyone who claims that men rule the world is full of crap. If men ruled the world, you wouldn’t catch us dead in one of these stupid things.”
A.J. chuckled at this more familiar Rick. He put his hand on his brother’s back and urged him toward the bar. “Come on, let’s get something to drink. And quit messing with that tie.”
Rick grumbled all the way to the bar about his tuxedo, not stopping until he’d been mellowed out by several drinks. If Cecilia Simon noticed that her youngest son only danced with her three times, while her eldest kept her dance card filled the remainder of the evening, she made no mention of it. Rick was proud of his brother, whom he discreetly kept an eye on throughout the night. A.J. made a gallant effort to not let the problems at hand spoil their mother’s evening. Rick’s younger brother circled the room visiting with people, talking, laughing, and joking, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
By the time the evening ended at two a.m., all in attendance declared it a resounding success. A tired but happy Cecilia walked to her Mercedes with an arm around the waist of each of her boys. She kissed Rick goodbye, thanked him for coming, told him how delighted she was that he had been there, then watched him drive off in his pickup truck. Once they were settled in the car, Cecilia smiled across the seat at A.J.
“It was so nice of Rick to come here this evening.”
A.J. smiled back as he pulled out of the parking lot. “Yes, it was.”
“Did you know that he was going to be here?”
“No, I didn’t. I was just as surprised as you were.”
“Well, I was happy to have both of my sons by my side. It certainly made it a very special night.”
Cecilia was surprised by the show of strong emotion when A.J. reached across the seat and took her hand and gave it a squeeze.
With a small, warm smile he said, “I’m glad. I’m glad you had a nice evening.”
“I did,” Cecilia confirmed while squeezing back.
“Good,” was all A. J. said as he released his mother’s hand and returned his attention to the road.
A.J. hoped this wasn’t the last special night they were to have together as a family, but he hid his concerns for his health as he drove his mother to her home in Mission Bay.
Rick picked his brother up at seven-thirty on Monday morning.
As the brothers drove in silence through the puddle-laden streets of San Diego, A.J. recalled awakening on Sunday morning at nine o’clock to pouring rain. The dark, dreary day didn’t improve A.J.’s state of mind any, and for just a moment he had been tempted to pull the covers over his head and hide from the world. But, that’s not how Cecilia Simon had raised her sons to deal with their problems. So, given that, A.J. rose, made the bed, showered, dressed, ate what breakfast his nerves would allow, then puttered around the house for a while before settling on the couch with a new book.
Shortly before noon A.J. was brought back to the real world by a loud ‘clang, clang, clang,’ At his kitchen door. He peered out his window to see a soaking wet Rick pulling the string on the bell.
A.J. opened the door, saw what his brother had in his hands, and said with a teasing grin, “I didn’t order a pizza, son. You must have the wrong house.” A.J. then shut the door in his brother’s face.
A.J. had reopened the door to admit a dripping Rick, a large pizza box, and a six pack of cold beer.
“You eat lunch yet?” Rick asked while depositing the warm box on the counter.
“Good thing then, ‘cause it’s on me.”
“So I see,” A. J. commented while pulling out paper plates and napkins.
“There’s a doubleheader that starts at noon. Padres and the Phillies. Good thing they’re playin’ in Philadelphia today.”
“Good thing,” A.J. agreed. “I was going to turn it on in a minute.”
It didn’t take long before the brothers were seated comfortably in front of the TV with pizza, beer, and baseball.
After the games were over, Rick conned his brother into playing a few hands of Gin Rummy, then insisted on treating A.J. to dinner. A.J. tried to protest that, saying he wasn’t really hungry and that Rick had paid for lunch, but Rick ignored his sibling while pushing him out the door.
It wasn’t until A.J. was lying in bed at ten o’clock that evening trying to concentrate on his book, that he realized he’d been able to have a pretty good day and forget what was awaiting him on Monday. Which was exactly what Rick had intended, of course.
But Monday came all too soon, and at eight-fifty A.J. was told by a nurse, “Mr. Simon, you can come with me now.”
Rick gave his brother an encouraging clap on the back and a promise of, “I’ll wait for you right here,” as A.J. rose from the couch they had been sitting on, threading his way through the crowded waiting area.
As he was about to turn a corner at the end of the corridor, A.J. glanced back at his brother, catching the expression of worry that dominated Rick’s features. Rick quickly flashed a small smile that said, “Hang in there,” while at the same time giving his brother the ‘thumbs up’ sign just as A.J. disappeared from sight.
A.J. had been told that the tests he was to undergo were neither painful nor risky, just time consuming. Before he was even asked to change into a hospital gown, the blond man had blood drawn several times, causing him to decide that his doctor better reevaluate his use of the word ‘pain.’ A.J. wasn’t sure if the young nurse’s, “You’ve got nice veins,” was a come on or not. He simply said, “Thanks,” as he watched vial after vial fill with dark red blood.
After the woman was through with him, A.J. changed into the dreaded hospital gown and was led to another room, where he was told to sit on the examining table and wait for the technician. The sterile, cold atmosphere of the room only heightened A.J.’s nervousness as he waited and waited and waited.
Thirty minutes later, a woman whom A.J. judged to be in her early thirties entered the room. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Simon. We’re running way behind this morning.”
“So I noticed,” A.J. managed to tease.
The freckle faced woman with the short red hair and striking green eyes smiled back at A.J. as she began pulling out the necessary equipment. “When you see what I’m going to do to you, you’ll feel like you’ve been waiting for the electric chair.”
A.J. had to agree. Within five minutes he was lying flat on his back with tiny electrodes attached to his head and hands in preparation of the Electromyogram.
“Your feet are cold,” the woman commented as she attached the remaining electrodes to A.J.’s feet.
“This room is freezing,” he commented to the woman he found easy to talk to, thereby diminishing some of his nervousness.
“Is it the room, or that classy little gown we make you wear?” the technician asked with twinkling eyes.
“Both,” A.J. confirmed.
Before long the test was underway. The woman whose name tag read Carrie was standing on the other side of the tabletop monitor studying the strands of what looked like adding machine tape as they rolled out of the top of the machine. The neurologist A.J. had seen - Doctor Romani, had explained that an Electromyogram, or EMG for short, was one method used for diagnosing muscle weakness, nerve damage, or motor problems brought on by neuromuscular diseases.
A.J. watched as needles with various gauges moved back and forth, wondering what those movements meant and if they were giving Carrie good news or bad. He unobtrusively turned his head on the pillow, watching the woman’s face, hoping that his detective background would give him a clue as to what she was seeing.
A.J. had no such luck, however. Carrie’s facial expression didn’t change until she smiled and announced, “All finished,” then began unhooking him from the equipment.
“You can wait here, Mr. Simon. Someone will be with you shortly to take you to the floor where the MRI will be done.”
Although A.J. wanted to grab the woman by the arm and ask, “What’d you find out? What’d the test show?” he didn’t. Partly because he knew she wouldn’t tell him, and partly because he wasn’t sure if she was the one who actually read the test’s results, or simply just administered it. Therefore, all A.J. said in return was,
“Thank you,” before being left alone to sit and wait for another seemingly endless period of time.
Forty-five minutes passed before A.J. was led to a massive room filled with oversized equipment. The phrase ‘nuclear medicine’ came to mind as A.J. studied the area.
At least this time A.J. wasn’t kept waiting as he was instructed by an olive skinned petite woman with a middle eastern accent to get on a stainless steel table which was, of course, frigid. A.J. couldn’t help but hesitate a moment as the backs of his legs hit the cold metal. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have thought he’d just been asked to lie down on a bed of ice cubes. His hesitancy rewarded him with an impatient, disapproving look from the woman, evidently for holding her up. For just a moment A.J. thought, Lady, you’re lucky I’m me and not my brother. By now Rick would have told you to go to hell and marched right out of this damn room.
But A.J. was A.J., so did what he had been instructed, ignoring the cold of the table as best he could. At least he found some humor in daydreaming as to how Rick would deal with this sour puss female.
In clinical tones, the woman explained to A.J. what to expect as the table he was lying on was slid into what looked like a small tunnel. A.J. found himself wishing for the more personable Carrie since this technician’s attitude only served to bring his anxiety back in full force.
As the table moved farther and farther into the cylinder, A.J. began to feel claustrophobic. It didn’t take him long to realize what it must be like to be entombed. A.J. closed his eyes and took deep, relaxing breaths while trying to forget where he was.
Even if the present technician had been friendly, it wouldn’t have mattered because once the test was underway A.J. couldn’t hear anything that was going on around him due to the noise the machine made. The detective knew, based on his neurologist’s explanation, that this test was being used to measure brain waves and images. The man had said the waves and images read differently in a person with M.S. or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, than in a person who was free of these afflictions.
When the test ended and A.J. was finally brought back out into the real world, he was told once again to wait where he was. The technician promised that someone would be with him shortly.
A disappointed A.J., who had thought he’d be allowed to dress and go home, commented sarcastically after the woman had left the room, “Yeah, right. Someone will be with me shortly. I could die in here and it would take you people three days to find me.”
Because he wasn’t wearing his watch, A.J. didn’t know how long he sat alone in that room, but soon found himself growing bored with counting how many people passed by the doorway. Just as he was beginning to wonder if any of this state-of-the-art equipment he was surrounded with was throwing off harmful radiation that would only further aggravate his health problems, A.J. heard his name called.
The blond man looked up, surprised to see Joel Lankey entering through the doorway.
“What are you doing here?” A. J. asked the man who was his age. That’s where the similarities ended though, as Doctor Lankey was several inches shorter than A.J., stocky to the point of being fifteen pounds overweight, and possessing a head full of unruly, shaggy dark curls and a beard that was turning salt and pepper.
“I had rounds this morning so thought I’d stop by to see how things are going.”
“Cold,” was all A.J. said.
Given A.J.’s attire the doctor replied, “I’ll bet,” then turned serious. “I’m going to show you to a regular examination room several floors down. I’ve got someone lined up to take a look at you.”
“Why?” the puzzled A.J. asked. It had been explained to him that after the MRI he would be allowed to go home, and would be called for a consultation with Joel as soon as the tests’ results were all in.
“All the results aren’t back yet, of course,” Joel said now. “The blood work won’t be back for several days, but from what the specialist on the staff here has seen of your EMG and MRI, we’re fairly certain we can rule out both M.S. and A.L.S.”
After living with so much fear and dread for the past five days, A.J. wasn’t going to accept false assurances.
“Are you positive?” he questioned, not allowing himself to become too excited over what the doctor had just told him.
“Come on, A.J., don’t you know that doctors never like to admit to not being positive?” Joel quipped.
“Yes, and detectives don’t like to make assumptions until all the facts are in,” A.J. parleyed back.
“You’ve got me there,” Joel admitted. “To be completely honest with you, let me say that you should keep in mind it could still be something serious, but I wouldn’t bring you this kind of news if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that we can rule out those M.S. and A.L.S.”
When A.J. finally allowed himself to feel relief, the burden he had been carrying on his shoulders in recent days lifted considerably. For some reason, he felt as though whatever the doctors found from here on out wouldn’t be nearly as serious as what he had first feared.
“What is it then? What do you think is causing all of this?” A.J. asked.
“I’m not sure. I have some suspicions, but would rather have you looked at by an orthopedic specialist. Since I’ve got a little pull around here, we’re going to get that accomplished yet today.”
A.J. said a heartfelt, “Thanks,” appreciating all his doctor had done on his behalf. A.J. knew that if they weren’t personal friends, he still wouldn’t have any answers, meaning this whole affair would drag on several more days yet.
“I know you’ve been kept waiting quite a while today. That’s what hospitals and the military do best - hurry up and wait. So I’m warning you, you’ll probably have to wait a while to see Laurie...Doctor Hanson, as well. She’s making rounds of her surgical patients right now. If you want to follow me, I’ll take you down to the orthopedic floor and get you settled in an exam room for the time being.”
A.J. hopped off the table while informing the man, “If I have to wait, I’d at least like to put my pants on under this stupid thing.”
The doctor chuckled, then replied, “We’ll stop and get you a pair of scrub bottoms, how’s that?”
“Anything’s better than parading around in this thing,” A.J. said as he held the back of his gown together in preparation for his trip down the hallway.
At least the new room A.J. was left in was painted a tranquil blue and decorated with pictures of ocean scenes as, well as a poster of a man with an overly large cast that proclaimed, “Break A Leg!” A.J. estimated he was in this room about fifteen minutes before the door swung open.
Oddly enough, Doctor Laurie Hanson looked an awful lot like his brother Rick.
“Hey, I like the jammies,” Rick teased.
“What are you doing here?”
“Joel came and talked to me in the waiting room, then told me how to find you. He said I might as well come and wait with you since it might be a while.”
“What time is it?”
Rick glanced at his watch. “Almost one-thirty.”
“No wonder I’m hungry,” A.J. commented. He hadn’t been allowed to have anything to eat after midnight because of the blood tests.
“Maybe it’s not the time, as much as it’s the fact that you’ve got a reason to have your appetite back.”
A.J. grinned. “Joel told you, huh?”
Rick’s happy grin matched his brother’s. “Yeah, he told me. I think we have cause to celebrate, little brother.”
A.J. attempted to quell some of Rick’s enthusiasm.
“Don’t get your hopes up completely. I still have to wait for the results of the blood tests to come back, and there’s obviously still something wrong.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think it can be anything nearly as bad as what we’ve already faced.”
A.J. was tempted to agree, but yet didn’t want to get too confident until he had some specific answers. He chose to reply with a neutral, “We’ll see.”
The brothers passed another half hour making small talk before the door opened again. Both men could see a woman in profile talking to someone in the hall, while she held the swinging door open with one hand.
Rick studied the woman, his eyes traveling up long, slim, shapely legs that disappeared up a calf length, floral print full skirt. White blond curls framed the woman’s face, falling in perfect order to her shoulders, resting softly on the pink silk blouse she wore. The side of Doctor Hanson’s face that Rick could see was stunning, completed by high cheek bones, a straight nose, long blond lashes, and a flawless complexion that was enhanced by a light dusting of makeup.
The woman’s left hand, which rested on the door, had manicured nails polished a light pink. Rick also noticed that hand was minus a wedding ring. He leaned toward his brother and said quietly, “I think your fortune is about to come true.”
“You will soon meet a wealthy, beautiful woman,” Rick reminded in a tone of mystery.
“Rick, behave yourself,” A.J. admonished, horrified at how Rick might embarrass him if he took a notion to.
The woman entered the room with her right hand outstretched toward A.J., and with his medical chart in her left hand.
“Mr. Simon, I’m Doctor Hanson.”
“Nice to meet you, Doctor,” A.J. replied, while shaking the woman’s hand. “And call me A.J., please. I’ve had enough of being Mr. Simon for one day.”
The doctor smiled at A.J.’s words, knowing that the hospital had a strict policy that all patients be referred to as Mr., Mrs., or Miss, unless instructed otherwise by the patient. “Okay. A.J. it is,” the woman agreed.
“This is my brother Rick,” A.J. introduced.
Rick and the woman shook hands as well, exchanging pleasantries before Rick moved toward the door. “I’ll wait outside for you, A. J.”
“You can stay if you’d like, Rick,” the doctor invited. “That is, if A.J. doesn’t mind.”
“Oh... okay, thanks,” Rick returned upon getting A.J.’s nod of consent. Rick moved off to one side as the examination began. Doctor Hanson first consulted the patient chart she carried, asking A.J. in-depth questions concerning his lifestyle, exercise habits, and past injuries.
“According to the information Doctor Lankey has written down, and the things you’ve just told me, I’d say you lead an extremely active lifestyle, A.J.”
“I suppose so.”
The woman chuckled. “You suppose so? Believe me, you could put most twenty year olds to shame with this exercise regime. Karate, boxing, hang gliding, running, weight lifting, racquet ball, tennis. Did I leave anything out?”
“No, that about covers it.”
“Bungee jumping,” Rick contributed from his corner of the room.
“What!” the doctor exclaimed.
“It was only once,” A.J. explained hastily while giving his brother a dirty look. “Back in early June. It’s not something I’m going to make a habit of.”
“Good, because I don’t even want to talk about how detrimental that sport, and I use the term loosely, is on the joints. The way that cord snaps a person’s body back up after the fall, puts a lot of pressure on the spinal cord and legs. You’re asking for trouble when you engage in something like that.”
Now that he had been properly chastised and made to feel like a naughty eight year old, AJ had to resist the temptation to tell on Rick. It was all he could do to keep from tattling, “Rick did it, too. The old bald guy did it, too. Now give him a lecture.” A.J. had the good sense to keep his mouth shut though, knowing that this woman didn’t have the time for a Simon brother verbal free-for-all.
“Now, aside from the bungee jumping,” the woman went on to say, “all the above mentioned exercises are great ways to stay in good shape. But the reality is, that each and every one of them is an orthopedist’s nightmare...or dream, depending upon how you look at it.”
“What do you mean?” A.J. asked.
“All the activities you partake in, A.J., are bone jarring. They all put stress on the joints and back. You told Doctor Lankey and Doctor Romani that you’ve experiences some back pain during a few of these episodes. Am I correct about that?”
“Can you describe how it felt?”
“It was a sharp, shooting pain that started down here,”
A.J.,reached around and indicated to a spot on his lower back. “It seemed to shoot right down my left leg, and now, just within the past week or so, down both legs and up my arms.”
“On a regular basis?”
“No, mostly when I was running. Or with my arms, when I was lifting weights.”
“All right. That helps me quite a bit.” The doctor made a note in A.J.’s chart. “Please take off that gown and well get down to business.”
For whatever reason, A.J. couldn’t help but blush at that request. He shot Rick a look that dared his brother to open his mouth. Although Rick’s moustache twitched a time or two, he kept his comments to himself.
As A.J. laid the gown across a nearby chair, he was thankful he was wearing the scrub pants.
For the next several minutes, the physician put A.J. through the paces. Rick watched while his brother was told to stand and touch his toes, prop one leg at a time on the examination table while bending his head toward his knees, and then was asked to extend his arms straight in front of him, above his head, and out to his sides. As A.J. did these exercises, the doctor probed his back while asking if anything hurt.
“No,” A.J. said. “Nothing hurts.”
“All right. Now lie on your stomach on the table, please.”
When A.J. was settled on the exam table in the position the doctor had requested, she instructed, “Lift your arms above your head, A.J., in the exact same motion you use while lifting weights.”
A.J. did as he was asked. The doctor pressed a hand into the small of his back at the same time.
“Ow!” A.J. cried while jerking involuntarily.
“I take it that I don’t need to ask you if that hurt?” the woman said wryly.
“No, you sure don’t.”
A concerned and curious Rick moved closer to the table in order to get a better look.
“I know it hurts, A.J, but I need to do that again. You tell me when you feel the sensations in your arms and hands that you felt when lifting weights.”
“All right,” A. J. agreed, steeling himself to feel the sharp pain once again.
“Relax your muscles, A.J.,” the woman instructed. “If you tense up like that I won’t be able to feel a thing.”
A.J. hadn’t even realized he’d done that, so apologized, “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s a normal reaction when you know someone’s going to hurt you. I don’t blame you for it in the slightest,” the doctor said while beginning her probe of A.J.’s back.
A.J. grimaced as he was roughly probed and prodded. He finally gasped while saying, “Okay, now. I can feel it now.”
“Like they’re going to sleep? A tingling sensation?”
“Yes,” A. J. grunted as the doctor pressed her fingers into his back again.
Next the woman had A.J. relax his arms back down at his sides, then started the whole process over again until she produced the same results in his legs.
A.J. grimaced again, then acknowledged in a hoarse, pain filled voice, “Yes, now. I can feel it in both legs now. “
The doctor removed her hands from A.J.’s back. “Okay, you can sit up.”
That was easier said than done. Doctor Hanson’s necessary, but rough treatment caused A.J. to have a problem meeting that last request. The doctor was busy writing on the chart, so didn’t see A.J. struggling to get off his stomach. Rick did, however, and came to his brother’s aid by offering a firm hand on A.J.’s upper arm. He helped A.J. turn over, and then sit up.
The woman looked up from her notes just as Rick was getting his brother into an upright position. “Oh, I’m sorry, A.J. I should have been paying more attention. I should also warn you that you’re not going to like me very much for the next couple of days.”
At A.J.’s puzzled look she explained, “What I’ve done will probably cause your back to bother you for the next day or two. You’re going to be sore, and may have muscle spasms. I’ll give you a mild painkiller to take home with you. t won’t make you drowsy, but it’s stronger than aspirin.”
Feeling as if he could already use something stronger than aspirin, A.J. said, “Thank you. I’ll take you up on that offer.”
Rick couldn’t play the part of the patient, silent bystander any longer. “Doctor, do you know what’s wrong with him?”
“I’m fairly certain I do, but I want to order a set of X-rays that we can hopefully squeeze in yet this afternoon. I do need to ask you one more question, A.J.”
“All right,” the blond man agreed.
“Has there been a time when you’ve suffered a fairly severe back injury?”
“No, not that I can think of.”
“Not necessarily recently. It could go back quite a few years. Something that may have laid you up for a few days. Maybe something you never saw a doctor for.”
A.J. started to shake his head no, but Rick jumped in first.
“Yeah, when he was in high school. He played football - quarterback. He was sacked real hard one game and had to be
carried off the field on a stretcher. Scared the heck out of me and our mother because at first he couldn’t move his legs.”
A.J. now recalled the incident Rick was speaking of - the incident that was twenty-five years in the past. He remembered that he was in pain for a few days, then sore and bruised for the next two weeks. His modest sixteen-year-old self had been thankful that Rick was making one of his infrequent visits home, as A.J. needed help getting in and out of the shower those first few days, as well as need help getting dressed. He would have been mortified if those jobs had fallen on his mother.
A.J.’s thoughts came back to the present as he heard the doctor ask, “What was the diagnosis?”
“None that I can recall,” A. J. answered. “Nothing showed up on the X-rays that night at the hospital. If I remember correctly, my mother was told to take me home, put ice on the area, and if I didn’t improve within a few days she was to take me to see an orthopedic specialist.”
“But you never had to do that? See a specialist, I mean?”
“I believe we’re going to find out that old injury is the origin of the problems you’re having today,” the woman said.
“In what way?” A. J. asked, surprised that a long forgotten football injury could flare up at this late date.
“Between your symptoms, and what you and Rick tell me of the injury, I have a strong suspicion that we’re going to find that the bony part of this disc,” the doctor placed a hand on A.J. ‘s lower back, “is rubbing on a nerve. That seemingly simple, innocent act is causing the problems with your hands, arms, and legs.”
Rick was rather dubious that an injury that old could come back to haunt A.J. after all this time, and with this severity.
“I don’t mean to question your authority, Doctor, and I hope you’ll pardon me for buttin’ in here, but are you sure? I mean that something that happened to A.J. that long ago can cause this type of thing to occur now?”
“I’m almost certain, Rick. We will know more, of course, after the X-rays are done. But believe me, I’ve seen this type of thing several times in the past. My own father experienced something very similar just two years ago. A back injury from twenty years ago flared up and caused him to have symptoms almost mirroring A.J.’s. It’s possible that the bungee jump from two months ago aggravated a preexisting problem, or some other exercise or action on A.J.’s part caused it to flare up at this time. We may never really know the root of it for sure.”
Rick felt a little better about the woman’s educated guesses at this point. “I’m sorry for doubtin’ you, but you have to understand that my brother and I have been through hell since last Thursday. That neurologist, Doctor Roman, told—“
“Romani,” A.J. corrected.
“Roman, Romani, whatever his name is,” Rick dismissed. “That guy had a discussion with A. J. concerning M.S. and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. We had ourselves prepared for the worst. I just don’t want to get our hopes raised now, only to have them dashed again in a few days. I don’t think either A.J. or I can take that again.”
“I understand, Rick, and I accept your apology, although it wasn’t necessary. I can’t fault Doctor Romani for discussing those things with A.J. Many of his symptoms are so like those of M.S. and A.L.S. But I do understand where you’re coming from. A.L.S. was also mentioned to my father when he first started having his problems. I remember receiving a phone call from my mother who, as you can imagine, was extremely upset. So I do know what you both have been through. For just that reason, I wouldn’t steer you wrong at this stage of the game. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough,” Rick agreed while A.J. made a mental note to apologize to the woman again at some later date for Rick’s intrusion. An intrusion that didn’t anger A.J. in the slightest, but rather made him think with pride, that’s my big brother at his finest.
The doctor then discussed various therapy techniques with A.J., telling him she preferred to try physical therapy along with Traeger therapy first, as opposed to surgery.
“Back surgery requires a minimum of six weeks recovery time. Eight to twelve weeks is more common. I’m sure you’d prefer to avoid that if possible.”
“Yes, I would,” A.J. agreed. “But what’s this Traeger therapy you mentioned?”
“A method of massage therapy combined with relaxation techniques. It’s named for the doctor that first implemented it. Some doctors will call it unorthodox, but I’ve had a lot of success with it, so I feel it’s worth a try. After I see your S-rays we’ll talk about the options open to us at greater length. I’ll also get some information for you to read, A.J., regarding everything we discuss. Ultimately, it will be up to you to choose which you want to try, therapy or surgery. You’d be surprised at the number of people who actually choose surgery simply because they believe that will bring them quicker results.”
“Well, I doubt that I’ll be one of those people.”
The woman left A.J. that day with the promise of a move to the X-ray area as soon as possible, and also a promise to call him at home as soon as she knew something definite.
“After I know more, A. J., I’ll have you make an appointment with my office receptionist. I’ll probably want to see you on Friday. By that time all the blood work should be back, as well.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” A. J. responded while shaking the woman’s hand once again.
“You’re welcome,” Doctor Hanson smiled as she headed for the door. The woman turned around, smiled slyly, and added, “Oh, by the way, Rick, I’m not that wealthy yet. I’ve only had my own practice for three years. I’m still paying back a hefty college loan. Sorry about ruining your fortune, A.J.”
Rick laughed as the door closed behind the woman, while A.J. blushed and said, “Thanks a lot for totally humiliating me, Rick. I’m going to have to see this woman again you know.”
Rick smiled. “I know. A long-term relationship, like your fortune said. You’ll survive. Besides, I sure wouldn’t balk about seeing that lady again, no matter what the circumstances.”
“I’m sure of that. Nothing embarrasses you.”
“Very little,” Rick agreed, then asked, “So, how’s the back feel?”
“Like Hulk Hogan just had his way with me, but I’ll live.”
At those last three words, Rick put a hand on the back of his brother’s neck. Being careful not to jar A.J., Rick pulled his sibling forward until their foreheads touched.
“Yeah, you’ll live,” he echoed, a wealth of emotion hidden behind those three little words.
A.J. smiled. “I have to. After all, who’s going to take care of you if I don’t?”
“Nobody else would want to,” Rick admitted.
“That’s for sure,” A.J. teased as Rick settled comfortably in a chair.
“After they’re done with the X-rays and they spring ya’ from this place, lunch is on me, little brother.”
“No, today it’s my treat,” A.J. insisted.
“I won’t argue with that.”
“Didn’t think you would,” A.J. chuckled, relieved that they had a reason to celebrate.
At four o’clock, that celebration was underway as the Simons sat in a steak house eating lunch. Rick called it supper due to the late hour, but A.J. didn’t care what they called it, he was just glad to finally have food in his stomach. He didn’t even object when Rick ordered the best bottle of wine in which to make their celebration complete. The afternoon ended with Rick toasting, “To my brother’s good health.”
A.J. couldn’t top that or the heartfelt sentiment behind it, so replied with a sincere, “Thank you.”
Rick replied in kind, “You’re welcome,” then added with a twinkle in his eye, “I sure hope you’re payin’ for this wine, A.J., ‘cause I don’t have a wealthy, beautiful lady doctor takin’ care of me.”
A.J. just laughed at his brother, enjoying Rick’s sense of humor for a change, while basking in the glow of their good fortune.
On a Saturday morning three months later, Rick stood just inside his brother’s garage. A.J., who was unaware of Rick’s presence, was lifting weights.
Rick marveled at how only three months earlier he had pictured A.J.’s future holding nothing but a wheelchair. The strong, athletic man standing with his back to Rick certainly didn’t fit into that scenario in the slightest.
A.J. was still undergoing therapy for his back, although the sessions that had originally started out at three days a week were down to one day a week. A.J. supplemented the therapy via exercises he had been given to do at home.
For the first two months A.J.’s physical activities had been limited to walking, biking, and swimming, but slowly the things he loved to do best were now being reintroduced into his life, although some of them on a curtailed, adjusted basis in deference to his back. Doctor Hanson promised that in time, A.J. would probably be able to go at all the sports he enjoyed with the same gusto he used to, provided he took some necessary precautions and continued with his at-home exercises learned in therapy.
Neither Rick nor A.J. ever did tell their mother the full story regarding what they’d been through. A.J. stopped by his mother’s house after he had seen Doctor Hanson in her office and been positively diagnosed with a back problem due to the disc. He explained all he would be undergoing concerning therapy and doctor’s visits, assuring his mother the problem wasn’t that serious, and that no, he wasn’t in a lot of pain.
As a result of A.J.’s explanation, Cecilia wasn’t overly concerned then. She told her son she was glad he’d had the good sense to see a doctor before the problem became serious, and occasionally checked up on him to make sure he did as his doctor ordered and didn’t let his work schedule interfere with his therapy sessions. She also instructed Rick on the phone one evening, “You make sure A.J. gets to those sessions like he’d supposed to, Rick. I know your brother well enough to guess that the minute some case comes along that interferes with a doctor’s appointment or a therapy session, he’ll find a hundred and one excuses as to why he can’t get there.”
“I don’t think he’ll do that this time, Mom,” Rick assured. “But don’t worry, I’ll make sure he’s doin’ what he’s supposed to be.”
All in all, Rick decided that they’d been lucky, and that their decision to keep their mother in the dark had worked out for the best.
Rick came back to the present, watching as his brother carefully rested the heavy weight he had been lifting back down on the bar in front of him.
Noticing the sheen of perspiration on his brother’s bare back prompted Rick to warn, “You’d better be careful and not overdo.”
A.J. spun around, the sudden intrusion of Rick’s voice in his otherwise silent garage, startled him. “Do you have to do that?”
“Do what?” Rick asked as he walked on into the garage and leaned against A.J.’s tool bench.
“Sneak up on me like that. You’re always doing that to me.”
“Ah, A.J., you exaggerate,” Rick scoffed.
“I do not,” A. J. disputed as he sat down on his weight bench and began mopping at the sweat on his face with a towel.
“How’s the back feel?”
“Pretty good. A little twinge now and then, that’s why I’m quitting for the day.”
“Good idea. Don’t overdo.”
“I won’t, Mother,” A.J. shot back.
“Speaking of mothers, I was just standin’ here thinking how it worked out for the best that we never let her in on any of this...you know, when that Doctor Roman guy or whatever his name was, first talked to you about M.S. and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. “
A.J. nodded. “I’ve thought a lot about that, too, these last few months. I’m glad Mom never had to know. It was hard enough on both of us.”
“That’s for sure.”
A.J. set the towel down on the bench beside him. He stared at it for a moment before finally saying, “You know, when Doctor Romani first talked to me, first told me what he thought was wrong, I kept thinking over and over, this can’t be happening to me. I take good care of myself. I eat right, I exercise, I’ve never smoked, and then I realized that everyone who’s diagnosed with a disease as devastating as Lou Gehrig’s or M.S. must think the exact same things as I was. That’s when it really hit me that yes, this could be happening to me.”
Rick nodded, “I know. That’s what I kept thinking, too. That this couldn’t be happening to you, or to our family.”
“After I left the doctor’s office that day, I went to the library and read everything I could find on M.S. and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I remember thinking that M.S. I could handle. That somehow I could learn to live with it. But the other, I honestly don’t I know, Rick.”
“Whatta ya’ mean by that?”
“I wasn’t sure if I could live with it if the diagnosis was A.L.S. I...I wondered if I would be better off putting a gun to my head and ending it all right then.”
“You wouldn’t have.”
“I don’t know, Rick. I’m not sure about that. I really thought maybe--”
“You wouldn’t have, A.J. You might have your doubts, but I don’t have any. You’re too much of a fighter to ever give in to anything, to ever let something control you. You’d have seen it through to the end with the hope that you might live to see a cure discovered.”
A.J. cocked his head and studied his lanky brother, who was idly fingering a pair of pliers. After a moment A.J. asked, “How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know you. Believe me, if I’d have thought for one minute that you might hurt yourself, I’d have never left you here alone that first night.”
A.J. couldn’t help but smile. “You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?”
“When it comes to you, yep, I sure do.”
A.J. shrugged, then admitted, “I guess you’re right. I think I knew deep down inside that I wouldn’t have. Any doubts I had in that area pretty much vanished that first weekend.”
“Because of you,” A. J. acknowledged. “Because that Thursday night, and Friday at the office, and all weekend, you kept saying to me, ‘I’ll be here for you, A.J. Day and night if I have to be. If it comes to it, I’ll be the one who takes care of you right here in your own home.’ That meant a lot to me. Something like that is a lot to ask of another person.”
“No it’s not. Especially when the person doin’ the askin’ is my brother.”
A.J. couldn’t help but smile at those words before emphasizing, “Yes, it is a lot to ask, even of a brother. If A.L.S. had been the diagnosis, I would have required twenty four hour a day care in the end...for some very personal needs.”
“I know, A.J. I did some research of my own at the library. I knew what I might be facing.”
“I know you did. That’s what made it mean even more to me. I knew you realized what the road ahead might hold for both of us.”
“What’d you think I’d do?” Rick asked with indignation. “Put you in a nursing home when things got their worst?”
“No, no. Not at all. I knew you and Mom wouldn’t do that, although I felt that if the time came that it was necessary to make your lives easier, then you should.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have. Maybe someday when you’re a hundred and five years old and as goofy as Orville and Wilbur Simon, I might consider it, but otherwise, no way.”
A.J. chuckled. “Thanks a lot...I think.”
“So that’s what helped you get through those days? Me lettin’ you know I’d be here for you? You shoulda’ known that without me having to tell you.”
“I did,” A.J. amended. “It’s like I said though, it’s a lot to ask of a person...even of a brother. But over that first weekend, before we even knew for sure what the diagnosis was, you started ‘being here’ for me, just like you said you would. You made me call Dianna on Friday to make a date for that night with you and Nancy for dinner and a movie. Then on Saturday night you showed up at the Woman’s Club Ball in order to help me keep all of this from Mom. And then on Sunday you showed up in a torrential downpour carrying a pizza while insisting that we just had to watch a ball game and play cards.”
“Hey, what are brothers for?”
A.J. smiled once again. “For just about everything, I guess. At least one brother I know of in particular.”
“Believe me, A.J., I was never so happy as when Joel came to me in that waiting room and told me you didn’t have M.S. or Gehrig’s Disease. Seein’ you go through something like that was going to tear me apart. I knew that from the night you first told me what the neurologist had said. After Joel talked to me, I swear I didn’t care what you had, I was just so thankful it wasn’t one of those two things. For some reason, I knew without a doubt we could face and conquer anything else.”
“I know. I felt the same way.”
Both brothers fell into a meaningful silence, each lost in their own thoughts regarding those difficult and uncertain days of three months earlier.
Rick finally broke the somber mood by walking over and clapping his brother on the arm. “You’d better get a shower ‘cause we gotta get going.”
“Going?” A.J. asked as he allowed Rick to pull him to his feet. “Going where?”
“Well, now that you’re doin’ better and can do some lifting again, I’ve got something I need your help with.”
“You’ll see when we get there. Just go shower,” Rick urged, giving his brother a little shove toward the door that led into the house.
A suspicious A.J. stopped. “Go where, Rick?”
“To uh...to uh...Surplus Sammy’s.”
“Surplus Sammy’s? Rick, you promised me in January that you wouldn’t buy anything at Surplus Sammy’s this year.”
“Well, now, I know I did, A. J., but...well, I was walkin’ past Sammy’s yesterday and he’s got this big sidewalk sale goin’ on and--”
“How can a guy who sells stolen merchandise hold a sidewalk sale?”
“Sammy doesn’t like it when you use the word ‘stolen’ in relationship to his goods, A.J. He’s told you that before.”
“He might not like it, but it’s the truth. He’s nothing but a fence, Rick,” A.J. declared as the brothers entered the house. “I’ve told you that for years. A fence who’s managed to build a Utopia because he’s able to con gullible guys like you into buying his worthless junk.”
“Worthless junk!” echoed through the downstairs of A.J.’s home. “When have I ever bought worthless junk from Sammy?”
“The sonar detector that was supposed to give us the ability to hear right through a concrete wall, and I quote, ‘detect something as small as a mouse munching on a piece of cheese.’”
“It worked!” Rick defended.
“It worked?” A.J. headed toward the kitchen where he opened the refrigerator. “Oh, yes, Rick, it worked all right. Except that we couldn’t hear the crooks on the other side of the wall at all, but they could hear us as plain as if we had been in the same room with them.”
“Minor technicality,” Rick mumbled, then brightened while snapping his fingers. “The new filing cabinet! Remember when you said we needed more file space? I got us that new three drawer cabinet from Sammy.”
“Yes, you did. The only problem is the drawers won’t open.”
“Yeah, but you gotta admit, it makes a heck of a plant stand.”
Before A.J. could formulate a reply to that, Rick popped up with, “And the VCR. Sammy gave me a good deal on that.”
“He should have. It only rewinds the tapes. Which would be very useful if I had a desire to watch movies from the end to the beginning. Unfortunately, I don’t.”
“Yeah, but it’s not my fault that you junked it. It still would have come in handy.”
A.J. looked at Rick over the top of the juice carton he had tilted toward his mouth. “And how, pray tell, would it have still come in handy?”
“You coulda’ saved yourself a lot of time. You could be rewindin’ one movie in Sammy’s VCR, while you watched another one on the new VCR you bought.”
“Spare me any more of your wacky explanations, please,”
A.J. begged. “I’m going upstairs to shower.”
“And then you’ll come to Sammy’s with me?”
“No, I won’t. You and Sammy still owe me seventy-five bucks for that speeding ticket I got last month because the fuzzbuster he sold you was just as useless as everything else he carries at his little junkyard emporium.”
“And it’s just because of that seventy-five dollar ticket that Sammy wants us to stop by today, A.J. He wants to make it up to you. He’ll let us have fifty dollars off of anything on the lot and I found this--”
“He owes me seventy five,” A. J. reminded on his way up the stairs.”
Rick trailed along behind his brother. “You can’t expect Sammy to give away the store. He’s gotta make a profit, too. Anyway, I found this--”
“I don’t want to hear it, Rick,” A.J. said as he clicked the bedroom radio on and turned it up to full volume.
“I found this--” Rick shouted over the music.
“I don’t want to hear it!” A.J. called as he started the water running in the bathroom.
Louder, Rick yelled from the bedroom, “Just listen to me a second! I found this--”
“I don’t want to hear it!” A.J. emphasized as he shut the bathroom door in Rick’s face.
Through the closed door Rick shouted, “A.J., it’s a good deal and we can use it! Really! Lots of times we’ll use it! And Sammy promises it works! And he’s givin’ us twenty-five dollars off! So listen. I found this--”
From the shower, A.J. sang, “I can’t heeeear yoooou, Rick!”
“A.J., listen to me, damn it! I found this...
As the lively debate between the brothers drifted out the open French doors of A.J.’s bedroom, Mr. Gorman, who was outside watering his flowers, knew everything was back to normal with the Simons. He didn’t have any idea as to what had been wrong the last few months, but he did know things had been way too quiet.
“So much for my good fortune,” the man muttered, not realizing that his misfortune was an indication of A.J. Simon’s good luck, and the answer to a big brother’s prayers.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~