Wounded Crow Publishing

Gubber’s Gate sample chapter

Wounded Crow Publishing is pleased to bring you a sample from Gubber’s Gate by Thomas E.

Gubber’s Gate

by Thomas E

 

Prologue

            On the south side of Chicago, in an older, classic bungalow type home, lived an elderly couple of great wealth and stature in the community. Kal Vaughn and Natalia Jabasik had the means to live wherever they would have liked, in the most prestigious parts of the city, but instead they chose to live in the house they had purchased long, long ago with the money Kal’s father had willed to him. It was the kind of house his father would have liked, and the neighborhood was just the sort of community he would have fit in perfectly.

Kal Vaughn was nearing sixty-nine years and his thick, white hair was in its usual disarray, and that’s exactly the way he preferred it. He was not a very tall man, about five-foot ten-inches, and seemed to lose a little more height each day; however, his two-hundred four pound stocky build and larger than life personality more than made up for his shrinking frame. With his unique storytelling and anecdotes, he was admired far beyond the local community.

His wife, of forty extraordinary years, was a lovely and appealing woman in spite of her years. Whenever asked about her age, she never gave the same number twice. Her silvery hair was never out of place and she always wore it pulled back in a bun that was fixed with an antique pin. These petite, hair-holding trinkets were of great sentimental value and were a gift from her late grandmother, Hazel Archwether, an extraordinary woman in her own right. Natalia was pleasant and courteous, and although she was somewhat of an introvert and soft spoken, she always made everyone feel welcome and at home.

The reddish-brown, brick house with the white trimmed windows and sand-colored roof top was a welcome sight to any passerby. The well-manicured lawn was luscious Irish green, and clay-brown flower pots lined the concrete walkway leading to the front door. A mahogany finish captured and reflected back the afternoon sun, beckoning out an alluring invitation to anyone in the neighborhood.

Living in an older section of the city that still clung to the traditional Chicago architecture, they enjoyed their retirement years, and were completely happy and content to putter about and wait for visits from their children – who of course brought the grandchildren! And how the grandchildren loved to visit and play in the finished basement or in the attic. They would start on the porch, which was more like a three-season room with large, rectangular windows that looked out into the small backyard. From these wide-glassed panes, one could see the short, fresh trimmed grass with a long row of flowerbeds on both sides. Natalia always kept brightly colored tulips in them and wouldn’t think of ever putting anything else there. Against the house on each corner was a rose bush that was nearing at least six or seven feet tall. The summer blossoms were already opening, catching the rays of golden sunlight.

Kal also had his little special garden that was right next to the garage. His tomato plants were well known in the community for providing the largest, ripest fruit you had ever seen. He would gather them in bushels and walk through the neighborhood passing them out to everyone he saw or in fact, even to those he didn’t see. There were certain “favorites” that he would leave the very best of the best produce on their front steps, like Mr. and Mrs. Fallard or old Mrs. Lucas.

Down the steps from the three-season room was the back door that led out to the alleyway. Chicago was known for its narrow alleyways that separated the buildings. They were only seven or eight feet across, and one could almost stand between them with their arms outstretched and touch the sides of the buildings. Looking up towards the sky, you could see the rooftops almost coming together and barely letting enough sunlight peek through to light the walkway. Kal’s grandfather, Grandpa Ed, would tell him stories how when he was a teenager, he and his brother would go up on the rooftops and jump from roof to roof across the narrow alleyways all the way down the street, until they reached the three-story flats that towered over them, then they would have to turn back and jump the small chasms back home.

Of course, at the bottom of the stairs was Kal’s little storage room where he kept various tools, gardening implements, cases of Shasta soda, and Dummy suckers. The grandchildren especially loved the soda and suckers, for they could not get them anywhere else in the city. Only Grandpa knew their secret location and would keep the storage room well stocked with Cream Soda, Root Beer, Black Cherry, and Lemon-Lime. In addition, the Dummy suckers were always a welcome delight and included the ever popular Cherry, Root Beer, Butterscotch, Chocolate, and Orange flavors.

After passing by the storage room, the lower level had a small second kitchen where Natalia would bake various things when it was too hot to cook upstairs. Just off the kitchen was a very narrow and winding wood staircase that led back up to the main floor. These stairs had only a small amount of space and barely held the tiny foot of Natalia, much less Kal’s large shoes. You had to be careful to not slip off and tumble down the steps. Past the kitchen was a bedroom that contained two full-sized beds, a small woman’s dresser with a mirror, and a stand-up wardrobe. But the very best part of this particular room was that at the far end of it there was a very small sitting room. In this small space, Natalia had her sewing and a rocking chair with an afghan draped across the back, in which she could sit and work on her crocheting. Also, there was a very small wooden desk that Kal used for writing out paperwork, doing the bills and what not. In fact, it couldn’t even be considered a desk at all, but rather a quaint writing table having only a center drawer. He kept some of the most magnificent items in this room; various treasures of the past and antiquities such as a coin collection and a vintage viewfinder that would provide hours of amazing photos. This particular instrument was no ordinary picture viewer, oh no, this glorious piece of machinery allowed the holder to see images in a three dimensional array of color, detail, and splendor. The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Washington Monument, and the White House all shined through with such precision and color that you could almost reach out and touch them. Of course, you had to aim the viewfinder at the window to achieve the maximum effect, but that was a small price to pay to go vacationing on a Southern California beach, or look out over a Minnesota lake sunset, or be taken north to gaze at an Alaskan aurora.

Another favorite of the children was the grand pool table. It stood at the very far end of the basement with its green, velvet table top. The chalk lined up like little soldiers on the rails, and the cue rack hung on the back wall; what child wouldn’t love to stay down there all day and shoot pool with their grandfather? Its only flaw was that for certain shots, the basement posts that held up the house would sometimes get in the way of the cue sticks. However, it was an easy fix to simply unscrew the top portion of the cue to shorten it to a proper length that would fit within the boundaries of the metal, rust-colored pillars.

And lastly, but certainly not of lesser value by any means, was the attic. One might be inclined to think of an attic as being spooky or eerie, but that was not the case with Kal and Natalia’s top-most floor. Their attic was a place of haven where dreams and fantasies were acted out. The children would pretend they were on the highest mountain overlooking a vast countryside or it would become the cockpit of a B-29 bomber that was on its way for a secret mission of utmost importance.

The attic also came with its own props that the children could move and transform into whatever location or scene was currently needed to be acted out. Clothes lines were stretched from end to end and always had bed sheets hanging from them that were used for room partitions, or submarine compartments, or castle walls. The wooden two-by-nine joists angled down from the ceiling. There was not much standing room, so grownups had to be careful walking and always hunched over, but children easily ran about without worry, as it was specifically designed for just their height.

Sometimes in the summer the attic was especially hot and was not used during the day. But at night, after the small window fan had cooled it down to a pleasant temperature, the children would be off on a secret mission. First, they would sneak open the door that looked more like a closet door than the portal to another world, and slip upstairs. After tiptoeing across the floorboards so as not to make any noise, they would move to the front of the attic and push open the small, round opening that pivoted horizontally on a center rod. It wasn’t a glass window, but a wood covering that was painted white. With a child on either side of it, they would stare out into the night sky at the city lights that sparkled like twinkling stars. They could see the Sears Tower and John Hancock buildings that loomed in the night like ancient castle towers, guarding the city from any threats that might come from the shores of Lake Michigan. The bright red beacons on top of the watch towers were an indication of the sentries’ ever watchful eye. After the children were content that the city was safe and secure, they would go back downstairs and crawl into bed to dream about adventures they might have the next day.

 

* * *

Grandpa Kal sat down in his large, brown upholstered recliner, popped a fresh butter rum hard candy into his mouth and put his feet up on the ottoman. He seemed quite ready to begin the festivities.

“Grandpa, please tell us the story!” the children cried out anxiously.

“I will not begin until you sit down and can keep quiet for more than a few seconds.”

The children quickly sat down on the carpet in front of his chair, and though difficult for them, kept completely quiet except for possibly a giggle or two that had accidently slipped out.

“Let me just state that my father was an extraordinary man well before the incident had happened. And in order to really appreciate this story and the life it describes I have to take you back … back to the beginning when they were first introduced.”

The children raised their heads and widened their eyes waiting on every movement of their grandfather’s lips for that next precious word that was soon to come. Grandpa Kal, knowing he had a captive audience, showed a little smirk from the corner of his mouth while his eyes twinkled with a bluish light. He was not one to rush a story, especially one he had held so dear to his heart.

* *

Little Gubber

Now, Uncle Tom had thick, reddish hair and bright blue eyes. He was tall for his age with big feet and even bigger hands that his father used to say he got from his maternal grandfather, a large man who worked in construction laying brick. Tom was only a few years old, maybe three or possibly even four when his baby brother was brought into his bedroom. It was a small room with paneling going halfway up the walls, and the remaining half was wallpapered with a bluish print of little diamonds. A youth bed nestled up against the far wall with a blanket colored with American Revolutionary soldiers marching across it. There was one window in the room that provided light for the daily matchbox car races and aided in searches through the large toy box positioned just below the curtains.  Before Jeff came, it had been Tom’s bedroom and he hadn’t known anything different, but now there was a crib against the wall close to the door that led out to the hallway. At night, when he was supposed to be in bed sleeping, he would sneak out of bed and tiptoe over to the crib and peer over the wooden spindles to look at his new baby brother. The baby didn’t have much hair, but what was there had a blondish, white color and his cheeks were sort of pudgy.

Tom reached between the spindles and touched Jeff’s little hand and to his surprise the baby grabbed his finger and held onto it ever so tightly.

“I’m your brother, Tom,” he said. “When you get older I can show you all my matchbox cars and I’ll even let you drive the little Corvette if you promise not to lose it under the stove because if it goes under the stove you can’t ever get it out again. And Mom says that there is a gas under there and it can blow up the whole house if you fool around with it. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure you don’t blow up, ’cause I’m your big brother and it’s my job to take care of you.”

Of course, their parents had all kinds of special stories as well, like the one about when Jeff was a youngster; let’s say just before school age. Grandpa Ed had put a swing set in the backyard for him. Now, Jeff had this platinum blonde hair that was whiter than white and he would run out to that swing set and start pumping his legs like there was no tomorrow. His white hair would be blowing in the wind and he had the biggest smile on his face as he climbed higher and higher in the air. Grandma Joan was worried that he would go flying right off that swing and land on the roof or hit the back of the house, so she would watch him from the bedroom window.

There was a German family that lived across the street from them in the suburbs of Chicago. In particular, there was an older woman who had come from the old country. Mrs. Fomer was a fascinating woman who loved children and would bake these spectacular cookies and cakes at the holidays. She also was a very clean woman and would constantly be sweeping out the garage, sweeping the driveway, or cleaning up about the yard. She would watch in amazement as Jeff, who had only been around five years old, would go screaming down the sidewalk on his Big Wheels. Now, I don’t know if you children know what a Big Wheels was, but it was sort of like a tricycle, in that it had three wheels. However, the seat on this bike rode only a couple of inches above the ground. It had a huge wheel in the front and two fat smaller wheels in the back. Once you got pedaling that thing it could go very fast.

Well, Mrs. Fomer would just shake her head as she must have thought that Jeff was some crazed little madman with his bleached blonde hair flowing behind him, and his face all red from pedaling like he had been lit on fire. She would get nervous and just turn her back on him while sweeping and mumbling to herself in German, “Verrückter junge!”, which meant “crazy boy” in her native tongue.

Oh well, that was my father. Jeff was a strong and fearless little tyke. Once Grandpa Ed told me that they had been at one of those large family picnics and all of the kids were playing and running around. One particular boy came up behind Jeff, who had only been three or four years old at the time, and jumped right on his back. Jeff simply kept walking with him, bent over a tad and flipped him over his shoulders. Ah, yes, he was strong and he wouldn’t take any kind of nonsense from anyone either.

After a few years had gone by, Jeff and Tom were doing everything together. Every day they ate, played, watched television, and slept in the same room together. There had never been two brothers closer than Tom and Jeff. Ah, sometimes they did fight when they lost their tempers, but they always made up.  By the time Tom was eight years old and Jeff was six, they went to school together. They would stand on the street corner in front of their house waiting for the school bus to pick them up; during that time they would play kick the can or make jokes or just act silly with one another.

Tom was a shy boy who never seemed to like being noticed. He would go off by himself and occupy his time with whatever toy or hobby he happened to be interested in at the time. However, he always kept his eyes and ears open to the world around him and never missed out on the comings and goings. He would watch and study people while listening to their conversations, taking it all in as if he were researching for his thesis.

Jeff, on the other hand, was the showman. The spotlight loved him, and being the center of attention came as natural to him as an actor on stage. He was the charmer who could bring a smile to the face of even the most cynical person. With a wry grin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, his outgoing personality always seemed to draw a crowd of people to him.

I’m not quite sure how it had started or even when, but somewhere along the way in their childhood their father had given Jeff the nickname the “little Gubber”. And ever since that moment, he was for all practical purposes, the “little Gubber”. Whenever they were screwing around together and their parents saw them, and especially if they caught Tom in the act, he would get punished. Tom would call out, “What about him? Jeff was doing it, too!” And their father would say, “Well, he’s the little Gubber.” As they eventually got older, the “little” was dropped from the nickname and he was just known as “the Gubber”.

“Hey Gubber, do you want to play ball?” Tom asked.

“Yeah, sure!”

Now, the boys had a slightly over protective mother, who always wanted to know exactly what they were going to do, when they were coming back, and if they were dressed properly for the occasion. Since they were boys and had no intention of being delayed by having to rethink their wardrobe, they deployed this little scheme whenever they just wanted to run out and not be bothered with the tasks of proper preparation or interrogation from their mother. They waited until their mother was on the telephone or busy with some task and then they crept past her and snuck down the stairs. They slowly opened the front door so it would not creak, then right when they were ready to bolt out the door they called out, “Bye, Mom we’re going to play outside.” And before she could even say “wait” they slammed the door and ran down the driveway and out into the street.

Walking alongside the curb, they made their way toward Robert Frost School Park just a few blocks away. Tom was holding the bat in his left hand and the softball in his right hand, and he nonchalantly threw the ball over his head to Jeff, who caught it. He then tossed it back to Tom and they continued to do this until they got to the park. Upon arriving, they noticed some children playing in the baseball diamond, so they walked past them and on to the alternate field past the school playground. This field was bigger than the diamond; however it didn’t have the bag bases or the dirt mound.

“Do you want to go first?” asked Tom.

“Yeah, I feel some power flowing in these muscles today. You better play way back,” Jeff said and gave his classic smirk.

“Uh huh, we’ll see, Superman.” Tom walked out into the field and then turned around and waited for the first ball to come out to him. Jeff threw the ball up in the air, readied himself for his big moment and swung … swoosh! He missed completely and the ball dropped to the ground.

Tom, not wanting to let this moment go unnoticed, quickly fell to the ground and then got up laughing. “Oh yeah, I felt the power on that one all the way out here. It blew me right over!” he teased him.

Jeff didn’t say anything and bent down to pick up the ball. He shortened his grip on the bat and tossed the ball up in the air again. Smack! He connected hard and the ball sailed over Tom’s head as he went running after it.

“Ha! I told you I felt the power today,” Jeff said confidently as his brother threw the ball in to him.

Tom just smiled and took a few steps backward, as he didn’t want to have to go running after the ball again. Taking turns at bat and fielding the ball the rest of the afternoon, they simply enjoyed each other’s company. They especially liked playing softball or football or really anything that took them out of the house and into the fresh air. Soon they were heading back home and laughing most of the way there.

“I told you I felt the power.”

“Yeah, you were smacking ’em around pretty good out there today. You must have eaten your Wheaties this morning,” Tom replied.

“Do you think Dad’s home yet?”

“I don’t know. I have no idea what time it is.”

“I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry. Come on I’ll race you to the door,” Tom said and took off.

“Hey, wait for me!”

* * *

Getting up from the recliner, Kal went into the kitchen for something to wet his whistle. He enjoyed telling this tale as it was very cathartic for him, but he was definitely feeling parched. After giving Natalia a peck on the cheek and a sly wink, he took the glass of lemonade back into the living room.

“Mmm, hmm. Boy, this sure does go down smooth. Oh, that woman really knows how to strike up good lemonade. Oh yeah, that really hits the spot. It’s too bad you all don’t have something like this to quench your thirst.”

“Grandpa, where’s ours?” the children asked.

“Oh, you wouldn’t want any of this deliciously, cold, lemony and good-to-the-last-drop lemonade, would you?”

“Grandpa!”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Kal, quit teasing them,” Natalia said as she came in with a tray of glasses for the kids.

“Thank you, Grandma!” they cried out.

And little Calvin stuck his tongue out at Kal and what else could Grandpa do but return the gesture, for no matter his age, he was still a kid at heart.

“Okay, now that we all had our lemonade…uh, so where was I?”

“Tom and Jeff had just come home from playing ball at the park,” Jennifer said.

“Ah yes, that’s right, Jennifer.”

* *

The boys came home and walked in through the front door. Without bothering to untie their shoes, they stepped on the backs of the heels and slipped them off before climbing up the stairs that led into the kitchen. Their mother was by the stove making a pan of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Jeff went over and smelled the meatloaf.

“Mm, that smells good,” he said and was about to pick off a piece from the corner when his mother told him to go and wash up after being outside.

“Oh Mom, just one pick first?”

“No, you’re filthy! Now, off you go. You too, Tom. Your father will be home soon,” Grandma Joan said.

“Race you to the bathroom,” Jeff said and took off down the hallway.

“Get back here, you little Gubber!” Tom called out and ran after him.

The Jabasik’s household also included the family dog. She was a tri-color Collie named Kelly, who always knew when meal time was and quickly made her way under the table next to the boys for her usual share of the meal. Quite often this was the food that they didn’t want, things such as peas, asparagus, and beans. Kelly’s reward for eating all of those grotesque vegetables for them was a share in their desserts as well.

“So what did you boys do today?” asked Grandpa Ed.

“Oh nothing much, just played a little,” Tom said. Kelly shoved her long snoot into his lap and nudged him to make sure he knew she was still there. Tom looked around the table and when no one was looking, he took his fork and flung a green bean off his plate and into his lap, then using his left hand, retrieved it and fed it to the dog. She gobbled it up and waited patiently for the next one. Deborah, their sister, who always sat on Tom’s left during meals, noticed Kelly chewing up the beans. She looked at Tom and shook her head to let him know she knew what he was doing. He just grinned and scooped up more meatloaf.

“They snuck out again when I was on the phone. Don’t think I don’t know what you two were up to; I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck you know,” Grandma Joan said.

Jeff giggled while looking down at his plate and then shoved another forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth.

“So where did you go?” Grandpa Ed asked.

“We went to the park and played ball,” Tom said after flinging another bean into his lap.

“I hit a homerun way over Tom’s head and he had to run after it,” Jeff chimed into the conversation.

“Well, bravo to you. If you keep up that healthy appetite you’ll be big and strong and be able to knock them right out of the park.”

Kelly didn’t get a lot of dropped morsels from Jeff, as he tended to clean his plate fairly well and usually wanted seconds. Tom was the picky eater who only ate a very small variety of different foods and an even smaller selection of vegetables. The only vegetables that his mother could get him to eat were spinach, lettuce and tomatoes; however every once in awhile she did try to sneak something new into him.

After dinner the two boys went into their room and played with Lego building blocks. They would pretend they were underwater treasure hunters, or astronauts at a space station or pilots flying jets in a war to defend the world. Using their imaginations, they would build the various pieces that were needed to make their adventure complete. This night they were searching for buried treasure deep in the Pacific Ocean. With the building blocks, they constructed mouth pieces to breathe underwater, goggles to see with, and flashlights to light their way while scuba diving in the dark abyss. They also built an array of digging tools for searching the sandy bottom.

Soon their mother was calling out to them to get ready for bed. After putting their Lego structures aside until the next day, they readied themselves for the night and crawled into bed. The two twin-size beds were each against the side walls and separated only by a small dresser that they shared. The two top drawers belonged to Tom and the two bottom drawers were Jeff’s. After getting into bed, they talked most of the night about their plans for the next day’s adventures and what they would do after school. It wasn’t long after eleven-thirty when they both dozed off into their dreams while holding their animal shaped pillows with the colorful picture of a raccoon on them.

There was a rather bizarre incident that had happened to the boys on one of their outings to the park. It is of significance because it is part of the key, or maybe just another piece to the puzzle, in which everything comes together to build an amazing picture. It happened on one summer afternoon when the two brothers snuck out of the house again to play basketball at Robert Frost School Park. As they took turns dribbling the basketball, they made their way down the street towards the school laughing and talking along the way. Once they made it to the basketball court, which was little more than a rounded patch of asphalt and two basketball poles on both ends, they started to take shots. Some went in making an awkward, metallic sound as the ball went through the chain nets, while others clanked off the rusted rim.

Tom stood back and shot the ball at the nine foot rim and it hit the backboard in such a way that it ricocheted behind the pole into the grass. Jeff started to trot after it and as he neared underneath the net by the pole, he slipped on loose gravel and fell on his knees. He let out a scream and quickly sat on the asphalt holding his knee.

“What happened? Are you all right?” Tom yelled out as he rushed over to see what had happened. Then he too slipped on the loose gravel that surrounded the base of the pole and he fell to the ground landing on his knees.

Shortly after, the two boys could be seen walking down Ash Drive holding their left knees as blood dripped down their calves and collected at the tops of their white basketball socks. Coming into the foyer of their home, they called out to their mother.

“What happened? Where are you hurt?” she said and hurriedly came to see after them.

Their father had been home for lunch and also came to see what all the commotion was about.

“Well, come on you two…come into the bathroom and let’s see what this looks like,” he said and went into the hallway bathroom.

“Take a seat, Gubber,” he said after putting the toilet seat down. “What happened?”

“I fell by the basketball pole getting the ball,” he said sobbing and wincing as his father dabbed peroxide on the cuts and cleaned off the dirt.

“Tom, hand me the tweezers out of that drawer, the far one on the left.”

Tom got out the tweezers and handed them to his father, then sat on the edge of the bathtub and watched as his father picked out the pieces of gravel in Jeff’s knee. He grabbed a tissue and held it on his own knee to stop some of the bleeding.

After putting a large gauze bandage on Jeff’s knee and securing it with white medical tape, Ed gave Jeff a little tap on the leg and said, “Okay, you’re done. Next?”

Tom sat down on the toilet seat and tensed up while his father reached for the peroxide. “So, what happened to you? And how is it you have the exact same cuts on the same left knee?”

“I don’t know. I went over to see what happened to Jeff and then I slipped on the gravel. I just went sailing.”

“I don’t get it; after you saw your brother take a tumble why weren’t you more careful?”

“I don’t know…ow!”

His father looked up, “Would you like to bite on a stick?”

At the time, Tom didn’t really know what that meant and thought it an odd thing to say. Of course, later on he realized what it meant. In the old days, before there was pain killer and anesthetic, people used to bite down on a piece of wood or a stick to help bear the pain.

After placing tape over the large gauze bandage, Ed helped him up. “Okay, you’re all set. You two should go and do something quiet now for a while.”

“Thanks, Dad!”

The two brothers ended up having the same scars from that day. When they were older and would think back on that day, they’d lift up their pants leg and compare their scars on their left knees.

“Look at that – the exact same three scars, all in parallel and aligned vertically. How do you suppose we ever managed to hit the ground in the exact same spot and get the exact same deep cuts on our knees?” Jeff had asked.

“I don’t know; we were just lucky I guess,” Tom replied with a grin.

Such was the life of the two brothers while growing up in Mount Prospect, Illinois, a little suburb northwest of Chicago. Upon getting older, their active imaginations focused in on the arts and especially music. They could both play the piano and the drums fairly well, and Tom could also play the saxophone. The boys both had an insatiable passion for music and their love of the arts was always prevalent in their lives.

Whether it was music or paintings or sculptures, their appreciation for the artistic and creative venue was by far their most driving force. It was the one thing they shared together that would stay with them forever. It had brought them closer and gave them a deeper understanding of each other’s inner workings, for what they couldn’t say or express with words they told through music. And what they hadn’t realized at the time was that same music they created would live on long after they were gone.

 

Shared Fear

The cell phone ring didn’t sound any different than usual that evening. It should have, but it didn’t. It should have alerted Tom to the news he was about to receive, it should have given him a warning, or a sign, or something that would have braced him for what he was about to hear. Instead, it rang like it did for every other phone call, and after seeing his brother’s cell number appear in the caller ID, a little smile came across his face. After all, he and Jeff had shared many telephone conversations that left them both laughing far after they had hung up.

“Hey, Gubber,” Tom answered.

“Tom.”

“Yeah, what’s going on?” he thought there was a bad connection because he didn’t hear anything.

“Tom, I have something to tell you.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I was at the doctor and…I have…cancer,” he said slowly, quietly.

“Oh no, my God, Jeff. I’m so sorry,” was all Tom could muster. His head was spinning as he strained to listen to his brother’s words. They were muffled and quiet and it sounded as if he was trying with all his might not to lose his composure.

“The doctor said I have melanomas in my thigh muscles and the back of my leg.” He started to cry and sniff and as he did Tom cried right along with him. The tears filled his eyes until he could no longer see, and blinking them away didn’t seem to matter. There appeared to be an unlimited supply. Jeff paused for a moment.

“Tom?”

“I’m listening.”

“He said the cancer spread to my liver and they want to start treatment right away. They need to do a full PET scan and MRI on Monday.”

“Do you want me to come down and go with you?” Tom asked.

“Yeah, that would be great if you wouldn’t mind driving down.”

“No, of course not, I can leave right away.”

“I just want someone here who can give an unbiased viewpoint on what the doctors have to say. Mom and Dad are going too, and you know how they like to ask a lot of questions and want to know every little detail. I just need someone to help me remember everything because my mind isn’t clear right now.”

“I’ll be there. I’ll start packing the minute I hang up. I’m really sorry, Jeff. I can’t believe it. Are you in any pain at all?”

“There’s a lot of pain in my abdomen, that’s why I went in.” He started to cry again. Tom felt so bad for him. He felt helpless and useless, as he always protected his little brother. He had helped him out from time to time, but this was far beyond any skill he had acquired. Tom had always thought of himself as “the problem solver.” Give `ol Tom any problem and he’d figure out a solution. He prided himself on always being able to figure things out and at the last moment, come up with the answer; he had established himself as the clutch player. Only now, there were no answers. He didn’t even know what questions to ask, or how he should feel, or act. He was blank … just a mountain of worthless information accumulated over the years.

“I’m gonna go, and I’ll see you when you get here,” Jeff said.

Tom hadn’t realized that his silence had been ticking away as his mind jumped from neuron to neuron, struggling desperately to find a path that made sense and could solve this problem.

“Okay, I’m on my way. I’ll see you soon,” he replied. Jeff disconnected the call, but Tom sat for several minutes with the phone in his hand. He couldn’t believe it and he didn’t want to believe it. His sister, who had multiple sclerosis, had been in and out of hospitals for over twenty years. She had even “code-blued” and been brought back to life. He had prepared himself for the inevitable fate that seemed to await her, but not for Jeff’s. His little brother was big, nearly six-foot three inches, and was strong; unlike Tom, who was tall and sort of scrawny. Jeff weighed in at over two-hundred ten pounds and was solidly built. He seemed larger than life with his energetic and outgoing personality. Always the good-looking kid, he lived in Chicago and loved the fast paced city life. Jeff had many friends that always seemed to surround him, hoping for that enigmatic energy to flow their way.

Tom laid the phone down on the desk and went to tell Donna the horrific news, then proceeded to pack for the trip down to Illinois. Taking his travel bag out of the closet, he went through the motions of getting his things together, but all the while his mind was racing with thoughts of the conversation he had just had. His brother was only forty-one years old and it just didn’t seem right that he had such a dreaded disease. Melanoma was the least forgiving of the cancers and the treatment was harsh and hard. With all of the things that had ever gone through Tom’s mind, he had never imagined that this could happen, not to his baby brother.

He had always believed that he was the one who was going to die young. His whole life he had always looked young and people would constantly ask him his age not believing he was telling the truth. He could never picture himself getting older or looking like the grandpa he was eventually supposed to become. Tom had figured that his fate was to never see himself old. So he set his mind in preparation for any bad news that would ever come his way. But now, it was Jeff who had gotten cancer; and like with his sister having multiple sclerosis, Tom felt useless. Whatever he could possibly do for them had felt insignificant and trivial. He was caught completely off guard and defenseless in all aspects.

Just before leaving, he grabbed an art print from his office, one that he had purchased just a few weeks before and had yet to have framed. It was a painting of an old-fashioned bar that sat on a street corner in the middle of a city. Painted by Edward Hopper and titled “Nighthawks”, it was an amazing print that Tom knew his brother would love. Jeff always admired and adored anything having to do with art and city life.

It was about nine o’clock that evening when he started the four hour drive south from Wisconsin to the Chicago area. It’s a long time to be alone in the car without anything but terrible thoughts racing through one’s mind. He wondered if the same thoughts were going through his brother’s head as well, and the harder he tried to think of something else the more his imagination drove down dark alleyways.

He stepped down on the gas pedal and sped down Interstate 90 as tears rolled down his cheek. By the time he arrived in his parents’ neighborhood almost three hours later, he had apparently sped most of the way there, and trimmed a four-hour drive down to three. The tears had dried and he mustered the courage to go inside and see Jeff.

“Hi Mom,” he said and greeted his mother with a hug when she answered the door.

“I’m glad you came down. We could use all the help we can get.” Their mother was a strong woman of Austrian and German descent who stood about five-foot seven inches. Her thick and curly brownish hair had always been the same ever since he could remember. Even in her wedding picture, it was piled high on top of her head and the same locks had managed to twist and wave into the exact same position. Her facial features hadn’t changed either, except for a few added wrinkles. Joan had always seemed to be one of those unique constants in life, both in appearance and mannerism. She never seemed to let life get the best of her, no matter how much it dealt out. Her constant attention to her children when they were in need was unmatched. She was at her daughter’s side continuously during her many years of suffering with multiple sclerosis. And then, when Jeff had gotten cancer, she left him only to eat or sleep.

Tom went into the guest room where Jeff had been sitting at the desk working on his computer. He stood up and went to greet his older brother with an outstretched hand and then hugged him.

“Thanks for coming down.”

“Don’t even give it a thought. How are you doing? Do you need anything?” Tom asked.

Jeff didn’t look at all like his usual friendly, outgoing self. His normal dynamic personality and humoristic view were shrouded by a cloud of worry and fear. He walked a little hunched over from the apparent pain in his abdomen and held his right side.

“No, I was just doing a little research on the Internet.”

“Hey, I brought you a little present,” Tom said holding up a two- foot, round cardboard tube that contained the rolled up print.

Jeff cracked a small smile and took it from him. It was that same little smirk that Tom always remembered since they were kids. It wasn’t even really a smile, but a devious little grin like when they used to peek at the unwrapped Christmas presents in their parents’ closet. Jeff popped off the end of the tube, then took out the print and unrolled it. Staring at the artwork, he smiled and his eyes seemed to brighten.

“I really like this. It reminds me of Chicago. I have to see if Dad has a frame I can put this in … Dad!” he called out, as he walked out of the room.

Tom felt good at that moment, and the long trip was well worth the effort, if only to deliver that print, which brought a smile to his brother’s face. Looking around the guestroom, he glanced at the computer Jeff had been working at and noticed that there was a document on the screen about melanomas. It left an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach and he turned away. He left the room to find his father, whom he hadn’t yet greeted.

By the time Tom made his way out to the garage, Jeff and their father were already in the attic looking for a picture frame for the art print. His father, being over six feet tall, and weighing in at over two hundred pounds, was in the attic shuffling around various boxes and stored knick knacks, while Jeff was standing on the fold-up ladder behind him, pointing to a frame that he had seen.

“A little more to your right … yeah, that one. That’s it!”

Their father handed the frame to Jeff, who quickly grabbed it and went back into the house. Tom stayed back and held the ladder while his father closed up the attic opening and descended the steps.

“Hey son, did you just get here?”

“Yeah, a few minutes ago.”

His father pushed up the ladder. It folded like an accordion and lay against the ceiling. In all of his life, Tom never had known their father to show emotion or fear. This day was different however, as he seemed frazzled and worried. This day, he no longer looked like the guarded, retired Lieutenant-Commander, but more like a distraught father praying with all his might for a miracle. He had always been the worker and provider of the family, and believed that with sheer will and determination anything could be accomplished. Always setting the highest standards for integrity, work ethic, and morals, he didn’t just talk it, but taught it through example to his sons. He never faltered or strayed from the path of righteousness. He did, however, pass on his witty humor and sarcasm to all of his children. All of them had used this wonderful gift often to liven up occasions, get out of jams, and put obnoxious people in their place. Unfortunately, it had no practical use in the current circumstances and would have to be put away for the months that were to follow.

After dinner, Jeff asked if they could all pray together. So they gathered in the living room, and sitting together, recited the Hail Mary prayer. Afterwards, silently and with all their might, they asked God and Mary to please answer it.

Later that evening, when it was time to turn in for the night, the two brothers shared the guest room, and it was like when they were children growing up and living with their parents. However, this time, the circumstances in which they were brought back together were ominous and uneasy. Jeff was in the twin bed closest to the door and Tom was in the matching twin near the window, with a small nightstand between the two beds. Over the nightstand Jeff hung the print that Tom had brought with him.

Jeff had been facing the door when he turned slightly and called over his right shoulder.

“Just like the good `ol days, huh Tom?”

“Yeah, Gubber … just like the good old days.”

The following day Jeff asked Tom to drive him to the south side of the city, so that he could tell his son that he had cancer and would be going into the hospital for treatment. It was nearly a two hour drive to his ex-wife’s house, so there was some time to get his thoughts together and try to figure out how he would break the news as they drove along the interstate.

“Do you know what you’re going to say to Kal?” Tom inquired trying to break the silence.

“No, not really,” Jeff said and was unusually quiet and distant. This was very odd behavior for him. Tom, the quiet one who never could keep a conversation going if his very life depended on it, tried to get more information from Jeff in order to try to help him with his thoughts.

“Are you scared about doing your treatment tomorrow?”

Jeff, looking straight ahead at the road said, “Of course I’m scared.”

“I don’t have any idea what’s going through your head right now, but I’d be scared, too. I think I would try to plan for the worst, get that all resolved and then just use all my energy to fight it. I mean, I don’t have any doubts that you’re strong enough to get through this – this fight is not going to take place at the hospital. It’s going to take place on that one square foot of real-estate upstairs.”

Jeff looked at his brother and raised his eyebrows. The metaphor triggered that all too familiar curl at the corner of his mouth. “I like that analogy – it’s got a lot of meaning to it.” It seemed to put him in better spirits, but Tom, not knowing when to let a good thing just be, added one more comment that he had always wished he could take back.

“I know you’re going to beat this. You’re like Superman.”

“Oh man, don’t say that! Superman died,” Jeff responded, and with that he drifted back into some distant place.

Tom shrunk into the driver’s seat and didn’t say anything else the rest of the trip. He didn’t think of the fact that the actor Christopher Reeve, who played Superman, had passed away only a few years prior. He felt terrible and thought to himself, when will I learn to just keep my mouth shut? Mr. Metaphor man – brilliant.

They pulled into the driveway and Jeff walked up to the door. Claudia, his ex-wife, answered and Jeff asked her to step outside on the porch.

Tom stayed back and leaned against the front of the car so that he could give them their space.

“Hi Tom,” she called out to him.

“Hi Claudia,” Tom responded.

Tom watched as Jeff motioned to Claudia to sit down on the bench that stood to the left of the front door. Jeff sat down and positioned himself closest to the door.  With both feet firmly planted, and his hands folded over his knees, he began his explanation. Claudia sat at the other end of the bench and had her foot tucked underneath her as she listened. Tom couldn’t hear any of their conversation, but like a silent movie he could tell how it had gone by their actions. At one point, Claudia put her hand up to her mouth and looked at Jeff with wide eyes and a look of concern and alarm. Jeff had his head down, staring at the concrete porch when Claudia moved towards him and hugged him. He held on to her for a few moments and then continued inquiring as to how he should break the news to their son, who had only been thirteen at the time.

It was a summer day and the temperature was in the eighties, but Tom didn’t seem to notice as he began to pace from the car, to the small pond in the front yard, and back again. His mind began to ask questions and then ponder their resolution. How could someone so young understand the seriousness of what his father was about to tell him? What was Jeff going to tell him? Would he tell him everything or, like the father and person he had always been, keep most of his pain and inner struggles to himself and act as if everything was fine and under control?

The more uncomfortable Tom became with the answers he had formulated in his head, the more he nervously paced around the small yard. Life was spilling sand into the bottom half of the hourglass and he started to become painfully aware of how little remained in the top half.

* * *

“At that time, when I was living at home with my mother, my bedroom was on the top floor. The day my father came over and my mother called me from downstairs, there was no inclination of the tragic news I was about to hear. As I galloped down the stairs, I could see my father sitting on the bench out on the front porch. I had no idea yet that this day was going to be one of the worst days of my life. After sitting down next to him, I listened as he explained to me that he had cancerous melanomas. All I remember is that I kept thinking to myself that I was having a bad dream and this couldn’t be real.”

* *

 

Treatment

            Tom sat in the navy blue, vinyl reclining chair by the back wall of the hospital room where the large windows streamed in the day’s light. It was a chair that he would eventually become quite familiar with. One could even say he had maintained a love-hate relationship that seemed to come with the situation. He watched as the nurse started an IV line for Jeff who, propped up against the pillow, also watched as she found the vein, put in the needle and taped the line to his forearm. He always seemed to want to know exactly what they were doing to his body, how they were going to do it, and why it was to be done. This was opposite of Tom, who only was interested in the bottom line, never wanting to know the gory details. The nurse finished up and no sooner had she left the room when Jeff draped his legs over the side of the bed, grabbed his IV pole, and stood up.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said with a grin.

Tom followed him out into the hallway to start their tour around the eighth floor. This ward was dedicated to cancer patients receiving treatment and most stayed in their rooms and watched television. Once in a while they would run into someone walking the floor. They usually wore a hat or scarf around their head to hide the thinning hair from the radiation treatments. Jeff continued his hike, peering into the rooms as he went by, when suddenly he stopped at the entrance of a larger waiting room and turned to Tom.

“There’s a piano in here!” he said.

They both went into the empty room, and Tom turned off the television while Jeff sat at the upright piano. He pushed back the lid that was covering the keys and let his fingers find their familiar position.  The piano came to life as he played the melody that he had been working with on and off for the last couple of years. It filled the room with quarter notes and half notes; sharps and flats. Although the upright was older, it had been kept in good condition and was still in tune.

“I see you changed it again,” Tom said when he had finished.

“Yeah, it’s a work in progress. Let’s hear what you’ve been doing.” Jeff said as he moved over to make room on the bench.

Tom sat next to him and played two pieces he had recently composed. One was a modern, popular sounding work that drew its inspiration from when he had a two-seater sports car. Jeff liked the composition and asked about it when Tom finished.

“Remember that little red Honda CR-X I had? I used to love driving that car, but I especially liked taking long road trips at night. I would leave for a business trip to Chicago or Mundelein during the summer months and open the sunroof to gaze out at all the stars while driving down I-90. It always seemed so surreal and amazing to look out the top while speeding along the highway listening to Beethoven or some other great piece of music. Anyway, that’s what I tried to bring out in this piece … that same feeling.”

“Well, I’m not sure I feel the wind in my hair, but I like it,” he grinned. “One more and then we should head back ‘cause I don’t want to miss Frasier.” He played the theme from Cheers before standing up and heading back to his room.

After climbing into the hospital bed, Jeff used the remote to switch on the sitcom Frasier, his favorite TV series. Tom turned the guest chair around and placed it next to the bed to watch the show with him.

“This is a good episode; it’s the one when they have to take their father out to dinner at some greasy spoon. Do you ever watch this show?”

“Not all the time, but I’ve seen quite a few episodes,” Tom replied.

At about five minutes before nine, a nurse came into the room with a green IV bag and started to tell Jeff about the treatment. But Frasier hadn’t ended yet, so he was a bit put out by the interruption.

“Can you come back in about four minutes, it’s just about over,” he said while still looking at the television.

She looked at Tom who motioned silently that he agreed with Jeff. Slightly annoyed she left the room, taking the little green bag with her.

Tom learned to hate that little green IV bag, as that was the bio-chemotherapy treatment; a blend of chemo and the Interleukin 2, which was supposed to help the body’s own immune system fight the cancer cells. In reality, all he remembered was that little green bag meant they were in for a long night in which he had to watch his brother suffer and shake violently while waves of helplessness overcame him.

Not long after Frasier ended, the nurse came back and hung the IV bag on the stand, hooked up the tubing, and started the treatment.

“Jeff, I’ve started your chemo treatment and you’ve been receiving the Interleukin 2 already, which should help fight the bad cells. The side effects of this treatment are usually nausea and shivering. If you start to shake too much we have to give you Morphine to control it, otherwise it can get out of control. It is easier to stay on top of this, so I will check in on you frequently throughout the night.”

“Okay, thanks,” Jeff replied. He looked at Tom who was standing next to his bed. “Are you ready to rock and roll, Bro?”

“I’m right here with ya, Gub.”

An hour went by and all seemed well. Jeff was in good spirits as they had been talking about the various projects they were going to start when Jeff finished his therapy. Two hours went by and still Jeff showed no signs of the side effects. Tom thought that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. After all, Jeff was young and strong and except for the cancer had always been healthy, but then at eleven-thirty that evening the shaking started. Jeff asked for another blanket and Tom hurriedly grabbed a few from the cabinet and covered him. Jeff pulled them up to his neck and with his arms tucked inside, held onto them as if he had been out on an Alaskan hillside in the dead of winter. The shaking continued and when the nurse came in to check on him, she wanted to give a dose of Morphine to combat the tremors.

“No, not yet,” Jeff said. “Let me try to get on top of them myself.” He didn’t like drugs or things being put into his body that were not natural unless it was absolutely necessary. So he sat up in bed and started to do his yoga breathing that he had learned while taking a class. Taking deep therapeutic breaths while putting his hands firmly together in front of his chest, and then moving them inward and outward, he actually did it. He stopped his body from shaking. The nurse, who stood in amazement, smiled and put the morphine shot back into the case.

“Okay, I’ve never seen that before … let me know if it starts again,” she said and left.

“How the hell did you do that?” asked Tom.

Jeff just gave his usual grin and lay back down with the covers. About twenty minutes later the shakes were back more violently than before, and the nurse was administering the morphine shot.

“It’s only two milligrams, but everyone reacts to Morphine differently,” she said. “Have you ever had Morphine?”

“Are you kidding me? Of course, not,” he responded.

“Whooooooo-weeeeeee!” Jeff called out. He immediately seemed to get a jolt of energy and started to act as though he had been intoxicated. “Oh, mama! What have you given me? Whooo-weee! Whoo! Talk to me, Tom. You gotta talk to me!”

Tom, the quiet reserved one, was taken aback a bit by his brother’s strange behavior, but started to tell him a story that he hoped would help combat the drugs and calm him down.

“Do you remember that time in high school when we stole a couple of Deborah’s cigarettes and went downstairs and tried our hand at smoking? We lit ‘em up and blew the smoke up the fireplace chimney. I was sort of taking it easy and didn’t inhale the smoke right away, but not you. Nope, you just took one big drag of that cigarette and inhaled … coughed your lungs out the rest of the afternoon, but whenever you decided to try something – you tried it! There was never any halfway with you, it was always all or nothing. You would just jump in head first throwing all caution to the wind. I’ve always admired that about you – that raw courage.”

Jeff smiled, but his eyes were large and dilated. Tom wasn’t sure if he comprehended any of the story, but after some time the Morphine wore off and the shivers stopped. Soon, he dozed off and Tom sat in the chair and watched him the rest of the night. Tom couldn’t sleep and kept a vigilant eye on his kid brother. Jeff woke on and off the rest of the night, usually in need of more blankets, or because he was awakened by the night-shift nurse who needed to take blood pressure, temperature, and sugar levels. The sugar level test was the worst as they had to prick his finger to get a drop of blood. You probably wouldn’t think that was such a big deal; after all, it’s just a little prick of the finger. But if you could imagine having the worst possible flu with the chills and nausea, and all you wanted to do was sleep and wake up in the morning feeling better. Only instead, you were continually awakened. You were stabbed, prodded, annoyed, and talked to as if you were a toddler in need of discipline. Tom didn’t know from where Jeff found the patience or the courage. If it had been him he would have strangled the entire floor by now or left altogether, but not Jeff. He took it and kept on taking it without even as much as a grunt or sarcastic remark.

By the time morning came, Tom was completely exhausted and cramped from sitting in the uncomfortable hospital chair. Their parents came and took over the day shift while Tom dragged himself back to the house for some much needed rest. After saying goodbye to Jeff and telling him he would see him again that night, he felt bad for him. Jeff looked pale and worn out. Tom felt guilty, as though he was deserting him. He felt weak for needing rest and a break from the hospital, as his brother would not receive one. He was a prisoner there who would have to endure another round of treatment, testing, and stabbings throughout the day. There was no reprieve for him; imagine that for one minute…continuous pain and suffering without ever getting a moment’s rest.

After Tom had gotten some rest, he was back at the hospital around four-thirty in the afternoon to give his parents a break. Jeff had looked better than he had that morning, but still was tired. His spirits seemed to be up as he had called DeChelle and she was on her way from Indiana. It would be nearly four hours before she would arrive at Lutheran General, so Tom and Jeff passed the time by working on a new movie script, and when that got to be too tiring they moved on to playing cards.

“Do you have any threes?” Tom asked.

Jeff was looking at his cell phone and had a Cheshire grin on his face. He was a little distracted from the card game.

“Hey, Bro, what’s with the texting? Are we playing here or what?” Tom asked given his brother a nudge.

“DeChelle is driving up here and she keeps texting me letting me know her exact position every time she stops for tolls or something. She’s a tad on the crazy side – just the way I like my women. She should be here in about twenty minutes or so.”

“Alright, well put the phone down and give me your threes.”

“Ha, go fish, Bro – I’ze got no threes in this here hand to give ya. How’z `bout you go reach in that there honking club hand of yours, and pulls me outz a couple of them kings y’ouz been hiden’ from me?” Jeff said with a deep Southern drawl.

“You’re such a lucky gunky – I think you rigged the cards again.” Tom replied as he took out the King of Diamonds and tossed it across the bed.

“Lucky at cards…” he stopped before finishing his sentence and put the pair of kings in the growing pile in front of him.

During the final couple of hands, DeChelle came into the room and introduced herself to Tom.

“It’s nice to meet you, DeChelle. You know, I have to get the hell out of here anyway because Jeff just kicked my butt again in cards.” Tom said as he smiled. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Jeff.”

“Later, Bro.”

After Tom had left, DeChelle hugged Jeff and he filled her in on the latest details of his condition and what had been going on up until that point. He told DeChelle how he hadn’t wanted to hear of any prognoses from the doctors.

* * *

Kal moved to the front of his recliner where he stretched out his left leg and massaged his aching knee. Looking into the innocent faces of his grandchildren, he hoped that he was impressing upon them the rare, precious gift of life.

“While my father wanted to know exactly everything that was happening to him with regards to his treatment, he didn’t want to hear the odds. He didn’t want to hear about what his chances were that some statistician made up. Whatever happened, happened; and he would just see where life or death would take him. He also didn’t want to see any friends or anyone who wasn’t part of the small circle of family he had let into his current life. Mostly, he talked about his son, yours truly, and how he wanted things to be handled with my care.”

* *

DeChelle had brought a small electronic keyboard with her, so that Jeff could play a couple of songs. That night, he sat in the chair by the windows and played the keyboard for about an hour before a nurse came in and asked him to turn down the volume so as not to disturb the other patients. Other nurses however, came and stood by the doorway and listened to his music and enjoyed the melodies. When he tired, he climbed back into bed and asked DeChelle to lie down next to him, which she did with slight hesitation. She worried that she may pull out an IV cord or interrupt the many wires connected to him that monitored his vitals.

Throughout the night, they chatted on and off, not really talking about anything in particular. Before they fell asleep, Jeff asked, “Do you know that I love you?” and of course she had known.

One evening DeChelle and Jeff were listening to his iPod together. They each had one of the earpieces in and were just relaxing and listening to the music, when the song came on that was played at Kal’s eighth grade school graduation. Jeff stood up and took DeChelle’s hands and they danced slowly to the music, in spite of the IV pole and electrodes connected to Jeff’s body.

They danced cheek to cheek, moving to the rhythm when DeChelle felt something wet running against her cheek. When she looked up she saw Jeff had tears in his eyes. Jeff sat back down on the bed and said that he just wanted to be able to be there for his son. He wanted to be there for Kal’s high school years and make sure he would make it through college. There would be advice to give on the cruelties of the world and how to handle them. What about love, children, art, and music? Who would give his son all the things he was surely to need as he grew into the man he was to become?

DeChelle started to cry and she tried to reassure him.

“You’re a strong guy and you will beat this. We have a future together. Your family’s love and my love will be here for you to help you through it.” DeChelle’s heart was breaking the entire time, as she couldn’t imagine her life without Jeff in it.

The next day, DeChelle had asked Jeff to play the piano for her. They walked down the hallway to the family waiting room, where Jeff sat at the familiar upright piano with which he had become quite acquainted. He played a couple of notes and then, wearing his famous wry grin, he turned to look at her. Knowing all too well what song she had wanted to hear, he began to play the melody that he had written for her some time ago. Every time he had played the song, DeChelle fell in love with him all over again. It was the way his hands would glide effortlessly across the keys, and how they automatically seemed to know exactly where to go and how long to depress the keys before moving on. It was the way his head was tilted slightly downward and how he just seemed to be one with the piano – it was though he and the keys were best friends on one last adventure into the musical bliss.

As Jeff played, the tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t seem to contain them and she didn’t quite know why they came, but she moved to position herself behind Jeff so that he wouldn’t see her weeping. The tears just kept coming as she listened. There was a feeling deep inside of her soul that this would be the last time she would hear Jeff play their song. It was a feeling of loneliness and desolation. It made her sick to her stomach and her legs became weakened. As Jeff continued to play the song, she listened ever so intently to the last chords exhaled from the upright piano.

Somehow, Jeff seemed different to DeChelle. He had changed somewhat as he was more serious and careful with the words he chose. Emotionally, he was more available to the people around him, and while everyone else was predicting and contemplating a full recovery, it seemed Jeff was already planning for a different outcome.

The next day DeChelle had to return home, and it broke her heart to have to do so, but she had responsibilities. She reluctantly said goodbye and headed back to Indiana. While driving on the Interstate she received a text message from Jeff, it read, “It’s okay to leave, just don’t let go.” She pulled to the side of the road and wept for a long time before being able to continue her drive home.

©Copyright 2009-2016 Thomas E All rights reserved

Wounded Crow Publishing

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