When I arrived home that afternoon and told Joey what had happened, he got very teary for awhile as we sat on the couch beside each other. Then he reached over, hugged me and asked, "Can I visit him?"
"I don't know," I replied. "He's told his parents that he wants no visitors except Peter, Christian, me and Grandma."
"He says he's tired of having to pretend that everything is going to be OK. He thinks that if his school friends come he'll have to pretend again."
"He wouldn't have to pretend to me," Joey said. "I know what's happening and I wouldn't want him to pretend. In fact, I think I'd be mad if he did. But he's like a brother to me, and I just want to see him."
"I'll ask him," I promised.
Mark was sitting up in a chair when I went into his room the next morning. He greeted me happily and told me that he was feeling pretty good for a change. I asked him about Joey's request and he answered, "Of course he can come. He's the little brother I never had. I know I don't have to pretend for him."
"He said he'd be mad if you did."
He laughed. Then he asked, "Do you remember when we were talking about The Lord of the Rings you told me that you dreamt about it and that one time you almost died in your dream?" I nodded. "And remember we wondered what would happen if somebody actually did die in their dream?" I nodded again. "Well, last night I dreamt that I died. It scared me at the time and I woke up sweating. Then, as I thought about it, I realized that dying in the dream hadn't been so bad. It was like going to sleep and not waking up. There wasn't any pain or anything like that. Of course, I still don't know what, if anything, comes after dying, but I think I'm not quite so scared now."
I said I thought that was wonderful. Then I asked him if he wanted me to read some of The Once and Future King to him. He said yes, so we began with the first part, The Sword In The Stone, and were soon laughing gleefully over the adventures of Wart, Merlin, King Pellinore, Archimedes, et al. We giggled over the delicious jokes in the book. Every so often Mark asked me to repeat a passage because he especially liked the way something was described.
At length I put down the book and said, "I think you need to rest. I'm going next door to work, but I'll come back this afternoon."
Before I left, Mark asked me to help him to the bathroom and then to bed, which I did.
Downstairs, I stopped to talk with Mrs. Russell for a minute, observing that Mark seemed a little stronger. "Yes," she said, "that comes and goes. Sometimes he has a good day or two followed by a much harder time."
"Do you sit with him a lot?" I asked.
"Nearly all the time."
"I want to help you with that. Do you remember when we first talked about you spending all day at the hospital and feeling exhausted?" She nodded. "Well, I'm pretty free now, and I think you should have some time to yourself if you don't want to make yourself sick. It must be terribly tiring trying to stay upbeat for him all the time."
She looked at me appreciatively and asked, "Where do you get such understanding at your age?"
I had never thought about it. I supposed that if I had it maybe I'd gotten it from Grandma.
I worked on the yard, which gave me time to think. By lunch time I believe I had begun to accept what was going to happen, although I was still terribly angry and sad. I ate with Peter and Christian, who said they went over a couple of times a day for short visits. I told them how angry I was. They both understood, saying it was natural but eventually, they thought, I would get past it.
After working some more, I went back to see Mark. He was in bed but wide awake, looking at a joke book, one of the many I had continued to provide. He put the book down immediately and asked for a hug which I gave and he returned.
"Mark," I said, "I'm planning to be here a lot this summer, both because I want to spend the time with you and because I think your mother needs some time off so she won't wear herself out." He nodded. "I want you to understand that we don't have to talk all the time. I can read; I can write. Any time you want to be quiet we can be. Any time you want to take a nap, that's fine. Agreed?" He nodded again.
Then he asked, "Richard, do you remember telling me to ask you if I wanted you to blow me?"
"Yes," I smiled. "Do you want that now?"
"Please. I can wank, of course, but a nice blow job would be ever so much better."
"What if your mother walks in?"
"I think she knows. She's promised not to walk in without knocking if the door is closed."
"OK," I said, going to close the door. Back at his bed I carefully unbuttoned his pajama shirt, undid the waist of his pants, and, while he rolled from one side to the other, pulled them down. I sat on the bed facing him and gave him a long, tongued kiss to which he responded. Then I began kissing and licking him slowly, working my way down to his groin. When I arrived at his fully erect dick, I took it in my mouth and began to massage it with my tongue, as he groaned quietly. I moved down to his balls, licking them and then taking them into my mouth. Finally, I moved back to his dick and began moving my mouth up and down. I could sense that he was ready, and, as he tensed himself and arched his back, he came in my mouth. Once again I tasted the salty sweetness of his cum. I continued to suck until he was finished, then moved up to his mouth, kissing him and depositing his cum in his mouth.
"Oh, Richard, I have so missed that."
"So have I," I responded.
"Do you want me to do you?"
"To be honest, I do, but I think you should save your strength."
"That's not fair though. You shouldn't have to give unless you receive, too."
"I do receive," I said. "I receive your love, and that is so much more important to me than sex."
"Thank you," he murmured. "Maybe I should rest awhile now."
I helped him pull his PJ pants back up and button his shirt. With the remote, he lowered the bed a little, lay back, and closed his eyes. I decided to read his copy of The Odyssey, and was soon lost in the adventure of Odysseus.
Mark slept for over an hour. When he woke he said, "Richard, I have to pee."
"Do you want me to help you to the bathroom?"
"No, I think I need to use the piss pot. Would you call my mother?"
"Why? I can help you."
"Are you sure? It's kind of gross."
"Of course I'm sure. Where is the piss pot?"
"In the bathroom." I found it, returned, helped him lower his pants again, and placed the urinal strategically. When he finished he thanked me and told me that they were saving his urine for testing and that there was a big jar in the bathroom I should use to empty the urinal. I emptied it, rinsed it out, and returned.
"How about some more of Wart and Merlin?" he asked. So I read until it was time for me to go.
"You'll come back tomorrow, won't you?" he asked.
"Yes. I should get here about 9:00 o'clock."
Downstairs, I told Mark's mother that he had said Joey could come for a visit. "That's fine," she said. "If I think he's not up to it, I'll call you in the morning and ask that he come another day."
With that agreement I went home and told Joey that he was invited for the next day unless Mark wasn't up to it.
"If he wouldn't be up to it for me, why is he up to it for you?"
I explained to him how I sat with Mark and how he sometimes slept or we were simply together without any talking. I told him that I was there to help him, and gave him the example of the "piss pot."
"OK. You can do that. I don't think I'll volunteer."
I told Joey as much as I could about what to expect. I knew from experience that being told only partially prepared you, but I did the best I could and answered his questions, many of which were the same ones I had had. I had forgotten that Joey had won some medals in a swim meet in May. He asked if he could take them to show Mark, and I told him I thought Mark would be very pleased.
Having not received a call from Mark's mother, Joey and I went with Grandma to the Russells' house the next morning. Joey was going to stay for about half an hour before Grandma brought him home and went to her job.
Going up the stairs to Mark's room I realized that Joey was a little nervous, so I held his hand. We went in and Mark said, "Hello, little brother. I'm so glad you asked to come." It was just the right thing to say.
Joey went over to the bed and gave Mark a kiss on the cheek.
Mark kissed him back and asked, "What have you got there?"
"Some medals I won. I wanted to show them to you since you're my coach." Mark took them, looking at them one at a time.
"A bronze for the breast stroke. That's great. You haven't been doing that stroke for long. And a silver for the freestyle relay. Good for you. What leg did you swim?"
"The last one."
"That's where coaches always put the team's best swimmer, you know. What's the gold for? Oh, the 50-meter freestyle in your age group. Congratulations, Joey. Pretty soon you're going to pass me."
"Could I see your medal?"
"Sure. Richard, would you get it?"
I handed it to Joey who gazed at it appreciatively, especially the part that said, "State Champion." Clearly he was star-struck.
Before he left, he gave Mark a hug and another kiss. Mark asked him to come back again and he happily agreed.
When he was gone, Mark said, "I'm so glad he came. Please see that he comes back."
I said I would. Then I asked, "So, how are things today? Did you have any after effects from our little sexcursion yesterday?"
"Not really. I was pretty tired in the afternoon until I rested some, but the evening seemed OK. I hate to bring this up, Richard, but I need to take a shit. Would you call my mother?"
"Absolutely not. I'm here to help you, remember? I'll get the bedpan."
"Are you certain? I told you the piss could be gross, but this is a hundred times worse. Sometimes it's really runny and smelly. Why don't you let me call Mom?"
"You don't listen, do you? I'm not calling her; I'm going to help you myself."
When I returned with the bedpan I helped him with his PJ pants again and then, as he rolled to one side I put it under him. While he was doing his business, I went into the bathroom and got some toilet paper, as well as a washcloth which I put under warm water, and a towel. Then I went back in the bedroom, where Mark said that he was through. He rolled over on his side again and I took the pan out. He was right; it was very runny and very smelly. I wiped his ass with the toilet paper, washed it with the wash cloth, and dried it. Before he rolled back again, I helped him with his pants, and then took care of things in the bathroom.
"You are a saint," he said when I came back.
"I don't want to be a saint. Most of them were persecuted and executed in horrible ways."
"Well, thank you, anyway."
"Mark, I've been thinking. Wouldn't going to the bathroom be easier for you if you wore something like a hospital gown instead of PJ's?"
"Probably, but I hate those gowns so much I want to keep wearing these as long as I can."
We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked, "Richard, I know you're still praying for me, because I receive your messages every day, but do you believe in God?"
"I've been having a lot of thoughts about that question lately," I began. "When you first told me you were dying, I denied the whole idea in my mind. Then, when I got past that, I felt very angry at God. I tried bargaining with Him. You know, 'If you save Mark I'll become a priest'. Things like that. I was also really sad, but I tried not to show it here.
"Anyway, it wasn't until I accepted what was really happening that I decided there wasn't a caring God up there someplace. I've pretty much decided that if a god exists at all, he's not some guy in a white robe and a beard who cares about each one of us and watches over us. If he is, then I am really pissed off at him. I mean, how could somebody who cares for us and watches over us let this happen to you, or, for that matter, to the other kids in that hospital? Look at all the suffering there is in the world. Look at the little kids starving in Africa. Look at all the poor people we have stashed away in mental institutions and prisons. How could a caring God let any of that happen? I know some people say we just can't understand God's reasons for things, but I don't think that kind of a god exists. I do sort of believe in a creator, some force that got all this started. I look at all the complexities of life, of human beings, of the universe, and my poor little mind can't conceive of that happening without someone creating it. Does that make any sense at all?"
"Sure, but if you don't believe God helps us, why do you still pray?"
"Well, when I changed my mind about God, I also changed my prayers. I don't talk to God anymore. My prayers are messages I send to you to let you know that I'm still thinking of you and that I love you. Does it make a difference in the messages you receive?"
"Not at all. And I think I agree with you about God the loving father as opposed to a god who's a creator. I no longer expect anything from God. I think for awhile in the hospital I needed to feel that He was going to make things better, but now I just rely on the love of the people around me. I know that nobody can make things OK the way I would want, but your support is what matters to me now."
I gave him a hug and a big kiss, and read to him for awhile. Before leaving, I gave him his piss pot again and told him I would be back later.
While I was there in the afternoon, he asked me for another 'sexcursion", so I closed the door quietly and did as I had done the day before.
After we finished he asked, "Richard, do you remember what we talked about doing just before I got sick?"
"Sure," I said, "You were going to pick up some lubricant and we were going to fuck."
He said, "I don't want to die without ever having fucked, Richard."
"OK," I said. "Do you think you're really up to it?"
"What's the worst that could happen? I suppose I could drop dead while we're doing it, but what a way to go!"
"I'm not sure I want to be your partner if that happens," I answered, laughing.
"Don't worry. It won't. It'll probably wear me out for a time. I suppose, in theory, it might even hasten my death a little, but since we don't know when that's going to happen anyway, we'd never know if it did. Richard, I'm really begging you to do this."
"I know you are, and I want to help you with it. I'll stop at the drugstore tomorrow morning before I come here and pick up the lubricant if you'll tell me what to get and where it might be in the store. But, if you're not up to it tomorrow, you have to promise that we'll put it off until you are."
He agreed to that and I read to him until it was time for me to go. When I got home I asked Joey how he was.
"It was really a shock to see him so sick even though you warned me. I'm glad I went, but now I'm really down."
"I'm still so fucking angry I could scream!" I said.
"Really? At Mark?"
"No, of course not. I guess it's the situation. I love Mark and I feel so helpless." Joey and I hugged for a few minutes before I told him how glad Mark was that he had come and that he wanted Joey to be sure to return. We decided that maybe about once a week would work well.
The next day was Saturday, so I wouldn't be working. I planned to spend the whole day at Mark's house. True to my word, we stopped at the CVS and I found the lubricant. Fortunately, Grandma didn't ask what I got. I just told her it was something for Mark.
When Mrs. Russell answered the door I went in, noticing that there were tears in her eyes. "Mark's having a hard day," she said. He was awake a lot in the night throwing up so he didn't get much rest. Today he's doing a lot of dozing and just staring into space."
"I bet you didn't get a lot of sleep either," I said. She nodded. "Why don't you rest? I can take care of Mark, and I promise not to tire him out." She thanked me gratefully but she made me agree to call her if there were any problems. I said I would and went upstairs.
Mark was in his bed, lying on one side. When I went in, he didn't move, but he did smile and said a weak, "Hi." I went over and held his hand before giving him a gentle kiss. "Not so good today, huh?"
"Nope," he said. "Did Mom tell you what happened in the night?"
"Yes. What do you think caused the vomiting?"
"I don't know. It just happens sometimes. Everything I take has side effects so it's hard to know just what causes it." He looked at me ruefully. "I'm afraid I'm not really up to fucking today."
"No. I'm sure you're not. I got the stuff and I'll just put it in your drawer until you're ready."
I sat and held his hand for a long time. At first, he tried to talk, but I encouraged him not to, so he smiled and closed his eyes. Eventually he fell into a deep sleep. I found The Odyssey and moved a chair to the window.
I alternately read and gazed out the window until Mark awoke. He said he felt a little better, but he didn't look much better. I helped him with his bathroom needs and then sat while we talked quietly. Finally he asked me to read some more. I began, and within about 10 minutes he was sound asleep again.
At noon his mother brought up some lunch for both of us. He woke up when she came in and I told her I would help him eat. There wasn't a lot. Some chicken broth and some crackers, but she said that if he kept that down he could have more later. He raised the top of his bed so that he was sitting up more and I tried to spoon chicken broth into him. The first spoonful went all over his shirt, and we both giggled. Eventually, I developed the knack and got most of the broth into him. He ate the crackers and thanked me. While he rested, I ate the sandwich and yogurt that his mother had brought me.
The afternoon was very like the morning. About 3:00, his mother came up and asked him if he wanted a little more to eat, to which he said yes. He ate more broth and crackers and drank some juice. I read to him for awhile and he listened, laughing quietly.
When it was time for me to go, I reminded him that tomorrow was Sunday, so I would be at church in the morning but I would return after lunch.