Antwon took my bag as I shook hands with Mrs. Crandall. "Thank you very much for the welcome," I said with a smile.
"It was great. I just wish I was headed for a holiday."
"Yes, I'm sure. I saw your mother last hour. She is, according to her doctors, coming along and will probably be moved out of ICU today. That will make visiting much easier. But come on, I'll show you to your room and, after you freshen up, Antwon will run you over to the hospital. I'll have lunch ready when you get back as I'm sure right now you just want to see your mom."
"Yes, yes I do."
We walked up a magnificent winding staircase to a hallway at the end of which I could see what must be a ballroom. About halfway down the hall, Mrs. Crandall opened the door to my "room." It was a suite with a large sitting room, a bedroom, and a huge bath. Later I would see there was a second bedroom adjoining.
"When you get back you might like to crawl into the jacuzzi. It'll help relieve some of the tension," Mrs. Crandall said as she pointed out the huge whirlpool sunk in the middle of the bathroom. "But now, when you are ready, come downstairs and Antwon will get you to your mom."
After the necessary time on the toilet, I washed my hands and splashed cool water on my face and was ready to go.
The trip to the hospital didn't take long and as Antwon let me out at the main entrance, he handed me a pager and said, "Page me when you are ready to leave. Maybe your mother is out of ICU and you can stay a while. If not, I suggest you go back to the house and come back later for another visit."
The pink lady at the information desk directed me to ICU on the fourth floor. Since Mother was still in the computer in ICU, she had not been moved.
When I reached the fourth floor, signs directed me to the ICU where, in a waiting room, people were reading, sleeping or just gazing into space. Some certainly looked as if they had been waiting a long time. There was a bell button outside the ICU door with a sign which said, "Ring for nurse." I pushed it and in a couple minutes, a nurse appeared at the door.
"I'm Marcus Porcher, Mrs. Porcher's son," I said.
"So glad you got here. She's actually conscious and quite lucid now and has asked about you. It's a few minutes before the regular visiting period, but since you have just arrived, come on in."
She led me into a room where eight beds in glassed-in areas encircled a nurses' station where three nurses were working. Mother was in one of the areas opposite the door with its curtains closed. When the nurse opened the curtains, I saw a very pale mother propped up in bed. A young stud dressed in a white coat was using a penlight checking her eyes. When he finished, Mother saw me and said, "Don't look so good do I, Marcus?"
"Well, to be honest, I've seen you looking worse."
"I guess you have at that. Dr. McCanne, this is my son, Marcus. Marcus, Dr. McCanne has been taking care of me."
Dr. McCanne extended his hand and his face lit up with a smile. "Marcus, I just told your mother she can move out of ICU today and into a regular room. If everything goes well the next forty-eight hours or so, she can go home -- well, not home, but to Mrs. Crandall's where there will be a nurse on duty as long as your mother needs one."
"Then you know what her problem is/was."
"Oh, sure. She had an allergic reaction to some fish, which was severe and life-threatening in and of itself. Not sure whether she has just developed the allergy -- that happens -- or if it was the result of scombroid poisoning. That happens when fish has not been properly refrigerated for a period. It's probably only one chance in a million -- or less -- but she also had ciguatera poisoning -- it's caused by fish which have eaten certain things. She was in really bad shape when she arrived, but responded very well to treatment."
"So she's ok, or will be when she has recovered from the aftereffects?"
"Oh, sure. It will just take time. Well, I've got to give the orders to get her moved. Good to meet you, Marcus."
I extended my hand and said, "Thanks for taking care of Mother, Doctor."
"My pleasure. See you later, Mrs. Porcher."
When the doctor had gone, I hugged Mother and said, "I guess you were lucky to get prompt treatment."
"Very. While Dr. McCanne didn't mention it to you, the fact that my body hasn't recovered completely from my years in the bottle didn't help matters. Anyway, I'm sorry you're missing school, but glad you're here. Betsy told me your father had you shipped down on a private jet. One of his business supporters, I suppose."
"Bank CEO, I think. I could get used to traveling that way."
"Like your father, only you couldn't call on one of the good old boys for the jet as he does. Anyway, I'm glad you're here."
A couple orderlies arrived and one said, "Ok, Mrs. Porcher" -- he said "porcher."
Mother and I said together, "Por-shay."
"Mrs. Porcher, ready for a ride?"
"Sure," Mother replied and started moving as if she were getting out of bed.
"No way, Ma'am. We'll be moving you. She'll be settled in her new room in half an hour, son, if you want to come back.
"Mrs. Crandall's waiting lunch," I told Mother, "so I'll run along and be back later." I kissed her on the cheek and paged Antwon. He was waiting at the hospital entrance when I stepped outside.
When we arrived at the house, Mrs. Crandall immediately took me under her wing, "How's your mother doing?" she asked.
I told her she was being moved from ICU and would likely be released soon. "Depending on arrangements for aftercare." As we were talking, Mrs. Crandall led me to a lovely terrace room. It overlooked a beautiful lawn, which ended at the edge of the beach. "Beautiful view," I said as I seated Mrs. Crandall.
"Thank you. Yes, this is one of my favorite spots. I like to move out onto the terrace when it's not so hot, but today it would be a little warm. As you can see, there is a lake to your left and I need to warn you to be careful around the edge of the lake. There are some monstrous 'gators in it and they are prone to leap out of the water and snag small animals -- including those little yappers some people call dogs. People are not their most favorite meat, but a hungry or wounded one will take second best. You don't want to be a 'gators arm or leg snack. To the right are the gardens. They were my husband's pride and joy and fortunately I still have the same gardener he trained. Unfortunately, I know nothing of gardening. This room faces west so you can see some gorgeous sunsets over the gulf. The gardens are so arranged you can watch the sunrise -- at least I have been told that, I'm not an early riser. It is a lovely place to stroll when the moon is right. Anyway, your mother doesn't have to worry about aftercare. I have engaged three nurses who will live in and provide care twenty-four/seven. I hadn't seen Ann Curtis... you're smiling," she said abruptly.
"It's the 'Ann Curtis'. I always know when someone I am meeting knew Mother in college. They always call her both names."
Mrs. Crandall laughed. "We sure do! We'd been in college for most of freshman orientation before I learned her last name wasn't Curtis because she always introduced herself as Ann Curtis. The name stuck. Anyway, I am providing around-the-clock care for as long as she needs it. We lost touch for three or four years and need to catch up. I was traveling most of the past three years and I guess Ann Curtis was occupied as well."
"If you don't know, you should," I said. "She was in a bottle and just got out in November."
"Oh, I knew that. She also knew I had spent some years in a bottle as well. I got my fifteenth year AA chip last month. That's one reason I want her here when she gets out of the hospital. Well, that's also one reason I invited her down. Of course, I also invited her because we used to be very close, but I know what a struggle staying dry can be, especially at first."
Mother was released two days after I arrived, but wanted me to stay on a couple days which I did, leaving Sunday afternoon -- traveling by commercial aircraft, cattle class. Justin met me at the airport. I was, again, standing at the baggage claim area when he walked up behind me, put his arms around me and whispered in my ear, "Damn, I've missed you." I could have sworn his lips brushed the back of my neck, but I was also sure that was wishful thinking.
I turned -- he still had his arms around me, looked into those black, black eyes and said, "Missed you too." There was definitely something happening between us, but I reminded myself that 1) Justin was a straight arrow and arrow straight, 2) he was my best friend and I wanted him to remain so, 3) that meant I better not mistake friendship for something more or I would lose the friendship.
I had lost a week of school while I was in Florida, as well as study time with the Clan. Of course, I did what I could to keep up, but you really can't keep up with AP and not be in class. At least I can't. So when I returned home, I was pretty far behind and the Clan was working overtime to get me caught up. Math was not my strongest suit to start with and during the week I was gone, a couple of new concepts had been introduced which, to me, might as well have come from an alien universe.
John, Justin, and Susan were math whizzes and were determined to get me back on track. To do that they decided we'd work on math after the Clan had finished the regular assignments. Since I was simply behind in everything else, and not lost in the woods as I was with math, I needed little help beyond clarifying notes I was copying from the top student in each subject.
After the regular assignments were done, we took a break and Bobbie and Adam left, since she gave me her notes from AP history in which she excelled. I'd copy those later. Meanwhile, Justin, John, Susan, and I took a break and Clarisa came up with hot chocolate. Susan invited her to join us and she did.
Clarisa had become Clan mother and, not infrequently, joined us for our after-study chocolate or juice. She always wanted to know what was going on at school and if we were having any problems, etc. Yeah, she was Clan mother, but there was more. When she had gotten pregnant, she dropped out of school -- was forced out was more like it -- and she especially enjoyed getting in our discussions of what we were reading. She got in and contributed to the discussions because she kept up with and did a real careful reading of each text we worked on.
Anyway, after we finished the chocolate. Susan said, "I gotta run, else Dad will be calling and asking about me. See you three tomorrow."
After Susan and Clarisa left, John said, "Justin, how about we sack out here tonight after we work some more with the Not-Math-Whiz-Kid? I wouldn't think you'd like to go home to an empty house and I know I don't want to disturb the 'rents' after they have gone to bed."
"Sounds like a winner," I said. "How about it, Justin?"
"Sure. Now let's get on the math."
We worked until midnight and when we finally stopped, I felt as though I had made progress in grasping the new concepts. John and Justin agreed.
"John, guess we need to flip a coin to see who gets the pull-out and who shares Marc's bed," Justin grinned.
John took a coin out of his pocket, looked at Justin and said, "For the pull-out. Heads I win and tails you lose." He flipped the coin and said, "Tails it is, you lose, I get the pull-out," he said with a wicked grin. Justin also had a grin plastered on his face. I was bewildered. Something was going on here and I had missed it.
"John, I'll round up some PJs for you," I offered.
He laughed and said, "I suspect I am used to wearing the same thing to bed you and Justin do -- nothing."
Justin laughed and said, "You got that right." I blushed.
"John, you can have dibs on the bathroom," I said.
When John came out, he was wearing boxers, which he removed after he had crawled in bed. He said, "Goodnight, Guys. Oh, call me in the morning and make sure I get up. Sometimes I dream I am up and getting dressed and, well, I'm still asleep."
"Will do," Justin said as John snapped out the lamp over the pull-out.
Justin went to the bathroom and he was wearing his briefs when he slid into bed and, like John, as soon as he was covered, he took them off and tossed them on the floor.
I took my time in the bathroom, hoping Justin would be asleep when I crawled into bed, but he was not. I lay on the edge of the bed, afraid I would touch Justin and he'd get the wrong idea. I felt like I was walking on eggs, afraid I'd do something that would let him know how I felt about him and run him off as a friend.
"I don't bite, Marc," Justin said, and I did move over toward the center of the bed a bit, but there was still a lot of space between us. It was, after all, a king-size bed.
"Goodnight, Justin," I said softly.
"Goodnight, Marc," he replied.
I was all tense and expected to lay awake for fear of touching and upsetting Justin, but I was soon asleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up confused. It took me a while to figure out why. Justin had spooned his body against mine and he had an arm wrapped around me, holding me close. It felt so right and so wonderful. I wanted to stay forever just as I was, being held by Justin. Yet, I was afraid he'd wake up and ... I wasn't sure what I feared. Plus, there was a more immediate problem. I needed to piss in the worse possible way.
As carefully as possible, I slid out from under Justin's arm and off the bed. I practically ran to the bathroom where I released a powerful stream which just kept on and on and on. Before I finished, Justin was standing beside me.
He aimed a stream into the toilet as well and said, "A good piss is so underrated!" When I finished, Justin was still going and said, "If you'll wait until I'm finished, I'll shake it off for you," and grinned. I didn't know what to make of that.
Back in bed, I was about half-asleep when Justin crawled in, threw his arm across me and pulled me to himself without saying a word. Minutes later I knew he was asleep, but I wasn't. I was just confused.
The next couple nights, John, Justin, and Susan helped me with my math until I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. John and Justin stayed over as they had done the first night. I was completely comfortable having Justin in bed with me and was used to having his body against mine and his arm around me or with my body against him holding him to myself -- getting used to it? I was loving it. I didn't even panic the first time I woke up and had a morning woody poking his body. I was shocked when he reached behind himself and grasped it with, "Not bad, not bad at all." In fact, the next morning when I woke up, it was his woody in my back -- in my crack to be exact and I followed his example. I had seen him hard the morning before -- as he had me -- so there was no surprise except for the fact he just laughed when I grasped him.
Thursday night we decided I was good to go, so we just had a regular session. Shortly before we broke up and everyone went home for the night, the phone rang. It was Mother. She called to let me know she had seen the doctor who had said she was doing very, very well, but he'd like to see her again in a week. "I guess I should worry about you -- at least a bit -- but, God knows, Clarisa has taken care of you since you were a baby and you do a good job of taking care of yourself, so that's not a worry. I do plan to get back home before too long. Of course, Betsy is treating me like royalty, but I need to get back." She then asked about school, about how far behind I was, etc. She wasn't surprised that the Clan had me back on track. We talked for a while longer and then she said, "Marc, I am definitely planning on being back after my next doctor's appointment."
I made a report to the Clan and then they all got their things ready to go, all except Justin. "Drop you by your place, Justin?" John asked.
"Nah, I was planning on staying over... if Marc permits."
"Marc permits," I replied and couldn't keep a sappy grin off my face.