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The phone rang and was picked up before dad could get off the couch.
A minute later mom walked into the room carrying the cordless phone and said, "Bunghole wants to talk to you. Should I hang up on him?"
Dad put out his hand and accepted the phone from mom as he said, "I have a few things I've been wanting to say to him and it's finally time."
After taking a deep breath and settling back in the couch with his arm around me, Dad casually said, "Mr. Buckholtz, how are you this evening?"
After a moment of listening, Dad said, "Oh really, hmmm... that's quite a deal..."
I could feel the tension increase in my Dad's posture as he listened. I reached across to Ken and took hold of his hand as I somehow recognized that Dad's 'red headedness' was rising.
"Listen up Buckholtz, the answer is no. I'm not sending Rory to your facility now or ever. I've put up with your harassing calls in case the time ever came when I had no other choice..." Dad said firmly.
I looked over at Ken to see him looking back at me with wide, questioning eyes.
There was a long minute of Dad listening, then he said in an icy voice, "My wife has done an excellent job taking care of Rory. As I'm sure you somehow know, his condition has stabilized. I have to believe that it was my wife's care techniques and natural remedies that have accomplished what the doctors said couldn't be done."
I felt Dad stiffen even more as he listened, then in almost a growl he said, "You don't know Doris; you don't know what she's gone through in the past two years. She's one of the strongest people I know. She's made some difficult decisions at a great personal cost. And my faith in her has proved to be well placed. She did it. Rory is getting better. You will NEVER take our son away from us. Don't ever call here again."
Dad turned off the phone and dropped it on the couch cushion beside him, then stood and pulled mom into a tight hug.
"Thank you." Dad said in a whisper, then gave mom a 'real' kiss.
When the kiss broke, Mom looked Dad deeply in the eyes and said, "I've got to get the casserole out of the oven before it burns."
Dad started chuckling and gave Mom another quick peck of a kiss before releasing her from the hug and whispering, "Go on."
"What was that call all about?" I asked Dad cautiously as he took his seat beside me again.
"I'm not sure if it was one of your doctors or the insurance company that told Buckholtz about us. Sometimes he knows about your test results before we do. Regardless of how he gets his information, he's been calling once or twice a week for the past two years trying to convince us to put you into his 'care facility'." Dad said as he put a casual arm around me.
"Why didn't you?" I asked before I could think better of it.
"Because it would have been like giving up on you. It doesn't matter. There's no way your mom would have allowed me to send you away to that place. She was convinced that she could find a way to help you... and she did." Dad said and emphasized his statement with a squeeze.
"So you think that the health food is what stabilized me?" I asked incredulously.
"I don't know if it was the health food or being here at home where you belong or even getting you that big dopey dog that helped you. Whatever did it doesn't matter, we've beaten the odds. The doctors said that there was no reason to hope for even this much improvement, and we've proved them wrong." Dad said happily.
"Um... can I ask you something?" I asked timidly and squeezed Ken's hand that I was still holding.
"Anything Skeeter." Dad said in a contented voice.
"What you said about mom being strong... I really don't understand why she's..." I trailed off searching for the right words, not wanting to make dad angry.
"...doped out of her mind?" Dad asked quietly.
"Yeah." I whispered.
"About the same time that the doctors told us about your condition being terminal, your grandfather Wayne had a stroke. So in the same week your mom had to deal with the news about her father and her son... it was too much. She had a nervous breakdown. She fell into a deep depression and wouldn't stop crying no matter what I did." Dad said in a distant voice.
"I took her to a psychiatrist to get help. He wanted her to go away for a while and take some time to deal with everything. She wouldn't hear of it. She was determined to take care of you and finally convinced the doctor to give her something to keep her going..." Dad said in thought.
"So she really is this way because of me?" I asked as I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
Dad gave me a squeeze and said, "She made a choice. I respected her choice and have supported her decisions since... even to the point of eating health food."
I gave a watery chuckle at the statement.
"Rory, you don't have anything to feel guilty about. Now that your condition has stabilized and you can talk again, we can get your mom the help she needs. I don't have a single regret about the decisions we've made and I'm sure your mom doesn't either." Dad said softly.
"I didn't know that Mom 'chose' to be this way..." I trailed off, feeling bad about some of the things I thought about her.
"She didn't just choose it, she fought to be this way. She was so determined that she could help you that she was finally able to convince her psychiatrist to give her the drugs that would allow her to keep going and help you. We decided not to tell you all this because you already had so much to deal with. Dealing with your own condition seemed to be all you could handle, worrying about your mother and grandfather's condition on top of that might have been too much for you." Dad said gently.
"It probably would have been, but thanks for telling me now." I said quietly, then thought to ask, "How's grandpa Wayne?"
Dad smiled and gave me a gentle hug as he said, "He's fine now. He's moved into an assisted living center and has lots of friends his own age to do things with. I don't think he's been this happy since your grandmother passed away."
"Do you think I could go see him?" I asked carefully.
"Sure Skeeter. I've been keeping him up to date on your condition, we'll go this weekend and have a long visit with him." Dad said peacefully.
"Marcus? Will you call Corina down? Dinner is ready." Mom said from the doorway.
"I'll go up and get her. Between the music and the phone, there's no way she'll hear me." Dad said as he got up. Then before walking away he turned and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.
* * * * *
"Wow, your family has really been through a lot of stuff." Ken said from beside me.
"Yeah. I can't believe I didn't know about all of it. I guess I've been so wrapped up in my own problems that I wasn't paying attention to what was going on around me." I said in thought.
"I know how that feels." Ken said quietly.
I looked at Ken with question.
"Before my Dad died I never really thought about other people the way I do now. It was like everything that happened was about how it effected me. The morning of my Dad's funeral Pop sat down with me and we had a long talk..." Ken said in a distant voice.
"He talked to me like I was his friend, like I was another adult. He asked me about what I was feeling and told me what he was feeling. It's like my world got so much bigger after that." Ken said softly.
"That's kind of what I'm feeling. It's like I'm seeing my mom and dad for the first time. They're not just my parents anymore, they're people too." I said in thought.
"Yeah, that's it. Kinda weird huh?" Ken said with a playful smile.
I grinned back at him and said, "Totally weird."
"Your mom said dinner is ready. I can help you into your wheelchair if you want." Ken said quietly.
I thought about it for a second, then realized that if Ken and I could work out how to move me around it would make our lives a lot easier.
"Sure Ken. If you'll scoot me down a little and move the wheelchair around here, we should be able to get me moved without too much trouble." I said in thought.
Ken did as I asked and then looked at me with question.
"I'm going to put my arm around your neck and let you lift me. All you'll have to do is turn and set me down in the wheelchair." I said seriously.
"Okay." Ken said and leaned down over me.
I carefully put my arm around his neck and held on tight as he slowly lifted me.
Within a few seconds, I'd been relocated to my wheelchair without any trouble at all.
"That was easy." Ken said as he looked into my eyes.
"Yeah." I said as I realized all over again just how beautiful he was.
"Love you." Ken whispered as I gently pulled him down to me again.
Our lips met briefly, then I heard the sound of a clearing throat.
"Dinner time boys." Dad said with a smile from the living room doorway.
"We're coming." I said with a smile.
"You'd better not be." Ken whispered with a giggle.
Dad gave a laugh, indicating that he'd heard Ken, then turned and walked out of the room.
Ken and I both chuckled as Ken got behind me to push.
* * * * *
As we entered the dining room Mom immediately said, "If you'll park Rory at the far end, you can sit to his right Kenny."
"Okay." Ken said shyly from behind me and proceeded to move me across the dining room.
"You brought out the good china. What's the occasion?" Dad asked as he took his seat at the other end of the table from me.
"Our first meal as a family in... it's been over a year!" Mom said in realization.
Dad considered the statement for a second, then said, "I guess you're right... It really looks great."
I looked at all the food sat on the table in serving dishes and realized all the work mom put into making this a special meal for us.
Ken and I had our food already set out on our plates, and it looked really good.
Corina stomped into the dining room and threw herself into her chair, then crossed her arms across her chest and turned her 'death glare' on me.
Dad rolled his eyes but didn't say anything.
"Ken is going to be staying the night, isn't that nice?" Mom said to Corina as she took her seat.
"Why does Rory get to have his creepy little friends stay over on a school night?" Corina asked in a snarl.
"Corina Louise Teeter! That isn't the way we behave in front of company. Apologize right now." Dad said to Corina in a warning tone.
A look of defiance came over Corina's face as she turned her death glare on Dad.
"It's okay, I wasn't paying attention." Ken said quietly, then continued, "Did you notice how her zit moves when she talks?"
Corina's death glare shifted to Ken.
"Go ahead. Say something." Ken said, focused completely on her chin.
Corina opened her mouth to say something, then snapped it shut.
I glanced at Dad to see him fighting back a laugh.
"Let's eat before the food gets cold." Mom said in her oblivious way.
I reached out to pick up a piece of chicken, then glanced at dad serving himself a portion of the tofu casserole.
I thought about what dad had said about how mom had been feeding us all health food to try and make me better and came to a decision.
"Dad, would you like to trade me? I think I'd rather have Mom's tofu casserole." I asked carefully.
"Sure Skeeter. Pass it down." Dad said with a smile.
I'm pretty sure he understood why I was wanting to trade.
I glanced at mom to see her smile of accomplishment because I'd chosen her cooking over the fast food.
"That's not fair!" Corina exclaimed as she watched the chicken being passed up the table.
I glanced over at Corina and said, "You're right Ken. It moves when she talks."
Corina glared at me again, but didn't' say another word.
"You can have one of my pieces of chicken if you want." Ken offered quietly.
Corina looked at him cautiously, and finally reluctantly nodded.
Ken held his plate out to her and she took one of the three pieces of chicken that was there.
I looked down at the plate that my dad had prepared for himself and chuckled at what I saw.
"What's so funny?" Dad asked curiously as he picked up a piece of chicken.
"Peas and carrots." I said with a smile at Ken.
"Carrots and peas." Ken said back automatically.
We both chuckled, then I noticed that everyone was looking at us like we were crazy.
Ken finished his bite of food and said, "My neighbor Billy is a photographer and he had us saying silly things to each other while he was taking pictures of us."
"Pictures?" Dad asked cautiously.
I reached awkwardly behind me and pulled the photo album out of the pouch on the back of my wheelchair.
"Yeah, they turned out pretty good." I said and handed the album to Ken.
Ken passed it to Mom who opened it so she and Dad could look at it together.
There was a long moment of silence as Mom and Dad looked at the first picture.
"What is it?" Corina asked suspiciously as she watched.
"Rory... it's..." Mom said in wonder as her eyes began to fill with tears.
"...Beautiful." My Dad finished with a gasp.
Corina got up from her chair and walked to stand between them to see the picture.
Ken and I waited to see her reaction.
Corina looked at the picture, then at us, then at the picture again.
Dad turned the page and all three of them looked at the next page of pictures in silence.
Corina looked at us again and got a look of realization.
"Our little boy is becoming a man." Mom said in a voice of joy and wonder.
Corina let out a little 'eep' as tears started welling up in her eyes.
"What's wrong pumpkin?" Dad asked with concern as he stood and put an arm around her.
"Rory's gay?" Corina asked in a slow, speculative voice.
I met Corina's questioning gaze and nodded.
There was a long moment of silence, then Corina got a look of wide eyed realization as she said, "My gay, handicapped, baby brother has a boyfriend... and I don't!"
She looked around the table with an expression that was a mix between humiliation and panic, then suddenly broke out of Dad's hug and ran out of the room.
Dad looked over at me and Ken and hesitantly said, "I think she took that well."
"Sorry about messing up the family meal. I guess I should have waited till later to show you the pictures." I said apologetically.
"Don't worry about it. I'll give her a few minutes, then go up and talk to her." Dad said as he sat down in his seat again.
"I'll take care of it honey." Mom said gently.
"Are you sure?" Dad asked with concern.
"I think this is a girl thing. It's best if I handle it." Mom said quietly.
"You're probably right. Just let me know if there's anything I can do." Dad said with a gentle, loving smile at mom.
"I'll be right back." Mom said assuringly and left the table.
* * * * *
"So what else did you boys do today?" Dad asked as he turned his attention back to his food.
Ken and I shared a look, then I quietly said, "We went swimming."
"Really? So your family has a pool?" Dad asked Ken curiously.
"Yeah. We just moved here this week so it's only the second time we've used it." Ken said with a smile.
"Oh? Where do you live?" Dad asked with interest.
"Three houses that way." Ken said as he pointed.
"The Dodds House?" Dad asked in thought.
"Yeah. I guess I should just call it that. Everyone seems to know Uncle Chip." Ken said with a smile.
"I met Commander Dodds a couple times when he lived here. He's a very nice man." Dad said in thought.
"Yeah. We just met him last Saturday, but it feels like he's been my Uncle Chip forever." Ken said with a smile.
"It's that way with some people. Tell me about your family." Dad said between bites of food.
"Well, you know about Pop, Jake and Xain. I also have a twin brother named Kevin, two cousins named Reuben and Ricardo and a niece named Edovina." Ken said happily.
"That's quite a family." Dad said in an impressed voice.
"There's a lot more. My Uncle Brady, my grandma Mona, uncle Solak..." Ken trailed off before taking another bite of his food.
"They're all really nice. I had a great time over there." I said with a smile at Ken.
"It sounds like you two had a full day. Swimming, photography... falling in love." Dad finished with a teasing smile.
"Yeah." I said with a chuckle.
"Sorry." Corina said in a whisper as she walked back into the dining room, followed by Mom.
"Ken and Rory were just telling me about their day." Dad said as he watched Mom and Corina take their seats.
Corina was looking really gloomy, like she'd just lost her last friend.
"I was surprised when I found out they moved into the Dodds house." Mom said casually as she started to eat again.
"Really? Did you get to meet JC?" Corina asked with excitement as she quickly turned her attention toward us.
I looked on with wonder at Corina's ability to shift from despondent to exuberant in less than a second.
"Um, yeah. We were over at Uncle Chip's house yesterday. I spent most of the day with JC, but me and my brothers call him Uncle Josh." Ken said carefully.
"Oh my God! You really know JC? He's your uncle?" Corina asked in amazement.
"Yeah. He's really nice and he's a really good cook too. He made some homemade lasagna last Sunday that was the best I ever had." Ken said to Corina with a smile.
"No way! That is so cool. Do you think there's any way I could meet him?" Corina asked in star struck wonder.
"Sure. Next time Uncle Josh comes over to visit I'll call you and let you know. You can come over and meet him." Ken said simply.
"Oh wow. That would be so incredible!" Corina said joyfully.
There was a knock on the door that drew our attention.
"No one visits us for over a year, then all of a sudden..." Dad said as he got up to answer the door.
"So is JC really as cute as he is in his pictures?" Corina asked breathlessly.
Ken thought about it for a second, then said, "I guess so. I mean, he's just one of my uncles so I don't really think about how he looks, I think about how nice him and Uncle Chip are when we visit them and how they treat me and my brothers... they're family."
I thought about what Ken was saying and began to realize what he meant.
"I think Ken means that his Uncle Josh is a real person just like you. He has friends and family that he loves and does normal things like everyone else does." I said carefully.
"I bet Josh would be glad to hear you say that." Billy said from the dining room doorway.
"Billy?" Ken asked with surprise.
"Hey guys." Billy said as he walked into the dining room with Dad.
"Hey Billy, what are you doing here?" I asked with a smile.
"I just brought Kenny his things." Billy said as he carried a backpack around the table and handed it to Ken.
"Thanks Billy." Ken said with a smile as he accepted the backpack.
"No problem. And Kevin wanted me to give you this, you forgot it." Billy said and reached into his pocket.
Ken accepted something from Billy and looked at it, then said, "Oh yeah. I've got to remember to carry this with me now. Thanks."
"What is it?" I asked curiously.
"My communicator." Ken said with a smile and held it out for me to see.
"Billy Pierce, I'd like you to meet my wife Doris and my daughter Corina." Dad said to Billy carefully.
"Nice to meet you." Billy said in a friendly voice.
"It's you!" Corina said in a gasp.
Billy looked at her with question.
"Billy lives here in the neighborhood. He's the photographer who took my picture this afternoon." I said cautiously, not quite understanding Corina's reaction.
Corina was standing there with wide eyes. Her mouth was hanging slightly open looking like she was trying to figure out what to say.
I looked up at Billy in time to see a look of understanding come over his face.
"What is it?" I asked him in confusion.
Billy smiled at me and said, "If you ever decide to model, think really seriously before you do any underwear ads. They'll haunt you for the rest of your life."
I realized what he meant and chuckled as I said, "I'll remember that."
Billy turned to face my parents and said, "That reminds me, the reason I brought Kenny his things instead of Allen is because I need to ask you both something."
Mom and Dad looked at Billy with question.
"I'm sure you've noticed that Rory is very photogenic. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to sit down with you and Rory sometime tomorrow and discuss the possibility of Rory doing a professional photo shoot." Billy said frankly.
"Really?" Dad asked in wonder.
"Yeah. I'll give you the details tomorrow. I just wanted to mention it tonight so I didn't catch you totally off guard." Billy said with a smile.
"Thanks." Dad said in astonishment.
"It was really nice to meet all of you, but I have to go, Allen's waiting in the car." Billy said with a smile as he leaned in and gave Ken a hug.
"Thanks again Billy. I hope you have fun tonight." Ken said as he returned the hug.
"Yeah. You two have a good night too." Billy said as he turned and pulled me into a hug.
"We will." I said as I hugged Billy tightly.
"Sorry I interrupted your meal. I'll see you tomorrow at the Short compound." Billy said as he walked toward the door.
"I'll walk you out." Dad said as he fell into step at Billy's side.
* * * * *
"The food's all cold now. Would anyone like for me to microwave their plate?" Mom asked as she looked around the table.
"No thanks Mrs. Teeter. I'm full now, thank you for getting the chicken for me." Ken said with a smile at Mom.
I looked at my plate and decided that I'd had enough and said, "I'm okay too Mom. It was really good."
Mom gave me such a happy smile of pride that I felt it in my heart.
"Give me your plate Pumpkin and I'll warm it up for you." Mom said as she stood.
Corina absently handed her plate to Mom, then turned her attention back to me and Ken.
"I wonder what kind of photo shoot Billy wants me to do." I said to Ken in thought.
"Knowing Billy, it's probably going to be something awesome." Ken said with a smile.
"You know JC from *N Sync AND 'The Underwear Guy'..." Corina said in wonder.
Before Ken could answer, I quickly said, "Cor, you should really try to see past people's looks. Billy may be 'The Underwear Guy' when you look at him, but inside he's one of the nicest people I think I've ever met. You're really missing out on getting to know a great person if you only look at the person on the outside."
"That's right." Ken said with a smile as he reached over and squeezed my arm.
Dad walked back into the dining room and looked curiously at his empty place setting.
"Mom took your plate to heat it up." I said with a smile at his confused expression.
"Oh." Dad said as he took his seat again.
"So do you know any other famous people Ken?" Corina asked, sounding only slightly less star struck.
"Well, yeah. I guess." Ken said uncomfortably.
Mom came into the dining room and sat a plate before Corina and Dad.
"Ken, if you wouldn't mind telling us, who is the most incredible person that you've met?" Dad asked gently.
Without a second's hesitation, Ken said, "David Gallagher."
"I don't know who that is." Dad said in thought.
"From Seventh Heaven, Daddy." Corina said with a roll of her eyes.
"David rescued me and my brother when we were in some really bad trouble. I wouldn't be here right now... I might not even be alive if it wasn't for him." Ken said seriously.
"Wow. Really?" Corina asked in wonder.
Ken nodded at Corina and continued, "I know a lot of people look up to celebrities as being better than everyone else and want to be like them. But all the celebrities I've met are just regular people who've got jobs and stuff that make them famous. David is the only one I think of as a hero and he's the only one that I'd like to grow up to be like."
"From what I've heard about how you met Lawrence, I think you already are like David." I said to Ken quietly.
Ken looked at me with surprise for an instant which turned into a loving smile.
"Ewww, they're getting mushy." Corina said with a wrinkled nose.
"And you would NEVER do that, would you?" Mom asked Corina with a teasing smile.
Dad, Ken and I broke into laughter at the statement, all of us as surprised at the accuracy of it as much as Mom thinking to say it.
Finally even Corina couldn't resist and joined into the laughter.
* * * * *
"If everyone is finished, I've made a special dessert for all of us." Mom announced happily, then hurried out of the room.
I glanced at Ken to find him looking back at me with dread. I could tell from his expression that he still remembered 'the brownie incident'.
"Thank you for sharing your chicken Ken. It was really good." Corina said shyly.
"Maybe some of your brother's creepy little friends aren't so bad." Ken said with a teasing smile.
Corina giggled at the statement and said, "Well, Billy's okay."
Ken and I shared a look and broke into laughter.
"Here you go Ken. I hope you like raspberries." Mom said as she placed a bowl of raspberries and ice cream before Ken.
"Wow, this looks good. Thanks Mrs. Teeter." Ken said with a smile.
Mom placed a bowl in front of me as she said, "It's not as unhealthy as it looks. The raspberries are organic and the frozen yogurt is naturally sweetened. Just give it a try."
Ken took a bite and considered the flavor before saying, "Perfect. If all health food tasted like this I'd eat it all the time."
Mom smiled and retreated to the kitchen to get bowls for everyone else.
"So do you boys have anything planned for the rest of the night?" Dad asked us as he settled back into his chair.
"Not really. I figured we'd go to my room and maybe play with Possum for a while. I haven't seen him all day." I said in thought.
Mom came back into the dining room with three bowls of dessert and handed them out.
"That sounds like a good plan. I'm sure you've had enough of hanging around with your old dad for one day." Dad said with an understanding smile.
"No way. You're welcomed to stop in and hang out with us as much as you want... you're not THAT old." I said honestly.
Dad got a look of surprise which melted into a loving smile.
"I tell you what Skeeter, I'll give you two some time alone, then stop in to check on you later. How's that?" Dad asked happily.
"Sounds great Dad." I said as I finished up the last of my dessert.
"Can we do anything to help with the dishes Mrs. Teeter?" Ken asked casually.
Mom looked at Ken with complete surprise.
"I mean, at our house I'm used to helping clean up after dinner..." Ken said timidly into the silence.
"No thank you Ken, I'll take care of it myself tonight. But next time I'm sure I'll have something for you to do." Mom finally said past her astonishment.
"Okay." Ken said with a shy smile.
"I'll go get Possum and bring him to your room." Dad said as he got up from his place.
"Thanks Dad." I said as I felt Ken unlocking my wheels.
"Don't forget this." Mom said as she handed the album of pictures to me.
"Thanks Mom." I said as I accepted the book from her.
* * * * *
As Ken pushed me out of the dining room, I felt the realization wash over me again of how my life had completely changed in one day.
Yesterday at this time I was in my room and Mom came in after everyone else had their dinner and fed me.
It seems like a hundred years ago, like another person's life.
"Are you okay?" Ken asked as he pushed me into my bedroom.
"Yeah, I'm just freaking out a little on how much everything has changed." I said honestly.
"Where do you want me to park you?" Ken asked as he looked around.
"How about beside the bed? If you wouldn't mind you could help me onto the bed and we could sit together... like we did this afternoon on your bed." I said shyly.
"Yeah. That sounds nice." Ken said happily as he maneuvered the chair into place and locked the wheels.
"Just like before, right?" Ken asked as he leaned down over me.
"Yeah." I said quietly. I put my arm around his neck, and in a few seconds, I was sitting on the edge of my bed.
Ken and I looked deeply into each other's eyes, communicating without speaking.
He seemed to instinctively know what I wanted next and gently eased me to lie back on the bed.
After laying beside me, he pulled me into a gentle hug and gave me a kiss that was so sweet and gentle that it was barely even a touching of lips.
I leaned forward for more but Ken pulled away and looked into my eyes.
"What is it Ken?" I asked with concern.
Ken looked timidly at me and said in a whisper, "I just don't want you to feel like you have to... do stuff."
"I don't understand." I said as I looked into his eyes curiously.
"Well, since we left my house I've been thinking... and I, well I don't want you to think that you have to do stuff to make me like you." Ken said with a pleading expression.
"I don't feel that way." I said honestly.
He searched my eyes, I guess trying to see if I was being honest, then he seemed to wilt with relief.
"What was that all about?" I asked cautiously.
"I guess I just got the idea that because I liked the stuff we did this afternoon that you might think that that's why I like you and if you don't do that stuff I won't like you as much or something like that... I'm sorry." Ken finished with a frightened look in his eyes.
I took hold of Ken's hand and looked him in the eyes as I said, "You don't need to be sorry. It's alright to be scared, I am too. We just met and became boyfriends in one day. I think we'd be crazy if we weren't a little bit scared of that. Whenever you're worried about something like this... just tell me. I'll tell you how I feel about it and then we don't have to worry about it anymore."
Ken broke our gaze and seemed to drift off into thought.
"What else has you worried?" I asked in a whisper.
He timidly looked me in the eyes again and said, "I'm afraid that you'll find someone older that you want more than me."
I felt such a swell of love for Ken at that moment that I couldn't contain the expression.
"What?" Ken asked, puzzled by my expression.
"I want to tell you something, but you have to swear to me that you won't tease me about it or tell anyone." I said as seriously as I could manage.
"Okay." Ken said cautiously.
"I need you to swear it to me, or I can't tell you." I said even more seriously.
"I swear that I won't make fun of you." Ken said sincerely.
"Or tell anyone, ever." I said firmly.
"Or tell anyone ever." He repeated.
"Will you reach under the mattress at the head of the bed and get the envelope that's there?" I asked quietly.
Ken looked at me curiously, then got off the bed and reached under the mattress.
"A little bit lower." I said as I watched him searching.
Ken finally pulled the yellow 8x10 envelope out and held it out to me.
"Go ahead and look at what's inside." I said quietly.
Ken looked at me curiously, then opened the envelope.
He poured the contents out on the bed between us.
"It's Billy." Ken said in surprise as he looked at the collection of every picture I'd ever found in any magazine of Billy.
"Yeah." I whispered.
Ken worked his way through the pile of pictures, then looked at me with question.
"Billy was my fantasy. He's what I thought I wanted in a boyfriend before today." I said, hoping to make Ken understand.
Ken looked at me with complete confusion.
"I'm messing this all up... Ken, you don't have to worry about me looking for someone older or better looking or anything else because I've already gotten past that. If I was still interested in Billy, I wouldn't have fallen in love with you because Billy was right there. I would have been trying to, get him to notice me or something. The only one I wanted to spend time with today was you. I didn't even think about Billy like that." I said, hoping that Ken was getting it.
After a long moment of contemplation, Ken finally said, "Okay. I think I understand. Before today you were kind of like your sister, looking at the outside and wanting someone who was just beautiful."
"Yeah. It's kind of creepy to admit that me and my sister have the same taste in guys." I said with a queasy look.
Ken chuckled and said, "Maybe you should give her your picture collection now."
I looked down at the pile of magazine clippings and said, "No. You can just throw those away. It seems wrong to look at Billy that way now."
Ken nodded and scooped the pictures back into the envelope, then threw it all in the trash beside the bed.
"So now you know that I'm not looking for anyone older than you. I came face-to-face with my fantasy and realized that I'd rather have someone who loves me and wants to spend time with me." I said as I took hold of his hand again.
"I do love you." Ken said with assurance.
"I love you too." I said to him with a gentle smile.
There was a knock on the door that startled both of us.
"Come in." I said in a relaxed voice.
Mom rushed into the room and looked around.
"Oh good, you haven't started yet." She said with relief.
Ken and I shared a look of question.
Mom carried a shopping bag to the side of the bed, then named each item as she pulled it out and laid it on the bed between us.
"I've got the water based lubricant, condoms, two sizes of vibrators..." She said cheerfully.
"Mom! Wait!" I said, desperately wanting to get her attention.
Mom turned her bewildered gaze on me.
"Please just leave the bag here and we'll go through it. I promise that we'll ask if there's anything you missed." I said as I somehow knew that my face was redder than my hair.
"Oh? Okay. That would be fine." Mom said simply and sat the bag down.
"Thank you for thinking of all this Mrs. Teeter. That was very nice of you." Ken said and 'beet red' doesn't even begin to describe the color of his face.
"I just want you boys to know that we approve of your relationship." Mom said cheerfully.
"Got it Mom. Thanks for getting this stuff." I said, hoping that just this once, she would take the hint.
"It wasn't any problem at all. Oh, and I put the booklets from the living room in there too in case you two need some instructions." Mom said cheerfully.
"Thanks." I said weakly.
"I've got to get back to your sister, I've got some natural remedies I'd like to try out on her blemish." Mom said as she hurried to the door.
Ken and I sat in silence as Mom rushed out of the room.
I was the one who lost it first and started laughing.
But it only took Ken a few seconds to catch up to me.
It's a good thing we were laying on the bed to begin with because we were laughing so hard that we would have fallen over otherwise.
As soon as one of us stopped laughing for a few seconds, all we'd have to do is look at each other and it would start all over again.
When both of us finally calmed down, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye.
Dad was standing in the doorway with a big smile on his face and Possum at his side.