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Let's be real. There is absolutely no better way to wake up than to feel someone you love, snuggled up against you, before you even open your eyes.
For years, I couldn't bring myself to even dream about ever finding someone for me. I mean, I'm broken. I'm not 'normal'. I don't meet the minimum requirement to be a boyfriend.
Of course, yeah, I fantasized about 'The Underwear Guy', (I still can't get over that) but to be honest, even in my most erotic dreams, I never imagined myself doing anything with him. It was totally inconceivable that anyone could want me.
Now, here I am, beside one of the cutest guys I've ever seen and even better, he's a great guy. Not only that, he wants me! He thinks I'm attractive. I mean, wow! I never saw that coming!
When I open my eyes, I was surprised to see that Ken's already awake, and that he's watching me. The goopy sappy expression on his face tells me more clearly than words that he's been thinking along the same lines that I have.
Remember, Ken's younger than I am. Because of that, I'd sort of understand it if he was unsure about what he wanted, or was hesitant to express himself.
The first thing he does is jump right in there and give me a throw-you-up-against-the-wall, drag-you-down-the-stairs style kiss. You know how the old movies have people seeing fireworks when they kiss?
Ken's 'first thing in the morning' kiss ranks more along the lines of aircraft carriers and bombers and torpedos, ending up with something being completely blown out of the water.
About three seconds or two hours later (same difference) there was a gentle knock on the bedroom door, then Allen peeked in.
"Juana's already started breakfast. Go ahead and get cleaned up and I'll be back up to get you in a few minutes." Allen said with a gentle smile at us.
"Okay, Pop." Ken said lovingly.
Allen glanced at the other bed, then added, "And wake up your brother."
"I will." Ken promised, then we watched as Allen withdrew from the room.
"Good morning." I said slowly.
"Yeah." Ken responded, then there he went, kissing again.
"We've got to wake up Kevin and get ready for breakfast." I muttered against his lips.
Yeah, I know. What was I thinking?
Well, in my defense, I am the older one, so it's up to me to do the responsible, mature thing.
Actually, about two more seconds of Ken kissing me and I would have been ready to agree to anything. But fortunately (I suppose), Ken listened to me and got out of bed.
After helping me into my wheelchair, he woke up Kevin, then we went about the business of getting ready to start our day.
* * * * *
I know that I've said it before, but I still can't get over it.
The whole time I've been sick, I've always felt bad because people had to do extra things to make up for me not being able to take care of myself. I've always felt like I was being a burden.
But for some strange reason, it's not that way with Allen. I don't get what the difference is, but it's like he sees me as being something precious.
I think that when Ken hugs me, I feel loved. But when Allen hugs me, I feel cherished. I feel so safe and secure while I'm in his arms that for those few minutes, nothing else in the world matters.
"I hope you like pancakes." Allen said as he placed me in a chair at the kitchen table.
"Oh yeah!" I said with a smile.
I'm not going to go on another rant about the Zombie Hyper-mom's philosophy of cooking, but let me just say that real honest to goodness flour pancakes haven't been on the menu recently.
I glanced over to the door that leads outside and saw Possum laying beside an empty food dish, looking back at me. It sort of hurt me to realize that I wouldn't be seeing him for a while, but at the same time, I couldn't think of a better home for him while I'm gone.
As soon as Possum saw me looking at him, he threw one hind leg in the air and started a licking frenzy. I'm getting to be more and more convinced that he does that just to put on a show.
"Is over here okay?" Ken asked from behind me.
I turned to see that he had managed to carry my wheelchair down from upstairs, all by himself.
"Yeah. Thanks." I said immediately.
"I hope all of you are hungry this morning." Juana said as she placed a platter with bacon and eggs in the middle of the table.
"Thank you. This looks wonderful, but this is supposed to be your day off." Allen said frankly.
"This is what I want to be doing before I go and get ready for church. This makes me happy." Juana explained before hurrying back to the stove.
Even though we had a platter full of breakfast foods, none of us had plates, so all we could really do is sit there and look at the delicious looking food.
"Do you need any help with anything?" Allen asked curiously.
"Get your coffee, everything else is ready." Juana said as she raced back to the table, carrying two plates full of pancakes. Since she was carrying them with oven mitts, I'm guessing that she made them earlier and kept them warm in the oven until she had enough made for everyone.
I suppose it's because I'm Ken's guest that she served us first. I should probably take a moment to acknowledge one thing. The theory as to why my condition has stabilized is that my mom has been eliminating certain 'unhealthy' foods from my diet, allowing my body to achieve some sort of a balance.
That being said, I don't know what's waiting for me on Vulcan. Today might be my last chance to get to eat 'actual' food for at least a year. Is it stupid and wrong of me to indulge in food that could possibly destabilize my condition? Yes. Without a doubt. Am I going to do it anyway? If you could smell Juana's pancakes and bacon, you wouldn't even have to ask.
"Do you want for me to do your pancakes for you?" Ken asked me curiously.
I don't think of myself as being dimwitted, but I do have moments.
I had one right then.
I sat there in puzzled silence, trying to figure out what Ken meant, until he held up the little pitcher thing of syrup and looked at me with question.
"Oh, yeah. If you want to." I stammered.
I mean, I could have done it myself. But it would have involved a lot of stretching and reaching and a very real possibility of me spilling something and making a mess. It's just a lot easier to let Ken do it, since he asked, and all.
I couldn't help but smile warmly as I watched the amount of care Ken took to add butter and syrup to my pancakes. You know that cliche about 'a labor of love', that's what it was.
"Do you want some eggs or bacon?" Ken asked when he had finished dressing the pancakes.
"Both." I said immediately. Remember what I've been eating the past few years. Yeah, there's no way I'm passing up bacon and eggs.
When Juana placed a plate with a single pancake on it in front of Kevin, he quietly said, "No, thank you. I'm not hungry."
"I ask that you take a bite. That is all." Juana said as she continued on and placed a plate in front of Xain.
I watched to see what Kevin was going to do.
He seemed to think about it for a moment then, just about move for move, he went through the same butter and syrup ritual that Ken had done.
I absently took a bite of my food as I continued to watch Kevin. I guess it's because I know that he doesn't eat much that I'm curious to see what his reaction will be.
That's when it hit me. The flavor! It was so incredible!
After taking a small bite, Kevin quietly said, "This is really good. Thank you, Mamacita."
"This is wonderful!" I said to Juana as she approached the table, carrying plates for Allen and Jake.
"Thank you, Rory. I am glad that you are enjoying it." Juana said warmly, then walked past the kitchen and out of the room.
"I'd better start working out or I'm going to get fat. Juana's food is just TOO good." Allen chuckled.
Reuben and Ricardo ran into the kitchen with a man that I'd met briefly the night before.
"Unca Brady! Eat breakfast with us!" Ricardo insisted.
Brady picked up the boy and gave him a cuddly snuggle before placing him on one of the bar stools at the breakfast bar. Reuben climbed onto another barstool, leaving one open between him and his brother, for their 'Unca' Brady.
While he was doing that, Juana returned to the kitchen pushing a stroller.
I took another bite, then thought to ask, "Where's Grandma Mona?"
"Good question. She went on a date last night, it must have gone into extra innings." Allen said with a shy smile.
My eyes went wide in surprise.
The sound of Juana putting plates of food out on the breakfast bar for Reuben, Ricardo and Brady distracted me for a moment, but not so much that I couldn't snag another bite to eat.
"When Mona decided to let her people run the bar without her this weekend, I thought she was doing it so she could spend some time with us." Allen said with a smirk.
I'm sure that there's something really snarky that I could have said right then, but my mouth was too full anyway.
"Rory, I don't know if your dad told you about the plan for today, but here in about twenty minutes, he's going to be stopping by to pick you up so you can go and visit with your grandfather." Allen said casually.
I'm pretty sure that the incredible, wonderful flavor of the food was short circuiting my ability to think. I couldn't remember if my dad had told me that or not. But it didn't matter, I was all dressed and ready to go, so twenty minutes was plenty of time.
"Am I going with you or staying here?" Ken asked me quietly.
"I don't know. I mean, I guess you can go with me if you want to. But it might be kind of boring and depressing." I said honestly.
"You're leaving tonight, I don't want to waste any of the time that we have left." Ken said honestly, then seemed to deflate a little as he continued, "Unless you don't want for your grandfather to meet me."
"It's okay if you want to go. I just don't want you to be too bored." I said frankly.
Ken gave me the cutest little 'duh' look and I couldn't help but laugh.
"Then you guys need to finish up and get washed up before you leave." Allen said decisively.
Eat more of this wonderful food? No problem.
* * * * *
As it turned out, I had time to finish my food, wash my face, kiss Ken, wash my face again (syrup), and hold Edovina for a few minutes before my dad arrived to pick me up.
As Allen led him into the room, I quickly asked, "Is it okay if Ken goes with us?"
"That's no problem." Dad assured me, then turned to Ken and said, "I hope you won't get too bored."
"Rory can keep me entertained." Ken said with a grin at me.
I know it's stupid, but I felt the blush rise up my cheeks.
My dad smiled at me warmly, then told us, "Come on. Everyone's waiting in the car."
* * * * *
Ken and I have gotten really good at moving me from the wheelchair into the car.
It wasn't until I was seated and Ken was taking the wheelchair around to the trunk so Dad could stow it, that I realized that the ride might end up being a little bit tight.
Although the back seat might 'technically' be rated to seat three people, those three people would probably have to be below the age of five and a bit malnourished.
When Ken showed up at my door again, he didn't even suggest that I scoot over. Let's face it, no one wants to sit on 'the hump', including me.
But Ken just automatically scrambled over top of me, swooping in to give me a quick kiss along the way, then settled in just as comfy as you please into the supposed middle seat.
"Dad! There's not enough room for all of us back here." Corina complained.
I know it doesn't sound that bad, but there's just no way I can project the amount of venom she had in her voice. Trust me, no one would want to have to hear that for any length of time.
After a moment, Ken perked up and said, "I've got it!"
I looked at him curiously as he shifted out of his seat.
I actually thought that he was going to climb over me and scoot me to be in the middle, but instead, he settled in on my lap.
"Much better." Ken said happily.
Before I could say or do anything... before I could even think anything, Ken swooped in and gave me a kiss that was a work of art.
I mean, we're talking pharmaceutical grade.
The kiss went on and on and on.
Okay, I have to be honest, I don't know how long it lasted. I kind of blanked out there for a little bit.
But when Ken finally came up for air, he turned to Corina and asked, "Happy now?"
Before she could answer, he got that irresistible, devilish grin on his face, and said, "I know I am."
By the way, did I ever mention that my sister can give world class scowls?
* * * * *
We finally arrived at the nursing home. Honestly, I would have been just as happy to stay out in the car with Ken. Happier, in fact. But, since we were already there and I hadn't seen Grandpa Wayne since I got sick and since I was leaving for Vulcan... I sorta had to.
I suppose that Sunday must be the day that everyone fulfills their obligation to their throw-away elderly relatives, because the reception desk was really busy.
We had to wait in line. I guess it's good that I brought my own chair (sorry, I couldn't resist). Anyway, Ken was there, so it wasn't horrible or anything.
Once Dad made his way up to the desk, he signed us all in, then we went down one of many identical hallways. I mean, seriously, the place is built like a rat maze. How do they expect anyone, much less someone who's about a hundred years old to find their way around in a place like that?
Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. Left, left, right, left, to the end of the hall on the right... I think. Whatever. I guess my mom and dad have been here enough times that they don't even notice it anymore.
So Dad knocks on the door and about a minute later, some guy answers it.
I know I haven't seen my Grandpa Wayne for quite a while, but I'm, like, ninety-five percent sure that that isn't him.
"Wayne, look who's here! Looks like you hit the jackpot!" The old man chuckled as he tottered back into the room.
After Mom and Dad went in, Ken and I followed. Corina must have come in behind me. All I know is that the next time I saw her, she was standing just inside the door, leaning against the wall with her arms folded.
"We've got a surprise for you, Dad!" Mom said with excitement.
Yeah, that's a good idea, let's spring surprises on the old guy who's already had a stroke. Good thinking, Mom.
When Grandpa Wayne spotted me, I could see the surprise and excitement fill his eyes.
"How are you doing, Skeeter?" Grandpa Wayne asked happily.
It wasn't until he reached down and unlocked the wheels that I noticed that he was in a wheelchair.
"I'm fine, Grandpa." I said as I absorbed that fact, then I quickly added, "This is my friend, Ken."
As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. I mean, what kind of a chicken shit am I? Out and proud? I could have called Ken my boyfriend, at least. Calling him my fiance would have been even better. But no. I introduced Ken as my friend... I suck.
Grandpa looked at me curiously for a moment, then broke into a smile as he said, "It's nice to meet you, Ken. Rory, I'd like for you to meet my 'friend', Clint."
Then Grandpa broke into this classic 'shiteating grin' and gave me a wink.
If that don't give you the willies, I don't know what will.
Then, maybe to break the tension, Clint stepped to Grandpa's side and made a show of looking at me in my wheelchair, then at Grandpa in his before saying, "I can see the family resemblance."
It wasn't that funny.
I know that.
But for some reason that struck me as being the funniest thing that anyone had ever said.
It's a good thing that I was in a place with lots of nurses, because I was about two seconds away from needing one before it was over.
I don't remember ever laughing so hard before.
* * * * *
When I finally calmed down, Grandpa quietly said to me, "I've heard quite a few stories around this place about how worried people are about their grandkids struggling to discover who they are."
"I think Ken and I have figured it out pretty well, and if we haven't, I can't wait to discover the rest." I told him sincerely.
"I've also heard other stories about how people rejected their kids or grandkids for some of the most nonsensical reasons. So if you two need help figuring anything out, come and see me." Grandpa Wayne said seriously.
"We will." I promised.
From there, the conversation shifted to my expected travel plans, treatment options and so on.
The funny thing is, I wasn't the least bit bored the entire time we were there.
The funnier thing is, Corina was.
* * * * *
As we left the Assisted Living Center (I was informed by Grandpa that 'Nursing Home' is looked upon as a slur by the residents), I was actually feeling fairly upbeat. That is, until Ken took out his phone and called Davis to see if he was ready to go to the funeral.
How could I forget about that?
Maybe deep down inside I'm just a horrible person.
Oh well, Ken loves me in spite of that.
Anyway, so Dad was driving us home so that I could slip into something more depressing and uncomfortable, or so I thought.
I had sort of assumed that I'd be riding to the funeral with Allen and his family, but I guess Dad and Allen had talked about stuff, and it ended up that we're all going.
Under other circumstances, that'd seem really weird to me. But since I didn't know the people who had died and I'd only met Vincent two days before, having Mom and Dad along didn't make it any more strange or awkward than it would have been already.
Of course, Corina didn't want to go.
That was just a bonus.
* * * * *
Mom had my clothes all laid out for me when I got home. With Ken's help, it really didn't take me very long at all to be ready.
Of course, Corina had barricaded herself in the bathroom and probably wouldn't be ready for another half hour or so. Sorry, I just don't get it. She spends all that time in there and comes out looking the same as when she went in.
Anyway, since Corina was obviously going to be a while, we decided to walk down to Ken's house so that he could change... well actually, Ken would walk and I would roll. You know what I mean.
As we were walking, Davis joined us. I have to say that he looked pretty good all dressed up in his new clothes. Davis is a laid back kind of a guy, but he dresses up well.
When we got to Allen's house, everyone went upstairs so they could all get changed. While they were doing that, Davis and I hung out in the living room for a little while.
Although we talked about a variety of subjects, we both seemed willing to avoid any that had the potential to be emotionally charged. With everything going on the past few days and looking forward at what was to come, I appreciated it.
Jake and Xain were the first ones to finish dressing, so they came down and talked with us while the others finished. After being alone for so long, it's kind of remarkable to me that I could feel so comfortable in a group of people, especially with two of them being older than I am.
* * * * *
You know how something sometimes happens that makes your heart skip a beat and you're in such shock that you don't know what to say?
Okay. Maybe it's just me.
When Ken and Kevin walked into the living room, I was beyond amazed.
I mean, Ken is a hot looking guy anyway, so it's no surprise that he cleans up well. But... I don't know how to explain it. I just saw him dressed like that and the first thing I thought of was that that's how I want him to look at our wedding.
Is that sappy or what?
Oh, there was one other surprising thing. Kevin was looking pretty good, too. But the really strange thing about it was that with Ken and Kevin being dressed in matching suits and Kevin's skinny little body being hidden under the suit jacket, for the first time I could really see them as identical twins.
When I said something to that effect, Kevin grabbed onto Ken's arm and dragged him over to the mirror so that they could see.
It makes me happy to see Kevin happy.
Right at that exact moment, all I really wanted to do was have some time alone with Ken so I could properly express what I was feeling. Unfortunately, that was not an option.
Just as we were about to leave, Mona walked into the room, looking better than any grandmother has a right to.
As much as I would have liked to have stayed around there for a while longer, chances were that my parents were about ready to leave.
As Ken and I left Allen's house, Deacon saw us and ran over to catch us before we left.
"We're not going to be able to go with you guys." Deacon said quickly.
"Why? Is something wrong?" I asked with concern.
"Besides Lawrence, no." Deacon said honestly.
"What's wrong with Lawrence?" I asked slowly.
"It's his parents' funeral we're going to." Deacon said slowly.
Woah. Talk about something that hits you like a ton of bricks!
I can't believe that I was that stupid.
"I'm sorry. I knew that, I guess it just didn't register. I was only thinking about Vincent." I stammered.
"Lawrence is a real mess, but he's going to be okay. Billy and I will see to that. You keep on thinking about Vincent. He needs it most." Deacon said frankly.
The honk of a horn caused us to look over at Billy's house.
"We're going to pick up Pete and Jono, we'll meet you at Camp Little Eagle." Deacon said as quickly as he could before running across the street.
"Camp Little Eagle?" I asked Ken cautiously.
"Yeah, that's where the funeral's being held." Ken said frankly.
"Oh. I didn't really think about where it would be. I just figured at some church somewhere." I said honestly.
"I overheard some stuff at the Clan meeting about it. I guess they want to be sure that the reporters or the CPS or maybe some of the relatives of the people Mr. Winters killed don't show up at the funeral. And they also said something about it being better so no one would dess-i-crate Mr. Winters' grave. I guess that means they'd mess it up or something." Ken finished with a shrug.
"Yeah. Vincent and Lawrence don't need that." I said thoughtfully.
As we approached my house, I could see Mom and Dad waiting outside the car.
"I'm sorry if we took too long." I hurried to say.
"It's no problem. We've still got a few minutes." Dad said as he leaned against the car door then flashed an aggravated look at Mom.
"I'll go get her." Mom said in resignation, then added more loudly, "I swear, that girl is NEVER on time for ANYTHING!"
"We might as well get your wheelchair stowed while we've got the chance." Dad said, then walked around to the back of the car.
Ken took me to the rear driver's side door and helped me out of my wheelchair before taking it back to Dad.
* * * * *
When Corina saw Ken and I in the back seat of the car, she huffed, "Not again!"
Ken smiled, then started to climb onto my lap.
"No. Don't do that. Watching you two is more uncomfortable than being a little bit crushed." Corina said quickly.
Ken settled back into his place on 'the hump', but I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was thinking the same thing that I was. We were going to be doing our very best to disgust Corina for the entire trip.
* * * * *
I guess time flies when you're having, um... yeah.
Let's just say that Ken and I kept ourselves entertained on our trip to Camp Little Eagle.
The first clue either of us had that we had arrived was when the car stopped at the front gate.
After showing his ID, Dad was instructed where to park the car, and then where we should go for the ceremony.
As I've said, I haven't been to any funerals before, so I really don't know how it usually works.
But once we got out of the car and I was in my wheelchair, we started this long walk down a really beautiful path in the woods.
It looked completely natural, but I'm guessing that it was 'made' to look that way. The path was just too perfect and level to be something that occurred by accident.
Either way, it was beautiful. None of us said anything as we continued to walk.
* * * * *
By the time we finally reached the gravesite there were nearly fifty people gathered.
I recognized most of them, although I probably couldn't tell you more than about ten of their names.
There were a bunch of guys around Ken and my age all wearing Camp Little Eagle T-shirts. It was actually surprising how many of them there were.
Of course, there were quite a few of the Clan guys and a few of the adults that I remember seeing when I was at the Short Compound.
Off to one side was a little tent thing, I mean, it was really just a tent roof on some poles. I don't know what you call it. But under the tent thing were the two coffins.
I wasn't very close, but I was close enough to see that the coffins were closed and that they were sitting on some cargo strap things that I'm guessing would lower them into the ground.
As I was trying to figure out how the lowering mechanism worked, I heard Ken whisper, "They're here."
I looked over to see Allen, Grandma Mona, Brady, Jake, Xain, Davis and Kevin entering the large clearing.
When I saw the look in Jake's eyes, I could tell that he was nearly overwhelmed with anxiety.
Kevin ran to Ken and gave him a quick hug as the rest of them automatically walked over to me and my family.
Allen, Brady and Grandma Mona started talking with Mom and Dad, so I motioned to Jake to lean down, so I could talk to him quietly.
"You got this?" I asked in a whisper.
"Yeah. I'm going to try to do it myself. But Xain's going to jump in and help me if it gets too bad." Jake said shakily.
"Okay. If you need me for anything, let me know." I offered sincerely.
"Thanks, Rory." Jake said with a forced smile.
I noticed that Davis and Corina were talking together. It occurred to me that they might do that thing where they forget that they're not alone. Wouldn't that go over well. But as I continued to watch, I could see that, at the moment, they just seemed to be talking quietly in a manner which was perfectly acceptable.
* * * * *
Ken and I were there for a while, talking quietly with whoever wandered by, but no one was particularly chatty. We were all there for a somber occasion and everyone was feeling it.
Silence started to wash over the field and I turned to see Vincent, Joe Bowers, and Lawrence walking on the path.
There were two elderly men dressed in some sort of Native American attire walking with them, but I didn't know who they were.
By the time they reached us, everyone else, nearly a hundred people, were silent.
* * * * *
Joe led Lawrence and Vincent over in front of the tent thing, then stopped.
I guess someone must have motioned to Ken or something, because before I knew what was happening, he was wheeling me through the crowd and up to the front.
Just as we were approaching, Dylan came from another direction and joined us.
When Joe said that we were supposed to stand with Vincent, I really thought that he was speaking a little bit more figuratively.
Joe was standing front and center with Lawrence on one side and Vincent on the other.
I was parked right next to Vincent. Ken was beside me and Dylan was beside him.
On Lawrence's other side were Deacon, Billy and Allen.
We were facing the tent thing where the coffins were kept, and had our backs to the rest of the people.
I glanced to Vincent at my side and it seemed that he had only limited comprehension of his surroundings. I can't say that he was emotionless. I could almost sense something boiling just below the surface, but his expression was neutral.
The other thing that I noticed was that there were no tears. His eyes looked cold and dull, but they didn't reveal even the slightest excess moisture.
"Thank you all for coming on this somber occasion. I am Chief Hawkeye Tecumseh." The man said, then gave a slight smile when he looked to one side. I followed his gaze and saw Sean and Cory taking their places in line, on the other side of Dylan.
As I turned to look forward again, it suddenly hit me like a fresh slap of reality. Sean and Cory, Dylan, Ken and I, we were all standing there, at that moment, because we were the closest thing that Vincent had to friends. None of us had even known who he was this time last week, and now we were here, helping him through what very well might be the most horrible thing that would ever happen in his life.
And the worst thing was, I couldn't tell if our being there was providing Vincent any comfort at all. It's not like I expected Vincent to scream and cry or to throw his arms around me. But I felt like there should be something more that I could do for him. I felt so helpless.
"The deceased weren't active members of an organized religion, so the surviving members of the family have agreed to allow us to perform this ceremony in accordance with our traditions. It is my hope that it will bring peace to the departed and consolation to their family. For those of you who haven't met him, this is Aubrey Foote, he is a local Shaman as well as being my long time friend. He will conduct the ceremony." Chief Tecumseh said, then stepped off to one side.
Okay. First of all, I don't know anything at all about Native American ceremonies. I also don't know anything about their language. And don't even ask me about what that stuff is that they burn and fan around. No clue.
That said, it was actually kind of beautiful. I don't know how much of this was getting through to Vincent, but listening to the chanting wasn't nearly as weird and boring as I would have thought.
By the time he was done, I felt better. Don't ask me to explain why. I really don't know.
When he was done, he set the feather fan and the little bowl of burning stuff aside and spoke to us.
"In our tradition, possessions aren't passed down as remembrances. Such things are believed to hinder the spirit on it's journey. Rather, prized possessions are sent with the departed, in hopes that these things will bring them peace and comfort as they make the transition. Please come forward and say farewell before we send them on their voyage to what is next." Aubrey said reverently, then stepped aside.
Joe urged Vincent and Lawrence to step forward with him. They stood together in silence for a long moment, then stepped away.
Billy and Deacon stepped forward next and waited a few seconds before following.
Ken pushed me forward and Dylan walked up with us.
It was only then, from this new vantage point, that I noticed that there were pieces of jewelry placed on top of one of the caskets, and various other items, seemingly randomly placed on both.
We might have been there ten seconds, but the experience was so weird, that I couldn't tell you for sure.
All that I know is that soon we were moving away from the caskets. When I looked back I could see that everyone else in attendance had fallen into line.
"What do we do now?" Ken asked me in a whisper.
"No idea." I whispered in return.
"Chief Tecumseh told me that after the ceremony part is done, then people are free to do as the spirit leads them. You can stay and visit with people or you can leave." Dylan said frankly.
"Thanks, Dylan. Part of me wants to stay, in case Vincent needs me for something, but I'm going to be leaving for Vulcan in a few hours." I said anxiously.
"I'll keep an eye on Vincent. And if I can think of anything you can do to help him, I'll be sure to let you know." Dylan said seriously.
"Thanks, Dylan." I said appreciatively.
"Yeah, thanks." Ken echoed.
"Good luck on Vulcan." Dylan said with a smile.
I nodded as Ken started pushing my wheelchair away.
* * * * *
"Your family's almost to the front of the line. Let's wait over there." Ken said to me quietly.
I nodded, but kept my eye on Vincent. He seemed to be slightly more aware, but still not quite all there. The good thing was, I could see that he was surrounded by people who would see to it that he was going to be alright.
"Would you feel better about this if we went over there and said goodbye to him?" Ken asked me quietly.
I hadn't been considering it, but when Ken asked, it actually sounded like a very good idea.
"Yeah. Thanks." I said as I looked up at him gratefully.
* * * * *
At first I thought we might have to wait in line or something to get to talk to Vincent, but as we approached, people parted and allowed us easy access.
"I'm sorry, Vincent, but we're going to have to go soon." I said quietly.
Vincent's cold dead gaze turned toward me and the slightest expression began to cross his face, almost a smile. He leaned in and pulled me into a firm hug as he whispered, "Thank you."
"Sure. I'm glad I was here." I said honestly as I returned the hug.
When the hug was done, Vincent leaned in and hugged Ken, too.
I expected to see tears running down his cheeks, or a mask of grief or relief or something on his face. But when he backed away from us, he was once again wearing that neutral blank expression and staring out of cold dead eyes.
"If you'll excuse us for a few minutes, Cory and I have a few serious things that we need to discuss with Vincent." Sean said quietly.
I simply nodded. That look in Vincent's eyes was haunting me.
Fortunately, Ken wasn't effected the same way and moved my wheelchair so that we could meet up with my parents.
As we were waiting, I saw Jake and Xain approaching.
"How are you doing?" I asked Jake with concern.
"It wasn't as bad as I expected." Jake said honestly, then looked around before whispering, "But I'm glad it's over."
I nodded my agreement as my parents approached.
As you might expect, getting Corina away from Davis so we could leave took a few extra minutes, but all-in-all it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
* * * * *
The ride home was uneventful. Ken and I even toned down our behavior around Corina, mostly out of respect for the event we had just attended.
There was only one big thing left for me to do before I had to worry about leaving.
Solak wanted to examine me one last time before we left for the spaceport. The majority of my stuff had already been sent ahead, so there wasn't much more that I could do but wait for him to arrive.
Ken and I seemed to be almost phobic about being separated for even a moment. We were desperate to make every single bit of time we still had together count.
When Solak arrived, he did a quick tricorder exam. It took about nine seconds. After that, he did his Vulcan nerve massage thing on me for a few minutes, and I guess he was checking something out while he was doing that. I really don't know.
But when he was finished, he declared that I was in acceptable health. I guess he brought all his stuff with him, so he would be leaving for the spaceport when we did.
Mom made dinner. Dirt and weeds. Okay, not really. But close enough.
The time for us to leave for the spaceport was approaching fast. Mom seemed to have gotten the idea that I was in danger of starving because she was been doing nothing but making ziplock bags of snacks ever since dinner.
As I thought back on how helpless I felt when I was with Vincent, I could sympathize with what she was feeling. She was doing 'something' to make things better. There's no way I could fault her for that.
"Can we go outside for a few minutes? I've got something that I need to talk to you about." Ken said seriously.
Okay, yeah. That's one of those 'red flags' that you're always hearing about.
Chances are, something really really horrible is about to happen.
"Sure." I said, trying not to sound as anxious as I suddenly felt.
* * * * *
Once we were alone, Ken quietly asked, "Do you remember when we talked about us someday having kids?"
"Yeah" I said cautiously. I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever it was didn't start with that question.
"Do you still feel that way?" Ken asked and I could see a glimmer of hope as he waited for my answer.
I had to think about it for just a second to really be sure. But I finally said, "Yeah."
"What would you think if someday wasn't years and years away?" Ken asked more quietly.
"How soon are you talking about?" I asked cautiously. This was looking to be less and less about our plans for the future and more and more like some radical idea that Ken was going to spring on me.
"How about, as soon as you've had a few treatments and know for sure that you're going to get better?" Ken asked hopefully.
"You mean, like maybe within a year?" I asked as I watched carefully for his reaction.
"Yeah. That's what I mean." Ken said as he maintained eye contact with me to verify his resolve.
"Why? I mean, I'm not saying 'no', but why do you want for us to have kids so soon?" I had to ask.
"Not kids, just one kid." Ken said frankly.
"One particular kid?" I asked cautiously, wondering what Ken was trying to get me into.
"Vincent." Ken said seriously.
That floored me. I didn't have the words to say anything even if I knew what I wanted to say.
"He's nine years old. He's lost both his parents and now he's alone in the world. I know the Clan will take good care of him, but I really think he needs to have parents who will love him and pay special attention to only him." Ken pleaded for me to understand.
I was about to tell him that we were only a few years older than Vincent, but I already knew what he would say. Sean and Cory weren't that much older than their adopted kids either. This was actually a real possibility.
The memory of the cold dead expression in Vincent's eyes haunted me, and so did the fact that he didn't acknowledge anyone else at the funeral, but he hugged me and Ken. Finally, I looked Ken in the eyes and quietly said, "When do you want to do it?"
"You're saying 'Yes'?" Ken asked with excitement.
"I am. When do you want to do it?" I asked as a smile found it's way onto my face.
"Go to Vulcan and get your treatments started and see how things go with that. I can stay here and keep an eye on how Vincent's doing. Then, when you have an idea of how it's all going to work, we'll talk and decide what to do next." Ken said happily.
"Wait, yesterday I think Vincent was saying something about leaving on a starship." I said suddenly.
"Yeah, he'll be gone for about a week. I'm glad someone thought of that. After the funeral, I'm sure he needs a break." Ken said honestly.
I nodded, then quietly said, "You keep an eye on him and make sure he's doing okay. As soon as I know how the treatments are going, we'll figure things out, then I guess we should ask him if he even wants to be our son."
"Our son." Ken said with a smile as his eyes filled with tears.
"It's settled. We're doing this. All that's left is to take the steps to make it happen." I said confidently.
"Rory, it's almost that time." Dad called out the back door.
"Let's get you to the spaceport so we can get this started." Ken said tenderly.
* * * * *
It's a good thing Solak had a rental car because there's no way he would have fit into the car with us.
I think Ken and I spent about most of the trip to the spaceport packing the hundred or so little plastic bags of snacks into every nook and cranny in my carry-on luggage, my wheelchair pouch and the last few bags went into my jacket pockets.
Although I doubt that we would have actually said much if we'd been given the chance, it still felt like we were cheated out of our 'goodbye'.
As Ken helped me out of the car and into my wheelchair, a familiar voice called out, "Rory? Is that you? What are you doing here? Are you going with us?"
It was Vincent, and he was getting his luggage together just like we were.
"Yeah. Are you going to Vulcan, too?" I asked in surprise, then remembered that Ken had said that he was only going to be gone for a week.
"No. We're going to Alpha Centauri." Vincent said with a grand smile. The difference in his attitude from a few hours ago was like day and night.
"Wow. That's really cool." I said as I thought about how good it would be for Vincent to get away for a while. I heard someone behind me and turned to see Solak.
"Our transport will depart shortly." Solak said seriously.
"I suppose it's that time." Dad said as he moved in and gave me a firm hug, then to my surprise, he gave me a kiss on the cheek.
Usually my dad's not a kisser. I guess this just showed how big a deal this really was for him.
Not to be outdone, Mom swooped in and tried to kiss my face off.
I'm not complaining. Not really. I have a feeling that by the next time I see her, I'll be needing a lot more of those.
When Dad was finally able to get Mom off of me, Ken moved in to say his goodbye.
Oh God, why do things have to be this way?
I can't even get a full week of happiness before it's all taken away?
My self pity washed away as Ken's kiss worked it's magic.
* * * * *
As you might guess, I'm not an accomplished interplanetary traveler. So even though my heart was breaking, I couldn't help but be drawn in by all the activity of the spaceport.
Honestly, if it weren't for Solak, I probably would have gotten so involved in one thing or another that I would have missed my shuttle.
The hustle and bustle of the spaceport was kind of overwhelming. But I guess a Vulcan pushing a wheelchair kinda makes people want to move out of the way.
Anyway, we finally made it aboard the shuttle and Solak put me into a regular seat, then went to stow my wheelchair.
As I sat and watched, I saw Vincent, Joe and Brady get onto the shuttle and take seats right in line with ours.
"Is this seat taken?" A young woman asked me, drawing my attention.
"Yes. I'm sorry." I told her apologetically.
She didn't seem to be too bothered, and passed Solak as he returned.
When everyone seemed to be just about settled in, I leaned forward a little so I could see Vincent and asked, "So what are you going to do on Alpha Centauri?"
Vincent leaned forward to see past Joe and Solak before saying, "We're just hauling some cargo and exchanging some personnel."
"We? It sounds like you're going to be a part of the crew." I said cautiously. I had the idea that he was just going to get away from things for a little while.
Vincent smiled at me and proudly said, "I am."
Vincent sounded so happy about it, I couldn't help but be drawn in by it. "Oh wow. That sounds like it's going to be great!"
"Yeah. I think it will be. What are you going to Vulcan for?" Vincent asked me curiously.
I think I had told him before, but maybe not. But either way, considering what he had been through the past few days, I could really understand it if he forgot. "Solak is going to try out a new treatment on me and maybe he can make me better."
"You mean you'll be able to get out of the wheelchair?" Vincent asked me with surprise.
I wanted to say 'yes', but it's better if I'm realistic. "Maybe. We won't know until we've tried it."
"You need to let me know how it's going. You know, send me messages and stuff." Vincent said to me with excitement.
"Yeah, that sounds good. The easiest way to get in touch with me is through Clan Short. But I want to know how you're doing too. How can I get a message to you?" I asked as I remembered what Ken and I had been talking about.
Vincent seemed to think about it, then looked at Joe with question.
"Well, since Clan Short is collectively Vincent's guardian, I'm sure you could get a message to Vincent through them, but the most direct way would be to send your message to Starfleet directed to Crewman Vincent Winters on the USS Yorktown." Joe said loudly enough for both of us to hear.
"Crewman?" Vincent and I asked at the same time.
Joe chuckled at our stereo effect and said, "I wasn't going to tell you until we were onboard because it isn't official until you've reported in with Captain Byrne. But you will be listed as a crewman on the crew roster and have all the rights and responsibilities of any other crew member."
"I didn't think I'd be listed like a real member of the crew." Vincent said in shock. But it was a happy shock, nothing like a few hours before.
"At first your duties will be the same as any other crewman, but once you've learned the basics, you'll be receiving a module of your course studies that will include leadership training. If everything goes to plan, you'll eventually be given the responsibility to lead others and be offered a commission as a junior grade Ensign." Joe said to him seriously.
"But aren't the adults going to have a problem with taking orders from a kid?" I asked with concern. I didn't want for him to have to face something like that. He's just a little kid.
Joe turned to me, to answer my question and said, "Probably. I'm hoping that with the proper training, Vincent will be able to deal with that situation when the time comes."
I could see Vincent's look of fear and question.
"Vincent, you're not the first one to have to deal with something like this. Cory and Sean both had to overcome this when they received their commissions. When the time comes, get in touch with them and they can tell you how best to deal with it." Brady said seriously.
Vincent looked at Brady and gave a nod of relief.
"Thank you Lieutenant Thompson. That's very good advice." Joe said with a smile at Brady.
I rested back in my seat as Vincent carried on a conversation with Joe and Brady. My concern for Vincent was somewhat tempered by the fact that he was with them. They were two experienced Starfleet officers and they obviously cared about him.
"Are you feeling well?" Solak asked from my side.
"Yeah. I'm just worried about stuff. It's a Human thing." I said dismissively.
* * * * *
The shuttle flight was incredible. I'd never done anything even close to that... well, unless you want to count that transporter trip I took with Ken.
I'm sure that I looked like the biggest tourist that anyone had ever seen as I sat there and stared out the viewport.
I knew that when we landed that we'd have to turn around and catch another shuttle right away. What I didn't expect was for Vincent, Joe and Brady to wait for Solak to get my wheelchair.
"I guess this is goodbye Brady. I hope we'll run into each other again sometime soon." Joe said as he and Vincent gathered their belongings.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we do, the Enterprise seems to cross paths with the Yorktown every few months. Besides that, Lawrence lives right across the street from my brother so we'll probably end up seeing each other here on Earth." Brady said with a smile as he picked up his flight bag.
Okay. I was somehow expecting Brady to be going with Joe and Vincent. I didn't realize that he was assigned to the Enterprise and would be going with us.
"It was nice to meet you Solak. Peace and long life." Joe said respectfully.
"It was a pleasure for me as well. Live long and prosper." Solak said formally.
"I hope Solak can make you all better. Send me a message when you get there and tell me what Vulcan is like." Vincent said to me with a smile.
"Yeah. I will. Remember to call me if you need anything. Since I'm a member of Clan Short, I'm one of your guardians. It's my job to take care of you." I said with a grin.
"Okay, but only if you'll call me if you need something, too." Vincent said to me seriously.
I glanced at the large clock at the information center and blurted out, "It's a deal. Oh, we've got to go. Our shuttle's about to leave."
"Enjoy your trip to Vulcan." Joe said as he lifted one small bag in sort of a wave at us.
"You two enjoy your trip to Alpha Centauri." I said with a smile at them and waved as Solak began to push my wheelchair the other way.
* * * * *
I guess the approach to the Enterprise is kind of a majestic sight.
I really couldn't tell you. I saw it, but I didn't really see it.
The only thing that I could see was a beautiful fantasy image in my mind's eye.
The future image of me and Ken, and our son-to-be, Vincent.
How can I possibly follow that? This sort of thing is happening to me a lot lately, by that, I mean, receiving a new chapter from MultiMapper to a story that I haven't seen an update to for more that a few years.
Remember, this is Rory's story, so even though we saw Vincent here, and of course he appeared in the previous chapter of A New Door Opens, this is and was not intended to be his story.
When I first started reading this story, I was totally hooked on Rory. I believe I can say without any reservations, that Rory was by far my favourite of MultiMapper's guys.
When Vincent made his first appearance in this story, truth be told, he wasn't a very likable person back then.
We get to know Vincent a lot better by way of Frontier and a few other stories as well, later on.
Anyone who has read Frontier will know that Vincent has grown to be a much more likable person.
Some of us will likely want to go back and reread the earlier chapters of this story, to catch up with what happened before.
We have definitely learned a thing or two about Rory's life, things we have been wondering about for quite some time now, and we finally have something new to think about.
Let's all hope that Solak's treatments are successful in curing Rory and giving him a better quality of life than he has had for a long time.
In any case, Rory has a huge new world to learn about, and a lot of things to learn about his body and how he will be able to, with the help of Solak's treatments, become more mobile and more self sufficient.
Thanks, MultiMapper for another great chapter in one of my favourite stories.
Darryl, AKA The Radio Rancher