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As we entered the dining room, I felt nothing but peace at the wonderful feeling of being included and wanted and a part of something so big that I couldn't imagine all of it.
I jerked slightly as I felt myself being levitated again and looked around to see what was happening.
One of the guys... Travis, I think, was pulling a chair out from the table and holding it for me as I floated into place.
I don't know why it seemed like such a significant thing to me, maybe it's because before this, no one thought that I might want to sit in a regular chair, like a regular person at dinner... but for whatever reason, I felt tears welling up in my eyes at these guys, the Clan, my new brothers, automatically including me and treating me just like any of the rest of them.
"Are you okay?" Ken asked me quietly.
"I'm fine." I choked out, then noticed the look of genuine concern in Ken's eyes.
I love him.
Such simple words, and yet they seem like such a revelation at times like this.
"Okay everyone. Dig in." Cory said from the head of the table.
I looked around the table at the selections of food and noticed a few of the Zombie Hypermom's creations among the offerings.
I thought about warning everyone, but then decided that it didn't matter.
If they got something that they didn't like, they just wouldn't eat it.
"Want some?" Ken asked as he nudged me.
I turned to see him offering me a serving bowl of mashed potatoes.
I awkwardly accepted the bowl, once again marvelling at my ability to use my hands.
After dishing out a decent sized helping of the mashed potatoes on my plate, I turned and handed the bowl to Kevin at my other side.
I noticed that he didn't even consider taking any, and just passed it on to the next person.
I really need to talk to Ken about whatever is wrong with Kevin.
Not only does he refuse to eat, but at times like this, when he thinks no one is watching, he looks so sad.
I guess I must have been staring too long because Kevin turned and said, "What?"
My mouth took off and did it's thing before my brain could tell me it was impolite or none of my damned business.
"You look so sad." I said quietly.
Kevin seemed surprised by the words, then gave me a little shrug before saying, "Yeah, but I'll be fine."
"What's wrong?" I asked with concern.
Kevin searched my eyes, I'm not sure what he was looking for, but I guess he found it because he whispered, "I just wish I had someone to love... I mean, someone like me... my age."
My heart broke at the hopelessness under his words.
I don't know all that much about Kevin's life, but the contrast was easy enough to see.
I have a mom and dad who love me like crazy and now I have Ken who loves me in a way I couldn't have imagined before yesterday.
Then here is Kevin. In a room full of people and feeling so completely alone.
I jerked when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Sean had one hand on my shoulder and was looking at Kevin with concern.
He leaned down a little and whispered so only Kevin and I could hear, "Don't worry Dude. You'll find someone soon, and I bet that when you do, he's gonna be out of this world."
Kevin looked up at Sean dubiously and gave an unconvincing smile.
"Yeah," he sighed, a bit helplessly, before he turned to look down at the table. "I hope so."
"I brought your milkshake." Sean said with a grin, as he placed a milkshake with a huge pile of whipped cream before Kevin.
"Poppa made this, didn't he?" Kevin asked as he turned more in his chair to look at Sean.
"He sure did. How can you tell?" Sean asked with amusement.
"Cause it's extra special." Kevin said, then turned his full attention to his milkshake.
Sean leaned a little more in my direction and whispered, "Rory, you're holding up the line."
I puzzled over his words for a moment, then turned and saw that Ken had about six different serving dishes lined up, waiting for me to take them and pass them on.
"Sorry." I giggled and took the first dish that Ken offered to me.
* * * * *
"This tastes like poop!" Timmy exclaimed with a disgusted look.
I glanced over at his plate, already knowing what I was going to see there.
There was one of my mom's creations on Timmy's plate.
"And how much poop have you eaten, to know what it tastes like?" Cory asked seriously.
Timmy looked confused by the question as chuckles spread around the table.
"Don't worry Gizmo. You don't have to eat it if you don't like it. That's just something different for you to try." Sean assured.
Timmy looked down at his plate, then made a show of turning it so that the offending food selection was pointed away from him.
* * * * *
As all of us were finishing our meals, Dad walked over to me and leaned in to talk quietly.
"We're going to be leaving now. Remember to call us if you need anything at all."
"I'll be fine, Dad. All these guys will make sure of it." I said seriously.
Dad looked around the table, then back at me and said, "Have a good night, Skeeter. I'll see you in the morning."
Then he did it... right there in front of everyone... he kissed me.
In front of everyone.
Did I already mention that I'm 14?
I mean... Oh My God!
Dad must have noticed my immediate blush, because I could hear him snickering as he moved away.
"Rory." Ken whispered from beside me.
I looked over at him reluctantly. I felt like everyone in the room was staring at me now, and thinking how much of a big baby I was.
"Think about the stories you heard in the Clan meeting." Ken said, in a whisper.
I looked at him curiously, not able to see how that had anything to do with anything.
"There are guys here who would give anything to have their real dad be here and love them the way yours does." Ken said honestly.
I was about to respond when I saw the pain in his eyes.
He was missing his father.
Now Ken had an empty place in his heart and even though Allen was a wonderful father... it wasn't the same.
In that instant, I knew, without a doubt, that Ken would be carrying that pain with him forever.
Nothing would ever take it completely away.
My body responded before my mind could decide what was the right thing to do.
I pulled Ken into a hug and gave him a small kiss behind the ear.
"I don't know about anyone else, but I'm really in the mood to play the Starfleet sim." Someone said into the silence that had fallen over the room.
I didn't recognize the voice and I guess it really didn't matter.
"I'm there." Someone else said, and I heard the shuffling of chairs as people started to get up and go their separate ways.
"What do you want to do, Rory?" Ken asked me quietly.
I began to chuckle as I thought about what I'd really like to do.
"Besides that." Ken said, and I could hear a smile in his voice.
I pulled out of the hug enough to look him in the eyes and said, "I really don't care what we do now, as long as I can do it with you."
"Good answer." Ken said with a gentle smile.
"Are you guys ready to go?" a voice asked from beside us.
I turned to Eli looking at us with question.
I realized that he stayed behind so he could levitate me back into my wheelchair.
"Yeah. I'm ready when you are." I said quietly.
Since I was ready for it, I didn't even jerk when I felt myself begin to rise up out of the chair.
"Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it." I said to Eli, hoping he understood how much it meant to me to do something so everyday and ordinary as sit in a real chair at the table.
"I'm glad to do it. You and me, we're alike in a lot of ways." Eli said seriously.
I struggled to remember Eli's story from all those that I'd heard in the Clan meeting earlier.
Besides the fact of Eli being 'differently abled', I couldn't think of any way that he and I were alike.
Eli casually inclined his head to one side, indicating that we should walk with him.
As Ken started to push my chair, Eli said, "It's funny, but when I look at you it's kind of like looking into a mirror."
I puzzled over the statement, still not able to see any similarity between us.
I guess Eli noticed my bewildered expression because he began to chuckle.
"Don't worry if you don't see it now. I bet that sooner or later you will." Eli said as he led us into a large room where most, if not all the clan members were gathered into small groups chattering happily.
As Eli turned and seemed to be about to leave, I quickly asked, "Please tell me, what do you mean?"
Eli turned to face me again, then said, "It's kind of hard to put into words, but when I look at you and see how you are with the people around you... It's kind of how I see myself."
I thought about the words for a moment and tried to wrap my mind around what he was saying.
I can't say that I entirely grasped all of what he was saying, but I think I understood enough to make sense of it.
"Thank you." I said as I looked up into his eyes.
Eli raised his eyebrows in question, obviously wanting to know what I was thanking him for.
"If that's really how you see me, then thanks. I'll try not to disappoint you." I said sincerely.
Eli blinked, then broke into a smile.
"I don't think that'll be a problem. Benji needs me, I'll talk to you guys later." Eli said happily.
I nodded as I watched him go.
"Okay Rory. I don't think I understood a single thing you guys were talking about." Ken said frankly.
I chuckled at the statement and said, "I don't know if I really do either. How about we just not worry about it?"
"Works for me... Let's go see what Kev's up to."
* * * * *
"Hey guys. I was wondering if bath time is going to be a problem for you two?" Cory asked quietly.
"Like how?" Ken asked curiously.
"I mean, I kind of figured that you and Rory would want to take your showers together, but I don't know how... I mean, are you going to need any kind of help?" Cory asked uncomfortably.
"Oh. If you've got a bath tub instead of a shower, that'd be nice." Ken said thoughtfully.
"Now that my arms are working again I can use a shower. You can sit me in the shower floor and I can prop myself up." I said quickly.
Ken leaned down and quietly said, "I'd really like to take a bath with you."
I smiled up at Ken and nodded.
"A bath it is Kenny. Come with me and I'll show you where it is." Cory said with a knowing smile.
I never even imagined that my life could be so completely wonderful.
* * * * *
The experience of bathing with Ken was even more wonderful than last night.
This time I didn't have to tell him what to do.
It was as if everything that happened was spontaneous and the two of us were just lovers without a care in the world.
I know that we probably took a lot longer than we should have in the bathroom, but no one made any comment when we finally returned to the main room.
The most we got were a few secretive smiles and knowing looks.
"Good bath?" Kevin asked, as he walked over to us.
"Really good." Ken said with a joyful smile.
Kevin giggled at the response and gave his brother a quick hug.
"How about you?" Ken asked quietly.
"Yeah. I showered with Jake and Xain and Timmy." Kevin said happily.
"CD didn't shower with you this time?" Ken asked curiously.
"Nuh uh. He showered with Reuben and Ricardo. Besides, Timmy said it was his turn." Kevin said with a shy smile.
Ken chuckled, then noticed that I was looking up at him curiously.
"The little guys like to take turns showering with the new guys." Ken explained happily.
"Really? Then I'm surprised that we didn't have any company in our bathtub." I said with a smile.
"CD wanted to, but Cory told him that you and Kenny needed to have some private time." Kevin said with a grin.
Ken chuckled and said, "I'll have to thank Cory for that. I think we both needed the private time tonight."
"So what do you want to do now? It's still a little bit before we have to go to bed." Kevin asked hopefully.
"I really don't know what the choices are." I said honestly.
"Do you like to play video games?" Ken asked speculatively.
"Not really. I mean, I used to play some. But since I got sick I stopped playing and... I really don't think I want to try and play again here in front of everyone after I haven't played for so long." I said quietly, not wanting to disappoint Ken.
"I don't want to play either. I'm not really good at playing since I can't read very good." Kevin said frankly.
"How about that? Maybe you could read to us?" Ken asked hopefully.
I could tell that Kevin was shy about it and could understand why he might not want to read in front of other people.
"We could get Timmy, CD, Harley and Reuben and Ricardo over here and you could read to all of us." Ken said happily.
Kevin looked at Ken with indecision.
"I think we'd all enjoy it." I said quietly, not wanting to push Kevin into doing something he didn't want to, but at the same time letting him know that we really would like for him to read.
"Okay, but only if we can find some books that aren't too hard for me to read." Kevin said firmly.
"Go talk to Timmy. I bet he's got all kinds of books that you could read without any trouble at all." Ken said seriously.
"Okay. I'll be right back." Kevin said happily, then looked around the room to find where Timmy was playing.
When Kevin was out of earshot, I quietly said, "I'm glad you thought of that."
"I love listening to Kevin read. It's like watching him accomplish something he always thought was impossible." Ken said as he leaned down to put an arm around me.
"Would you mind helping me onto the couch? I know squatting down like that can't be comfortable for you." I said quietly.
"Sure." Ken said, then leaned in and gave me a quick kiss.
* * * * *
As Ken was pushing me over to the couch, it dawned on me just how special everything was tonight.
I was here, able to use my arms, with my boyfriend, with my new brothers, in a place where we could kiss or hold hands without anyone being bothered by it at all.
"You've got that look again." Ken said as he leaned down to lock my wheels.
"What look?" I asked curiously.
"The 'I can't believe it's real' look." Ken said with a chuckle.
I smiled and said, "I can believe it's real, but after feeling like I'm unlucky for so long, I'm realizing how lucky I am to have found you and the Clan and... all this. It's better than my best dream."
"It is for me too." Ken said, then leaned down over me so I could grab onto his neck and shift over to the couch.
After being moved, I watched as Ken pushed my wheelchair out of the way.
I felt myself smiling and realized that it wasn't for any particular reason, but just because I was happy.
* * * * *
"Is this one okay?" Kevin asked as he presented a book to Ken.
After a moment of looking it over, Ken said, "Yeah. I think so. But it looks like it may have a few words that you haven't learned yet. If you get stuck, Rory or I will help you out."
"That's okay. This is one of Timmy's books and he already said that if I get stuck he'll tell me what the word is." Kevin said seriously.
"It sounds like we've got a plan then." Ken said warmly.
A group of boys began to gather around us, and a few of them were looking at me curiously.
I glanced at Ken to see if he knew what they were looking at.
"You ask him." I heard one of the boys whisper.
Finally Timmy stepped forward and said, "Would it hurt you or anything if CD sat on your lap?"
I smiled at the question, then said, "No. It wouldn't hurt me at all. Which one of you is CD?"
A boy who was obviously older than the rest stepped forward and looked at me shyly.
At first I thought that he was just shy, and that's why he wanted Timmy to talk to me, but when I looked into his eyes I somehow knew that this little boy had been through some incredible pain in his life and, in many ways, wasn't as strong as Timmy.
"Come on over here CD and you can sit with me while Kevin reads." I said gently.
CD broke into a beaming smile and immediately hopped up on my lap.
"Come on." I heard Ken say from my side and turned in time to see Timmy climb into his lap.
"We was gonna let Ricardo sit in your lap, but I need him to turn pages for me." Kevin said, as he knelt down and placed the book on the floor in front of him.
I glanced at Ricardo and noticed how proud he looked that he was needed.
* * * * *
By the time Kevin had finished reading the book, nearly half the Clan had joined us.
Most of the adoptive parents of the boys were either sitting behind them or holding them.
About half-way through the story, Timmy and CD went over to be with Cory and Sean.
Within a minute, a small boy named Johnny had taken his place on Ken's lap and Reuben had hesitantly taken a seat on mine.
I could tell by his reluctance that Reuben felt that he was too old to be held like one of the younger kids, but at the same time, he really wanted to be held.
During the course of the story, I gradually went from simply holding Reuben on my lap to fully hugging him.
When the story was over, Reuben whispered, "Thank you." into my ear and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.
I smiled at him, not wanting to embarrass him by saying anything in return.
"That was a great story, Kevin." Cory said with an appreciative smile.
"Thanks." Kevin mumbled shyly as he made his way up onto the couch on the other side of Ken.
"I don't know about anyone else, but I think I'm in the mood for some nest building." Sean said from Cory's side.
Several looks flashed around the younger members of the group, then kids started scurrying in every direction.
"What's going on?" I asked cautiously.
"We're all going to sleep in here tonight. They're going to build our nest." Ken said, and I noticed that he had one arm around me and the other around Kevin.
"I don't really understand what you mean." I said hesitantly.
Of course I know what a nest is. But I didn't quite see how the concept translated into providing a sleeping place for this many people.
Ken didn't even try to explain further. He just held Kevin and me and watched the nest building progress.
* * * * *
"Naked?" I asked apprehensively.
"Yep." Ken said frankly.
I was stunned by the statement. Me, Ken, all of us were going to be sleeping naked... together.
"Nuh uh. Rory, you don't have to be naked if you don't want to." Kevin said firmly.
I looked at Kevin cautiously.
"I don't like to sleep naked, so I don't. That means you don't have to either." Kevin said seriously.
After a moment, Ken said, "Yeah, he's right. You don't have to if you don't want to. No one will be mad at you if you want to wear something to sleep in."
I thought about it for a few seconds, then asked, "Do you sleep naked?"
"Yeah. But it's no big deal for me because I always sleep that way." Ken said frankly.
I thought about what he was saying and tried to decide how I felt about it.
"It's really okay if you don't want to. I won't mind, I promise." Ken said to me quietly.
I smiled at Ken as I said, "It's okay. I think it'll probably be weird for a few minutes, but I don't see it being a problem."
"Are you sure?" Ken asked with concern.
"Yeah. Totally sure." I said with a smile.
Ken seemed willing enough to accept my answer, but Kevin looked like he wasn't sure that I was really okay with everything.
"I think I'll be okay, but if it gets too weird for me, I'll just put something on." I said as I looked him in the eyes.
Kevin seemed to consider that for a moment, then nodded.
"Is there anyone in here who would like some brownies?" One of the ladies, Helen I think, said into the room.
A cheer went up throughout the room.
When everyone had quieted and she was about to leave, Ken called out, "Who made them?"
"Teri and I did." Helen said with a knowing smile.
Ken grinned at me, then went to get my wheelchair.
* * * * *
"You can stay here and we can bring you some back if you want." A boy said gently, he seemed to be close to my age, maybe a little older.
"That's alright. I'll go with everyone else." I said as Ken started moving my wheelchair.
"Oh... alright." The boy mumbled.
Okay, it's been a while since I've had to deal with one of these, but it has happened before.
When some people see a person in a wheelchair, they automatically think the person is helpless and needs someone to baby them.
At first, when I was feeling really sorry for myself, people like this guy would kinda make me feel better. Like they understood that I needed help.
But after a while it gets to be really annoying.
I know that I could probably tell this guy that I needed him to cut up my brownie and feed it to me piece by piece and he'd do it.
It doesn't matter that my hands and mouth work perfectly fine and that I could do it for myself, he'd just believe whatever I told him, thinking that he was helping me and making me feel better.
At least he didn't ask Ken if I needed help. If he had asked Ken instead of me... well, there would have been no stopping me.
"What's your name?" I asked the boy seriously.
"Alec." the boy said timidly.
I went back through the Clan Short history that I'd been told, but I couldn't remember which of the dozens of stories was Alec's. Finally I decided that it didn't matter and said, "Alec, would you come down here?"
As he leaned down, I reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Thanks for offering to help me Alec, but I'm really okay. My legs don't work, but aside from that I'm just like you." I said as I looked him in the eyes.
"Okay." Alec said hesitantly and still looked like he wanted to wrap me in cotton wool and protect me from the world.
As I tried to think of another way to show Alec that I wasn't helpless, I saw one of the younger boys running into the room.
After a moment, he spotted Alec and ran immediately to his side.
"Excuse me." Alec whispered to me, then picked up the young boy and went about the business of finding out what was wrong and how to fix it.
"Do you want to go to the kitchen now?" Ken asked me quietly.
"In just a minute, I'm not finished talking to Alec yet." I said over my shoulder to Ken.
When I turned my attention back to Alec, I saw that he was putting the younger boy down.
"Sorry about that... now what were you saying?" Alec asked curiously.
I smiled at him and said, "I was just saying thank you for offering to help me. I really appreciate it."
"Oh, um. Sure. Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help." Alec said with mild confusion.
"I will." I said, then looked behind me at Ken to indicate that i was ready to go.
* * * * *
"What was that all about?" Ken asked me curiously.
"Oh, that was just me, being a jerk and being about two seconds away from being really rude to a very nice guy." I said honestly.
I didn't even need to turn around to know that Ken was giving me that confused look.
"Sometimes people see the wheelchair and think that because I can't do some things that I can't do anything. They treat me like a helpless little baby and it really pisses me off." I said frankly.
I heard a little snicker from behind me and turned to glance at Ken.
"But how do you really feel?" Ken asked with a smile.
I chuckled in return, then continued, "I thought Alec was being that way, like he saw the wheelchair and totally missed that I was in the room. And I was about to go 'red headed' on him but... it looks like that's just the kind of guy he is."
"I don't get it." Ken said cautiously.
"He helps people. He wasn't treating me different because I'm in a wheelchair, he was just treating me the same way he treats everyone else." I said quietly.
"Oh, okay. I get it. So you thought he was feeling sorry for you but it turns out that he's a nice guy who likes to help people." Ken said frankly.
"Yeah. I feel kinda bad for thinking that way about him. It's hard to explain... I guess you'd have to spend some time in a wheelchair to understand." I said shyly.
"I think I know what you're saying. Back when my dad was sick, before he got really sick, I saw how some people treated him. Some of them ignored him, some were afraid of him and there were a few who did like you're saying and made him feel really uncomfortable by making such a big deal about it." Ken said distantly.
"Yeah. That's it exactly." I said as I looked back at Ken with a smile.
"Rory?" A woman's voice said, as we entered the kitchen.
I turned to see a woman that I hadn't met before.
I guess she noticed, because she went on to say, "I'm Kayla."
"Hi. It's nice to meet you." I said quietly.
"It's nice to meet you too, Rory. I just wanted to catch you before you got any brownies. Solak believes that it would be best if you didn't have any. He's concerned that it might destabilize your condition." Kayla said quietly.
I thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "I guess I can understand that."
"So Teri and I made up some fruit salad that you can have instead. But it's entirely up to you." Kayla said seriously.
I smiled up at her and said, "Thank you for giving me a choice. I'll have the fruit salad."
"I made up two plates just in case that's what you wanted." Kayla said as she glanced at Ken.
"Yours has a brownie and ice cream on it too." She said to Ken with a wink.
"Thanks." Ken said shyly from behind me.
"Find a spot and I'll have it for you in just a minute." Kayla said happily before hurrying away.
"I'll share mine with you if you want." Ken said as he moved me to the table.
"That's okay Ken. I understand why they're worried and besides, I like fruit salad. I don't mind too much." I said quietly.
"Maybe a few brownie and ice cream flavored kisses would make up for it." Ken said with a grin as he squatted beside me.
"Yeah. That'll make it all better." I said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Hey Rory, how are things going?" Jake asked as he and Xain approached.
"Pretty good. Everyone's been really nice to me so far." I said with a smile at him.
"Yeah, they're all good guys." Jake said cheerfully, but I noticed something in his expression, like he was holding something back.
"How are you two doing?" I asked curiously as I watched his eyes carefully.
"We're fine. We're both having a good time." Jake said with a smile, and now I was certain that there was something he wasn't saying.
"But..." I said cautiously.
"But what?" Jake asked innocently.
"You're having a good time but..." I said, not willing to let it go.
After a moment of indecision, Jake shyly looked me in the eyes and said, "I was kinda thinking that, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to go to that funeral with you."
"Sure." I said automatically, not even having to think about it.
"You see. I, um... well, I've never been to a funeral before and... I don't know..." Jake drifted off uncomfortably.
"When your mom died, you couldn't go to the funeral because the police or the CPS might find you if you did. Now you want to go to this one, to kind of make up for not going to that one." Ken said in a speculative voice from beside me.
I looked at Ken with question at the statement. It seemed like Ken was assuming a whole lot more than I would have.
"Yeah Ken. That's pretty much it." Jake said quietly.
"It's okay Jake. Pop helped me through Dad's funeral so I know he'll be able to help you get through this one." Ken said frankly.
"And we'll be right there with you, so no matter how it goes for you, we'll take care of you." I said quietly.
"You know, for the past few years, I've been taking care of myself and now and then I'd be able to help someone else. It's kind of hard for me to let someone else do things for me." Jake said, then put out his arm to invite Xain into a casual hug.
"It sounds so stupid when I say it but... I don't think I can do it by myself." Jake said distantly.
"I think most people have something like that, Jake, something that we can't do by ourselves." I said frankly.
Jake nodded absently.
"What's yours?" Ken asked casually.
I looked at him and was surprised to find that he was talking to me.
"You mean besides walking?" I asked, not to be a smart ass, but to stall for time.
"Yeah." Ken said, and gave me a 'duh' look that would have been more at home on Kevin.
I couldn't help but smile at the expression, then quietly said, "Bugs."
"Bugs?" Ken asked uncertainly.
"Yeah, like wasps and bees and especially spiders." I said shyly.
"How bad?" Ken asked with concern.
"Okay. You guys are my friends, so I can tell you this." I said in a low voice.
Ken and Jake moved in a little closer, then Jake urged Xain to lean in too.
"Back a few months ago, there was a spider in my room." I said, and felt a crawly sensation at the memory.
Ken squatted down so he was at my eye level.
"You guys saw how I was. I couldn't really do much of anything for myself. I never liked bugs too much to begin with, but I saw that spider crawl onto my bed... then I couldn't see it anymore." I said, and noticed that my voice was getting shaky.
"I screamed. I screamed for my mom and I guess I had something like a panic attack." I said as I remembered the feeling of complete and overwhelming hysteria that had come over me.
"It probably took half an hour before I calmed down enough to tell her what was wrong. She couldn't find the spider, but she shook out my blanket and changed the sheets and made sure the spider wasn't there anymore." I said quietly.
"I can understand that." Jake said in a considering voice.
"For the next week and a half, I felt like spiders were crawling on me. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't relax, I couldn't think about anything else." I said as I remembered that horrible feeling.
"My mom took me to her psychiatrist and he gave me these pills..."
I reluctantly looked up, expecting to see disapproval or disappointment.
Instead I saw concern in Jake's eyes and Ken looked like he wanted to pick me up and hold me.
Xain, well he looked pretty much like he always does, but there was something hidden somewhere behind his eyes that I could barely detect. I'm not sure if it was sympathy or understanding, but it was there and it was at least as strong as Jake's concern.
"What happened?" Jake reluctantly asked.
"I took the pills. And I guess they helped. It's kind of like I was stuck on that one feeling and they helped to unstick me." I said cautiously.
"So you just took them for a little while?" Jake asked carefully.
"Yeah. For a couple weeks. They made me feel druggy and sleepy and stuff that I didn't like, but they did what they were supposed to do." I said carefully.
Jake seemed to be considering the words as Ken hugged me firmly.
"But now, when I see a bug, I'm not only scared of the bug, but I'm scared about how scared I might get. I don't want to be like that again. It was probably the worst thing I've ever felt." I said quietly.
"Rory." Ken said softly.
I looked into his beautiful chocolaty brown eyes and fell in love with him all over again.
"If you see a bug, call me and I'll take care of it for you." Ken said seriously.
I smiled at him as the image of a knight in shining armor sprang to mind.
"And if Mrs. Plimpton shows up, I'll call you to take care of her." Ken finished with an impish grin.
On some level it might have been a joke, but I knew what Ken was really saying. In his own way he was saying that I am strong, but I don't have to be strong all the time about everything.
I smiled at Ken and quietly said, "You've got a deal."
"What about you Ken, do you have anything that you wouldn't want to face alone?" Jake asked curiously.
"Your old home." Ken said frankly.
Jake looked at Ken with question, not quite sure if he understood.
"Going with Kevin to the place where you two used to live is the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. Since I met you and Kev I feel a lot stronger than I used to be, but I don't think I could face going someplace like that by myself." Ken said seriously.
"It takes a little getting used to." Jake said, then shrugged.
I didn't want Xain to feel left out of the conversation, so I decided to at least acknowledge what we all knew.
"So Xain, I'm guessing you don't have any fears like the rest of us." I said casually.
"I do not have a fear, as such, but I do experience a sense of disquiet when I encounter clowns." Xain said seriously.
"Clowns?" I asked dubiously.
I mean, Xain is a Vulcan with way superior emotional control and stuff... and of all the things in the universe to be afraid of...
"Yes. They are creepy." Xain said, not revealing any emotion in either his voice or expression.
"Y'know, I've always thought so too." Jake said speculatively.
"So Jake, I think this means that all of us will understand if you have problems at the funeral. And you can count on us to help you through it." I said seriously.
"Thanks Rory. I kinda already knew that you would, but I felt like I should.. I don't know, warn you or something." Jake said shyly.
"We've got you covered Jake." Ken said from beside me.
"Thanks guys." Jake said, then casually hugged Xain to his side again.
* * * * *
A naked boy walked past me and drew my attention.
There's a chance that I would have known who it was if I had been able to make myself look at his face.
"Do you want to get ready for bed now?" Ken asked casually.
"Yeah, sure... I, um..." I said before stopping to stare at a beautifully tanned, perfectly toned naked body walking toward me.
"Would you guys like some help getting ready for bed?"
I forced myself to look up and was shocked to see that it was Aaron Carter.
I've had some pretty good fantasies in the past few years. I mean, considering the shape I was in, I didn't have much else.
But even in my best, wildest fantasy, I never even thought about being in a situation like this.
...offering to help me...
"That's okay Aaron, we can get it." Ken said casually from beside me.
"I'm sure you can, but I thought it might be easier with some help." Aaron said reasonably.
Before Ken could refuse, I quickly said, "You're right Aaron. Let's do it the easy way."
Ken shrugged, then moved around to my other side to allow Aaron easier access to me.
"If you'll lift Rory up a little, this will just take a second." Ken said seriously.
"No problem." Aaron said as he moved to my side.
"Before we start, are you okay with everything?" Aaron asked as he looked me in the eyes.
His honest concern for my feelings really took me by surprise.
I guess I always thought he'd be nice, but I never imagined that he'd actually care about me.
"Yeah, it's still a little weird, but I'm fine." I said quietly.
Aaron broke into a happy smile, then moved a little bit to lift me up so Ken could get my pants off.
I felt like I should be doing something to help them. I mean, since I've got both of my hands working now, I'm not helpless anymore, I could probably manage to do it all by myself if I really tried.
But seeing these guys, Ken who really loves me and Aaron, who's just a really nice guy and could easily become a close friend... letting them do this for me makes them happy. And seeing them happy makes me happy.
"Do you want me to move this wheelchair out of the way?" Aaron asked as he sat me down on the floor, propped up against the couch.
"Sure, thanks Aaron." Ken said in a slightly hoarse voice.
I looked at him curiously and found him looking down at my naked body with wonder.
For a very long time I felt like a hideous, twisted freak.
I would close my eyes or turn away in the bathroom so I wouldn't have to see myself in the mirror.
I've looked at myself in the mirror a couple times since yesterday, but... I don't know. I guess after feeling ugly for so long, it's still kind of a reflex to think of myself that way now.
But the look of love and plain old fashioned horn-dog lust in Ken's eyes made me feel wonderful and special and beautiful.
If we weren't in a room full of other guys, I'm pretty sure I know what we'd be doing... in fact, from the expression on his face, he might not even remember that there are other people here.
"I'd better get back to David now. Give me a yell if you need anything." Aaron said as he stood.
"Sure. Thanks." I said, then glanced around the room and spotted David.
That's all I'm saying, David... naked... nice.
* * * * *
"Look Daddy! Rory's got red hair on his wee-wee! When I get old like you am I gonna have red hair on my wee-wee too?"
Before I even turned to look, I knew it was Timmy.
Of course I had noticed that he was red headed like me, so I felt a little bit closer to him than some of the other boys.
In some ways Timmy is like I used to be before I got sick.
"Yeah Gizmo, you probably will." Sean said with a chuckle.
The realization suddenly came over me... everyone was naked.
I looked around to confirm it and found that most of the other guys were already naked.
Kevin and Jake were both wearing boxer shorts, but other than those two, everyone else was bare-butt naked.
Them being naked wasn't what was surprising me, it was that for a few minutes while I was talking with Ken and Aaron, I didn't notice.
Well, of course I noticed, but I wasn't feeling like I should be hiding myself or uncomfortable in any way.
I wasn't sure about what it would be like to be naked with all the guys.
But now that I'm here... it's probably the most comfortable place I've ever been.
I guess that there's this sense that everyone here is free and relaxed.
No one has anything to hide.
"Can I sleep with you guys?" Kevin asked quietly as he approached.
Looking at him wearing only his boxer shorts was a painful sight.
He was so horribly thin that I felt a lump form in my throat and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
I never imagined that anyone could be so thin.
"Sure Kev. We're just about ready. Rory's just got to scoot over a little." Ken said from beside me.
"What do I need to do?" I asked, tearing my gaze away from Kevin.
"Just scoot over a little so I can snuggle in behind you... I mean, if that's okay?" Ken finished uncertainly.
"Okay? Try perfect." I said with a grin, then started to scoot myself away from the couch.
"That's great. Kev, can you grab us a pillow?" Ken asked as he snuggled in behind me.
"Sure." Kevin said, then reached over to one of the many pillows stacked in the floor and selected one.
Rather than hand the pillow to Ken, he laid down in front of me and placed the pillow in the floor.
I carefully lowered myself and my head came to rest on the pillow.
As soon as I was in place, Kevin automatically snuggled back into my chest.
Without hesitation, my arms went around him and pulled him into a casual hug.
"Thanks Rory." Kevin said in a small, contented voice.
I felt Ken's arms come around me from behind, then felt a small kiss on my neck.
As I lay there and enjoyed the feeling of hugging and being hugged, Jake, Xain, Reuben and Ricardo all made their way over to us and gathered into our little formation.
Ricardo was snuggled against Kevin, Reuben snuggled Ricardo.
Xain was lying on his side with Reuben at his back and had his head resting on Jake's chest.
I leaned up a little to look around and all I could see was a sea of naked boys all snuggled together, each and every one of them holding and being held by someone they loved.
Editor's notes: I really loved this new chapter. It gives us a deeper look at how Rory is feeling, being cared abuot and not being treated like some sort of helpless baby.
Here comes one of my little speeches. Yes I know, you have probaly heard it all before, but guess what, you are going to get to hear it again. When I was younger, I was always treated like I was made of glass or something, by people that just wanted to protect me from everything. I was what was then called "partially sighted", and eventually got turned into simply, "a Partial". You have no idea how that made me feel. Well, maybe you do, actually. I sort of felt like I was incomplete, like I wasn't really all there. To this day, I still hate that term. I know just how Rory feels, and I certainly empathise with him and anyone who has a disability. I still get upset if I go into a restaurant with an obviously sighted person, and the waiter starts talking to the other person and asking him or her, "And, What will HE have?" It's as if I am not really there to them or like maybe I'm so nonfunctional that I can't possibly understand them. The really funny part, when I think about it, is that there are times when I go into a restaurant with someone who is either in a wheel chair or who is totally blind, and therefore I am the "normal" person, and the waiter talks to me and ignores them. Now when I said it is funny, I don't mean comical, I mean strange. I know for a fact that the same waiter who ignored me and talked to my friend on a previous visit, now is talking to me and ignoring this friend who is with me. I want to do something really mean to the guy, but I have to think carefully and not cause a scene. In any case, I really could relate to Rory's feelings when he was first approached by the young guy trying to help him. I am glad he took the time to realize that the guy was just being nice and not singling Rory out cause he was in his chair.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher