CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE
Thursday night — 10:35 p.m.
Distracted, Dr. Nelson Weeks answered the knock at his door. He found M.J. and Joseph Walter standing on his front stoop.
“Nelson,” Joseph said.
“Joey,” Nelson said.
While M.J. gaped, Nelson and Joseph hugged.
“How are the kids?” Nelson asked. “Nancy? Is she still in remission?”
“Good, everyone’s good,” Joseph said. “I hear you’re finally dating Blane.”
Joseph grinned from ear to ear.
“How did you …?” Nelson asked. His mouth dropped opened. “Blane is your acupuncturist. Helped Nancy with the cancer.”
“You met him,” Joseph said. “More than once.”
“I did?” Nelson asked. He shook his head. He looked at the floor for a moment. “When you returned to Denver?”
Nelson shook his head.
“Wow,” Nelson said. “I was so focused on … You know, the anniversary and all of that.”
“We all miss Jax,” Joseph said. He looked at M.J. “Nelson and Jax were close.”
“Family,” Nelson said, with a nod.
M.J. gave Nelson a solemn look.
“Listen, man, I …” M.J. started.
“I have something I need to do,” Nelson cut M.J. off.
“What is it?” Joseph asked. “Maybe we can help.”
“My dad’s in the hospital,” Nelson said.
“Pierre?” M.J. asked.
“I just really want to see him tonight,” Nelson said. “I can’t really explain it.”
Nelson looked at Joseph and then at M.J.
“You don’t happen to have a car, do you?” Nelson asked with a sly grin.
“Why is that funny?” M.J. asked.
“Nelson never has a car,” Joseph said. “He even talked Jax into being a non-driver. I had to drive them all over Washington.”
“San Francisco,” Nelson said.
“Can we talk on the way?” Joseph asked. “M.J. has a lot to say and …”
“D’accord,” Nelson said. He wasn’t sure why he said “Okay” in French. It’s just what came out. He looked at M.J. and raised his eyebrows.
“I speak French and a few other languages now,” M.J. said. “Bloody …”
“Foreigner!” Nelson and M.J. said their childhood battle cry in unison. They laughed.
“I’m so sorry,” M.J. said. “I really …”
“If we can talk on the way,” Nelson said. “I have to be in court first thing. So I’m kind of pressed for time.”
M.J. nodded. They went out to the street. Joseph led them to an armored SUV. He got in the driver’s seat.
“I’ll take the back,” Nelson said.
M.J. got in the passenger seat. Nelson’s phone went off when he got in. He looked at the text and responded. They were on the way to the highway when Nelson looked up.
“How do you know where we are going?” Nelson asked.
“Pierre is a friend of the family,” Joseph said. “He will be glad to see you.”
Nelson gave Joseph a tight nod. M.J. turned around in the passenger seat.
“Listen, I …” M.J. started and stopped. He cleared his throat.
Nelson looked at M.J. Jax had wouldn’t let him go until he agreed to listen to M.J., to really listen. According to Jax, resentments have an addictive quality to them. In order to live fully and freely, we must be willing to let them go.
“Yes?” Nelson asked.
M.J. just looked at Nelson. Joseph caught Nelson’s eye in the rearview mirror.
“M.J. has a TBI,” Joseph said. “He working on his language skills while under pressure.”
Nelson gave Joseph a quick nod. His resentment right there, he wondered why M.J.’s brain injury had anything to do with him. Immediately, he could hear Jax coaching him — “Compassion, Nelson, compassion.”
Joseph turned to M.J., “What is a full apology?”
“Say you are sorry, ask for what it was like for the other person, wait until they speak all of their pain, take responsibility, ask how you can make it better,” M.J. said by rote. His eyes flicked to Nelson. “It’s a part of team training.”
“Okay?” Nelson asked, his resentment flaring.
“I guess I’m not sure where to start,” M.J. said. “This is part of the problem. You were our friend, my friend, for most of my life — and then everything went to shit.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Nelson said.
“I know,” M.J. said. “I do know that. I just want …”
M.J. blew out a breath.
“I wanted you to know that I really cherished the time at your house,” M.J. said. “Bonnie asked me about you recently.”
“Bonnie?” Joseph asked.
“His sister,” Nelson said. “Younger.”
“She loved going to your house,” M.J. said. “It was so quiet, calm, ordered. Everything was in its place. You were always so kind to us.”
“How is Bonnie?” Nelson asked. “Kenny?”
“Good,” M.J. said. “Honey and I have supported them since … You probably don’t know but Mom took all of Dad’s death benefits. Even ours. Kicked us out. And, anyway, Bonnie just finished college. Ted’s starting.”
“They are good,” M.J. said. “But that’s not what we were talking about.”
“No it wasn’t,” Joseph said in a low, growl like voice.
M.J. cleared his throat.
“I loved that,” M.J. said. “Going to your house.”
“Then why …” Nelson started.
“And I hated it,” M.J. said, cutting Nelson off. “When Mom had just me, our house was like your house. Even with Bonnie, Mom was able to keep her shit together. But as soon as Kenny was born … Everything went to hell.”
M.J. stopped talking.
“Your house was the same — day in and day out — quiet, clean, orderly,” M.J. said. “Our house was falling apart. Literally. Things were falling apart. Mom made holes in the wall. She was just … crazy. Insane. Dad was gone all the time and …”
M.J. stopped talking and shook his head.
“This sounds very hard,” Nelson said. No matter what Jax had said, he found himself unwilling to give in too soon. “But I don’t know how it has to do with be so cruel to me. I was your friend. I went way out of my way to take care of you, to help, at every turn! And you …”
“No, you’re right,” M.J. said. “And … I guess that’s it. There are no reasons for me to have been so mean. It’s just … That first time, you know …”
“When you called me a ‘faggot?’” Nelson asked, his temper flaring.
“Right,” M.J. said.
“What about it?” Nelson asked.
“It’s the first time I saw even a dent in your happy-go-lucky calm,” M.J. said. “I had all of this rage and emotion and pain and … You were just cool as a fish. It felt good to off load some of my pain onto you. To make it your fault. I …
“I am ashamed of myself,” M.J. said. “But there it is. That’s what I was doing.”
M.J. swallowed hard and nodded. Joseph cleared his throat, and M.J. looked at him. Joseph gave him a “get on with it” nod.
“Oh right,” M.J. said. “What was my behavior like for you?”
“Awful,” Nelson said. “Horrible.”
“But I don’t get that,” M.J. said, defensively. “It was true!”
Joseph big, beefy chest pounded M.J. in the chest. M.J. looked at Joseph.
“He’s gay!” M.J. said.
“The word ‘faggot’ comes from the slang for a bundle of sticks or kindling. It is a reference to the burning of homosexuals,” Nelson said, primly.
“Oh,” M.J. said. He fell silent for a moment. He shook his head. “I really am an asshole.”
“Yes, you are,” Nelson said.
M.J. looked offended, but Joseph laughed. After a while, M.J. smiled sheepishly.
“What happened to you?” M.J. asked. “I mean, you know, when everything came apart and then you just disappeared. Your dad moved right after that.”
Nelson wasn’t sure how to respond. He knew that he should share how he felt but he didn’t feel safe enough to do that.
“Go ahead, Nelson,” Joseph said. “M.J. will listen to what you have to say. I will too.”
“Oh yeah,” M.J. said. “I can do that.”
Nelson sighed. He looked out the window and then, as if Jax was standing on his shoulder, he realized that he really didn’t have anything to lose.
“Your mom had said it to me for a while,” Nelson said. “So, I guess it wasn’t that much of a surprise when you did. It’s just that … I thought we were friends. I was out, in the cold, in the middle of the night. It wasn’t easy to catch your brother and sister. I know my dad went over to get you. He called the cops and … I mean, what do you think would have happened to you if we hadn’t been there? Did you ever think of that?”
“Can I say something?” M.J. asked Joseph.
“Go ahead,” Joseph said.
“When I hear you say that, I realize that it never occurred to me that you wouldn’t be there,” M.J. said. “You were just … always there.”
“I wasn’t your family,” Nelson said. “We were neighbors. You go down the street and see how many people would help you out. How many people helped you when we left?”
M.J. didn’t respond.
“You should answer that,” Joseph said.
“None. No one,” M.J. said. “The new neighbor built a ten foot high cinderblock fence between the yards so they didn’t have to deal with us.”
He stopped talking.
“I guess I just figure that was your fault for leaving,” M.J. said after a moment.
Nelson threw up his hands in frustration.
“I’m not saying it’s rational,” M.J. said.
“Well, there’s something we agree on,” Nelson said.
They fell silent for a while. Each focused on their own thoughts.
“You’ve asked me what it was like for me,” Nelson said. “It was nice to have you, your sister, and your brother in my life. I didn’t have siblings. Dad never married. He and I were close, but he worked a lot. I really enjoyed playing with you. Hanging out after school.”
“Dad paid you,” M.J. said.
“Not very much,” Nelson said. “It would have been a lot more if you had a nanny or even a real babysitter. And I gave up every afternoon sometimes to be with you. It was a lot of responsibility and pressure. It wasn’t easy. I was still a child. That’s what you seem not to get. I was a child!”
The pressure in the vehicle increased. Nelson shook his head and looked out the window.
“What did you spend your money on?” M.J. asked.
“We built rockets,” Nelson said.
“You really are a geek,” M.J. said.
“Of the highest order,” Nelson said. “But also, Pierre was an engineer actual NASA projects. He always had cool stuff to add to the rockets. And they always worked.”
“I’ll tell you that you being so smart,” M.J. said. “It made me want to be smart, do well in school and stuff. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have qualified for SF, uh, Special Forces. I know you and your dad had a big impact on Honey. You know, she’s going to college and working full time.”
“Why aren’t you?” Nelson asked.
M.J. cleared his throat and didn’t respond. Joseph shot him a side eyed glance.
“If you join my family, you can help remind me,” M.J. said. “Rejoin my family again, that is. Because you’re really saying that we were family until I fucked it all up.”
Nelson didn’t respond for a moment.
“No, it was really just life,” Nelson said. “I am gay. That would have always been something between us.”
“Why?” M.J. asked.
“You were Catholic,” Nelson said.
“Aren’t you?” M.J. asked.
Nelson didn’t answer. After a moment, he continued.
“It was really hard for me,” Nelson said. “I lost you guys and then a few weeks later lost my dad. I thought it was because I was gay. I thought my father … Pierre … He …”
Nelson cleared his throat.
“I’m just coming to terms with the fact that there were other factors involved,” Nelson said.
“You know about your dad? And Mike?” Joseph seemed surprised.
“Jax told me,” Nelson said before realizing what he was saying. “And anyway, I would have left for college in a few weeks anyway.”
M.J. didn’t respond. Nelson sighed.
“I guess I’m learning that I was pretty lucky, after all,” Nelson said. “I had friends and love. I went to college and med school. I mean, I always … this … thing was so painful that I …”
“I’m sorry,” M.J. said. “I truly am. I know Honey. She was just doing what I was doing. She really didn’t know any better. She moved in with Sam …”
“Sam Lipson?” Joseph asked.
“Good man,” Joseph said.
“He tried to get Honey and her sister to be better people,” M.J. said. “Honey fought it tooth and nail. But it really sunk in. Her sister was too far gone.”
“How did Honey end up in the wheelchair?” Nelson asked.
“Her sister stabbed her,” M.J. said. “She nearly died. I nearly died. I …”
Emotional, M.J. cleared his throat.
“I was hit by an I.E.D. in Iraq,” M.J. said. “I’m a medic like Jax was.”
Nelson shifted uncomfortably at this monster’s mere mention of his Jax. Noticing his reaction, he tried to breathe out his emotion.
“I lost my leg, got a T.B.I.,” M.J. said. “I was pretty much an asshole until then. Well … You went to the anniversary, right?”
“The first party?” Nelson asked. “I was there, and every one since then.”
“Me, too,” M.J. said. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t really know my dad. Not like you did. My dad just came and went. I thought he didn’t really care about us kids. Like he wasn’t affected by mom and didn’t care what happened to us. I found out at the anniversary that he paid for you to help. He put mom in the mental hospital twice. He tried to get help for us. Your dad was in touch with him all the time. In fact, your dad is the one who told me. You didn’t see him there?”
“No,” Nelson said.
“Wow,” M.J. said.
“Wow?” Nelson asked.
“It never occurred to me that you and your dad weren’t still best friends,” M.J. said. “I really envied that.”
“I haven’t seen him since that time.” Nelson thought for a moment. “Almost twenty years.”
Joseph looked at Nelson in the rearview mirror.
“Why go tonight?” Joseph asked as he pulled into the hospital parking lot.
“I learned some things tonight,” Nelson said. “I can’t explain it. I just really want to see him, need to see him.”
“Will you forgive me?” M.J. asked as Nelson moved to get out of the SUV.
Nelson turned to look at him.
“I want to say ‘Yes, of course,’ but the truth is that I don’t know,” Nelson said. “I’ve been so angry for such a long time. And … tonight’s been a lot. I think I need some time.”
“Fair enough,” M.J. said. “You’ll let me know.”
“I will,” Nelson said. “Are you heading back to the Castle?”
“Eventually,” M.J. said.
“Can you tell Blane that I’ll call him?” Nelson asked. “Heather too?”
Joseph cheered. Nelson shook his head and moved to get out.
“I’ll do it,” M.J. said.
Nelson wanted back inside the SUV the moment he closed the door. Nodding toward his own exhaustion, Nelson went to the information desk. With a little “I am his doctor” bluster, he managed to find out his father’s room number. He took the elevator to the floor. He didn’t bother to stop at the desk. He picked up Pierre’s chart tucked onto the door of the hospital room.
“Hip replacement,” Nelson said.
He snorted. Hedone could have told him it was something like this. The Goddess had mildly said that his father was in the hospital right now. If he wished to see him, he’d need to go there.
“Dr. Weeks?” a nurse asked.
Nelson turned to look at her.
“It is you,” the nurse said. “Your father has been bragging about you all night.”
“He has?” Nelson asked.
“You testified in that big Federal trial today?” the nurse asked. She turned over her watch to see the time. “They covered it on the news.”
“I wanted to see my father,” Nelson said.
The nurse looked at him and nodded.
“I know he’ll be happy to see you,” the nurse said.
“How is he?” Nelson asked.
“Great,” the nurse said. “He’s kind of a regular flyer here. This is his fourth joint. I think he’s hoping it will be his last. I guess he was in some kind of train accident?”
The image of the bomb going off on the train played through Nelson’s mind.
“The Captiale,” Nelson said with a nod.
“The new joints have brought him a lot of relief,” the nurse said.
She opened the door. Nelson took a step inside the room. His father was sound asleep. Nelson took a chair near the bed and assessed his father. He could see a few gray hairs. According to Hedone, his father and mother had been very young when they had him. His father was now only in his mid-fifties now. Pierre wore it well.
Nelson noticed his father still wore the wedding ring from his marriage to Nelson’s mother. Nelson sighed and picked up his father’s hand.
With sleep filled eyes, Pierre turned to look at Nelson.
“Mabelle,” Pierre said in French. Tears rolled down his cheeks. “You are so beautiful.”
His father simply looked at him.
“I am so glad to see you, Mabelle,” Pierre said. “Please. Don’t waste your time with me, my darling. Watch over our boy.”
“Papa, it’s me,” Nelson said. “Guy.”
Pierre’s eyes popped open. His eyes scanned Nelson’s face. His hand reached out to stroke Nelson’s face.
“I only found out tonight … what you did …” Nelson said. “Oh Papa …”
Pierre stroked Nelson’s head as Nelson cried into Pierre’s hospital sheets.
“I knew it the moment I learned,” Nelson said, tipping his head up to look at Pierre. “I knew that you had set the whole thing up. You paid for everything, took care of me — even though we were not …”
“Shh, shh,” Pierre said. “You were safe. This is all I ever cared about.”
“Oh Papa,” Nelson said. “I am so sorry.”
Pierre made a gesture, and Nelson leaned over to hug his father. They held each other tight for a while. Pierre kissed Nelson’s face and released him.
“Now,” Pierre said. “Do tell me … What has happened to your beautiful hair? And those glasses?”
Nelson tipped his head back and laughed. Pierre grabbed his son’s hand and kissed the back of it.
“You have the best laugh,” Pierre said.
Nelson grinned at his father. Pierre’s face broke open in a bright smile.
“If this is a dream, I am on some very good medications,” Pierre said. “Now, tell me all about this trial. I have been watching in the papers and the news but I want to hear it from you.”
Nelson had never had anyone interested in his work. He blinked at Pierre. As he had when Nelson was a child, Pierre made a gesture with his hand to encourage Nelson to speak. So Nelson told him about the trial. Pierre asked piercing questions which Nelson was able to answer. As time passed, Nelson noticed that his father was tiring. After a while, Pierre fell into a sound sleep.
Early the next morning, Pierre awoke alone. His heart broke. The dream he’d had last night had been so real that he’d hoped that maybe … The morning nurse came in to give him his meds. She was leaving when she stopped.
“Oh I almost forgot,” the morning nurse said. “There’s a note here for you.”
The morning nurse gave him the note and left the room. Thinking it was nothing, Pierre didn’t bother to read the note. Instead, he closed his eyes to remember his beautiful dream. His beautiful son had come to see him. They had cried and hugged. He had fallen asleep knowing that his Guy was well.
The effeminate African-American physical therapist shook him awake.
“Time to get moving!” the man said.
Not remembering the note, Pierre let the physical therapist help him up. They had started shuffling toward the bathroom when the piece of paper fluttered to the ground.
“Is this yours?” the physical therapist asked.
Pierre looked at the man.
“It says, ‘Have court. I’ll see you tonight. Love you Papa. Guy’” The physical therapist said. “There’s a phone number and it says … Hey, isn’t that your son?”
Pierre grinned. It had not been a dream.
“Say, I’ve seen your son on television,” the physical therapist said. “He is very attractive. Do you know if he’s single?”
“I have heard that he’s finally dating my acupuncturist,” Pierre said. “He’s very handsome. I’ve been trying to set them up for … a very long time.”
“I love it when good looking people get together,” the physical therapist said.
Pierre smiled. They continued their way across the floor to the bathroom.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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