"Good morning, Lee!" Andrea practically sang as she entered his room.
"Hi. Is it perfectly amazing out today for my trip home?" Lee asked.
"Of course. The sun is shining brightly and the birds are calling for you to come out and play." she told him.
"I hope so. I am ready to run naked through the streets." he teased.
"You'd scared the children!"
He laughed and his eyes lit up with happiness. "Andi, you can't imagine what it feels like to be given my freedom. I just want to go out and do all kinds of things!"
"Will you keep me company when I paint the pool?" she asked him.
"You can't paint the pool by yourself, can you?"
Wiggling her eyebrows, she lowered her voice. "Maybe we can talk Rick into helping me while you supervise."
"Yea, I can supervise. I'm good at that." he puffed out his chest. "Okay, woman, pack my bag!"
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Excuse me?"
His face softened. "Please."
"That's better." Smiling, she retrieved his suitcase from the closet.
"Oh, and don't forget this stuff." Lee reminded her, pulling the stack of poetry from his night stand.
"Oh, right." She took the papers from him and slid them into the outside pocket of the suitcase. "Is there anything else in those drawers that you want me to pack?"
"Yes, there are some papers from the lawyer. They're only copies but I don't want to leave them here."
Nodding, she put the remaining papers with the poetry.
"Still talking with Dr. Hayes." she opened a dresser drawer and pulled out a bunch of tee shirts.
"Oh, about what?" Lee's tone was casual.
She shrugged. "He just told me that he would catch up with me."
He pursed his lips. "Rick thinks we should have a baby."
A grin slashed across her face. "Oh, yea? What did you say?"
"It isn't funny, Andi. I told him that I would never leave you to raise a child alone." he told her.
Groaning, he settled back onto the pillows. "He's convinced you could handle it and we should do it." he paused at her muffled laughter. "Pardon the pun."
"Oh, that's funny. So you think he's talking to your doctor about that?" she moved on to the next drawer to get his underwear.
"He already has. But I'm sure Rick is talking to him again." he sighed. "I love my brother but he can be a pain in the ass sometimes."
"I think it runs in the family, sweetie."
She looked up from her packing to find Rick hovering in the doorway. Quickly she reviewed their previous conversation to see if he could have overheard anything important. "Lee said you're a real pain in the ass."
"Ah, so true." Rick dipped his head in agreement.
"What were you and Dr. Hayes talking about?"
"Lee's schedule of appointments and about some of the things he shouldn't do." was the answer.
"A whole list of do's and don'ts, huh?" Lee frowned and his blue eyes darkened. "I'll do what I please."
"Up to a point." Rick warned. "Otherwise you'll have to deal with me."
"I'm shaking in my boots."
"Now, boys, no more arguing and no one will be beating up anyone as long as I'm around." she admonished them.
"Yes, ma'am." Rick saluted as he moved to Lee's side. Then, once Andrea had turned her back, he tweaked Lee's ear.
"Andi, he hit me."
When she turned around, they were both smiling sheepishly. "Don't make me have to separate you two."
"Yes, Andi." Lee's smile turned sweet.
"Boy, she's bossy, isn't she?" Rick asked in a loud whisper.
She blew out a breath and turned back to the suitcase.
Rick and Lee grinned at each other and made faces at her back.
"I saw that." she called, not turning.
"I heard your skin move." Dumping the last of Lee's clothes into the suitcase, she turned and straightened. "Close that for me, please, Rick."
"Sure." He closed and locked the suitcase. "To the car?"
"All right. I'll run this down and then I'll be back." Rick told them, carrying the suitcase out of the room.
"You guys will have a good time at home. You'll have all the time you want to hang out and play around." she said to Lee.
"We haven't hung out in almost ten years." was his comment.
"Well, here's your chance." Perching on the side of his bed near his hip, she touched his cheek. "Maybe I should stay at the other house for a couple of weeks so you and Rick can have some time alone."
"A couple of days?"
His eyes pleaded with hers. "Don't. I need you to stay with me."
"Of course." her face softened. "I'll stay."
"Where were you going?" Rick's words were sharper than he'd intended.
She jumped off the bed and swung around at the sound of his harsh voice. "Nowhere. Nowhere at all."
"Butt out, Rick. Some things are none of your business." Lee snapped, his eyes full of fire.
Rick's jaw clenched and he turned away. At the thought of Andrea leaving, his stomach had dropped to the floor.
"Dr. Hayes said he would sign you out just after lunch." she told Lee. The camaraderie of earlier was gone, replaced with a cloud of tension.
"He only wants to say a few things before you go so he said he'll be by at about one." she continued, prowling around the room to make sure they weren't leaving anything behind.
"Oh great, more lectures." Lee groaned.
"And I'll be listening to every word." her voice was firm. "I may even take notes."
Rick sulked in the corner, his mouth pulled into a grim line.
She glanced over at him to find his dark, unreadable eyes trained on her. "And Rick will be the enforcer."
Lee's snort was soft but quite audible. Rick continued to sit on the couch, his arms crossed tightly across his chest.
Frowning, she absently mirrored his expression.
"Andi, did you pack my baseball hat?" Lee called.
Moving across the room, she double-checked the closet. "How could I forget your beloved hat? It's already in the car."
"Oh." Lee looked over at his brother. "I was just checking. Did you take everything else out of the closet?"
"Yes, master. Stop fretting! Soon you'll be out of this place and you won't have to worry at all." she went to his side and patted his shoulder. "It's only a matter of hours, now."
"Why can't I walk to the car?"
"Don't whine, Lee."
He grumbled and growled as he settled into the wheelchair next to the bed. "I'm not cripple."
Andrea stood silently as Lee slid into the chair. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, both of which were now two sizes too big. He looked thin and frail and it made her want to cry.
"What're you staring at, woman?" he called to her.
Plastering a smile onto her face, she approached him. "I was just thinking of all the shopping we'll have to do."
"Yea, these rags are pretty bad, huh?" he looked down at the almost new clothes with a frown.
"Not to worry." she sang, starting toward the back of the wheelchair. "We'll be off to the mall this week."
Rick stepped in behind the wheelchair and grabbed the handles before she could get there. "I'll push him." he said quietly.
Shrugging, she turned and walked out into the hallway. She strode alongside the chair as they headed for the elevator. Both Andrea and Lee waved and called out goodbyes to people as they passed, but Rick remained silent as he guided the chair along the corridor.
Dr. Hayes caught up with them as they waited for the elevator. "Do you have the walker?"
"Yes." Rick spoke up. "It's already in the car."
"Good. Take care, Lee, and I'll see you in a few weeks." He shook hands with everyone before heading down the hall.
"We're off!" Lee yelped as the elevator doors slid open and Rick wheeled him in.
"Lee, you have to calm down or you may hurt yourself." she teased him.
He looked up at her with the biggest grin on his face. As the doors slid open for the lobby, he grabbed her hand and gave it a quick squeeze.
Rick directed the wheelchair toward the front doors and out toward the car. "Here we are."
"Finally." Lee looked up at the cloudless blue sky as Rick unlocked and opened the car door. "Don't I get to drive?"
Andrea grinned and motioned toward the backseat. "Next time."
Rick helped his brother settle into the backseat of the Mercedes before closing the door. "Does this chair fold?" he asked Andrea.
She nodded and showed him how to collapse the chair.
Opening the trunk, he stored the chair with the walker then stalked around the side of the car to slid in behind the wheel.
Andrea watched him before getting into the car on the passenger side.
They rode home in silence, with Rick staring straight ahead, Lee staring out the window and Andrea gazing at Lee.
"I'm walking into the house." Lee stated firmly as Rick parked the car in the garage.
"Then let me get your walker." Rick said as Lee swung open his own door.
Andrea jumped out of the car to stop Lee from getting out without help. "Lee, wait!"
He pushed himself to a standing position and placed his hands on her shoulders to steady himself. "Andi will be my walker." He grinned and turned her around.
She led him slowly to the door and into the house. "Where to?"
"Walkers don't talk! They just walk." he turned her toward the kitchen.
Rick followed behind them, carrying Lee's walker.
"Okay, stop here." he tugged on a lock her hair before carefully sitting in the chair at the head of the table. Folding his hands on the tabletop, he looked up at them. "Okay, gimme."
She burst into laughter at his serious expression.
"C'mon, I was a good boy on the ride home. Gimme."
She looked at Rick and shrugged. "You, first."
"The lady hath spoken!" Lee bellowed. "Go!"
Rick shot him an evil glare and left the kitchen.
"Andrea, what did you..." he clamped his mouth shut as Rick came back into sight with a big box.
He slid the box onto the table and stood back. "Well, there it is, wrapped and everything."
Lee stared at the box for a minute before ripping into the wrapping paper like an excited child at Christmas. He tore off the blue paper and flipped open the lids to find that the box was packed with styrofoam. "Is this a gag gift?"
Lee stuck his hand into the styrofoam and blindly dug around. "Wait, I hit something!" He reached into the box with his other hand and pulled out an oddly shaped black case. Placing it on the table, he studied it. "What the hell..."
"Open the case." She couldn't stop herself from urging him.
He flipped open the case and a huge grin split his face. "A camcorder!" Lifting out the video camera, he held it up and showed Andrea. "This is great!"
"It's all ready to record." Rick told him. "And there's a VCR in the family room set up to watch any tape you make, or to watch a rental tape."
"Oh, wow! Rick, thank you! This is terrific!" He aimed the camera at Andrea, then swung it over to find Rick. "Super! I can make all kinds of movies!"
"Yea, thanks, Rick." she teased. "We won't have any private time, anymore. That camera will be on all the time."
"Okay, Andrea, your turn." Rick prodded.
"You film me opening her gift." Lee gave Rick the camcorder.
She left the kitchen and went into the bedroom. Opening the closet door, she pulled out a flat box. She stood silently for a minute, thinking about her gift.
"Hurry up, Andi! I'm not getting any younger!" Lee called.
She smiled and carried her gift back into the kitchen.
Rick had the camcorder aimed at her. Then the camera followed the gift from her hands to Lee's.
"Be careful opening it." she warned.
"Is it breakable?" he asked.
The camcorder remained trained on Lee's face as he slowly unwrapped the box.
"It's a box."
"Lift the lid." she said softly.
He glanced at her curiously before lifting the lid off the shallow box. Folding back the tissue paper, he gaped at the contents. "Andi..." Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes as he lifted the paperback book from the box.
"Show the camera." Rick hissed, wanting to see what his brother was so emotional about.
He held up the book to show the camcorder.
"Look inside." she whispered.
Carefully he opened the book, turning back the crisp, new pages. Scanning the words, he looked up at her. "Oh, Andrea." He reached up and caressed her cheek with his trembling hand. "I love it."
"Read it out loud." Rick prompted.
"The book is called Coming Home, A Collection of Poems by Andrea Davis-Holivan. The dedication says, 'To Lee, when he came home. Thank you for the support and encouragement. I love you.'" his voice broke on the last sentence.
Rick kept the camera focused on Lee and Andrea but his mind zeroed in on his brother's last three words.
"Andi, when did you...?"
"I had them rush through the first copy when I found out you were coming home. I picked it up last Friday at the printer's." she explained.
"This is beautiful, Andi. It's wonderful!" his eyes shone. "These are the best gifts I've ever gotten." he announced to the camcorder. "The absolute best."
A little while later, Andrea led Lee into their bedroom.
"Hey, this looks great!" Lee told her. "Very warm, very lived in."
"And, of course, very clean." she teased.
"Yea." he looked around, then nodded toward the bed. They shuffled over and he sank down onto the edge. "The bed's pretty big."
"So, I guess we can deal with this, huh?" he looked up at her with big blue eyes.
"You aren't mad at me for having to keep up this charade? Especially now?" he asked.
"No, I'm not mad." she sat down next to him. "And if I'm uncomfortable, I'll just sleep on the couch."
"I kind of guessed that was why you brought it here."
"Actually, I decided the room needed some color. And it would give me a place to write." she told him.
"It's also a part of your family." his voice was soft. "It's all right to admit you miss them."
Sighing, she went into his arms. They weren't as strong and as solid as the first time she cried over her family but they were as warm and secure. "I miss Brian."
"And your parents?"
"I never really had my parents' attention so how can I miss them?"
He held her tighter, not sure what to say.
Expelling a breath of air, she sat up. "Okay, enough of this. Today we're supposed to be happy! So, be happy! Come outside and see my plants!" she stood and held out her hands. "Lets go."
He got to his feet and she helped him back into the kitchen. There they found Rick sitting at the table, her poetry book in front of him.
"Finally reading something worthwhile?" Lee commented as Rick looked up.
But Rick wasn't looking at Lee, he was looking at Andrea. "I was just looking through it."
"Read it." Lee stated before turning her toward the back door. "Mush, Miss Poetess."
Dipping her head to avoid Rick’s gaze, she walked slowly toward the door. She opened it and helped Lee out before closing it behind them. "I want to show you the Maple."
Lee approached the tiny tree and reached out to finger the lacy leaves. "This is a cute tree."
"Look at the underside of the leaf. It's still green because the sun hasn't gotten to it." she turned over the delicate leaf to show him.
"What else did you put in?"
She pointed out the various plants and trees that she and Rick put in over the weekend. "My next project is to take you shopping, then paint the pool."
"Well, everything looks super out here. All we have left to put in is the weeping willow." he reminded her.
"But we want a big one so someone will have to do that for us."
"Oh. Lets go back inside."
"Are you tired?" her voice was suddenly filled with concern.
"No, I'm fine." he leaned on her shoulders and they went inside.
Rick was still at the table with the book in his hands.
"You guys did a great job out there." Lee told him.
"Mmm." he didn't look up.
"Which poem are you reading?"
"Andrea, are these all written from your own experiences?" he asked, ignoring Lee's question.
"Most of them." she answered vaguely.
"Just curious." he closed the book before they could see what he'd been reading. "So, what're you up to?"
"I'd like to plan out the rest of the week." Lee said happily. "I want to be out of the house every single day."
"'Fraid not." Rick shook his head. "You can't go at a break-neck speed and expect to get away with it. We can go out a couple of days as long as it isn't all day."
Lee stuck his tongue out at his brother. "I want to go on a picnic.” he announced. “I want to go to the zoo, to the movies, to the mall, to a concert..."
"Whoa." she laughed, holding up her hand. "I'm tired just thinking about all of that."
"How about we start with me treating us all to dinner." Rick suggested.
"And a movie?" Lee asked hopefully.
"Are you sure you don't want help?"
Lee waved away his brother's concerns. "I'll be fine." He shuffled slowly out of the kitchen with the aid of his walker.
"I hope we didn't do too much." Rick's voice was filled with worry.
"He's fine. And thank you for treating. That's the first movie he's seen in over three months." she touched his shoulder. "We'll see you in the morning, Rick." With a small smile, she left the room.
He watched her disappear around the corner before he turned away. Her book was sitting on the counter where he had left it earlier. Picking it up, he headed for the stairs.
Andrea walked through the open doorway to her bedroom to find it empty. Evidently Lee was in the bathroom, so she scurried over to the dresser and changed into her nightgown. As she was folding back the covers on the bed, she heard the scrape of Lee's walker in the hall.
"Need help?" she called out.
He came into sight a minute later, wearing a pair of dark blue pajamas that hung loosely around his gaunt frame. "I had a great time this evening."
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Me, too."
Looking around, he hobbled to the bed. "Where's your book?"
"Oh, maybe we left it in the kitchen. Let me go look." she strolled out of the room and along the hall into the kitchen. Not finding the book, she returned empty-handed to the bedroom. "It wasn't there."
"Maybe Rick has it." he shrugged. "I should really go to sleep, anyway."
She waited to make sure he didn't need any help getting into bed. "Comfy?"
Smiling, she turned off the light, then carefully made her way around the bed to get in on the other side. "Good night, Lee."
"Good night, Andi."
"I'm glad you're home."
She closed her eyes and rolled onto her side with her back to Lee. There was a huge gap between their bodies on the bed even though she was a good distance from the edge. She heard Lee shifting on the mattress but soon he was silent. Staring out into the darkness, she wondered if Rick was reading her poetry.
Rick leafed through the book to find the poem he'd been looking at earlier. He knew it was toward the end of the book, where most of her more recent poetry was. Finally, he found the poem and his eyes strayed to the two lines that had first caught his attention. "Let me show you love/when you hate." It was obviously written for his brother, as were most of the poems at the end of the book.
After rereading that poem, entitled, "My Love For You", he flipped back toward the front of the book. The first poem on the first page was called, "Later," and was a bit vague. It made him think that Andrea was jealous of her brother but he specifically remembered her saying she had no siblings. Scanning the next few poems, he found that most of them were dated back over ten years and most of them talked about a little boy or a brother.
Closing the book, he set it on the night stand before switching off the light. As the room was plunged into darkness, he thought about each of the poems he had read. They left him with a funny feeling about Andrea. A feeling that maybe she had some secrets in her life beyond her relationship with Lee.