© Jess Mercer

The Special Gift

Tyler Wilson pulled the white hip-length jacket down straight, straightened his name tag, checked his hair, and left the small room set aside for the use of male nurses. He had been introduced to a few colleagues when the director of nursing had shown him around the day before. His enthusiastic reception by the nurses on the floor had been caused more by his 6 foot 5, 220 pound muscular body than by his good looks.

"Damn, it'll be good to have one guy who knows what he's doing to handle heavy patients," one nurse had said after the introduction.

"I'll be happy just to give him the guy in 416."

"Lord, yes! I hope Wilson isn't too cautious to give him what he needs."

Tyler walked behind the desk and looked around. "Mrs. Green," he asked quietly.

An older nurse looked up then smiled. "Tyler, welcome to the zoo. My name is Ruth and you've met the others. They'll give you their names until you're familiar with us. It's quiet at the moment, but I'm giving you Rand Thomson in 416 as your primary assignment for as long as he's in here. I'll warn you now, he's a handful and you'll need the patience of Job. Take a look at his chart."

Tyler finds the chart and sits down at a vacant place to read it over. 'Ummm,' he murmurs almost silently, 'I want to see this guy.'

As of their minds were synchronized, the intercom buzzed. Ruth nudges Tyler and points to the board, 416 is lighted. "Have at."

"May I help you?" Tyler asks quietly.

"Is it too damn much to ask for a glass of cold water in this hell hole?" A sharp baritone voice demands.

"I'll be right there," Tyler answers and presses the cancel key.

"Have fun," one of the other nurses says.

Tyler dips a thermal plastic carafe into the icemaker and fills it from the bottled water dispenser, knowing all too well the unpleasant taste of the city water.

"Here you are, Mr. Thomson." Tyler says handing the young man a filled cup. "Your bed is awfully wrinkled, let me straighten it for you so you'll be more comfortable."

Without a word, Thomson sits up and Tyler pulls the sheets straight and fluffs the pillows, then eases Thomson back. Tyler smiles. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"I don't suppose you're capable of bringing back the leg that quack cut off," came the scornful reply.

Tyler shakes his head, "Sorry, I'm just a nurse."

"Figures. Now get out."

"You didn't get anything thrown at you?" Ann asks as Tyler eases back behind the desk.

"Not a thing. Poor kid seems so alone and scared."

"Bad tempered, if you ask me. He thinks he's the only guy ever lost a leg and we oughta go with his every whim. Well, he's not getting away with that on my floor," Ruth adds. "He's got to learn cooperation is the fastest way out of here."

"Does he ever have any visitors?" Tyler asks.

"Not that I've seen. With his temper I doubt he has any friends."

Tyler shakes his head and familiarizes himself with the routine. The aid pushing the meal cart stops at the desk. "Miz Green?"

"What is it, Betty?"

"Do I have to take that man his dinner?"

Ruth sighs heavily. "Yes, Betty, you have to take him his dinner. I don't care if he does throw it at you, it's your job."

"Is that Thomson?" Tyler asks.

"Yes. Why?"

"I'll take it," Tyler says getting up.

"You don't have to do that."

Tyler smiles at her. "You made him my patient, I certainly don't mind." Not if it gives me another look at that stud, he thinks as Betty picks out the covered tray and hands it to him.

"Your dinner, sir," Tyler says and sets the tray on the bed table with a flourish. "It may not be five star, but it's better than most hospitals serve."

"How would you know?"

Tyler smiles. "I ate enough hospital food during my training and I'll be getting my dinner from the cafeteria on my break."

"Yeah. Not the same slop as this."

"Exactly the same food, but more choices. You'd be surprised at the number of people from outside eat here at lunch."

"I'd sell my soul for a double burger, fries, and some decent coffee."

"Afraid that's not on the menu. But it won't be long before you're out of here then you can get all you want."

"How? You think I'm going in a place on crutches and let everybody see the cripple? Forget it!"

"There's always the drive thru."

"Like who's gonna be driving? The quack said I couldn't drive anywhere until I was steady on my crutches, like I'd be going anywhere."

"We don't want you to fall and hurt your stump." He sees Rand wince at the word. "Would you like me to heat your coffee up?"

"Yeah. Maybe it'll kill the taste."

Tyler takes the cup to the diet kitchen on the floor and pours it out, filling the cup with fresh coffee from the maker the nurses used.

"Hey, this isn't the same stuff," Thomson says in amazement after a sip.

Tyler puts a finger across his lips and smiles. "Sssh, it's from the maker at the nurses station. I made a new pot not long ago."

"Thanks."

"Enjoy. I'll be back later."

After he had eaten, Tyler, without the patient's charts to update found reason to check by room 416 several times before he began passing out night meds to the patients. "Do you need something to make you sleep?" He asks Thomson.

"Naa, but I've got some pain in my leg."

Tyler sets the tiny paper cup holding a mild narcotic on the bed table and pours a cup of water, holding it out. "Here you go, Mr. Thomson. Down the hatch."

Thomson gulps the pill and water, starts to lay back then sits up straight. "Damn, I gotta take a crap."

Tyler holds out a pair of crutches. "I'll help you."

Thomson looks amazed. "What?"

"Haven't you used the toilet, yet?"

Thomson shakes his head. "Fuckin' bedpan. Stupid bitch wouldn't let me up."

"Now's as good a time as any to begin. You're well enough. I'll lower the bed then you swing your foot over the side and on the floor. I'll help you up."

"Easy now," he cautions, putting a slipper on Thomson's foot. He pulls him up and when Thomson has the crutches securely under his arms, guides him the few steps into the toilet, pulls the hospital gown out of the way, and helps him lower easily down on the raised seat. "Okay, guy, gimmie a growl when you're done. You aren't ready to try to get up all by yourself."

Tyler busies himself straightening the bed again. He glances around seeing a room as bare as it would be without an occupant. Poor guy, he thinks, nothing to read, no flowers or cards, no visitors, nothing. No wonder he's unhappy.

"Hey, nurse?"

Tyler opens the door. "Done?"

"Yeah."

Thomson is quickly back in bed. "Thanks,' he says grudgingly. "Sorry it was such a stinker."

Tyler smiles. "Nurses are used to it. At least I didn't have to wipe your ass."

Thomson grimaces. "Embarrasses hell out of me to use a bedpan in front of a nurse and have her do it."

"Part of our job, man. Roll over on your stomach and I'll give you a rub down."

God, what a bod, Tyler thinks as he splashes alcohol on Thomson's back and rubs it heavily. I'd sure love to be rubbing something else.

A few minutes later, he has Thomson turn over and massages his front to the groin and his one muscular leg. He slaps Thomson's hip lightly. "Sit up so I can close your gown and have a good night's sleep, guy."

"Thanks. And call me Rand," Thomson mumbles sleepily.

"You won't hear a peep out of 416," Tyler tells the supervisor of the next shift.

"That'll be the day. If I don't I'll buy you a drink sometime."

Tyler grins. "You're on."

The next day Tyler arrived on the floor half an hour early, planning to visit Rand. The morning shift supervisor beckoned him over as he started past the nursing station. "Are you Wilson?"

Tyler nods.

"Thank God! Please go see what you can do with Mr. Thomson in 416. If one of my people has to go in there one more time they'll all quit or there's going to be a murder."

Rand was staring out the window when Tyler entered. "Get the hell …" he started to yell then looked up. His scowl turned into a pleasant look. "I'm glad it's you. Help me in the can."

As soon as Rand was seated on the toilet, Tyler remade the bed. Then waited until Rand was ready.

"Thanks. I had to fight one of those bitches for wanting to force me into using that damn bedpan again."

"I'll tell 'em you're ready and able to be up. I've got a few minutes, want to try your crutches?"

"For what?"

"Sooner you are stable on them the sooner you're out of here."

"Got something will cover my ass, cause this gown sure don't."

"I can find a robe, but it's a shame to cover something that nice. You're a real stud."

Rand snorts. "Yeah! A one-legged one. Rejection's gonna be the game from here on out."

Tyler helps him up and steadies him on his crutches. "Oh, I can think of any number of people will find you hotter than ever."

"Fat chance! Let's go if we're going."

When Rand had taken a few steps, Tyler said, "You've been holding out on me. You've had practice."

Rand grins. "Used 'em in high school when I broke my leg. It's coming back how."

After a short walk down the hall Tyler saw Rand slowing. "Okay, back to your room, stud. No need to exhaust yourself."

"Want to sit or get back in bed?" Tyler asks when they're back in 416.

"Sit up until after I eat." He reaches up for Tyler's hand. "You're a good guy, Wilson. Got a name to go with that?"

"Tyler."

Rand snorts. "Kid's name. Great guy like you should get called Ty."

"Thanks. I've got to sign in and get to work. Anything I can get for you before I go?"

"What's the chance of another cup of that decent coffee with dinner, such as it is?"

Ty puts a finger across his lips and winks. "Ssssh. Anybody else finds out they'll want it too. See you later, stud."

"I can't believe you actually came in early to spend time with Mr. Thomson, Tyler," Ruth said as he signed the duty roster.

"He's a nice kid away from home, no local friends, and scared to death. If a few minutes of my time makes it easier for the rest of us, why not?"

"You're in your first job, Tyler. Remember the rules about becoming emotionally involved with patients."

"I remember, Mrs. Green. I'm just trying to do what's good for my patient."

"See you remember that."

Tyler is kept busy until just before meals are to be served. A teen holding a fast-food bag gets off the passenger elevator just as Betty pushes the meal cart off the service elevator and comes to the desk.

"Yes?" One of the nurses asks.

"Tyler around?"

"Here I am, Brad. Thanks a lot, buddy," Ty says, taking the bag.

"Wish I could eat with you. Don't see you no more with you startin' work before I'm outta school."

"I'll see what I can work out. I'm busy, so scat." Ty gives his brother a friendly swat on the butt.

One of the nurses sniffs the air. "Oh, God, some of 'em are getting liver and onions tonight. They'll be bitching their heads off when they taste it. Wish I had someone to bring me a burger, Tyler. You're lucky."

"Go eat now, Tyler, cause there's going to be plenty of complaints to take care of later," Ruth says. "Take Mr. Thomson his tray. He'll probably throw it at you if it's liver."

"I may stay and eat with him."

"You're not supposed to, but if you can get him to eat any of it, please do."

Tyler takes the service elevator to the cafeteria and gets a cold salad plate he knows is good, then goes back to the 4th floor and takes the tray to Rand's room.

"Here's your coffee and something else you wanted." He holds out the bag.

Rand's eyes open wide. "You're kidding?"

"No way. My kid brother just brought it so it's still warm. Dig in. I'm going to eat my dinner with you if you don't mind."

Rand shifts the contents of the bag to one end of the bed table so Tyler can set his plate down. "So what would I have gotten tonight?"

"Barfola."

"Huh?"

"Liver and onions."

Rand grimaces. "A fate worse than death. Thanks, Ty, you're a life saver."

Tyler and the others started getting their patients ready for the night about 10:30. Tyler left Rand until last. "Ready for bed?"

"Yeah. Would you straighten it up please? I rested after I took another walk."

"Good for you. Glad to help."

"You get in any trouble for eating with me?"

Tyler shrugs. "Naa. It's against the rules but who cares." He suddenly chuckles.

"What's so funny?"

"On my break I took your tray down. There's a stray dog been hangin' around the garbage area. Guess he's hungry. Anyway, I put the liver down for him. When I got back to the door he came up and sniffed it then lifted his leg on it."

"No shit!"

"'S truth."

Tyler had to put his hand over Rand's mouth to stifle the gales of laughter. "Ssssh, buddy. We're trying to get people to sleep."

Rand continued to snicker softly. When he could speak he shook his head. "That's what I've been trying to tell the other nurses when they bitched because I wasn't eating much."

"Don't they send you a menu each evening for the next day's meals?"

"No. I didn't know I had a choice."

"Damn! I'll go get one and turn it in for you. Maybe you'll get something better tomorrow."

When Rand finished marking the menu Tyler brought him he turned off the light. "Thanks, Ty, you're a super guy. I really like you."

Tyler bends closer kissing a startled Rand. "I love you, Rand. I've got to go, talk at you tomorrow."

Neither man heard the faint click from the intercom unit. Tyler signed out and went home.

Tyler stops by Rand's room for a visit before going on duty. Rand is seated in a chair, crutches beside him. He looks at Ty with an unsmiling expression.

"What's wrong, stud?" Ty asks.

"Sit down, we need to talk."

"'Kay, 'bout what?"

"You kissed me last night."

"So? I fell for you the first time I saw you, stud. I hope you'll continue to use crutches because you're going to have a beautiful stump. I want to see you wearing shorts."

"What the fuck! Are you queer for amputees?"

"I'm a devotee, Rand. It's one of the reasons I went into nursing."

"You get off looking at me with one leg?"

"You're such a beautiful stud, Rand. I wish we could be together forever."

"Get the fuck out of here, you pervert!" Rand yells.

Tyler turned slowly and plodded down the hall to the restroom on dragging feet, tears flowing. Realizing he's late checking in, Tyler washes his face and goes to the desk.

"You're late," Mrs. Green snaps. "Don't bother to sign in, we have an appointment with the superintendent of nurses and the administrator. Come along."

"What did I do?" Tyler asks, wondering if she had overheard Rand.

"You'll be fully informed."

They were shown into the superintendent's office immediately.

"This is Wilson," Mrs. Green said, taking a chair and leaving Tyler standing.

"You have been with us exactly three days, Wilson," the superintendent says. "I had great hopes for you primarily as we're so short of male nurses, especially husky ones like you, but I was shocked at Mrs. Green's report when I read it this morning."

"What is it I'm supposed to have done?" Ty asks timidly.

"Dear God!" The administrator bursts out. "You're heard kissing a patient, then telling him you're in love with him. I know there are gay male nurses, but at least they have the ability to control their impulses and don't proposition patients."

"We simply can't have that sort of thing. Your services are terminated as of now. You have half an hour to get your personal possessions together and leave this hospital. I don't need to add that you'll not get a reference from us. I will be sending a copy of this report and action taken to the state board. They will take action as they see fit." The superintendent shoves some papers in her desk.

"Don't I get a chance to say anything?"

"There's nothing you can say. You're dismissed."

On their way back to the 4th floor, Mrs. Green said, "I'm sorry, Tyler. We need you badly, but this is something beyond a momentary slip that would be forgivable. Have you anything to get?"

"No, ma'am."

"Then I wish you the best. Perhaps you can find a job as a nurse with some private company."

"Thank you. Could I see Rand to say good-bye?"

"Absolutely not."

"I'll be going then." Tyler turned and walked toward the back entry very slowly.

"Hey, how come you're home already?" Brad asks as Tyler walks through the door.

Tyler hugs his brother. "I fucked up big time, Brad. Got my ass fired and may get kicked off the registry which means I won't be able to get another job nursing."

"How'd you do that?"

"There's a guy about my age on 4th recovering from a leg amputation. I got one look at him and fell in love. Hell of it is, he ain't gay like I thought."

"Oh, shit!"

"Yeah, and I'm in the middle of the pile. That's what happens when you let your little head overrule your big one. What hurts most is I'm letting you and mom down after all you've done for me so I could stay in school."

Brad hands his brother a handkerchief to wipe his tears and hugs him. "You ain't let us down. You'll find somethin'."

"Not if I'm kicked off the registry. Maybe I can get on a construction job or something."

Brad hugs him again. "We'll make it, bro. I'm with you."

Tyler hugs him. "I don't deserve a great brother like you. Go do what you need to, I'll get a nap."

As soon as Ty hears Brad leave for his after-school job, he bursts into tears of despair. His mother and Brad knew he was gay and were totally accepting, no, it was having let them both down. Both his mother and brother worked to keep him in nursing school, now he had blown it by letting his little head rule his big one. Tears faded into sleep.

"Are you ill, son?" His mother's concerned voice woke him.

Ty sat up and held out his arms, tears flowing once more. "Oh, mom, I feel so bad about letting you and Brad down," he said, hugging her.

She sat cradling him in her arms as she always had when he was hurt or upset while the story poured out. When Ty finished, she hugged him. "It'll all work out some how because you have a gift for helping others. Until it does, we can make do. Now go wash up, Brad'll be home soon and we'll eat. I made your favorite meatloaf."

His depression hanging heavy over him, Ty ate and after watching his mother's favorite TV show with her, went to bed.

Brad had gone to school and his mother to work when he came down to breakfast. He grabbed a cup of coffee and picked up the paper next to his plate turning to the help wanted section. He had circled two possible jobs in construction and was finishing a second cup of coffee when there was a heavy knock on the front door.

Ty opened the door to see a well-dressed older man standing there, a BMW parked out front.

"Tyler Wilson?"

"Yeah."

"I'm Walter Edwards, company attorney for Thomson Industries. If you are the Tyler Wilson who was nurse to Randall Thomson, may I come in and speak with you?"

"Sure." Ty stepped aside thinking: surely Rand isn't after my ass, too.

"Coffee?" Ty offered.

"No, thank you, but do have one yourself if you wish."

Ty refilled his cup and came back to sit in his favorite chair. "What do you want?"

"It seems that when he inquired and was told that you had been dismissed from your nursing duties, Randall practically tore his room apart before they managed to restrain him." The attorney gave Tyler a scan smile. "Randall does have a temper. It's reported that his language was particularly vulgar."

"He's okay, isn't he?"

"Fortunately. He was sent home this morning more than a week early on the condition that he find another medical facility or have a registered nurse in attendance in his home until he's recovered fully. It appears he will not be satisfied with anyone except you. His father has sent me with an offer for your services."

"But Rand cussed me out and threw me out of his room."

Edwards shook his head. "This is typical of him. He has always acted first and thought afterwards. However, I am authorized to make you the following offer for your professional services. You will move into the Thomson house occupying the room next to Randall's for a period of no less than two weeks, perhaps longer. You will be concerned only with Randall and his recovery for twenty-four hours a day. A day off each week if necessary. Further, if your services are satisfactory to Randall and Mr. Thomson, the unfortunate events at the hospital will be forgotten, your record there cleared, and you will have a clean record with the state board of nursing. Should any legal questions arise, you will be represented by a colleague of mine at no cost to you. As to compensation, I believe you will find it generous."

"I can't believe Rand is doing this after what he said."

"Believe it. Now, what shall I tell him?"

"Have I any choice? I'll take it."

"Excellent." He hands Ty a slip of paper. "This is the address. Identify yourself at the gate for admittance. You are expected at five."

Edwards stood and Ty let him out, then glanced at his watch, three hours. He packed and wrote a note to his mother and Brad that he would call.

An hour later, Ty shook his head and drove his old Toyota toward the house after the gate opened electrically when he had given his name to the intercom. Ahead a man in worn jeans pointed to a paved area beside the four-car garage.

Ty parked and got out, opening the trunk for his single suitcase. It was taken up before Ty could reach for it and an accented voice said, "This way, sir. Master Randall awaits."

Up the back staircase and down the broad hall toward an open door, Ty followed the butler.

"It's about time you got your lazy ass on duty! Barton, put his bag in his room."

Ty looked at a grinning Rand sitting in a wheelchair.

"Why?"

"Later." Rand pointed to a door. "Your room is there. Get settled, put on your whites, and come help me get a shower before dinner. We'll talk tonight."

"But you're pissed at me."

"I'm gonna be more pissed if you don't get moving. I hope you've got some white pants and shoes to go with your jacket."

Ty nods and opens the door into his room. He can only stare at the large bed, entertainment center, desk and computer. The door to a bath stands open. He looks for his suitcase, finding it in the closet, his clothing hanging neatly.

He goes back to Rand who looks at him and starts laughing.

"What's so funny?"

"You. Planning on taking a shower fully dressed?"

"No, but I'm sure you have a plastic stool or something you can sit on if you don't feel secure standing."

"Oh, I feel perfectly secure, there's a built in seat and grab bars everywhere."

"Then why should I get wet?"

The grin Rand gives Ty is devlish. "Because you're going to be in there with me, washing me good while I'm holding the bar. If I like the way you do it, I might even wash you."

"Now wait a minute."

"You washed me in the hospital. What's the difference if I'm horizontal or vertical?"

"None. But you're hardly incapacitated at this point. I'll have to wrap your stump to keep it dry, but you can do the rest yourself. You'll get pissed if I touch you anyway."

"I'm gonna get more pissed if you don't start stripping and get me ready."

Ty undressed reluctantly, thinking how good it was in his dream. He undressed Rand and gently encased the bandaged stump in a plastic bag, taping it tightly shut, then pushed Rand into the large bath. The glass enclosed shower stall was big enough for four people, four vertically spaced showerheads lined each of the three tile walls. The roughened tile floor provided secure footing.

Rand reached up and pressed buttons on the touch-pad. The force of the water spray stung Ty slightly. Rand grinned. "Hot enough?"

"For now. You don't need to get overheated."

Rand poured a lightly scented herbal body gel on a cloth and washed his face, rinsing it off then handing the cloth and gel to Ty. "Go to it. I like a heavy hand."

You're gonna get it, too, Ty thought and began to scrub Rand's back roughly.

"Oh, yeah, man," Rand murmured.

Ty helped Rand turn sideways and began to wash his arms then chest. He washed down the leg and small section of stump left bare. He handed Rand the cloth and pointed down. Rand handed the cloth back. Ty shrugged mentally, waiting for an outburst as he gently washed Rand's genitals.

To his surprise Rand appeared to enjoy washing him thoroughly, before programming the showerheads to pulsate and they relaxed under the beating jets of water.

Rand braced against the marble countertop as Ty toweled him dry then helped him into the chair before drying himself and finally removing the plastic bag from Rand's stump.

"Wonderful, guy! That was everything I knew it could be. You can help me after you've dressed. Please wear your whites to dinner."

"This dressing needs changing, did they send any bandages home with you?"

Rand nods toward the bath. "Top shelf of the linen closet."

Ty noted that Rand turned his head away and gazed out the window while he unwrapped the stump and cleansed the area with antiseptic before wrapping it snugly.

"That's tight as hell," Rand complains.

Ty looks up and nods. "Has to be to shrink your stump to shape so you can wear a prosthesis comfortably." He stands. "Can you dress yourself?"

Rand grins. "Might need a little help from the nurse."

Ty smiles. "Do what you can, then. I'll be back when I've changed."

Ty blessed his mother for having pressed the highly starched whites to perfection; his white buckskin slip-on shoes glistened. He combed his thick unruly black hair and crossed back to Rand's room.

Rand gives a long whistle. "Damn! Since when do hot studs like you become nurses?"

"When they want to be doctors and can't afford school."

"I guess that's good enough reason for a guy to become one, but the crazy hours they had you on sure didn't leave you any time for fun."

"True enough, but it paid decent and my family needs the money. My kid brother should be having fun in high school, but he's worked the past two years to help put me through school. I'm sure grateful you set this job up for me after … well, you know."

"Save it until after dinner. Hand me my crutches and we'll go down."

"No way." Ty points to the wheelchair. "You ride until next week, then we'll see." He suddenly grimaces. "How the hell am I going to get you downstairs? Big as I am I can't carry you."

"Put your butt behind the chair and push, and I'll show you."

Ty pushes the chair to a door that Rand indicates and opens it to reveal an elevator car. "Guess there's some advantage to being rich."

Rand looks back and grins. "Yeah! Having the dough to hire a private nurse I like. Push G."

Standing behind the chair Ty shakes his head unbelievingly. Telling Rand he loved him and kissing him brought a violent rejection that cost him his job, now he acts as if it never happened and he had me bathe him. I wonder what's going on?

"Onward to the dining room, Ty," Rand says when the elevator halts.

Ty is so busy looking at the lavish dιcor he would have pushed Rand into a heavily carved console of dark wood had he not spoken.

"You take a nip of something while you were dressing?" Rand asks.

"Of course not, why?"

"You could be accused of drunk driving. Look where you're pushing me."

"Sorry, I was busy looking. This is some house."

"I'll give you a tour tomorrow. Let's go, dad likes things on time."

Ty says nothing, but his eyes widen as he pushes Rand into the large dining room and to the far end of the long table where a place is set. An older distinguished version of Rand, with graying temples, is sitting at the other end. Seeing only the two place settings, Ty pushes Rand's chair into place and backs away to stand against the wall.

"Ring for Barton, please, father," Rand says.

"Why?"

"There's no place set for Tyler. Barton knows he will be with me every moment and that includes meals."

"I'm not accustomed to eating with my employees."

"First of all, he's not your employee, he's mine, and a professional one; secondly, he's the only nurse gave me any encouragement toward being independent; and last I hope he will also be my friend. I believe that is sufficient reason to have him dine with us."

Mr. Thomson's eyes narrow as he looks Tyler over. "He's presentable. I'll ring for Barton."

Ty shut his eyes wondering how he would survive. The expanse of silver and glasses in front of Rand and his father would intimidate him if he faced the same. Rand seemed so comfortable with it yet had acted as if he'd been presented a treasure when he gave him the hamburger. When he opened his eyes, a place had been silently set.

"Sit," Mr. Thomson barked.

By surreptitiously watching Rand, Ty managed to eat his dinner without blatant error, but without pleasure. There was no conversation to ease the pressure he felt. A glance at Rand elicited a grin and a nod. After the dessert, he pushed Rand's chair into a library/study where Mr. Thomson poured brandy while Barton brought in coffee.

"I suppose a brandy will not hurt Randall?" Thomson asked.

"A very small one in case he needs medication for pain or sleep later on."

"And you?"

"No, thank you, sir. Not while I'm on duty."

Ty is surprised at the nod of approval. He listens with interest as Thomson talks with his son on a number of business matters. Then a question is directed at him.

"When do you anticipate that Randall will be able to return to school?"

"Probably in two weeks, sir, if he's proficient with his crutches. A week if he uses a wheelchair and has access to the buildings. His surgeon will make the final determination, and there will be visits to the doctor until he has completely healed. I can teach him to wrap his stump properly."

"Very good. There are three more weeks in the semester and the assignments you need to make up are on your computer, Randall. You will begin work tomorrow so that you can return to the campus for your final exams as your professors have graciously agreed. Otherwise you would lose a semester's work. Wilson will accompany you, of course."

"Thank you, father."

"One thing more. There is a new car in the garage for your use. You will never ride a motorcycle or associate with hoodlums again, is that clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent. You may go."

Once the study door closed behind them, Rand lets out a quiet snort. "Now you've seen the old man at his finest. What's the verdict?"

Ty thinks for a moment. "He's very … ah … direct and business oriented."

Rand laughs derisively. "Quit trying to be polite. He's a cold son-of-a-bitch and you know it."

"He loves you, he just doesn't know how to express it emotionally."

"What makes you think that?"

"You got a new car. I'll bet it's loaded."

"It will be. Hell, anything to keep me from asking to have his chauffeur drive me until the quack says I can drive myself."

"Whatever." Ty pushes Rand's chair into his room and stops at Rand's desk. "Okay, your father says your assignments are on your computer, so get busy. I'll be in my room, so call if you need me. Oh, yeah, can I use a phone to call home? I didn't get to talk to my mom before I left."

"The phone in your room is on the house lines, so use the one by my bed if you want some privacy, 4 is a direct line. I promise not to listen," Rand grins at Ty, "not too closely anyway."

"Thanks."

Rand is looking over the accumulated course work to be completed when Ty finishes his call. "Thanks for letting me use your phone. I'll be in my room."

Rand's expression is sad. "Wish I could remember the last time anyone said they loved me like you did to your mom."

Relaxed enough not to care, Ty says, "Two days ago."

"Two days ago, what?" Rand is perplexed.

"I told you I loved you. Isn't that what started all this mess?"

"Hell, no! I'm going to do a couple of hours here then we're gonna talk."

**********

Ty was well into a new book when he heard Rand call. He put on his slippers and went through the bathroom.

"Sit," Rand orders, pointing to a chair in front of his. "I said we were gonna talk and it's time. I going first, then you can say what you want, okay?

"I want to make one thing clear at the beginning, I'm gay. I'm not out, though I think the old man suspects and is trying to ignore it. You're obviously gay, too, and I'm glad because I could easily fall for you. The big obstacle is your being a dev. I overreacted badly in the hospital and you'll never know how sorry I am it cost you the job you were trained for. Worse that it might prevent you from ever working in an honorable profession again.

"I've seen you looking at my leg and it still bugs me because it reminds me that I'm a cripple. You may think it looks nice, I sure as hell don't. But I doubt you'd be as easy when you're treating it if you didn't. If you know anything about devotees teach me so maybe I can understand where you're coming from."

"There's a lot on the net about devs, but I don't know much other than the terminology. Apotemnophile means a person who wants to be an amputee, and …"

"You gotta be a nut case if you want a leg or arm cut off." Rand looks at Ty speculatively. "Don't tell me I fucked up again and you're one of those fruitcakes."

"No way! I'm an acrotomophile."

"That's?"

"It means I have a sexual attraction to amputees. In my case a good looking stud with one leg."

Rand smiles in relief. "I got thrown out before the shrink had a chance to get his hooks into me. My doctor said he has a standard dev speech he makes to all new amps."

"I'm already in love with you, Rand, and I'll do what it takes to make you love me. I was really surprised at the way you acted and figured I had read you wrong and you were straight. That hurt, but not near so much as being hauled up before the administrator and getting fired after only three days on the job." Ty didn't attempt to stop the tears slowly beginning to trickle down his cheeks. "The worst hurt was knowing I had let my mom and Brad down after they both worked so hard so I could stay in school. If I'd had any choice, I wouldn't have taken this job."

"Why not? I mean I thought you'd be happy since you said you love me."

"I would be if I knew what was gonna happen. You just building me up for another big bust like before or are you serious about liking me?"

"Come here," Rand says, pulling himself up and balancing on his one leg. When Ty is in front of him he pulls Ty into a tight hug and kisses him.

"That tell you anything," Rand asks, letting Ty go.

Ty grins. "I sure hope you meant what that said to me."

"It did. Just don't make a big thing of my leg until I learn something about devs and we'll get along fine."

Ty shakes his head. "Gonna be tough as hell not admiring the picture I see when I look at you."

"I see how you get when you bandage my leg." Rand shakes his head. "Can't understand how doing that excites you. I do like you, Ty, a hell of a lot. Just don't push me and let's see how things develop. Anyway, I'm tired. Give me a rubdown and I'm gone."

Two days later Barton phones Ty's room to say there's a young man at the gate looking for him by the name of Brad. Rand takes the phone when Ty explains and tells Barton to send him up.

"Wow, Ty! I ain't never seen nothin' like this. You got it good."

Ty hugs him and turns him. "Say hi to my boss, Brad. This is Rand."

"That's him?" Brad says flatly, balling up his fist.

"Hi, Brad. I sure thank you for bringing that burger to the hospital for me. It tasted wonderful."

"I oughta flatten your ass for gettin' Ty fired and all, but I ain't gonna take on no crip."

Ty tightens his grip on Brad's shoulder. "Knock it off, things are different now. Why're you here?"

"This letter come for you. I had to sign for it and mama said it must be important so I should bring it to you." He hands Ty a registered letter.

"Thanks, bro. You best get on back. It's near time for you to go to work."

Brad hugs Ty tightly. "I love ya, bro."

"Love you too, dude. Give mom my love."

"I will. You gonna show me how to get out o' here?"

"Come on, I'll walk you to the door. Be back in a minute, Rand."

"Sure. Bye, Brad."

A few minutes later Ty is back in Rand's room, picking up the letter. His expression sobers when he looks at the return address. "Uh, oh."

"What?" Rand asks.

"It's from the state board," Ty replies, tearing the end of the envelope and sliding the letter out.

He scans the letter and drops down in a chair with an anguished expression. Rand takes one hop and snatches the letter from his grasp, reading it quickly. "The hell with this," he mutters and snatches up his phone pressing a one-number speed-dial.

Ty is unaware until Rand holds a snifter under his nose. "Drink this."

"What?"

"Brandy. You need it."

Ty tosses the small amount down then coughs as the astringent liquor warms a path to his stomach. He begins to cry silently.

Rand comforts him as best he can. "It's okay, buddy. I called Edwards and he'll get one of his men out here this evening for sure. They won't get away with this."

"How can you be so damn sure? I can't afford a lawyer anyway."

Rand's hands clasp Ty's head and hold it firmly, Rand looking into Ty's eyes. "I got you into this crap and I'll get you out of it. You best believe I can use some muscle. I've never done it before, but this is a good time to start."

"Don't get in no trouble with your father."

"I've got my own share of the business and this has nothing to do with him. Go wash up, it's nearly time for dinner. Oh, yeah, put on some slacks and a polo shirt or something. The old man's not going to be here for dinner so I told Barton we'd go out somewhere."

Though Ty is downcast, the opportunity to leave the mansion brightens him. He dresses as Rand suggests then helps Rand to dress the same, though in more expensive clothing.

When Rand leads the way into the garage, Ty stops and gazes at the limousine, the Mercedes sedan, but he gives a low whistle at the long sleek Jaguar XJ-S Rand starts towards.

"This is the new one. Think you can drive it?" Rand asks.

Ty shakes his head. "Never thought I'd see the day. Can you get in okay?"

"Yeah, but you'll probably have to help me out. These seats are low."

"Where you want to go?" Ty asks.

Rand shrugs. "I want a burger, but better than Mac's or Burger King."

"I know a small place downtown. Lots of people eat there and he does a great burger and fries. No grease."

"Go for it. You're driving, but don't strip the gears."

"Don't worry. This thing's automatic."

"The hell you say!" Rand looks down at the gear selector. "I'll be damned, it is! I thought these came with straight gearboxes only."

"Maybe your father ordered it special."

"Guess so. I'll drive home."

"No, you won't." Ty says firmly. "Another week at least. You've practically healed and I won't have you busting open your stump cause it'll hurt like hell."

Tyler drove to an older part of the downtown area, enjoying the responsiveness of the sports car.

"Do you know where the hell you're going?" Rand asks.

"Yep. Almost there."

In a few moments he was parking in front of a row of store buildings. "Here we are."

"Where?"

After he has helped Rand out of the car and steadied him on his crutches, Ty points to a small storefront. Over the door in discreet gold script: Cypress Creek.

Rand shrugs. "Doesn't look like much."

"Remember the old saying you can't tell a book by its cover? Don't judge 'til you've eaten here. Let's go."

Ty holds the door for Rand then points to a small table for four in a bay created by the recessed entry. Rand eases into a chair and props his crutches against the wall.

"Good evening, gentlemen. Your server will be with you momentarily." A man in his early 40's says.

Ty nods. "That's the owner. The foods good because he's here all the time."

"My name is Brad and I'll be your server tonight."

Ty grins. "Hey, bro. You know what I want."

Rand looks up, but Brad ignores him and speaks to Ty. "What's he want?"

"Damn it, Brad. Rand's here for dinner and you'll treat him with respect or I'll take you out back and tan your butt if your boss don't fire you first."

Brad gives Ty a sour look and draws himself up. "You order, sir," he says to Rand curtly.

"A burger done medium-well, fries, and iced tea."

Brad nods and walks away without saying anything else.

"Why does your brother hate me so much? Is it because I'm gay, or rich, or what?"

"I'm sorry, Rand. It's because he thinks you got me fired from the hospital. I talked to him about it at the time and again before I took this job. I thought he understood, but he can be thick-headed at times. He gives you any more crap and I'll tear his butt up."

"Please don't, Ty. You're so lucky to have a brother who loves you so much he'll defend you no matter what."

Ty smiles. "Yeah, even if I do want to wring his neck sometimes."

Under Ty's watchful eye, Brad sets the platter in front of Rand with exaggerated care then places Ty's in front of him. "Want anything else?" He asks Ty.

"Not right now. Go hustle the big tippers, kid."

Brad giggles and walks back toward the kitchen.

"This is the biggest damned burger I've ever seen," Rand comments.

"Full half-pound of extra lean meat. The owner makes them himself."

Forty minutes later Rand slips his chair back and sips at his tea. "That was a hell of a meal. I couldn't even finish my fries."

"Want to come back sometime?"

"Damn right. I'm glad you brought me here because I'd never have found it. Heck, I even know some of the people in here. I see them at the club."

"Dessert?"

"I'm stuffed. Let's go, Edward's man should be at the house shortly."

Ty lifts his hand and Brad comes up quickly with the check. Rand lays a black credit card on top and Brad takes it away. There's a slight commotion at the back of the restaurant, Ty sees the owner holding the card up and saying something to Brad and another waiter. A few moments later Brad is back and hands the tray to Rand, "Thank you, sir."

Ty starts to object when he sees Rand add a tip equal to the cost of their dinner, but Rand tells him to shut up.

"I hope you gentlemen enjoyed your dinner and will come back soon." The owner has come to their table.

"We will. The food is excellent," Rand replies.

"You shouldn't have given Brad any tip at all," Ty says when they're in the car. "I was going to leave him a dime to teach him a lesson."

"I'm sure he can use the money and that's far less than I'm accustomed to leaving."

"Who's this guy you're meeting?"

"We're meeting. He's one of Edwards' associates who specializes in wrongful termination cases."

"Huh?"

"He takes on people who have been fired for no good reason. If he thinks you have a case, he'll sue the state board of nursing to have your license reinstated."

"I can't afford to pay a lawyer like him."

"You don't have to. Edwards' firm is on retainer by the company and also my father. It's about time they earned their money. Think over what you want to say when we see him."

When they entered the house, Barton came quickly to Rand. "The gentleman you were expecting arrived a few moments ago. He is in your study. Shall I bring coffee?"

"Please. Follow me, Ty."

They took the elevator up. Ty followed Rand into his study. A slender well-dressed man in his 30's arose as they entered.

"Hello, Rand. Edwards says you need a problem solved."

"Jack. This is Tyler Wilson. He was the only nurse in the hospital gave a damn about my feelings and well being. I threw a … let's say I misinterpreted something and he not only got fired for it, but had his registry revoked by the state. Fix it."

There was silence as Barton served the coffee and left.

Jack looked at Ty. "I want all the paperwork you have on your dismissal from the hospital and from the state board."

"I don't have any."

"What! You must have."

"All I got was a letter from the state. I threw that away."

Jack slaps his forehead. "Oh, no."

"Don't worry. Here it is." Rand hands Jack the registered letter.

"Thank God." He looks at Ty. "Don't you know to keep papers like this?"

Ty shakes his head. "I'm a nurse not a business man. Besides, I knew I couldn't afford a lawyer so what good was it."

"Are you sure this is all you have received from any source?"

Ty nods.

"Then I'll have to subpoena the hospital records. By law they should have informed you in writing of the reason for your dismissal, so you have been denied due process." Jack pulls out a legal pad and pen. "Let's start at the beginning. You first, Rand."

Tyler was surprised at the straight forward unemotional recitation of the facts by Rand. Then he related the story as he knew it, half afraid the lawyer would comment on the revelation of his gayness.

"Then as I see it, most of the case against Mr. Wilson is based on an overheard conversation with no visual corroboration."

"That's it," Rand says.

"Then we have several points in our favor as I see it. Is it standard practice for a supervisor to listen in on patient conversations whether to a visitor or a staff member, Mr. Wilson?"

"Absolutely not. Patients have little enough privacy anyway. The intercom is used to answer a patient's call to find out what he wants."

"Excellent. This amounts to eavesdropping. Such an invasion of Mr. Thomson's privacy is a strong point in your favor. If the intercom unit is typical the 'I love you' could easily be misunderstood. In fact, didn't you ask Mr. Wilson if he liked his profession, Rand?"

Rand smiles. "I do believe I did, and he said he loved it."

The lawyer nods. "See how easily that could be misconstrued? Now, to the alleged kissing sound. Did you have occasion as a professional nurse to use the suction apparatus as a part of treating Mr. Thomson?"

Ty nods. "Twice. There was some drainage from his stump. It's not a normal procedure, but a convenient way to handle that problem. I also used it to remove some phlegm that gathered in his throat as a result of sinus drainage."

"Is this standard treatment?"

"If the patient is unable to expectorate."

The lawyer smiles. "Does not suction make a similar sound to kissing?"

Ty nods. "If it comes in direct contact with skin."

"Very good. And there was no one to see that you were not using suction on the occasion in question?"

"Just Rand and myself. I guess what they heard is all they know."

"Rand, the reason you were discharged well before normal came as a result of your … ah, emotional outburst on learning that the nurse you felt contributed most to your recovery had been discharged."

"Damn right!"

"Did your surgeon approve your discharge?"

"Absolutely not! He argued that it would give me unlimited grounds for malpractice suits if anything happened. He demanded I have a registered nurse with me for at least another week."

The lawyer's smile broadened. "I think we have 'em by the balls, gentlemen. This is going to be fun. You need have no worries, Mr. Wilson. I'll get this worked up and in court as quickly as possible. I have a feeling you will be receiving an apology and reinstatement very quickly. I'll ask for damages, too."

Jack stands. "Thanks for handing me one I can enjoy, Rand. I'll be in contact with you, Mr. Wilson. Don't bother to ring for Barton, I can see myself out."

"Some of that wasn't the truth," Ty complained when the lawyer was gone.

Rand grinned. "Welcome to the real world, buddy. You'll find most lawyers are highly paid well-trained liars. They'll argue they expand the truth, but a good one can make the truth a lie and a lie the truth. It's the guy has the best lawyer who wins, not the one with truth on his side."

Ty shakes his head. "That sounds so cynical."

"It is, but you play the game or lose. I'm not a good loser as you know."

"Yeah, but I gotta thank you if this works."

"It'll work. Help me get in bed and let's call it a night."

For the next two weeks Ty kept Rand busy at his studies whenever he was not giving him physical therapy. He had rigged up a weight attached to a heavy cord running through a pulley and attached to Rand's stump by a canvas sleeve. A session with this never failed to elicit a running complaint from Rand as he worked his stump against the weight.

"I don't see what this is good for," he said as he did every day.

"To keep the muscles in your stump toned and build strength you'll need to use a prosthesis." Ty leans in and kisses Rand. "I love it when you bitch cause I know you're getting better."

"If I'm doing so good, quit trying to torture me."

"I only make you do what you should until the doctor gives you a clean bill. That'll probably be tomorrow."

"I hope." He grins at Ty. "Shouldn't you be sad about it?"

"Sad? Of course not. I'll be delighted to see you fully recovered."

Rand's grin broadens. "But you won't have an excuse to play with my stump."

Ty smiles wickedly. "It'll have to be wrapped several times a day just as it has been to shape it for your prosthesis. You won't get out of that. Of course I shouldn't just so you wouldn't be able to wear a prosthesis and would have to remain on crutches. That way I could admire you any time."

Rand smiles and shakes his head. "You're an evil man, Ty."

"Not at all, just a poor dev constantly being tantalized by a cruel unfeeling amp." Ty pretends to cry. "How cold and cruel love can be. Such heartless beauty before me that I cannot touch lovingly is more than I can bear."

Rand pulls him into a hug. "Shut up, you idiot and give me a kiss. The doctor says I'm healed tomorrow, we sleep together tomorrow night."

"With my love object untouchable."

Rand shrugs. "Who knows? I'm not making any promises but after you got me to reading those postings in the dev club, I swear I believe some of them are serious."

"Let me take a picture of you and post it and you'll find out how many guys think your stump is sexy. You're a match for the best looking stud they've got a picture of."

Rand hugs Ty again. "No way. If I'm gonna be anybody's sex object, it's going to be for a certain nurse I know."

The week passes quickly. Rand's surgeon declares him healed and tells Ty to keep up the therapy, only to have Rand groan that Ty is an impossibly hard taskmaster.

"Then be glad he is. I've not had a patient recover so quickly and thoroughly as you. In about three weeks you can be fitted for a prosthesis. I don't know what all the whoopla was concerning Wilson at the hospital, but they lost one of the best nurses they'll ever have in my opinion."

"Would you be willing to put that in writing?" Rand asks quickly.

"Absolutely. Why?"

"Ty's suing for wrongful dismissal. You can rest assured that what happened was my fault and not his."

"I'll have my secretary write up my opinion and send it to you, Randall."

"Thank you, sir," Ty responds. "I appreciate your estimation of my qualifications. I only want to help people."

"You've certainly helped this one if his behavior during his appointments with me is any indication."

"At least getting home a week early meant I didn't have to eat that godawful food at the hospital." Rand says with a smile.

Ty kept Rand's days busy with exercises and study. The following Monday Ty helped him dress then drove him to the campus for his first exam. Once Rand was settled at a desk, Ty wandered off to walk around the campus and get a cup of coffee at the student union.

Wish I could have gone to a four-year school like this one, he thought as he walked along. I hope I can work and save enough for Brad to come here.

"How'd it go?" He asks Rand nearly two hours later when he comes out of the building.

"Easy. Hell, I learned more from the way you reviewed me than I did from the professor."

"Want to eat before your afternoon exam?"

"Yeah. How about the Cypress Creek again? I'm in the mood for a burger."

"Fine with me, and Brad won't be there."

"Why?"

"Still in school. He knows I'll kick his butt clean across town if he skips. We don't need money bad enough for that."

Rand's hand on his arm stopped him. "You need money? I'll tell the old man to up your pay."

"Thanks, but it's not that. You pay me way more than the hospital and I don't do much to earn it. I wanted Brad to quit and enjoy school, but he's been saving for a car since he got his license." Ty looks at Rand sadly. "Brad's a stubborn little bastard, but I want him to use that money and what I can give him to go to college. I was lucky to get two years, but Brad's really smart. I want him to have the chance I didn't."

Rand nods and says to himself, 'You're the guy I thought you were, Tyler Wilson.'

Friday morning sees a gleeful Rand come out of his last exam and hug Ty. "Done! And the old man's gonna flip when he sees my grades."

"Don't be overconfident," Ty cautions.

"Not a chance. I've never had it so easy before. You're a great teacher and we're celebrating tonight. My grades will be posted by five this afternoon. We'll pick 'em up on the way to dinner."

"I hope Brad does as good on his."

"When do his start?"

"In two weeks. I wish I could be home to review him."

"No reason you can't. Even better, he could come to the house and we can both work with him. I'm a lot better in history and social studies than you."

"That's awfully good of you, Rand, but he won't likely come to the house. He still doesn't like you."

Rand grins. "Bribes always work with kids that age. If he comes, he's free to swim in the pool. It's getting hot in the afternoons."

"He'd go for that. I'll sound him out."

For once Rand's intuition was on mark; the posted grades were all A's. He decided they should celebrate with dinner at the steak house, a place Ty hoped one day to be able to afford to bring his mother and Brad. Rand's entry on crutches garnered several stares.

"I knew it," he said disgustedly after we were seated.

"Not devs, guy, just curiosity. You have admit you're quite a stud, so you should expect looks anyway. But your crutches do attract attention."

"It figures you'd feel that way."

Ty grins. "Hey, I admire a beautiful sunset, a beautiful piece of music, so why should I pretend to ignore a beautiful guy who has special appeal?"

"Yeah, yeah. At least I'm getting used to you doing it, but it'll be nice to go out without anyone else knowing."

"Just don't expect the leg you get to be the end of it. You won't be able to wear it all the time everywhere. Use this time to get used to the fact that the way you are now isn't going to change back."

"No way you're gonna let me forget it, is there?"

"It's fact. I have nothing to do with it beyond admiring what I see."

Ty gets a chary smile from Rand. "I better be thankful it doesn't make you run in the other direction."

**********

"Your father wishes to see both of you in his study," Barton announces when they enter the house.

"Five will get you ten he wants to know if I've gotten my grades," Rand says on the way to the study.

"Barton tells me you have been out for dinner. I'm glad you are getting out more, Randall. Have you received your grades?"

"Yes, sir. Straight A's."

"Straight A's?" Thomson's eye brows rise. "Wilson is this true?"

"Yes, sir. I saw the postings. Rand worked hard to make up everything he missed."

Rand's eyes fly open in surprise as his father embraces him in a tight hug. "I am doubly proud of you, son. You have made a remarkable recovery from your accident and made up your work to receive A's across the board. What gave you such motivation?"

"Ty, sir. He made me work hard in every way. I'm going to need him for therapy when I get my leg, so it would be good to have him when I begin next semester."

"We shall see. I should like to talk with Wilson privately now. Just remember how proud you've made me, son."

"Thanks, father."

When Rand has gone, Thomson points to a chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat, Wilson."

Once Thomson is seated, he begins, "You may think I hired you because my son asked specifically for you, but that is not the case. Your credentials are excellent. You worked to achieve what was possible and didn't sit around bemoaning the fact that medical school was beyond your reach. Since you have been here, you have exhibited efficiency, honesty, and a sincere desire to help others. Further, you have been an excellent influence on Randall. It is my understanding that you earned a two-year degree with your RN. Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent. Randall is about to enter his third year of studies, and as he requests you be with him for some time, I wish you to enter the junior class with him. You will finish your BS in nursing, if you like."

"I wish I could, sir, but my mother and younger brother both worked to see me get my RN. Rand isn't going to need me much longer and I need to find work to get money to send Brad to college next year. It's only fair that he have the chance, after working to help me." Ty looks into Thomson's eyes, tears rising in his own. "I no longer have my RN, sir. It's been revoked by the state. I don't think there's much chance of ever getting reinstated."

"We shall see in due time, Wilson. I fully appreciate your sense of responsibility; you must come from an extraordinary family. But you will remain employed by me as a companion and tutor to Randall. He's been an indifferent student thus far and you have made the difference. It is worth it to me to see him continue to improve and be happy. Your expenses at the university will be covered with Randall's and you will continue to live here."

"No disrespect meant, sir, but I'll be doing nothing to earn my pay. I can't accept that."

"Young man, I have plans for you which include your getting an education. The cost of health insurance for my employees at the plant has become so astronomical that I will either have to ask them to pay a portion of it or operate without insurance, which is unthinkable. I have found that if I open a plant clinic with a degreed nurse in charge, I can cut those costs considerably. I am formally asking that you finish your degree and accept the position."

"Sir, I … I don't know what to say, and without a license ..."

"Yes is what I want to hear. It will take the rest of this year to set the clinic up and I employ a nurse for the plant who is within two years of retirement." Thomson gives Ty a steady look. "I have observed that you and Randall appear to have more than a casual relationship with each other. I know my son is gay, and while I don't like it, I must accept what I cannot change. You are good for him, Wilson, and he will need your steadying hand and common sense when he takes over the plant. This is another reason I wish you to stay."

"Sir, my mother …"

"Yes, of course. You have not taken any time off since you've been here. Begin to take what you need, and encourage your mother and brother to visit you here. All you will need to do is inform Barton if you wish them to eat with you."

"Thank you, sir."

"The old man fill you in?" Rand asks when Ty comes into the room.

Ty shakes his head. "I don't know anything, buddy, he said so much. I'd love the job he offered me, but without my license …"

"It'll work out. What about school?"

"I want to, but I've got to consider Brad."

"Will you do something for me?"

"Of course."

"A waiter's job can't pay a lot."

"No, but it's better than flipping burgers and he does get good tips."

"Here's the deal. Make him quit the job and spend the time with you helping him study for exams. He can come here and swim if he likes or you can go home to help him."

Ty hugs Rand. "Thanks, guy. You don't know how much that means to me, but I know he's not going to quit his job; he wants a car too much."

"What kind?"

Ty shrugs. "It's not so much what kind as what he can afford. If I didn't need mine, I'd give it to him. It's not much but it runs good."

Rand grabs his crutches and pulls up. "Come with me."

They go down in the elevator and to the garage. Rand switches on the lights and walks to the last bay. "Think Brad would like this?" The car is a perfectly restored Mustang convertible from the 60's.

"You're kidding! That must be worth a fortune."

"Got a great buy on it from a distant cousin. I helped the chauffeur restore it to original condition except for the radio. It has a new FM and CD player combination. I can't drive it any longer cause it's straight shift."

"You can after you get your prosthesis."

Rand shrugs. "I'd rather have my Jag and my fun came in restoring it. You can tell Brad about the car or not. The only condition I'm putting on it is that he must make all A's in school for the rest of the year."

Ty shakes his head. "Won't do to tell him about the car. I'll tell him he's got a real surprise coming and maybe let him see the car sometime without knowing anything."

"I know you want to talk to him tomorrow after school, so why don't you drive this to the school and pick him up. Won't hurt to let the other kids see him getting in this."

"Thanks, Rand. You're a damn thoughtful guy. You just don't know how much I appreciate it."

Ty follows behind watching the easy stride Rand has developed with his crutches, his stump dangling enticingly with the jeans leg rolled up to the tip. Damn, he's beautiful. I wish he'd let me show him how much.

Ty was waiting in front of the high school when classes let out. He spotted Brad and stood up waving his hand. A number of older boys ran over to admire the Mustang. Brad was virtually speechless as he stood by the car staring at Ty.

"Unbelievable, Ty! Where'd you get this?"

"It's Rand's. He let me use it to come get you."

"Rad! This thing is bran' new."

"Just a fine restoration job Rand did himself."

"He did?"

"He and John, the chauffeur. He got it from a cousin last year. Think you can drive it home without wrecking it?"

"Yeah, man!"

Ty slipped over as Brad went around the car and got in the driver's seat. Much to Ty's surprise, Brad changed the gears smoothly, driving well.

"Oh, man, I'd love to have this," he said as he parked in the drive.

"Study hard, make the A's I know you can, and maybe you will."

"No way. Besides, I can't work and study and get much sleep. I'll be lucky to make B's."

"Look, guy, quit your job and I'll work with you. If you don't have A's, there's no chance you'll get a scholarship of any kind."

"No way! I've almost got enough saved for a car."

"Damn it, Brad, what's most important, a car or an education?"

Brad shrugs. "I dunno."

Ty reaches over and takes Brad's face in his hands, making him look him in the eyes. "Look, bro, I love you more than you can know for working so I could finish my nurse's training. I wouldn't even have my old Toyota if anybody'd wanted it after Uncle Robert died. You worry about getting an education first then everything else you want will be easier to get.

"I know you don't like Rand and that's a bunch of stuff, too. You're going to give your boss notice when you go in this afternoon and I'm gonna be pickin' you up after school each day and taking you with me to study. Rand's good with history and that stuff and I'm good with science. You're gonna start making A's. Oh, yeah, Rand said bring your swim trunks and you can use the pool any time."

"Yeah, and have him fuck me over like he did you."

"Damn it, Brad, how many times I gotta tell you that's my fault, not his? Yeah, he overreacted, but I should have had more sense. At least he's got people working to help me and if they do, I'll have my license back and a clean record. You may not like Rand, but there are times we need help regardless of where it comes from. Now get ready for work and think about what I've told you. I'll be telling mom, too."

"Yeah, and she'll go along with you," Brad replies grumpily.

"I hope so. I'll pick you up at school starting Monday. You owe your boss the rest of this week."

"Aaaaw."

"Brad, I don't often force you to do anything and you don't often need it, but this time I'm insisting. I wouldn't do it if I didn't love you."

"I suppose."

"Okay, guy. See ya Monday."

"How'd it go?" Rand asks when Ty returns.

"I had to pull rank, but he'll go along. If not, mom will make him, especially if she thinks he has a chance of a scholarship."

"Good."

A group of his friends followed Brad to the Mustang after school on Monday. "Oh, man, I'd kill for this," one guy said watching Brad slip into the driver's seat.

"Yeah, class all the way. Who the hell you know, Wilson?"

"My bro," Brad says punching Ty on the arm.

"Wish my brother was cool as yours," another says as Brad starts the engine and pulls away.

"Take Parkway," Ty says as Brad starts to turn toward home.

"Why?"

"Cause we're going to Rand's place. You can get a swim if you like then it's study time."

"Aaaw."

"I meant what I told you, Brad. Study now and you won't be sorry later on. Be glad Rand's willing to help you, he's sharp and a nice guy, too."

"I guess. I mean he let's you have this car to drive around."

"No, bud. I still have my old one, but he thought you might enjoy driving this one so I use it to get you at school."

"Oh."

Brad looked as awed in the mansion as he had on his other visit. Ty pushed him into his room. "Get your trunks on and we'll take a swim. I'll go check on Rand."

"Get any argument?" Rand asks Ty as he enters.

"Not a lot." Ty looks at Rand in surprise. "You taking a swim with us?"

"Why not? I'm healed and you keep bitchin' I need the exercise."

"Good. Let me get changed, but watch Brad's mouth."

"Damn! He's not a dev, too?"

"No, but he'll have something to say."

Ty and Brad stop for Rand. When he comes out on crutches, Brad looks down and says, "Now I know why Ty likes you so much."

"Why?" Rand asks.

"Cause you ain't got but one leg like all those guys in the pictures I found."

Rand looks at Ty whose face is crimson. "Ah, ha!"

"Damn it, Brad! How'd you find them?"

"I ain't tellin'. I put 'em back safe, so don't sweat it."

"Oh, man, what a pool!" Brad exclaims and jumps in followed by Rand who sits on the edge and slips gently in. Ty cannonballs Brad then begins to swim laps beside Rand.

They play for an hour then Ty calls time. They shower and wear robes back to their rooms.

"Okay, guy, study time," Ty says dropping Brad's books on the desk in his room.

"Gee, you even got a computer. Wish I had one to do my history paper on."

"If you ask Rand real nice, I suspect he will show you how to use one and help you with your paper, too."

"You mean I gotta ask him?"

Ty nods. "This is all his stuff, so it's only polite."

"Oh. Well, maybe."

Two hours later Ty reaches over Brad's shoulder and shuts the book. "Time to get you home, bud, you did pretty good."

"Pretty good? You and him worked my ass off."

Rand grins. "Life's a bitch, isn't it? Wait until you hit college. You'll either work your butt off or party and flunk out. It's up to you, but I know what Ty and your mom are hoping you'll do."

"I ain't even sure I'll be going to college."

"Brad, look. I know you're still pissed at me and I don't blame you, but you'll soon find out one thing. The guys that make all the decisions and the big money are guys who've been to college and learned to play the game. The rest are just flunkies.

"I'm going back to school in three weeks and Ty's going with me. He can finish his degree in nursing if he wants, or maybe go on to study medicine. That's up to him, but he's capable of far more than hustling pills and wiping asses."

"How come you didn't tell me, Ty?" Brad asks.

"I didn't know until the other night. I still haven't made up my mind."

"Yeah, you have," Rand says with a grin. "A dev missing out on living with an amp? Tell me another one. Besides, I need you."

"Aaaaw. Come on, Brad, let's get you home." Rand winks at Brad as Ty walks off.

"Ya comin' in?" Brad asks when Ty reaches over and takes the key from the ignition.

"Want to tell mom something."

They walk to the kitchen where Ty kisses his mother. "Hi, mom. I'm glad you're home."

"Oh, Ty, it's so good to see you. It's so good of you and your patient to work with Brad. I want him to make good grades and maybe get a scholarship of some kind."

"Don't let him con you into letting him go back to work; he needs the time to study. Do you need any money?"

"Mercy no, not with what you've been putting in the bank. I just hate to take it."

"Do, mom. I don't need much as long as this job holds out, everything is provided. I may even be going back to college if it works out."

"That's wonderful, Ty, I know you wanted to go on. If you can, do it."

"It's not a given yet, but we'll see. Rand and I are goin' to be working with knucklehead every afternoon so don't worry about him. If he behaves, maybe we'll feed him a time or two."

"Who you callin' knucklehead?" Brad retorts.

Ty wraps an arm around his neck and gives him a nuggie. "You. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon and don't give mom any stuff."

When Ty comes in one evening from having taken Brad home, Rand asks, "Have you heard anything from Jack about the suit yet?"

Ty shakes his head. "Not a thing. I'd almost forgotten about it. Think I should call?"

"I'll do it tomorrow when he's at the office. I've got a surprise for Brad, too."

"Damn, Rand, you do too much for him. What is it this time?"

Rand points to a lap-top computer on the desk which Brad uses to study. "It's not the latest because it's about a year old. It's one we got at the plant to compare with other makes before we standardized. No one wanted to use it, so it's been gathering dust. I had information services check it out and charge the battery. It's ready to go."

Ty hugs him. "You shouldn't give him a damn thing after the way he's behaved towards you, but he needs one and I love you for it."

Rand pushes him back and grins. "So you do love me for something besides my stump."

"Yeah. As if I'll ever get to play with it."

"You do pretty well when you're wrapping it."

"Hey, never let an opportunity pass."

The next day held two surprises for Ty. Jack called Ty before Rand had a chance to call him. Ty's suit was set to be heard the next Monday morning in the judge's chambers because of the political sensitivity of the case, the hospital being a county owned and operated facility. Jack had everything lined up and needed Ty and Rand to appear at that time.

The second surprise came when Ty brought Brad to the house from school. Brad went directly to Rand. "Rand, I'm really sorry for being a prick when you only wanted to help Ty. I really appreciate your letting me drive your Mustang and helping me study and swim in your pool. I hope maybe you'll let me be a friend, cause if Ty loves you then you gotta be okay. So I need to like you, too."

Rand hugs Brad tightly. "Thanks, Brad. I'm glad you want to like me. I do love Ty and you, too. I can see how all this has confused you. Hopefully it'll all be over on Monday and you'll feel better about me."

Ty grabs Brad when Rand turns him loose. "Thanks, li'l brother. That means a lot to me."

"What's Monday got to do with it?"

"That's when the judge is going to hear the suit I'm bringing against the hospital and state. If I win, I'll get my registry back."

"Can I skip school and go to court with ya?"

"No way! You've got your first two exams to take. If you want to help, make A's on them for me and Rand. Don't look for me when you're done cause we may not be home so early."

"You gotta call and let me know soon as you can."

"I will. Don't say anything to mom, I don't want her to worry."

"'Kay." Brad sits down at the desk and sees the lap-top. "Gee, a new one."

"Almost," Rand says, coming over to stand behind Brad. "It's one we had at the plant wasn't being used. You said you didn't have one, so I brought it home for you."

"If you want internet service, you'll have to pay for it yourself," Ty adds.

"You mean I get to take it home and keep it?"

"Only if you want it."

"Oh, wow! This is so cool. Thanks, Rand."

"Thank me by making good grades. Now let's get to the review."

**********

The judge had a stern face and a no nonsense approach to the hearing in his chambers. Jack whispered to Ty that he was an extremely fair man, though short on patience.

"Your Honor," the lawyer for the hospital began, "surely you can see the plaintiff has cobbled together an accusation of half-truths and innuendo which has no basis in fact. There's nothing here on which to base an action for relief."

"Don't tell me what I can or cannot see in documents provided to this court. Have you anything further to add in the way of factual evidence beyond what has been presented?"

"Not unless we're allowed to call witnesses."

"It was you who asked for expediency, counsel, that is why I will be making my decision based on the documentation provided without oral testimony." The judge looks at Jack. "Counsel?"

"We offer nothing further, Your Honor. My client has admitted to possible breach of professional ethics for which he expects to receive censure, but as we have stated, to have his career ended before it has begun is overly harsh punishment."

"The fitness of punishment is my domain, counsel. Have you anything else to bring to my attention?"

"No, sir."

"Very well. I have studied the higher court decisions cited by both sides and evaluated the facts provided carefully. As a result, I have reached the following conclusions:

"One, Mr. Wilson does in fact admit to a breach of professional ethics as stated. I find that he is guilty, not so much of violating ethics as of having a lapse of good judgement. In any event, his patient responded beyond his doctor's expectations according to the statements of the two physicians provided, proving the efficacy of his care.

"Two, Mr. Wilson was not accorded an opportunity to explain his actions completely before being summarily dismissed. I also find that he was not accorded a hearing before the state board of nursing as should have been the next step before his registry was pulled.

"Three, I find that supervisory staff of the hospital used intercommunications equipment in a manner inconsistent with it's intended purpose and did, indeed, violate a patient's privacy.

"My judgement is that:

"One, the dismissal of Mr. Wilson as a member of the county hospital staff remains in force without prejudice and that Mr. Wilson has no right to expect any reference, positive or negative, from them.

"Two, the state will immediately reinstate Mr. Wilson's credentials without prejudice and will erase all records of the previous action, providing this court with evidence of the same.

"Three, I will award no personal or punitive damages to Mr. Wilson, however, the hospital board is directed to pay all costs of this trial and the attorney's fees on both sides. So ordered."

With a crash of his gavel, the judge brought the hearing to an end.

Outside the courtroom Jack became all smiles and slapped Ty on the back. "We didn't get any damages, but we got what counts most. I think the hospital got off too lightly, but it's the county, so …"

Ty's smile is broad. "Long as I get my license back I don't care about the rest of it. I am glad they have to pay you, I was worried about how I was going to come up with the money."

Rand laughs. "Jack works for me. His annual retainer is enough, what he's going to get from the hospital is pure gravy."

"I told you this was a fun case for me, Rand. I'd have done it for free."

"Tell me another one!" Rand snorts. "This time you didn't have to chase an ambulance, the victim came to you."

Jack draws himself up in mock anger. "I'll have you know I don't chase ambulances. I only chase executive limousines."

"That's for damn sure. Have lunch with us?"

Jack shakes his head. "Gotta get back to the office so I can see what you've screwed up at the plant while I was working on this. Watch this guy, Ty. He could screw up drinking a glass of water. I'm glad you're his keeper because he's dangerous left on his own."

Ty shakes Jack's hand. "I'll do that. And thanks for getting my license back."

"Any time. I'll see you again."

"Well, nurse, late as it is I prescribe some lunch for us. Then we'll pick up Brad at school."

"Not in this?" He says entering the limousine after Rand.

"Why not? The old man gave me use of it for the day, let's give the kid a thrill."

Ty shakes his head. "Thrill, hell, he'll be spoiled rotten."

Rand picks up the phone. "John have you had lunch?"

Ty sees the chauffeur nod. "Good. We'll eat at the club then go to Westside High for Brad."

Once they had given their orders to the waiter, Ty looks around the opulent dining room. "Spoil Brad? Hell, you're spoiling me, Rand."

"Not near so much as I want to. Now that you don't have any real worries hanging over your head, relax and enjoy life." Rand gives Ty a raunchy grin. "Think about how good it'll be going back to school and rooming with a real amp."

"What good when you won't let me do more than look?"

Rand looks offended. "Did I ever say never? Besides, I like what happens when you look."

"You would, you prick tease."

Rand only grins and starts to eat.

A few minutes early, they sat and talked until the bell rang for dismissal. Ty waited until he saw Brad come out of the main door then reached for the door handle. Rand's hand stopped him. "Let John give him the full treatment; he'll love it." Rand lowered the privacy partition. "Give him the works, John."

Ty saw John's grin as he got out and walked around to the rear door and opened it slightly so they could hear. He waited until Brad and his friends were close then stood stiffly, saluted, and spoke, "Your car, Mr. Wilson," he says to Brad.

It took an astonished Brad a moment to recognize John while his friends watched goggle-eyed then he entered the game. Turning to his friends he said, "See you guys," then got in beside Ty. John closed the door and got back in the driver's seat. They glided away swiftly, Brad's friends watching open-mouthed.

"How'd your exams go?" Ty asks.

"Okay, I guess."

"Okay, my ass!" Rand snaps. "You knew that stuff backwards. What happened?"

Brad grins. "I finished ahead of everyone else. You should of seen ol' Biddeford when I turned in my paper, she looked like she was sure I failed and was tickled about it."

"Can you blame her after you went to sleep in her class twice this semester?" Ty asks.

Brad is still grinning. "It's gonna gall her ass good to give me an A, but I'm sure that's what I've got. My grades aren't all that bad and the exam is half the final grade. The term paper is another twenty-five percent and she had to give me an A on that. You really helped me there, man," he says to Rand.

"My pleasure, dude. What about your other exam?"

"A snap. I knew that stuff cold and the review helped a lot."

"You're getting another for your exams tomorrow," Ty says.

"'Kay. Can I get in the pool first?"

"Of course."

After their swim and before they started the review, Brad asks Ty, "The prom is Friday night, can I have your car?"

"No, you can't," Rand says quickly.

Ty puts his hand on Rand's arm. "Now wait a minute …"

Rand shakes his head. "No, you wait. Brad, would you rather drive the Mustang or have John take you in the limo?"

"You can't do this, Rand," Ty says.

"I can and will. Brad's working hard like he promised so it's a reward. Well, Brad?"

"I don't know," Brad replies indecisively. "I mean I know some of the guys are hiring limos and stuff, but I don't even have a tux so Kitty was gonna wear a pretty dress."

"You will do no such thing. This is your senior prom, Brad. Tomorrow you'll go rent a tux. I'll need to know if you want the limo so I can let John know. The old man is out of town so John won't be working."

"Ty?" Brad looks at his brother in confusion.

"Don't look at me, stud, it's up to you. You best call Kitty so she can get a gown for the prom and I'd take Rand up on his offer of the limo if I were you. You'll impress Kitty a lot."

"Thanks. I guess I will if John don't care."

**********

Unknown to Ty or Brad, Rand had given John his digital camera and asked him to take all the pictures possible of Brad and Kitty. John smiled in delight. "It's sure good of you to do this for the kids, Rand. That Brad is a nice young man, just like his brother."

"That he is, John. The club for dinner, then Westside High for the dance. If you can get in, take some of the kids dancing."

"I will. Lord, I remember your prom at The Oaks. You was so mad cause your old man made you date a girl, when you wasn't even going."

Randy put his arm around John. "Yeah, but you kept me straight. Damn! I don't care if her old man is a friend of dad's, she was pure ugly."

"She weren't no beauty for sure, but you was a gentleman, Rand. I was proud of you."

"So, what you think of Ty?"

"Good lookin' young man and awful nice. I like 'im."

"So do I, John, so do I."

**********

Friday evening, Rand and Ty had dinner at Rand's club, discretely seated well away from Brad and Kitty. It was obvious both kids were enjoying themselves despite Brad's being a little self-conscious.

When they were upstairs, Rand says to Ty, "I want a few minutes for some private business. I'll call you."

Ty nods. "Okay with me. I'll be reading."

Instead of answering when his phone rang, Ty opened the door to Rand's room and stared in shock. Clad only in a pair of bikini briefs Rand stood on his crutches by a table holding an ice bucket containing a bottle of champagne.

Rand says to an astonished Ty, "This is my graduation, too. I've kept you waiting long enough for this, lover." He lifts his stump and smiles.


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