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Ryan never screamed, not once. I guess that's what I remember most about the accident, a twenty foot tumble from a rickety wooden ladder. I was working in the kitchen when I heard the creak of dry-rot giving way, then the sickening thud of my son's body impacting the sidewalk. His face was a knotted mask of pain when I got out to him, sweat beading over his shock-blanched features, his eyes pooling with tears.
But he never screamed. Not so much as a whimper.
"I've written down everything I could think of for you," Carol said rather absently, sliding the notepad across the kitchen table to me. "You know you'll have your hands full."
I glanced at her scratchy writing and nodded.
"Now without him being able to use crutches, you are going to have to assist him getting in and out of the chair. You have to watch your back with that. I don't want to come out here someday next week and be calling an ambulance for you."
She offered a smile, a nurse's smile, a warm and wry crinkle of her lips.
"Thanks," I answered, feeling better about it for a second or so, then seeing the break again in my mind, the shin bone jutting almost through my Ryan's skin, the right wrist bent so weirdly out of angle.
"Now you said your husband will be able to help out in the evenings, so let him. You're going to catch eighty percent of the work, so trust me, and let him do as much as he can when he's here. Okay?"
Again I nodded, wanting to beg her not to leave.
"I'll be coming by every other day, so if you want, I'll take care of the showers for him. If you need to ask any questions, my pager number is on the bottom there ... Once you get the drill down, you'll be fine."
I stood in the doorway until her car disappeared down the block. I paused a second to collect myself, to get my "chipper" up, as it were. Two weeks ago I was teaching summer school English at my high school and Jack was an overly energetic teenager addicted to soccer. Now he was a convalescent, and I was, for better or worse, his nurse.
"Honey," I called as I climbed the staircase. The ambulance attendants had carted him up on the gurney and as we only had a full bath on the second floor, Ryan would be pretty much confined there for the next six to eight weeks. Carol and the therapist from rehab had warned me that boredom would be our biggest problem.
"Yeah," he answered, the TV we'd put in his room turned up too loud.
"How're you doing," I asked, halting in his opened doorway.
"I'm good, Mom."
Ryan never was one to complain, always a quiet, serious kid, a kid who read a lot and didn't have too many friends outside of his baseball and soccer. Shy and too often blushing, no girlfriend yet ... a late one to blossom, just like me. I caught myself wondering if he'd even made out with anyone yet, hoping he had, which I guess is an odd thing for a mother to reflect on.
"If you need anything, just holler."
A week and a half crawled by. My lower back was nearly wrecked after the first three days, my thighs and shoulders quivering like Jell-O when I'd finally collapse into bed at night. Till you take care of someone like that, someone who can't get around on their own, you never really appreciate what a nurse does.
Carol saved me when it came to his shower, which was an even worse ordeal than she'd made out. The bench in the tub routine, the trash bags and duct tape on the plastered casts. The obvious embarrassment of having a woman seeing him semi-naked like that, the towel wrapped around his waist till she pulled the curtain around him as best she could.
I did the alcohol rubs twice a day like she's said, seeing him so tense those first few times I did it, then visibly relaxing as he got used to the physical touch. I massaged his back and legs, the alcohol cool on my palms as I kept kneading away on his young muscles, feeling the tension drain from him as I worked. It was strange that this was the only part of the daily grind that I looked forward to, as if that contact, that physical communion was a fresh bond with us, a bond that cut though his bleak isolation up in that damned room.
My husband, Richard, was able to help out on some nights, but often he didn't get home till after nine at night, the summer being his busy season. There were just too many times I could see him starting to doze as he wolfed the late dinner I'd prepared for him. He was tense a lot of the time now too, some of it easy to attribute to Jack's injury which he blamed himself in part for ... he was the one who'd told our son to clean out the gutter that day. I gradually started doing more of the work in the evenings, letting Rich relax on the couch, waking him during the late shows if he'd fallen to sleep.
I was drifting into a pattern, I can see now. I was isolated as much as Ryan in some ways, pampering him, making him the absolute center of my attention. I actually found myself growing jealous of Carol's efforts, while at the same time being dearly appreciative of all she'd do.
And I could see the awful loneliness too. A couple buddies of his dropping by to play video games in the evenings, sometimes two or three of the boys he played soccer with coming by to watch an afternoon match on ESPN. Small breaks in a bleak monotony, one day leeching into the next, sounds and laughter from outside the house a mean taunt.
Three weeks of it and I was snappish with everyone, including Ryan. I was moody and could taste the resentment in the back of my throat.
It was a Tuesday morning. I was relaxing for a few minutes that morning, staring blankly at something on television, trying to enjoy a cup of tea and a few minutes to myself. The patio door was open and I could smell the garden. That's when I heard the crash from upstairs. I took the steps two at a time, calling Ryan's name as I went.
The nightstand was tipped over, the bulb of the reading lamp shattered, my son dangling half out of his bed, his casted arm catching the floor to keep him from tumbling out completely. I remember hearing myself asking "what happened" as I stepped around broken glass and hefted my son back onto the mattress.
"What were you doing," I wheezed angrily, winded by my race up here, looking over the toppled furniture, the drawer jammed open—the papers, the gloss of a magazine cover. I reached down for it without thinking.
Playboy, a dirty blond on the cover with her breasts strategically covered. I saw the damned rabbity ears up in the top corner.
Without meaning to I glared at him, probably venting at the release of fear I'd felt as I came up here a mad woman. He turned away, cheeks burning to crimson.
"Are you okay," I said after a second. No answer. "You could've hurt yourself ... broken something else."
He wasn't going to look back at me, I could see that. I bent and righted the nightstand, mindlessly setting the magazine atop it as I closed the drawer.
"Sorry," he croaked, the fact that he was crying evident. My anger, such as what was left of it, dissipated instantly.
"It's okay, Ryan," I said feeling tired all of a sudden. "I'll clean this up."
" ... Don't worry about it. Just think next time. Be more careful, okay."
I went for a broom and dustpan and quickly swept up the debris, the corpse of the light bulb going into the wastebasket.
The magazine was still sitting there, the perfect little cutie all ready for the newsstand. I opened the drawer and stuffed it back inside and asked if he wanted anything to eat, getting just another shake of his head.
I milled about downstairs for maybe an hour or so, not doing much of anything, but using up a lot of energy. One of his buddies probably brought the book up for him. That is unless he had it there as his personal stash for a while. And I felt bad about how I'd yelled at him, shaking my head at the memory of how he'd turned away, what my expression had to be like.
I was raised in a pretty puritanical house ... well, an Irish Catholic house in Pittsburgh which had to be as close to some dour Pilgrim abode as you could get. I remember the day my Mom found a Playboy secreted away between my youngest brother's box spring. Holy fucking hell broke out, that poor magazine torn to shreds and tossed across our small foyer so that Danny could pick it up scrap by scrap when he got home from school.
And I hadn't acted much better, had I?
Without any real thought, I stopped in my tracks and started back upstairs, a soft knock to announce my entrance.
"Sorry," he said immediately.
I didn't say a word, but rather went over to the nightstand and took out the magazine, Ryan instantly averting his eyes, absolutely chagrined, ready for another outburst.
I stepped up to the bed and looked at the young cover-girl again ... she was legitimately pretty. I put the magazine atop his chest as gently as I could.
"Don't try to get it on your own again, okay. Just ask me when you want it ... I don't want you doing trapeze tricks on the floor."
I let out a chuckle, or more aptly, forced one to the surface. Ryan was blushing, not touching the mag, a flash of surprise on his youthfully handsome face, maybe even a glimmer of awe. I turned and closed the door behind me, feeling better than I felt in weeks.
The next day was Carol's visit. The shower, the therapy she'd take him through. Carol moved with an efficiency that always impressed. And she made us both laugh, even with her weakest jokes. After she left, I helped get my son arrayed on the bed, the pillows tucked in just right. And without asking, I opened the drawer and took out the magazine, smiling a bit as I handed it to him.
"Don't I get a thank you?"
He nodded, red-faced, not giving me his eyes.
"You're welcome," I said as I strolled.
Four more days, each day the same routine. I'd take it out and hand it to him and then wordlessly put it back in the drawer in the late afternoon.
That evening I was out shopping, Richard staying with Ryan, a cousin of mine in for a visit. I bought what I had too and stopped for a coffee, savoring those few quiet minutes alone, thinking of the odd enjoyment I was deriving from this simple deal of giving him that thing. I knew he was masturbating to it. At least that's what I figured ... a boy his age, no girlfriend yet. And then I just stood up, leaving my coffee half finished, and walked out. The convenience store was just down the street, the glossy magazines arrayed behind the counter.
"A Playboy," I said as I came up to the clerk, knowing that I was now every bit as red cheeked as my son had been. God, I hoped no one I knew would walk in.
"Which," the clerk answered with a thick accent.
He was pointing, I squinted ... one like he had at home and a Lingerie one.
I couldn't wait for Richard to leave that morning. It was Carol's day to come by and I wanted to give it to him before she got there.
I cleared my throat from the doorway.
"Got something for you," I fairly croaked, pulling the magazines from behind my back with a flourish. His jaw dropped a bit. He was surprised alright, maybe more than surprised.
"Thought you might be getting tired of the one you have."
" ... Thanks," he muttered.
"This is all lingerie," I babbled rather stupidly, fanning the pages with my thumb. "Is that okay?"
Ryan gulped and nodded. Suddenly I wanted to see him open it up. I stepped closer to the bed and flipped closer to the center of the magazine. A gorgeous blond in a red teddy, perched on all fours, her heavy breasts almost spilling free of the lace.
Ryan nodded again, a jerky movement. I flipped though a few more pages, a slim oriental girl a camisole draped down her body to expose perfectly shaped but smallish breasts. Suddenly self conscious, I flipped ahead another page or so and it was then that I saw the clear jut of Ryan's penis through the sheet, the tenting that I'd so often see Richard wake to. He was angling his slim body, trying to mask it.
"You enjoy 'em," I muttered hastily and backed out of the room, closing the door securely. I went to my bedroom and leaned against chest of drawers, legs quivering and weak, seeing my flustered refection in the mirror. I steadied my breath, my heart snapping along.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" I asked myself, getting no answer. I was corrupting my kid and getting turned on by it. What the hell is wrong with this picture, folks?
I went downstairs and started cleaning, a frenzied job meant to bury my thoughts, which seemed to keep coming back to the dirty books and my Ryan, to the way he was contorting to hide that erection.
"Keep this up and you better start a fund up for his next twenty years of psychiatric bills," I whispered to myself, jarred from my solitude by Carol tapping at the patio door.
I let Carol do everything that morning, as opposite my usual custom of helping her out in any way I could. She was up there almost an hour with him, all the while I kept up my frenzied pace with what I was doing.
"Are you all right?"
I turned and saw Carol standing there.
"I'm fine," I lied.
"How's the patient."
"Good. You need help at all?"
"You take it easy and I'll get things squared upstairs," she said looking worn out by her exertions, giving me a look of cool appraisal, as if sensing that something wasn't quite right with me.
I made coffee and set out two cups, listening to the noises from the second floor ... muffled thuds, shuffling, the dull hiss of the shower. It felt a little guilty at my desertion.
"Everything go okay?" I asked when she finally came into the kitchen.
"I'm a pro," she laughed, pausing to curl a defined bicep at me.
"You have time for coffee?"
We sat there and chatted for ten minutes or so, an aimless conversation on topics I can't even recall today. It was nice to talk this way, to just have a break in the routine.
"Ryan was very ... how should I say ... very excited today."
I glanced across the rim of my mug, seeing that playful grin she often punctuated her words with.
"Excited?" I queried.
She rolled her eyes with amused embarrassment. "Yes, excited. Excited as in the way a boy his age gets excited and can't get un-excited."
"It's alright," she chuckled, waving away any concern. "You see it more than you'd expect doing what I do ... He was probably a thousand times more mortified by it than I was, trust me."
"I'm sorry," I said, laughing without really meaning to.
"Seen one, seen 'em all, honey."
Carol switched off it then, taking the conversation elsewhere before she finally got up to leave. I watched her drive off, feeling a curious melding of embarrassment and excitement ... excitement wondering at how she'd seen it. Or more likely had she actually seen it or just a towel shrouded thrusting.
I shook my head to clear away the thought, again thinking that I must be going stir crazy to even be running my mind along thoughts like these.
I was distracted the rest of the day, minimizing the time I spent with my son, doing busy work, making several phone calls I'd been neglecting. I brought him his dinner, sat with him while he watched television. I asked for the magazines I'd given him and tucked them into the drawer before Richard got home.
I was distracted throughout the night, tossing and turning, fitful in my sleep, up twice to wander through the darkened house. I was in a strange mood. Thinking about my son being erect in front of Carol like that had sparked something I didn't really like within my psyche, yet I couldn't dampen the excitement it stirred. It was almost four in then, the air heavy. I was standing at the patio door in my nightgown, the garden completely darkened.
I know I didn't think about it in any way, my hand working the door silently, a breeze enlivening the humid summer air. I was shaking, my hands trembling as I leaned my weight against a cast-iron table that I used as a potting station, my right hand bundling up the sheer material of my nightgown, slipping in along the elastic of my panties...
... I was looking up at the stars, sprawled awkwardly on my side, eyes spilling tears, my abdominal muscles utterly wrecked with the most punishing wave of orgasms I'd ever experienced, afraid to draw so much as a single a breath lest some primal shriek escape my lips.
"Oh, my God," I finally rasped, shocked at what I'd just done, palm still buried in the coarse curls of my pubic hair. " ... God!"
I pulled up to a sitting position, hunched over as if in some worship of Satan. I steadied my breathing, glancing about to assure myself that there was no unwanted face peering down from a window ... my neighbor's or my own.
I hesitantly got to my feet and stood there for a moment, wiping the tears from my cheeks. "Never think that again," I whispered angrily to myself, almost crying now. " ... You sick twisted fuck, you."
I didn't give Ryan his magazine that day. I bustled about, did whatever I had to do, and whatever I didn't have to do. I brought him his meals, sat with him for brief periods. Again, I was snappish and easily irritable. I kept thinking about what I'd done in the shadowed garden the night before, the fantasy I'd been toying over as my finger caressed the slicked curve of my vulva. Several times that day I experienced moments of emotional overload, where I'd literally have to halt in my tracks and grasp some support, my breathing reduced to ragged bites.
The next day seemed more settled, at least those first hours of morning. Carol came by and did her work, again with no assistance from me. She was rushed herself and our conversation was brief and brisk.
I wandered upstairs after she left and found Ryan in bed, even more miserable with boredom.
"You want the TV on," I asked, stepping into the silence.
I went over to the nightstand and picked up three magazines. "How about one of these? ... Which one do you want?"
"None of 'em," he grunted moodily.
"You sure," I asked, seeing him look away. " ... I'll look at them with you. You can tell me which girl you like the most."
Ryan looked back at me, his expression empty. I realized how out-and-out twisted what I was saying was, but I couldn't stop myself.
"The Lingerie one?" I went on, holding it up for him, leaving it hang out there until he reached for it.
"I don't want you to be embarrassed about looking at things like that," I heard myself say. "It's good you like them."
"Thanks," he muttered warily.
"Now come on, show me which one you like best?" I jested.
There was no chair on that side of the bedroom, so I plopped down on the edge of the mattress. "You must have a favorite."
"Um ... maybe this one."
The pretty Asian girl I'd seen when I first gave it to him.
"What's she got that you like?"
Ryan laughed nervously but made no answer. I looked down and immediately saw the stiffening beneath the wrinkled sheets, the exact image I'd fixed in my mind last night as I stepped outside.
"Maybe your friend can answer," I said playfully, pointing down at the tenting beneath his waist.
He instantly groaned, mortified beyond words, twisting onto his side in a futile effort to hide it.
"It's okay, it's okay," I said hurriedly, softly grasping his shoulder, feeling the rigidity there. I reached up and stroked his curly mop of hair. " ... Shhhh."
He eased back finally, his uninjured leg cocked up at the knee to mask his predicament.
"Carol told me you have it when she's doing her work with you. I don't want you to be embarrassed, Ryan. It's natural ... Did she ever say anything about it?"
He shook his head absently, looking like he wished he could crawl under the bed and hide.
"So, come on, why do you like her?" I said, popping a light punch into his shoulder.
"She's very pretty."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Her breasts aren't that big, do you like that?"
He nodded, then nodded again, just faster.
"Little breasts," I mused, edging my butt more securely onto the bed. "Which other ones do you like?"
"Her, the one here with..."
He'd been flipping down the pages for another model when I reached down and lightly brushed my fingertips along the outlined shaft of his penis, just as I'd been doing in my mind the previous night, an imagined touch that dropped me into a truly shattering climax.
Ryan jumped at the sensation, the shock of it etched over his boyish features. I brushed my fingers along the full length of it then, deliberate, leaving no doubt as to whether I'd intended it.
"Jeez, Mom, he gasped, squirming away as best he could with a leg anchored in a twenty-pound plaster cast.
I reached and again touched him, this time just settling my palm there.
"Do you want me to stop?"
I started stroking him through the sheet in earnest, very lightly at first, then quickening, hearing his breathing thicken ... he was staring at my working hand now, the practiced slide, the way I adjusted so as to grasp him fully, feeling the surprising heft of his tool. Not even a minute...
Ryan's face was contorted, eyes shut. I knew he was coming, the frenzied throb as he ejaculated into the folds of cotton, the sudden wetness seeping beneath my palm. I released him then, stunned a bit that I'd actually done it, seeing him open his eyes and look at me in an uncomprehending way. I simply got up and left the room, flustered, knowing that he had to be freaking. I didn't care, I had to go. I had to go downstairs, away from him. I went out into the garage and there, without preamble, pulled my slacks down around my ankles and leaned against the wall, one hand for support, one hand curling around my vagina ... I was very wet, warm slickness on my digits as I found that delicious little nub, ten seconds tops and I screamed when it hit, weeping gasps as I furiously jacked my index finger over it again and again, the orgasm flaring like an inferno against my eyelids.
I lay there for several minutes afterwards and then calmly got up, pulling up my slacks and smoothing myself out. I was shaking with the residual adrenalin, but I felt no guilt, even though I knew I should. I went into the kitchen and sliced an apple into six wedges, carefully cutting away the core before arranging them on a small plate with a clump of white grapes. I brought the plate upstairs and knocked on his door jam.
Ryan didn't answer, he was befuddled, agitated. He couldn't look at me.
"I'm sorry I shocked you," I said, coming into the room and putting the plate on his night stand. "Did you like it?"
No answer. I honestly don't think he could've answered if he wanted.
I went to the bathroom and put a wash cloth under the warm water, ringing it dry.
"Here, let me clean you up," I said, attempting to pull back the sheet, only to have him yank it back to his chest.
"Ryan, I'm sorry if I upset you. I just know..."
I stopped myself from talking and put the dampened cloth on the sheet.
"I'll let you alone for a while. I just know you're frustrated and lonely up here and if I ... if I can help you like that, then I'll do it. You just have to ask. That's why I gave you the books ... Wash up and eat the fruit ... I love you, you know that don't you. I just want you to be happy."
I left him and didn't go back up till dinner, which I left him eat alone. Other than to say goodnight, I stayed away from him for the rest of that day.
I knew I had to let him ask for it ... actually that was an integral part of the fantasy for me. I made myself hold myself back from it. I honestly think I was ready to crack up that first day with the anticipation.
Two days it took. Two whole days where I pretended like nothing had happened. If he spoke ten words to me I was lucky.
"How was everything," I asked, bending over to fix his pillow. Carol had just left and I was just making sure he was comfortably settled.
"Okay, then you rest awhile and I'll..."
I felt a delicious chill course though my veins. "You can ask me, Ryan. I told you that."
"Do you want to..."
"Do you want me to? If you do, just ask."
My son's voice was shaky and intimidated.
"Will I jerk you off?" I laughed ... surprised at how relaxed I was with it, a refreshingly girlish lilt to my voice.
I left the room and came back with a bottle of baby oil. I put the bottle down and reached for the sheet, only to have him clutch it tightly.
"Ryan, let it go. Just lay back and relax."