As was my habit, I was up early and nearly had breakfast finished when I heard the toilet flush in the upstairs bathroom. I went to the bottom of the stairs and called up, “Get back in bed. I’m bringing your breakfast up on a tray.”
I turned to go back to the kitchen when Tony stuck his head out. He still looked tired despite all of the sleep he had but there was a determination in his eyes that hadn’t been there the day before. “Joey, do you see my shaving kit down there? I need it.”
“You don’t need it,” I told him. “You need to get back in bed. It’s raining so you are stuck with me inside – at least for the morning – and I’m boiling over with energy and want to spend it spoilin’ you instead of the other way around for a change.”
I heard him snort in disbelief and aggravation. “Joey, none o’ your mischief. I want my shaving kit.”
Having grabbed said shaving kit I’d already started up the stairs knowing that Tony was as Irish as he was Italian which meant he could be, as Gran had called hime, as stubborn as a whole team of mules. He’d just stuck his head out of the bathroom again and prepared to bellow when he caught sight of me standing there grinning wickedly. None too happy to be caught with his mouth hanging open he said, “You did that on purpose.”
Grinning in my own wicked way I said, “Of course I did. Did you really expect anything less?”
Trying not to crack a smile he growled, “One of these days …”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard that threat too many times for too long to believe it. Seriously though,” I said handing him his bag. “You should be in bed. And you don’t need to shave you know.”
I stood outside the door with my back to it having glimpsed the fact that he only had a towel wrapped around his waist. Completely ignoring what I’d just said he told me, “I’m not a man that can wear a beard. I look ridiculous. It is too thick and grows every which way.”
I tried not to laugh when I said, “Vanity thy name is …” I didn’t get to finish what I was saying because there was a huge bang behind me. I turned to see that Tony had fallen.
I pushed the bathroom door open and saw him struggling to sit up but his eyes didn’t look focused. I fell to my knees beside him. “Tony?! Talk to me. Did you slip? Did you hit your head?”
He was getting angry and it wasn’t helping in the least. He continued to struggle while saying, “I don’t know. Move.”
“I am not moving and neither are you. Let me check your head.”
He spat, “I didn’t hit my head. And I’m not a child. I …”
“Tony!” That got his attention. The fact that he could tell I was done playing was a good sign. “Now listen. I need you to lay back. I’m going to poke on you a little bit and it ain’t for fun. I need you to tell me if something is uncomfortable or it hurts … don’t get macho on me, this is serious.”
“Ouch,” he said jumping as I gently felt around where I thought his spleen would be. I shouldn’t have been able to feel anything but I did. James’ spleen hadn’t gotten enlarged during his bought with mono but Ike’s had and he’d had some of the same symptoms … dizziness, irritability, anemic looking color.
Persisting despite his obvious anger I said, “Tony, listen. How did you feel yesterday after you ate?”
“Full,” he said with a smart aleck tone.
Now it way my turn to get angry, and that on top of my worry. “Do I look like I’m foolin’?” What he saw in my face must have convinced him to cooperate. “Is full all you felt? Any discomfort, pain, anything?”
He shook his head, “Just full. And tired. I couldn’t believe how tired I felt. When I work up I was fine … ok don’t give me that look, I felt better. Wanted a shower and felt even better after that then all of a sudden the floor started tiling … and now I feel as weak as a thrice used tea bag.”
Trying not to smile at one of Aunt Belinda’s odd sayings when it came out of Tony’s mouth I asked, “You promise?”
He sighed, “Yeah, I promise. Now what ‘s got you into a pet?”
“I don’t know that anything is wrong per se. This just … look, let me help you up. Don’t put any pressure on your abdomen, let me do the work.”
“I’m only in a towel Joey. And that ain’t real secure. You … uh …”
Trying not to giggle like an embarrassed idiot I admitted, “Kinda noticed that already. I promise not to look if you promise not to do somethin’ that draws my attention that direction.”
A few Anglo-Italian expletives later and a quick grab of the towel by him to keep it from falling off completely and he was walking back to the room mostly under his own steam though he was obviously feeling insulted. “I do not need to hold your arm like I’m some old guy.”
“You’re not old, and I don’t think of you like a little kid either so forget that one too. You’re ill and recoverin’ and I don’t want you to take no more headers. Now behave, I’m not foolin’ Tony. I’m gonna be the one with gray hair if you don’t knock it off. Kapish?”
He made me go down and bring his clothes bag up and then leave the room again so he could dress. “Are you done yet?!” I yelled through the door getting more than a little frustrated … and not for a good reason.
“Yeah,” he said opening it then turning to walk gingerly towards the bed.
He was dressed in athletic shorts and a t-shirt which wasn’t at all the pajamas that I knew for a fact were in the bag because I’d seen them there when I’d peeked just to be nosey. I knew he was setting limits on his “invalid state” but even if it caused an argument I needed to draw the line if I wasn’t going to go freakin’ nuts. I practically begged, “Don’t fight me on this Tony. I know you might be feelin’ a little better but you ain’t there yet. Just stay in bed; if you need somethin’ I’ll even bring you a bell to call me with if you promise not to have me runnin’ up and down the stairs like a crazy woman.”
After he sat down and let me fluff the pillows for him he asked me seriously, “You playin’ me or are you really worried about somethin’?”
“I think it’s …” I stopped frustrated. “Look, I told you it keeps sounding like mono … like the twins had that time; you remember. The swollen lymph nodes, the tender … er … parts, the fatigue; but it don’t make sense that it is mono if you didn’t get it until you got that stuff on you so what I’m thinkin’ what are all those symptoms if they ain’t mono? Well, the lymph system helps to fight infection; I remember that much from my anatomy class. You had some kind of infection and it has overloaded your body. You were dehydrated too and no tellin’ when the last time was you ate a good meal.”
“So?” he asked when I stopped.
“Geez, I’m no doctor Tony. I don’t know … I wish Lucia was here, she’d at least be able to tell me if I was being’ stupid.”
He grabbed my hand and tugged me to sit down and stop pacing. “Stop walkin’ a hole in the floor and just tell me.”
“The spleen; it’s part of the lymph system. Ike got real sick … worse than James … and his spleen got swollen like yours. The doctor said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing but that we had to be careful not to do anything that would rupture it … he was out of sports longer than James, couldn’t do no liftin’ for a while. You remember?”
Thinking Tony said, “Kinda I guess. I remember Aunt Belinda was goin’ nuts thinking the girls were gonna come down with it.”
“Anyway, I think you just need rest and stuff. You might be anemic – we can deal with that – but you gotta be careful and get as much rest as your body wants.”
His nose flared which was a sign that he was hearing me but not liking what I was saying. “I ain’t lyin’ around all day while you do all the work. We got things to do.”
“Don’t be crazy Tony. There will still be plenty to do when you get over whatever this is. The spleen helps filter the blood before the liver gets a hold of it. If it’s swollen that means it’s had to work really hard and gotten irritated or somethin’. Same thing with the lymph nodes. You don’t look so bad as you did and your head seems to be on straight so that means – I think it means – that you’re getting’ better. Just humor me on this. Take it easy, OK? I can’t … the thought …” I had to stop because I was shaking. “Don’t do this to me Tony. I don’t think I could live if I lost you too.”
“Aw Ragazza, don’t. I ain’t goin’ nowhere. You know what your tears do to me?”
I wanted to thump him. “Then don’t scare me and make me feel like cryin’. It won’t be for long, just until the swellin’ goes down and you feel more like your old self. Please.”
He leaned back on the pillows, out of juice to fight. “Looks like I don’t have no choice.”
“Sure you do, but it’s nice to know you’re a man of good sense. I always liked that about you,” I told him, sniffing and getting myself under control. “Now you sit and play king for a day and let me bring you some breakfast.”
After breakfast he fought for five minutes not to close his eyes but I just kept talking at him and saying nothing and finally he dozed off. Under any other circumstances I might be offended that listening to me talk put him to sleep but since that had been my plan I was pretty satisfied.
It was still raining, a slow and steady drizzle that would make picking fruit unproductive … no pun intended. I’d already been out in it once to check on the birds and they seemed more than happy to be left alone after I tossed in some fruit peelings and apple and pear cores. I also found a half dozen eggs and did the happy dance. I was pretty sure that wasn’t many eggs to be getting from over two dozen birds but considering the shape they were in to begin with I wasn’t going to complain.
The birds still looked kinda weird with feathers missing here and there and with a half-crazed look to their beady little eyes … but at least they didn’t look like they were going to fall over and die after two of three steps no more. Some were getting downright feisty and didn’t appreciate it when I took their eggs. What the heck though, it’s not like they were going to get anything for setting on them things. With no rooster all the eggs were just eggs and wouldn’t make chicks.
Instead of working outside in the rain I had decided that I could do more than stand around waiting for the dehydrator to finish. First thing in the morning I had gotten a batch of apple and pear sauce cooking only talking to Tony it had gone past the sauce state and into the butter state; nearly scorched it. No biggie; I had more than enough fruit to start another batch. I put the “butter” in jars and into the boiling water bath canner to seal just like Mom had taught me then I made another pot of chopped fruit and watched it more closely this time.
I wasn’t worried about power usage since the stove was gas but all day long as I made different batches of things I always tried to fill the canner up as full as I could so nothing would be wasted.
For lunch I heated up some Italian chicken soup but the tomatoes in it upset Tony’s stomach letting me know that I’d need to be careful for a while. I don’t think there is much else worse for a man that to puke his guts up when he isn’t drunk enough to dull the memory. Tony was stone cold sober and one sick puppy … and afterwards embarrassed enough that I barely got two words out of him. The soup wasn’t bad because I had some before he did, it was simply too much for his system to handle.
A couple of hours later he didn’t grumble too bad when I brought him some of the fresh made apple-pear sauce with a couple of piadinas. “You made this?”
I smiled and said, “Don’t lose your dentures. I do know how to cook you know.”
“Your Mom said so but … uh …”
Still smiling I said, “But you thought she was exaggerating just because Lucia acted like it was a death sentence to have to cook.” At his shrug I told him, “You never let me know when you were going to be in town or I would have made something rather than stopping at the deli or eating out. It woulda been cheaper too.”
He took my hand. “The money isn’t … wasn’t … a problem. I just liked surprisin’ you.”
Knowing Tony I said, “And checkin’ up on me.” Caught like a fish on a hook Tony didn’t say a word but it made me laugh out right. “I wasn’t doin’ nothin’ with no one. Why you had such a hard time believin’ that at first I don’t know.”
“’Cause I saw them guys lookin’ at you. You had chances to do somethin’.”
I shrug nonchalantly. “Sure. You should have seen some of the things some of the kids in the dorm would get up to. Honestly Tony, it was a university not a seminary school. And some of them kids weren’t all that particular if you know what I mean.”
A little ticked off he asked, “So if you had so many chances why didn’t you?”
“Geez you’re either blind or … or blind.” I shook my head. “If I’m spendin’ all my time dreamin’ of you how are boys like those gonna measure up and get my attention?”
Thoughtfully he said, “I didn’t know you were dreamin’ about me.”
I shrugged. “I tried to tell you a couple a times but … I don’t know … things were hard enough and confusin’ enough without makin’ it worse chasin’ somethin’ I wasn’t sure I could catch. And even if I did catch you I wasn’t too sure I’d know what to do with you. I just wasn’t ready for it all.”
Still rubbing my hand with his thumb he asks, “And you think you’re ready now?”
Uh oh, we’d slipped over into complicated things; ‘course I kinda sent in that direction on purpose. I shrugged. “Things are so … so wrong. The world seems to be comin’ apart at the seams and nobody is telling the truth about it. My parents … brothers … they’re all gone and I didn’t even have a chance to tell ‘em good bye. Lucia just left and that hurts too even though I knew it was what she would feel like she had to do, maybe the only thing she could do if she wanted to have any peace for herself. And then here you are. You risked your life to save my family … and not just on the road either. If you had gotten out of the city in the very beginning rather than trying to take care of them you wouldn’t have been stuck on that road and a sitting duck. You spend all that money … and don’t stop me from saying it ‘cause I know it wasn’t cheap to get that driver for us from the airport or give up your back up ride.” I leaned over and brushed his hair out of his eyes for what seemed the hundredth time. “Look Tony, I may not know what to do with my feelings for you, but I’m done hidin’ them. Doesn’t seem like there is any good reason’ to anymore.”
Tony sighed, “And I’m done hidin’ my feelings for you. But it don’t seem right for your father not to be here for me to ask his permission first; that had always been my plan. It ain’t right that your Momma isn’t around to give you advice and tell you you could do better and hate on me for a while.”
I gave a watery chuckle. “Don’t be stupid. Mom always thought you were something special. She’d thump the twins every once in a while and tell them to act more like you instead of like a couple of crazy park squirrels. And my brothers would have gone nuts thinkin’ about all the stuff you could help them get into. And I think … maybe … like I said … Dad wouldn’t have had a problem with you either. For sure he wouldn’t have had you here to the cabin so often if he didn’t trust you pretty good.”
That last thought really seemed to hit Tony hard. “I wish Uncle Nicky woulda been more like your Dad. They were good friends, I always hoped more would come of it.”
I nodded. “Dad had a way of acceptin’ people for who they were. Your uncle would get rattled and he’d come see Dad and most of the time it helped. Maybe … maybe Dad dyin’ is part of what broke your uncle so bad.”
Tony sighed. “Maybe but I don’t know as I could trust him no more.” He brushed my hair away from the side of my face where the spreading bruised was getting to the real ugly stage. “Hey, when you go out to pick that fruit, you take protection with you? Right?”
“Yeah. I found an LCP in your truck.” Smiling I said, “It has a pink slide on it so I figured you meant it for a lady friend.”
A little color rose on his cheeks. “Oh, that ugly thing. It … er … belonged to one of the partner’s … uh … anyway, she got wasted and was shootin’ at his lawn art and he took it away and told me to get rid of it someplace. Figured you’d get a kick out of it.”
Outraged I said, “What a clanker! You take me for stupid or somethin’? It was factory fresh when I took it out of the box.”
He was caught and he knew it. Biting my lip, unsure if I was funning or not, I told him, “Don’t tell me stories Tony. I think it’s sweet – even if it is pink – and I’d rather you be honest with me.” When he got quiet I knew just what he was thinking as if I had thought it myself. “I ain’t askin’ for details about your past. I know you got around some and I know the business you are … were … in needed ... er … discretion. If you can’t tell me then you can’t. Just don’t make up stories to fill in the gaps; I don’t need ‘em. OK?”
Pursing his lips thoughtfully then nodding he said, “OK. But Joey … I ain’t been gettin’ around for a while. I found I was happier waitin’ for my Ragazza than … er … anything else.”
I would have liked to have explored that a little more but he was obviously tired and I heard the timer go off downstairs. “Hah! Saved by the bell … but you won’t get away with that sweet talk forever Signor MacGregor.”