In the weeks that followed, we lived as a family. Julia stayed away, working on projects, but she visited every other day. I was yet to get Julia to sit down and talk to Kat but they developed the ability to exist in the same room without it turning in to an episode of the Jerry Springer show. Everything was great until the day my father arrived.
Val was completing a chemo session while running a slight fever. Unable to find any sign of infection, I had to assume it was exhaustion. He had been trying so hard to stay active and mobile, I was becoming worried that it was too much.
Sitting on the floor in a t-shirt and jeans, I was attempting to chart Val’s vitals into a program on the new laptop Kat gifted me. “I’m want to limit your time in the basement gym.” I specifically said the basement gym since that was the weight room/sauna.
Val grumbled from the comfort of his recliner. “You can’t tell me not to walk on my own two legs.”
“I’m not.” I placed my hand upon his leg. He was still strong, and I knew that. “I’m just politely requesting you not to bench press on your own two legs.”
Val’s eyes were closed. He had a gel sleep mask on, to combat the warming effect of the chemo. He reached over, pawing at the side table. Clearly, he was trying to grab his nearby iPhone in an effort to prove a point.
Right on cue, Kat appeared behind me with a cup of coffee in one hand and her adorable rosegold phone in the other. And, of course, her internet game was on point. Kat read aloud, “Exercising while tired may be atypical, but research has shown that exercise has a role in improving the well-being of chemotherapy patients.” She kissed her father’s cheek and handed him his phone to conduct research of his own. “Oh, your mask tastes so refreshing. I’ve got to get one of those.”
Val chuckled and groaned as he removed the gel mask to get a better view of his screen. He held down the home button, activating the voice command feature. “Siri search exercise during chemotherapy.”
“Do your fingers not work?” Thankfully, I managed to say that witty line only in my head. Val’s hands often trembled and there was a notable weakness to his grip. So there was no need for me to be an ass about it.
The digital voice replied, “Exercise during chemotherapy can also reduce the number of complications arising from treatment, and may improve your immune function.”
“Thank you, Dr. Yahoo Answers,” I said as I stood up. “Val, I never said you couldn’t walk. I just don’t want you to overexert yourself.”
Val rolled his eyes with a dismissive sigh. “I’m not a damn child, Jack. I know my limits.”
“I know. And I’m not trying to treat you like a child,” I said, patting my hand to his shoulder. “There are literally hundreds of ways to engage in light exercise.”
Val chuckled. “Siri read ‘The Gay Kama Sutra by Colin Spencer.”
Kat laughed. “I think I have a copy you can borrow, maybe you two can put on a show after I get back from my run.” She lifted my face for a goodbye kiss, before heading in the direction of the door.
Val turned his head to glance at the wall clock. “Is this chemo shit almost over?”
“Just three more minutes.” The timer would be up soon and I knew Val could disconnect it on his own. So I got up to help myself to a cup of coffee.
The doorbell rang. In the less-than-ten seconds, it took Kat to make it to the door my phone also pinged. She opened the door to the sight of my father calling my phone. I could see the logic in his actions; in case I didn’t answer the door, he needed a way to prove he actually knew me.
“Hi, Dad.” As I glanced at his smug, khakis and polo shirt. I truly wished Kat hadn’t opened the door. It would have been easy to call the police, telling them we had a lost golfer who wondered on to our property.
I stood arms crossed, with Kat by my side. “Well, this is certainly a surprise.”
Kat leaned on my arm, acting every bit the devoted girlfriend. “Hello Jack’s father, I’m Katerina Kepler.” She reached out her hand like a European stereotype looking for a kiss.
“Don Miller,” my dad said as he shook her hand. “But you can call me Dad, seeing that you’re the mother of my future grandchild.” His delivery contained a heavy dose of smug as if it was some kind of secret that we were trying to hide.
But my bad-ass girlfriend was prepared. “Oh how sweet, did you read that on my Instagram or maybe my Facebook?”
My father ran his fingers through his box-dye brown hair. “Well, Young lady I’m sure you’re well aware that what you put on Instabook or whatever gets picked up other local media. I actually read it on yahoo news as reported from TMZ.”
“Yes, that’s called going viral,” my gorgeous girlfriend replied with supermodel confidence. “It’s kind of what I’m known for.” Kat reached for my hand. “Plus I’m not ashamed. Jack is a beautiful human being. He’s going to be a wonderful father.”
For a moment I was too mesmerized to speak. But then my father cleared his throat, reminding me that this nightmare was still happening.
I didn’t even bother to ask why he was standing there. The fact that my father seriously, traveled across the country to see if I was behaving myself, made me want to vomit on his leather shoes. “I’m kind of busy, but we can talk later at your hotel. You are staying at a hotel, right?”
“Yes, of course, Jack, I would not want to impede on your host family.” He still, clearly wanted to be invited in.
Kat took a step forward, ever so subtly, pushing me out of the way. “And yet you decided to show up at MY front door?”
My father took a breath, he was about to formulate a reply when we all heard the sound of a crash coming from the kitchen. It was the sicking sound of glass breaking followed by a body hitting the floor.
“Dad?” Kat shouted as she ran.
I followed her to find Val’s body on the kitchen floor. From what I could see, he somehow managed to trip on a chair that had been placed awkwardly close to the sink. This caused him to drop a drinking glass, hit his head on the kitchen table, and now he appeared to be completely unconscious or suffering a mild seizure.
I made sure his airway was clear and laid him in the recovery position. “You’re ok, Val, you’re ok.” I could feel him trying to reach for my hand. That somewhat distracted from the cut on his forehead. “Kat, could you grab me a bandage?”
I heard her leave, scrambling through a nearby drawer.
“Your patient needs to go to a hospital,” my father said as if I was too stupid to think of that myself. “He may have suffered head trauma.”
“I got it covered.” And why the fuck are you in the house? Val never seemed to have violent seizures, only issues with his eyes and brain. After living with him for as long as I had, I knew what to expect.
Kat brought me the first aid kit, putting on gloves as she took out sterile bandages and wipes.
While I attempted to examine the cut on Val’s forehead, my father knelt behind me, checking my work as if he was a college professor. Fuck this. I tried to ignore him, staying focused on cleaning the blood, to examine the extent of the wound. I didn’t have a chance to see where Kat was, I just hoped she was making plans to get him away from me. But when he pulled out a penlight, I lost my cool. “What in the mother-of-fuck, do you think you’re doing, Dad?”
“Your patient’s pupils look off. You should probably call an ambulance to avoid legal liability.”
It pissed me off to no end that he was still on the whole head trauma diagnosis. “My patient has a history of seizures.”
“Does he have a history of hitting his head and nearly bleeding to death?”
“He’s not bleeding to death!” I groaned. Admittedly, my reply came out a little more immature than I could have liked. Val had struck his head on the sharpest part of the table, causing a long cut that nearly reached his eye.
“Still, he would be much better off in a hospital.” My father had the good sense to at least back up a few feet, to allow me to work on MY patient.
“No,” Val gasped, as he struggled to regain consciousness.”N-No hospitals.”
“I know.” I turned his head to better examine the cut on his face. I needed to get him cleaned up before making any final judgment. And unfortunately, I had to do that in front of my father.
Kat held his hand, gently stroking his palm. “Hey, Dad. It’s ok, just relax and breathe.” She spoke in a calm and soothing tone. “Are you in any pain?”
“I-I just wanted some water.” Val’s voice trembled, but as soon as he locked eyes with my father, he somehow developed a renewed sense of strength. “Who the fuck is that guy?”
“Val this is my dad, Don Miller,” I said, staying focused on gluing the cut. “Dad meet Vlad Kepler.”
There was an akward pause since it’s not exactly easy to wave or shake hands with someone in the recovery position. But then my Dad said all that he needed to say. “As a medical professional, I would really recommend that you go to a hospital. My son, while exceptionally skilled in empathy, does not have the ability to check for concussions, blood clots or previously undiagnosed issues.”
Val strained as he slowly sat up. “I had a fucking seizure because I haven’t had a drink in nearly a week.” Val reached for my arm. He gave my wrist a firm squeeze while looking at my father. “This has only been possible because your son inspires me.”
I had been unintentionally sober, following the announcement of my impending fatherhood. I hadn’t even considered how my decision would impact Val. “Wow, Thanks, Man.” I wrapped my hand over Val’s fingers, in a show of solidarity.
Kat placed Val’s other hand over her pregnant stomach. The cuddled close to him, allowing her father to fully calm. “Jack, why don’t you and your dad, head to the garden or the roof patio, and talk shit out.”
I was too pissed off. I didn’t want to taint the beauty and sanctity of Napa by having a screaming match with my father. “There’s a Starbucks a mile south of here.”
My Dad looked at me with confusion. “You want to drive to Starbucks?” He tossed me the keys to an Alamo rental car. “Sure, we can drive to Starbucks.”
What the fuck kind of power play was this? “You want me to drive your car?”
“Because you know the way,” he replied with a shrug. “And if you want to leave, you can walk your ass back to your little clubhouse.”
Clubhouse? “Fine. Let’s go.” I drove his tacky bright blue honda civic to the aforementioned Starbucks, enjoying the AC.
The ride was conversationally silent, with my father scrolling through the radio stations. He did it in a way that was especially annoying, staying on a song just long enough to hear what it was then flipping back to another and repeating on a loop. The trip felt much longer than the time indicated on the clock. “We’re here!” I made the shapest turn possibly, squealing the wheels into what was possibly a handicapped parking space.
My father calmly exited the car. “Order whatever you want, it’s on me.”
“Fine, thanks, Dad.” I entered ahead of him, ordering a venti matcha green tea frappuccino, if only because it was one of the most expensive drinks on the menu. Sitting at a table, I locked eyes with my father and his plain black coffee.
“Do you feel you possess the training necessary to guide a patient through his end of life care?” He asked in a polite professional tone, not unlike a job interview.
“Why? Because I never finished my residency? I’m still licensed.”
“You are licensed in the same way as a high school student volunteering at a local retirement home.”
I rolled my eyes. That could not be correct. “Whatever.”
“You can’t tell me with a straight face, that you consider this to be a professional position.”
“Val Kepler’s safety and comfort is my primary concern.”
“Then why is he not in a wheelchair?”
“Because he’s not a fucking invalid!”
My dad shook his head and laughed. “No, of course not. He’s just a middle-aged man with terminal cancer and a history of seizures. ”
He had a valid point. Wait- No! Val was my patient. “Where is this coming from? Do you honestly think Val’s family is going to sue me for malpractice?” Actually, Julia totally would.
“I’m going to cut the crap and ask what I came here to ask.”
I nodded, taking a long sip of my green milkshake. “I’d appreciate that.”
He took a long sip of coffee. “What are your plans?”
“Plans? What is this a job interview? Why do I need plans?”
My father repeated his words, louder and slower, “What are your plans for after this job?”
“Job? This isn’t a job.”
“So, you’re staying in California?”
Yeah, with my real family. “You’ve already met my, knocked up, supermodel girlfriend.”
“Your cover story; your beard? Is that what urban dictionary calls it?”
“Did you seriously just go there?” My hands were trembling so hard I managed to knock over my massive cup. “Wow, just wow.”
“Jack…” my father groaned as he waved over the barista for help.
“Fuck this.” I got up, ready to start my walk.
“You’re quoting urban dictionary for slurs!”
“I’m just trying to relate on your level, here.” He struggled to follow me, pace for pace but my dad was never much of an athlete. “You’re making a huge mistake. I don’t want to have to come out to identify your remains when you inevitably kill yourself, once you realize you’re in over your head.”
What the hell? “No, you’re right. I’m an immature little faggot! But you know why that is? because I never had a man who loved me.”
“You don’t think I love you?”
“No. I don’t.” I shoved my father to the ground and ran to the main road. I walked the rest of the way back to my ‘clubhouse’, cursing and then sobbing.
When I got home. I slammed the door. The pain in my chest was so intense it was all I could do not to vomit. “Where is everybody? Kat? Val?”
I was about to turn down the hall when I heard Val’s voice from the garden. “Jack is that you? Come on out, the sun feels good.”
The patio door was wide open. “I know I just walked home.”
Val was laying on the grass, in the nude, with his hands behind his head.
“Did you just drop acid?” I sat by his side, with my knees pulled to my chest.
“Nah, just a shit-ton of high-quality hash, my friend.” He chuckled. “That’s what I love about you, Jack. You get me.” I could feel Val reaching for my hand, placing it upon his chest, “A normal doctor would have assumed I was dead.”
“True.” I stroked his chest, tracing my finger along the deep muscles. His skin was just damp enough to feel slick to the touch.
Val moaned, then giggled. “I read an article, about bone marrow donation. male recipients experience a change to their DNA.”
I walked my fingers down his abs, stroking the path to Val’s erect cock. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard that before.” His dick was at a ninety-degree angle, just the right position to play with his pre-cum rubbing it over his tip, down his shaft.
Val arched his neck, taking a deep breath. “I was thinking, as my last dying wish, I’d love to have you inside me for all eternity.”
I waited for Val to laugh first, in the event he was serious. Luckily a laugh came. But I could feel the painful rhythm of his breath. He was afraid. “You’ll always have me.” Keeping one hand on his manhood, I leaned in and kiss his lips. his mouth was dry, lips chapped. I took a deep breath, and kissed him again, slowly, letting the warmth of my breath soothe his mouth.
Val reached up, stroking his hand to my face. “You’re so sweet. It’s no wonder every part of you tastes like honey.”
We kissed again. I took off my sweat-soaked t-shirt and slipped down my jeans. I was fully ready for a fuck on the cool wet grass. I kissed his kneecap as I spread his legs.
I was already gushing with pre-cum but I spit on my hands for extra moisture. My shaft was so hard, I could feel my cock emitting heat. And I needed his body to stoke the flame.
First, I put my finger to Val’s lips. “Show me how much you want it.”
“Come on, Jack, don’t tease me.” Even so, Val licked my fingertips each inturn.
When he gave my pinky a soft nibble, I couldn’t help myself. I needed to fuck, I needed Val. I penetrated my lover an inch at a time, all while looking deep into his eyes. As our lips came close, I noticed I was matching him breath for breath.
“I said don’t tease, my Jack.”
I spread Val’s legs open even wider, licking his kneecap as I went balls deep.
Val let out a cry, that turned to a groan. “Oh, fuck yeah.” Actually, it was more like a purr.
“Am I hurting you? Or did my big strong, movie star lover just purr like a kitten?”
Val smiled as he pressed his lips to my ear. “Purr.”
The sensual warmth of his mouth sent a shiver down my spine. I gripped Val’s shaft, jerking him off as fast as my wrist would allow. I wanted him to climax first. I wanted to see his body awash with pleasure, strength, and… health.
I felt like my cock could truly cure his cancer. With every thrust, he was gasping, moaning. Ropes of cum covered my hand, but I kept going. His body felt so good. It was like I could feel every muscle in his body clenching hard, as I finished in his ass. “You like that?”
“Yes, Doctor,” Val said in a sensual breath. “But I think I need another dose.”
I continued to pound him even as my dick went limp and slid out on all it’s own. I needed to fuck, to wash away the anger and pain of the meeting with my father. Everything about being with Val felt so right. “I think I’m going to fuck you hard, like this, every day.” My heart was pounding as I leaned in for one last kiss. “By the time I’m done, you’ll be so full of DNA, you won’t need my bone marrow.”
Val took a deep, strong, breath as he laughed. “You’re so good to me.” He reached his arms around my shoulders, pulling me in close.
I rested in his arms, pressing my sweat covered face to his chest. It was all could do not to cry.
Val rubbed my back. “You’re shivering, baby. Are you cold?”
The feeling of his strong hands, massaging down the length of my spine was so comforting. All I could think of was, ‘this is how a mother comforts a child.’ This was real love. I tried to stop the tears but before I knew it, I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe. I missed my mother, almost as much as I hated my father.
“Do you want to talk about your dad?”
I shook my head. “Do you want to talk about your childhood in Montana?”
Oh God! My mind went blank, and I wanted to punch myself in the balls. I had no idea why the fuck I would say something like that. I wasn’t mad at Val. He didn’t deserve that.
Val just nodded. “You know what? Sure, let’s talk about Montana.”
“Are you sure?”
“A lot of dark shit happened.” Val took a breath, to calm himself, but I could feel his nervous heart rate. “I’ve seen things I can’t unsee, experienced things I can’t un-feel. Is ‘Un-feel’ even a word?” Val forced a chuckle but his voice was breaking with emotion.
“I-I know you grew up in a meth house.” I honestly had no idea what that entailed. “You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say.”
“No, I do. That pain,” Val said with a sigh. “That pain made me who I am. Getting beaten, cut, burned with cigarettes,” Val’s voice softened as he blinked tears from his eyes. “That pure hate, it gave me the courage to spend the last five dollars I had on a bus ticket. I went to Texas, Nevada, Arizona, going to open casting calls. I figured I’d either starve on the streets or I’d be a star.” He laughed at his own joke. “I’m not saying it was easy but when no one believes in you, sometimes you just have to say ‘fuck it’ and take a leap of faith.”
“My dad doesn’t believe in me,” the words left my lips before I had a chance to stop them. Val’s life had been significantly worse; I had no right to even compare my situation.
“All it takes is one person to believe in you.” Val gripped my hand, taking a breath as if to gather his thoughts. “I don’t know if you’ll ever finish a residency, or if that’s even what you want. You WILL find a path in life that truly makes you happy. Because you are an amazing person.”
As I held Val’s hand, I’d never felt so strong. He was truly inspirational. “Did you say the same thing to Kat when you sent her to model in Europe?”
“Only because it’s all true,” Val replied. “What my daughter went through was horrific. No girl, child or human being should ever go through that. And as her father.” He swallowed hard, choking back raw emotion. “It cut me to the core. I knew I had two choices. I could either treat her like a victim; fight to be by her side and comfort her like the little doll she was. Or I could release her into the world and teach her to fight for her own destiny.”
“But to do that, you had to belive in her strength.”
And, in the process, learn wisdom. That was something I could use a little dose of. “How do you feel about getting a wheelchair? You wouldn’t have to use it all the time, just for safety.”
“That’s fine.” Val repositioned his arm but his good leg remained in its open position.”I could use the rest.”
“You’re stuck, aren’t you?” I couldn’t help but laugh, even though I honestly hoped he was not in too much pain.
“Well, after what you did to my leg,” Val said with a laugh. He took a breath and moved his hand to his stiff hip joint, slowing moving his leg back into a normal position.
For a moment, he didn’t even seem sick.
But he was sick. The greatest man I’d ever known was dying and I couldn’t save him.