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    FSELL
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Jamie - The Journey Begins - 32. Chapter 32 Hold my Beer or something...

Trigger Warning, if you need help with loss. please speak out. Lifeline in Australia 13 11 14 or chat @ lifeline.org.au or in the states hopeline-nc.org or +1 877-235-4525

“Hey Skip!”

“Hey you, sexy.”

“I think I’ve found us a house!”

“No way! Really?”

“Yes sir! It’s a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom modern home on 1.1acres. Just amazing! It’s got an outdoor playground area, covered-in huge outdoor BBQ and entertaining area.”

“It sounds amazing!”

“Doesn’t stop there: has a pool with a spa.” Ben’s voice was increasing in pitch and excitement with every sentence. “Shade sails over one end. There is still one-third of the allotment that’s pretty much brush - you can go dirt bike riding out back.”

“Or make an off-road course for my truck, yeahhh?”

“Sure you could, too.”

“Is it in our price range? Where is it?”

“Circle C Ranch - at the end of a lane and a huge land reserve behind it.”

"Oh yeah, dead-end street. Nice not much traffic either.”

“It’s the last lot in the street. there’s undeveloped acreage behind it that’s part of the allotment. The asking price is only just a little outside our range, but the realtor suggested we put an offer in below our limit and see. If they accept it, all good. If not, we can put in a counter if we want to."

“Yeah, I’m in. Do it Ben! Do it.”

“Y’all don’t want to see the place first?”

“Nope! I trust you. Hey it's half yours, so if you like it, I'm in.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you. You won’t regret it.”

I have to say that was the longest 24hrs ever - I think they all were trying to psych us out, see if we'd panic and counteroffer, sweeten the deal before they'd even turned us down.

Our guy called and said were we able to move on the price. Ben told him for a settlement in the fall, we could go a bit higher. It worked, settlement would be in around six weeks.

I can’t tell you how happy we were to get this. And at the price, we were able to hang on to Ben’s place and also mine in Oz. It would be a little tight for the first 6 months, but then, we’d be all good.

..o0o..

Move-in day finally arrived. Ben was all over it - he had most of the house already packed, plus he’d found some pretty reasonable movers as well.

Lucas, Aiden, plus Ben’s brothers, all volunteered with their trucks and a few u-hauls to help us move. Getting started early, it was a very long day, but we’d managed to move everything out and in. Sure, the garage and the front rooms of the house looked like the loading dock of a warehouse, but over the next 6 days, we got it all squared away.

There was enough space in our new home for my stuff too. It was still about 4 weeks away from landing, but how good, right. Ben luckily had arranged for 5 days leave to sort the house out and get his place ready for lease. I was happy to escape to work each day. Boxes, unpacking and cleaning… I was starting to have nightmares about it all.

The only problem with the new place was that I couldn't run to work anymore. I could probably build up to riding a bike in, but I'm not too fond of that on the highways during busy times.

..o0o..

Ben issued me with work orders on the first morning I had off – lol, work orders! – so, I set up outside, out of the way. It was stinking hot already, although Ben was inside with the Air on. It was a Texas summer's day all right. Have to say, thank god we have a pool, really. It’s a smoker today - 105 by 12 noon and it was expected to top out at 108.

After stuffing around with this damn outdoor furniture - which looks so simple, right! - I ended up having most of my hand tools outside to put it together.

After completing one pool deck lounge and the matching side table, I was dry as. ‘Time to down tools and make us both a cold drink.’ Also thought I’d give Lucas a call - he was saying there was a chance he was changing jobs, still with NASA but working out of a defense asset or something, possibly in San Antonio, Austin, or near Dallas. I didn’t ask why - if he could say, he would have volunteered it at the time.

I must have been a sight, -standing in the kitchen butt naked, rotating my hips so my cock was swinging around: ok, I was amusing myself while enjoying the cool air and making our drinks. “Hey Siri… Call Lukey.”

‘Calling Lukey.’ I was calling Lucas Spencer on my I-Phone.

“Hey you - how you going, buddyyyyyy?"

“Hey twin, whaddup?”

“All good here. How’s the world treating you and the lovely Hailey hmm?”

“Fuck, man! This humidity is a bitch today - my balls are melting.”

“Why don’t you guys come over for a swim, dinner, stay… whatever? What’s 2 ¾ hours in the comfort of an Air-conditioned truck, plus you can leave that humid shit behind. Mate, it’s lovely dry heat here today? Plus, Ben’s got the air running, and there’s the pool too.”

“Yeah, not a bad idea. Hold on I’ll go ask the secretary of homeland.”

I could hear muffled voices in the background. “Lucas, I’ll be back in a second - just giving Ben his drink,” I yelled out in the hope he heard me.

“Drink he?,” he laughed. “That’s what you kids calling it these days?”

I laughed. “Just going to ignore that.”

“Hey, Ben-ja-min,” I called out as he walked into the living room. “Jeez, this is starting to take shape.” I looked around the room. “Here, I brought you a cold one, and me.” I gave him a ‘take me to the bedroom’ look.

He kissed my cheek as I leaned in to place the cold glass of iced lemon on a coaster on the table. Yes, I’ve been house trained!

“Thank you. I needed a reason to stop unpacking for a moment.”

“I asked Lucas and Hailey if they wanted to come over - he’s checking.”

“If they want to stay the night I’ve already set up the guest room.”

“Yeah great, I’ll ask. What time can we stop? I can’t wait to go for a swim and do a little BBQ-ing.”

“Let’s give it a couple more hours. Then we can call it for the day. That ok, Skip?”

“Sure, Tex!” And with that, I kissed him and headed back to the kitchen.

Halfway across the kitchen I could hear Lucas yelling out on the speaker, "Oi!! Where are you?"

Quickly I picked up the pace, crossing the room. "Ok, ok… jeez, hold your water, Lucas."

“Ok, we’ve decided to come back, have we?” I wasn’t sure if he was joking about or getting pissy at me. He doesn’t get pissy often - it’s such a surprise when he does. Yeah, it pretty much catches me off guard too - that why he plays it up.

“Hey, sorry man. Just took Ben a cold drink - we got chatting about you guys for a moment,” I offered almost apologetically.

“Haha! Got ya!” he laughed.

“Son of a … you love to take any and all opportunities to take the piss, don't ya?”

“Well, yeah, and YOU don’t, Jamie? Come on, really. Ok, ok... listen, we’re coming,” he offered in an apologetic voice, but I could hear the smirk on his face also. “Hailey asked if the pool’s all clean and ready to go. She’s looking forward to floating around the rest of the day.”

“Yeah, tell her it’s all good to go. Been for a swim already – it’s awesome in.”

“Hail’s… Skippy has been a good pool boy … it's ready to go."

“Smartass – double smartass.” (Skippy and pool boy! Skippy, by the way, is the name of a 70’s TV show in Australia about a kid that lived in a nature park and had a super-smart pet kangaroo… watch it - it’s very 70’s, haha.)

"Then what are we waiting for? Come on," Hailey yelled out.

"Ok honey. Can you grab my stuff, please? I just want to tell Jamie?"

“Tell me what? Is she pregnant? Am I gonna be an uncle? Yay!!”

“No, dufus. We're practicing. Look, anyway, that change of location I told you about is going to happen, so Hailey has been looking at some places online to lease or maybe buy over your way. She wants to drive past a few while we’re at your place.”

“Yeah awesome! There are a few for sale a few streets over - we can go see them. Stay overnight and we can look in the morning. Ben’s got the spare room set up, so come and stay for a day or two. Be nice to hang out and stuff.”

“Ok see you soon.”

“Bye mate. See you.”

Am glad they're coming, but goddamn, it’s hot out!! Lucas will have that air cranked up. For a southern boy, he’s not really into the heat, plus the humidity over in Houston is killing him.

We learned back home on super hot days, you just head out early or late but not in the middle of the day unless you have to, right. I remember going to Queensland a few years ago on a boys’ weekend: the humidity was a killer. Friends said you get used to it, but damn, the first few days were balls hot.

“Ben…Hail's and Lucas are on the way!”

..o0o..

I’d been outside putting the next section of the new outdoor setting together. It was taking forever and I’m pretty good with mechanical stuff. I’ll blame the heat, even though I was smart enough to be working in the shade, but still I was sweating bullets.

Earlier in the day, ok at 0700, I started outside in a tee and my running shorts; now, the tee was gone and only my loose-fitting running shorts remained. Even just with those on, it was becoming rather sweaty and uncomfortable down there, if you know what I mean.

After finishing the assembly of the last pool deck chair, I was done, well for the moment. Man, the hand tools had even slipped out of my sweaty fingers once or twice. ‘Fuck this - gotta cool down!’ I made a line straight to the pool. Whoa, it looked so inviting, so damn cool.

I was about 4 yards off when I slipped off my shorts, taking a few quick steps and doing a front flip into the pool. The sudden change in temperature was exhilarating - I swear there was steam coming off my body as I went under. The feeling of cool water surrounding me as I came off the bottom was just reward of my hours out in the heat. When I broke the surface, I could feel the warm air, well pretty much hot air, surrounding my face and upper body as I swam across to the side of the pool lifting myself out. ‘That was fantastic.’

I was a mix of sensations: the cool of the water was being evaporated up pretty quickly as I’d climbed out the sunny end of the pool and yet, man, the hot sun felt so nice on my back, butt, and legs as I returned to my never-ending assembly project. ‘Next box, please.’

“Jamie, I’ve made us some lunch. Come on in.” Walking in the large open folding doors to the kitchen, Ben spotted me. “Hey, didn’t you have shorts on before?”

“Yeah, I went for a swim, couldn't be stuffed putting them back on. What does my nakedness offend?”

Ben pulled a very funny face at that. “It's distracting,” he teased, pulling a fake face like he’d just sniffed a pair of my socks after riding the dirt bike for hours. (Damn - sometimes they can almost walk on their own, haha.) “But I don’t mind seeing you naked!” A mischievous look spread across his face as he walked over. At first, I didn’t even notice his finger run up my thigh tracing its way to and along my soft cock.

"Hmm, that's nice."

He leaned in quickly, flicking his tongue across my nipple.” Hmm… salty, nice.”

“Oh fuck! I love it when you do that.”

The thoughts of my rapidly hardening cock were broken by his hand working its way up my neck, coming to rest at the back of my head, pulling me down into a long slow kiss.

When we finally broke, let’s just say I wasn’t all that soft anymore.

“Maybe I should strip off and go for a swim too, hey.”

“I’d love to help you out of all your clothes, hmm.”

My hands found the hem of Ben’s tee as our mouths reconnected, only separating for a second while I pulled it off, throwing it somewhere across the room, lol as is my always move.

We were just about to throw down on the summer sofa outside when the doorbell rang, and not once, like 50 times. Lucas always rings every doorbell that: his finger becomes a blur pushing the damn thing so fast. We looked at each other. “LUCAS!” we shouted in unison and laughed.

Ben walked over to my running shorts and pulled them on. “I’m gonna have a quick dip. He’s your cousin - you go get him.”

"With this?“ I asked, as I pointed to the hard-on I was sporting.

“Get a towel and hide it. Go on!” he said as he sprinted across the deck to the pool with a loud splash, followed by a “Ha-hoo!!” as he hit the water.

I grumbled to myself a little. “I was so enjoying that too…” Damn you Lucas, and no he hadn’t stopped ringing the bell. I went via the bedroom, grabbing another pair of shorts - ones that fitted a little tighter - tucking the rest of my hard-on in the waistband of the shorts, and pulled on a tank top to hide the rest.

And no.. he still hadn't stopped ringing the damn bell!

..o0o..

“Hey, Hailey! Welcome. And you, too, doorbell ringer.”

Hailey was wearing a pair of Lucas’ shorts and one of his button-down shirts, half done up, with her swimmers on underneath.

“Hey, lovely.” I kissed her as she walked in. “Ben’s already in the pool,” I signalled with my thumb, pointing out back.

"Ok. That's where I'm going," she replied, pausing to give me a kiss, then waved over her shoulder.

“Hello you,” I smiled at Lucas. “Love’n that doorbell today buddy, huh!”

“Yep!” he smirked as he stepped in, standing in front of me. “Where’s mine?”

"You're what? Brain… life going… beer?"

“No! Hailey got a kiss - where’s mine?”

“You feel’n unloved, there-there.” With a mock smile and all, I replied. “Here you go,” I said, as I kissed his cheek. “Better?”

“Much, thanks. No to the beer, but oh my god, yes to the pool.”

Closing the door, I put my hand on his shoulder as we walked into the kitchen. It's so good that he's secure and comfortable with his sexuality and my choices that he can joke around like that.

There are plenty in our age group and that of our parents that just aren’t, which is sad in a way, but it is getting better with each generation. Shit, the other day I almost got into a fight with some loudmouth who made a "fag" comment when I was buying Ben some flowers to celebrate the anniversary of our first date.

The guy in the florist shop, who would have been mid 50’s, stepped in. ‘There’s none of that here. You can leave,’ he said while booting him out of the store. When I turned around, I was ready to clock the fuckhead, and I’m not one who goes the knuckle, as we say back home quickly.

“Oh Jamie, that pool looks amazing. Maybe I'll…" And with that, he headed out the door toeing his chucks off, stripping off his shirt, and pulling off his shorts.

“Nice yellow briefs, Lucas!” That got me the bird. He looked up across at Hailey like he was looking for something. That’s when I noticed his thumbs tucked into the sides of his briefs.

“No, keep-em on. I’m sure Ben doesn’t want to see your hotdog.”

“Why?” he questioned in a very indignant tone. “What’s wrong with my hotdog? It’s the same as Jamie’s and Ben likes Jamie’s one.”

“Oh Jeez, Lucas. Nothing’s wrong with your hotdog, I like it personally, maybe I don’t want to share your hotdog? Anyways you can’t just walk into someone’s home and expect to strip off, that’s all,” shouted Hailey.

“Wow!” He was get’n all pissy because Hailey won’t let him nude up. “Someone’s cranky and needs a nap.” I laughed walking up behind him.

Arms crossed, he stood with a childlike look on his face.

“DO NOT! And it’s not just anyone’s – it’s Ben and Jamie’s place.”

“Ahh, there, there. Come on.” Quietly, I came up behind Lucas, grabbing the waistband off his thumbs and pulling his briefs down in one quick movement.

“What the…!” was about all he got out before I picked him up and quick walked toward the pool.

“Wait… what…”

The look on his face as we sailed thru the air before plunging under was a Mastercard moment, haha.

“Oh, that feels better,” were the first words out of his mouth when he surfaced. “Thanks,” he cried out as he swam over toward Hailey, where they cuddled in the shade.

"See, if we get a place near Jamie and Ben, we can come to swim all the time, Hails."

“But maybe with pants, Lucas… hmmm? Anyways, I’ve been looking around the area. There are a few places that look good only a few streets away.”

“Jamie said that too… sorry, I forgot to tell you.”

The look of love between them was heart-warming. Love ’em both.

After hours of swimming - getting out and sitting in the sun for a bit then back in the water - we had some ribs that I’d been slow cooking on the BBQ most of the afternoon with a salad that Lucas and Hailey had brought with them. Man, we ate like kings!.

Ben and I had settled on one of the sun lounges, his arm draped along my leg resting on my knee. Every so often I gently kissed the top of his head. We just laid there watching the sun slowly sink to the horizon - man what a beautiful sunset: the sky was filled with oranges and pink-grey hues. If I ever had a single doubt about moving to the US to live with Ben, days like these reminded me why I did.

..o0o..

It started to cool down at about 2300h. Ben and Hailey had gone to bed, leaving Lucas and me out back talking and looking at the night sky. The day’s swimming and mucking around was starting to catch up with both of us too. We both were yawning our heads off.

“I’m gonna have a quick swim before bed. You coming?” I asked, standing up and pulling my shorts off.

“Yeah - great idea,” replied Lucas, standing and doing the same. Both our naked butts headed over to the pool and dove in.

“Man, it feels so nice on a warm night to nude up and go for a swim.”

After swimming around, we both climbed out, towelled off and went inside.

“See you in the morning, Jamie, and thanks for having us over.”

“You guys are always welcome - don’t have to thank us.” Exchanging a quick fist bump, we headed in.

As I quietly walked into our bedroom - trust me my clumsy ninja skills had improved mostly. Okay, sure I tripped on my discarded chucks as I walked into the bedroom, but hey, that’s a huge improvement, right. What was before me was the image of Ben asleep. His face was so peaceful, his chest slowly rising and falling with each breath, the summer sun had given his hair natural highlights his face and chest visible showed a beautiful olive brown tan, against the light-colored bedsheet. Trust me when I say it took me all my powers not to jump his sexy ass right then and there.

We normally didn’t run the air all night as the house stayed pretty cool. It was comfortable with just a sheet to sleep under. I slipped in behind him. Almost automatically, he rolled onto his side as I slid in. Gently kissing the back of his neck, closing my eyes as I laid my head on the pillow, I could feel his body touching mine in a few spots. His breathing was slow and whisper quiet. There was a faint smell of his musk. It was just... it was like the strongest sedative around. Before I knew it, I was drifting off to sleep.

..o0o..

Like some dream I could hear my cell ringing. Half asleep, I looked at my watch: 0503h. As I became more aware, I realized it wasn't a dream. That ring tone told me that was my sister Steph.

As I turned to grab it, Ben woke up. “It that your cell, Jamie?”

"Yeah, Stephanie is calling,” I replied just as I accepted the call. Looking at Ben, I was sure my confusion at her calling was evident because I saw it in his face too.

“Hey sis - everything ok?”

There was silence at first, then a muffled, “Hey, Jamie.”

“Hey, what’s up? You ok?” Her tone hit the alarm within me. Immediately sensing something was up, I was sitting bolt upright on the bed by now.

“Yeah, Nah! Look sorry… for the alarm. Jamie, where are you - at work or home?”

Ben sat up beside me, placing his hand on my shoulder.

“No, I’m home, what’s up? Your kinda freaking me out with that-that voice, Steph!” I kicked off the bedsheet and climbed out of bed.

My eyes darted across the room then fell back to Ben. He was sitting up and looking at me, with the early dawn light just breaking outside silhouetting him. The worry was evident on my face. He came to his knees crossing the bed, his hand resting on my abdomen. I’ve only heard Stephanie like this a few times, it was never good.

“It's DAD!”

Like a truck going down the highway at a hundred miles an hour then slamming on the brakes, the world seemed to stop with those words… it’s Dad!

“DAD? STEPHANIE? What’s wrong with Dad?” I could feel the panic rising.

“Is he… ok? Is there - what’s - has something happened - gone wrong?” I could feel the color drain from my face. The adrenalin was kicking in because I was getting that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Fuck me, she was scaring the shit out of me. My mouth and brain were not on the same page. I could hear the half questions flying out my mouth, not giving her a second to reply. Ben stepped off the bed and was standing beside me.

“STEPHANIE, WHAT IS IT!”

Ben’s face was wracked with shock at my outburst. “Speaker, Jamie… put it on speaker,” he instructed. Taking the cell away from my ear I clicked speaker. We both stood silent. listening to my sister.

“Jamie, is Ben there?” she offered in an almost resigned voice.

“Hey Stephanie, I’m here. Lucas and Hailey are staying with us too.”

“I’m here," a groggy but worried voice came from behind me. "Is there something up with Uncle Rob?"

I looked at him with a stunned, “I don't know.”

“Ok,” I could hear her steadying breath.

“Fuck me, Stephanie. Just say it, please. You're freaking me the fuck out here. What’s wrong with DAD.”

“Jamie, he's had a brain hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital just over an hour ago. He's now in the ICU.”

At that moment, it all stopped. The world spun a lot slower. Sounds become all muffled like I had tissue in my ears. Everything went into slow-mo. I felt like I was in a tunnel. It was the same feeling when Lucas and I had that MVA. The voice of my sister the only thing I recognized at first, then Ben’s voice. The rest was blurred out, but they all sounded distant, muffled.

Then just as fast, like someone stepped on the gas, I was back.

“They’ve stabilized him. Jamie, it’s not looking good. You need to come back here. You need to come now!”

“Wait-what happened, Steph?” I held my hand to my forehead. I was trying to process so much in such a short time. “I don’t get it - I was talking to Dad a few hours ago when Lucas and I were swimming. He was going to play a round of golf with his mates. Mom was going to your place to go shopping with you.”

“Yeah, they were teeing off from the sixth. Dad was walking over to the tee when he stopped, putting his hand behind his left ear and saying, ‘Fuck! That came on fast. Man, that’s a son-bitch headache.’ Next minute he collapsed.”

I was speechless. My hand mindlessly touched my lips. I looked at Ben, dumbstruck. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes. I started blinking rapidly, trying to absorb them - didn’t work.

Lucas was standing beside me, his right shoulder against my left shoulder blade. “Fuck,” he said breathlessly.

I tried to speak, but just a croaking sound came out. Ben jumped in. “Stephanie, it’s Ben. Jamie is struggling a bit. What’s going on? Did they give him any osmotics or antiseizure meds in the ER?”

“Yeah. Luckily, there was a doctor in the next group waiting for the green when it happened. He saw it all and ran to Dad while calling the ambulance. Dad was able to speak for a moment or two, saying his right-hand side was numb, pain behind his left ear. He hasn’t spoken since.”

I started to shake. “Oh god, not Dad. Please god no, not my Dad.”

Ben pulled me against him. Lucas wrapped his arms around us both as Hailey came in, awakened by all the commotion.

Stephanie continued - she was struggling too, pausing every fourth or fifth word to regain some composure. “The ambulance was there in less than 6 minutes. They had him in the emergency room in less than 10. The doctors had been speaking to the guy from the golf course who rode in the ambulance. They gave him some osmotic, ACE Inhibitors, and Antihypertensive meds as soon as he arrived in the emergency room. All of these are used to treat stroke, which seemed to help him.”

“Fuck, poor uncle Rob.”

I just started to shake, almost convulsing.

“I was at their place collecting mom to go shopping when the call came from the guys on the golf course. We arrived a few moments after the ambulance got to the hospital. After he was triaged, they did a scan. The doctors told Mom it looked grim. They showed us to a private office, suggesting we call family while they move Dad up to the ICU. That’s where I am now. I’ve gotta call Kate and Mason, but I wanted to call you first.”

“Ok I’m going to the airport now … call you from there. I don’t know what flights are available, but I’ll get something.” Looking at Ben, I was overwhelmed. It was just so surreal. I didn’t even wait for her to respond. I just hung up. Turning around, I sprinted out of the bedroom and toward the front door snatching up my keys and wallet off the hall stand.

Ben and Lucas started yelling out, “Jamie! Wait up.” I could hear them, but my brain was ‘NO - YOU GET GOING TO THE AIRPORT!’ I couldn’t, didn’t know what he was saying.

“Jamie!!” his hand grabbed my bicep as I was struggling to open the door.

I was somewhat subconsciously annoyed and a little short with him, more frustrated that I couldn't get the fucking key in the fucking lock.

“What Ben?”

“JAMIE, stop! You’re naked!”

I looked down to see – shit, I was naked! I couldn’t feel anything, I couldn’t even tell you if it was cold or warm. “Umm...oh, thanks." I looked at Ben, tears were rolling down my face silently. "I'm sorry… I didn’t … I just …”

“It’s ok. Come on - I’ll help you get dressed and quickly pack an overnight bag. Shhh- it’s ok, Jamie, I know.” Ben led me back to the bedroom. “Let’s get you sorted.”

"I'll check online and see what flights are available."

"Thanks, Lucas."

Within minutes, I was dressed. Ben had, at lightning speed, packed me a bag with my passports, cell charger, toiletries -the basic stuff, you know.

“Ok let’s go. Hailey and I will drive you. Jump in back. Come on. You can call the airline to check see if what I found is available.”

By the time we’d arrived at Austin Bergstrom, I was booked on a non-stop flight to San Francisco, with a two-hour connection to a Qantas flight into Sydney arriving at 0605h local.

We pulled into the drop off at the terminal. It was all so hurried. I only had time to kiss him and run. It was going to be close by the time I cleared security, etc.

..o0o..

As soon as I landed in SFO, I switched my cell on, calling Ben. He was going to give the family my flight details and also keep me in the loop as to Dad while I was flying. There was just one message from him: call me when you land. I was past the whole thinking thing - now I was on automatic pilot. “Hey, it’s me.”

“Stephanie called about an hour ago, he’s in a serious condition. Nothing else. Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I am, I guess. Just made it off the flight from Texas. One of the guys on the flight crew drew me a map in the magazine on how to get across the terminals." I was pretty much jogging thru the terminal when I spotted the check-in counters. "Hey I'm at check-in. I’ll call you back once I’m done, ok?”

“Ok, sure - love you.”

After finding my way to the international terminal and checked in, the airline staff was very helpful and comforting. They set me up in a private meeting room in the lounge where I could call Ben and Stephanie back, Mom was in the hospital, and being in the ICU, couldn't have her cell on her. I sent her a few messages so when she was able to read them, at least know I was on my way.

I called Ben on the club lounge phone. We spoke sometimes, then sat in silence at times switching back and forth till I had to board the flight. Fuck - it was just over 16hrs to Sydney. Man, it was going to be a long 16hrs.

Lucas had called his mom and dad and they’d called Steph. Lucas and Hailey were still at our place, helping Ben. Uncle Reid and Aunt Ann Maire were booking a flight to home, I mean Australia.

..o0o..

My flight was pretty average - not anything to do with the service - they were fantastic. I was just freaking out with every moment not knowing what was going on, how Dad was.

Never been so relieved to feel the wheels touch the ground and taxi to the gate. The short time from touch down to the gateway had me in a sweaty mess. I swear I was rocking back and forth a little in my seat after the Captain said, ‘Welcome to Sydney Australia.’ I'd just spent close to the last 21hrs being helpless and unable to do anything. It was both frustrating to the point of screaming, but also so heartbreaking. I just wanted to sit next to my Dad, reassure him like he's done many times for me before, make him better.

As soon as the first officer announced that everyone could switch their handsets off flight mode now, my fingers were like lightning. I’d put in my Australian sim, switching on my cell. After the longest 30 seconds, it beeped - 3 messages.

My hand was shaking. I didn’t know if I should read them or not: what if it’s bad news? I’m not ready for it to be bad news. My hand was trembling a little, mainly from the adrenaline that was surging. The first was from Ben, asking me to call him when I arrived’ the next was from Mom, thanking me for the messages and that she was looking forward to seeing me - she told Dad I was on my way and that they both loved me so much; the last was from Steph - she was outside the arrivals exit waiting for me.

The cabin crew had given me a priority pass to get through the immigration line and customs. I was entering with my Aussie passport, so I got into the fast lane. I kid you not, my feet didn’t touch the ground from the seat on the aircraft or on the airbridge to the queue at immigration. After that door opened, thankfully, they let me off the aircraft first.

“Welcome back, Mr. Spence-Jamie. Is that all the baggage you have? Anything to declare?”

“Yeah that’s all I have. My dad is in the ICU at RPA. I’ve just flown direct from Texas to get here.”

Max, the immigration guy, looked up at me. “Sorry to hear that, mate. I hope your Dad is ok,” he said as he handed my passport and entry card back over.

"Thanks."

I headed over to Customs where the next lot of lines were forming - six flights had arrived in the last 30minutes, so it was filling up fast. As I was trying my best not to lose my mind waiting in the queue. I was like a 5-year-old that needed to go to the toilet, jumping around shifting my weight from foot to foot.

I saw Max, the guy from before, walk over to a female customs officer with a couple of stripes on her epaulets. She nodded, then made her way over to me.

"Can I see your passport and entry card please?"

I silently handed it over.

“Are you here on compassionate grounds?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s all your luggage?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

"Ok. Come with me, Mr. Spence." She opened the barrier for me. "If you can place your bag here and stand still, I’ll have the detection canine come past you. You don’t have any issue with that do you?”

“No, no - not at all if it gets me out of here faster, please.”

And with that, a cute as brown Labrador came out, sniffed me and my bag then walked off.
"Ok Mr. Spence, just follow me, and you're all done. Here’s your passport." With that, we walked over to a side door.

“Do you have someone collecting you or do you need help with a cab?”

"No, thank you, ma'am. My sister and brother-in-law are waiting for me in the terminal. Thank you for everything - I appreciate it.”

“Good luck, sir. I hope your Father is ok."

And with that I was through. Even with the express clearances and help, it still took close to an hour to get out that door.

..o0o..

As I bolted out the doors of the arrival hall, my eyes locked straight onto Todd and Stephanie. Thankfully, they were there to greet me. No sooner had I spotted them; Stephanie’s face was clear to see. I froze just froze dead in my tracks for a second. My eyes locked on her face. She was expressionless and in shock. Then I knew.

In some sort of zombie walk, I continued over toward them. They were standing out to the side of the ‘no standing area’ - the striped floor area where everyone spills out from Customs Clearance. I reckon I took two steps past the barrier when they both grabbed me.

Stephanie started to cry. “I’m sorry, Jamie.” Todd was kissing her head, reassuring her and me too. The words were spilling out of my mouth like a slowly building flood, over and over, in almost a whisper: “No, please! No, please god, no … not my Dad. Let me say goodbye to him, please.”

My feet suddenly felt like they were made of lead. I was flushed hot and cold at the same time. I wasn't sure if I was going to puke, faint, or run. Todd guided us all toward the exit. Stephanie had her arm around me. Todd was behind us with his hands resting on our shoulders, we were both crying and walking.

When we got outside, not even the cold air made much of a difference. Slowly we walked toward an Uber X. I recognized the driver. It was Vince, the guy that ended taking me to the airport when I left for my holiday in what seemed almost like a lifetime ago. The family kept using Vince for airport runs, even driving them to parties, etc.

“Hey, Vince!” I raised my hand - about all I could offer.

“Hi, Jamie. It’s nice to see you again, just wish it was under better circumstances.”

I just smiled back at him as we climbed in the backseat.

“Steph, what happened? When did it…" my throat was closing in. It felt like I was going to swallow my tongue almost. "…you know, he pass… die?”

My world was crumbling. Those hot flushed feelings were back: I wanted to puke. I was sitting with my head slumped forward. It felt like the world was made of sand, all collapsing around me. A flood of tears was streaming down my face, dripping off my nose.

“This morning, just as we were leaving to come here. He’d had a pretty good night. Was comfortable, but he hadn’t regained consciousness for more than a few seconds at a time. Mom was sitting there with him, holding his hand. Jamie, it was so sad to watch: she kissed it every few moments, telling him how much she loved him, how much we all loved him. to come back to us, please, that you were on your way, you had landed at Sydney Airport.”

“Then from out of nowhere, he spoke. I was standing beside Mom with Katie sitting in front of me. We all looked at dad - his voice was very gravely.”

"Oh, Kate… I love you and the kids.”

Mom replied, "Love you too Robert, we all do.”

“He squeezed her hand, then alarms on the monitors sounded, you could see him just...
In seconds there was ICU staff all over him. They tried for 10 minutes to revive him, but it didn't work. He was gone.”

I couldn’t help it - I was crying like a little kid, my body was shaking, I was pleading inside for mercy - please almighty, mercy! Quietly, in nothing more than a whisper, the words just slipped out of me. "Please God, let me see my dad alive once more. Let me tell him how much I love him. How I aspire to, want to be, just half the man he is - that's my dream.”

My face was burning with pain, anger, loss. “Tell him I'm sorry that I disappointed him in divorcing and marrying Ben, a guy. I'm sure it must have been hard for him, you know to have a son like me, I guess." I turned my face upward for a moment, looking to the higher power for something, a chance to make this right. Instead, all I could feel was burning hot of my face striped with tears almost stinging as they slid down my face. It was like I needed to confess or to make peace with the world.

My hero, the person that I have always looked up to, wanted to be like, was always there to advise but not influence, or give a kick in the ass when needed, he was gone. I’m crushed.

Todd put his hand on my shoulder. “Your Dad wasn't disappointed in you in any way. He was amazed at how much you were like him - determined, kind, and above all, loving and loved. He didn't care if you were Bi or Gay, as long as you were happy and loved by your partner. I heard him say it a few times at the bar when I picked him and Raine up after one too many drinks following their games of golf. Don’t ever doubt how much he loved you all. Even us in-laws. And what do you mean ‘a son like me?’ Jamie, you are an amazing person. You’re the first to offer to help anyone. People confide in you because of your kindness. You like to joke around and don’t mind when the joke is on you. You’re not only my brother-in-law, but one of my best friends.”

I just nodded, not really taking in what Todd had said, wiping my eyes on my shirt sleeves I tried to clean myself up a bit, taking a few short sharp breaths. Then I dialed Ben. When it connected, I couldn’t speak.

“Jamie, are you there? I can’t hear you speaking. I can hear you breathing. Jamie?” His voice was full of subtle panic.

“Ben…” I managed to get out.

“Jamie, I can hear you. You’re in a car. Did you make it? How’s dad?”

“Noooo,” I swallowed hard. “Ben. I didn’t make it. He’s gone. Oh god Ben, why?”

I heard Ben let out a cry of anguish. “Oh Jamie, I’m so…”

“It’s not fair, Ben. I tried.”

“I know … it’s not fair at all, Skip … I know.”

I just cried into my cell. I wasn’t sure if Ben was speaking or anyone. I just needed to mourn. I heard Lucas cry out in anguish in the background too. After a bit, Ben put him on the call. We cried with each other for a few moments - Lucas, Stephanie, Todd, Ben and me. I didn't even know where we were until the car pulled up at the hospital.

..o0o..

Todd and Stephanie took me straight up to the ICU. The staff took me to his bed. It was pretty easy to see, I guess. The privacy drapes were pulled around. It was the only one. I stepped through them. Mom was sitting there beside Dad, just staring at him. It looked almost like she was willing him to wake up, for this all to just go away and dad to say, ‘Hey you!’ to mom, like he always greeted her, but sadly, no... she was suffering from losing her best friend, husband, father of her children, lover, and soul mate.

My parents had their moments, like everyone, but they were few and far between. You could just tell by the connection they had - they loved each other deeply, starting back from their days in university.

They’d unplugged all the wires and shit from dad. He looked like he was asleep. Pale but asleep. The bed was freshly made up; the supportive machines were off and parked back in their places, looking like sentries guarding him. It was so quiet. In those few seconds that I just stood there, all I could hear was my breathing, feel my heart beating in my chest.

“Mom" I almost whispered. She turned slowly, looking up at me. The pain was so clearly written across her face, drained of color, her eyes filled with swirling emotion. Slowly, she stood up - a little wobbly on her feet - I guess a mixture of exhaustion, emotion, and shock. She wrapped her arms around me, holding on to me with such intensity. It felt like lightning shocks almost.

We stood there in silence for I don’t know long, holding each other. I was gently kissing her on the head, murmuring, "love you, mom," over and over as we gently rocked back and forth, side to side.

“Oh, Jamie. I’m so sorry, honey… He tried to wait for you. I told him you were on your way, and when you left San Francisco, then when you had landed. He knew you weren’t far.”

As I was holding mom, she seemed smaller, frail almost, vulnerable maybe; I can't place it, but it was something I’d never thought of about my mom - she was only a few inches shorter than me, but a finer, a lighter frame.

I was pretty much a younger version of dad, as was Mason, to look at us. I was a few inches taller than dad. Mason was just shorter than me. We both had inherited his broad-shouldered frame to fill with muscle. As kids, we were lucky our body types led us to have well-defined abs with little or no work. I'd built on that at the gym, but Mason had taken it to the next level though - it’s about the only thing he gave a shit about. Hence, when he takes his shirt off at the first opportunity, he looks like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, same color hair, too. I remember joking often with Sean that Mason might be Bi too, with the amount of body love he’s got going on, lol.

I remember seeing photos of Dad and uncle Reid when they were young: they were hot as. Shit, can you say that about your mom or dad? Maybe not about Dad, I guess, with all this horror going on. Then the vision of dad just lying there brought be back to reality with a gut-wrenching thud. With all the emotion, mom was verging on exhaustion, her body trembling, shaking a little. I was trying my best to comfort her. I’m not sure if I was helping.

Finally, we broke apart taking a few silent steps toward the bed, sitting down for a few seconds. I just sat there, silently looking at him. His face was well-toned from being outside, but you could see the color had started to drain away, like his life force ebbing away. The grey highlights along the sides of his hair were harder to see - the sunlight had bleached his hair to a lighter shade of brown. He just looked like he was in a deep sleep.

Subconsciously, I had moved forward taking his hand in mine. Slowly, I lowered my forehead to meet his hand. My entire being was wracked with pain and sorrow. The tears that had stopped earlier were freely flowing again.

Mom was gently rubbing the middle of my back like she did when I was little and upset. “You know how proud of you your dad was, right, and how proud I am too, son.” I couldn’t find words to answer her, simply nodding a few times.

My heart was shattered. He’s gone: my hero, role model, my dad…

..o0o..

We kids all met up at mom and dad’s later in the evening. We just stood together, hugging each other in a circle in the family kitchen. The silence was only broken by a few sobs and the odd sniffle: I think it was the first time we'd come together like this since grand-momma Spence died years ago. Maybe we'll all start being more adult. The thought did flash through my mind when I meant ‘we being more adult’ - I meant Mason… ok, and me too, a little bit.

The following 48hrs were a blur, an emotional rollercoaster. I was staying with Adam and Julie at their place. There was a steady stream of my friends that called in. When I wasn’t with company at Adam’s, he would drive me over to mom and dad’s place for a few hours each day, said he wanted to make sure I got there safely, but also it was a time just for us too.

Uncle Reid and Aunt Ann Maire had arrived and were staying with mom. Uncle Reid was pretty busted up - he and dad had always gotten on so well. In a lot of ways, like what I expect Lucas and I will be like when we’re older and more adult.

All I wanted was one person to walk in that door: thankfully, he did just after 7 am the following morning. Vince had collected Ben and brought him over. When he walked in, I just stood still.

Ben dropped his bags and ran to me wrapping his arms around me, pulling my head onto his shoulder, my face was tucked into his neck. “I’m sorry, Skip-Jamie. I wish I could have been with you the whole time.”

My voice, muffled: "It's ok. It was hard enough for me to just drop and run - it's ok."

“Oh Skip, I’m so sorry, about Dad, all of this…” Ben repeatedly kissed the side of my head, gently calming me down, supporting me.

I heard some quiet noises behind Ben. “Hey guys - Adam and I are going to give you some privacy. We’ll be back in a few hours, ok?”

I didn’t - couldn’t - find words to answer Jules. I just nodded and held Ben a little tighter.

“Thank you, Julie-Adam, for looking after Jamie, for being the amazing friends you both are. You are the best people.”

After a few light footsteps, I heard the front door close.

We stood there in place, not talking, just holding each other. But I think in truth, Ben was holding, supporting me. Eventually, we walked back to the spare bedroom I was using, quietly closing the door behind us. I turned, facing Ben. The words just flooded out, without thought or pause. “I’m so exhausted. I’ve missed you so much. Thank you for coming, for all this… this trouble I've put you to."

“Shhh, it’s no trouble. What are you talking about! Of course, I was coming, I love you, Jamie, for good times and in bad, remember? I love your family as much as mine - they are my family now.”

I just nodded. “Can we lay down for a moment, please? I haven’t been able to sleep much since I left Texas.” He nodded and helped me lay down, then big spooned me. I wriggled around a bit as I always do in bed, eventually curling into Ben, his arms and body forming a protective barrier surrounding me while I cried. I could hear his silent tears also. I think at some point, I fell asleep, only waking a few hours later when Hailey came in to see if we were ok. Lucas and Hailey arrived on the same flight as Ben. They were staying with us at Adam and Julie’s. They went straight to mom’s place when they arrived to see her and came when Todd dropped them over to Adam and Julie’s later that day. We’d filled their place to bursting almost, sorry guys.

Hailey had been a huge help. Ben and Lucas were running guard around me and the family.

With Ben here with me, I knew I could get through it now.

..o0o..

In a numb trance, I was standing in my old bedroom at mom and dad’s place a day later. My old double bed had become a makeshift packing and sorting workbench, with three marked boxes on it. I used the old ‘save, donate, rubbish’ method to clear out the last of my stuff with some success as I looked across the bedroom floor at the boxes I’d already labeled, sorted, and filled.


Across the head end of the bed lay my ceremonials/dress uniform, just laying there, all cleaned, lifeless, freshly pressed from their visit to the dry cleaners after the funeral. As I was slipping them into the suit storage bag, there was a knock at my door. “Jamie! it’s Amanda.”

“Hey Amanda - come in.” I stopped packing for a moment, wiping my eyes and face with my hands - the dust must be bad today, making my eyes water a little. The door opened and there stood my old friend and savior from the HR department.

“Hey, Manda. How are you?” I asked as we hugged.

"I'm ok. Called past to see your mom - she said you were here packing up some of your old stuff. How are you going? I love the photo of you all at the service. You know how proud of you all your dad was, right?"

“Yeah, but I’d swap anything just to have him back here, you know.”

“I know. We all feel it, obviously not as much as you guys, but still, Rob, I mean former Deputy Chief Officer Spence - your entire family have been so connected with so many with the service for so long. It's a huge loss for everyone."

“I know. Raine-the chief - and the Honours and Awards guys did an amazing job with it all.”

We just stood there for a few moments, just quietly holding each other, no words needed to be spoken: thousands were by this simple thing, supporting each other.

“So, packing I see, hey!”

“Yep! I was just thinking about the last time I put on the uniform, was one of the saddest, and interwoven moments of pure happiness too. Standing opposite the CFO, at the head of dad's guard of honor, something I’ll never forget.”

“Technically you’re on the books still, just on leave till the term of notice expires which is still a month away, but there was never any question about you putting the uniform on or being a big part of the funeral service. Plus Jamie, that eulogy you gave… I cried for an hour afterward.”

“You’re not going to believe it, but I wrote that in one go. The words just spilled out onto the page. I was just the tool to write them down. After my notice is up, I guess our family will no longer be part of the job hey, all connection lost. It’s that surreal feeling. Even though Dad retired from it, he remained in the system as a retained officer.”

“Sure, during the high summer danger period, he’d always make a stop at my office on the way to see CFO Wilmer, saying ‘time to dust off the turnouts, see how much weight I’ve gained over the winter, hey! Go see what all the fuss was about.’

"Ha-ha, yeah. He loved it. Firefighting was so much of who he was in so many ways. I guess after being in the job for so long, it becomes part of you. Sadly, now there wouldn’t be anyone from our family in the job here now. First time in 35years.”

"True, but there is another generation coming along - Kate's kids. I'm sure Stephanie will have kids or Mason at some point… and you're in the job still, just not here. So you could say the family has branched out, internationally."

“True. Thanks for that, Manda - always the alternate positive perspective. Did you know that during the discussions between mom and the protocols team, Raine sent mom a text -reminded us that Stephanie could wear her ceremonials also if she wanted?"

"Yeah, he'd had a meeting with the guys before they came out to see her. He wanted to make sure everything was all good. It showed: the memorial service went off like clockwork. Have to say your sister looked amazing in her Navy uniform. You easily forget the amazing job and places your sister has served, but one look at those service medals, it becomes quite clear. They looked amazing - the sunlight glinting off of them."

"Stephanie gets a little embarrassed, I don't know why. She has and is serving our country with honor and pride. Ben remarked on how everyone at the reception commented on her 'collection' as we call it. She didn't leave mom's side all day pretty much.”

“Your man looked the goods, too, in his suit. Wow, Jamie - done well there,” Amanda offered with a smile.

“I’m so glad he and everyone was there. The support and love were amazing. It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever lived through.”

..o0o..


 

A huge thanks to all that have helped and encouraged me along this amazing journey, y'all that have read, commented and messaged have been amazing, from the bottom of my heart thank you. This chapter was one of the most challenging ever, it's been deleted, re-written soooo many times thank you for your patience.

To my wingman and in particular my editor, seriously I could and would happily write a chapter of thanks alone, x1,000,000 thank you.

 

Have an amazing week all, and yes the next one is almost ready, not too long ok. John

Copyright © 2018 FSELL; All Rights Reserved.
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A touching and very well written chapter.  Very Emotional, and I can only imagine how hard it was for you to write it.  

 

 

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Jeez John, were you in my husband's hospital room last July? Sure reads like it! I really hate crying at work and had been doing so well. Only difference being is he died of a heart attack, not an aneurysm. Well done. Poor Jamie. At least he has Ben.

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You have a canny ability to connect on an intimate personal, almost a cellular level, and for that I am truly grateful......Thank you for sharing your heart with us all my friend..................Mike

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On 2/26/2021 at 11:39 PM, Terry P said:

 

thanks @Terry P it was a challenge, a good one, but a challenge. There were a few times where I got up and walked away from the keyboard, in parts it just flowed in a burst. So glad you're enjoying the story and following along, it means so much, thank you. have a fantastic week.

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On 2/27/2021 at 1:03 AM, chris191070 said:

What an emotional chapter 

thanks @chris191070 you got that in one, originally this was going to happen when Jamie and Ben were in Paris, but it didn't fit at the time, so it came from left of field as does happen so often. thanks again for commenting and following along, it means so much, have an awesome week, john.

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On 2/27/2021 at 9:34 AM, empresslovesreading said:

Jeez John, were you in my husband's hospital room last July? Sure reads like it! I really hate crying at work and had been doing so well. Only difference being is he died of a heart attack, not an aneurysm. Well done. Poor Jamie. At least he has Ben.

thanks @empresslovesreading I'm sorry it bought up memories of loosing your husband, your doing well I hope. I walked out off my study the night I wrote Jamie's heart felt plea, to a very surprised and worried guy wondering what had happened. I let him read it and he cried too. Hope you have an awesome week, thanks for messaging and reading too, really thanks. john 

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On 2/27/2021 at 11:29 AM, flamingo136 said:

You have a canny ability to connect on an intimate personal, almost a cellular level, and for that I am truly grateful......Thank you for sharing your heart with us all my friend..................Mike

thanks mike @flamingo136, such beautiful words, left me with no doubts on how it was being or is received. thanks again my friend, hope you have an amazing week. john 

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I did write at the time of the chapter Jamie's eulogy for his dad, I'm still in two minds as wether i publish it, maybe as a foot note at the end of the story or maybe a stand alone chapter - appendix maybe, what do y'all think? john 

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5 minutes ago, FSELL said:

I did write at the time of the chapter Jamie's eulogy for his dad, I'm still in two minds as wether i publish it, maybe as a foot note at the end of the story or maybe a stand alone chapter - appendix maybe, what do y'all think? john 

It would be good to read it. Probably as a stand alone chapter. I would imagine it's quite emotional.

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1 minute ago, chris191070 said:

It would be good to read it. Probably as a stand alone chapter. I would imagine it's quite emotional.

yes it is, but its very Jamie, Funny, carefree, a little I'll constructed in some parts and yeah emotional. thanks @chris191070

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That was a difficult chapter to read, I know how Jamie felt being on the other side of the world and having to go home to Sydney for your dad's funeral, my father had already died before I left London and I had my eulogy written with the help of my husband before I left, and reading it was a hard thing to do but you just do it for closure. 

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Wow!  Very powerful and extremely heart-wrenching.  Probably many of us have had to endure similar situations especially with parents.  It's never easy and thankfully, Jaime had friends and loving relatives for a support network.  My heart goes out to you fsell!  This seems to be VERY personal!  Thank you for sharing such a personal and moving experience.  David

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20 hours ago, Bft said:

That was a difficult chapter to read, I know how Jamie felt being on the other side of the world and having to go home to Sydney for your dad's funeral, my father had already died before I left London and I had my eulogy written with the help of my husband before I left, and reading it was a hard thing to do but you just do it for closure. 

@Bft thanks so much for sharing that deeply personal perspective with the loss of your dad, you are absolutely right, when you eulogise someone close to you it’s for closure and a way to say goodbye in front of everyone. A heartfelt thanks to you ❤️ John .

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13 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

Wow!  Very powerful and extremely heart-wrenching.  Probably many of us have had to endure similar situations especially with parents.  It's never easy and thankfully, Jaime had friends and loving relatives for a support network.  My heart goes out to you fsell!  This seems to be VERY personal!  Thank you for sharing such a personal and moving experience.  David

@KayDeeMac hey David, your right. A strong support group of family and friends that are family is the only way to get through the tough times we all face. I’m so blown away with the stories that y’all have shared here about your own experiences, that’s the truly humbling part. And your right there is a bit of us all in what we right, drawing on our experiences to a degree hey. Thank you so much for your kind words too, ❤️ John .

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9 hours ago, FSELL said:

@Bft thanks so much for sharing that deeply personal perspective with the loss of your dad, you are absolutely right, when you eulogise someone close to you it’s for closure and a way to say goodbye in front of everyone. A heartfelt thanks to you ❤️ John .

John, you are welcome, my father and I never had a good relationship as he was a very gruff Scotsman and couldn’t understand how I liked men, his attitude was I just needed a good woman, but I am not wired that way which suits me just fine. Bruce 

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40 minutes ago, mfa607 said:

You did an amazing job with this chapter. Thank you. 

@mfa607 thank you very kind and appreciate it, have an awesome week. 

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