Wednesday’s ski training session was a non-event, as Matt and his buddy arrived late and were later in the weight training rotation. Coach was going around pumping up the team, talking about all the new snow falling this week, and if the winter low pressure system had moved in permanently that they could be on the mountain on the Saturday after next. Jerrod liked the sound of that but knew that while he was here listening to Coach, Roger was at the doctor’s appointment!
Roger called after Jerrod returned from walking Kaiser, sounding neutral. “He thinks it’s probably the start of migraines.”
“What do you mean ‘probably,’ that sounds like he’s not sure.”
“I don’t know. I’m just telling you what he told us. He said similar stuff to what your Mom told you, and sometimes migraines beginning during later teen years.”
“Did he ask you about the visual stuff?”
“Yeah, he wanted to know if I got an aura.”
“That’s what I asked. Apparently, it’s a general term for a wide range of visual symptoms that occur at the beginning of a migraine headache.”
“But you haven’t had a headache.”
“I know, liebling. Go easy on me, okay? I know you’re concerned. We told him what has happened and I’m just telling you what he told us.”
“Okay, I’m sorry if I’m pushing. I’m just worried. If he thinks it’s migraines, how’s he sure? Is there a diagnosis?”
“No, That’s the frustrating thing. It’s basically watch what happens because so far it’s only been some visual events. If they get worse and turn into a headache, then that pretty well says it’s a migraine.
“Did he ask about the visual stuff on one side or both?”
“No. Actually, I don’t think he knows that much about them. He’s our family doctor. He said if the symptoms got worse and headaches started, he could prescribe medicine for migraines, or refer me to a specialist.”
“How is your Mom feeling?”
“Kind of frustrated, too. Like she didn’t get a definitive answer.”
“Me, too. But you know what? I still love you. Maybe even more now than before, but I’m not sure that’s possible. I want you here so I can hug you and kiss you and make you feel better, and then do something with my tongue on the tip of that beautiful cock of yours.”
“You’re making me feel better already,” Roger giggled. “Have you done any reading for English Lit, on contemporary poets, I mean?”
“Only what’s in the textbook, and I didn’t find any too interesting.”
“Be patient. We will. Listen, Mom’s calling me for dinner. I’ll see you at school tomorrow. I love you, liebling. Thanks for caring so much.”
“Love you, too. See you tomorrow.”
Over dinner Jerrod updated David and Jackson, expressing his frustration about the lack of clarity and especially the lack of specific questions by the doctor. “It’s almost like my Mom knows more than that doc, and she’s just a nurse.”
“Well, that may be, but she’s a nurse with a lot of experience with a wide range of patients. She’s probably seen more,” David said. “I’m not very comfortable with the ‘we’ll just have to watch and see if the symptoms get worse’ approach. That doesn’t sound very scientific.”
“Maybe there’s no definitive diagnosis,” Jackson commented. “When I was at the ad agency, we had a couple of products for conditions like that. Meaning there wasn’t a test. You just had to let it get to a certain point where you could eliminate the other possibilities.”
“That’s scary. I’m going to call Mom.”
He came back ten minutes later still frustrated. “There’s a term for what you just described, Jackson, and it’s called rule out. You watch the condition develop and rule out this and rule out that, and finally when you’re left with only one thing you say that’s what it is. That’s science? That’s scary to me.”
“That’s ‘cause you want a definitive diagnosis, and you want it now. I bet your Mom said there isn’t one for migraines, didn’t she?”
He nodded. “But she did emphasize again the visual stuff in one eye or two, and whether there is facial numbness and especially if it’s followed by a headache. Oh, and I learned a new term. Do you guys know what a scintillating scotoma is?”
They shook their heads.
“It’s a jagged line that’s bright and shiny, and most migraine patients have it at the outset of the visual stuff. Not all. Some lose peripheral vision and then get one. Some don’t. Anyway, I’ve got to stay on top of Roger and make sure he’s keeping track of all this stuff.”
The phone rang and David answered it. He waved at Jerrod and said silently, “It’s Roger’s mother.”
She told Jerrod that Roger had experienced another event after dinner when he was walking to his room When Jerrod quizzed her, she said it was the same lots of colored dots and it lasted a minute or so.
“Roger told me what the doctor said today. You’ve got to get him to write down what happens, what it looks like, how long it lasts. Or he can tell you or me so we can write it down, like a diary. Did he say if the dots were in one eye or both?”
“No, he didn’t say, but I’ll go ask, and get him to write down a description of the ones that have happened so far. I see why your Mom says it’s important, going from a few seconds to a minute is a big change, and documenting it will help a specialist understand what’s going on.”
“You’re already thinking he needs to see a specialist?”
“I’m starting to. I wasn’t satisfied with our doctor today, and I’m worrying about it getting worse, too.”
“Okay, get Roger to write a short description of each event that’s happened so far. Then tell him he’s got to keep a diary of them from now on. I’ll talk to him about it tomorrow too, so he doesn’t slack off.”
David and Jackson had been following the conversation and agreed that keeping a diary or log of the events was a good idea. David then said, “Dieter called me this afternoon, and the Cherokee went through mechanical check and got a tune up today and will be ready to pick up tomorrow. How about I pick you up after school and we’ll drive down to the BMW dealership and do the deal?”
“That will be very cool. Can Roger come? Oh, and I’ll have to call Sean’s Mom and tell her I can’t make it tomorrow.”
David nodded, and that was the first thing Jerrod told Roger the next morning. He grinned and they talked about last night’s event. Roger pulled out a composition notebook and showed Jerrod that he’d started a diary and logged each event. Jerrod read the one for the night before and it matched what Roger’s Mom had told him. He decided not to be pushy, but added one comment. “Try to remember to figure out if it’s in one eye or both. I know you’re worrying about other stuff when it happens, but both my Mom and JC said that’s important.”
They met up with Eric and Kim at lunch, who were super envious when they heard Jerrod wasn’t just getting a car, but a Jeep Cherokee Sport. It was a short drive to the BMW dealership after school, and Dieter had all the paperwork prepared and confirmed payment had been received. He showed Jerrod the registration to keep in the glove compartment, and the certificate of insurance to keep in the car. “Because you’re a minor, the title is in your father’s name and he has added it to your family insurance policy. I’ve enrolled you in the defensive driving course this Saturday. It’s a three-hour class in the morning, then two hours of actual driving in the second part. Here’s the address. You drive your new vehicle, and the driving instructor will ride with you in the afternoon.”
David confirmed that Roger knew the route home from the dealership and said, “I’m not going to follow you, or make you follow me. Just be careful and convince me and your Dad that this was the right decision.” Jerrod grinned and said softly, “Trust me, I will.” They said goodbye to Dieter and headed out. It was uneventful and Jerrod pulled into the driveway twenty minutes after David, having dropped Roger home.
“All good,” Jackson asked?
“Easy peasy! It’s a cool car.”
“Dinner will be ready in half an hour or so, and I walked Kaiser when I got home and then fed him.”
“Cool. I’ll start my homework and then it’s my turn for dishes tonight. Then I’ve got to finish my report on Macbeth. Thanks again for letting me use the computer and printer.” Kaiser followed him down to the study.
Jerrod was in front of Roger’s house a little before 8:00 am, so they’d be parked and in class before the 8:30 start time.
Roger was grinning as he slid into the passenger seat. “Morning, liebling! This is way cooler than the bus, and we can leave later, too. I’m loving it already.”
Jerrod parked in the back half of the parking lot already feeling protective about the Cherokee, and wanting to minimize anybody thinking he was showing off about having a car. No one noticed, but Eric and Kim had to see it at lunch and insisted on a ride home. When Jerrod dropped Roger off, he squeezed his hand and said, “See you at 6:00, love.”
When they arrived at the Astren’s home, Roger’s Dad met them at the door and ushered them inside. He grinned at Jerrod and said, “Roger’s in his room, primping for the evening, I’m sure.” He nodded his head down the hall and Jerrod headed that way while David and Jackson were led into the living room.
Roger’s Mom came in from the kitchen and met them warmly. On the mantel piece was a ceramic figurine of Samichlaus, highlighted on either side with evergreen boughs. It was an attractive older man with a longish white beard, wearing a red robe that was covered with an ivory-colored cloak. He was holding two candy canes in his right hand, and his left arm was draped over the shoulders of a donkey that had a bag on its back and a holly wreath around its neck. David smiled to himself, and nodded at the figurine as the turned and said, “You’re honoring the feast with the image of St. Nicholas.”
“Yes,” she replied, “in Switzerland we call him Samichlaus, and we don’t go to church, but you already know the place he has in our life.” She turned to her husband and said, “Will you get their drinks order, and I’ll retrieve the canapes.”
After the dress up approach for his own birthday, Jerrod anticipated how Roger would dress tonight, and was wearing slacks, and light blue shirt with an Escher print tie that his Mom had given him last year. He finished the ensemble with a leather vest and felt up to Roger’s standard. When he walked into Roger’s room, his boyfriend was finishing up tying a bow tie, and he watched him smile at him in the mirror and say softly, “Hello, liebling.”
He walked up behind him and slid his arms around Roger’s waist, kissing the back of his neck, saying softly, “Guten aben, mein sellenfreund.”
“Good evening to you, too. Where did you learn that?”
“From your Mom. We’re soulmates. I wanted to be able to say it to you in a special way. Is that okay?”
“It’s beyond ‘okay.’ It’s amazing.”
Jerrod grinned. “I’m glad. I think I’m going to start calling you selle, for short, if that’s alright with you.”
Roger was grinning widely. “You’re playing the romantic devil tonight, aren’t you? It’s more than alright with me. I think it’s wonderful. I also think it’s special that you’re saying it in German.” He kissed Jerrod again, and when they parted Jerrod leaned back and admired the bow tie.
“I’m impressed that you know how to do that? I’m okay with a regular tie, but that looks complicated.”
“In theory it’s not much harder than tying shoelaces, but it’s harder ‘cause it’s on your neck and you see it backwards in the mirror.”
He turned back to the mirror, pulled everything tight and made sure it was balanced, and turned into Jerrod’s embrace. “I bet they’re all waiting for us in the living room.”
“They are, but one more,” Jerrod whispered as he brought his tongue into play and ran his fingers into the hair at the back of Roger’s head. “I’ve been waiting all day to kiss you and run my fingers in your hair.”
When they sauntered into the living room, hand-in-hand, the adults were chatting away, drinks in hand. They all turned to watch them enter, and Jackson let out a low wolf whistle. “Wow! Look at this. You two look like you just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement.”
They both blushed, and Jerrod winked at Jackson while Roger demurred about wearing fashionable clothing. His Mom said, “Why don’t you both pour a glass of wine and join us, and in a little while we’ll have dinner.” They studiously avoided discussion Roger’s condition, and most of the conversation was about the end of the quarter at school, Jerrod’s defensive driving class the next day, and then both boys doing the first therapy dog training at the Children’s Hospital.
Dinner was a very good sauerbraten with braised cabbage accompanied by an Oregon Pinot Noir which received praise from everyone, including the boys whose palate was now expanding to red wine too. After the table was cleared, Roger’s Mom brought a beautiful Red Velvet cake to the table with eighteen candles.
“I know, I know,” she said. “You’d think he would want chocolate, but this has been his favorite cake since he was a small boy.” She paused, and David saw the emotion sweep across her face. “The cake, being red, also reminds us that today is the festival of Samichlaus, the day we received our beautiful Schatz.”
Roger rolled his eyes, saying softly, “Mom!”
Jerrod giggled and said, “Roger, that’s so sweet.” He looked over at David and Jackson and asked, “Do you know what that means?”
They both shook their heads, and Roger blushed, squeezing Jerrod’s hand hard. “It means ‘treasure.’ Isn’t that cool?”
David and Jackson knew Roger wanted this discussion to end, and David said, “Yes, it’s a lovely pet name.” Then seeking to turn the tables, Jackson said, “So, Jerrod, does Roger have a pet name for you?”
Jerrod grinned softly, but didn’t blush when he said, “I already told you he does. He calls me liebling. And his Mom knows, too!”
David picked up the cue and turned to Roger, “And has Jerrod determined the appropriate pet name for you? I’m aware that he certainly has been trying a lot of them on for size.”
Now it was Jerrod’s turn to blush, but he looked at Roger and smiled. His eyes beamed when Roger said, “Yes, just tonight he called me sellenfreund, which means soulmate. And he calls me selle.” He turned to his parents and said, “I think that’s wonderful, and thanks for teaching him the German, Mom.”
When they moved back to the living room and were seated, Roger’s parents offered after dinner drinks to the adults. “You boys have had two glasses of wine, so that’s enough alcohol for one night. Can I offer you Perrier Water or Ginger Ale?” They both opted for Perrier, and on his return, Roger’s Dad looked at his son and said, “As you know, we typically don’t go overboard on gift giving. However, tonight is different. We don’t mean to bring up a difficult subject, but what you’ve been going through has us concerned, and we were impressed with the insistence of Jerrod’s father that he get a mobile phone with all the driving for skiing. So, we are giving you one also, so that you can call us or Jerrod or David and Jackson if there is ever a problem.”
He handed Roger a small box, and after opening it, he went over and hugged his parents. “That’s so cool. Thanks. I know you’re worried. I know you’re all worried, but Jerrod keeps telling me it’ll be okay, and somehow I think I can count on what my liebling tells me.”
When he sat back down next to Jerrod, he gave him a hug, and as they sat back on the couch, Jackson stood up and handed him an envelope. Roger’s eyebrows rose and he smiled and then opened it to find a gift certificate from Abercrombie & Fitch.
“Now I know where that earlier comment came from. Are you guys hinting that I don’t dress coolly enough?”
“No, no,” Jackson said, “just that A&F seems to cater to cool and good-looking guys like you two, so why not. There is one requirement, though?”
Roger grinned. “And that is?”
“You have to model whatever you purchase for David and me,” Jackson said, smiling wryly. “That probably means you won’t be buying some of those tight boxer shorts that are suddenly all the rage…but who knows!”
They heard Roger’s Mom titter into her hand and his Dad chuckle.
“Very cool, guys. Thank you.”
“And this is from me.” Jerrod slipped a small rectangular box into Roger’s lap.
The blue eyes flashed, and Roger wiggled his eyebrows. “I can tell it’s hip already.”
“You’ll have to see.”
He opened the box to find a Swiss Army Watch, the model with the red bezel around the crystal and with a black strap. “Wow! This is so cool”
“You can ditch the Timex. I couldn’t believe that a cool guy like you, born in Switzerland, wouldn’t be wearing a Swiss watch. Anyway, I couldn’t afford the Rolex Oyster model, so this will have to do.”
“This is more than cool. Thank you, liebling!” He leaned over and gave Jerrod a quick kiss. They leaned back on the couch, and as Jerrod watched Roger replace the Timex with the new watch, he found himself wondering if it would ever be possible to kiss his boyfriend in a group of adults that included his parents.
Once the watch was on, Roger snuggled up against Jerrod and the conversation resumed until David and Jackson said they had to go, and reminded the boys not to stay up too late in as much as Jerrod had an early start for the defensive driving class. “It’ll be just like a school day. Up early. Don’t worry about Kaiser tomorrow. We’ll take him for a walk in the morning. He’ll probably be stir-crazy by late afternoon, so you can take him out again when you get back.”
After David and Jackson left, the boys thanked the Astren’s for a special evening and headed down to Roger’s room. Once the door was closed, they embraced again, and Roger softly thanked him for the gifts. “You guys are spoiling me, you know.”
“That’s okay, you deserve it, birthday boy. Now, do you know what’s going to happen?”
Roger’s eyes widened and he softly shook his head his blonde hair waving in the air.
“You’re going to sit on the end of your bed and watch me undress. I don’t dance very well, so it’ll be a pretty poor striptease compared to what you did for me. But I’m guessing by the time I’m done you’ll be hard in those clothes.” He grinned and slowly began undoing his vest and tie, then removing his shirt, kicking off his shoes and socks, watching Roger watch him.
“Okay so far.”
He pulled off his belt and twirled it around and then slowly pulled the zipper on his slacks down and let them begin to slide down his legs, rotating his hips as his briefs came into view. He was stroking his chest and belly the way Roger had, and their eyes were holding each other’s.
Roger said softly, “You’re almost hard already.”
“That’s because of you,” Jerrod whispered back, as he pushed his briefs down over his hips and stepped out of them, standing naked in front of his boyfriend. Roger extended his arms, and Jerrod stepped forward into an embrace that immediately had him feeling Roger kissing and then licking his nipples.
“Slowly, don’t rush,” he said softly. “Now stand up, and I am going to undress you in a way you won’t forget because it’s your birthday.” He proceeded to ever so slowly remove Roger’s clothing, interjecting a kiss or lick after each piece, till he got down to his boxers.
“You’ll look even sexier in some of those A&F boxer briefs.”
Roger was fully hard now, straining against the boxers and seeping through them, and gasping as Jerrod softly stroked down his sides and across his belly. Hooking his fingers into the elastic, he pulled them over Roger’s hips and watched in pure pleasure as the cock sprung free, standing away from his body, fully erect.
He glanced up at Roger’s pleading eyes as he dropped to his knees, licked up the underside of Roger’s hard penis and said, “I love you, but we’re going slow tonight. Before we’re done, you’re going to fuck me again. So, get ready, because I want you inside me.”
Later, when they were both sated and had collapsed on the pillows, Roger pulled Jerrod tightly to him, whispering his thanks and describing how wonderful it had felt. Jerrod listened happily, pleased he’d been able to make it so pleasant for his boyfriend. He pulled him close and whispered into his ear, “ I love you, mein sellenfreud, I love you totally.”
Roger kissed him, and as he started to fall asleep, he heard Jerrod say, “Sleep well, mein selle.”
The alarm went off early, and it did feel like another school day. Roger got up with him, but didn’t shower, saying he was going back to bed when Jerrod left. Roger’s Mom had breakfast prepared for him, and by 8:00 am he was on his way to the defensive driving course.
The longer the classroom part went on, the more Jerrod appreciated how much different this was than taking Driver’s Ed at school, which now seemed to have spent most of the time on traffic laws and driving the vehicle, and not that much on defensive driving. The introduction described the purpose of teaching safe driving strategies to enable the driver to address identified hazards in a predictable manner. The focus moved to anticipating situations and then making well-informed decisions, and being able to implement them consistent with road and environmental conditions. That part certainly applied to driving up and down Mt. Hood, and he realized how much he’d taken for granted in past years when other parents were doing the driving to go skiing.
They spent quite a bit of time on traffic crashes and deaths, and he was surprised to learn that in 1996 in the US over 5,800 teenagers died in automobile crashes. That number got his attention, and then the lecture moved on to psychological factors that negatively influence driving and allow drivers to become distracted. The list included things like stress, fatigue, emotional distress and road rage. The next section was on human factors such as driving under the influence and how disastrous it can be because judgment, inhibitions, motor skills and senses are affected by drugs and alcohol. The pictures of crashes caused by drunk and high drivers was almost sickening.
Having made an impact about how deadly auto crashes can be, the lecture turned to the dynamics of a crash and how most can be prevented because they result from a series of events that include a combination of speed, driver’s decisions, place of impact and size of object being impacted—all of which determine the severity of the crash. Jerrod wasn’t just thinking about Roger and Eric and Kim, but also about Kaiser as the discussion turned to the concept of the second collision, in which the driver, and other passengers, collides with the windshield, seat or other object within the car when not wearing a seat belt can be just as dangerous as the initial collision.
He grabbed lunch at a fast-food place nearby, worried about how Roger was doing, and was back by 1:00 pm for the driving part. He found himself assigned to a nice middle-aged man who was all business. They went through safety equipment, centering on seat belts and how many people still don’t wear them. The instructor stressed the need for passengers to wear them and pointed out the back seat had three sets. The drill was to create the habit of snapping the belt in place before starting the car. Then as they began driving, the conversation was about crash prevention techniques - knowing how to avoid traffic crashes and recognize potential hazards before it's too late. Jerrod hadn’t driven that much, so actually having the instructor point out looming potential hazards, like pedestrians starting to emerge from behind bus stops, cars likely to make left turns in front of him without signaling, cars approaching from the side going fast enough to raise the question of if they’d seen him and would stop in time, all began to build the defensive mentality.
The instructor then changed places figuratively, making Jerrod scan the roadway and describe potential hazards and then adapt and adjust. He got a new lesson on the two-second rule for the following distance behind vehicles ahead, and then he realized that the instructor had directed him to the road around the parking area at the convention center. There they spent time getting to know the Cherokee's stopping distance at different speeds, becoming aware of reaction distance and getting him comfortable with how sharp a turn the suspension would safely handle at various speeds without swaying or losing traction. After some practice of imaginary vehicle passing, to understand how the Cherokee accelerated, he stressed the need to know and be comfortable with the Cherokee’s clearing distance in order to pass another car and safely return to the lane. When they got back to the training facility, they lifted the rear floor and inspected the spare tire and noted that Dieter had equipped it with reflectors in case of a break down or getting stuck in bad road conditions.
Finally, he said, “What do you think?”
“I think I learned a lot. At least twice as much as I thought I would. I guess I took most of it for granted because I’ve been a passenger for so long.”
“That’s a common problem for new drivers. Also, most people just don’t test and understand the limits that their vehicle can safely operate under. Until you have a feel for what those limits are, you can’t really be confident you know what you’re doing is safe. Safety is paramount not just for you, and other drivers, but for your passengers as well.”
“Don’t I know that. Did you think I did okay?”
“Yes. This isn’t a driving test on a course. We’re conveying practical information and it’s up to you to put that info into practice. You paid attention and appear to be serious about it, so I think you’ll do fine. Since this vehicle is new to you, spend some time in the next week or two focusing on understanding its capabilities and limits. That will increase both your confidence and make you a better and safer driver. Add that to a broadened defensive driving approach, and you should do fine.”
That left Jerrod plenty to think about on the way home, and then he took Kaiser for a long walk at Oaks Bottom Park. When they returned, he fed Kaiser and both of them went to his room so he could call Roger on their new mobile phones. Roger immediately quizzed him about the defensive driving course, and he gave him the highlights, including the realization that his Dad had been right, and he had understood far less about driving defensively than he now understood. He asked about Roger’s day.
“Are you still in post-birthday bliss. Like loving that you’re now eighteen?”
Roger gave a somewhat lame answer, and Jerrod was right on it.
“Selle, what happened today?”
“I had another one of those visual events this afternoon.”
Jerrod’s worry at lunch had been that this was three days since the last one. “Tell me what it was like.”
Roger described it as dots plus multi-colored spots that lasted a little longer, like maybe two minutes. “I’m pretty sure it was only in one eye.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just closed one eye, then the other, and it seemed to just be in one. It’s not as easy to tell as it sounds.”
“I know, love. I’m only quizzing you because I care about you. You know that don’t you?”
“I do, and I love you, too. And, yes, I did write it down. I added another entry in the log.”
“Good for you! Do you want me to come over and provide you with a little entertainment? I’ve got wheels, you know!”
“I love the idea of the entertainment, but I’ve felt kind of spacey this afternoon and just feel tired now. I think I should go to sleep early. I just don’t have a lot of energy, and want to be ready for tomorrow at the hospital. What time are you guys picking me up?”
’We don’t have to be there until 1:00 PM, so I’ll pick you up… I mean we’ll pick you up, at noon. Who knows what the parking scene will be like at Doernbecher Children’s. It’s up on Pill Hill with Oregon Health Sciences University and the parking has to be complicated. Plus, we have to find our way to the right part of the hospital.”
“Okay, liebling. Give Kaiser a hug for me, and I’ll see you at noon tomorrow. Love you.”
As he pushed the end button on his phone, Jerrod realized that for the first time since they’d been together, Roger had said no to getting together for some sex play. He must really be feeling down.
He told David and Jackson about it after dinner, and David said, “And?”
“And I’m worried. It’s happening like every three days, and it seems to be amping up a little each time. First just dots, then dots and multi-colored spots. It’s getting a little longer each time too.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I want to call Roger’s Mom later, after he goes to bed, and find our if she’s going to get him to a specialist.”
“I think that’s the right thing to do next. I am still in touch with a student from Lewis & Clark that went to medical school and is an emergency medicine doc at Oregon Health Sciences University. I can call him if you want, or at least know he’s a resource.”
Jerrod was quiet, and Jackson said softly, “That’s good to know, but you know what? We’re not his parents. They’re concerned and responsible. We have to be careful that we don’t step on their toes. Jerrod, you’re going to be there tomorrow before you go to the hospital. Why don’t you talk to his Mom then? It’ll seem more natural that way.”
Jerrod smiled ruefully and agreed.
Jerrod purposefully got to Roger’s house a few minutes early and walked up to the door and rang the bell. Mrs. Astren answered and asked him in, and then called for Roger who said he’d be down in a minute.
He followed Roger’s Mom into the kitchen and said, “I know you’re his Mom and I’m only his boyfriend, but what are you going to do?”
“What do you mean ‘only his boyfriend?’ You’re his soul mate. You’re part of his life. No secrets, as they say. I am worried, and I’m going to call our doctor tomorrow and ask for a referral to that specialist as soon as possible.”
“Oh great! I was so hoping that’s what you’d say. I can drive him if it’s more convenient or whatever, okay?”
“I’ll let you know. I don’t even know how soon we can get in.”
“Get in where?” came from the doorway in Roger’s sing song voice.
Jerrod immediately thought to himself, ‘he sounds back to normal,’ and his Mom said she was calling the next day to make an appointment with the specialist.
“You two aren’t plotting, are you?” He was smiling, and his innocent-looking blue eyes were sparkling.
“Yes, selle, we are. Because we both love you so much and we want to figure out what’s going on.”
“I know. Speaking of ‘going on,’ hadn’t we better be going on? Is Kaiser out in the car by himself, getting freaked out and lonely and stuff?”
“Yeah, we’re out of here. Did you have lunch?”
“Late breakfast. I’m good. Bye, Mom.”
Parking at Doernbecher was complicated since the lot was small, and they ended up on a residential street two blocks up the hill from the hospital. But it wasn’t raining, so it wasn’t so bad. Kaiser was wearing his Therapy Dog vest, and when they got to the Information Desk, they were directed to an elevator to take them down two levels to the basement, where there were signs on the wall directing them to a large open room where the sessions were being held.
The same lady that ran the qualification test was conducting the training, and she introduced herself and then had the eight owners with their dogs gather in a circle and introduce themselves. Jerrod and Roger were the only teenagers, and most were middle aged, a few men, the rest women. It turned out that much of what they would be doing was the same as what they’d gone through on qualification day, the difference being that they had real human volunteers, so this session was planned to simulate real events.
The training was designed to both work on necessary skills and determine which dogs and owners needed work on which particular skills. The instructor said they’d be covering twelve necessary skills, and would do so in three parts. She or her assistant would work on each set of skills one at a time with each owner and dog, the rest of the group watching. “It’s important to understand why we’re doing it this way. You will almost never be here in the hospital as the only therapy dog team. There will usually be at least one, possibly two other teams at work the same time. On top of that, circumstances and patients can be very different. So, you need to understand what good training and behavior looks like, and understand that like the rest of life, we’re all working on getting better at what we do together. None of us,” and here she waved her hand across the entire group, “are perfect at everything. But we all understand and encourage and assist each other… because we want to be as good as we can be for the patients.”
“All right, let’s begin. I’m going to ask Janet and Coco to be our first team. We’ll go through five necessary skills, and I want you all to watch closely, see how they do, ask yourself how you and your dog will do, and what you can learn by observing these other teams.”
Janet and Coco walked out to the open area at the end of the room, and the instructor took up a position in the middle of the room. Then she said, “First is a gentle walk on the leash. Walk Coco down to me, circle behind me and then walk back to where you began.”
Coco was sitting next to Janet who gave a gentle tug on the leash and both started walking toward the instructor. Coco stayed at the same pace with Janet till they circled behind the instructor. Then Coco seemed to want to stop and smell the instructor and was suddenly behind Janet and being tugged. The instructor pointed out the problem and asked them to do it again. This time Coco did a better job. Turning to the group, the instructor said, “You can see why it’s important that your dog learn that when they’re walking on the leash they heel and stay with you instead of getting distracted or wander off.
Another staff person walked into the middle of the room, and the instructor moved to the wall and said, “Now, this is approaching a stranger. Janet, walk down to Sue with Coco and stop in front of her. The goal is no charging or jumping up.” Coco did it very well, though she was excited, and her tail was wagging.
When Janet and Coco returned to their starting spot, another staff member appeared and the instructor said, “Now we’re testing for general touching and handling. Barbara will walk down to you, kneel down and start to touch and handle Coco.” Coco did well here, too, apparently liking people and liking being rubbed and petted. The next skill was unknown objects, and the instructor walked down to Janet and knelt in front of Coco and then pulled a brush out of her back pocket. Coco flinched and when the instructor tried to brush her, she backed up before she relented. “We’ll have to work on this. It may be she has a negative association with brushes, but patients can hold any number of things, and all therapy dogs need to learn not to resist being touched with an object.”
Jerrod and Roger had been smiling at each other, pretty certain that Kaiser would ace all of these skills. On the foreign object test they suddenly weren’t so sure. The last skill was a five second hug, and one of the staff members walked back down to Janet and Coco, knelt down and embraced the dog and pulled them in for a five-second-long hug. The dog looked a little nervous, but pretty well stayed in place. Jerrod wiggled his eyebrows at Roger on that one, knowing Kaiser would love it and confident in how compliant he was.
When it was their turn, Jerrod handled Kaiser, and they both did great on all the skills except the foreign object. That was new to them, and while Kaiser just flinched, he initially acted nervous and then settled down, and Jerrod knew they’d be working on that skill during the week.
The next set of skills was Sit and Down commands, Come on command, and Drop It/Leave It on command. Kaiser was called first, and Roger handled him, and he performed perfectly. Jerrod thought, ‘Thank you, Angela.’ All that early training paid off.
The last skill in that set was walker and wheel-chair approach, and Roger had Kaiser Sit next to him and a staff member came toward them with a walker, purposefully clanking it noisily on the floor. Roger whispered to him, “Stay, Kaiser. Good boy. It’s cool.” Kaiser watched curiously and barely flinched when the walker stopped next to him and the staff member leaned over and petted his head.
The surprise for the wheel-chair test was that a child about twelve years old appeared in the wheel-chair and wheeled it down to them. Kaiser hadn’t seen a wheel-chair before, but he’d been approached by Sean and many other children, and just watched with great interest as the child approached. When the chair stopped in front of him, his eyes were bright and his eyebrows cocked, and when the child reached out her hand to pet him, Kaiser naturally stood up and put his head in her lap. Everyone applauded, and Roger beamed.
All the other teams rotated through that skill set, most doing well. They then moved on to the last set, where Jerrod was handling Kaiser again. It began with neutral dog interaction. The door at the far end of the room opened and a staff member walked in with a dog neither he nor Kaiser had seen before. The goal was to walk toward each other, pass each other without interacting, then turn around and repeat. Jerrod tightened the leash just a hair and said, “Kaiser, Heel!” and although he could feel the excitement through the leash as they approached the other dog, Kaiser remained in Heel, and also did so on the walk back. Then they turned, stopped and he had Kaiser Sit/Stay. The staff member with the dog walked to them this time and stopped two feet away. She said Sit/Stay, and her dog did. Kaiser’s tail was wagging furiously on the floor, but he held position until the instructor said, “Good job,” to them.
Jerrod looked at her and said, “Can they say hi now?” She nodded and he said “Release” to Kaiser, who stepped up and rubbed noses with the other dog. Then came the noisy crowd test, which Kaiser aced. All the staff members descended on him at once oohing and aahing, petting and rubbing him, and it was just like when he met a bunch of kids at the park. He was wagging his tail and wiggling around, and finally ended up on his back getting his belly rubbed. The last skill was taking a treat with no snapping, in other words gently taking it from the person’s hand. This was really important, because even if the owner gave a patient an approved treat for the dog, if the dog didn’t take the treat gently, it could scare or injure the patient. Kaiser had an amazingly soft mouth, and delicately took the treat from the staff member’s fingers.
When all the teams had gone through the work session, the instructor called it a day and announced that the group of teams had all done well, and gave each team a short list of the skills they needed to work on. The following Sunday they would each be paired up with an experienced team, and work with them and real patients for three hours. That resulted in three different start times, and Jerrod and Roger were assigned a start time of noon.
On the drive home, the boys were elated. Their training work had paid off, and their dog had not only performed well, but had demonstrated an aptitude for the work, and in fact a love for it. When they got home, David and Jackson couldn’t wait to hear how it went, and as Kaiser ate, they wanted a recap of the entire event.
“You’re invited to stay for dinner, Roger, but I’m guessing with school tomorrow…”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve got homework. I was going to do it yesterday, but I had that event and just couldn’t get my head into it.”
“No worries,” Jerrod said, “I’ll drive you home.” He looked at David and Jackson. “I’ll be back in half an hour. I can help prepare dinner. You know, I’ve got to put those knives to work!”
They talked about the day and the skills on the drive to Roger’s house. After Jerrod pulled up to the curb and shut off the engine, Roger leaned over for a kiss. “It was a great afternoon.”
After a few seconds of tongue play, Jerrod finally said, “Yeah, it was. Kaiser was great, but we knew he would be. You know what I thought was the best part?”
Roger raised his eyebrows, widening his blue eyes.
“It didn’t matter if it was you or me handling him, he was just as good for both of us. You know why? Because we’re soulmates, and he knows it!”