TIMELINE AND NOTES: Post powers. I was cruising through the desert one morning, listening to one of my older tapes (much older), and this song came on. I just couldn't resist, I am a complete sucker for a sad song, or a sad story.
Alone until my eighteenth year, we met four springs ago.
She was shy and had a fear of things she did not know.
But we got it on together in such a super way,
We held each other close at night, and traded dreams each day,
And she said:
"Rocky, I've never been in love before,
Don't know if I can do it.
But if you let me lean on you,
Take my hand, I might get through it."
I said "Baby, oh sweet baby,
It's love that sets us free.
And God knows if the world should end
Your love is safe with me."
* * *
Rocky DeSantos was bored. Very bored. The Turbo Rangers were off somewhere, fighting something, the other various former Rangers were off somewhere, doing something, and he was bored. And lonely. And a bit depressed, truth to tell. This was such an unusual state of affairs that Rocky had no idea how to deal with it. He was still under doctor's orders not to engage in martial arts, he had graduated from high school, college didn't start for several weeks, and he had not found a job yet. He was walking to the grocery store to pick up a few things for his mom mostly because he needed to get out of the house, and had no ideas for anything else to do. Once at the market he quickly located the items and made his purchase. He was just leaving the store when a poster caught his eye.
"MAKE THIS SUMMER ONE TO REMEMBER!" the poster proclaimed. It announced a special volunteer task force was assembling to renovate the back portion of Angel Grove Park. The ten acres adjacent to the park were undeveloped, and there was never enough town money left over to allocate for park improvements. The first meeting would be that evening.
Rocky contemplated the sign for a few moments, then made a decision that would forever change his life. He decided if he couldn't find someone to pay him for his time, at least he could give it away.
That evening as he approached the high school library, where the meeting was to be held, Rocky realized that for the first time since his accident he felt like himself again. His pace turned jaunty, and a half smile quirked about his lips as he pushed through the doors he had so recently thought he would not be seeing again.
A group of about fifteen people had assembled. Rocky took a seat near the middle of the room and looked around. It was an interesting mix of ages, sexes, and races. An African American woman of perhaps sixty was seated near a red haired man who appeared to be in his late twenties. An Asian teenager was talking with an Indian man whose long hair was completely gray, while a couple who looked to be in their forties listened in. Rocky didn't recognize anyone, but in a way he preferred that. It appealed to the part of him that wanted to make a fresh start as he headed determinedly into adulthood.
A rugged man with steely blue eyes and curly black hair took up a position near the front of the room and called for attention.
"First thing, I want to thank each and every one of you for showing up this evening. If you decide to stay with us you can expect a couple of things. You will work very hard. And you will have a tremendous sense of satisfaction with the end results, which will be enjoyed by generations of children to come. Provided of course a monster doesn't destroy the place." This generated a round of chuckles. "I think we should take a few minutes and introduce ourselves. I'm Steve Rogers, I'm an architect here in town, and this project is pretty much my baby. I grew up here, I spent a lot of time in Angel Grove Park, and I want for my children to be able to spend time there. Now, let's start with you there, and work our way around the room. Just tell us your name and a little bit about yourself, and what skills you may bring to our project," he indicated the young woman sitting in the left front corner to start.
She boldly stated her name, and rattled off some of her skills. Rocky listened intently, wanting to be able to address everyone correctly. When it was his turn he stood up and looked around.
"I'm Rocky DeSantos, I moved here a few years ago from Stone Canyon. I graduated from high school in June, and am enrolled for the fall semester at Angel Grove University. Um...I don't really have any construction skills, but I can work a hammer, a shovel, and generally folks just really enjoy telling me where to go and what to do," he concluded to a round of laughter.
"Glad to have you with us, Rocky," Steve laughed. "We can always use someone with those skills."
The last person was a girl who looked to be about eighteen. She stood up, but looked down at the floor mostly as she spoke. "My name is Laurie Porter, and I just moved to Angel Grove two weeks ago. I took a surveying class last summer." She sat down abruptly.
"Well, welcome aboard. Surveying is something we will definitely be needing," Steve said. "Now, let me outline the general plan...."
Rocky left the meeting a couple of hours later fired up and ready to go. They would all be meeting at seven the next morning to begin. Steve was a winning combination of master organizer and motivator. Rocky suspected that if he had asked it, the group there would have started work at midnight. And he had already experienced a feeling of growing unity in the group. He knew he was going to enjoy this project.
He was debating going to the Juice Bar for a smoothie when he spied a slender figure up ahead. Rocky had been a bit intrigued by Laurie Porter, though it was hard to get a good look at her face the way she always kept her head down. He felt oddly drawn to her. Perhaps it was her shyness. He had always been drawn to shy people. Adam. Billy. Katherine. All shy in their own ways, all more than worth knowing. He made another of those quick decisions and jogged up to her.
"Hey, Laurie? Care to join me at the Juice Bar for a smoothie? We can discuss the project a bit, I'd like to hear about that surveying class you took," he gave her his most winning smile.
She looked up and offered a tentative smile in return, then looked down again. "I...I...I have to go straight home. But thank you anyway," she said softly.
"Which way is home?"
"Cool, I can escort you at least partway. If you don't mind, that is," he smiled again.
"No, that's okay. Thanks," she was obviously flustered.
Rocky had found what he considered his surefire way to put shy people at ease. He ignored their shyness and treated them as if they were as bold as he was. So he launched into a discussion of the upcoming project, letting his enthusiasm take over, but making sure to ask her questions and seek her opinion often. As they walked along he found she seemed to be loosening up some, and he finally got to see her full-fledged smile, and the sparkle in her clear gray eyes. He was completely captivated. That evening he knew one thing for certain: Laurie was going to be part of his future.
* * *
The project went much as predicted by Steve Rogers. The volunteers worked very hard, all day. They cleared the shrubbery and debris, leveled the ground, laid sod, built swings, shelters for tables, benches, and did landscaping. During that time they all learned to use some heavy equipment, lifted several tons of rocks, mastered basic surveying, and basic carpentry. Rocky, as was his way, quickly made friends with everyone.
He made two discoveries during those weeks. He now knew what he wanted to do with his life. He was fascinated with Steve's plans for the park. Every aspect of them. He pestered Steve continuously with questions, much to the older man's amusement and appreciation. He had taken a liking to the outgoing youth, and fancied he saw a bit of himself in Rocky. That the young man was interested in architecture as a career pleased him immensely. So, he spent hours talking to Rocky, encouraging him to pursue this as a career. Rocky had every intention of doing so.
His other discovery was of a slightly different nature, but nonetheless he knew it was vital to his future. He was in love with Laurie. No longer as shy around him, she let him see her true personality: sweet, caring, intelligent, diligent, loyal, and with a surprising spark of off-kilter humor. Rocky knew he was in love with her as absolutely as he knew his name. They spent most of their time with each other, wherever one was working, the other would be close by. He couldn't recall ever actually asking her out on a date, they simply started spending a tremendous amount of time together.
She was also enrolled in the fall semester at AGU, they even discovered they had a class together. Rocky felt the touch of serendipity in their growing relationship, and he knew just what he had to do.
On the day the group celebrated the completion of the renovations to Angel Grove Park, Rockwell DeSantos asked Laurie Porter to marry him.
She said yes.
* * *
Rocky stood near the entrance of the church looking round with a combination of nervousness and excitement. Adam stood beside him, not speaking, just lending moral support, as was the duty of the best man. Tommy and Billy, acting as ushers, were busy seeing the guests to their seats inside.
Rocky couldn't believe how much his life had changed in such a short time. Giving up his Ranger powers, graduating high school, starting college, finding a career, and falling in love. Now getting married. The first of the gang to do so. Hard to believe, considering he had been so spectacularly unsuccessful with the girls in high school.
Everything had come together so neatly it was almost frightening. Thinking that he had to smile, remembering a conversation he had had with Laurie a couple of weeks before....They had gotten together to go over the wedding arrangements, and to make a couple of last minute decisions. Then, as was their usual routine, they settled down on the couch to cuddle for a while. Their first semester of college was nearing an end, and both were pleased with how they had done. They would get married during the semester break, then a quick honeymoon, and back in time to start the next semester. It was a pretty frantic pace, but they didn't want to wait until the summer.
Rocky had both his arms wrapped around Laurie, and he sensed she was upset about something.
"What's wrong, Baby? Do you feel okay?" Having grown up with numerous sisters, Rocky was pretty well attuned to the female psyche.
"It's nothing, Rocky. Really. It's just silly," she replied softly.
"What's silly? Please tell me, I promise I won't laugh."
"I'm afraid," she whispered.
"Of what? Of me?" he asked.
"No, of course not! I'm....I'm afraid of being in love. I know that is ridiculous, but I am. What if something happens? What if our love doesn't last? I just know I couldn't survive that," her voice was hard to hear, she was speaking so softly.
Rocky gently turned her face so she could see him. "Baby, no matter what happens, I will always love you. Nothing can ever change that. The world could come to an end, and I would still love you. Believe that, our love cannot be destroyed."
She smiled at him, suddenly confident. "Thank you. It's good to know I can depend on you and your strength. With your help I won't have anything to fear." She leaned into him and kissed him eagerly.....
"You okay, Rocky?" Adam's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Oh, yeah. Absolutely," he grinned at his oldest friend.
"Good, cause it's time for us to go on in," Adam told him. They shared a smile, then headed into the crowded church.
Forty minutes later Rocky and Laurie DeSantos emerged to begin their life together.
* * *
We had an old gray house, and you would not believe the way
We'd work at night to fix it up, took classes in the day.
Painting walls and sipping wine, sleeping on the floor.
With so much love for just two, soon we found there'd be one more
And she said:
"Rocky, I've never had a baby before,
Don't know if I can do it.
But if you let me lean on you,
Take my hand, I might get through it."
I said "Baby, oh sweet baby,
It's love that sets us free.
And God knows if the world should end
Your love is safe with me."
* * *
Laurie and Rocky got their best wedding gift from Steve Rogers. He had a rundown old house that he had bought with the idea of renovating. He made a deal with the DeSantos that they could live in the house rent-free if they did the renovations. Rocky jumped at the chance to work on his skills, and Laurie loved the idea, seeing great potential in the ugly little house. They eagerly accepted his offer.
So each day they attended classes and did the bulk of their homework. The evenings were devoted to renovations on their little 'shanty shack' as Laurie dubbed it. They lived on their savings, Laurie's income as a tutor and occasional job word processing term papers, and Rocky's occasional work on Steve's construction jobs during holiday periods and summer vacation. They lived frugally, setting aside funds whenever possible to tide them over when they didn't have any income. They didn't have a lot in the way of material possessions, but the small house was rich in love. And that seemed to be all they really needed.
In addition to renovating the house, Rocky was also building a lot of their furniture, including a queen-size bed. They purchased a queen-size mattress and bedspring set on sale, and just tossed it on the bedroom floor for the time being. Rocky had already drafted up the plans for a tall four-poster bed, something Laurie had always dreamed of. He planned to have it competed by her next birthday, as a gift to her.
It was six months after their wedding that Laurie began to feel sick and sluggish. She found it hard to stay awake in the evenings, her attention wandered during class, and her breakfast more often than not ended up in the toilet. She finally became concerned enough to set a doctor's appointment.
She met Rocky after his last class on the day she saw the doctor. Rocky's heart almost stopped at the expression on her face, and the signs of tear tracks on her cheeks.
"Laurie! What happened, Baby?" he asked, pulling her into a firm embrace, unmindful of the crowds of students milling about.
"I just finished at the doctor's office," she murmured.
"What's wrong? Can they do something for it?" he queried, worry evident in his tone.
"Not really. We are going to have a baby," she said quietly, joy and fear at war on her face.
Rocky did not experience such contrasting emotions. He had only one reaction to the news. Pure alloyed joy. He picked Laurie up in his strong arms and swung her around in an explosion of ecstasy. "We're going to have a baby!" he exclaimed, eyes bright with happiness.
At his evident joy, Laurie allowed herself to experience the happiness she knew she should be feeling at that moment. Rocky set her down and studied her face intently.
"What's wrong? Aren't you happy about this?" His voice held no accusation, just concern.
"Yes, I am happy. But I'm also scared half to death. I don't know anything about having a baby, or raising a child. And can we afford it? How will we continue classes and have a child? What are we going to do?" Once started, her fears spilled out in a rush.
"What we are going to do is: we are going to have a child. We will make each decision as it arises, and we will find a way. We are young, intelligent adults. We will find our way, Laurie. We have to. I'm not being flip about this, but I just believe that no matter what happens, as long as we are together we can do anything. We are in this together, we will get through it together, and everything will be okay." His quiet conviction heartened Laurie. She looked up at him with shining eyes.
"Thank you. Sometimes I guess I forget how much we can do together."
"Just ask me, and I'll remind you," he replied, taking her in his arms and kissing her gently. "Come on, let's go celebrate!"
* * *
Laurie's pregnancy was for the most part free of any complications or problems. Outside of morning sickness at the beginning, and a mercifully brief period of worry when one of the prenatal tests came back irregular, she enjoyed a reasonably stress free pregnancy. Because they were both full time students with limited income, they found they qualified for some medical insurance from the state. They had decided Laurie would take the next semester off, figuring it would give her at least until the baby was seven months old before she started classes again. A local business, in need of having records transcribed, hired Laurie to do that at home, providing a little extra income the young couple needed desperately. Rocky decided to enroll in summer classes, and increased his class load so he could graduate early.
Their families pitched in and provided many of the needed supplies for a baby, such as a crib and changing table. Between Rocky's sisters and old friends, and Laurie's friends, she had three baby showers, providing enough of the necessities to carry them through the first year. They redoubled their efforts on the small room that would be the nursery so it would be ready for the new arrival, who was expected around the first of February.
The months sped by as their lives seemed to focus on the upcoming addition to their happy home. Laurie managed to finish the semester with a nearly perfect grade point average, and Rocky did almost as well in his courses. They had gone out after the last day of the semester to celebrate quietly with a rare treat for them, a restaurant meal. The place they chose was small, reasonably priced, and very good. They laughed, talked, and held hands like newlyweds, earning smiles from the other patrons, who couldn't help but enjoy the sight of a couple so in love.
That same night Laurie awakened Rocky at a few minutes to midnight. "Rocky! Rocky, wake up."
"Huh, wha...what's up Honey?"
"I think the baby's coming. Ow!" she moaned as a pain hit.
"Oh! Now? But it isn't due yet," Rocky muttered.
"Well, apparently he or she doesn't know that. Call the number by the phone and tell the service the pains are about ten minutes apart and pretty hard. Then we need to get dressed and to the hospital. Get moving, Rocky," she was extremely focused on what they needed to do, and Rocky had to chuckle at the command in her voice.
Once at the hospital things moved forward so quickly it rattled even Rocky. Laurie was lucky enough to be one of those women who had a body perfectly made for having babies. Her labor was, for a first baby, remarkably quick. Three hours after they arrived at Angel Grove Memorial Hospital, Laurie and Rocky welcomed their daughter, Kelsey Marie. While the doctors weighed and measured and examined Angel Grove's newest citizen, Rocky started making phone calls to announce the arrival of their child. Despite the fact it was a bit shy of four in the morning, friends and family soon crowded the reception area.
Back in the maternity ward, Rocky cradled Laurie and Kelsey in his arms, and offered a silent prayer of thanks for the family he had been blessed with.
* * *
We had lots of problems then, but we had lots of fun,
Like the birthday party when our baby girl turned one.
I was proud and satisfied, life had so much to give,
'Til the day they told me that she didn't have long to live,
And she said:
"Rocky, I've never had to die before.....
* * *
"Rocky, would you please quit with that banging! I just got her to sleep," Laurie came into the living room from the nursery and glared at her husband, perched on a stepladder.
"Sorry, Babe, I just wanted to get this trim up. We are so close to being finished, and I'm getting kind of anxious to see how it all turns out," he admitted sheepishly, climbing down and coming toward his wife.
"I understand, Rocky. But you aren't the one who has to transcribe 200 pages of notes by Friday. I need Kelsey to sleep as much as possible. And maybe you could do some of the baby tending chores for a while, too."
"Okay, I'm sorry, I will," Rocky replied, hearing the sheer exhaustion in his wife's tone. "Would you like to rest now, as well? Is there something I can do for you?"
Laurie sighed. She loved Rocky, no doubt about that, but he could be so exasperating. He would promise to tend Kelsey, but would get distracted by work on the house, or homework, and she'd end up doing it. "You could actually notice when Kelsey awakens, and maybe give her a bottle, change her, and take care of her this afternoon. I would like to go to the library and work there. It's quieter, and I won't be distracted. We need this income right now."
A quick flash of anger in Rocky's eyes showed how much he hated that they were now dependent on her little income. He hadn't gotten any work recently, and things were financially tighter than usual. It was amazing how one tiny person, who didn't even eat food yet, could throw their budget all out of whack. It ate at him that he wasn't able to provide for his wife and child as he believed he should. But he also knew, intellectually at least, that his education would pay off more in the long run. That didn't make the present reality that much easier to take, though.
He stifled the anger, and answered evenly. "Okay. I can do that. You go on, we will be fine."
She looked at him suspiciously. "Are you ticked off that I want to go to the library?"
"No! It's fine. We can use the money. And it is distracting around here. Go on."
"You are mad! Why? Rocky, what is with you these days?" Laurie asked, sounding angry herself.
"Nothing! We are living hand-to-mouth, partially on the generosity of our parents, and you have to go to the library to earn a pittance so we can continue to eat, even though you look so exhausted you could collapse at any time. What could be wrong with that?" His voice rose with the release of his anger.
Tears shone in Laurie's eyes, despite her own anger. "Fine! I'll stay here and rest! So I don't finish the job. We can borrow some food from our folks next week. Would that make you happier?"
The hurt in his wife's eyes diffused Rocky's anger like a puff of smoke in the wind. He reached out to her, drawing her into his embrace. She stiffened with reluctance at first, then let herself relax.
"I'm sorry, Babe, it's just that I want to be able to give you so much more. If I had my way I'd be earning enough to support you and Kelsey in style. We'd be living in our own home, with real furniture-not this homemade crap. We'd eat food we liked, not just what's on sale that week. We'd have a decent car, get cable channels on TV, and not spend every spare moment working or studying. We'd even go places on the weekend, to the beach or mountains to relax. That's what I want our lives to be. Not you having to spend hours doing tedious, boring typing for a paycheck that will keep us in macaroni-and-cheese for the next week."
Laurie sighed against his broad chest. "Sounds like a wonderful future, Rocky. It's what we are paying for now, don't you see? And when we have that life, we will look back on this time as a fond memory. It will be okay as long as we work together. I don't mind the house, the furniture, our car, the mac-and cheese. I do mind the fights," she said softly.
"Point taken," he answered with a kiss to her forehead. "If you think you can stay awake, you better head on to the library. I'll tend the princess, I promise."
"Okay, for an hour or two at least. You might consider resting a bit, too."
* * *
When Kelsey was five months old Rocky and Laurie finished the renovations on the house. Steve Rogers did the final inspection and was elated with the job.
"Rocky, Laurie, this is fantastic! You did a marvelous job. And so quickly, too. I expected it to be at least a few months more before your could finish. Now I can get this on the market-quite frankly I have already had a friend who was interested, wants to move to this neighborhood." In his enthusiasm Steve did not notice the looks on his companions' faces. The only way they had been able to make it financially at all was thanks to not having to pay rent.
"That's great, Steve. We'll...ah...we'll start looking for a new place," Rocky kept the worry out of his voice by force of will.
"Hey, why don't you grab the little one and come with me? I've got something to show you," Steve offered.
They ended up on the other side of town, in front of a rundown, two story house. Rocky and Laurie almost held their breath, not daring to hope...
"Interested in another project? This one is quite a bit larger, though it is in better beginning shape than the one you just did. Three bedrooms, two baths, a den, same deal. You live here no rent, do the work to renovate it. Interested?"
Rocky wanted to kiss the man. Glancing at Laurie to see her look of relief, he turned to him and extended his hand. "Absolutely. Thank you for this opportunity," Rocky couldn't help himself, he pulled Steve into a brief, hard hug. "Thank you so much!"
Steve chuckled, pleased with the success of his plan. He had a genuine, deep fondness for the young DeSantos family, if he could help them in any way, he was more than willing to do so. "I'm the one who should be thanking you. You do excellent work at a very reasonable price," he grinned.
Within three weeks they moved into the new house, and began planning and prepping for the work to be done there. Steve's friend did indeed buy the house they had just finished, and when escrow closed Steve surprised the young couple by presenting them with a check for 20% of the profit he made.
"Whoa, Steve, this is a lot of money! Are you sure about this? You didn't add an extra zero or something?" Rocky was flabbergasted by the amount. Steve chuckled and shook his head. Rocky continued to stare at the check in disbelief. "I'm not sure about this, Steve. I mean you paid us by letting us stay there free. That is what we agreed on."
"So, consider this a bonus. Rocky, you deserve this. You did an outstanding job. A lot of folks in your position would have worked slowly, extending the benefit of no rent. You didn't. You worked hard, gave me far more than my 'money's worth'. You take this check, and put it to good use. Laurie is going back to school next semester, isn't she? And you took classes this summer instead of working, didn't you? Well, then, I'm sure some extra money will come in handy eventually. And don't sell yourself short, young man!"
"Thank you," Rocky murmured, touched by the man's generosity and faith in him.
* * *
When Laurie resumed classes in the fall, their lives got even more hectic. She continued to do transcribing, Rocky continued renovations on the house. The University provided reasonable day care, so at least that wasn't a problem. But between work, school and study they had precious little time for anything else.
However, when Kelsey's first birthday approached, they made the time for an outrageous birthday party. They knew it wouldn't mean that much to Kelsey, but they decided to use the opportunity to have a bunch of their friends over for a barbecue, a luxury they seldom allowed themselves.
The Saturday of the big party found a crowd of almost thirty people in the DeSantos' large back yard. Though the house was still very much undergoing renovations, they had spruced it up as much as possible and Rocky took friends on the 'grand tour', outlining all the work that needed to be done.
"Rocky, how in the world do you find time for all this?" Adam asked in amazement.
"I just find it. I love working on the house, I enjoy school, I love my wife and daughter, not in that order, mind you, and I just find a way to fit all three into the day."
"Explained in typical Rocky fashion," Billy chuckled.
"Well, there's no science to it. It just gets done," Rocky retorted.
That generated a round of chuckles. It was the first time in a long while that the former Rangers had a chance to get together. Rocky was enjoying catching up with his old friends, most of whom were also students at AGU. There had been a couple of marriages, though Rocky was the only parent in the group so far. The former Rangers were all happy to see how well Rocky's life was turning out, how much maturing the young man had done. He wore the mantle of 'Husband and Father' proudly and well.
The day passed quickly, by evening Rocky, Laurie and Kelsey were alone, save for Steve. Laurie took Kelsey to her room to put her down while the two men spoke quietly.
"Rocky, your work here is going very well. You are an incredibly quick study when it comes to this sort of work. You are planning to graduate in a year, right?" At Rocky's nod he continued. "I want to offer you a job with my firm. You'd be working construction for a while, and apprenticing in the architecture end, but I expect you will advance quickly given your skills." He quoted a starting salary that caused Rocky's jaw to drop. "Talk it over with Laurie. You don't need to give me an answer right away. In fact, as your friend, I would advise you to look into other firms, just so you have an idea of what's out there. I just wanted to be first in line," Steve smiled.
Rocky, for one of the few times in his life, was rendered speechless.
* * *
Near the end of the spring semester Laurie began to complain of feeling tired and listless. Her final grades for the spring were not as high as she had expected, due to her lack of energy. All too often she would fall asleep when she was supposed to be studying. She hoped taking the summer off would help.
Rocky encouraged her to see the doctor, remembering a previous time when her energy levels lagged. "Is it possible that Kelsey may be expecting a little brother or sister?" he asked her.
"I don't think so. We have been careful, and I haven't missed a period yet. But you're right, I'd better go see the doctor just in case. But I really hope that isn't the cause. I'd like to finish my last year before adding to the family," she replied.
So she went to the doctor the next week, hoping he could at least prescribe some vitamins or something to pep her back up. Rocky had just walked in the door after class when he heard the phone ringing.
He didn't recognize the voice at first, in fact he almost hung up thinking it was a prank call when all he could hear was heavy breathing. Then one word made it through. "Rocky?"
"Laurie? Babe, it that you?" Rocky's heart leapt into his throat at the horrible sound of his wife's voice. "What's wrong?"
"Please come. Please. I'm so scared. Please," she sobbed.
"I'll come right away. Where are you?" he asked frantically.
"The doctor's office. I need you Rocky, please hurry."
"I'm coming, just stay right there." He ran out the front door and threw himself into the car. He ignored every speed limit as he raced to the doctor's office. Parking in a handicapped space because it was the only one available nearby, he raced into the reception room where he was met by a nurse who took him to an inner office, where he found Laurie holding Kelsey in her arms and crying.
He hurried to her side and took her in his arms. "What's wrong? What's happened? Are you okay? Is it Kelsey? What?"
"Just hold me, please," she requested, tears still flowing down her face. He took her in his arms without question, knowing if she was this upset she wouldn't be ABLE to tell him anything until she was calmer.
"Whatever it is, we will be okay. We will get through it," he said softly to her. Oddly this seemed to make her cry harder.
He continued to hold her, offering her comfort as well as he could. She still hadn't told him what was going on when the doctor arrived.
"Ah, good, you are here Rocky. Now we can discuss what is going on, why the tests are needed."
"What tests?" Rocky asked.
"Oh, she hasn't told you yet. Would you like me to explain what is going on, Laurie?" Dr. Greene asked her gently. He had gotten to know them during Laurie's pregnancy with Kelsey.
She nodded mutely, holding tightly to her husband.
"Laurie is exhibiting some pretty serious symptoms. I want to check her into the hospital for a couple of days to run some extensive tests. It may be nothing, but we need to be sure."
"When do you want to do the tests?" Rocky inquired.
"I'd like her to check into the hospital today. The sooner we find out what may be wrong, the sooner we can begin treatment," he explained.
Rocky now understood why Laurie was so upset. There was something so frightening in the way the doctor wanted to start the tests immediately. Despite his calming words and manner, it was obvious he suspected something might be seriously wrong.
"Can we have a couple of minutes to discuss this?" Rocky requested.
"Absolutely. I'll be back in a while." He laid his hand gently on Laurie's shoulder as he left the room.
Rocky held Laurie silently, wrestling with his own fears for a moment. Then gently spoke to her.
"I think you should check into the hospital now, tonight. Let them start their tests first thing in the morning. We need to know what is wrong for certain, before we panic. I'll stay with you if you want. All day and all night if needed. It'll be okay, Babe, it will. We just have to find out what we are facing. Okay?"
She looked up at him with fresh courage in her expression. "You're right. I may be panicking over nothing. And I agree. We need to know right away, or I'll go crazy worrying over it. Let's have Dr. Greene help us make the arrangements."
They waited with new determination for the doctor to return.
* * *
Two days later they sat together in Laurie's hospital room, again waiting for Dr. Greene. He had told them he would meet with them regarding the test results then. Laurie was pale and anxious, but much calmer than she had been a couple of days before. They didn't speak, but held on to each other with a desperation that belied their outward calm.
When Dr. Greene arrived they had only to look at his expression to know the news was not good. They sat together in stunned silence as the young doctor explained that Laurie had a particularly virulent form of leukemia, one that had been resistant to any sort of treatment so far. It was well advanced, and completely untreatable.
She had at most four months left to live.
* * *
Laurie had insisted that they maintain a normal life for as long as possible. Rocky attended classes and worked on the house. Laurie did her transcribing job and raised their daughter. They told their families what was going on, but put off telling their friends until it became too obvious that something was definitely wrong. Two and a half months after the diagnosis, Laurie knew she was running out of time faster that they had expected. She was terrified of the idea of dying in a hospital, surrounded by machinery and cold, sterile efficiency. She wanted to die at home.
As her strength waned and her death neared, she kept Kelsey at her side as much as possible. The little girl, just starting to walk unsteadily, was innocently unaware of her mother's illness. Her joyful face, untouched by sorrow or worry, was a constant source of joy to her mother. Kelsey had inherited her father's more outgoing personality, and her mother's clear, charcoal gray eyes.
The doctor could provide medication that kept the pain to a minimum, and had arranged for a hospital type bed, which was easier on Laurie once she became bedridden. Each night after putting Kelsey to bed Rocky would join Laurie and hold her while she tried to sleep. Then came the night she simply could not get comfortable, no matter how hard she tried, or how much medication she was given.
She was restless in Rocky's arms as he held her, noting with sorrow how very thin she had become. Her skin was almost translucent, stretched over her fleshless figure. Laurie's mind wandered now and again, yet always coming back to the present. She seemed to realize the end was very near.
"I'm sorry, Rocky, that I'm leaving you alone with Kelsey. Please tell her I'm sorry, when she's old enough. Tell her how much I love her, how much I have always loved her. Please?"
"Shhhh, I'll tell her. I promise. I love you, Laurie Leah, I always have and I always will. You rest now, you need your rest," he soothed her.
She finally grew still and quiet, and Rocky held her in his embrace, listening to her breathe, until at last that soft sound ceased. With tears streaming down his face he kissed his wife goodbye.
* * *
Now it's back to two again, the little girl and I,
Who looks so much like her sweet mother sometimes it makes me cry.
I sleep alone at nights again, I walk alone each day.
And sometimes when I'm about to give in, I hear her sweet voice say,
"Rocky, you know you've been alone before,
You know that you can do it.
But if you'd like to lean on me,
Take my hand, I'll help you through it."
I said "Baby, oh sweet baby,
It's love that sets us free.
And I told you when the world would end
Your love is safe with me,"
* * *
Time seemed to blur for Rocky as he sought to realign his life after Laurie's death. He attended classes, dropping Kelsey off at day care before the first one and picking her up after the last class. He tended her mornings and evenings, doing his homework after she was put to bed, working on the house on the weekends. Both his and Laurie's families had offered to help the young man, but motivated by something he couldn't quite explain, he refused their help. With literally every waking minute occupied by some task or another it was easy to avoid thinking about how much he missed Laurie, how much he hurt.
As per the plan he had made two years before, he graduated one semester early. Steve Rogers honored his offer of a job, telling Rocky he could start three weeks after he graduated. He wanted Rocky to take some time off in between to relax, so he gave Rocky a small signing bonus. Steve felt a pang each time he looked at his younger friend. The pain in those expressive brown eyes was so obvious, so unremitting, it tore at his own heart. He wished he could do something to help Rocky through this time, but was well aware that except for offering the support of a friend, there was nothing he could do.
Rocky spent the three weeks working on the house, losing himself in the work he so enjoyed, stopping only to take care of Kelsey. Some might have considered it a waste of a vacation time to spend it working, but Rocky was doing the two things he enjoyed most in the world. He was a content as he could be under the circumstances.
On what would have been their third wedding anniversary, Rocky took Kelsey to visit Laurie's grave. As the active, beautiful child wandered around the gently sloping lawn, Rocky spoke quietly to the woman he loved.
"Hey, Babe. Kelsey has sure mastered walking, hasn't she? She's talking much more, too. I think she's going to turn out to be a chatterbox like her dad, which I suppose serves me right. I realize now I must have driven my parents nuts. I start work for Steve next week. You won't believe how much more money I'll be making. I found a good day care place for Kelsey, interviewed a couple before I decided on this one. The house is coming right along. It will probably take another year at least to finish it. I don't have the time like I used to, and now that I'm working I'll probably have even less time. Steve says he doesn't mind, thank God. I really don't want to have to move right away."
He paused and looked over at his daughter who was contentedly picking dandelions. "I miss you," he started, a sob suddenly choking his voice. "Oh, damn, I miss you so much. I've tried and tried to keep up the faith, keep being strong for Kelsey, but sometimes I feel like a part of me died when you did. I don't know how I am supposed to face the next sixty years or so feeling this way. Why did you have to die? It's not fair. Not fair to you, to me, or to Kelsey. Already she asks questions, where is her mommy? When can she see you? I tried to explain, but she is too young still. Then I hurt all the worse for being unable to help her. Sometimes I just don't know how I am going to make it alone."
He wiped at his eyes quickly, not wanting Kelsey to see him crying. She was old enough to be upset if her Daddy was upset, but not old enough to understand why. As he stood there at his wife's grave, watching their daughter, Rocky suddenly felt a peaceful presence, heard a soft, gentle voice he recognized instantly.
"You are not alone, Rocky. You never will be. Nor will Kelsey. I will always be here, always be a part of your life. You can do this Rocky, you can go on alone. You have the strength to make your way in this life, and make a good life for our child. But whenever you feel you can't, reach out for me, and I will be there. When I was alive you always let me lean on you whenever I needed the strength to face something. Now it is your turn to lean on me. You were right, you know. About our love never ending. It never will." The voice seemed to fade away, but left behind a measure of the peace and acceptance that the young man so badly needed.
"Thank you," he whispered, tears glistening in his eyes as a smile began to crease his face. "I told ya so!"
Calling out to his daughter, they made their way out of the cemetery and toward the future, which somehow looked just a bit brighter.