Fraser's flight to Toronto was only two days away now. Fraser's apartment wasn't wheelchair accessible so he had no choice but to trust his friends to pack for him. It didn't take more than an afternoon, and with all of the Mountie's possessions safely stowed in boxes, the apartment didn't look much emptier than it had before.

 

It irked Fraser that he could not supervise the process, but he had to be satisfied with delegating that job to Ma Vecchio. She gave the uneasy Mountie her word, on the heads of her grand-children, that all fragile items would be carefully cushioned in biodegradable packaging, every container would be labeled in detail and all the boxes would be of uniform size.

 

Early in the evening, Ma, Francesca and Ray arrived at the hospital, each with an armload of containers full of food.

 

"You shouldn't have come after working hard all afternoon," Fraser protested, as they all trooped through the door of his hospital room.

 

"Tell me about it," Ray groused, "I wanted to take them out to a restaurant but Ma said there was no way she was letting you eat anything but her own cooking."

 

"We only have two more suppers together," Ma pointed out.

 

"Ma, we could have come get Fraszh and taken him to a wheelchair accessible restaurant," Francesca said.

 

"Tomorrow night," Ma said, firmly. "For his last night in Chicago I mean his last night for the time being until he's ready to come home again."

 

She was busy uncovering containers as she said this, her back turned to Fraser and Ray. The men exchanged a look. Ma's assumption was that Fraser would be back in Chicago after a few months of recuperation in Toronto. In fact, she and all of them knew the Mountie's future was uncertain. Fraser had sensation in his lower body now, but motor control still eluded him.

 

"We're having a celebration tonight," Ma said, once she had all the lids off the food, paper napkins and plastic cutlery arranged along Fraser's window sill, and paper plates handed out.

 

"Yeah, we're celebrating that Frannie didn't break anything of Fraser's all the time we were packing."

 

"Fraszh didn't have any breakables. Everything's made of tin, I swear to God," Francesca muttered.

 

"Children, children, we're celebrating that Benito is well enough to travel. He'll work hard at his physiotherapy . . ."

 

"Yeah, he always does," said Ray.

 

" . . . and before we know it, he'll be back on his two legs and home again."

 

"Knowing Benny, he'll insist on walking all the way down from Toronto," Ray put in, trying to reinforce his mother's attempt to set a light hearted mood.

 

They dug into the food, Ma preparing a plate for Fraser and bringing it to him in bed. With his strong arms, he was able to swing himself between wheelchair, bed or chair, but it was a tiring exertion and he did that as seldom as possible in the course of a day.

 

When the women's attention was away from him momentarily, Fraser beckoned Ray to come sit near him. "Stay with me for a minute alone just before you go. I have something to tell you," Fraser whispered.

 

Ray squeezed his friend's arm in response and stood up quickly.

 

As it turned out, Ray didn't need to employ any subterfuge to get time alone with Fraser. When they were all finished eating, the mess disposed of, and the leftovers safely covered up again in their containers Ma said to Francesca. "Come, Cara, we'll take these things back to the car and let the boys have some time together."

 

"Awwww," Francesca groaned, mostly for show.

 

Ma planted a kiss on Fraser's cheek, "Be brave, Caro."

 

The women gathered up plastic containers in their arms and went out.

 

Once they were safely gone, Ray sat down on the end of Fraser's bed. "I don't know how I got through that Benny. I thought I would it would kill me."

 

"Now, Ray. Your mother means well. And she's spent more time with me in the hospital than anyone. Granted, she had the time available since she doesn't have a full time job, but . . ."

 

"No, Benny. I mean, this afternoon. Packing up your stuff when you weren't there. It felt so wrong. Like something evil was happening."

 

"In what way?" Fraser frowned.

 

"I can't explain it logically, it was just wrong. Like you had died and we were getting your belongings. It felt so permanent. You're not coming back, Benny. We both know it."

 

"To that apartment, you mean? Certainly not."

 

"You know that's not what I mean."

 

Fraser had been sitting up straight, but now he leaned back. His bed was in its most upright position, but he still needed a number of pillows to support him if he wanted to remain close to vertical. He no longer need the strap to hold him in place when he sat up, which had been a major milestone in his recovery.

 

"Yes, Ray, I know that's not what you mean. But I'm not dead. The worst that can happen is I'll remain wheelchair bound for the rest of my life."

 

"And this is a good thing?"

 

"It's a thing. I can't say that it's good. It just is."

 

"You'll be up in Canada. We won't be together."

 

"We can still see each other. And we'll have telephone and email and webcam to keep in touch."

 

"That's not the same as running around together, listening to you say ridiculous things, letting you ruin my suits, watching you taste disgusting things off the ground."

 

"Not everything on the ground is necessarily disgusting, Ray. Something entirely comestible could easily fall and . . ."

 

"Benny."

 

"Yes, Ray."

 

"If you know what's good for you, you'll never see me again after you leave here. That's twice now I've wrecked you up. After Victoria, you got your health back. Now you're still breathing but you'll never get out of a wheelchair. God only knows what I'll do to you the next time," Tears welled in the detective's eyes. "I'm a curse to you, Fraser. You got to go back north and never see me again."

 

"You know that won't happen, Ray," the Mountie said, very softly.

 

"It has to happen!" Ray wailed. "You gotta escape from me, Fraser. Escape! While you still have your life."

 

Fraser extended his arms and leaned forward as much as he could. It was clear that he wanted to hug his friend, but he couldn't reach far enough. "Ray," he whispered, but the detective's head was down. Ray's was immersed in his own misery and didn't see his friend's actions.

 

"Ray," Fraser repeated, "Look at me."

 

Ray did, and fell into Fraser's arms, letting them enfold him.

 

"This is the second time you ever hugged me," he sniffed into Fraser's shoulder. "The only other time was that day when you blew my cover in the hotel room."

 

"Even to this day I can't believe I did anything that stupid. I was just so happy to see you." They held each other in silence for a few moments, and then Fraser said, "I had something I wanted to tell you, Ray. In private. I didn't want your mother and sister here when I told you."

 

Ray detached from Fraser and sat back. He saw a slight, crooked upturn to the Mountie's lips and took heart. "Good news?"

 

"Very good news. I'm not wearing a diaper anymore. I tried to move myself on and off a commode this morning and I was able to manage. From now on I can go to the bathroom all alone," Fraser's smile widened.

 

"Way to go. You're house trained again." Ray wiped the residual tears from his face and smiled back.

 

"Yes, Ray. Now I'm on par with the average two-year-old. It's not much, but I'll take any accomplishment I can get."

 

"Don't belittle it, man. It's amazing. You're amazing."

 

"No, I'm not. I'm just trying to make the best of things. I'm still alive. I have a disability pension to live on. I can do anything I want that doesn't involve walking around. Some people have it much worse."

 

Ray was spared trying to answer this comment but the ringing on his cell phone. He fumbled in his breast pocket, took the device out and barked into it "What?"

 

"Bro, it's getting late. Dief's been home alone since noon. Ma says get down here now," came Francesca's voice over the telephone.

 

"Yeah, yeah," Ray flipped his phone shut, shrugged and gave Fraser an apologetic look. "New technology. I liked it better when you weren't allowed to use cell phones in hospitals. Oh well. I have to get going."

 

"It's just as well, Ray. I'm not sure how much more emotional honesty I can handle in one day."

 

"You'll have to put up with one more hug."

 

Ray shifted closer to Fraser again and took him in his arms. After a squeeze, he leaned away and fixed his eyes on Fraser's face. The two men sat, immobile, then without warning Ray grabbed Fraser's shoulders hard and jerked the Mountie's body closer to his own. He turned his head and pressed his lips hard against Fraser's lips. Then, he pulled back and jumped up to his feet.

 

The friends stared at each other, both equally astonished at what had just happened.

 

"I don't know why I did that," Ray intoned, dully.

 

Fraser swallowed hard, cleared his throat, rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb, and coughed.

 

"I have to go," Ray said, still without any expression. "Dief has to go out."

 

"Understood," Fraser said.

 

Ray backed slowly away towards the door of the hospital, never taking his eyes off the man in the bed. When he was right in the doorframe, he paused. "I can't leave you," he said, his eyes still riveted on Fraser.

 

"Diefenbaker is waiting," Fraser said, softly.

 

"I have to go," Ray repeated, flustered. ""I guess . . .um . . . I sort of love you. But . . .um . . . Dief . . ."

 

"Yes. He's waiting."

 

Neither man was able to break eye contact. Ray backed out through the door and into the corridor until their line of view was disconnected by the intervening walls.

 

When Ray was no longer visible, Fraser leaned back against his cushions, reflecting. I thought going to the toilet was going to be the big event of the day, he thought. And I thought living without walking was going to be the biggest change in my life. I was so wrong. Ray loves me. He must love me. And I have to tell him that I love him back. But how? No, no, wait. He's gone and I haven't said the words!

 

"Ray! Ray!" he shouted as loud as he could, hoping Ray wouldn't be too far down the corridor to hear.

 

Ray appeared again in the doorway, breathing hard. "Yeah? You called me?"

 

Two orderlies crowded behind Ray, coming to see what the shouting was about.

 

"Sorry, I'm sorry. I'm fine," Fraser said and the orderlies retreated, looking displeased. When they were gone Ray repeated, "Yeah?"

 

Fraser found he couldn't say the words he had in mind. The right words weren't there. He couldn't just come out and say, 'I love you, Ray'. There had to be another way.

 

Aloud Fraser said, "You're going to come back again tonight. Promise me you'll come back."

 

Ray's mind was still reeling from the enormity of what had just happened. He hadn't planned it. If you had asked him whether he loved Fraser, he would have just scoffed. But his lips had their own intelligence, bypassing his brain. Now that the deed was done he would stand by it. He would not deny it or take it back. Still, he didn't know what to say to Fraser now? Did Fraser despise him? How could that be, if he wanted him to come back? All Ray said was "I promise."

 

"Right away. At the soonest possible moment," Fraser insisted.

 

Benny does love me. He wants me here. He doesn't hate me; he loves me. This changes everything. "I promise," he said aloud.

 

Then, Fraser had a sudden inspiration. He thought of the way to tell Ray what was so vital for him to know. Yes, this was right. This would work.

 

Aloud, Fraser said, "And Ray, when you come back, would you bring some things with you?"

 

Ray wasn't expecting this. "Sure, uh . . . like what."

 

"Bring apples and raisins. Get some at the supermarket if your mother doesn't have any in the house. Petit's Market is open late."

 

"I know that."

 

"Apples and raisins."

 

"Well, okay, Benny." Even in his confused state of mind, Ray couldn't resist a teasing wisecrack. "Don't tell me you're still hungry after all that food. You didn't do the work. Me and Ma and Frannie should be the hungry ones."

 

"Raisins and apples. Please, Ray, it's important."

 

Ray nodded. "And . . . uh . . . about that other thing. What we did before and what I said before . . ."

 

"We'll talk about it when you come back, Ray."

 

"Well, sure."

 

Ray took this as dismissal. This time he actually turned and walked out of the door. Fraser gazed in the direction of the door long after Ray was out of his sight.

 

We never would have admitted we love each other if it hadn't been for the accident, he mused. Ray had to be crazy with guilt and worry before his conscious mind could become clouded enough to let his instincts take over. And me, I was calmer all this time than he was. I never would have taken the first step.

 

Who cares now if I ever walk again? Given the choice between having real love and having the ability to walk dear God who would ever choose walking? My life has changed more than I ever could have thought.

 

I'll go to Toronto for now. That's been arranged and it might do me some good. But I'll never be really alone again. Ray and I will find a way to live our love. He'll come back with raisins and apples and I'll be ready to tell him how I feel.

 


 

Ray returned less than a half hour later. All he did was drop his mother and sister off, dash into the kitchen to pick up the items Fraser wanted and then speed back to the hospital. Ma wanted to know how it could be that Benito was still hungry after such a big meal as they had all shared. Ray told her Fraser wanted a snack for later and the women were satisfied with that.

 

The Mountie's request hadn't made any sense but that didn't matter. Nothing made sense. Nothing had to. Fraser wanted him back. Fraser didn't hate him. Let him order any kind of fruit he wanted.

 

Ray parked and dashed into the hospital, clutching a plastic grocery bag containing three Pink Lady apples and a plastic baggie full of raisins that his mother kept for making cookies. At the threshold of Fraser's room, he paused, straightened his back and strode through.

 

There was Fraser, sitting up in his bed, looking at him as he came in. Was that eagerness he saw in the Mountie's eyes? Oh, please, please, let it be eagerness.

 

"Ray, you're here."

 

"Yeah, Benny. And . . .um . . .I brought the stuff." Ray lifted the plastic bag for Fraser to see then placed it gently on the bed beside him, as though it were an object of great reverence.

 

"No, take a bite of an apple and then hand it to me," Fraser instructed.

 

Ray did that, and Fraser, his eyes all the while fixed on Ray, took a bite as well, and then put the apple aside on his bedside table.

 

"So, this is . . . what? Like Adam and Eve?" Ray quipped in his nervousness.

 

"Something like that," Fraser replied solemnly. "Now, Ray, please eat some raisins and then give me some."

 

"How many?"

 

"It doesn't matter, Ray."

 

"Okay." Again, Ray complied. He shook a few raisins from the bag into his palm, downed then, then shook out some more and handed them to Fraser. Fraser popped them one by one into his mouth. Then Fraser said "You're wondering why we did that."

 

Ray shrugged. "I kissed you. I said I loved you. The next thing to do is eat fruit. That totally makes sense."

 

Only then did Fraser smile. "When I was growing up my grandparents made me memorized portions of the Bible. Old and New Testaments."

 

Ray waited and listened.

 

"You told me you loved me. I didn't know what to say to that."

 

"Um . . . 'me too' would have sufficed, Benny."

 

"No, Ray. Not for something this important. But there are appropriate words in the Song of Solomon. My grandmother made me memorize certain portions well, the portions that were the least sexually explicit. She was a bit of a prude."

 

Ray was able to laugh now. "Runs in your family, does that?"

 

"This is what I want to say to you, Ray."

 

Fraser beckoned Ray closer and pointed to the bed for Ray to sit down beside him. Softly, so that no one outside in the corridor could hear, he recited:

 

Like an apple tree in the forest

Is my darling among men.

I delight to sit in his shade.

His fruit is sweet to my palate.

 

Sustain me with raisins

Revive me with apples

For I am faint with love.

 

They kissed, Ray pushing Fraser's lips apart with his tongue. They tasted each other, letting all the sweet flavours mingle.

 

End.

 

 

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