A Charmed Life
Chapter 40: Together
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
05 November 1995 - Hilltop Road, Lancaster, Massachusetts
Jeff cracked open an eye to look at his alarm clock, the one he hadn’t set the night before. His sleep-fogged brain registered the bright sunlight streaming in around the window shade and curtains as he did so. “8:45” the bright red numbers read. In sharp contrast to a morning twelve years earlier he had no intention of getting out of bed yet. After two solid days of packing, moving and unpacking he felt he and Keiko deserved to sleep in on a Sunday.
“Good morning, Jeffrey,” came the whisper from the woman wrapped in his arms.
“Good morning, Keiko. Did I wake you?”
“No, my beloved; I have been awake for about fifteen minutes and enjoying the feeling of you holding me.”
“It is a nice way to wake up, especially in a new, king-sized bed. I suppose you’re going to tell me we should get out of bed and work out now?”
“Asks the man who works out like a fiend every morning before nine a.m.”
“You remember the Army commercials while we were growing up: ‘We do more before nine a.m. than most people do all day?’ I’m just keeping up the tradition.”
“Mmm hmmm,” she hummed meaning yeah, right! “We have a brand new kitchen we need to break in.”
“That sounds good to me!”
“By cooking breakfast!” she sighed. “You are such the degenerate! We sleep together in our new house one night and you are thinking of ‘christening’ every room in the structure!”
“Oh, I’ve been thinking of that for a while,” he corrected her while nuzzling her ear.
“You are hopeless!”
“I am full with hope!”
“You are full of something, that is for certain! We must get up, Jeffrey, though not to work out; we have more unpacking to do.”
Jeff sighed and kissed his fiancée on the ear before rolling out of the king-sized bed. Finishing their morning ablutions they wandered down to their kitchen. The open-plan layout of the first floor looked south across the natural expanse that had convinced Keiko and Jeff to buy the property. Two inches of new snow glistened under the early morning sun, a blanket of white with splashes of bark brown and conifer green.
“Too bad the trees and ground are still too warm. All of this will probably melt by this afternoon.”
Keiko nodded agreement while she ate her waffle. She reminded herself not to eat too much of Jeffrey’s cooking in one sitting, especially now with their new and spacious kitchen. She was sure he would soon want to “take it for a spin” by cooking a massive meal. Keiko smiled to herself; while their wedding next summer was the ultimate goal, moving in together was a big step in that direction as was their new house.
“Are you ready to start working as a paramedic tomorrow?”
Jeff nodded as he chewed his own piece of waffle. “I’m ready. I’m also ready to work one job and one job only. One job plus school was lousy this time even if it got me where I wanted to be. Hopefully I can be a better fiancé now.”
“You have never been a bad one, Jeffrey. I understood your schedule then, you know I understand it now. EMS is not a nine to five, Monday through Friday occupation; this I accept as well. You have said that you cannot bring your work home with you as in a conventional job but I dispute that. You are correct in the strictest sense, but you bring home your frustrations and stress all the same; I bring that home with my work. This is why we must both continue to work out.” She smiled at him. “This is why I agreed to the workout space in the detached building behind the house. This is why I welcome being wrapped in your arms while we sleep. It calms and recharges me.”
He and Keiko finished breakfast then moved to the living room where they cuddled together, taking in the view, until well after their coffees were cold.
“Hey, are you an ambulance driver?”
“Hey, are you looking to get punched in the nose?”
“Geez, Jeff, lighten up!”
“You know I hate that phrase, Sean!”
“I’d have thought moving into your new place with Keiko would have mellowed you out some!”
“As much as I enjoy coming to work for you and your father in the mornings, I had to leave a very large, very warm, very comfortable bed to come to work today.”
“And I don’t know this? Beth isn’t working today! I coulda played hooky today too, you know? I hate to say it but she’s a little better lookin’ than you, you old warhorse!”
“Go ahead, rub it in. The only reason I’m here is that Keiko needed to get up to get to school. And opinions vary on my looks, by the way.”
“There really is nothing like waking up next to the one you love, is there?” Sean asked with a dreamy look on his face. “And you’re not working for me yet! I’m nowhere near ready to start running this company; Dad’s still holding the reins. How’s your third-ride time going?”
“It’s going pretty good,” Jeff shrugged. “I worked Malden ALS the last two shifts, so I saw a lot of the same folks you and I used to run into. Today will be the same. I’m on Melrose ALS tomorrow, so I’ll start getting to know the guys on Melrose Fire a little better; we hardly ever did calls over there. So, it’s been about two months since you got back from your honeymoon and started working in the office, how’s it going?”
“I don’t have to worry about getting puked on or pissed on, that’s for sure. Dad says that I got a good foundation from my classes at Duke and I feel that I’m picking up most things pretty quickly.”
“It’s the interpersonal networking stuff I’ve been a little slow to warm up to. I think it’s all of those years as a recluse while I was growing up that’s holding me back somewhat. Being introduced as ‘my son, Sean’ has been opening some doors for me. It’s getting better. I’ll start on my MBA in the new year.”
“Any of the backlash we talked about before you changed your name and came off the road?”
“Almost none, strangely enough,” Sean said. “I expected more. There’ve been a few whispers here and there but nothing sustained. How about from your end? Are you hearing anything from the folks we used to work with?”
“Seems like the majority of the folks who work here don’t care. You worked hard on the road, and we’ve been starting to hear how hard you work in the office. They have definitely seen your work habits: in by seven every morning, out by three if Beth isn’t working and you work until the end of her shift if she is, then pick her up and you ride home together. Folks are impressed by that. Aiko is still doing well?”
“She is. She’s been asking about you and Keiko. Now that medic school is over we need to have you two over again.”
“Once we’re unpacked we need to have you guys over as well. I’ll talk to Keiko about maybe hosting Thanksgiving or something; I’ll have to think about that.”
Keiko vetoed the idea of hosting Thanksgiving, citing the boxes still littering the house, the two weeks until the holiday and her desire to see his entire family again. They did accept an invitation to the Brophy house in Melrose a week later.
“Grilling in the winter still, huh?”
“I seem to remember Keiko describing a covered area for your grill on your new patio in Lancaster, Mr. Knox. One that’s right outside the kitchen, perhaps?”
“Okay, Sean, yeah, I was the pot calling the kettle black there. We’re hoping to have the three of you out before Christmas,” Jeff replied while he continued building the shish kabobs.
“Will you be working Christmas on your new schedule?”
“Low man on the totem pole, Sean. I’ve got two years seniority at the company, but none as a medic, so yeah. I’m getting good feedback from my preceptors on orientation and should be released from training next week.”
“Ready to cause mayhem on your own, then?”
“Hell, no! I’ll have a partner, remember? Two heads are better than one; the mayhem gets much more creative.” Jeff finished his platter of skewers and was washing his hands when the door bell rang. “No, no, I’ll get it. You guys all have gunk on your hands.” Sean was still handling the raw meats while the women were cutting fruit for dessert. He opened his friends’ front door to find a couple about his age on the front steps.
“Good evening, may I help you?” Jeff asked.
“Good evening, sir. I understand that Aiko Hayashi lives here? I am Tim Arashiro, her grandson, and this is Jennifer, my wife.”
“She does indeed! Please, come in!” The couple wiped their feet and entered, remaining on the mat in the entryway. “Aiko didn’t tell us you were coming tonight! I’m Jeff Knox, another guest this evening. Everyone is in the kitchen helping with dinner. May I take your coats?”
“My grandmother did not know we would be coming, nor did we know Mr. McNeil was hosting guests tonight, though I am very glad to meet one of the men who rescued my grandmother. I apologize if we disrupted your evening.”
“First off, Lieutenant, my fiancée and I aren’t really guests in the traditional sense; your grandmother, Sean and Beth are practically family. Sean changed his name to ‘Brophy’ before his wedding, by the way. Second, if I tell Aiko I let her grandson and his wife go after they turned up on her doorstep she’d cut me up like the fruit salad she’s making! And third, Aiko would have gotten herself out of there; Sean and I just sped up the process. I’m guessing she doesn’t know about your wife, either? She hasn’t mentioned you I’m afraid, Mrs. Arashiro; did you meet in Japan or Korea?”
“She does not know Tim and I are married, Mr. Knox, nor that we were even dating if I am correct for reasons I will let Tim explain when he is ready,” Jennifer replied. “We met while Tim was on leave in Seoul; I was a bonded translator for businesses there which were working between South Korea and Japan.” She may have grown up in South Korea but her English was no less perfect than Keiko’s.
“Then you speak Japanese as well as Korean and English?” Jeff asked in Japanese.
“My fiancée has been helping me become less of the traditional ‘ugly American;’ Asian cultures have become a bit of a hobby of mine. Enough about me, though; if you wouldn’t mind leaving your shoes here, I’ll bring you to Hayashi-sama.” Tim and Jennifer were soon ready and Jeff led them back to the kitchen.
“Aiko, I have a package for you,” Jeff announced when he stepped into the space. Aiko looked up and froze. The knife she’d been using slipped from her hand and clattered on the cutting board.
“Hello, Grandmother,” Tim said to Aiko in Japanese.
“Timothy,” she whispered as she walked towards him, a look of wonder on her face. She embraced him tightly. “My Timothy!” she cried while tears of happiness flowed. Keiko and Beth wiped their own tears as they embraced their respective men; Jennifer stood smiling at the reunion in front of her.
“I thought you were finishing an assignment in Korea, Timothy?” Aiko asked in Japanese.
“I was, Grandmother.” He turned to Jennifer and switched to English. “Grandmother, the ‘assignment’ I was working on was convincing this young woman to be my wife. I am happy to introduce you to the former Tak Seong or, as she wishes to be known now that we are married and in the States, Jennifer Arashiro. Jennifer, my grandmother, Aiko Hayashi.”
Jennifer bowed to Aiko. “It is an honor to meet the woman Tim credits with raising him the proper way, Hayashi-sama.”
Aiko embraced her granddaughter-in-law, kissing her on the cheek. “It is my honor to meet the young woman who has captured Timothy’s heart. Please call me ‘Aiko, ‘ Jennifer.”
A flurry of introductions followed. There was more than enough food and two additional places were set at the dining room table. The women whisked Jennifer off to the living room while Tim joined Jeff and Sean by the grill outside.
“Mr. Brophy, Mr. Knox, I cannot express how grateful I am, how grateful Jennifer and I both are, that you were able to save Grandmother from that horrible place where you found her.”
“Hold it right there, LT!” Jeff broke in. “There’ll be none of this ‘Mr. Brophy, Mr. Knox’ nonsense! Especially not when your grandmother has us all calling her ‘Aiko!’ You can’t be that much older or younger than us. He’s ‘Sean’ and I’m ‘Jeff.’ And, as I told you in the foyer, Aiko would have gotten herself out of there.”
“Still, Jeff, when I got Grandmother’s letter I called my parents to confront them over what they’d dared to do and they hung up on me. I had never been ashamed of who I am until that moment; the shame I felt nearly ended my relationship with Jennifer. Have you had any difficulty with them since?”
“We haven’t heard a peep, Tim,” Sean said. “It’s like they fell off the face of the planet. Your grandmother is safe here, and welcome here, for as long as she needs to be. Do you envision her moving in with you wherever you’re stationed now?”
“Jeff indicated that she’s become family. While we had hoped that maybe she would we certainly wouldn’t do anything without her consent. Given our lodging at my new assignment that might be difficult.”
“There’s an added complication we’ll all need to consider now also, Tim.” Tim raised an eyebrow. “Beth’s pregnant. Aiko’s been looking forward to being a ‘great-grandmother.’”
“This may be less of an issue than we all think. I’m stationed at Fort Devens as of two days ago.”
“Yes, Jeff. 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 55th Infantry Division; we’re the garrison troops there. Jennifer and I are currently assigned housing on-post.”
“I’m guessing there wouldn’t be room for Aiko while you’re there? Not unless on-post housing has changed?”
“No, it hasn’t. My current plan is to also stay in the Army past my current obligation, which ends in two years; Jennifer and I will probably be moving again then. It might make more sense for her to remain here and have us visit when we are able.”
“Uncle Jeff, this place is awesome!”
“It is pretty cool, huh Matty?”
“Can I sleep down here?”
Jeff was giving their guests a tour of the house; they were currently in the family room downstairs in the basement. Matty’s comment and question was prompted by the large, south-facing window wall which looked out over the hills of Central Massachusetts; of course the large TV might also have something to do with it. Jeff looked at his nephew then back at Stu.
“That’s up to your Mom and Dad, buddy. I doubt if the couch will be as comfortable as the beds upstairs.”
“Let us think about it while Uncle Jeff shows us the rest of the house okay, Matty?” Kara asked.
Matty was also impressed with the detached workout space Jeff and Keiko built with the house. Workout machines stood arrayed around a mat bordering a waist-high wall. A heavy bag and a speed bag hung beside a mirrored section.
“What do you charge for a membership to this gym, Jeff?” his sister asked.
“The sauna doesn’t work yet so rates are still low, Kara.”
“Jeff, is the floor heated?”
“That it is, Gene. We had radiant heating installed rather than gas heaters hung from the ceiling. It’s a more even heat this time of year. It lets us to do our karate forms in bare feet.”
“How often does Keiko kick your butt?” Stu asked.
“Every time we step on the mat together, Stuart,” Keiko smiled; Jeff nodded rapidly. “In all seriousness, Stuart, we do not spar together. I am a second-dan black belt where Jeffrey is just starting over with karate; for us to spar would be like Matthew fighting Muhammad Ali in his prime. We practice our forms together here, that is all. I am working towards being an instructor so I may work with Jeffrey here, however.”
“I knew you were serious about your workouts when we worked together, Jeff, but this is a whole other level!”
“It’s a little much, I’ll give you that, Gene, but Keiko and I also keep each other motivated. Without a track nearby like I had in Malden, running on a treadmill is my only option while there’s snow on the roads. The latest models have an interval program that I’ve adjusted to match what I used to do outside. When the weather improves I’ll run outside again.”
“You must have squeezed those bastards at WREMS pretty good.”
“We didn’t get ‘middle finger salute to the world’ kind of money, Gene, but we did get ‘middle finger salute to the mortgage’ kind of money; no offense to your profession, Jean.” Gene’s wife Jean was a loan officer at her bank; she waved off Jeff’s statement as not being offensive. “We were able to pay cash for the land, the house, the furniture and the equipment here. We still have almost three-quarters of the money we got from them in the bank.”
“Hey, what have you heard about the new energy technology being developed in New Mexico?”
“The ‘home fusion’ technology that Arizona State is said to be developing? Based off the water purification technology we’ve had for years?” Gene nodded. “If it really works there could be a seismic shift in the entire energy infrastructure in the States; in the whole world, really. I’m glad we don’t have any money in oil futures.”
“I still can’t believe a patient who only needs a pulse ox is considered ALS! Hell, my old service had those on the BLS trucks by the time I left there!”
“I just told you it was an ALS-level call, Jeff; I didn’t say that made sense,” Kristin Overstreet, his preceptor for the shift explained.
Jeff rolled his eyes. The patient they’d just transported needed only a pulse oximeter during the time they’d been with him; no EKG monitor, no supplemental O2, no IVs, just continuous pulse oximetry “in case” he started getting short of breath. For that he’d still needed to call medical control at Mass General, speak to a doctor in the ER and get a control number to write on his paperwork.
“Paramedic Nineteen and Ambulance Thirty transporting to Malden Hospital, Priority One,” was the call overheard on the radio.
“Roger, P-Nineteen and A-Thirty to Malden. Do you need a phone call made?”
“Sixty-eight year-old female in asystolic arrest, IV, two rounds of ACLS on board, 7.0 ET tube in place, ETA less than ten minutes,” was the curt reply.
“Roger, sir. Calling Malden ER now.”
Jeff, who still hadn’t gotten his first post-school intubation, looked at the radio in frustration. “Damn,” he muttered, “we missed a code.”
Kristin, who’d been a paramedic for fifteen years, replied “No, we didn’t, Jeff; I didn’t miss it at all. Remember the story you told me about that code during your ride-time? Always keep that in mind. Christmas is next week and someone’s family just had their perception of the holidays changed forever.”
“How was your first semester of teaching, Keiko?” his Aunt Jeri asked at the family Christmas party that weekend.
“It was challenging, Jerilyn. I tried to keep the students interested and focused during the classes as well as to find my own style of teaching now that I am on my own. For the most part, I believe I succeeded.”
“I never really heard how that district works. Is it run by the Army... ?”