EPILOGUE

Cecilia Simon returned from San Francisco Monday night. Rick called her Tuesday morning to give her a heads-up. Worried sick, she immediately left her home though Rick had assured her that everything was under control—considering. She arrived at A.J.'s home and opened the door. "Hello?"

"Back here, Mom," came the response from the patio at the back.

She found her two sons in shorts and tank tops lying on the chaise lounges, basking in the sun. They seemed to be doing fine and comfortable although Rick had stitches on the forehead that made him look like the Frankenstein monster and the lower half of his left leg was in a cast, and A.J.'s right arm was folded and pressed against his chest and immobilized in a sling.

"Looks like you two are doing quite well despite your broken limbs and all," was Cecilia's motherly assessment of the boys' condition with a dash of relief and a pinch of sarcasm.

"We get by," said Rick ruefully trying to win her sympathy. "But since you're up, could you get me a…"

"Rick!" A.J. interjected. "Don't listen to him, Mom. He was doing just fine until you got here."

Rick figured A.J. was still sore at him because his last practical joke was the indirect cause of his injuries.

"I imagine so," said Cecilia, then she asked Rick, "How did you manage to remove the tires of A.J.'s Camaro with one leg in a cast?"

"With some difficulty," replied Rick stating the obvious. He tried to look remorseful. "All I wanted was get him dirty after all that preening for a big date, but I was so doped up with the pain meds I forgot I'd put Marlowe in the car. And since it rained yesterday, the top was on, and he couldn't get out."

Shaking her head, Cecilia asked, "Why did you put him in your brother's car in the first place?"

"He was just following me around, getting in my way, like A.J. used to."

"By the time I walked into the garage, Marlowe was frantic, which is quite understandable because he'd been confined to a small space for so long. And when I let him loose, he jumped out like the hound of the Baskervilles, knocking me down by accident." A.J. explained.

A fall in the cluttered garage had resulted in a dislocated shoulder and a fractured clavicle, plus an assortment of minor lacerations and puncture wounds.

Cecilia gave Rick a stern look. "If I didn't know any better, I might suspect you'd hatched a twisted scheme like those characters in Strangers on a Train to harm each other so you'd be able to weasel out of your social engagement for tomorrow," said Cecilia testily.

"What?" Rick couldn't believe his ears.

"Strangers on a Train, you know, a Hitchcock classic based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith." A.J. had always been a font of trivia knowledge.

Rick threw a look of annoyance at his brother. "I know that!" Then he told his mother, "You don't mean that, do you, Mom? I'd never hurt A.J. or myself just to break a date with an old lady."

"No, of course not." Cecilia relented.

"I'd say it is a remote possibility." A.J. was still holding a grudge.

"You don't mean that either, dear." Cecilia gently admonished A.J.

She stood between her two sons gazing down at them alternately. "All right. Now that you're laid up and can't take Sandra and Gretchen to the fundraiser tomorrow night, I'd like you to do something for me."

"What?" Rick asked warily.

"I need your assurance that you won't kill each other while recuperating together. I want you to bury the hatchet for now, or at least until you completely recover from your injuries. Understood?"

Her sons didn't appear too keen on the idea.

"Rick, apologize to your brother." Cecilia ordered her oldest as she had done so many times in the past.

Rick sighed and was about to roll his eyes when Cecilia told him in no uncertain terms, "And no eye-rolling, young man!"

Rick hated it when his mother read him like an open book.

"I'm sorry, A.J.," muttered Rick, but Cecilia stopped him before he could go on.

"Rick, if you are going to apologize, do it like you mean it."

For a petit woman of a certain age, she sure knew how to crack the whip.

"I'm sorry." Rick started from the top, resigned, "You weren't supposed to get hurt, but I wasn't thinking clearly…"

"Story of your life." A.J. couldn't hold his cheeky tongue.

"A.J.! This is a peace negotiation, not a declaration of war. Now, you apologize to Rick."

"What?" A.J. was stung by his mother's demand.

"I hear you've been a willing participant in Rick's silly game. As they say, it takes two to tango. You should have known better than to let your brother talk you into this nonsense."

"But, Mom…" A.J. whined plaintively.

"Don't make me repeat myself, mister." Cecilia stared him down, her hands on her hips.

Rick bit his lower lip hard in order to keep the corners of his mouth from curling up. It was a rare occasion to see the fair-haired boy receive a tongue-lashing and a lesson in humility from his dear ole mother.

A.J. took a few moments to collect himself.

"Rick, I'm sorry I implied that you might entertain a thought of physically hurting me." He barely managed to keep resentment out of his voice.

"Good!" Cecilia bent over and planted a kiss on the cheek of each son. "Now, it wasn't so hard, was it?"

Her boys were wise enough not to tell her what was on their minds.

"I'm not really looking forward to breaking the news of your accidents to Sandra and Gretchen though—they will be so heartbroken," said Cecilia sighing. "Maybe Roger has a couple of friends who may be available for tomorrow night…"

Rick and A.J. surmised this Roger in her soliloquy was her current squeeze. They were often amazed that their seemingly prim and proper mother had been leading a very full—and often colorful—social life at her age.

"Oh, and A.J., give me the list of groceries and other things you need."

"You don't have to do that, Mom." A.J. protested mildly.

Cecilia folded her arms over the chest. "You are aware that you can't drive for several weeks, right?"

The expression on her sons' faces told her otherwise.

"A.J., your right arm is out of commission—you can't shift the gear. And, Rick, you can't use the clutch. Besides, you're on pain medications and shouldn't be driving anyway."

"I'm taking only prescription Tylenol. Opiate drugs make me violently sick." Ever a debater, A.J. made a moot point.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said Cecilia impatiently with a huff. "Never mind the list. I'll just drive over to the market and get whatever grabs my fancy. After I come back here, I'm going to cook something for tonight and tomorrow, all right?"

Rick and A.J. nodded feeling like a couple of kids receiving the rundown from their mother before the babysitter's arrival.

"I'll be right back, boys. And please, behave yourselves and be nice to each other while I'm away!"

She was already on her way to her car.

"Bye, Mom," said Rick craning his neck to see her go.

"Thanks for doing this for us, Mom," said A.J. politely.

They heaved a collective sigh of relief watching their mother's receding figure.

"Man, I thought she'd never leave!" Rick let off some steam.

"Tell me about it," said A.J. in wholehearted agreement. "It's so humiliating to be treated like your nemesis, Marcus, at Terrible Twos."

"Can't agree more."

"I was speaking for myself. You should be used to it by now after all these years."

"Hey, watch it, buster. I also have years of practice in beating you up. Wait till I lay my hands on you—you're gonna end up with two arms in slings." Rick's threat didn't pack a lot of punch mainly because he was still reclining comfortably on the chaise lounge.

"Ha! Fat chance. With your bum leg, you can't beat Mrs. Hartmann in a ten-meter hobble. But whenever you feel like eating my dust, just let me know." A.J. murmured his retort soaking up the sun, but it lacked some zip.

"Go on, gloat over my misfortune, but you can't keep on running indefinitely. I'm gonna getcha when you're least expecting it. And when I do, you're dead meat. You're no match for me with two good arms let alone with one." The sun was too bright for Rick to keep his eyes open. His body glistened as a sheen of perspiration caught the rays of the sun.

Sipping a glass of iced tea, A.J. sighed contently and closed his eyes. His nose was turning pink. "True, but then Mom will be on your case from here to eternity for breaking your promise."

That gave Rick something to think about.

"Yeah, I guess you're right." He agreed with his brother. "Consider yourself lucky."

"Truce then?"

It took Rick only a second or two to respond. "Yeah, truce. For now." He nodded. "I sure don't need Mom nagging my ear off when I already have a broken bone."

"Neither do I," said A.J. laughing.

The brothers continued to work on their tan for a while before Rick spoke again.

"A.J.?"

"Hmm?"

"I want you to know that I didn't know you were bringing Rebecca over the other day when I played a practical joke on ya. If I'd known, I never woulda done that. Honest."

A.J. gave his brother a reflective look as if to gauge his sincerity.

"Would you believe me?" asked Rick with his hangdog eyes.

After a while, A.J. nodded. "Yeah, I believe you. Your pranks drive me crazy, but you've been the best big brother one could ask for since we were little."

Rick saw a tentative smile touch his brother's face and grinned inwardly. Man, how old ARE you, A.J.? You've been taking this bull all your life, and you still haven't learned a thing, have you? A man your age shouldn't be this guileless. Sometimes, I'm real scared for ya, thought he as he returned a smile.

A.J.'s smile grew a little wider when he was certain Rick had bought his act. I can hardly wait till I see the look on your face when you open the door of your Power Wagon, big brother.

Happy thoughts danced in the heads of the Simon brothers as they exchanged a look of brotherly love in the warm California sun.