Cecilia returned from the nurses' station where she had taken a call and saw her sons coming back to A.J.'s room.
"How was your walk, dear?"
"Horrible," replied A.J. angrily.
"Oh, no! What's wrong?" Fearing an unexpected setback, she gathered her son into her arms.
"Your firstborn, that's what." He glared at Rick. "I'm supposed to be walking unaided, but he's all over me, gets in my way while making a running commentary."
"Sure, you should walk unaided like the doc says, but you still need someone to keep an eye on you." Rick shot back.
"That's fine so long as that someone can keep his mouth shut. You're just bossing me around like you've been doing since the day I was born!"
"Hmm. Sounds like someone missed his nap today."
Cecilia, who had presided over her sons' grievances countless times since their childhood, calmly inserted herself between them. "Back off a little, Rick. A.J., you do need supervision just in case."
She took her youngest son's hand in hers, guided him to his bed and sat him down. "I know being confined to a small hospital room for a few days is getting to both of you." She smiled consolingly. "I bet you could use some good news."
"Are you sending Rick home?"
"Ha! That goes to show you just don't know what's good for you!" retorted Rick sitting down in a hard, unwelcoming guest chair to let him know he was not leaving anytime soon.
"Boys, please." It was more of a demand than a plea. "As I was saying, I have good news to tell you." She made sure her sons were paying attention. "I just received a phone call from Diane."
"Oh. How's Danny doing?" asked Rick.
"He's going to be discharged from his hospital this afternoon or evening." Cecilia then told A.J., "She was here right after your surgery, but you were resting. She said she'd like to stop by here before picking him up."
A.J. tried to sound upbeat, but he did not fool his mother. She knew he was frustrated and longing to get away from this cold, sterile environment and sleep in his own bed.
"A.J., listen," she gazed into his eyes, "You and your brother have given the most precious gift to the Morrison boys: their father on Father's Day."
"Is it Sunday?" He sounded a little confused. He had lost the sense of time since he had last seen Diane.
"No, it's Saturday," Rick informed him and wished their mother hadn't mentioned the upcoming Father's Day, remembering how moody A.J. had been the other day on the beach. He would rather have his brother angry with him than see him brooding.
Cecilia put her hand on A.J.'s knee and said, "You look tired, honey. Why don't you rest for a while before we have company?"
He did not object to her suggestion although he had been complaining about having to take naps like a toddler.
Watching A.J. getting ready for bed, Rick wondered if his brother would be up for Diane's visit.
A.J. heard them though he was not quite awake—Rick, his mother, a couple of kids talking and walking outside his room. Their voices were coming closer.
"Uncle Rick, you sure we don't have to get an ice cream sandwich for Uncle A.J.?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. His doctor just switched his diet from no food to liquid diet. He can't eat regular food yet."
"You can melt the ice cream in the middle and give it to him then."
"You sure are a smart kid, aren't you? But it doesn't work that way. He's on a clear liquid diet, you know, juice, soda, broth, tequila…"
"Oops. Sorry, Mom. It was an honest mistake."
The hell it was, thought A.J. still half asleep.
When a round of laughter tapered off, someone opened the door.
"Oh, he's still asleep."
"No, I'm not." A.J. opened his eyes and smiled at Diane Morrison, who was peeking in.
"Hi, Uncle A.J.!"
Kevin Morrison, a six-year-old carrot-top with freckles, bounded into his room. "You were sleepin' when we got here, so Uncle Rick took us to the cafeteria and bought us ice cream!"
"Like he needed more sugar in his system," said Diane, rolling her eyes.
Towards the end of greetings and small talk among the adults in the room, the older Morrison boy with soft brown hair and clear blue eyes nudged his little brother to remind him something.
"Oh, yeah. I almost forgot," mumbled Kevin and produced a card, folded in half and somewhat crumpled, from his pants pocket. "I made it all by myself!" He proudly announced.
A.J. had to smooth out some wrinkles first to read it. The cover of the card had a few hearts and, for some inexplicable reason, a drawing of a truck. It said, "Thank you Uncle A.J." When he opened it, there were four stick figures depicting his family. They were labeled, "Mom," "Dad," "Kenny," and "Me." Above several Xs and Os, Kevin had written in childish uneven letters, "We all love you! Kevin."
"You did this all by yourself? I can't believe it! Thank you so much, Kevin," said A.J. without sounding condescending; he had meant every word he had said.
Unlike his brother, Kenny was much more demure, and he solemnly presented A.J. a little more sophisticated homemade card. He anxiously observed him while he was reading it.
"Dear Uncle A.J.," the card read. "I will never forget what you did to save my dad. From now on, I will always remember and thank you not only on Father's Day but everyday for the rest of my life. Forever yours with undying love and gratitude, Kendal." The word, 'gratitude' was spelled G-R-A-D-I-T-U-D-E.
A.J. slowly read it a couple of times.
"Don't you like it?" asked Kenny nervously, his young face clouded with worries.
A.J. looked up startled. "I love it, Kenny. This is the nicest card I've ever received in my entire life."
He smiled when the boy's face lit up with unbridled joy.
"What about mine?" Kevin whined.
"Yours and Kenny's are the greatest," A.J. reassured him. "The truck you drew on your card looks really good—it looks a lot nicer than the one Uncle Rick drives."
"Ha! I got a race car on my card, and it's a whole lot nicer than your Chevy!" countered Rick. "Lumber-guinea, right?" He teased Kevin.
Peeved by Rick's blasphemous statement, the boy piped up. "Lamborghini! Lamborghini!"
"Kevin! How many times do I have to tell you? You may not yell or act up in a hospital room," said Diane in a stern voice. She then apologized to the Simons, "I'm very sorry, but he's so excited to bring his father home today. Isn't that right, Kev?"
"Yeah! Come on, let's go see him, Mom!"
"That must be our cue," sighed Diane and turned her gaze to A.J. in bed. "I came here to thank you and your brother, but words are inadequate to express my…"
"You don't have to, Diane. I got all the thanks I need from your boys." A.J. held up the cards from Kenny and Kevin.
She smiled warmly. Then she bent over to kiss him on the cheek. Gently placing her hand over his, she whispered, "Nevertheless, thank you from the bottom of our hearts."
As he nodded his head to acknowledge her heartfelt thanks, she gathered her sons around her.
"All right, boys. We're going to pick up Dad now."
"Yay!" His mother's warning already forgotten, Kevin screamed and darted out of the room.
"Kevin!" Diane and Cecilia ran after the boy shouting simultaneously.
Seeing his mother take off like a lithe eighteen-year-old made Rick grin. She used to come after me like that, he recalled. Once a mother, always a mother.
Kenny started to follow his mother but hesitated taking a backward glance. He then came back to A.J.'s bedside and threw his arms around his neck.
"I really meant what I said in my card, Uncle A.J.," he whispered into his ear. "You're the best!"
The boy kissed A.J. on the cheek as his mother had done and smiled shyly.
A.J. smiled back tenderly and said, "You'd better get going, Kenny. And please say 'hi' to your dad for me. Okay?"
Kenny nodded and ran out of the room to catch up with his family. A.J.'s smile lingered on his lips after the boy had left.
"Know what, Rick?"
"You were right about one thing; handmade cards are unarguably better than store-bought ones."
Rick could not believe his ears. He knew A.J. usually hated admitting he was right, but he was not going to question this unforced admission. "Yeah, told ya."
A.J. read Kenny's card for the umpteenth time.
"They're nice kids, aren't they? Kenny and Kevin," said Rick eyeing his brother.
"Yes," whispered A.J., his eyes still on the cards.
"They kinda make you wish you had kids like them, don't they?" said Rick. "Well, almost."
A.J. smiled when his brother hastily backpedaled from his admission of desire to have children. He knew Rick would be a terrific father if he chose to become one because he and their father were kindred spirits: wild, funny, protective and yet incorrigible…
"Who knows, five, ten years down the road, you may be getting a Father's Day card from your own kid, A.J."
A.J. just nodded while wondering why one sometimes felt like crying when they were so utterly happy.