The next weeks were a mix of painful, exhausting physical work for Terry, and equally painful and exhausting mental examination for Craig. A curious bond formed between the two men and they struggled to find a way of accommodating each other's needs and limits. Craig pushed Terry to exercise his knee and leg. Sometimes the pain was almost too much for Terry, but he kept at it, realizing that Craig's purpose was the restoration of strength and mobility, not real torture.
“I think you PT's descend directly from the Spanish Inquisition, ” he said, gasping at a particularly painful series of leg extensions Craig was putting him through for the third time that day.
“We taught them,” Craig said calmly. “Stop whining. Again.”
Terry kept provoking thought on Craig's part, persistently challenging him to think through the beliefs he had swallowed whole as a child and a youth. He pointed out Biblical inconsistencies, and introduced differing interpretations of verses, and calmly refuted the factual errors Craig's father and others in his church had so eagerly transmitted to him while he grew up. It was uncomfortable for Craig, but he kept at it.
Craig would discuss some aspect of Terry's physiology in regards to an exercise or his injuries, and Terry would use it as an opening to talk frankly about his, and Craig's, body in general. Gradually, Craig came to see the body not as sinful burden, filled with feelings that must be denied and rooted out; but as a natural part of creation, a good and responsive part of a whole person.
The next day in the shower, Terry said to Craig, “Why don't you ditch those boxers. They just get wet and drip all over my floor.” He was grinning at the blond bear.
“Probably better if I don't.”
“Bull. It will be MUCH better for my mental well-being if you are naked, too.”
“Yeah, y'all just wanna jump my bones.” It was the first time Craig had ventured a joking response to any of Terry's gay comments.
“Now what makes you think I'm interested in you?” Terry asked.
“That,” Craig said, pointing to Terry's jutting cock.
Terry laughed out loud. “Oh, just ignore him, he's ungovernable. Help me in and reach me that soap.” Craig hesitated, then shed his boxers and stepped into the shower with the soap in his hand.
“Now see, that's what I mean. Your body doesn't lie, Craig.” The blond man's meat was obviously thickening as they stood together and the water ran over both of them. Terry sighed. “I'm not trying to mess with you, Craig. Just trust your body and what it's telling you. Mind and body work best together, didn't they teach you that in your PT classes?”
“Shut up and turn around so I can scrub your back.”
* * *
Terry could see some real improvement within the first week, and as the days went on, he could feel more progress. He could get up out of a chair without help, and could walk fairly well with the cane. He still could not pick up things that fell to the floor, or get out of his low bed easily. But most noticeable to him was the level of pain. The meds in the hospital had only masked or dulled the pain for a while. It always came back, and at the same level. But Craig's relentless exercises had made a real difference. The constant throbbing pain in his knee was now only only starting in the late afternoon, and that had lessened to the point where he only needed pain killers at night to sleep. He still needed help in the shower, but more as a precaution than anything else. His back was killing him, though.
“It's because y'all are favoring that leg when you walk. It's throwing your spine and pelvis out of alignment. It will ease up as you walk more naturally. There's an exercise we can do to help with the back.”
“No! Not more torture!” Terry pretended to fend off Craig as he reached out to take Terry's shoulders, then reached out and hugged him. “Thanks, man. You've worked wonders. I couldn't have gotten along without you here.” There was a slight pause, and then Craig hugged back. When he didn't release the hug immediately, Terry took a chance and hugged tighter. Craig continued to hug back.
'My, my,' Terry thought to himself.
Craig was making progress in his mind, too. He felt more at ease with himself. They didn't discuss his beliefs and feelings daily, but he thought almost constantly about his conversations with Terry and the topics they brought up in his mind. He grew more comfortable with questioning long-unexamined beliefs, and more comfortable in expressing his doubts and interests. He often went shirtless in the house now, and one day, he even complimented Terry on his body.
“You've got a good build. It's like a football player's body. You know, solid... thick. It looks good on you.”
Terry smiled and gave Craig a hug.
On Terry's first trip to the grocery with Craig, a stocky, goateed young pocket bear grinned at them in the parking lot as Terry was being helped out of the front seat of the van. “Woof!” Terry said quietly.
“Huh?” Craig asked.
“Oh, I was just woofing at that young cub. Nice eye candy.”
“Young what?” Craig asked. “Is this part of that bear business you mentioned?”
“Yep. A young, stocky, hairy guy, with a beard or especially a goatee, is a cub. An older, or maybe taller bearded beefy man who's also hairy is a bear. It's more than just looks, though. It's an attitude, it's about being relaxed with yourself and your sexuality and not worrying about what's in fashion or what the style is. It's having a good time with buddies, enjoying spending time with them over a good meal or a board game just as much as going to a club. It's having fun going to a movie instead of hanging out at the local pick up bar looking for the next trick.”
By this time they were at the door of the market and getting a cart, and the conversation continued, covering the feeding habits of bears, the meaning of 'twinks', the rise of the 'bear clone look' and relative merits of beard styles and hair cuts. By the time they had reached the car with the week's supply of groceries, Craig had a fair idea of bear culture.
“I had no idea. I mean, I got teased for being so hairy a few times, and the couple of girls my folks made me date didn't like it. My sister called it gross. Even Bart called me 'Sasquatch'.” Craig scratched the thicket of dense blond chest fur through his shirt. “So, some guys actually like you to be hairy?”
“Lordy, Craig, do you have any idea how handsome you are, how desirable you are? You are a bear's wet dream. You're strong, you're pelted, you're stocky; hell, you're employed! Any bear would love to call you his partner. And the ones that matter, the ones really worth paying attention to, will see the good, kind person under all that, and respect you for the inner strength you have.”
On the way back home, Craig turned the radio up and the two men sang their lungs out to The Knack's My Sharonna. Terry noticed that Craig looked more relaxed and happy than he'd seen him.
Four weeks after Terry had been released from the hospital, Craig drove him back for a check up with the surgeon. Dr. Richardson was pleasantly astonished at the progress Terry had made, and gave his a clean bill of health. “Well, you certainly have been working hard on your recovery! Walk up and down for me, please.” Richardson watched him carefully as he paced the room. “Well, Mr. Ferguson certainly seems to have been a good choice. You've made impressive, ah, strides.” The doctor chuckled smugly at his weak pun. “I think I can sign you off now. The insurance will be happy about that. I know you will be, too. I'd still keep that appointment with the physical therapy department, but your progress is excellent. See your GP in a month or so. You need a refill on the Vicodin? No? Good... really good.” The doctor shook Terry hand and hustled out the door, already intent on the next patient. Terry dressed, slipped his shoes back on (a small triumph in itself), and walked slowly back to the waiting area where Craig sat, gazing off with that calm look he had. He noticed Terry and rose.
“Ready? What did the doc say?”
“He said you'd done a great job rehabilitating me. He released me.” Terry looked at Craig and said quietly, “Thanks, buddy.”
Craig gazed back at Terry with his calm gray eyes. “Thank you... buddy.”
On the way home, Terry brought up a topic he was loathe to discuss. “The doc's released me, so the insurance is finished. That means the service will be assigning you to a new patient, right?”
“Nope. Y'all were my last patient. I told them I would finish with you, however long it took, but that you would be my last. I take the California certification test next week. If I pass, I'll maybe take the job the hospital offered me, or look for a clinic. Eventually, I want to set up in private practice again. If you need me, I'll be happy to stay a few more days.”
There was a silence that got longer and longer. Finally, Terry broke it. “Craig.... I'd like you to stay. I'd miss you. You are welcome to stay as long as you like. Take the test and when you get the results, you can make plans or look for a clinic job... just don't feel you have to go right away.”
Craig reached over and gave Terry's good leg a squeeze. “Thanks. I'd miss you, too. If you don't mind... really don't mind, I'll stay a bit.”
Terry happy smile answered for him.
* * *
That night after supper was cleared away and Craig had reviewed some for his upcoming exam, he watched Terry lower himself into bed. “You're doing that really good now... good progress. Y'all walked a lot longer this afternoon, too. How's the leg?”
“You know, I hadn't noticed, but it doesn't hurt much at all! It's usually a bit painful by now. I guess it really IS better.” Terry grinned. “It's still a bit difficult getting out of this thing, though.”
“Ah, you'll manage. Need anything?” When Terry shook his head, Craig said, “OK, night!” Craig made to shut off the light when Terry's quiet voice stopped him.
“Craig... Sleep in here tonight?”
The room went very quiet. “Terry, I shouldn't. No, it's not that I doubt any more. I know I'm gay and that's OK now. I can deal with that, and I know I'm not damaged goods, and I thank you for that. But I just don't think it's the right thing to do. I don't know, maybe it's the 'patient/therapist' thing.”
“We're not patient and therapist anymore,” Terry said.
“I know. I'd like to, but....”
“Then do it.”
Craig just shook his head, smiled, and said, “I can't.” He turned off the light.
Terry lay there, cursing himself for his lack of self control. 'WHY did I ask him? WHY couldn't I just wait and let things work out. Now he'll think that all I want really IS to get in his pants. He'll think that all gay men have just one thing on their mind, dammit. When will I learn, for chrisakes?' The angry thoughts buzzed in Terry's head, keeping him awake until long after he saw Craig's light go out from under his closed door. Finally, he slept. It wasn't his leg that made him restless that night.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Terry woke from the familiar dream. Once again he was happy: had the prize of a solid relationship, a fulfilling closeness, a strong and vigorous mating; and once again, it receded at waking, leaving him with the old, empty feeling. He stared at the ceiling for a long time before finally closing his eyes again to a fitful sleep.