Friday morning found the boys more at ease than I expected about starting their new school. I'm not sure who felt more proud when they came downstairs in their uniforms, them or I. They really looked sharp, much more traditional than so many kids. Their shorts pants fit perfectly, tailored like walking shorts, showing their round little bottoms and ending about mid-thigh, a lot better than the oversized clam-digger shorts many kids wore. Their knee socks and white polo shirts, with the school's logo on the breast, looked great. I embarrassed them slightly by insisting on taking some pictures, but they recovered before we left the house.
We had decided I would drop them off at school on my way into town, and they would ride the school van home. As soon as I turned onto Cornerstone's campus they were darting from side to side of the seat trying to absorb every detail. At their insistence, I let them off near the flagpole, where they were to meet Junior. I was still enjoying their excitement when I arrived at the hospital for morning rounds.
My carefree mood didn't last long. When I entered the Pedi-ward two policemen and a security guard were talking to Roberts. The minute he saw me Roberts motioned toward one of the conference rooms before ushering the officers to it.
"We have a problem," he began, before introducing me to the officers. "A man we are sure was Johnny's father was here late last night, trying to sneak into his room."
"We have reason to believe he intended to do harm to the child," one of the officers added. I was trying to digest what was going on when he continued, "We have murder and attempted murder warrants outstanding on him, and the child is probably the only witness. He's not exactly a gentle man. There are almost a dozen warrants out on him from several states, including two other shootings during robberies."
"What to do?" I asked. Everyone looked at each other for an answer, but none was forthcoming.
"Our initial thought is to place him in protective custody, but we don't have a secure hospital setting where we can place a juvenile that needs the specialized care Doctor Roberts states he does," an older officer, seemingly in charge said.
"No. He is too emotionally unstable for that," I declared. "A prison ward is out of the question." 'Why the FUCK did Roberts pick a room without a coffee cup?' I asked myself. 'Shit, without a joint dispenser!' I thought although I hadn't smoked in several years. "Maybe I watched too many detective shows on TV when I was in school, but, is there a way to hide him? Is there a proper setting we can move him to where papa cant find him or get to him if he does find him?" I could almost hear gears grinding in everyone's brain.
"What about the Psychiatric Ward? It's a closed setting," Roberts suggested after a long silence.
"No way. That environment could cause irreparable harm, I work there, look what its done to me!" I almost wished I hadn't made that comment as I said it, but it did take the edge off the tension a little. "I was going to talk to you a little later, and suggest a staffing Monday, but has his heart recovered enough to move him to a rehab center?" Roberts answered he wanted to examine him again, but felt he was.
"What about Hill Country Springs?" I suggested. "I use them for some of my patients, they have an excellent medical staff, outstanding PT and OT programs, and have a semi-closed setting that keeps my young addicts safe while they dry out." He nodded as his face brightened.
The policemen looked as if they were not sure what we were talking about, but offered no objection, so I excused myself, saying I would be right back, and went to the Nurses' Station.
"Please locate Doctor Ebestein, and have him call in; transfer his call to Conference 2. Also, see if Frank from PT is on-campus. If he is, have him report to me. If not I need to see the lead PT Tech. Both stat, please." I told the charge nurse. I started back toward the meeting but turned back. "Could you have someone bring a pot of coffee and cups for us too? I'm going into withdrawal!"
Roberts had filled the officers in regarding Hill Country Springs when I returned to the room. I added I would have no problem admitting him as a 'John Doe', something I had done in the past to protect the influential parents of some of my patients.
Within minutes Ebestein called and had no problem with our plan. Frank came into the room while I was on the phone. He was a little disappointed that he wouldn't have time to work with Johnny further, but was sure Hill Country could pick up without a problem. Security agreed to provide plain clothes protection until we could move the boy, and we seemed to have a plan. A call to the rehab center's Director and everything was in place to move the boy right after lunch.
"Your suggestion about Hill Country didn't have anything to do with it being close to your house, did it?" Roberts asked as the meeting broke up, giving me a grin. "By the way, he is more stable than I let on, but I wasn't about to risk him going into some police lockup."
"Thanks, but they weren't going to anyway, I'd declare him first! I thought you were one of those upright red neck types!" I joked. "Well, the ranch is nearby! Hey, a good place to stop for a cold one after your rounds with him!" I snickered.
Johnny fell right into our hands when I told him he was going to be dismissed from the hospital. Frank and I pumped him up, telling him he was doing so well it was time to move onto the next step of his recovery, which earned each of us a long hug. When I told him I would be seeing him every day I got another hug as he whispered, "Thanks Mister Doc!" After a pause he whimpered, "I still getta meet your horses don't I, please?"
"You're much closer than you think," I answered, kissing him on top of his head.
Thanks to my cat's big claws I was able to get to the office in time for the first of the three or so appointments I had. A few discussions with my nurse regarding the practice and I managed to get out of the office shortly before noon. As I grabbed a bite of lunch I started to see some hope that the weekend might finally arrive, that wonderful time when I could try to regain my sanity, or some of it at least.
I had just gotten back to the hospital to do my afternoon rounds, a couple of hours ahead of schedule, when my cell phone rang. When I saw Cindy's name on the caller ID I answered.
"Hi Adam, thanks so much for inviting little Carl! He just called," she began. "I hope he's not becoming a pest, tell me if he is imposing." Caught completely off guard, I was trying to figure out what on earth she was talking about when the cell beeped a tone into my ear, announcing I had another call via call waiting.
When I looked at the display it read, Cornerstone Academy. 'Shit, so much for adjusting to their new school' I thought as I told Cindy I had an urgent call, knowing one of them wasn't coping, needed help; well and hoping one of them hadn't gotten into trouble on their first day. I took a deep breath before pushing Flash on the keypad.
"Hi Doct. . . Ah, Dad!" Ronnie's alto voice began. "Ah, well, Junior's mom said it would be neat if he, well, ah, well if he can come riding after school? Can he, please sir? She said it's okay! Sir! And Mary's gonna be there!"
'Yeah, guess who is on the other line, fool!' I thought. 'Let's see, boarding school in Alaska for winters, Iraq for summers. Vacations in Afghanistan, as soon as the adoption is finalized.' I took a couple of deep breaths.
"What a surprise, Mrs. Roberts is on the phone with me right now!" I answered, having more than a little trouble trying to keep from laughing. 'Fuck it,' I told myself. "Yes, Junior is welcome, your friends always are. We need to talk about planning ahead though, okay?"
"Thanks Po. . . Dad! Oh, his mom said it's okay for him to spend the night, okay? Thanks sir, I love you! I gotta go, I'm gonna be late for my class," he said and rang off before I could answer.
"Well, don't you think you are being a little strict on them? They just moved in with you!" Cindy giggled like a teen age school girl, as she said it I remembered switching calls on my cell phone allowed all the parties on line to hear and talk to each other. "Just don't spoil my son TOO badly!" she quipped.
She asked where we could meet to give me a change of clothes and such for Carl Junior, and we agreed to meet in the hospital parking lot. 'Antarctica!' I thought as I began my rounds. 'There has to be a good boarding school there, as close to the South Pole as possible, but anything would do!'
Johnny had settled into Hill Country fairly well when I visited him on the way home. He was happy to get out of the hospital but wasn't completely thrilled with the security at the center. He had to call the Nurses' Station and wait for them to remotely unlock the door to his room before he could leave it but he was coping. He fairly well accepted my explanation that it was for his safety and privacy (I didn't tell him all the rooms were equipped with video cameras).
My throat tightened when he told me, "I guess it's okay, my dad used to lock us up bunch anyhow." 'Maybe I should go find this son-of-a-bitch myself,' I thought as he described how, besides being locked in storage sheds while papa was out burglarizing, in the few houses they had stayed Dad always had 'a little room', by his description I'm sure a closet, that he and his brother were routinely locked into.
His room had a wonderful view of the flowing South Texas hills, his vantage was even in the direction of my ranch, about ten miles from the center. Hill Country had issued him gym shorts and a tee-shirt, along with a pair of shower thongs for his feet, which he was as happy as he was proud that he could wear.
"See Mister, I did good like you said!" he proudly proclaimed. "Can I get to see Zack and ah, Hima now? They are sooooo pretty! Please Mister!"
"You are getting much closer, much closer than you realize," I answered, draping my arm over his shoulder. He instantly pushed against my stomach and my hand fell across his thin, flat chest. My shoulders and neck muscles tightened as my fingers found the swollen scars from his several surgeries, my little finger tingling as if it remembered being inside his warm heart.
"See that hilltop?" I asked. "Zoe, and Hera, that is their names, live on the other side of it. So do I, and the other horses. You keep trying and get well, and it's not far off now, is it! You keep doing your exercises, and exactly what the staff says, and you meet my friends soon." without thinking I bent down and kissed him on the top of his head.
As I snuggled with him I chastised myself for getting personally, or emotionally involved with him. 'Time to bail out, Roberts is right. Monday I refer him to another doc.' I told myself as I left the center.
I had driven a mile or so when my cell phone rang again, my office calling. 'God Damn-it!' I thought, 'I want to start the weekend, I've had enough!', but answered. When my nurse informed me a worker from CPS was demanding to speak to me immediately, I took a deep breath and asked her to forward the call.
"Where is my client!" an angry voice barked. "The John Doe, you moved him without our permission?" 'This going to be fun,' I thought as I pulled off the road.
"Good afternoon, this is Doctor Owen," I answered, forcing a little extra cheerfulness into my voice.
"Oh, I am Valerie Cruz, with Children's Protective Services. Where have you taken my client, how dare you move him without my permission?" I thought for a few seconds, trying to remember if this was the same loser that wanted to put the boy in Juvenile Detention.
"And to which client are you referring, I'm afraid I am not treating any patient by the name of John Doe."
The line was silent for a couple of seconds, then I heard paper ruffling in the background. "I have it here somewhere. . . John. . . Yes, John Doeman. I must know his whereabouts immediately! He is one of my cases and my responsibility, you had no right to move him without consulting me! And I have a report I must file before I can go home."
'Yes, that's the bitch,' I told myself. 'Be nice,' I thought, trying to resist the urge to bite her head off over the bandwidth. 'Don't bloody the radio waves, they might drip blood onto the hill country.'
"Oh, Johnny Doeman, his legal name is Johnny. I'm surprised to hear from you, no one has been in contact in so long I didn't know you were still involved." I paused, waiting for a response, but got none. "The child has been transferred to an area Rehabilitation Center, which is more suited to help in his recovery and for his protection, at the recommendation of the San Antonio Police Department."
"This child is under MY protection!" she barked. "And is a ward of the courts. You were completely out of line here!" 'Shit, the bitch doesn't even know what is going on!' I thought.
"No ma'am, I am a Licensed Physician, and a Board Certified Psychiatrist, further the Physician of record for this patient. I am completely within my power to commit him to whatever treatment program I feel appropriate. Why was I not notified regarding court proceedings regarding his circumstance?"
"That's legal's job, not mine." She countered. "Doctor, I need to complete this report, where is this boy?" 'Yeah, that's what I thought,' I silently smirked. 'Let's see how badly she wants to. . . Do Her Job'
"I'm afraid I can’t reveal that over the phone, I would need to verify you are who you claim. Please forgive me, but Doctor-Patient Privilege, I'm sure you can understand I have guidelines I have to work under just like you. Let's see, I could meet with you at seven o'clock, or 7:30 tomorrow morning, which would you prefer?"
She paused again before responding, "I don't work on. . . I mean I'm afraid I am committed all day tomorrow, could we meet on Monday? Anytime after nine?"
'Got'ya, BITCH!' I thought. "Of course. I don't know my schedule for Monday, please call my office, my receptionist will arrange an appointment, I'm sure for the first part of the week. Oh, for my notes, to which court is the child assigned?"
Another long pause. "Ah, let me see, yes, the 249th." My heart leapt for joy. 'You are dead fuck'n meat, bitch!' I thought as I rang off.
I was still trying to identify the wonderful aroma that filled the house as I walked in, when Mark's high pitched voice cried out, "Hi Doctor Pop!" I just had time to set my laptop down when two skinny bodies slammed against me, burying their faces into my stomach as we hugged. 'Fresh baked cookies, yeah!' rang from the back of my brain.
I had to snicker when I looked down at them, a pair of matching chocolate milk mustaches adorning their bright faces. "Hi Doctor Pop!" Junior's voice added. Without thinking I extended my arm and he rushed into our group hug.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Owens," Mary smiled as I led the boys back into the family area. I had to smile as I looked over the large, half empty milk glasses and plates of cookies scattered across the breakfast bar, another load of cookies cooling on top of the stove.
"Adam, please," I replied. "Please, I don't need any doctor stuff at home, please call me Adam. Yumm, these look unreal!" I said as I popped one of the soft, still warm cookies in my mouth. "A little different than potato chips and bean dip?" I quipped at the boys. All three of them resumed their assault on their afternoon snack, almost as if they wanted to get their fill before I ate too much.
"I see you met Junior, I'm sorry I didn't let you know he was coming, but I had left your phone number at home," I told Mary. "He's somewhat like a spare kid, becoming a fixture here; I think you know his father, doctor Roberts."
I had to bite my lip as I looked at the boys. Ronnie and Mark had changed into jeans and tee-shirt. Junior was a real sight, he somehow had squeezed into a pair of Ronnie's jeans and tee-shirt. The fit was so tight that all the seams of the jeans were bulging with stress, so much they looked more like Lycra tights than denim, along with showing an inch or so of socks at the bottom. The tee-shirt was equally form fitting, about two sizes too small, about two inches of his midriff open - he reminded so much of Alfalfa on the old time Spanky and Our Gang shows from the fifties it was hard to keep from laughing.
"Oh, Junior, your mom sent a backpack with some clothes, it's in the foyer," I said, probably out of mercy toward the boy.
"Yeah thanks Pop! I mean Doctor Owens," he answered, rushing toward the entryway.
"I like Pop better, okay?" I said. "Oh, Junior, she sent this too," I added, holding out the plastic pouch Cindy asked me to give to him. His face melted as he walked back to me and accepted it. He stuffed it under his arm and started upstairs when I added, "Junior?"
"Yes sir," he groaned, inserting his headgear as he wiggled up the stairs.
"I couldn't find much to cook for your supper Doctor, I mean Adam," Mary said after the boys rushed out to go riding. "I'm making a meatloaf, and some corn and mashed potatoes, but there is nothing here to work with!" she declared.
'Meatloaf, I was thinking frozen pizza or sandwiches!' I thought. "I'm sorry, I'm a bachelor and a new father. . . Can I give you a credit card, and ask you to pick up whatever you think you need? Spend what you want."
We talked for a couple of minutes before I told her I had to excuse myself, I had a crisis that I had to deal with this afternoon. I promised we spend the time needed to get organized tomorrow. 'I'm a bachelor, yeah well, is that as in WAS?' I kept thinking as I walked into my study.
I started to call Cindy, but as Cruz' voice rang back into my head I opened my PDA, and dialed Judge Rodriguez. I rolled my eyes after I identified myself, saying I had to talk to him immediately when his secretary told me she would 'see if he was in the office'.
'Bitch, you know where he is better than he does, why don't you just say you'll ask if he wants to talk to me' I thought.
"Good afternoon Doctor. I hope you are calling with good news about Ronald and Mark," the judge's voice interrupted my thought. The tone of his voice told me he knew I was not. He was silent for several seconds after I filled him in on today's events, along with the earlier history of Johnny.
"I think I have found the case, please hold while I scan the file," he finally asked. After another pause, he said, "I have a John Doe, and yes, your name is in the file, you are listed as the Admitting Doctor. My records show the boy was considered terminal, or at best stood little or no chance of recovery beyond a vegetable state, that no one even knows the child's name. I show that CPS has filed a verbal statement from you to that effect."
I was so stunned I just stared at the telephone, unable to formulate an answer. "Doctor Owens, are you there?" Rodriguez's voice snapped me back. "From your brief at the beginning of this conversation, may I presume this is not accurate?" I guess my grunt was enough, as he continued, "We have had questions regarding Ms. Cruz. . . performance. . . before. Is the child safe and well cared for right now? Do you have any immediate concerns regarding his care, or his safety or recovery?" Another grunt seemed to work.
"I need to have much of what you told me in writing to go too much further, but I assure you I will get some answers in the next few minutes. Would you be available to conference call, a teleconferenced hearing, later this evening? In the interim I am issuing an injunction giving you complete control of this child's care, my clerk is drafting it as we speak, it will be enforced within minutes. I want to know what is going on Doctor, if heads roll they will roll!"
"The little ones said you like a beer after work," Mary said, interrupting my thoughts as she set a Coors in front of me. "I was not snooping, but I heard CPS, and the name Cruz," she added. "She is a worthless... caseworker if you dare call her that, ask anyone at Central. If you need any help, you have plenty from us!" She smiled as she told me supper was in the oven, that she would be back tomorrow.
Rodriguez didn't waste any time. After I leaned back in my chair for a couple of minutes, trying to convince myself all this was really happening, I downed the beer Mary had brought me, went to my bedroom and changed into some swimming trunks. I grabbed another beer and was almost to the pool when the phone rang again. 'If you were certifying rich old ladies for divorce, they would all be on the golf course now,' I told myself as I read the caller ID.
"Good evening Doctor. I have the District Attorney, along with my court reporter with me. I hate to impose, Doctor Owens, but I must ask you to repeat what you told me earlier regarding the Johnny. . . Doeman case. My reporter will be recording these proceedings and what you say will be used as a statement. Would you mind doing this?"
After I agreed, he made me state my full name, date of birth and Social Security Number, then asked me to swear to tell the truth. Ten minutes later, after I recounted the events regarding Johnny and answered the last of their questions, the judge again thanked me and said he would be back in touch. 'Okay,' I thought, 'what happens now.'
Cindy called shortly after the boys had loaded the dishwasher after supper and jumped into the pool. "What on earth did you stir up?" she began. "Your patient's Guardian at Litem called me, he was almost looking for a defense attorney! I'm the fool that talked him into taking the case!"
"Holy Shit!" Cindy reacted after I outlined the afternoon's events to her, "Excuse me, I didn't mean to say that, I don't think you have any idea what you might have unearthed! Rodriguez has issued a bench warrant for the caseworker and her supervisor. He has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow morning, ordering she surrender herself. Rumor is he might be considering jailing her!"
I heaved a sigh of relief when she told me we didn't have to be at the hearing. After hanging up I took a large swallow of beer and leaned back against the sofa, closing my eyes. 'T! G! I! F!!!' my subconscious hooted.
I started to stir from my slumber when a tight little body climbed into my lap. At first, I thought I was dreaming, enjoying its thin arms wrapping around my chest as a little face pushed its way under my chin, snuggling against my neck. It wasn't until a cold wet feeling began soaking into my lap that I snapped that I was not dreaming, but had a wet kid sitting on me.
"Hi Dad, when you gonna come swim with us?" Mark's beautiful voice asked. I felt two more wet kids snuggle against me, one on each side, as I opened my eyes. "I want you to throw me and stuff!" Mark whimpered. When I looked up the patio door told me it was after sunset, only a few moonbeams filtered into the room.
"Come on, please," Ronnie added. Junior's hug from the other side of the couch added his support. 'Fuck, 10:30?' I thought as I looked at the entertainment center's clock.
"I don't know, this feels too good," I answered, pulling Ronnie and Junior more tightly against me. "You guys are, well I love you guys," I added. It took me a minute to realize one of the boys snuggled against me was just a guest.
"You're neat, you're like a spare dad," Junior said. "Well, like you told Mary I was a spare kid, ah sir!" I couldn't resist hugging him more tightly and kissing his forehead.
"Guys, it's bedtime!" I announced. "Well almost, let's jump in for a quick swim, and everyone in bed, okay? Well, half an hour, I have to do rounds in the morning!" I closed my eyes for a couple of seconds before I picked Mark up and started toward the patio door.
"What's this?" I asked, looking over the mass of quilts and pillows piled in the family room.
"We was sort of wondering if we can sleep down here, Please!" Mark whined. 'I'm glad I haven't spoiled them too, Fuck you Cindy!' I thought before I kissed him again and tossed Mark into the pool.
I was a little surprised to wake up alone, until I remembered Junior was also here. After a quick shower, I dressed and grabbed a cup of coffee. I was trying to convince myself to go wake the boys when I heard a toilet flush. After a minute or so all three of them appeared in the kitchen, clad only in Speedos. Ronnie and Mark ran to me squeezing into a tight hug, then to my surprise, Junior pushed his thin body under my arm, forcing his way into our hug.
"Did you guys have anything planned to start the day?" I snickered as I kissed each of them on the head. "What happened to Mr. Baggy Shorts?" I quipped, popping Junior on his tight little bottom. He giggled and pushed his face against my chest, muttering something I couldn't understand.
"I have to go to the hospital for a few minutes, will you guys be okay here alone?" I asked.
"Really? We can stay here?" Ronnie hooted. "Just us?"
"A couple of rules, and if you promise to obey them, you can." All three of them stiffened but continued our hug.
"No swimming, I mean when I'm gone. No riding, well, okay, no one rides Zeus and if you go riding it has to be all three of you, and you stay together. Will that work?" I felt three little foreheads nodding up and down against my chest. "And Ronnie's in charge, no questions asked."
Ronnie pulled away a little and looked up at me, wide eyed. "But, well, but Junior is older and stuff."
"And is also your guest, I mean our guest," I replied. "You are my oldest son, you're the man of the house when I'm not here. Sorry Junior, but you are only my part time son! Or do you remember mom and dad?" I added, tousling his hair. "You guys go jump in to pool, and I'll make you some breakfast before I leave okay?"
They all hugged me again before darting out the patio door. "Junior, take off your!!!" I just had time to yell before he dove into the water. "Headgear," I added. 'That boy don’t have both oars in the water,' I thought as I started into the kitchen.
I cooked some little sausage links and nuked some frozen French toast in the microwave while I had another cup of coffee, and nibbled on a couple of pieces of toast. When everything was cooked I called them back inside, telling them I was leaving and to go eat. I had started toward the door when a thin, dripping wet little rat slammed against me, wrapping his long arms around my waist. "I love you Dad," Mark whispered, as two more thin wet bodies encircled me.
"I love you guys," I answered. I enjoyed their snuggle for a minute or so before sending them to eat. 'Well, my clothes should dry before I get into town.'
Hill Country's team had completed their evaluation and recommended a Plan of Treatment for Johnny, none to my surprise. He was, as I expected, an intelligent lad, with an IQ of 120, but very far behind academically. He was reading on a third-grade level, his math and language skills were a little lower than that. The battery of psychological tests showed no real problems but reflected major problems regarding his the social upbringing, or lack of it, as we all were aware. "A budding con man," one of the Sociologists noted.
Their treatment plan was, as always, pretty well precisely what I had in mind. Besides extensive occupational and physical therapy, daily counseling from their staff Psychologists and Sociologists, they recommended individual academic tutoring, reinforced with a heavy dosage of computer games designed to boost basic learning skills (of course without the child knowing it!), and supervised social interaction with positive peer influences. I was a little surprised that they recommended he begin making supervised 'field trips' outside the facility as soon as they did, I had planned on at least a month, but their staff recommended short trips begin as soon as his Cardiologist felt he was ready. 'Now the ball's in your court Roberts,' I snickered to myself.
I had to laugh out loud when I read the handwritten note, from the evaluation team leader, at the bottom of the report. "And don't forget horseback riding, PLEASE!" I signed off on their plan, suggesting a staffing about mid week.
"Damn, how did you manage to get in here!" Roberts' voice boomed from behind. I turned in time to see him walking from Johnny's room toward me. "This isn't a hospital, it's a damn prison!" he commented under his breath as we met. "I thought I was going to have to give a sample of my foreskin to get this damn thing!" he added, pointing at his ID Badge.
"Welcome to my world, you should visit a secure facility! How's he doing?
"I’ve almost gone back to faith healing," he began. "That is a very determined lad. I read the Treatment Plan earlier and I'm going to release him to almost full activity, no contact sports or high impact physical activity is the only restriction I am going to impose." He snickered before adding, "No horseback riding yet, but a walk around the pasture, meeting his four legged heroes and maybe a dip in a pool would do him wonders. It might even keep the ward staff from killing him!"
"I don't know Carl," I answered as I digested his suggestion. "Too much is going on right now. The security concerns and I don't think my boys, well if I am ready. Hey, the boys and I are just settling in, and there is some other shit going on with his custody right now and, well, I think maybe in a few weeks, I don't want too much too quickly. Let me think about it, I should talk to my new sons first too."
"Understandable," he answered. I felt a little uncomfortable with his facial expression as he added, "Let's go see him. You might want to go rinse your face first, teared eyes don't instill patient confidence," he added.
"Do you ever worry about being able to get out of these rooms?" Roberts asked as I scanned my ID, unlocking the door to Johnny's room.
"Want to go upstairs, and visit my patients in the rubber rooms?" I quipped, hoping he didn't know they only existed in Hollywood anymore. His eyes answered for him.
"Hi Mister! Look, I got a computer!" Johnny howled as we entered his room. "I got games and bunch of neat stuff on it!" he clicked the mouse with his left hand a couple of times, bringing up a math bee program. "Oh, I mean Doc, I mean Doctor, they said I ain't suppose to call you Mister, sir."
"I like Doc, will that work?" I suggested, earning a wide smile from him.
"Well, but I can’t find your horses on it like on your little computer, will you show me where, PLEASE?" "Oh yeah, watch!" he added before I could answer, climbing out of his chair. He performed some strange contortions with his hips and thin long legs before leaning against the chair again. "Well I can do it sometimes," he moaned, "Christy taught my feet to stand on my toes again like I used to could, but I guess they forgot now. But I can do it, I promise I can!"
"You're doing great, just keep trying and your legs will remember how to do everything," I answered, patting him on the head. "The pictures are not on your computer right now, but my laptop. . . my little computer is in my car, I'll send them to this computer very soon, a few minutes after we finish talking."
Roberts, gently touching my shoulder made me look at him. He twisted his fingers as if asking for my keys before he pointed at the computer. I gave him my car keys and he started out of the room, only to glare back at me when he was stopped by the locked door. When I pointed at my ID badge he shook his head, scanned his through the electronic lock and let himself out.
"Are them horses really right over there?" Johnny asked, staring out his window. "Please, they're so pretty, please do I really get to see them?"
"I promise you will see them, you will get to pet them and ride them," I answered. "Show me what you are doing on the computer, how many lessons have. . . I mean levels have you won."
"Watch sir!" he exclaimed. "I gotta win two levels today and I already did on most of them! I gotta go to PT and stuff still but I'm gonna do three more today, I'm gonna! Look, I'm almost a bronze warrior! I'm gonna be tonight!"
He was doing well, especially considering he was doing some timed tutorials, designed for a two handed user, and showing excellent scores on the part of the programs that recorded retention levels. When I glanced at the statistics area he was progressing well above the norm. I didn't notice that Roberts had slipped back into the room until he sat my laptop next to the keyboard of Johnny's computer.
"Wow, there's your horses! PLEASE can you put them on here? Please I wanta look at them!" the boy begged, pushing against me.
"Yes, we're going to do that right now," I answered. "When do you want to meet them?" I asked before I realized it.
"Now, right now!" he cried, "Please M. . . I mean. . . Doc, please? I'll be good and I won't run away or nothing, please?" 'He is not any kind of fool!' I told myself. 'Yeah, you're going to refer him, sure!' I chastised myself.
"Maybe tomorrow?" I asked. His mouth dropped open so fast I thought he was going to bruise his chin. "But you have to keep working hard. If you get excellent reports from your therapists and earn Bronze Warrior, we'll go meet the horses tomorrow. You're not ready to. . ." I stopped as his legs buckled, I was just barely able to catch him before he collapsed onto the floor.
I had just laid him in his bed when I noticed Roberts trying to rip the hall door off its hinges. "Call buttons, remember Doctor?" he gave me a dirty look before I could add, "He's stable, he fainted."
Roberts ignored me, remembering his badge he rushed into the hall yelling for a Crash Cart, which made the nurses call a Code Blue. I punched the emergency call button announcing, "Cancel Code Blue, this is Doctor Owens, cancel Code Blue" It worked somewhat, only ten or so people rushed into Johnny's room, filling it only half full of equipment.
"I'm sorry!" the boy whimpered. "I'm, well, I, I'm sorry!" he repeated, pushing his little body against me, pulling me further onto his bed as he hid under my chin. Still, on automatic I leaned into him, cuddling him as several floor nurses and techs checked his pulse, and petted him like a puppy, verifying for themselves he was okay. "I'm sorry Mist... I mean Doc, please do I still getta go see the horses? I'll be good, PLEASE?"
"Do you remember what I asked, what I said you have to accomplish first?" I asked.
"Yeah! I'm gonna be a Silver Warrior tonight, and I'm gonna do ALL my exercises I promise!" he hooted, pushing me away and limping to the computer. "I'm gonna climb stairs too like Frank said I gotta!" He turned around just before he got to the computer and hobbled back to his bed, jerking a couple of my horses' pictures off his bed rail and leaning them against the wall behind his computer's monitor.
"Okay! But you're not going to ride them tomorrow, you can meet them, and pet them. Do you like to go swimming?"
"You shouldn't be so detached from your patients, I thought you Shrinks got involved!" Roberts snickered a few minutes later, as he and I walked through the parking lot. We walked a few more steps before added, "Hell, I invite my heart patients to my ranch all the time!"
"Yeah, but you don't get stuck with worn out old bone cutters out trying to be shrinks!" I countered. "It's early, but I'm ready for a beer, meet you there?"
Mary was at the house when Roberts and I arrived. After informing me the boys were horseback riding, she gave me the receipts from her grocery shopping. At first, I was a little shocked at the amount she had spent, but as she tactfully chastised me for all the out-of-date and rotten food she replaced, I felt way too embarrassed to say anything. I ignored Roberts’ teasing, asking since I had just moved, how much of it I had moved from my apartment. I didn't need to answer, my red face did for me.
Roberts and I sat around for a few minutes, enjoying a beer, before the boys appeared, darting into the kitchen without noticing us. Immediately I heard the rattle of glasses and plates, followed by three young voices echoing, 'Wow, thanks Mary!' "Damn, that shows where we rate!" Roberts mumbled.
A couple of minutes later the boys came back out of the kitchen carrying bowls of fruit and glasses of milk. At first all three of their faces perked up as they noticed us and howled their hellos, but sat down and began munching instead of giving us hugs. A second or so later Junior's happy face melted as he looked back at his dad. "Ah, do I have to go home already?" he whimpered.
"No, not right away," Roberts answered. Junior's face relaxed only slightly. Roberts let him stew for probably a full minute before adding, "Not until Doctor Owens runs out of beer." Junior's face burst back into a happy smile.
"Wow, that won't be till summer!" Ronnie whispered to his friend, I think intentionally loud enough for me to hear. They all giggled at my mocked, hurt look.
I could hear some muffled conversation when the boys took their places back in the kitchen. Soon all three of them were standing in front of us exchanging concerned looks. "Um, Dad. . ." Ronnie muttered.
"Well, Dad, I was wondering. . ." Junior tried, fading off as he looked back at my two.
"Ah, you said we gotta ask you before we. . . well but," Ronnie whimpered. They swapped worried looks again.
"Can Junior spend the night?" Mark chimed. His brother and Junior cut him nasty glares, I could almost read 'the little twerp screwed everything up!' in their eyes. "Well, how do you ask first when they're both here!" Mark snapped.
"Junior is welcome, if it's alright with his parents," I answered, biting my tongue to keep a straight face. "And Mark is right, be open with us guys, okay!" I added earning me a proud grin from my youngest.
"Yes, you may, if your mother doesn't have any plans. Call her and see if she does," Roberts said. I was waiting for one of them to say they already had, but instead, they grinned at each other and Junior darted toward the phone as Ronnie and Mark pushed into a hug against me.
"Wait a minute son," I called after him. They all turned to stone, Junior's shoulders and back slumped like the weight of the world had been dropped on it. "You guys are going to come out for tomorrow," I asked Roberts. "After all, you got me into this!"
Roberts thought for a second or so before grinning. "And let me talk to your mother when you are finished asking."
Junior remained motionless for several seconds until I snapped, "Hurry, boy! The older us old men get, the quicker we change our minds!" Junior looked at me somewhat lost until Ronnie, then Mark hugged me even tighter, giggling like little girls.
"Cindy wants to know what we should bring," Roberts asked me after he talked to his wife for a few seconds.
"Your Defibrillator," I quipped.
After he got off the phone with Cindy, we explained to the boys about Johnny's visit, and about his paralyzed arm, and that he was only to have limited physical activity. They were much more understanding and interested than I could have ever imagined; besides what I had told Ronnie and Mark about my little patient Junior acted as if he knew the lad, I'm sure from hearing his parents talk.
Immediately after they darted outside for another ride Mary appeared from the kitchen, all but insisting she be 'allowed' to come back and help out. "Of course, but ONLY to eat barbeque and have a good time, bring your swimming suit" I answered. "Come out and have some fun." She gave me an almost evil grin before going back into the kitchen.
After the boys and I ate supper, everyone's full day, and I'm sure full stomachs, set in. While the boys loaded the dishwasher I leaned back on the couch, looking for a movie or show to kick back with. Soon I had Ronnie and Mark snuggling against me on one side, and Junior tucked tightly under my arm on the other, all of us falling asleep in our cuddle so quickly I don't remember what we started to watch.
My bladder, demanding relief, woke me up a couple of hours later. I cuddled with the nest of angels crashed against me, Mark now laying across my lap while Ronnie and Junior's bodies were tucked tightly under my arms, their heads using my chest as a pillow. 'I'm really sorry guys, but nature calls,' I thought as I carefully peeled them off me, trying not to awake them.
When I returned to the family room I had decided to wake them up and send them to bed, but as I looked them over my heart wouldn't allow me to. They had snuggled into a tight ball of kid matter, Mark now laying in Junior's lap with Junior's long arms wrapped around his little friend's head and chest. Junior and Ronnie had leaned against each other, their heads resting against the other. 'God, how can they be anywhere near comfortable?' I asked myself. Their contented faces told me to leave them alone, and I grabbed a couple of blankets, covered them, and went into my bedroom to watch the local news on TV.
I undressed and was about to climb into bed when I hesitated and went back into the family room. "I love you guys, thanks for making my life whole," I yawned, kissing each of them on the cheek. 'Life is nice, thanks Mary,' I thought as I climbed under the fresh sheets on my bed. I could feel the day's tensions draining from my shoulders and neck as I relaxed against my pillow.
I wasn't really paying any attention to the news broadcast until the anchor reporter announced, "Gun shots racked the halls of Central Baptist Hospital earlier today."
I bolted upright in bed as he continued, saying that hospital security had confronted an intruder as he attempted to enter the hospital's pediatric ward, and were fired on as they attempted to detain him. 'No, NO fucking way!' I thought. My blood pressure dropped thirty or so points when the reporter said no one was injured. 'This cannot be fucking real!' I thought as I dialed Central's phone number.
As I feared, it was Johnny's dad that was at the hospital. He was seen snooping around the patient charts, they were sure trying to locate his 'son', and the ward staff called security. When hospital security tried to apprehend him he fired at them, unloading three shots before escaping. Security was happy that the man's car had been recovered in the parking lot but had no word as to the police's efforts to catch him. 'What kind of sick animal is this? Shooting up a hospital ward full of sick children, this guy can't be human!'
I was digesting what they had told me when I felt a pair of warm, thin arms drape around my waist. "Hi Doctor Pop," Mark whined. "You look mad. We didn't do anything did we?" His sleepy, hazel eyes looking up at me changed my mood instantly.
"No, I'm just a little worried Pumpkin." I kissed him on the nose before wrapping my arm around him. I could feel the tension drain out of my body as I held him. "I thought you were asleep. Where are your brothers. . . I mean your brother and Junior."
"They're asleep. I just got, well, can I sleep in here? With you?" he whimpered, giving me his best sad puppy dog eyes.
I tried to be a good parent and send him to his bed, but a couple more glances at his sweet, innocent face and I laid back, pulling the covers over us and pulling him into a tight snuggle. "I love you Turkey," I whispered as I closed my eyes.
I cuddled Mark for a few minutes when I woke up, until my bladder, and aroma from the coffee pot called. Junior and Ronnie were still sound asleep on the couch, the corny adventure movie they had been watching playing through, probably for the third or so time. Not long after I started frying some bacon and baking biscuits, thin brief-clad zombies began appearing in the kitchen, looking as if the only thing that would save them from being eternally condemned to being the living dead was breakfast.
I got no arguments when I suggested they take a dip in the pool while I finished cooking. I was proud of myself that I managed to grab Junior by his narrow waist before he got out the patio door. I ignored his bewildered stare and removed his headgear straps for him. He gave me a sheepish look as he took his facebow out of his mouth and rushed to the pool.
After cautioning the boys not to swim, and stay out of trouble, I arrived at Hill Country right at ten o'clock. "Thank God you're here!" a nurse exclaimed as I entered Johnny's ward. 'Fuck, what now!' I thought as I stared at her. "We are all about ready to strap that boy down before he wears out his call button! I'd swear he's been asking if you were here yet every five minutes!"
"Since six A.M.!" another nurse added.
"Oh, I just stopped by to tell you I can’t take him today, tell him we'll try it another time. You don't mind telling him for me, do you?" I answered. I started to turn away from the station when the sound of a clipboard slamming onto the counter told me my joke was not well received. "Kidding, just kidding," I added, hoping it would fend off the death wish both nurses eyes were broadcasting.
"Yeah!" Johnny hooted as I opened the door to his room. I only got the door open wide enough for his thin body to fit when he pushed up against me, hugging my waist with his one working arm. "I thought you'd never come!"
"So I heard," I snickered. I hugged him for a few seconds before adding, "Hey, you look comfortable!" I added. He grinned as he adjusted his Hill Country tee-shirt, trying his best to reach all the around the waist band of his gym shorts to tuck it in. 'We have to come up with some clothes, I hope he can wear a pair of the boys' sneakers,' I thought as I looked down at his issued sandals.
I picked up another set of shorts and shirt for him as I signed him out at the Nurses Station. When I turned away from the station he was standing in front if a mirror, combing his hair with his fingers. "You look great," I said as I ushered him down the hall.
He became a little nervous as we made our way through the several locked doors between the center's secure wing and the parking lot. As we stepped out of the building I slipped my arm around his shoulder to guide him to the car. I felt him stiffen as I did, "I won’t run or nothing, Mister. . . I mean Doctor."
"I know you won't, I'm sorry," I replied, withdrawing my arm. He looked up at me for an instant and pushed his body back against me, giving me a warm smile.
"Wow! Is this your car?" he exclaimed as I opened the passenger door for him. "You gotta be really rich!"
"I wish I was," I snickered as I helped him with his seatbelt. He didn't say anything the entire ride back to the ranch, his saucer size eyes examining every detail of the Jaguar's interior, running his hand over the soft leather around him.
"This is where the horses and I live, some of them might come to greet us," I told him as I punched the remote to open the gate. His fascination with the car immediately disappeared and he began scanning the pastures on each side of the driveway, his pixie head sweeping back and forth like a radar antenna.
"Wow, this is like on TV," he almost whispered as we drove toward the house.
To Be Continued…