Patient John Doe

Chapter 8

Johnny's busy morning, along with the ten pounds or so of food he inhaled, caught up with him very shortly after we got back into the Suburban. I glanced back at the kids as Roberts entered the freeway, and his eyes were closed, his head leaned back against his seat. We had driven five minutes or so when Cindy, sitting directly behind me, gently touched my arm. When I turned around Johnny was snuggled against Ronnie's thin chest, tucked under Ronnie's arm. Ronnie gave me a wide smile when he saw me looking, then rubbed Johnny's shoulder.

I turned back toward the kids and put my finger to my lips, telling them to be quiet as Roberts parked in front of my house. After everyone but Johnny and Ronnie climbed out I carefully picked the still sleeping youngster up and carried him inside, gently laying him on the couch in my study. "Sleep, my little angel, I think you might have an interesting afternoon," I whispered as I stroked his bangs. I closed the window curtains and turned out the lights, but left the door leading to the family room open in case he woke up.

I wasn't surprised when the kids were already in their swimsuits. "Perfect idea," I said, heading for my bedroom. Cindy and Carl clearly agreed and we all met at the pool, Roberts bringing beer for himself and I. Everyone swam and stretched their stiff muscles from our car ride for probably an hour before the boys all but demanded they be allowed to go riding.

"Okay guys, but when the truck gets here with the Roberts' horses, I want you out of the pasture immediately. No one in the pasture when we unload, I mean it," I ordered. Junior and my boys flew into the house to change.

Jennifer wanted no part of that and asked if she could go inside and read. I snickered as Roberts shook his head at his daughter. 'Well, Cindy has a horse now,' I thought.

"They smell!" Cindy mocked, seeing my face. "Sometimes I think she would be a good candidate for some of your sessions."

The boys rushed back out of the house before I could answer. I had to snicker again when Cindy gave Junior a harsh glare. "It's in my purse," she said. He glared back for an instant before going back inside, reappearing a minute or so later wearing his headgear.

A few minutes later I was trying to convince myself to get out of the pool and get dressed, realizing Santos' truck would be arriving soon, when Johnny appeared on the patio, yawning and rubbing his eyes. He took three or four steps toward the pool before he backed up and stepped back inside. "Can I come out there, please?" he asked.

"Of course you can! Come here!" I answered, climbing out of the pool. "Did you sleep good, feel better now?" I asked.

"Yeah, I mean Yes Sir, but I didn't wanta go to sleep I'm sorry! Do I still got time to see the horses before I gotta go back there?" he responded, pushing under my arm. His pleading, miles deep eyes almost drowned me as he looked up and added, "Please?"

"You have plenty of time, and of course you get to see the horses. Doctor and Mrs. Roberts’ new horses are going to arrive soon. You go get the notes you wrote to the horses, I'm going to go get dressed, okay?" His face sunk. "Your letters are on the breakfast bar, I brought them in for you," I added. He brightened like a new penny and gave me a tight hug.

I had changed into an old pair of jeans and tee-shirt, was putting my hair back into a ponytail when the phone rang. It was Santos' driver, announcing he was about five minutes from the ranch. Both of the Roberts' had changed out of their swimwear when I walked back into the family room, Carl with their camcorder hanging from his shoulder.

"Johnny, the new horses are going to arrive in a couple of minutes, I would like you to wait to give the horses your notes for a little while. Would it be alright if Doctor Roberts held them for you?" His face almost snarled 'No WAY!' as he backed away from me, holding the papers behind him.

"It's okay, my husband will take good care of them, but I bet you want to see the new arrivals!" Cindy said as lovingly as only a mother could.

He was still evaluating her face when the gate intercom buzzed. When I returned to the group after opening the entry gate, Carl had the notes in his breast pocket, and Cindy had Johnny tucked against her bosom, the boy smiling like a fat cat.

'Here we go,' I thought as I watched Santos' big truck roar up the driveway. I had planned, or hoped, that Cindy would keep Johnny out of harm's way while I unloaded, but as soon as the other boys climbed over the pasture fence she told him to stay with the other boys and joined me.

"I can handle unloading, I appreciate it if you'd keep track of the kids," I told her.

"I am, there is no way we are going to keep that boy away when he sees what is in that trailer. You handle your herd, I'll take care of the boys," she said. I was still deciding if I wanted to risk her idea when the barrel racer side of her swung the pasture gate open and the truck drove in.

'That's a lady lawyer?' I wondered as I watched her slam the gate closed like a ranch hand. She ignored Zeus as he rushed to challenge the truck's invasion of his turf, his ears laid flat against his massive neck, his tail and hackles risen as he tensed for a fight to protect his harem. All the other horses gathered behind him in loose formation, and after looking back, almost as if he was counting heads, he advanced toward the trailer.

He started to charge Cindy, and the trailer, when she turned to face him, hands on her hips. 'This is NOT going down like I had wanted,' I thought as I rushed to the truck and Cindy.

"Watch out for Zoe too, she is the Alpha mare," I told Cindy as I stepped in front of Zeus. "Down boy, down, it's okay."

Zeus' attitude changed instantly as the driver opened the trailer doors and the two mares' rumps became visible. From the way his ears perked back up and his tail went even higher into the air, I would have sworn now considered the horse-trailer a big Christmas present. As soon as they backed the two mares out of the trailer Zeus strutted toward them like a trained Lipizzaner Stallion. His face clearly read, 'Hello, Ladies!!!'

Cindy had just released the little cinnamon after she backed her out of the trailer when Mark screamed "YEAH! Yeah Pop Yeah!!!"

I turned in time to see him, with Johnny right behind, squirming through the fence and rushing toward the animal. 'This is NOT how I wanted all this to work!' I again told myself as I tried to get between the filly and the kids. 'I wonder what the glue factory would give me for all seven, no all ten of them?' 'Kid hoofs for glue, or maybe fingernails, might be a good research project!' I thought as the other boys bailed over the fence.

"Slow down guys, she might be scared, you could get hurt," I ordered. I was able to catch Mark as he tried to run past me, but even with his limp Johnny dodged me like a professional soccer player.

The filly pulled back against her lead at first when she saw the little strawberry flash streaking toward her, but then seemed to recognize him, jerking the rope out of Cindy's hand as she trotted toward him. I held my breath as they ran toward each other. When they were about five feet apart the filly stopped and turned her head to the side, sticking her neck toward the youngster like saying 'hug me here,'

The pandemonium finally subsided as the horses and boys welcomed to new arrivals. Ronnie and Junior rushed to the Roberts’ new mares, but Mark and Johnny seemed only interested in their earlier playmate, and her in them. I was a little worried when Zoe approached them, but after looking and sniffing the yearling thoroughly she started acting more like a mother than a competitor. I had just unhooked the lead from the filly's halter when Johnny pushed against me.

He looked up at me, his face as happy as I had ever seen it. "She's nice, thanks for letting her visit. Well thanks for letting me too," he bubbled. Mark looked at Johnny, then me with a slightly lost look.

"She's not visiting, she is going to live here now, I bought her this morning," I answered.

"Yeah Pop! Thanks Dad!" Mark hooted, pushing into our hug. The filly pushed her head between the boys' bodies and against my stomach.

"You mean she's gonna stay here, she don't gotta go back there? She didn't like it there," Johnny whined.

"Yes, she lives here now, and I promise she will like it here! Whenever you come visit us she will be here, how's that sound?"

"You're neat Mister! I mean Doctor, Doctor Pop. Thanks sir," Johnny exclaimed. "See, you're okay now," he added, burying his face into the filly's snout. I wondered if I was imagining things as the little horse pushed her head more tightly against us and let out a long breath, almost a sigh.

"Well, she doesn't look too traumatized from her trip!" Cindy said. When I looked up she and her son were next to us, leading their new horses. She stroked the filly's neck for a second before adding, "Call me a lame-brained blond all you want, but may we borrow a couple of saddles? I've only been riding since I was eight, it didn't occur to me when one buys a horse. . ."

"Well, I do have a couple of extras I RENT out occasionally," I teased.

"Great, I'll trade my first-born for an afternoon's rental!" Roberts countered from behind us, ruffling Junior's hair as he walked up next to his son.

"On the house! I'm trying to keep my rat population down!" I quipped. "You know your way around the tack room son, get what you need. Please don't use Zeus's tack, okay?" I said toward their boy."

"Yes sir!" Junior exclaimed, flashing a wide silver grin and beaming with pride as he glanced between his parents.

Johnny developed a very curious expression as he looked up at Junior. "How come you gotta wear a bridle?" he asked. Junior's face flashed repeatedly between bright red and crimson as he jerked his hands in front of his face, trying to cover his headgear. "I thought only horses gotta wear them!" Johnny added. The innocence in his expression on his face kept me from nailing him.

"Bridle-face, YEAH!" Ronnie hooted. Junior jerked around, his fist clenched and pulled back, only to find Ronnie perched on Zoe, he was only level with his target's lower leg. "Come on, Bridle-boy, I'll give you a ride to the barn!" Ronnie giggled, offering his hand down toward his braces laden friend.

Junior cut Johnny, then his mom dirty looks. "They're braces, for my teeth!" he barked at Johnny. He turned several more shades of purple before grabbing Ronnie's hand and jumping onto Zoe, behind his friend.

"Hi-Ho Silver!" Ronnie screamed as they galloped toward the tack room.

"I don't get it!" Johnny whimpered. "Why's he gotta wear a bridle?"

"I'll explain it to you later," I chuckled, trying not to burst out laughing.

"Oh, what's her name?" Mark asked after a minute or so.

"She doesn't have one yet, any ideas?" I answered. I could feel gears grinding in both boys brain's as we walked.

"She's so pretty, she's gotta get a pretty name!" Johnny injected. He stopped after a minute, studying the animal. "What do you wanta be your name?" he asked her. The filly looked directly at him for several seconds.

"What did she say," I asked after she looked away, almost as a joke.

"She wants to think about it," Johnny answered, quiet matter-of-factly.

"The rest of our horses are named after Mythological Gods, we probably should find one that suits her." Seeing their lost faces I added, "Greek Gods from Mythology. . . ancient Greeks. . . Ah, some very important Gods, people that lived a long, long time ago in Greece." 'That helped like a fart at a funeral,' I told myself.

"Let's get on the internet later, we'll look for a name, okay?" I tried, hoping it would bail me out. "I'm going to go start supper, why don't you guys take her up to the barn and brush her out, you'll make a friend forever I bet!. I want you to come back to the house and rest in a little while, please come when I call you Johnny. And. . . she hasn't been saddle broke, I mean trained, DON'T try to ride her Mark."

His face showed his disappointment, but Mark answered with a Yes Sir. I was impressed when Johnny said the same. I tousled both their hair and started out of the pasture.

Roberts and I were almost to the gate when he called after me. "Well, but am I still gonna getta ride a horse?" Johnny asked rushing toward me. "Please I'll be good and everything!"

"I promise you get to go for a ride, just as soon as you are well enough," I answered, tucking him back under my arm. The little filly pushed under his right arm, the paralyzed limb slipping over her neck. He pushed more tightly against me for a second before I added, "Whenever Doctor Roberts says you are ready you get to go for a ride."

Roberts flashed me a 'FUCK YOU!' look if I ever had seen one. "A few more days I hope," he began. "I want your ribs to heal a little more, it won't be long I promise. Go show your new friend her barn, Doctor Owens and I will see you soon," he said. Johnny hesitated until I nodded at him, and started toward the horse barn, the filly following like she was on a lead.

"His heart and his other internal injuries are all but healed. If it was not for his rib cage being split I'd release him. We didn't break any bones when we cracked his chest, but split a lot of cartilage, that takes time to heal," he said. "We need to start cooking, and I'm ready for a beer!" he proclaimed.

"I think the boy could sit on a horse, walking and such, low impact," he began as I lit the barbeque pit. "I know it would do wonders for his emotional state, as well as his recovery, but if he fell, any insult to his thoracic cavity could very well could kill him." He paused, studying my face much closer than I felt comfortable with before continuing, "I also think the apprehension, the uncertainty of the mixed promises he has been getting, are not helping him. We might have dangled the carrot in front of him for too long. Any ideas?"

"Yeah, get the meat out," I answered. "Grab a fresh beer for us!" I barked as he went back into the house.

"Short of falling, are you sure it would be safe for him to ride?" I asked as I rejoined Roberts by the barbecue pit.

"It would be the best thing I could think of for him!" he answered. "Not tonight, he is starting to show signs of fatigue already, but yes, ASAP! When are you going to let him choose a name for his horse, too?"

"My horse!" I declared. "A risk, but an investment, I just hope she thrives." I dodged looking at him for a minute or so. "If he rode pony-back, someone behind him to keep him from falling off, would you consider that safe?"

"As long as it is an experienced rider, and someone he trusts. I would recommend a morning ride. When the boy is fresh and rested," he answered. His facial expressions started to make me feel trapped. "Tomorrow morning would be perfect. Cut the shit, Doctor, and go call Hill Country!" . . . "Earth to Doctor Pop!" he teased before disappearing back inside. He returned a minute or so later with the ice cream maker, along with my cordless phone.

"My, don't we look serious!" Cindy said from behind us. "Come on boys, it's party time! We just made several boys as happy as if they were in heaven, smile!" she added, popping her husband on the rear. "It feels great, just to own a horse again, thanks babe!" she said before kissing Roberts on the cheek. They hugged briefly before she asked if she could make herself a drink from the bar.

"I thought we had talked about old Saw Bones snooping into Shrink business!" I teased Roberts after she went inside. "Are you SURE he is ready? For staying overnight without medical monitoring, and to sit on a horse? With a house full of kids, he's not going to get to sleep like he would at the center."

He handed me the cordless as his answer. "Did you know there is an extremely lucrative market, people make successful practices out of treating and certifying old ladies emotionally crippled by their divorces from rich old men?" I quipped as I dialed the phone.

"Yeah I am sure," Roberts answered. "But you'd never make it, you'd have to cut your hair and wear a tie, they'd be certifying you in a month!" he countered.

The Nurse's Station picked up before I had time to answer, and I could only give him a one-fingered salute as I identified myself on the phone. "Oh, thank GOD! Thank God you are okay, we have been trying to call you!" the charge nurse exclaimed before I could say anything else. 'Great, who O.D.'d, or tried to break out now?' I wondered as I snapped that I had forgotten my cell phone when we went down to greet the new horses.

I felt my face paling and my ass hole sucking wind as she continued. Johnny's dad had not only found Hill Country, but tried to enter the facility. He tried finding out if the boy was a resident at the front desk, but was given no information. About 10 minutes later the security cameras had picked him up trying to sneak into the center's food service area. Before their security guards could confront him he retreated, but their cameras recorded a car that had been reported stolen racing out of the parking lot.

"Oh, lord," Roberts uttered as I filled them in.

"What are, well what happens now?" Cindy asked. "Did they have any ideas?"

We discussed the situation for a couple of minutes before Roberts asked what the police had advised if anything. When I told him they were aware of the incident, but that was all I knew, I think both our faces lit up at the same time as we remembered the cop I had met with. After digging through the pile of junk on my dresser, where I had emptied my pockets each afternoon probably since I had moved in, I found Wilson's business card.

When I dialed his number I got a police operator. At first, she offered to take a message, but when I identified myself she asked me to hold while she forwarded my call to his cell phone.

"Good afternoon Doctor, where are you, is the boy still with you, and are you okay? You are a hard man to find!" he said. When I told him I was at home, that I had forgotten my cell phone while I was outside for an hour or so but everything was well, or that I was until I called Hill Country. He countered that he had sent officers to my apartment, that not only was I not home but the apartment was vacant; further that both hospitals had verified they were at the correct address. He was in the process of getting a court order to force the manager of my old apartment to release my new address.

"Oh," I answered. As I thought about his statement for an instant, I had neglected to update my credentials at either Central Baptist or Hill Country, and that, as my home phone number was unlisted and had changed when I moved out into the country, the only way they could find me was the cell phone still sitting on my dresser. "What happens now, how safe is the boy, are my other sons alright now?" I asked after I explained the problem.

"We have a task force looking for him. We are hoping he doesn't know that we know what he is driving, if he is still driving it. I'm a little worried how he found out about the center, but we don't think he knows who you are. If he does he would play hell finding you, I did and I've been tracking people down for twenty years," he answered. "I reviewed Hill Country's security a while ago, I think the boy would still be safe there, but just as safe with you, and there would be less risk of his relationship to you being exposed. By the way, where the hell are you? I can have extra patrols in the area if you like."

"Well?" Cindy's voice snapped me back a few seconds after I rang off. "You look like you have seen a ghost!"

"Here, you look like you need this," her husband added, sitting a beer in front of me.

"No, thanks, I have to think right now," I muttered. "Whatever you do, don't forget your cell phone, even going into the pisser!" I groaned. "Remember the good old days when you went to the country and no one could find you, and didn't bother to try?" 'Yeah well,' I thought. I looked at the unopened beer can several times before I picked it up, downing about half of it as I filled them in. "I just wish they'd find the Bastard!" I concluded.

"I hope they find him before you do!" Cindy answered. "Chill out Adam, hatred does not become you!"

"Yeah, hey if you don't mind I think I'd like to go for a ride. Will you guys watch supper for a few minutes?" I asked. I went into the house to get my cell phone without waiting for an answer. I took a minute to go to my study and get a pistol out of my safe, tucking it under my shirt.

"Looks like you get to ride with a new partner!" Cindy bubbled as I came back outside. "She is doing so well, she looks so happy!"

I could feel my eyes bug as I looked out toward the pasture. 'Fuck, thanks kid, that's what I needed,' I thought as I watched Mark riding the new yearling bareback, Johnny running beside them as Ronnie, mounted on Zoe and Junior on his new horse trotted next to them. 'A dollar a pound, nine horses and four kids, the glue factory would get a good deal,' I decided.

"I'll trade all three, well with Junior all four of them for Jennifer!" I offered Cindy and Carl.

Mark was the first to notice me as I entered the pasture, diving off the filly and hiding behind her, then ducking behind Zoe. Junior and Ronnie's jaws both dropped open as they halted their steeds, staring at me white-faced.

Johnny turned ashen when he saw me, or probably my face. "Well but she was so sad, the other horses got to but no one would ride her, she was sir!" he whimpered. "She said she'd be good, she promised, I promise she promised!"

"And I didn't saddle her or nothing, sir. She did tell Johnny she wanted to get to go riding, sir," Mark added in a soprano voice. The yearling pushed her head under Johnny's paralyzed arm and looked wide-eyed at me. "She looked so sad Dad, I'm sorry but she did, Sir! She was scared no one liked her!"

'Siberia, I think it snows ten months a year there, perfect climate for their boarding school!' I thought. 'Do they still have their work camps there? Good exercise for Johnny, and that damn horse. Muscle her out for the glue factory!' I was digesting their comments when Zeus pushed his huge head under my arm, looking at me as if saying 'Chill dude!'

"We're going to eat soon, you guys groom the horses and come up to the house. You'll have time to jump in the pool to clean up before we eat, okay!" I started back toward the gate before adding, "Brush Zeus, and the filly out a little extra, they saved your asses."

Cindy surprised me, closing the pasture gate as I went back into the yard. "So, so strict!" she snickered. "You were so pissed when you came down here I knew you were going to bite their heads off! Ordering Mark and Johnny to groom their horses as punishment, that's CHILD ABUSE! Involving my son and our horses, I LOVE IT!!!" she bubbled.

I just grunted at her and started toward the house. 'Does St. Paul's take horses?' I wondered.

The boys were quiet when they came back to the house, Mark almost seemed to be making a point of dodging me. I gave him some breathing space while I helped Carl and Cindy prepare supper and let him and the other boys get a drink. They were coming out of the kitchen and walking toward the stairs as I came into the house from the pit. "Mark, can I talk to you for a minute?" I asked.

They all froze as I walked to the door of my study. I waited for a second or so before holding my finger up, wiggling to indicate to come with me. He blushed as he lowered his head and almost crawled to the door, his brother right behind.

"Excuse me, but I'd like to talk to Mark alone for a minute," I declared as I stepped in front of Ronnie, blocking him from entering the room.

He studied my face briefly before saying, "But he's my brother, I'm gonna. . ."

"He's also my son," I countered, cutting him off. We exchanged glares for a second or so before I added, "Thank you for excusing us." I closed the door in his face before he could respond.

Mark was peering wide-eyed from behind one of the high-backed chairs in front of my desk, his jaw quivering, when I turned into the room. "Please come here," I asked as I sat down on the couch. He shivered and looked away, whimpering something I couldn't understand. "Please come here son, I'm not going to hurt you. Come on son, I just want to talk to you."

He hesitated, staring out from behind the big chair two or three times and hiding back behind it, before he shuffled to me, staring at his shoes. It took a couple of tries to get him to sit down on the couch, but he stayed three feet or so away from me as he did, never lifting his eyes.

I propped my knee on the couch and my arm over its back turning to him, trying to look relaxed as I did. "We had a little problem today, you disobeyed me, didn't you?" He shifted his eyes slightly toward the carpet below my seat and moved his lips without any sound. "I love you son, and what you did was very dangerous. It would break my heart if you were hurt. Will you come here?" I tried, extending my hand toward him.

His only response was to stare back at his shoes. "Horses are really neat friends, but they are very big animals. If we don't respect them they can hurt us, you HAVE to play by the rules if you want to be around them, do you understand?"

"But, they'd never hurt me, they're so nice and stuff! I'm sorry I was bad," he whimpered.

"You are right, all our horses love us as much as we love them. But they are very big, and they get scared just like we do. If the new filly had gotten scared when you rode her, she could have hurt you very badly!"

"Ginger's nice, she'd never hurt no one! She's scared, but she just wanted to be my friend, she told Johnny she would be good."

'Ginger?' I asked myself. 'Should I go there?' "She's a wonderful horse she is a very smart horse." 'She told... no horse accepts a rider on her back for the first time without bucking at least somewhat. How am I losing ground in this ass chewing? I'm the pro!' I thought.

"Mark, do you know who Christopher Reeves is?" I asked. The shake of his head told his shoes more than me he didn't. "Have you ever seen the Superman movies? He was Superman in them. Do you know why he didn't make any more Superman movies? Because he was thrown from his horse, and now he is. . . he can't move his arms or legs. If something like that happened to you, or Ronnie, it would kill me."

After almost a minute he shifted his tearful eyes from his shoes to the far wall. "But, his horse didn't mean to hurt him or nothing, did she?" he asked the paneling. "Hera or Ginger wouldn't do nothing like that!" "Would they?" he asked his shoes.

"Come here, Pumpkin. Come on," I suggested. He looked between his shoes and mine a couple of times before sliding over on the couch within reach. He stiffened slightly is all as I reached under his arms and pulled him against me.

"No son, they never would hurt you on purpose. But, you weigh what, almost 80 pounds? Hera weigh. . ."

"I weigh 84!" he proclaimed. "Ah, I ah, I didn't wanta interrupt sir, I'm sorry,"

"Hera weighs over 1,000 pounds, the filly. . . I mean Ginger, weighs maybe 600. I wonder how far a thousand pound horse can throw you? When we're in the pool I can throw you really high in the air, and I only weigh about twice what you do! Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?" He nodded.

"Mark, I'm your dad now, I expect you to obey me when I tell you, what you can or cannot do. I'd hate to do it, but if you disobey me about the horses again, I will ground you from riding any of them for a month. I don't want to do that, I don't think you OR our four-legged friends want it either, okay?"

He looked at me wide-eyed for several seconds. "Yes Sir, I won't, I mean I will, I mean, well, what are you gonna do to me for being bad today? Please, I mean I won't. . ."

"I guess I have to punish you somehow, let me think," I interrupted him. "I know what you deserve, a double rib tickle and a Dad squish!" I grabbed him before he could react, tickling him until he was squirming like a worm. "I love you son, all I want is for you to be happy and safe, okay?" I added, pulling him into a tight cuddle. He leaned against me softly giggling for probably a minute.

"Come on Turkey, I'm hungry!" I announced, picking him up and carrying him toward the study door.

He giggled a little more as he slipped into my hug, but stiffened as I was nearing the door. "But, well, what about Johnny? Please, sir, he wasn't bad or nothing Ginger really did tell him she was scared and stuff. Please don't do nothing to him, please? Please he likes it here!"

"Johnny has to learn to follow the rules, just like you," I answered. "I'm not mad at Johnny, I'm not going to punish him." After I watched his face tighten in fear I added, "If I tell you a secret, will you PROMISE not to tell ANYONE, I mean Ronnie even?"

He nodded at me, and I pushed my lips next to his ear. "Dad! DAD!!! Really, for real! All night and tomorrow too! I love you Dad!" he giggled, squirming so hard I almost dropped him before I could lower him onto his feet. "You're a really neat Dad!" he squealed before he turned around and ran headfirst into the still closed door.

I had wanted to ask Johnny if he wanted to spend the night, as if I didn't know what his answer would be, before we ate, but the table was sat, and everyone was waiting for us when Mark and I came out of my study. 'OT is doing well,' I thought as I watched the lad inhale three helpings of food with one hand as quickly as the other kids did with two, his manners as polite as any of the other kids.

I thought he was going to lose it when he discovered the treasure inside my ice cream maker. "Wow! That's where ice cream comes from?" he cried as Cindy scooped bowls for everyone. "Wow! This is different ice cream, it's yummier the what comes out the handle!" he hooted as he dove into his bowl.

'So much for his manners,' I thought as I watched his milk mustache grow into a full face beard. "This is real ice cream," I told him. He only glanced up at me before resuming his attack on the bowl.

After everyone finished their dessert I called Johnny off to the side as the kids began clearing the table. "I wanted to talk to you about tonight, I would like to change our plans a little." I began as I put my arm around his bony shoulder. "I was wondering if you would. . ."

"But PLEASE Pop, ah I mean Doc, I didn't get show my papers to Zoe and everyone, PLEASE I gotta!" Johnny interrupted, pushing against me. "Please don't send me back till I getta, PLEASE can I stay just a little longer, just till I getta read them to them? PLEASE!"

"Get TO!" I corrected "You still can read them to the horses, I know they will like them! But let's do it tomorrow, you look like a tired turkey, I want you to rest. Would you like to sleep here tonight?"

He pulled away from me a little. "Yes sir," he uttered. "Please, I'll be good and try really hard all week, but I gotta show them before I gotta go back there! Please I made them for them and everything!" he added, sobbing as he turned away from me.

"Come here," I asked. He looked wide-eyed, tears rolling down his cheeks, at me for a second before moving back toward me. "You weren't listening to me a minute ago, were you?" I continued as sat in a chaise lounge, I picked him up and put him on my lap. "What I asked you?"

He shrugged and leaned into my chest. "Ah, if I wanted to go to sleep. But I don't wanta go back there," he answered between sobs.

I stroked his back and neck for a minute or so until he calmed down somewhat. "No, that is not what I asked, you should listen more carefully. Will you listen to me now?" I felt his head nod up and down against my chin and chest. "I asked you if you wanted to sleep here tonight, and not go back to Hill Country until tomorrow."

I could feel his eyes burning holes in my chest, along with the vibration of gears grinding inside his little head. I was waiting to see smoke puff out his ears when he whispered, "You, you, well you mean it? You mean I really can?"

"Yes, I would like for you to stay here at the ranch with us tonight. I want you to promise to. . ."

"I promise, I PROMISE!" he hooted, wrapping his arm around my neck and pushing his face against mine. "Please Pop, please can I?"

"You don't even know what you have to promise to!" I snickered.

"I don't care, I'll do anything, please?"

"You have to promise to get some sleep tonight, to go to bed and rest when I tell you. You're still getting well, remember?"

"I will, I will I promise. But, well, that's all I gotta do?" I nodded my head slightly, and before I could speak he kissed me on the cheek. "I love you Pop! You're too neat!"

"I love you too," I whispered, enjoying his snuggle. I held him for a minute or so before adding, "Okay, go help the other boys clean up the kitchen." I got another kiss and hug before he climbed off my lap and scurried inside.

The Roberts announced they were leaving shortly after the kids finished in the kitchen, accepting my invitation to come back out and ride their new horses tomorrow. "If you want to go tell your horse good night hurry up," Cindy told Junior.

Junior looked at his friends then his mom a couple times, his alligator eyes matching his frown. When they started toward the front door the boy moved right next to his mother, and as I followed they whispered a brief, but clearly pointed conversation. "Please Mom, he don't care, and Johnny gets to stay, why can't I?" I overheard the lad.

"No son, I know you want to, but you can’t impose. Doctor Owens has been too generous letting you stay as much as you do," Cindy whispered. He gave her a dirty look and backed away, looking teary-eyed at his friends.

"Cindy, I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but he is welcome, he's no trouble at all," I said, pulling his back against my chest and wrapping my arms around his shoulders. "New horses and Johnny staying here for the first time, it would be a good reason for a sleep-over party. I added. Junior pushed against me as he looked up at his mom wide-eyed. "Besides, I thought I had custody on weekends!" I quipped. Johnny pushed against my side as Mark and Ronnie lined up on my other hip, all four of them casting sad puppy eyes at the lady.

Cindy gave me a slightly peeved look, but the boys' sad faces won. "You behave yourself, and keep that thing on, all night, no, until we get back!" she told Junior, touching his facebow. "Thanks Adam," she added.

Junior's body relaxed instantly as he leaned back against me. He slipped out of my arms and started toward his mother when Johnny asked, "You gotta wear your bridle all the time? The horses get to take theirs off at night and stuff!" he exclaimed.

Mark and Ronnie giggled as Junior's face reddened. He glared at Johnny then took a swing at Johnny's arm, which the youngster skillfully dodged before running toward the pasture. I was amazed as I watched him outrun his older attacker, Junior was a head taller than Johnny, and despite his long legs, both of which worked perfectly, Johnny quickly outdistanced him, limp and all.

"Have fun!" Roberts chuckled as they climbed into their Suburban.

A few minutes later I received no arguments when I sent the boys to bathe and get into shorts and get ready to relax. Johnny said he didn't have any clothes here and was a little less than pleased when I reminded him he had a set of Hill Country shorts and tee-shirt from last weekend, but hobbled upstairs behind the other boys.

I was about to get into my shower when my cell rang. 'Fuck, what now,' I thought as I read SA Police on the caller ID. "Good evening Doctor, I have some good news and some bad," Wilson began. I was disappointed when he told me they had not captured Doeman, but as he continued I relaxed considerably. ‘Dad’ had attempted visits at several Rehab. Centers during the day, they were sure he knew the boy was being hidden in one, but did not know which one. "There are only two more he hasn't tried as far as we know, and we have plenty of folks waiting for him at them, along with the others," he told me.

'Yeah, well, at least MAYBE he doesn't know where his kid is, better than nothing,' I thought as I stuffed my pistol inside the pillowcase of my bed. 'No, you don't want the bastard to come here, quit wishing that way!' I told myself as I let my shower massage take over my brain.

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as I walked out of my bedroom after my shower. Johnny, now wearing a tight-fitting muscle shirt and St. Paul's gym shorts, was dragging several pillows off the stairwell toward the family room. When I entered the foyer Junior was adding a couple of more quilts to the sizable stash they had piled on the carpet in front of the room's entertainment center. "Hi Dad!" Ronnie said, giving me an ear-to-ear smile as he looked over at me, then back at the mountain of bedding piled on the carpet.

"Hi Pop!" Mark exclaimed as he ran out of the kitchen. I snickered as he looked at me for a second, before turning back toward his brother; he was shirtless but wearing Johnny's Hill Country gym shorts.

"Oh, ah, can we sleep down here tonight? We'll be quiet and stuff!" Ronnie stated more than asked.

'You're so strict!' Cindy's voice rang into my mind. I couldn't help but snicker out loud as I looked at the other boys, staring at me wide-eyed as if they were awaiting a life or death decision. "Well, I don't know," I answered, rubbing my chin trying to look like I was in deep thought. "I'll have to think about it, can I let you know in the morning?"

Ronnie and Mark shrugged their shoulders, then their eyes snapped onto mine as if they were controlled by a single brain. Junior whispered, "What!?!" His mouth was agape, his braces seemed to be radiating the overload of electrons flowing through his brain when I turned to him.

Reaching around his thin neck with my hand I pulled him next to me. "I am not sure it's a good idea, can I let you know in the morning if you can sleep down here tonight?"

Junior tilted his face about forty-five degrees and looked up at with a completely lost expression, his chin on his chest. "Ah, I, ah, I guess so. I mean yes sir," he mumbled. He gawked at me for a second or so before turning his head slowly toward Ronnie and Mark.

"But, Dad!" Ronnie whined. "But," he added. From his face, I could tell he was starting to recover. After another second he rushed to me, immediately followed by his brother. "Please Pop! I mean Dad!" he exclaimed as both of them pushed against me.

Johnny joined them, pushing between Mark and my stomach. His pale face and worried eyes told me I had them. "Well, I suppose so, if. . ." they all snuggled a little tighter, then froze as they realized there might be conditions involved. "If you can find a good movie to watch, and someone makes a BIG bowl of popcorn."

"Yeah!!!" Mark and Ronnie hooted. "Thanks Dad!" they said in unison.

"Oh, and also, extra butter on the popcorn, so Junior's braces and bridle won't rust up!" I added, pulling him against me. His face turned so red I could feel the heat from it on my chest. "Got 'cha!" I said, poking the embarrassed lad in the ribs.

He gave me a dirty look before he started giggling, giving me a wide grin. "You’re mean!" he snorted.

"Okay guys, you've got a lot of work ahead of you! Get your nest built, and someone find a movie to watch, you can get two pay-per-views off the satellite if you want. And get me a beer!" I said, popping Junior on his butt.

Junior, Mark and Ronnie pushed away, almost running into each other as they tried to figure out who was going to do what. Johnny turned away, but pushed under my arm instead, looking up at me. "What about me?" he whimpered. "Where are you gonna put me? I won't run. . ."

"I guess I'll have to stuff you between a couple of those quilts," I interrupted him. "Do you want to sleep down here? We have three unused bedrooms upstairs if you want to sleep in a bed, where do you want to sleep? Just so you get a good night's sleep, that is the only thing I am worried about."

"You're neat Pop! I mean Doc!" he hooted, "You're so neat!" I pulled him more tightly against me for a second or so before he said, "Oh, you wanta beer!" and jerked from under me, rushing behind the bar. 'You're not just neat, you are wonderful. How could God allow such a loving, caring, little boy to be put through what. . .' I thought as he reappeared, rushing back to me.

Once the first movie started it didn't take long for our busy day to catch up to either the boys, or me. They crawled into the massive nest of comforters and pillows they had built in front of the TV, and one by one drifted off into dreamland. I wasn't far behind, after an hour or so of nodding off in my recliner, I tucked them under their covers and climbed into my bed. 'Yeah, thanks so much God,' I thought as I nestled under my covers, their cute, happy faces poking out from the quilts in the family room still in my mind.

A pair of long, thin arms wrapped around my neck, and a warm face pushing against my neck disturbed my wonderful slumber. After several tries I managed to get one of my eyes to focus enough to discover Mark, snuggling against me on top of the covers. "I thought you were asleep," I whispered. He just tightened his grip on my neck and buried his little face into me more. "What's wrong, Pumpkin?" I asked, kissing his head. "Did you have another dream? Dad's here, everything is okay."

He pushed against me for several seconds, sobbing softly as I stroked his neck and head. "Well, I'm scared for Johnny," he whimpered. "He's scared a bunch, and, ah, ah, he thinks he's gotta, ah, do stuff, well for you. He really scared, he is!"

"I told him he has to be good, and rest, he doesn't like that? He's sleeping in a strange house and might be a little insecure, but he's going to be okay."

"But, Pop, he thinks he's gotta, gotta, well sleep with you. He thinks your gonna, well, he got to stay here so you can, suck, ah, well and stuff you know! He will, he said so! Please Pop, he's FREAKED!"

'No, this cannot be real!' I thought as I cuddled Mark. I was so sure Mark had forgotten his past, and was still, or again, innocent enough to forget it. 'Got to stay here so he can. . ., God did I really hear that? Did the pixie faced strawberry angel sleeping in my 'family' room really think was going to. . .' I closed my eyes to fight back tears as I held my new son, wishing this was not happening.

"Johnny is frightened, just like you were when you came here, I mean when you first started spending the night at my apartment," I whimpered, my voice breaking as much as theirs when they were insecure. "I bet he had a bad dream, like you have had!" He just pushed more tightly against me, pushing his little head under my chin. "If I go talk to Johnny for a minute, will you be okay here, get under the covers and I will be back soon, I promise!"

He disappeared under the covers as his answer, squeezing my arm before releasing his grip on me. I kissed the top of his head before carefully pulling the covers off me and swinging my feet off the mattress. I sat up and started to lean to stand when a soft lump under my feet stopped me from standing. When I looked down the lump was Johnny. Even in the dim moonlight filtering into my bedroom I could tell it was him, cuddled into a fetal position, his thumb sealed tightly into his mouth.

'Gee, fucking thanks, God! Thanks for making my life so simple!' I thought. I slid down to the foot of the bed, then sat on the floor next to the boy. I brushed his bangs for a couple of seconds, hoping he would wake up, but having no success I slowly pulled his thumb out of his mouth and lifted his upper body into a cuddle. "It's okay, Pumpkin, its just Pop, ah Doc," I whispered. He stirred slightly but didn't awaken, just relaxed into my arms. "You need to get back into bed, you can’t sleep on the floor," I added in a soft voice.

When I didn't get any response for several seconds I scooped him into my arms, and after a little struggling stood up, and carefully carried him into the family room and gently tucking him into the quilts next to Ronnie. "Take good care of him," I whispered into my son's ear.

"I'd like you to go back and sleep with the other boys, Johnny trusts you, and he might need you," I asked Mark as I sat down on the bed. Not waiting for an answer I picked him up and carried him to the mass bed, laying him next to Johnny. "You are such a special boy, I love you son," I whispered before kissing him on the cheek. He mouthed 'I love you' before rolling over and snuggling against Johnny.

I tossed and turned in my bed for what seemed like forever before drifting off to sleep. 'How can all this be happening?' I asked as I felt the hard lump of my handgun under my pillow. 'I just wanted to have a good practice, and hide out here and have a perfect life!'

I stirred from sleep several times that night with bad dreams before the morning sunlight, filtering in from my patio door announced the morning. "Yeah well," I groaned as glared at the patio door. 'A couple more minutes and time to get up,' I thought.

I had closed my eyes again before I began digesting what was next to me in my bed. I cocked one eye back open for another look. A puff of strawberry fur was on the other pillow. Pressed against it was a golden blond muff of tangled hair with a mass of freckles showing on the small amount of forehead sticking out of the covers. Just as tightly tucked on the other side was a light blond crop of hair, this one had thick nylon straps going around the back of it.

'Well, at least everyone got some sleep,' I thought. I remembered Mark's comments last night as I looked at the small amount of Johnny's head showing. 'He seems untroubled now, did Mark talk to. . . Mark!' I snapped. 'Pot light, one kid short!' I started to lean up, hoping he was on the other side of Junior, when a soft groan came from under the blankets. I started to lift the covers when a thin arm reached over my chest, pulling me into a snuggle.

"Good morning, Pumpkin," I whispered. I felt an inaudible response vibrate against my rib cage and I added, "I love you Son!" He answered by hugging me tighter.

I had just closed my eyes when I felt Mark squirming, then a pair of lips kiss my nose. "Can we go swimming, Pop?" he whimpered.

"Yeah! Please?" Ronnie's sleepy voice added.

I opened my eyes and found four smiling faces staring at me. "Okay!" I groaned with all the enthusiasm my half-asleep mind could muster. "Everyone go to the bathroom, no peeing in the pool!" I added as they bailed out of bed.

Johnny followed everyone toward the bathroom, his limp slowing him down, but turned back. "Me too? Can I?"

"You can go swimming, but only if you promise to get wet!" I answered, throwing a pillow at him. He giggled loudly as he caught it and limped into my bathroom behind his new friends. 'Shit, I hope his leg is okay, I hope he didn't overdo yesterday,' I thought as I tried to talk my stiff bones to get out of bed.

I was trying to convince my legs to allow me to stand and begin the day when Ronnie, then Johnny and Junior darted cross the bedroom racing to the patio door, Mark right behind. 'Fuck, not again,' I thought. I yelled, "Junior, take off your. . ." "Headgear" I groaned after hearing the series of splashes into the pool. 'That boy is nine or ten donuts short of a dozen, he would make a good Senator, shit he could be President someday!' I thought as I joined them.

We were only in the pool a couple of minutes when the horses began lining up on the pasture fence, snorting and trotting around as if demanding our attention. I slipped inside and nuked some rolls and such for breakfast, calling the boys inside before my main concern, Johnny, was too distracted by them.

"Go put on your jeans and shoes," I told him after he finished eating. "I know your buddies want to see you, and you want to read them the notes you wrote to them, and then I have a surprise for you!"

As he climbed upstairs, his limp much less evident than earlier, I grabbed Ronnie and Mark pulling them against me. "Get dressed, and go saddle your horses, and Zeus. Get Junior to do the same. Hurry, I want those horses saddled before Johnny gets to the barn, understood?"

All three of them bolted upstairs and were back in record time, racing out the door. Mark turned back to look at me for a second, at first with a worried face, but flashed me a wide grin before darting behind Ronnie and Junior. I had just climbed into a pair of jeans and shoes when Johnny hobbled down the stairs, I met him right next to the patio door.

"Did you remember your notes, for the horses?" I asked. He blushed and rushed back to the breakfast bar to retrieve them. I snickered as he and I walked toward the pasture, he was opening each of the papers, clearly reviewing them as if preparing for a series of speeches. 'He is doing a lot of things with one hand better than many people do with two!' I thought as I watched.

Ginger was waiting at the gate and pushed against both of us before I could get the gate closed behind us, demanding our attention. I had to laugh to keep from crying for the next ten minutes or so as Johnny showed, then read his Thank You notes to each of my horses, each horse seeming to listen intently as he read to them, and Ginger tucked tightly next to her new mentor, looking at each paper as if proofing it. 'Strange horse,' I thought as I watched her. 'Strange boy, too, are they communicating on the level I think they are?' I asked myself.

"That was wonderful Johnny," I said, tucking him under my arm. "I love how thoughtful you are. You are not well enough to ride on your own yet, but would you like to go for a ride on Zeus, riding with me on him?"

He stiffened, pushing against me like he was being pressed into a glue form. "I getta! I getta!!!, I mean I get to?" I opened my mouth to respond when he added, "But he's so BIG! Maybe I can ride Ginger, please maybe her first!" The damn filly had to stick her long snout into it, pushing her head between Johnny and I as if wanting to add her opinion.

"Ginger isn't big enough, she is still growing," I began, without realizing it talking to the little horse more than Johnny. "She's still a kid like you! I know you want to ride a horse by yourself, and you will get to, but I'd like to take you for a ride on a horse, will you go for a ride with me on Zeus? You get the saddle!"

He looked at Ginger, then Zeus a couple of times before hugging Ginger's neck. He held her for a few seconds before Zeus pushed his massive head against them, clearly contributing to the discussion. Ginger and Zeus looked at each other before she pushed her head back against her young friend. "Yeah, thanks, Doctor Pop!" Johnny hooted!

To Be Continued…