a novella by Codey
Billy sat on his sled at the bottom of the hill and watched the other kids. Nearly all were here with parents or big brothers. He was cold and he was tired. He’d only been at the hill for about a half hour but after four or five trips down the hill and the long climb back to the top, he was exhausted. He envied the other kids here with their parents and older siblings. At least they had help getting back to the top.
Although he was nine years old, he was small for his age…more the size of the six and seven year olds. His small stature had caused him to be the butt of much teasing since he had first started school. This teasing had caused the naturally shy boy to pull farther into himself. He now lived within a shell he had constructed, a shell meant to shield him from the constant teasing and bullying. This shell, unfortunately, had a hidden and insidious attribute that the boy wasn’t aware of. Although only partially effective against the teasing and bullying, it was extremely effective against the very people he needed to let inside. With the exception of his family, he was friendless and lonely.
He had a loving relationship with his parents, and around them he could safely discard his shell. They had nearly resigned themselves to a childless life together, but miracles still happen, and one day they brought home a tiny baby boy whom they named William. Their lives centered on the boy they called their miracle child. His size didn’t matter to them. He was their son and their lives became the lives of new parents everywhere: sleepless nights and dirty diapers…and they loved every minute of it.
Billy knew that his parents would love to be here with him but, as this was a weekday, both had to work. Even though it was Christmas vacation for him, his parents still had jobs to go to. Tonight was going to be a big night for Billy though: a trip to the mall to see Santa and Billy knew just what he was going to ask for. He wanted a big brother and Santa was just the person to get him one.
Billy could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks as he watched the other kids playing.
“Hey little guy, something wrong?”
Billy looked up into a pair of dark brown eyes, eyes such a dark brown, they were almost black. The eyes belonged to a boy who looked to be eleven or twelve years old.
“I’m not a little guy!” Billy replied petulantly. “I’m nine years old!”
“Sorry,” the older boy said, “I just saw you sitting over here and you looked sad.”
He couldn’t believe it—this kid had actually said sorry for calling him a little guy and seemed to be worried that he was sad. “I’m okay,” he said, “I just don’t have anyone to sled with.”
“I don’t either…and I don’t have a sled. Since neither of us has anyone to sled with and you have a sled, we could sled together if you want.”
“You mean it? You don’t care if the other guys see you playing with me?”
“Why would I care?” the older boy asked, “you’re not a mass murderer are you?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“No…I’ve never murdered a mass in my life!” Billy laughed. “My name’s Billy.”
“Okay Billy, let’s get this sled up the hill and show those other kids how it’s done. You wanna ride up?”
“Well, hop on then, but watch out for the bumps.”
Billy knew if you hit a bump wrong coming down the hill, it could cause you to wreck, but couldn’t see how, going up the hill, the bumps could do anything.
“Why? What can the bumps do?”
The older boy turned and was walking backwards up the hill while pulling Billy, “You’ll see!” he said, glancing over his shoulder, “Here comes one now…hang on, here it is!”
He jerked up on the rope attached to the front of the sled, lifting the front up, and Billy fell off the rear and rolled a few feet down the hill before stopping. He came up spitting snow with a shocked look on his face. “No fair!” he yelled, “That was a dirty trick!”
The older boy stood there with an innocent look and said, “That was no trick, it was that bump. I warned you to hold on.” Then both boys burst into laughter.
After they reached the top and were getting ready to start down the hill on their first ride, Billy asked the other boy, “What’s your name?”
The other boy started to say Bob but they started down the steep part of the hill and it came out as “Boooooooob.”
The two played all afternoon and when they’d get tired of sledding, they’d go find a place with clear snow, and Bob taught Billy how to flop on his back, then wave his arms and feet and make snow angels. When Billy started for the bathrooms on the other side of the park, Bob took him behind some trees and showed him how to write his name in the snow. It was the most fun afternoon Billy could ever remember having and he was actually a little disappointed when he heard a horn honk and saw his family’s car pulling up.
“Come on!” he yelled to Bob. “I want you to meet my parents.”
Billy ran up and gave them both a hug and said, “This is my friend Bob. We’ve been sledding and making snow angels and peed behind a tree! Did you know you could write your name in the snow? Then we had a snowball fight and we hit a bump and I fell off the sled but I held on the rest of the time and didn’t fall off again….”
Both parents were laughing and one said, “Whoa, Tiger, slow down. You can tell us all about it on the way home; sounds like you had a good time this afternoon. Put your sled in the trunk and let’s get home. We’re eating at the mall so you need to get cleaned up and changed.”
“Okay, Dad. Come on, Bob, help me lift this into the trunk.”
As the boys were wrestling the sled into the trunk, Bob whispered to Billy, “Are these really your parents?”
“Yea. Great, aren’t they?”
“Yea.” Bob answered, but to himself he was thinking “Wow!!”
“Come on, Tiger, we need to get moving. Would your friend like a ride home?”
“No thank you, sir.” Bob responded, “I live close and can walk.”
“Okay Bob, it was nice meeting you and I hope you and Billy can play together again some time.”
“Me too, sir. I had a lot of fun today too!”
As the big car drove away, Bob thought to himself, “I wish I had a family.” Then he turned and started the long walk back to the group home where he had been sent this time.
At the mall, Billy was so excited he could hardly eat. Christmas had always been his favorite holiday and all the decorations and displays in the mall had doubled his excitement. He was sure his parents would never finish eating and kept glancing at them as they talked and ate. Finally sensing their son’s impatience and realizing they would get no peace until they saw the jolly old fat man, one said, “Okay Billy, it’s Santa time.”
“Yes!” he almost shouted and was out of his seat and through the restaurant door in a flash. By the time they caught up with him, Billy was already in the line to talk to Santa.
“Do you have your list Billy?”
“No…I don’t need one this year. I’m only asking for one thing.”
When it was his turn to talk to Santa, Billy walked up and climbed on his lap with no hesitation.
“Hello, young man, Merry Christmas.”
“And what’s your name?”
“William Thornton, sir.”
“Well, young William, I bet they call you Bill or Billy, don’t they?”
“What do you want for Christmas, Billy?”
“Don’t you want toys like the other kids?”
“No, sir…just a brother.”
“Billy, a baby brother isn’t something that Santa can promise. A baby is a decision your parents must make. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with a baby and they require a lot of care.”
“Oh, I don’t want a baby brother. I want a big brother.”
“You don’t have any brothers or sisters?”
“No, my parents say it’s impossible to have any more kids. They were lucky to get me, they say.”
Thinking there might be a medical problem, Santa said, “Where are your parents, Billy?”
“Over there on that bench.” Billy replied, pointing in the direction his parents were sitting, waiting for him.
“Ahhh, I see. Tell me about you and your family, Billy.”
As Billy talked, Santa was nodding and smiling. Ignoring the impatient looks he was getting from the other parents waiting in line with their children, Santa talked with Billy for fifteen minutes. Finally, Santa said, “Billy, I can’t make a promise to bring you a big brother or sister. But I will promise you this: I’ll do all I can to try for you, okay?”
“Would you go tell your parents I’d like to talk with them on my next break? It’ll be in about ten minutes.”
“Sure, Santa,” and he climbed down and ran over to his parents and gave them Santa’s message.
His parents looked towards Santa with a worried look on both their faces and nodded yes. Their worried expressions softened a bit when they saw a smile appear on Santa’s face and he gave them a friendly wave.
Billy sat on the bench between his parents and told them what he’d asked for and what he and Santa had talked about.
“Billy,” his dad said, “We’ve talked about this before. We know how much you’d like a brother and we would like another child…but I’m afraid it’s just not possible.”
“But Santa promised he’d try.”
“And I’m sure he means well, Billy. But there are some things even Santa can’t do.”
Billy looked up and saw Santa approaching their bench and jumped up to run to meet him.
“Hi, Billy. I could sure use a cup of coffee. Do you think you could run over to the coffee stand and get me a cup while your parents and I talk about some grownup stuff?” Fishing a five dollar bill from his pocket and handing it to Billy, he said “And on your way back, stop at the frozen yogurt stand and get yourself a cone, okay?” then turning to Billy’s parents, he said, “Hi folks, good to see you again. Remember me?”
“No…I’m sorry, but I don’t believe I do.” Billy’s dad replied.
As he walked towards the coffee shop, Billy thought to himself how weird adults were. “How could anyone forget Santa?” he chuckled.
After he got Santa’s coffee and was standing in line for his cone, he watched his parents and Santa talking. He turned to go back to them, when he’d gotten his cone, and felt a sharp pain in his side. After a few seconds the pain eased, and he thought he must have pulled a muscle sledding today.
He reached his parents just as Santa was getting ready to leave. “Ahhh, here’s my coffee. Thanks, Billy. You’ve become a very fine young man and I can see why your parents are so proud of you. You’re lucky you have such caring and loving parents.” Then looking at Billy’s parents, he continued, “There’s a lot of children not nearly as lucky as you who would love to have a family like yours.”
“Thanks Fr…uh, Santa,” Billy’s dad said, extending his hand to shake with Santa, “we’ve thought a lot about this, and if it were just us, we wouldn’t hesitate. We have to consider Billy though. He has enough on his plate to handle without having to go through all that crap we had to.”
“I know, but remember what I said. Things change and I’ll guarantee things will be different this time. Give me a call if you decide yes, okay?”
“Okay, Santa, we’ll let you know our decision one way or another. Come on, Billy. It’s time to get you home and in bed.”
“Aww, Dad…there’s no school, so why do I have to go to bed so early? It’s Christmas vacation.” Billy whined.
“Because I said so and because a growing boy needs his rest. Besides, you don’t want to argue with us in front of Santa Claus, do you?”
Grabbing a parent’s in each of his, Billy looked over his shoulder and said, “Good-bye Santa. I have to go home and go to bed…and I never argue with my dad!”
Santa gave Billy a wink and watched as the obviously happy little family left the mall.
When he was climbing in bed to wait for his parents to come tuck him in, Billy again felt the pain in his side. This time, however, it took longer to go away, but Billy soon forgot about it as he thought about the great day he’d had.
He heard a knock on his door and it opened and his dad walked in.
“Ready for sleep, Tiger?” he asked.
“Yea…I feel really tired tonight.”
“Well, you’ve had a busy day, so that’s to be expected.” Then, kissing his son on the forehead, he said, “Sleep good, Son…have happy dreams.”
“Good night, Dad…Dad?”
“I love you guys.”
“We love you too…now go to sleep.”
Billy lay in bed reliving the day, and the last thought he had before falling asleep, was how much he wanted a brother and he wanted him to be just like Bob.
A few hours later, Billy’s parents were lying in bed discussing the evening’s events when they heard a sharp cry of pain from Billy’s room. As they entered, they could see he was still asleep, but it was a fitful sleep and his hair was wet from sweat. Feeling of his forehead they could tell he had a high fever, “I’ll go get some children’s aspirin.”
“Okay…Billy…Billy…wake up, Son.”
“Is it morning?” Billy asked sleepily.
“No, Son…how do you feel?”
“My side hurts, Dad.”
“Where? Here?” he said placing his hand on Billy’s right side.
“Yes, it hurts a lot.”
“Okay Tiger, here, take these aspirins and they’ll help your pain and fever, we’ll be right back in…okay?”
“What do you think?” his dad asked when they reached the hall.
“His fever’s pretty high and he’s in a lot of pain. I think we should take him to the emergency room.”
“Yea, I agree. I’ll get him dressed while you change; then you can stay with him while I dress.”
“Don’t bother dressing him. His pajamas will be okay. Just put some shoes and socks on him. He’s in too much pain to be disturbing him too much.”
A nurse saw them entering the emergency room doors and rushed over to help them.
“Hi folks. What seems to be the problem?”
“Our son woke up with a high fever and says his side is really hurting.”
“Awww,” the nurse said, as she felt Billy’s forehead and pushed the strands of hair that were stuck there back into place, “not feeling well, are we?”
“I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but I don’t feel very good.” Billy replied.
Laughing, the nurse said, “Old joke, kiddo…you need some new material. Let’s see what we can do to make you feel better.” Turning to Billy’s parents, she said, “One of you need to stop at the desk and sign some papers. By the time you’re finished, the doctor should be here and you both can wait in the waiting room while the doctor examines your son. He’ll be out to talk with you as soon as he’s finished with the examination.”
After what seemed like hours, they saw a man dressed in hospital scrubs walking up to the reception desk. He stopped and talked to the receptionist and she pointed towards them. He walked over to them.
“Are you Billy’s parents?” he asked.
“Hi. I’m Dr. Wilson.” he said, extending his hand to shake with both of them. “I’m sorry I took so long, but your son will be fine. I’m sure he has appendicitis but we can’t be positive until the blood work I’ve ordered comes back. There are a couple of problems that complicate matters though. His fever is very high and we’ve given him medication that should lower it in a few hours. We’d like to wait, if surgery is indicated, until the fever is lower but in Billy’s case, I believe the appendix has ruptured. This increases the danger of a later infection and so we would need to operate as quickly as possible to reduce this risk. I’ve called the surgeon and he agrees and is on his way in now.”
“Will it be dangerous to operate if his fever doesn’t come down?”
“I’ll be honest with you: This is a common operation and there are rarely complications. All operations, though, are serious and can develop serious complications. The body is stressed by even minor surgery and a body already stressed by fever or pain can respond in unexpected ways. I’m as sure as I can be that due to Billy’s youth and good health, there will be no serious problems. But understand that we can offer no promises. Some things are beyond our control, and we can only do our best to insure that he has the best possible care.”
“How soon will we know the test results?”
“Within a half hour; if the tests come back confirming our beliefs, the surgeon will be here and we’ll operate as quickly as possible. We’re keeping Billy here in the ER until we know for sure so, if you’d like, you can stay in the cubicle with him. I’m sure he’d be more comfortable with his parents with him.”
“Thank you, Dr. Wilson.” they said and went into the cubicle with Billy.
About forty-five minutes later, a short, heavy-set man came into the room and introduced himself as Dr. Allen. “Hi, Billy,” he said, “has Dr. Wilson told you what’s going on?” Billy nodded, so the doctor continued, “I’m going to be the doctor that does the operation. I’m going to look you over and then in a few minutes, a nurse will get you ready. She’ll help you get into a gown and then will wash your belly. She’s going to put some pink stuff over the part we need to cut to get the bad stuff out of you. Then she’ll give you a shot to make you very relaxed and sleepy. The next thing you’ll know is waking up in a recovery room with your parents. After we make sure you’re the way you’re supposed to be, we’ll give you another shot that will help you go back into a normal sleep and when you wake up later today, you should be feeling a whole lot better. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?”
Billy shook his head no, but his dad spoke up, “I have a question, Dr. Allen. How long will Billy be in the hospital?”
“Normally, it’s about three days with an appendectomy. But if, as we think, Billy’s appendix has ruptured, we’ll need to keep him about seven days.”
“But Christmas is in five days!” Billy interjected.
“I know, Billy, but you’ll be able to celebrate Christmas a little late this year. That way we can be sure you’ll have a lot more Christmases to enjoy.”
“But Santa won’t know where I am!”
“Sure he will, Billy. Santa always knows where you are.” Dr. Allen said, winking at Billy’s parents.
“Why such a longer stay if his appendix is ruptured?” Billy’s dad asked.
The doctor looked at Billy’s dad, shook his head and said, “I’ll go tell the nurse you’re ready and then I need to talk to your parents while she’s prepping you, okay Billy?”
Out in the hall, the doctor said to Billy’s parents, “I’m sorry but I didn’t want to alarm Billy and I don’t want to alarm you now. If the appendix has ruptured, then there’s a greater danger of an internal infection developing. These infections are very serious and if not caught right away, can sometimes be fatal within hours. We need to monitor him on an hourly basis and then we can start treatment at the first sign of infection, should one begin.”
“How likely is an infection?”
“Not very likely at all, but in the unlikely event an infection does occur, we need to be on top of it as soon as possible. As soon as the nurse finishes in there, you can go back in and stay with him until the orderly comes to take him up to the operating room. Don’t expect him to talk much after the shot she’ll give him; he’ll be very groggy, but it will be a reassurance to him, knowing you two are there. I’m going up now and as soon as the surgery is done, I’ll be out to see you in the surgery waiting room to let you know how things went.”
A short while later, they stood in the hall watching as their sleeping son was wheeled to the elevator and taken up to the operating suite. They then went to the visitors’ elevators and rode up to the surgery floor to begin their vigil as their only child had surgery.
Waiting in a hospital waiting room while your child’s life is literally in someone else’s hands is one of the hardest things a parent will ever experience. It had been a little over two hours, and Billy’s parents were beginning to worry that something had gone wrong. They would pace for awhile and then sit and stare at the doors to the operating suite, as if they could force the doors to open by sheer willpower, and someone would come through to tell them everything was okay…that Billy would be fine. Eventually, the double doors did open, and the broad smile on the face of Dr. Allen eased their fears.
“Everything’s looking good.” he said as he reached them, “Billy handled it like a trooper and is in the recovery room now. You’ll be allowed in to see him shortly. The appendix had burst, so it took us a little longer than normal to clean out the mess, but we flushed several times and are sure we got it all.”
“That’s such a relief. Thank you so much, Dr. Allen.” Billy’s dad said.
“It’s going to be a few minutes before you can go see him and there’s something else I’d like to talk about with you, if you don’t mind. As you can see, I’m not a very big person. When I first saw Billy in the emergency room, I assumed he was about six years old. A few minutes ago while writing in his chart, I noticed that he is actually nine and a half.”
“Yes, he’s always been small. Even as a baby he was tiny.”
“Does his small size bother him?”
“Yes…he has no friends and even though he doesn’t complain, we’ve heard other kids teasing him.”
Taking a card from his pocket, he handed it to them, “This is a friend of mine who specializes in hormone therapy. They’re doing great things to help kids like Billy these days. I don’t know if he can help Billy reach a more normal size or not, but it would be worth a shot.” Then, standing, he said, “Come on, let’s go see that kid of yours.”
“Don’t be shocked by his appearance.” the doctor said, as they entered the recovery room. “The paleness and gaunt look are side effects of the anesthesia and will wear off in hours. Believe me, Billy’s doing great. So good, in fact, we’re not giving him anything to cause him to sleep. His body is trying, on its own, to fall into a natural sleep, so we’re just going to keep our eyes on him and only medicate him if needed.”
“Hey, Champ…wake up. Your parents are here to see you.”
Billy was only able to open his eyes a little, but smiled when he saw his parents there.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi, Tiger. How’re you feeling?”
“Well, go to sleep and get some rest. We’ll see you when you wake up. We love you, Son.”
“I love you too.” Billy barely managed to get out before falling back asleep.
“They have a room for him on the pediatric ward and will be moving him down there shortly.” the doctor said. “The nurse can tell you the room number. Why don’t you go to the cafeteria and have some breakfast and give them a half hour to get him moved and settled in? You can come up to see him for a few minutes, and then I suggest the two of you go home and get some sleep. It will probably be noon or later before he wakes up and there’s nothing you can do here until then. You both look worse than Billy right now!” the doctor chuckled.
Taking the doctor’s advice they went to eat a light breakfast and then went to locate the room number the nurse had given them. Finding Billy safely in his new room and sound asleep, the two went home to get some rest. After showering, they decided that they wouldn’t be able to sleep, so they returned to the hospital so they’d be sure to be there when their son awoke.
As they entered the room they could hear what sounded like a boy crying, and a man’s smoothing voice trying to comfort him. They quickly checked on Billy and, so as not to intrude, started to go wait in the hall until the man and boy were finished talking. They couldn’t help but overhear the boy ask if he had to go back there, and the man replied, “No, Bob…I’m not sure what we’ll be able to do just yet. We just don’t have an available place for you yet, but we’ll work something out. You’ll never have to go back there again.”
Before they could leave the room, they heard the man tell the boy he had some business to take care of, but would be back to see him later that afternoon. As the man walked around the curtain all three were surprised, “What are you folks doing here?” the man asked.
“Well, if it isn’t Santa Claus!” Billy’s dad said. “We could ask you the same thing.” he laughed. Billy had an emergency appendectomy last night.”
“It’s only Santa at night.” the man laughed, “During the day, I’m just mild-mannered Fred Barnett, your trustworthy public servant. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, if the lazy kid ever gets tired of sleeping and wakes up.”
“One of our boys had an accident yesterday afternoon, and we just found out about it this morning.” Fred said with a hint of anger in his voice.
“Is he going to be alright?”
“He had a compound fracture of both lower bones in his right leg. They had to do surgery to set the bones. He’ll be laid up in here about a week until the incision heals enough to put a full cast on.”
“How did it happen?”
“He’d been sledding at the park, and when he came back to the group home, his foster father made him go back out to clean the sidewalks. He apparently fell and broke his leg then.”
“Billy was sledding at the park yesterday and met a kid named Bob. Could this be the same boy?”
“Must be…he said he was at the park with his friend Billy.”
“What’s this about not wanting to go back somewhere?”
Fred held his finger to his lips and said, “Why don’t you buy me a cup of coffee and we can talk a bit. I seem to remember a cup of coffee costing me five dollars last night.”
“I guess we do kind of owe you one.” Billy’s dad laughed. Then, checking that Billy was still asleep, the three headed downstairs.
Through a haze, Billy was sure he had heard Santa Claus talking to his friend, Bob, and then heard his parents talking to Santa. He opened his eyes and looked around, but no one was there, so he went back to sleep, thinking he must have been dreaming.
After the three had gotten their coffee and found a table, Fred asked, “So…have you given any thought to what we were talking about last night?”
“Actually, quite a bit of thought. We had plenty of time on our hands last night to talk about it. We haven’t decided one way or the other, but we are leaning in your direction.”
“Any chance there’s something I could say to push you the rest of the way to my side?” he laughed.
“We can only promise we’ll keep thinking,” his dad laughed in reply. Then, with a more serious look on his face, he asked, “What’s the story with Bob? He seemed like a nice boy when we met him yesterday.”
“He is, but he’s had a tough life. Not even his mother had any idea who his father is. He was born to a drug addict mother and came into the system when he was two. His mom died of an overdose a year later, and he’s been in and out of different foster homes ever since. Now he’s at the age when it’s hard to place children, and has been in this group home for almost a year.”
“He was told to clear the sidewalks at his home yesterday morning but forgot, as kids tend to do, and by the time he returned from the park, they were icy and treacherous. His foster father ordered him out to get rid of the ice, and sometime later he fell and broke his leg. The neighbor lady came home from work and saw him laying in the snow and thought he was playing, but when she came out about an hour and a half later he was still laying in the same position. She went over to see if he was okay and saw the blood. She tried getting someone to answer the door but no one did. She ran home and called 911, and in a few minutes the ambulance, as well as the police, were there. The police were finally able to get someone to answer the door, and were told they didn’t answer before because they were eating and didn’t want to be disturbed at meal time. I called the police and am having a copy of the report sent over to me. This home has been on the margins for a while now, but as short of foster homes as we are, we’ve been forced to turn our heads to minor infractions.”
“We wouldn’t have found out about this at all, if the hospital hadn’t called us for insurance information. When they called him, he told them that Bob was the state’s responsibility and we were the one that had to pay. That’s true in the case of illness, but each foster home is required to carry a homeowner’s policy that covers liability in case of accident.”
“Neither Mr. or Mrs. Munro would ride to the hospital with Bob, and as far as I’ve been able to find out, neither has been to see him or even call to see if he’ll be okay.”
“Sounds like wonderful people! So the state may have to pay the hospital bills?”
“We’ll be able to recover the money but it will take time. These kind of people know how to play the system.”
“You know…” Billy’s father said, “I’m glad Bob asked for our help…. At least, I think I heard him ask us to represent him. How about you, Babe? Did you hear it too?”
“Oh yes, it was a definite plea for help.”
“How about you, Fred?”
“Are you going after the Munros or the department?”
“The Munros. Definitely!”
“Then I heard it too.”
“If you’ll give me their telephone number, you can watch how we make our money.” Billy’s dad laughed as he took out his cell phone.
The phone had barely rung three times when a woman answered.
“Hello…is this Mrs. Munro?”
“Yes it is. May I help you?”
“ I believe so. My name is Paul Thornton of the law firm of Thornton and Thornton. I’m calling in regards to an accident on your property that injured a minor child named Robert Jefferson. We have been asked to represent this minor child in a recovery of damages suit against you and your husband.”
“Against us? We had nothing to do with his accident.”
“I’m afraid the law disagrees, Mrs. Munro. The accident occurred on your property and was caused by your negligence in allowing the ice to build up on your sidewalk.”
“It wasn’t our negligence. The boy had been told earlier to clear the walk. It’s not our fault he didn’t do it and hurt himself after it got worse.”
“In the eyes of the law, it is the adult that is responsible for the safety and well being of children under their care. In addition to damages for the physical harm suffered by our client, we are prepared to pursue damages for the verbal and other abuses our client claims and also for pain and suffering due to your obvious neglect in not checking on the boy while he was at work on the sidewalk. We understand from the police report that you couldn’t be bothered because you didn’t want to be disturbed at dinner. This young man lay on your sidewalk for at least one and a half hours with a compound fracture, bleeding and barely conscious, according to a witness. But you couldn’t be bothered to check on him when he didn’t show up to eat? This borders on child endangerment – a very serious charge I’m sure the department of children and family services will be looking into.”
“We contacted the hospital and were told you refused to turn over insurance information and refused to come in to sign financial responsibility forms. We then contacted Mr. Fred Barnett of DCFS and requested the information from him. He was quite surprised that a child in the system had been injured so severely and the people responsible for this child’s care had not notified his department. We will be filing suit within the next few days. It would be in your best interests to talk to an attorney and notify your insurance company. We will be demanding receipts and proof from you that you were spending the money paid to you by the state on this child and not on personal expenses. I’m sure the DCFS will also be requesting this information from you.”
“This is ridiculous! When Robert comes home, we’ll talk to him and get this all straightened out.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Mrs. Munro. Robert has expressed a wish he not be returned to your care, and we have been assured by Mr. Barnett that he will not be. We further will request that, should you or your attorney wish to speak to Robert, it will only be with a representative from both our office and the DCFS present.”
“Our office telephone number is 555-2323. It would behoove you to have a representative of your insurance company contact us as soon as possible.”
“Goodbye, Mrs. Munro.”
“Very impressive!” Fred laughed, “But do you think it will accomplish anything?”
“Oh, yes. We deal with people like this a lot, and I know how they think. At this very minute, she’s trying to contact her husband or if he’s home and they have an attorney, They’re trying to reach him. He’s going to tell them to get down to the hospital and give the hospital the information it needs, and then to contact their insurance company and inform them of the accident and our involvement. Then, if possible, to make an attempt to visit Bob, so if it goes to court they can show what wonderful foster parents they are. They actually tried to visit him and it wasn’t even twenty-four hours after the accident.”
“How do you know that’s what they’ll do?”
“Slime like these people are always trying to cover their backs…they nearly always have good attorneys. We know what the attorney will have them do because that’s what we’d advise our client to do. Now what you need to do is have the hospital red flag Bob’s visitors, so they won’t be able to get to him and coerce him into covering for them.”
“Good idea. I’ll take care of that right now, and then I have some other things to take care of. Would you let Bob know that I’ll be back to see how he’s doing this afternoon?”
“Sure. I think we’ll pick up a couple donuts and hot chocolate to take back up to Bob. I’ll have to check with the nurse though, before we can get a snack for Billy.”
When they got back to the boys’ room they could hear laughter coming from inside. It sounded like Billy was awake and feeling pretty good.
“Come on, guys…keep it down to a dull roar,” they laughed as they walked in.
Billy’s eyes widened and a huge grin split his face when he saw them, “Hi! Look who’s in the room with me!”
“Yea, we see. Bob must be a pretty good friend to go break his leg, just so he could keep you company in the hospital,” his dad laughed.
With a look of shock, Billy turned to Bob, “Did you really?” he asked.
“Of course not, Twerp…it was an accident,” he laughed. “They’re just pulling your leg.”
“Oh…” and Billy laughed too.
His parents noticed that the nickname, “Twerp,” didn’t seem to bother Billy at all, and it obviously was said with affection and no animosity on Bob’s part.
“We brought Bob up a couple donuts and a hot chocolate, but we’re going to have to check with the nurse before we get you something, Billy. We’re not sure what kind of diet you’re on, and don’t want to give you something you’re not supposed to have.”
“That’s easy, Dad; nothing but liquids until tomorrow. Hot chocolate sounds good to me too, though.”
“Coming right up, your majesty,” his dad laughed. On the way to the cafeteria, he passed the information desk and saw an agitated, heavyset woman arguing with the receptionist.
“But he’s our foster son. I have the right to visit him.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but he has a restricted visitor list and you’re not allowed to visit. I suggest you take it up with the DCFS; they’re the ones who restricted his visitors.”
“This just isn’t right. You’ll be hearing from our attorney!” the lady said angrily, and turned and walked away.
“Right on schedule,” Billy’s dad chuckled to himself and continued on his way to the cafeteria.
When he returned to the room, he told his mate about the woman and they both had a good laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Billy asked. So they told him and Bob about their conversation with Bob’s foster mom earlier that day.
“You mean I really don’t have to go back there?”
“No, Bob, Mr. Barnett assured us that you never have to go back. As a matter of fact, I believe he’s sending someone over there this afternoon to retrieve your clothes and personal belongings.”
“Did you mean what you said about helping me?”
“If we didn’t mean it, we wouldn’t have said it, Bob.”
“But why? You don’t know me.”
“We know that you’re our son’s friend, and we also know that no child should be treated the way you’ve been. We are on your side and intend to do all we can to see that life’s better for you from now on.”
“No one’s ever worried about me before.” Bob replied tearfully.
“You have the three of us that care about you, and we know for a fact Mr. Barnett does.”
“Someone mentioning my name?” Mr. Barnett said, as he entered the room followed by a nurse and an aide.
“Of course not. We wouldn’t talk about you behind your back,” laughed Billy’s dad.
“Good…I was afraid I’d missed some juicy gossip!” he laughed in turn.
He turned to Billy and asked how he was feeling, and Billy was sure that he should know this man but couldn’t place him. “Fine, sir,” he replied to the man’s question.
“That’s great, Billy. Now I have a favor to ask you. There’s going to be a man here shortly that needs to talk to your roommate in private. We can’t move his bed, because the doctor’s afraid of hurting his leg, since he only has a temporary cast. Would you mind if we moved your bed into the hall until they’ve had their chat?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Thank you, Billy.” Then, turning to Billy’s parents, he said, “Dr. Allen has assured me that there’s no danger to Billy by moving him into the hall. Have you talked to Bob about representing him?”
“Yes. We’re officially Bob’s attorneys now.”
“Good. One of you might want to be in the room with Bob, then. Don’t worry, Bob, You’ve done nothing wrong and you have nothing to worry about. We just want all our bases covered.”
They had moved Billy’s bed into the hall and were making him comfortable, when Fred Barnett looked up and said, “Here comes the detective now.”
Billy’s dad’s eyebrows shot up. “Detective?” he asked.
“Yes. Some of the things you said this morning, coupled with what Billy had told me earlier, made me think that this was a case that the police should be involved in.”
As the detective neared the room, he saw the two men standing by a bed in the hall and approached them. “Hi, Fred…we’re going to have to stop meeting like this,” he said with a smile.
“Unless human nature changes, I’m afraid we’ll meet like this for quite a while. Do you know Paul Thornton? His firm is representing the boy in this matter.”
“Yes, we’ve met several times. How are you, counselor?”
“I’m fine, Tony. How’s that family of yours doing?”
“Just great. It makes me wish Christmas was a week away every day of the year. It’s amazing how well behaved kids get in the week before Christmas.” Then turning to Billy he said, “You must be a very special boy if one of the top law firms in the city is representing you.”
Billy’s eyes got wide and he said, “You’re not going to arrest me are you?”
The men all laughed and then Billy’s dad said, “He is a very special boy, but the boy you’re here to interview is in the room with my partner. This is our son, Billy. He’s Bob’s friend and that’s how we became involved.”
“It sounds like Bob is a very lucky young man to have a good friend like you, Billy. And you’re a very lucky young man to have parents that are willing to help your friend; most people just don’t want to get involved. I suppose, as long as things are okay in their lives, they can pretend to not see things that might upset them. This world might be a whole lot better place if people were to see some of the things Fred and I see everyday. It might make them want to get involved.”
“Well, I have an interview to do; nice seeing you again Paul.” Then turning to Billy, he said, “You get well soon, Billy. These parents of yours need someone to watch over them and keep them out of trouble. Fred, I’ll talk to you after the interview and we’ll decide where to go from there.” Then he entered the room for the interview.
The nurse walked up as the detective was leaving, and told the men she needed to get Billy up walking around a little bit, so he wouldn’t get too stiff and sore from lying in bed.
“I can’t!” Billy said with fear in his voice.
“Sure you can, son…if you don’t start moving around as soon as possible, you’ll be even more sore when you do.”
“It’s not that, Dad.” Then he crooked his finger for his dad to bend down. “I got no underwear, and this thing doesn’t have a back!!” he whispered.
His father stood up laughing and explained the situation to the nurse. She said they could put the pajamas on him that he was wearing when he was admitted if they were in his room. She knocked and opened the door and excused herself as soon as she had retrieved the pajamas.
Billy’s dad and Fred could see the detective sitting by the bed, and Billy’s other parent holding Bob as they were both crying. “Well…looks like we just fell all the way over to your side Fred.” Billy’s dad said. “I guess we need to go over the details while Billy’s getting some exercise.”
“Glad to hear that, Paul. I don’t suppose you have anyone particular in mind?” he asked with a grin.
“Maybe,” Paul said with a grin of his own. “Let’s go down to the solarium and we can talk about it.”
“I have a better idea…. There are two boys who need the bare necessities covered and there’s a Wal-Mart a couple blocks down. We can talk on our way over there and bring them back some pajamas and underwear.”
“Sounds like a plan.” And the two men headed out on their mission of mercy.
“By the way,” Fred said as they were waiting for the elevator, “I had a hunch things would turn out this way, and took the liberty of checking and updating your files this morning. You’re already approved for emergency placements and after a couple home visits and interviews, permanent placement will be a formality. If you wish to go for an adoption, there will be a six month ‘getting to know each other’ period, and then you can file for adoption.”
“Pretty sure of yourself, weren’t you?”
“Let’s just say I have good instincts.”
When they got back to the boys’ room, both boys were back in their beds and were watching cartoons on TV. “Where is everyone?” Billy’s dad asked.
“In the cafeteria. They said for you to meet them down there,” Billy answered, his eyes never leaving the screen.
“Okay; we’ll be back in a bit.”
“Hot chocolate!” both boys said at the same time. Laughing, the two men headed out the door and were barely in the hallway when they heard, “With marshmallows!!” followed by the giggles of the two boys.
They found the other two sitting at a table, drinking coffee and talking.
“How’d it go?” Fred asked the detective.
“That’s a good kid there, Fred. There’s definitely a case. What he told me confirmed what the neighbors had told me earlier. My recommendation is to have the other foster children removed as soon as possible.”
“I’ll call the office and have someone out there within the hour. Can you call and arrange a squad car standing by, in case there’s any trouble?”
“Better than that, give me a time and I’ll be there personally. I think it’s time for me to talk to the Munros personally.”
“Give me a minute to make the call and I’ll ride over with you, if you don’t mind.” Turning to Billy’s parents, he said, “You folks have a decision to make and then a boy to talk to. We have no place for Bob. The other kids, we can place in homes immediately, but boys his age are hard to place. No one seems to want boys over ten. If you folks won’t take him, I don’t know what we’ll do with him.”
“We’ll take him.” both parents responded immediately.
“Then why don’t you two go talk to him while we’re taking care of these other things? This needs to be his decision too. Don’t ask him to make the decision tonight. Let him consider it and give you his answer in the morning…and don’t forget Billy. Remember he should also have a voice in this matter. It’ll be a big change in your household and will affect him too. I have a feeling, though, one of you will need to be sitting on Billy when you talk. He’ll be so excited that he’ll start bouncing up and down and pull out his stitches!” he laughed.
As he and the detective were leaving, he said, over his shoulder, “Don’t forget: hot chocolate…with marshmallows!”
They got four hot chocolates, and when they got back to the room, they told the boys they wanted to talk to them. They explained what was going on and told them they had arranged for Bob to go home with them when he was released from the hospital, if he wanted to. They stressed the point that this was something the boys should think about tonight and talk over between themselves, and they could all discuss it further when they returned the next day for regular visiting hours.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, they met Fred Barnett as he was leaving the boys’ room. “Hi,” he said, “you have a couple boys in there chomping at the bit waiting for you to arrive. I had a little talk with Bob this morning. I assured him that you were for real, and that if, after a few weeks, he thought it was a mistake, then we’d look for another placement for him. I think he’s made his decision and I’m sure this will be a good placement. You have a lot to offer him and he has a lot to offer in return. It’s about time that something good happens in his life, and I believe you two and Billy are that something good.”
Noticing the two cups in their hands, he said, “I hope you remembered the marshmallows this morning. I was told you forgot them last night.”
“Not our fault,” Billy’s father laughed, pulling a bag of marshmallows out of his overcoat pocket, “the hospital cafeteria doesn’t have marshmallows, so we brought them their own private supply.”
“Good thinking! Bribe them with sweets.” Fred laughed. “I won’t be around for the next few days. I have a lot of paperwork to get done and approved, so a certain boy can have a home when he’s released. The next few days would be a good time for all of you to get acquainted .”
“Yea, we were thinking the same thing.”
They walked into the boys’ room and found them both lying in Bob’s bed, with the head cranked up, watching cartoons. When Billy saw them, he gingerly got out of the bed and came and gave each a hug. Spying the cups, he asked, “Hot chocolate?”
“Yes,” his dad said, then reaching for the bag in his pocket, said, “with marshmallows!”
“Alright!” both boys responded with enthusiasm.
After they finished the cartoon they were watching and the hot chocolate was gone, Billy’s dad said, “Guys…we need to talk more about what we said last night. I want you to wait until we say a few things to each of you, before you give us your answers.”
“You first, Billy. For over nine years, you have been our only child. As our only child, you had all our attention and love. If Bob joins our family, he will be our son too and you will have to share our time and love. There will be times when you’ll be jealous of the attention we show him. This is normal, even among blood-related brothers, and is something you’ll have to deal with. Remember that just because we love Bob, doesn’t mean that we love you any less.”
“And you, Bob, You’ll be joining an established family and you’ll feel left out sometimes and won’t be sure what your place in our family is. You must understand that we, as a family, will have memories of good times before you joined our family. We can’t be expected to forget our past, but we will be making new memories with you as a family member.”
“Another thing to remember is that you will be our son just as much as Billy. If you misbehave, you will be punished the same as we punish Billy. If you need a hug, you’ll get a hug the same as we would give one to Billy. If you need someone to talk to, one or both of us will be there to listen. In our hearts, there will be no difference between the two of you, and if you ever feel we’re giving preferential treatment to him, you must tell us so. We would never do it intentionally, but old habits are hard to break, and if we’re in the wrong, we’ll do our utmost to correct it.”
“It won’t be easy, but as long as we all remember that our family is based on the love we hold for each other, it won’t be that hard an adjustment to make either.”
“Have you guys been thinking about this and made your decisions?”
“Yes,” Billy said, “I want Bob to be my brother.”
“What about you, Bob?”
“Can I ask you a question, first?”
“Do you love me or feel sorry for me?”
Both parents looked at each other, and then Billy’s father answered, “Bob…we love you for the boy you are now. Not because we feel sorry for you but because, in spite of what you’ve been through you have still become a loving and kind young man. We’d be lying to you if we said we didn’t feel sorry for you, but we feel sorry for Billy too. We know what he has to go through because of his size and other things, but that in no way diminishes the love we feel for him. There’s nothing any of us can do about the things that have happened to us in the past, but we can have some control over our future. We love you now and we’ll love you even more as time passes. That’s the way families work.”
“I think I want to be part of your family, then.”
“Welcome to the family…son.” Then both parents and boys were in a group hug.
Bob whispered, with tear-filled eyes, “Will we be a real family?”
And they did become a real family and enjoyed many Christmases together. At first, just the four of them but, over the years, with some of the several foster children that they took in – some for only a short time until their families could get their lives back in order, and still others that moved on to other foster homes or into the adoption program. Later, there were girlfriends and eventually daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
The Munros were charged with child abuse and neglect but, because they had two children of their own at home who didn’t seem to be mistreated, they were able to make a deal with the prosecution, and were required to return to the state part of the money they had been paid for the support of the foster children in their care. In addition, they were permanently barred from ever applying to become foster caregivers again, and each received two years’ supervised probation.
Bob graduated from law school and was married to a wonderful girl and they had four children. He was just recently made a partner in his parents’ firm and has comfortably settled into life with his own family.
Billy underwent hormone therapy and was nearly the size of his classmates within a couple of years. He continued this therapy through high school and only stopped when he reached the height he thought he could be comfortable with. Having no interest in the law, and with his parents’ blessings, he became a high school teacher and was employed in a nearby town. He, too, was a proud father and he and his wife had three children of their own.
With the aid and encouragement of Santa Claus, whose non-Christmas job was Director of the county Department of Children and Family Services, they had become the family each had always yearned for, and if you were to ask them, each would say the best Christmas ever was that Christmas spent in that small hospital room. That Christmas at which they became a real family – a diminutive Caucasian-Asian nine year old, an eleven year old African-American boy and their two very happy, and very white, fathers.
I’d like to give a special thank you to Blue for editing this story for me. In the two years I’ve been online, I’ve met some very good people and some very bad people. Unfortunately, the very bad seem to far outnumber the good. Blue, however makes up for a lot of the bad with his good heart and his patience with a beginner like I am.
As with all English majors, though, you have to be careful around him. He can call you simple and stupid in a thousand ways while convincing you it’s a compliment. Blue took a raw piece and made it into a finished piece, however, he won’t return all those commas and ellipses he removed from my story. He told me people who mistreat punctuation marks as I do, have no business having any.
He took my poor commas and ellipses and hid them away with the to, too and twos he took away from me last spring. They’re mine and I want them back. I don’t want those tame commas, ellipses, to, too and twos released into the wilds of Texas. They were bred in captivity and will be unable to survive on their own.
Those commas need me and I need them. How will I ever write again if I don’t have enough commas to put one after every third word? How will I be able to grow my word count without ellipses to boost the count? He can keep the to, too and twos though, they’re a pain in the neck...so formal and strict with their “you have to follow the rules” mentality.
Seriously though, Thanks, Blue.
Thank you, Codey. You’re never simple or stupid; more like the opposite.
Happy Holidays! May love and friendship renew us all, rebuild us each, and reconnect us together, as friends, families, and communities.