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"I need to know where the Youth Shelter is downtown. Jake is there," I said anxiously.
"What happened?" Katharine asked.
"Pietro was in a very serious car crash on Sunday, and the police called CAS when they realized Jake would be on his own."
"I've got the address, Dad. Jake put it in the email," Sean said as he was now standing beside me.
"We're going to go down right now and get him, Katharine."
"Take a copy of your Foster Parent licence. They won't release him without it. I'll call down and tell them you're coming and I'll meet you there."
Both Sean and I were beside ourselves as we drove to the downtown of the city. Jake had said in the email that Pietro had been in a serious collision on the highway after taking a fare to the airport Sunday morning. He was on his way home to pick up Jake and take him to a soccer game that afternoon, but never made it.
We got to the shelter, and I parked on the street. It was in a very seedy part of the city and there were some unsavoury characters near the front door when we got out of the Lexus. I was hoping that we would have four wheels on the vehicle when we came out.
The main door was electronically controlled for security reasons, and had to be opened from the inside once they were sure the person ringing the doorbell was legitimate. When I rang, the person I was talking to on the intercom didn't know who I was. I told them I was there to get Jake and they said he was already being picked up.
"Didn't Katharine Planter get in touch with you?"
"I'm sorry sir, but no. I can't let you in," he said apologetically.
Just then Katharine arrived and showed him her CAS identification in the monitoring camera and he let us in. She had tried to get through on the phone to them, but the answering machine kicked in each time she had called. Even though the shelter was run by the Knox City Ministries there was a close relationship with CAS.
I looked around the common room that we entered into and I was very saddened by what I saw. The furniture was old and in tatters, there was an old TV set that was on its last legs and the place desperately needed a coat of paint. The room wasn't very big, and there were a lot of kids crammed into the space, who didn't look very happy. There really wasn't a lot for them to do as I didn't see any games or equipment such as a pool or ping pong table to occupy their time. Quite frankly, it was a very depressing place!
Mike Hammond was the young social worker that was on duty that let us in. He told us that a Foster couple was in the office just finalizing the paper work to take Jake home. When the police realized Jake was alone, they tried to contact friends, neighbours and me to see if they could place him, without involving CAS. When they couldn't, they made the call. Because of the long weekend CAS couldn't find a suitable emergency Foster placement, so they took him to the shelter. It really was for older teens from the ages of 16-18, and Jake was the youngest there. The couple that was there picking up Jake was contacted initially, but they were away when the call came in. They had just got back and contacted CAS and came to get him.
"We need to go to the office right away and straighten this out," Katharine said as she turned and took off down the hall with the rest of us following.
When we got there, the other young social worker, Laura, was talking to the couple and Jake was off to the side. When he saw us he ran out the door and threw his arms around Sean, then me.
"It's alright, Jake. You're coming home with us," I said as I hugged him.
The Foster father overheard me and said, "I don't think so! He's coming with us."
The couple had been promised a week's stipend to take Jake and they were upset they were losing the money. I didn't want to go into how much their attitude towards Fostering stunk and I just ignored him and hung onto Jake. Katharine entered the office and closed the door rather abruptly behind her leaving us in the hall. Jake hadn't broken down crying, but he was very upset. He was being very brave.
"Sean, go help Jake get his things and come back. I'm going to take care of this," I said as I gave them a reassuring smile.
I could hear the man and Katharine talking very loudly through the door, and it appeared his major concern was the money. I opened the door and interrupted the discussion.
"How much were you promised, sir?" I asked.
He told me and I reached in my pocket and took out a bunch of bills from my money clip.
"This is double what you were promised, and you don't have to declare it on your income tax. Here, take it and you two beat it!" I said as I motioned the couple towards the door.
He was pissed and was going to start arguing with me, but his wife grabbed the money and his arm and led him out the door, before he got himself into trouble with his big mouth. I shuddered at what Jake's life would have been like with him as his Foster parent. One minute with this man was too long for my liking.
Katharine had brought CAS release papers with her, and after I showed my Foster Parent licence to both Mike and Laura as a courtesy, we filled out the documentation and Mike signed the release forms. Jake and Sean had now joined us. Jake said goodbye and thanked the two of them.
"It was our pleasure, Jake. We're so glad things have worked out... at least with your living arrangements," Laura said as she smiled and patted him on the back.
On the way to the Lexus I asked Jake which hospital his uncle was in. He told me and asked if he could go see him now. He had only been allowed to see him for a half hour on Sunday, as the shelter couldn't arrange transport for him to the hospital after that.
"We're going to go over and see him right now, Jake. Maybe on the way there you can fill us in on the details that you know."
He said that Pietro was on his way back on the highway from dropping a fare off at Pearson Airport. A reckless driver cut him off and his cab went into the guardrail and flipped into the ditch. The police were able to apprehend the driver as there were many witnesses that stopped at the scene to help Pietro and got the licence plate information for the police, as the driver had taken off.
Pietro was taken to the hospital and was in surgery for 3 hours. Jake didn't know any details about his injuries other that he had casts on his right leg and left arm. He also had bandages on his head and he was unconscious when Jake left the hospital so he hadn't been able to speak to him. I was very concerned at hearing about bandages on his head.
On the way to the hospital Jake was chatty, but he wasn't saying anything of substance. I could tell that he was very concerned and the nervous chatter was his way of coping with the situation. What he was telling us about his experience at the shelter didn't make me very happy though. The staff was very nice to him, but the conditions weren't. The staff did their best to make the residents as comfortable as possible.
"There wasn't much to do, so I was glad I brought a book with me," he said.
I was making mental notes for our next Foundation board meeting, as this was something we needed to tackle. I was also going to touch base with Katharine to discuss the issue.
When we got to the hospital it was a little after 9 p.m. We were told Pietro had been moved to a room, as his condition had been upgraded, but was still critical. When we got to the ward, the nurse at the station was really good and took us to the room after we told her who we were, even though we were after visiting hours.
"It'll be alright as long as you don't stay too long. He needs all the rest he can get," she said.
He was in a semi-private room and the person in the other bed wasn't in any better shape than Pietro. The man beside him had just had a double knee replacement and was still groggy from the anaesthetic. Pietro woke up after we entered the room. Jake quickly went to the side of the bed.
"Are you Ok zio?" (uncle)
"Si Giacomo. Mi sento meglio," Pietro said in a very feeble voice. (Yes Giacomo. I feel better)
Sean and I expressed our concern and he was able to have a brief conversation with both of us. I was sick at the sight of him with the IV lines, monitors and bandages that were holding him together. It was obvious he had sustained multiple serious injuries. I left the boys and went into the hallway where I could use my cell phone, and called Scott. He wasn't in and I called his answering service and they said he was at the same hospital attending to an emergency with one of his patients.
"Please tell Dr. Rash to come to ward 4G, room 422. Tell him it's Al calling and this is an emergency."
I was reasonably good at being able to translate medical terminology, but I didn't have access to Pietro's chart or his doctor. I knew Scott could get that information and give me a pretty good assessment of his condition. Within 5 minutes Scott appeared on the ward.
"What's up, Al," he said with a very serious expression.
I explained what had happened, and he immediately went over to the nurses' station and got his chart after he asked the nurse for permission to look at it. When he came back his expression looked pretty grim.
"I'm amazed he's still alive, Al. He had one of the best trauma surgeons in Ontario work on him, otherwise he might be gone."
He detailed the injuries and told me that the critical injury was to his head. He had sustained a skull fracture and severe concussion, and the next 24 hours would be critical to his recovery. We went over to the room and I took the boys out while Scott talked to Pietro. When he came back out, he told the boys to go back in for a few minutes and told us we should leave after that, as Pietro was getting very tired.
"I'll touch base with the surgeon tomorrow and see what the prognosis is. In the meantime, keep an eye on Jake. He doesn't look like he's doing very well."
Scott left and before the boys came out I called Dana to tell her the sad news.
"I'm going to get ready and meet you at the Townhouse. I haven't forgotten how to be a mother," she said.
I told her it was late, that she didn't need to come up and that we would be alright tonight. She wouldn't listen and insisted. I hadn't wanted to put her out, but I was grateful at her offer.
When we arrived at the Townhouse, Dana was waiting in her car. She came in through the garage with us and when she got into the hall Jake finally came unglued. Dana threw her arms around him and he buried his head into her chest as he sobbed.
"It's alright, honey. Let it out," Dana said as she held him tight.
She took him to the living room couch, and Sean and I left them alone and went upstairs with their overnight bags.
"Is Jake's uncle going to die?" Sean asked as I could see that he was a little misty.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Sean. He's improving. Remember, the half-full glass?" I said as I smiled at him and drew him into a hug.
"Maybe Jake should sleep with me tonight, Dad, in case he wakes up.... or something."
I was impressed at the maturity Sean was showing as I guessed he remembered the first few nights with me and the nightmares he had. Jake and Dana came upstairs and Sean and Jake got ready for bed. Dana and I came in to say goodnight when they were ready. We sat on the edge of the bed, Dana on Jake's side and me on Sean's.
"We're down the hall. Come and get either of us if you need to. Maybe you two could say a prayer before you go to sleep," I said as I tousled Sean's hair.
Dana and I said goodnight and left the room. We suspected that they would talk for a while and hopefully Sean would be able to settle Jake down. We went to the Kitchen and made some tea and took it to the living room.
"Where will Jake go if something happens to Pietro?" Dana asked.
"Jake won't be going anywhere. He'll be with us. I'll see to that."
She just smiled at me, as that was the answer she was hoping for. She took my hand and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
"We should get to bed. I'm afraid we may not make it through the night without interruption and we'll need all the sleep we can get," she said.
Dana took the room that Jake would have slept in and I was in the Master. After what seemed like a short time since I had dropped off, I was awakened by Sean as he was standing by my bed. I looked at the time and it was almost 3 o'clock in the morning.
"Dad, Jake's having a nightmare and I can't calm him down."
I got up and went into their room. Jake was sitting up in bed, and was very groggy. He was soaked, as he had been sweating profusely, and he was shaking. When I sat down on the bed to talk to him, I heard Dana enter the room and join me on the bed.
"Once a mother, always a mother," she said as she smiled at me and put her arm around Jake.
Sean and I got him changed into a set of Sean's pyjamas and all four of us went downstairs. Dana and Jake went to the couch, while Sean and I went to the kitchen and made some hot chocolate for all of us. Dana managed to calm him down, and after about a half hour we all went back to bed. The rest of the night was uneventful.
The next morning Sean came down the stairs about 7:30 in a flap.
"The alarm clock didn't go off, Dad. Can you drive me to school?"
"I turned it off, Sean. I think the two of you should stay home today from school. Jake is going to need some support that Dana and I can't give him."
Dana and Sean prepared breakfast while Jake and I spent some time alone in the living room. The two of us talked and read the paper in the two chairs by the bay window. It seemed to be therapeutic for Jake as he was a little more relaxed by the time breakfast was ready.
"We'll get ready and go visit your 'zio' after Breakfast," I said smiling to him as I put my arm around his shoulder and gave him a squeeze as we made our way to the kitchen. He gave me a feeble smile in return.
When we got to the hospital we were told at the nurses' station that Pietro had a quiet night, and was improving. They also said that the surgeon would be by shortly to talk to me.
When we went into the room Pietro was sleeping, but soon woke up when he realized he had company. He said hello to all of us, and then said a couple of sentences in Italian to Jake. His speech was still very halting and slurred, but he was more understandable than the night before. He was really pleased to see Dana, and I could see the concern on her face as she got her first look at him.
Five minutes after we arrived Dr. Whiting, the trauma surgeon that treated him, came into the room with his resident. He was a very caring doctor, but no nonsense and direct. He sent us out of the room as he wanted to examine him as he was on his morning rounds. When he came out he took Dana and I aside, as the boys went back in to be with Pietro.
"I won't sugar coat my remarks. Mr. Pandini is in very bad shape. He sustained a serious head injury and he is in for a long recovery. He may have permanent brain damage, which we won't know for a couple of months. On the positive side, he was healthy and in good shape, so his body will fight hard to recover."
He talked about the rehabilitation he would need when he came out of the hospital, which was covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan), and the drugs that he would need private insurance for. I added a call to the cab company to find out what coverage he had, to my list of tasks that afternoon.
"I'm afraid I don't have any more time at the moment, but I briefed Dr. Rash this morning on his condition. You can give him a call," Dr. Whiting said as he left with the resident.
We left the hospital and went home to have lunch. After we ate, Sean got up from the table and said, "Jake and I are going to go for a walk, Dad. We need some fresh air," as he motioned for Jake to join him. He was showing a lot of empathy for his friend as it was obvious it was his idea.
Shortly after they left a call came in and showed on the call display that it was from Pietro's cab company. It was his friend Darjinder and he wanted to tell me that Pietro's colleagues had heard about Jake staying with me and that they were offering to pick him up and take him to school and back every day. I appreciated the gesture, as Jake's school was a 20 minute trip to the inner city away.
"We've worked out a schedule so one of us will be available for him morning and night until the end of the school year," he said.
I thanked him for the offer, and updated him on Pietro's progress. I also asked him if he could drop by the school when classes got out that day to pick up Jake's work. I was going to call the school to arrange for that after we were finished. I was very grateful for their generosity as it was obvious that Pietro was well liked by his colleagues.
After our conversation he gave the phone over to the manager and we talked about the cab company's health coverage. I was happy that his short term rehabilitation costs would be covered, but long term care was another story.
After I arranged things with Jake's school, I decided it was time to call the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and find out what the accident report said. This would be crucial to how much of an insurance settlement he would get, which would cover his long term care, if he needed it.
After about an hour from my initial call to the OPP office I got a call from a constable Mason, who was the lead investigator at the accident. He was very helpful after I told him my involvement in the situation. The other driver had been charged with reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, improper lane change and driving under the influence. I couldn't believe the last charge, as the accident took place on a Sunday morning.
"He was just coming home from a stag party for one of his buddies that went all night. He blew well over .08 on our breathalyzer," he said.
He said an insurance claim had been made, as they had received a request from the insurance companies involved and had forwarded the police report to them. I decided that I needed to call Ray, as that was his specialty before he had retired.
"Have you picked up another stray kid?" he said as he laughed.
"As a matter of fact I did."
I would have loved to have seen his face, as I'm sure his jaw was dropping. After he realized I wasn't kidding, I told him about the situation and the accident details. I asked him if I could retain him on Pietro's behalf, as it was obvious Pietro needed someone advocating for him, even though his insurance company would have legal counsel appointed already.
"I'm usually on the other side retained by the insurance company, but yes I would be glad to go to bat for him. This will amount to a sizeable settlement for him, regardless of the outcome of his injuries."
I was very happy at the news, and he took down the details of the two insurance companies involved, as he would make contact that afternoon.
By now the boys had returned from their walk and spent the afternoon playing with the PlayStation and watching TV.
Dana and I had a chance to talk in the afternoon while they were downstairs. I filled her in on the fact that Jake had already lost two parental figures in his life, the death of his mother and the abandonment by his father, and that this would be a third, if Pietro passed away. She was very sad to hear that, and she remarked at how resilient he was to have such an upbeat personality after so much trauma in his life.
We were mainly focused on Pietro and Jake, but the way we were looking at each other we knew the conversation would get around to our mutual attraction.
"Thank you for being here for Jake. There's nothing like a mother's touch," I said as I gazed into her eyes.
"Or a father's touch," she said as she took my hand.
"I think we both know that our feelings are getting stronger for each other."
"And now is not the time to indulge them," she said as she kissed my cheek.
I sighed and said, "I know. Perhaps soon."
After dinner Melissa sent a text message to Sean to go on Skype with Jake. She and Mara wanted to talk to Jake and tell him how sorry they were. The two of them took off upstairs and were up there for about an hour. They came back down to join Dana and me in the living room. We could see that both of them had a good chat with the girls and were a little more contented. As we were chatting with them, a call came in from my Grand Niece Rachel for Jake and he took it in the Den. When he left the room I asked Sean how Jake was doing and he shrugged his shoulders and said Ok.
"He's really scared that his Uncle's going to die. He doesn't know what would happen to him if he does," he said with a very sombre face.
"I guess I need to talk to him as soon as possible. If that happened he'll be living with us."
Sean gave me a big smile, as he said, "Thanks, Dad."
When Jake came back into the living room after the call from Rachel, he looked a little happier. I told him I wanted to talk to him. Dana and Sean left to go downstairs to the Media room, as they got my cue that I wanted to be alone with Jake. I motioned for him to sit with me on the couch, and I put my arm around his shoulders. I talked to him about thinking positive thoughts and that his Uncle needed him to be strong.
"I know this is hard on you, but I don't want you to be worrying about what happens to you in the future. I want you to know if the worst happens, you're going to come and live with us," I said as I gave him a squeeze.
He became choked up and couldn't speak. He just nodded his head yes as he gazed at the floor.
The next day Sean went back to school and Jake stayed home. Dana, Jake and I went down to the hospital in the morning and were very pleased with how well Pietro was progressing. He had some of his colour back, and his speech was much better.
That afternoon when we got back to the Townhouse I had a chance to talk to Katharine about the Youth shelter and the conditions I had observed.
"We need to have this as the first agenda item at the next board meeting," I said.
I outlined what I thought should happen and she added some good suggestions.
"It all boils down to money. Until the government starts to take their obligations towards youth at risk seriously, the situation won't get better," she said with a note of sadness in her voice.
We formulated a plan that would involve a purchase of a better building in the same area, and proper facilities inside. We also talked about increased staffing and better access to medical care.
Dana stayed most of the week, but went home on the Friday, as she had things that she had to attend to. Jake finally went back to school the next Monday, and Pietro's colleagues were a great help ferrying Jake back and forth.
After two weeks, Pietro's progress was very good. He was able to sit in a chair, and get around in a wheelchair. The therapists were working on his speech and memory and we were all very hopeful at a reasonably full recovery. Sean, Jake and I went down most evenings to visit him. Dana joined us when she could, and stayed over some nights at the Townhouse. We were down one night and had just come back into his room from a walk down the hall with him. Dana wasn't with us.
"Maybe you boys could go out and ask the nurse to bring me some juice," Pietro said.
The boys went out of the room and I could tell that Pietro wanted to talk to me alone. He asked me to take Jake if anything happened to him.
"Pietro, you've made a remarkable recovery so far. I'm confident things are going to be fine and that won't be necessary," I said with a reassuring smile on my face.
That wasn't the answer that he wanted to hear, and he asked me again.
"Pietro, please don't think I'm hesitating, but I just feel uncomfortable talking about this." I paused, smiled at him and said, "I would be honoured to take Jake into my family."
I told him the best way to do this was to name me in his will as Jake's guardian. He told me he didn't have a will, so I said I would arrange for my lawyer's partner to come to the hospital and draft one with him. I didn't want any conflict of interest problems having Norm draft the will, in the event that the will needed to be executed.
"You don't know how much better I feel with that worry off my mind. Thank you, Al," he said as he gave a big sigh.
I called Norm Danson when I got home and he said he would have his partner Jim Sampson come the next day and take down the particulars from Pietro to draft the will.
Over the next week, Pietro got stronger and started to walk with the assistance of the Physical Therapist. He signed the will that Jim Sampson drafted for him, naming me as Jake's guardian in the event of him being incapacitated or on his death.
In the meantime, the house deal closed without incident and the contractors were doing the renovations necessary before we were to move in. It looked like the Townhouse would be vacant for some months at the very least, as Jake was going to stay with us until Pietro had fully recovered.
Jake had one or two nightmares over the time that he had been staying with us, but by and large he had settled down and was somewhat back to the happy and secure boy we all knew.
One night during the second week in June, we had just spent a typical evening. The boys did their homework before we visited with Pietro at the hospital. After we came home they were getting ready to go to bed at the usual time and wind down before they went to sleep. Sean usually played a computer game for about 15 minutes while Jake usually read.
After I said goodnight to them I turned in as well, as I was very tired. The events of the last three weeks were starting to catch up to me. I had been asleep for some time when I was awakened by some noise.
'Don't tell me Jake is having another nightmare?' I thought.