Normally, Geof found contentment in his simple life. He loved the snug four-room log cabin he had built on a few acres in the woods with the proceeds from the insurance settlement after his accident. The one large room with a small kitchen, smaller bath, and a bedroom large enough to accommodate the king-sized bed he needed for comfort because of his height were all he needed. The large garden he found pleasure in working provided enough vegetables to supply his table and fill the freezer. His only need for money was to pay taxes, buy meat, and keep his old Jeep filled with petrol, for his nearest neighbor was a quarter mile away and town a good five miles.
But just now he felt irritated as he pressed the 'off' button on his cordless phone and leaned back in the leather recliner. The trip he'd planned with his one constant friend had been cancelled because of his friend's new job. He had been looking forward to that trip for a month now. Oh, well, perhaps later. He closed his eyes and let the music of the string quartet playing on the stereo soothe. Some minutes later, his stomach rumbled. He opened his eyes. The setting sun spread light across the floor. He glanced at his watch, almost time for dinner. The first flat-beans of the season could be picked and there was sweet corn as well. With a couple of pork chops, it would make a good meal. Might as well get started, he thought.
He stood, but a movement outside attracted his eyes. Instantly the scowl returned to his gentle face. He swept the heavy shock of black hair out of his eyes and looked again. Yeah, it was a kid limping up the lane. The boy's jeans were torn from rugged use, not the artful tearing kids looked for in new jeans these days, and his T-shirt looked grubby. As he came closer, Geof could see a thin handsome face creased with pain.
He did not move until the kid had climbed the steps and knocked at the door.
Narrow brown eyes looked at him through the mass of brown hair that had fallen across the boy's face. He brushed it back impatiently. "Could you give me something to eat, mister? I'm hungry."
Geof started to dismiss the boy with a curt answer, but the pleading eyes and plaintive voice reached out. "I suppose I might. It'll be a little while. I was about to go out to the garden for some veggies. I'll have to cook them first."
The answering smile was thin. "I can help if you want."
"All right." Geof opened the screen door and stepped out. "It's around back."
The boy followed him to the garden and held the splint basket while Geof picked the string beans and pulled the corn. He was about to return to the cabin when a spot of red caught his eye. He bent to pull the large tomato and search for a cucumber. A sliced cucumber in vinegar would be good.
"Okay, guy, that's it. You know how to clean corn?" He asked as they walked back to the cabin.
The kid shook his head. "Sorry."
"I'll show you. You can do that while I'm washing the beans."
From his slow awkward movements, it was obvious the boy had never tried to cook, but Geof said nothing. The tantalizing odor of the frying pork chops caused the boy's stomach to rumble loudly.
"When did you eat last?" He asked.
The boy dropped his head. "Yesterday."
"Set the table. Everything's in that cabinet." Geof pointed to an antique Welsh cupboard that had been his mother's pride.
When they were seated, the boy ate ravenously. He finally pushed his plate away and picked up his glass of iced tea.
"Are you a run-away?" Geof asked him.
The boy's face paled, he dropped his head. "I guess."
"Ain't nobody but my mom and she don't care nothin' about me."
"Why would you say that?"
The boy looked into Geof's eyes. "She told 'em they could cut off my leg this morning, so I run away from the hospital last night. If she cared anything about me, she wouldn't let it happen. But hell, she ain't never cared nothin' about me before, so why should she care now. I oughta know better than expect much from her."
Geof winced in sympathy. "Why do they want to amputate your leg?"
Tears appeared in the boy's eyes. "It hurt and she wouldn't take me to no doctor, so I went to the school doctor. He says there's something wrong with a bone in my right leg. Hell, mister, how would you like it if it was your leg?"
"Not very much. But it sounds serious to me, son. Doctors don't like amputation any more than you do, but if it means saving your life "
"I'd rather die than spend the rest of my life with one leg. I'm only sixteen and if I get anything, I gotta get it for myself. Gimme a break."
When the boy started to sob, Geof pulled the boy to his feet and hugged him until the crying stopped. He handed the boy his handkerchief. "Sit down and finish your tea, son. I'll get the dishes."
"I wish I had some clean clothes, so's I could take a bath. I know I smell bad, mister. I'm sorry."
"You do pong a bit. What's your name?"
Geof stacked the last of the pots he'd cooked in to dry, before turning to the boy. "A friend of mine is about your size. He left some things here the last time he visited. I'll get them for you and you can have that bath you want."
The boy gave Geof the most winsome smile he'd ever seen. "Gee, thanks, mister."
"Call me Geof. Come along. The bath's through here." He led the boy into his bedroom and pointed to the bath. While the boy shed his clothes, he rummaged in the bottom drawer of the dresser and found the bikini briefs, T-shirts, and socks Cary had left behind. After the boy was in the shower, he took a pair of Cary's chinos and a sports shirt from his closet and laid them on the bed. He took the boy's almost new deck shoes to the kitchen and wiped the dust away, then buffed them until they shown.
He was about to put the shoes with the other clothing when the boy came out of the bath. "Gee, mister, you didn't have to shine my shoes."
"I thought it was to be Geof, Terry. These shoes are too nice not to keep up."
He left the boy to dress and dropped back into his recliner, closing his eyes to see an appealing picture of the boy on crutches, the right pants legs pinned neatly up. He opened his eyes as Terry limped heavily across the room and took the chair next to his. The boy bent to rub his leg.
"It's hurting worse than ever," he said at Geof's questioning look. "I don't know if I can walk enough to find a place to sleep."
No way he could let a kid in pain and facing the loss of a leg go alone into the night. "I suppose you can sleep on the sofa, if you want."
Terry smiled. "Thanks, but I've give you enough trouble already." He started to stand, but fell back into the chair with a sharp cry. He gave Geof a rueful look. "Guess I've gotta stay after all."
Geof switched on his small TV with the remote to see the news. " are looking for Terry Martin, age sixteen, who ran away from Children's Hospital last night. This boy is seriously ill and needs immediate treatment. Anyone knowing his whereabouts should contact city police or the county sheriff's office immediately. In further news "
Geof switched the set off and looked at Terry. "What should we do, Terry?"
"I don't know." He shook his head. "Now they got the cops looking for me. Ain't nowhere I can hide." He looked at Geof. "Let me stay here. I can sleep on your sofa like you said and I can help you do things. Please let me stay, Geof. Don't make me go back so they can cut my leg off. Please." This last word came in a wail that tormented Geof.
He stood and pulled the boy to his feet, but the boy cried out and would have fallen had Geof not grasped his arm.
"It hurts so bad, Geof. I gotta lie down."
Geof picked the slender boy up and carried him to the bed, laying him on it. "I think you'd better sleep in here."
"Where're you gonna sleep?"
"I'll take the sofa. Let me help you," he said as the boy struggled to sit up, but fell back against the pillow.
He gently undressed the boy, then helped him into the bath. He had to hold the boy up while he urinated, then while he brushed his teeth with a new toothbrush Geof handed him. Geof carried him to the bed and tucked him in.
As he was about to take sheets from the dresser to make up his bed on the sofa, Terry whispered, "Stay with me, Geof. Please. I never had a dad and I need a man to hold me now. I hurt and I gotta decide what to do."
Geof's arms ached to comfort the boy. "I'll be there in just a minute."
He got ready for bed quickly and took a small paper cup of water and a pill to Terry. "Take this, son. It'll help you sleep. I sometimes need them, too."
After the boy had swallowed the pill with a look of gratitude, Geof switched out the light and slipped into bed, careful to leave space between him and the boy, but Terry was instantly against him, whimpering. He pulled the boy into his arms and heard the whimpers cease.
"Geof?" The boy whispered.
"Does it hurt a lot? You know, after they cut off your leg."
"There's some discomfort, but they'll give you something for pain as long as you need it."
"I guess it can't hurt much more than it does now. If I was to go back, would you like stay with me? I mean in the hospital."
"Is that what you want?"
"More than anything. I like you a lot."
It was Geof's eyes that teared, now. He wrapped his arms around the boy, feeling him relax. "I'll be there for you, son, whenever you need me." A sense of peace filled him as he drifted off to sleep.
He awakened to find his arms still around the boy pressed against him. He eased free and got up slowly to keep from disturbing him. After he had showered and dressed, he stood looking down at Terry. You poor kid. It's a shame you can't feel the same about what you're facing as I did.
He went in the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and sat at the table sipping it when Terry came in, still limping heavily, but apparently without the pain of the night before.
"What's for breakfast?"
"Sit down, son. I'll give you a cup of coffee or tea, but nothing to eat until we find out how soon they want to do your surgery. If they want to do it today, you shouldn't have anything in your stomach."
"How you know? Are you a doctor or something?"
"No, but I had surgery a couple of years ago and I remember what it's like. I'll fix you a cup of weak tea. What's your surgeon's name? Early as it is I might be able to talk with him."
Geof looked up the number and phoned, having the doctor paged. He was startled at the doctor's terse demand that he bring Terry to the hospital immediately. They would operate at once.
Geof walked into the hospital with Terry and stayed with him until the orderly placed the sedated boy on a gurney and started to push him into the operating room.
"Wait," Terry mumbled, and reached out his hand. "Stay, Geof. You promised."
Geof hugged the boy again. "I will. I'll be here when you wake up."
As Geof paced the waiting room floor, a haggard looking woman rushed in.
"Where is he?" She asked Geof.
"That lousy kid of mine. They told me you brought him in. What was Terry doing with you? Who are you, anyway?"
Geof took her by the arm. "Sit down and I'll tell you. I'm Geof Andrews. Terry came to my house last night asking for food. I could tell he was in pain, so I let him stay the night. He told me a little about his problem, so I discussed it with him. He agreed to let me bring him in this morning. He's already in surgery since you signed the permission form yesterday."
"I guess I oughta thank you for being good to him, but I don't know what's gonna happen now."
"What do you mean?"
"I only got one bedroom and Terry sleeps on the sofa. I can't do no better for him. I work nights, so I can't take care of a kid just had his leg cut off. With working an' all, I can't tell what he's up to all day. He ain't a bad kid, I guess, but seems like he's allus in trouble, skipping school and hanging 'round with bad kids. I think them nosey people from social service are goin' to take him off, anyway. They said he was hustlin' the street. Maybe they can make 'im straighten out. I've had it with 'im. It'll be better for both of us with 'im gone."
"You don't want him?" Geof was incredulous.
"I got all I can do to take care of myself. Wish I knew somebody wanted 'im. They could sure have 'im. What time is it? I gotta get some sleep before I go back to work."
"Wait!" Geof snarled as she got up. "Aren't you even going to wait to see how his surgery goes?"
She turned belligerent. "I done told you I wanted shut of 'im. Be cheaper if he dies anyhow. You want 'im? You can have 'im, an' good luck. If you're gonna stick around you can tell 'im I ain't comin' back."
"I want him. I want him to have his things, too."
"He ain't got that much, but he can tell you where I'm livin' if he wants it. Be glad to get his mess outta my apartment. Jes' don't come around 'til after six at night." The look she gave Geof was one of relief, then she fled down the hall.
"Are you Geof?" A nurse touched his arm.
"The boy is asking for you. We've just moved him back to his room."
"How is he?"
"Far better than we expected. The doctor took his leg near the hip in case the tumor had begun to spread, but it had remained localized. He's a fortunate young man. He won't need radiation or chemo, so he should heal quickly. Isn't his mother here?"
"No. She left saying she doesn't want to see Terry again. I'm the only adult the poor kid's got now. I'll take him home with me and care for him. How long will he have to be here?"
"If you can care for him full time, he can leave in about two weeks. He will have to come in frequently for check-ups and to have the bandage on his stump changed."
Geof smiled. "He'll be here. I well remember what it's like."
"Experience. I want to see him."
"Of course. Go right in. Since you're the only one likely to be seeing him, I'll list you as family so you can stay with him outside visiting hours. But if his mother comes back I'll have to change it."
The boy's eyes opened. A smile spread across his face. "Geof! You did wait."
"I keep promises, son." He bent and kissed the boy on the forehead. "You feel okay?"
"Go back to sleep. I'm here." He pulled a chair close to the bed and held Terry's hand. When the boy was sleeping, he eased his hand free and went down to find a cup of coffee.
He enjoyed the thought of Terry coming home with him. He could add another bedroom and bath to his cabin easily. The work would be a pleasure. With the boy's medical expenses being covered by welfare, he'd need to work only occasionally as a finish carpenter to bring in extra money for the things the boy would need. His contacts from working to put himself through school would make work easy to find, and he would work only the hours the boy was in school.
Geof sat upright. "That's correct. Who are you?"
"Cal Malcolm, from social services. I need to talk to you about Terry Martin." He pulled out a chair and sat down. "His mother told his caseworker she had given him to you, that she never wanted to see Terry again."
Geof nodded. "Then she meant what she told me."
"Apparently so. We ordinarily wouldn't let this happen, but the juvenile facility is overfilled with boys who have no place to go, and it's not equipped to handle boys with the needs Terry's going to have now. Are you really willing to take on a challenge like this?"
"I'm more than willing. Terry's a good kid who needs adult supervision and I can give him plenty of that; the care he needs as well. I know his present needs from personal experience and I've enough income to provide a decent basic life for him."
"You seem familiar with the law."
Geof grinned. "I was starting a law career when I had my accident. If it's references you want, I can give you several that are beyond question, including a judge. I want to give this boy a home, and I'll fight to get him."
"You don't have to do that. We're happy the boy has a decent place to go. I'll have a few documents for you to sign in the next day or so, but it's a matter of routine."
"You'll most likely find me here with Terry. Now if you'll forgive me, I want to be with him when he wakes up."
Terry awakened to full consciousness. "Geof! I dreamed I woke up and you kissed me."
"It wasn't a dream, son. You did wake up, but you went right back to sleep."
"My leg hurts, Geof."
"I know. Don't touch," he warned as Terry started to reach down.
"Is it gone?"
Geof took the boy's hand. "It's gone, son. Almost all of it."
"Can I see?"
Geof cranked up the head of the bed a little and pulled the sheet aside so Terry could see the short bandaged stump. Tears sprang to his eyes as Geof pulled the sheet back up. "What am I gonna do?"
Geof hugged him. "As soon as you're out of here, you're coming to live with me and you're going back to school."
"I I'm really going to come live with you?"
Geof nodded. "Your mother told me I could have you live with me, if that's what you want."
Tears began to roll down Terry's cheeks. "I want it more than anything, but I only got one leg now. You don't want me around like that."
Geof squeezed his hand. "Let me show you something." He closed the door of the room and dropped the chinos he wore.
Terry's eyes bulged. "You ain't got but one leg either!"
Geof pulled his pants up. "Just one. Your leg doesn't make any difference to me. I like you for who you are and what you can be. I want you to come home with me, son."
"You don't mind having just one leg?"
Geof hugged him. "No. I like the way I look." He slipped his chinos down again and lifted his stump from the socket of his prosthesis. He sat on the edge of the bed and placed Terry's hand against his stump. "Touch it and see how it feels."
The boy's touch was reluctant. "It feels so smooth and nice. It don't look bad either. Will mine look like that?"
"Not at first, but later on it will. I will have to massage it for you. I'm going to enjoy that."
"Really? Does it feel good?"
"Very. You'll like it as much as I." He pulled his leg on and finished redressing. "As soon as you get out of here, we'll go by and pick up your stuff from your mother's flat."
"But if you take me home ain't the social workers goin' to take me away, since my mom's thrown me out?"
"No. It's all arranged."
"I'm glad. I wish you were my dad."
"I'd like that. Perhaps later on we can make it legal, if that's what you want."
Tears came to Terry's eyes again.
"What's wrong, now?"
"Nothin'. I mean it looks like you've got everything all worked out just like I was hoping. If I hadn't run away I'd never have found you. I guess it's worth a leg."
Terry was delighted when the doctor told him he could go home earlier than expected. Geof had a barber in to cut the boy's hair. He had already bought new slacks and shirts for Terry. If he could manage his crutches, they were set. But it was the therapist who refused to sign the release, insisting Terry had more to learn about using crutches. Geof was irritated when he looked at the boy's forlorn expression. "I've gotten him forearm crutches which you have to agree are far better and easier to manage. Besides, I can show him anything he needs to know."
"What do you know about it?"
"This!" Geof jerked up his pants leg. "Tell me two years on crutches doesn't teach you something. How long have you ever depended on them?"
"Well , never. But I'm trained to teach people how to use them correctly." She finally gave them a slight smile. "I'll sign Terry off, since he has you to teach him."
"Good." Geof took Terry back to his room and dressed him. Once the boy was standing on his crutches, he knelt and folded the empty pants leg up neatly and pinned it. When he stood back up, he looked Terry over. "Damn, you're a good looking kid. I'm lucky to have a son like you."
"You mean it?"
"Yeah. Come over here and look." He opened the bathroom door so Terry could see his reflection in the mirror. "See what I mean."
"It don't look as bad as I thought. But that wasn't what I meant."
"What you said about me being your son."
Geof hugged him. "Let's go home, son."
That evening, afraid he might accidentally hurt the boy by being in the same bed, Geof started to take sheets out to make up the sofa for himself, but Terry stopped him. "Don't you want to be in your bed?"
"But I might hurt you if I roll over and hit your stump."
"I want you to hold me. You said you loved me and ain't nobody ever loved me before. I liked it when you had your arms around me that night. It made the pain go away."
Geof reluctantly crawled into bed and let the boy snuggle against him. "I'm not hurting you?"
Terry pressed closer. "Not near as much as my leg hurt that first night. I'm glad it's gone."
"I'll try to start on a room for you tomorrow, son."
"I don't want it. I want to be with you." He drifted off to sleep while Geof wondered how long it would be until he could convince the boy he should have a room of his own.
Terry endured the frequent visits to the doctor in stoic silence. He learned his crutches quickly and now helped Geof in the garden and doing things around the house. But each mention of adding a room for his own brought a quick: "No."
Both of them were elated the afternoon the doctor failed to rewrap Terry's stump. "You heal fast, young man. I don't need to see you again."
Back at home, Terry dropped his jeans and stood before the mirror. He thrust his short stump out and stood looking at it.
Geof walk up behind him and put his arms around the boy. "Does it hurt?"
Terry touched it tentatively, then smiled. "Not any more. Not even when I hold it out like this. You want to touch it?"
Geof placed his fingers on the boy's stump gently. "It's still swollen, but it feels like mine."
Terry's face sobered when he looked back at Geof. "You sure you don't think it's ugly?"
Geof hugged him. "No way. I like your stump as much as I like mine."
"You really like yours like you said, don't you?"
"I think it's beautiful. Yours is, too. Let's get dressed and go to a nice place for dinner."
"I want everybody to see my handsome one-legged son."
Terry dressed ahead of Geof. "Come pin my leg up, dad."
"Can't you do it?"
"Yeah, but not as neat as you do it. I want to look good for you."
"You always look good to me, son." He bent to the task. "There. You look great as always, but dressed up you're really handsome."
"Thanks. I "
"I was wishing you'd go on your crutches, too, with your empty leg pinned up like mine."
Surprised, Geof dropped the slacks he was about to put on. "Why on earth would you want me to do that?"
"So I won't feel like the only one."
"If it will make you feel better, I'll be glad to. I really like using crutches better than the leg, but it's harder to get things done."
The headwaiter's shocked expression quickly turned to one of pleasure as he greeted Geof. "It's nice to see you again, Mr. Andrews. May I ask who this fine looking young man with you is?"
"My son Terry. This is a special evening for him."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Terry. I hope father will bring you here often. We haven't seen him lately."
Terry grinned. "I'd like that."
After they were in bed, Terry hugged Geof. "Thanks, dad. I like that place we went to. They treated us better than anyone else. How come the man knew you?"
"I used to be a lawyer, Terry. I went there a lot back then. I'm glad you had a good time." He chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"David, the headwaiter. I could tell what a hard time he was having keeping a straight face. He didn't know about my leg, and when both of us showed up on crutches, it must have been quite a shock, especially after I told him you're my son."
"I don't care, you looked great."
"And I was proud to be seen with my handsome son."
"You really want me to stay, don't you?"
"Of course I do. Why would you think I wouldn't?"
"I thought maybe you was just being nice 'til I could get along on my own, but when you told that man I was your son it made me feel real good."
Geof hugged him. "I love you, son. I want you with me."
"I'm glad, cause I love you too, dad. I guess you better start on that room for me, now. I 'spect them people from welfare is goin' to be snoopin' 'round like they always did when I stayed with mom. I like the way you hold me at night, but they was always threatenin' to take me away cause I slept on the sofa."
"I'll start on it tomorrow."
"Can I help?"
"We'll have to get you back in school on Monday, but you can help if you want."
"Thanks." With a contented sigh, Terry snuggled against Geof and fell asleep.